Phenomenology of Awakening (Buddhist Geeks 2014?)

This is a video submission that I made for the Buddhist Geeks conference, 2014. The transcript is below with a couple of modifications. if you like this blog, or the ideas contained within the video, perhaps you would consider voting for my submission over at the BGs website, which will contribute to my talk being accepted. Thanks.

www.buddhistgeeks.com conference & submissions

“With all this talk of technology and science, with all the attention being given to Mindfulness, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Buddhism has sort of gone main-stream, and found its place in the world as simply an aid for modern, stressful lives.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not so interested in uniting my consciousness with my Twitter feed or becoming a more efficient worker: I actually got into Buddhism years back because of something much more radical: enlightenment, or awakening!
Kenneth Folk said at last year’s conference, how about “enlightenment for everyone”, or, at least how about enlightenment for more …folks. For that to happen, our conception of enlightenment: the what, the how, must be reconfigured and that’s what I would like to talk about at this year’s Buddhist Geeks conference, using a Post-traditional framework with elements of Non-Buddhism.
What happens for example if we bring Buddhism’s goal of a final end to suffering fully into the human sphere; to flesh and to bone, and to relationship with other.
What if we were to leave aside mystification, superhuman traits, and take a careful look at what enlightenment might mean if it were stripped of its specialness, no longer the magical pot of gold at the end of the concentration rainbow, but instead something quite tangible, human and real.
What if we were to leave aside insider terminology, so that it can be understood outside of Buddhism, using the local idiom, in our case, English?
It feels to me as if we started something with the “coming out” of Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram and others; but then got stuck. I think it’s time to apply a creative re-imagining of enlightenment as human phenomena, using innovative conceptual frames.
If such ideas might interest you, then maybe it’s worth having me over at the conference… at least for a bit of variety amongst the brain scans, tech talk and familiar Dharma VIPS.”

26 comments

      1. Hi, yes, I do understand what is meant by destruction in the SNB context and I find it scintillating, but in this case perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully knowing that you were the interlocutor. I guess I am considering the fact that such a possibility as non-Buddhism, not as the SNB project with its central protagonists and particular bents, but as a theoretical model with a set of ideational tools, has to be participated in voluntarily. Forcing it on others is counter-productive. I am not concerned about Buddhist values i.e. ethics and what stands out as correct, or right behaviour, but rather in the simplicity and complexity of human relationships and the dynamics that encourage willing participation, even in exploring uncomfortable topics such as the undermining of closely held certainties, and in this case, as you well know, the SNB approach is too ‘destructive’ (as in aggressive, painful) for many folks, which leads to their alienation from what is an excellent set of theorems regarding Buddhism’s cosy ideological prison apparatus. As an outsider (non-affiliated), on all fronts, I am infinitely curious about effective delivery and the possibility of bringing the consequences of considering both the post-traditional position and the non-Buddhism position into a wider discourse, hence, my video. I would go as far as to say I’m a ‘non’ non-Buddhist, which as a centre for human activity, however you take it, can’t help it seems but form an identity of its own and a particular ideological leaning to anti-Buddhism, or perhaps anti-Buddhists, in spite of its claims. I don’t have a problem with that, but I am not interested in pursuing it. Perhaps you see it differently?

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  1. Matthew, what is destruction? Rudeness is just to state the obvious which is otherwise buried under repressive tolerance or so called mindfulness. For example I watched closely the video about the discussion about the Sasaki case at the BG conference 2013. This video shows that the BGs there have literally no take how to cope with that phenomenon (sexuality in the context of the very close relationship of teacher and student like in Zen for example). This illiteracy re sexuality happens in a world in which feminism in various forms has spelled out what it is with sexuality in our society. The BGs are like every other x-buddhist sangha, they think the already have all tools to understand (sexuality). But this is not so. Otherwise they would understand that to discuss this topic at their conference, they would have to invite somebody who knows something about the topic – actually a feminist. Because of x-buddhist decision the BGs never would do this. (And the video has been erased too from their website, perhaps because it really shows their inability to discuss this topic in any meaningful way.)

    The rudeness you seem to confuse with destruction comes only as a secondary effect with destruction, because it could be painful to destruct notions which otherwise construct ones stance towards and in the world. Sexuality in this case is just an example – a painfully visible one, though.

    The same goes for “awakening” or “enlightenment”. If you would really press for a destruction of this notion vis-à-vis the BGs – which necessarily is a positive act because it would enlighten you or the BGs in a certain way (cf. Pepper’s reevaluation of enlightenment as the becoming aware of the ideological constraints we are operating under) – you would very soon be regarded as rude. Just because you would confront them with underlying and unconscious assumptions about these notions. You would be regarded as rude because this laying bare would devalue the exchange value of these notions.

    Go and press Kenneth Folk, for example, for what he means with “enlightenment”. Take to heart that the notion should be transcendentally minimized. Or what do you mean with the final end of all suffering? I mean really say something substantial apart from just repeating the phrase…

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  2. Hi,
    Yes, as far as the sexual abuse discussion goes at last year’s BG conference, I am in total agreement. I recall getting mad whilst watching it last year waiting for them to get to the obvious & stop centring the discussion around themselves. The old man was clearly a serial pervert and appeared to have broken the law, so why hadn’t the police been called to arrest him? It was instead the usual discussion centred around the speakers’ particular experiences. A feminist would have been a start, but a policeman or lawyer would have been a better choice.
    I think you have misread my reply to you above. I do not equate destruction with rudeness. I simply pointed out that many folks find the SNB destructive, as in violent, rude, etc, and therefore stay away, which is fine of course. I actually made no value judgement about the ‘tone’ there at all. As for potentially being regarded as rude myself for challenging received notions, I’ll take that chance & it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it’s rather fun.

    “Just because you would confront them with underlying and unconscious assumptions about these notions. You would be regarded as rude because this laying bare would devalue the exchange value of these notions.”

    Or maybe it will cause some reflection? We mustn’t make the mistake of assuming that all those who will participate at the conference are dharma zombies, unable to reflect on critique. If my talk makes certain people feel uncomfortable, I’ll consider it a success. If no one goes for it on the day, so be it. I will certainly give it a try; either way it’ll be a learning experience.
    Buddhist buzz words are representational tokens, they permit a certain degree of shared discourse as you well know. The point is then to deconstruct them and applying new rules, such as transcendental minimization, start to look at what might be there, or not. The point would be to contextualise the discussion on suffering, etc, relieve such words of their charism and so on and see if some infiltration is possible in the closed circles of dharmic discourse. I always find myself sharpened by both critique and challenge and I would expect to be challenged if I end up speaking at the conference by those who are happy to maintain the shared Buddhist illusions. To me though, the challenge is in participating and if you want to communicate controversial, or uncomfortable ideas to others, there are multiple ways of doing so. One involves using their own language to enter into the discourse and then presenting that language in a new light: Wing-Chun or Tai-Chi, as opposed to Street Fighting or Sambo.
    If I am selected to speak at the conference, perhaps you’d like to see the talk beforehand and give me your thoughts?

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    1. Hi Matthew,
      First of all, thanks so much for your intelligent review of our book on Amazon. I think I speak for all three of us when I say that we are pleased just to have an insightful and knowledgeable account of our work. If that account is largely positive, that’s just a big bonus. I’d take an intelligent, knowing thrashing over a fawning review any day.

      I also wanted to say that you must continue to spend your time with the x-buddhist vallation. But you will make a powerful exile, when that time comes.

      Finally, I wanted to up-vote you at the Buddhist Geeks’ site, but, in perfect Zuckerbergian lock step, they require that you first sign up. I don’t want to sign up at Buddhist Geeks. But let me know what else I can do to help. I think you can bring a lot to the discussion. Some of us must necessarily remain exiles and nomads.

      Nice to see Matthias engaged here. He makes good points, of course.

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      1. Hi Glen, you’re welcome. My opinions on your heuristic are laid out there and I am personally very grateful for the original thought that led to its emergence. I was thinking of writing some posts on it to make it more accessible on my blog here, but time is too rare at present for such things. I envisage a set of questions that might provoke curiosity regarding many of the heuristic elements.
        One thing is for sure, I have no idea where I’m going, and I’m fine with that. I will continue to wander and explore the possibilities of being in the world that take my fancy and am happy to be free enough to do so. Thanks for the thought regarding the voting system. I think the need to register has put most folks off of participating, so never mind.

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  3. Matthew, thanks for the invitation to look at your talk if you are invited. But I must say very honestly I am not interested in any project regarding these people. It will be a waste of time. Why?

    1. They (Vincent Horn and those responsible for the BG project) are not interested in any kind of critical discussion. Otherwise they would provide the material for discussion for those of us not being able to go to their conference. For example, I find myself this morning trying to locate some material on their site. Amazingly for these geeks, I find out (once again) the site is astonishingly badly organized. I don’t go into anything specific because I already spent half an hour with this without any result and I am already getting angry because again I waste my time with this: Vague texts with links leading to more vague texts with more links.

    Check this out: Shinzen Young about the BG conference 2013. If you try to find what he is up to, you find links leading nowhere like his keynote presentation in 2011. Funny, isn’t it? Or take his presentation in 2013.

    Also all videos from the conference in 2013 have been erased. Why? The talk about sexual abuse. Lodro Rinzler’s as talk about Spiderman as a bodhisattva. All gone. Is it dawning on them that this was stupidity made public?

    If these people would be interested in any meaningful conversation with the rest of the world or the “court of knowledge” they would present their material (if there is any) in an accessible way.

    2. Why this vagueness? Above you cite my point that any confrontation with underlying and unconscious assumptions about their notions (about enlightenment or the ending of all suffering for example) would be regarded as rude because this laying bare would devalue the exchange value of these notions.

    This vagueness is an unconscious intention, the affective decision, a symptom of the desire to stay ahead in the narcissistic game of I-am-Superman (cf. Rinzler’s Spiderman talk if it is still anywhere on the net, that’s the most stupid but most telling re this symptom).

    These people are still offering thaumaturgical refuge and they use the hidden causal essence as an asset which has a certain exchange value which is threatened to be deflated if transcendentally minimized.

    They will get angry in one way or another if you really begin to question their market of concepts.

    This said, it still might be worthwhile to try to present a talk there because of the audience. There might be people interested enough in the present day structuring of human consciousness to come to a point where postulate deflation might work. But for this I think you yourself must work on this: Put out the vagueness of your presentation. Get to the point, for example, and ask seriously what a creative re-imagining of enlightenment as human phenomena is? I don’t now, but you might find something in Tom’s writing. This point is of particular interest because the BGs are so fond about their pro technological stance. But what is their ideological relationship to technology?

    I guess they – Vincent Horn, Kenneth Folk etc., as far as I have encountered them – imagine themselves as fully empowered individuals in full command of what they do in contemporary technological society. The question is, are they really? One could find out perhaps if one looks up what mind hacking should be? Horn has a short video about this on his site here. But what he tells about hacking the mind is nothing but the old mantra of look inside and find freedom there (this is so lame, it is definitely the last time I look up some shit by Horn). There literally is nothing new. Especially nothing about real hacking and presenting what one finds there, namely: a cybernetic engine and its engineers regulating a life in which politics are degraded to be explanatory means to tell the citizen how to be happy with that machine, and a citizen which is today to a large extent not a user but an appendix to technology. What is suffering in this context, what enlightenment?

    Certainly no BG ever will have an answer to such questions because at last they desire to keep save their market value.

    But yes, try it out. Although I would suggest you jump over your shadow (does one say so in english?) and redo your presentation. Become specific. Ask, for example, why the “coming out” of Kenneth Folk and Daniel Ingram got stuck? Do research what they actually do.  Ask what this buzzword enlightenment should mean? Look around at the BG site to find out if they say anything specific about it apart from the usual vibrato (like in the mentioned video). Load them up a video which really challenges them.

    You are really sympathetic to the SNB project. Thanks a lot for that – but, as a last point, think about what a ‘non’ non-buddhism view could be? Could it be that you are still in the market of concepts? What is a “a Post-traditional framework with elements of Non-Buddhism“?

    Become a heretic. Skip it.

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    1. Hi Matthias, the talk, if it happens, is certainly aimed at the audience. I have no interest in convincing anyone, and in fact have a very hard time believing it’s my place to shit on people’s illusions if uninvited. Perhaps that is due to my background in both counselling and teaching where asserting one’s views as gospel rarely has a place? Perhaps it’s simply the fact that my own scepticism doesn’t allow me to possess such a solid base of convictions? As an English Language teacher, half of my workload is with high school and university students and they have surprisingly little interest in being told what they should or should not think or do, but when even radical ideas are presented as an opportunity to explore and look at the world differently, they are surprisingly responsive. That is how I teach, coach and that is how I shall present ideas if my talk is chosen. In fact, this discussion we’re having here does seem rather premature.
      I agree wholeheartedly that ideology is central to discussing belief systems and social practices, whether religious, or otherwise, but I also see ideologies as featuring my fellow human beings in all their greatness and pettiness. I do not romanticise them, but do see myself as ultimately equal to them all at the most primary of levels: all our shit stinks, we all have thoughts and feelings. That is the level at which Buddhism and non-Buddhism for that matter become worthwhile. I see Tom’s constant calling to ideology and his ongoing dedication to calling out capitalists, ideology and anatman as both admirable and obsessive. I don’t consider such approaches as the only game available on the field of play though and as I’ve mentioned over at the SNB blog, I have as much interest in joining the SNB gang as I do the Buddhist gang: very little. I participate as and when I choose.
      As for vagueness, you have to appreciate that the submission video had to be 2 minutes in length, and so very little can be said in that time apart from a brief overview. The talk itself will express my opinions on the topics named in the submission video and there I will be ‘getting to the point’ and many of your concerns are exactly the issues that I will be exploring in the talk itself. I already see what I have to say as a communal effort, hence my interest in receiving input from a variety of voices, yours included. Though I have very little interest in techno-fetishism, so won’t go near that.

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  4. Matthew, yes perhaps this discussion is premature or even superfluous. I should be raver mildly ironic about the BGs (or silent at all!) instead of once again engage in a discussion about them. I voted for your presentation, though. I hope they’ll invite you.

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