So what about sex?

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The latest episode of the imperfect Buddha podcast touches on an area that I have wanted to discuss for some time on the podcast: sex, sexuality, and desire. These are such complex topics and still surrounded by taboos that it can be difficult to have a frank conversation about them. The discussion with my guest Ben Joffe touches on a range of topics such as gender equality, the use of sex as practice, and more in drawing on the work of Dr Nida Chenagstang and his recent book Karmamudra: The Yoga of Bliss (Sexuality in Tibetan Medicine and Buddhism), which Ben edited and did much of the translation for. Needless to say, the area is so vast that we could only really just get things started. For this reason, you’ll find that the introduction is far longer than usual and I hope this doesn’t put you off. The reason for it is that I wanted to summarise some of the views and entertaining content from a book by another author called John Stevens, who wrote a delightful book on Buddhism and sex back in 1990 called Lust for Enlightenment. His book acts as a survey of the historical relationship between Buddhism and sex and posits a view that this relationship has taken two particular lines of development throughout its history; the puritanical view and the idealised, liberational view. These lines are important because they also remind us that we have a lot of familiarity in the West with the puritanical view and its taboos, obsession with sin, and negative view of the body, and sensuality in general. What’s more, the puritan strain in Buddhism has much in common with Christianity and Islam, being male dominated, chauvinistic, misogynistic and disparaging of sexual diversity.

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15.1 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Cults 2

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Why wouldn’t you want to join a cult? That’s a question Stuart and I get round to addressing in the latest episode of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. We also find time to cover Alison Mack and life after Smallville in a sex cult, Miranda, the latest Maitreya, and a number of other cults we missed out the first time round. Stuart brings his new found insights into super-powered hypno-wonder, and I reveal my disappointing IQ as we skirt around topical issues such as…IQ and the Alt-Right, existential crises and why being in a cult can actually be fun. We get in some conspiracy theories, give a mention to Michelle Pfeiffer, and even manage to spend a few words on Buddhism in the process. We had fun on this one and may offend a person or two. Please take this as a trigger warning. This episode features blasphemy, swearing, mention of S…E…X, Sam Harris, mind control and other topical human wonder.If you missed our first bash at cults, click here: Post-traditional-buddhism – 31-imperfect-buddha-podcast-cults-cultish-shennanigans-buddhist-groups
Enjoy.

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Immanent Critique for the People!

This blog is on a brief hiatus as I am too busy to dedicate any time to writing posts. I am putting together a more significant text for a journal, which I might reword into a short series of posts here at a later date. Finally, I intend to write a piece on resistance as the first post back. For now, here’s a posting at the Speculative non-Buddhism site positing the idea of neo-liberal Buddhism. I can’t help but think Mr Wallis is on to something.

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Several readers have contacted me about more hands-on exercises like Tom Pepper’s post “Reality and Retreat.” That post challenged us to do a kind of anthropological study of an online Shambhala retreat.

Maybe some of you will be interested in engaging the intelligence-enhancing practice of immanent critique. It’s fun, and edifying, too!

Recall what art historian Lydia Goehr taught us a while back:

To [Theodor] Adorno critique is not the promise of happiness, nor the promise of freedom. It is always immanent critique, the turning of thought back upon itself… This is the way that some of the so-called “social truth content” comes out of critique: It exposes the authority that concepts have over us. My suggestion is that one way to think about critique is in terms of looking for ways in our thinking to break the authority our thinking has over us. In that…

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IBP 14.0 Evan Thompson on Philosophy, Buddhism, & Embodied Consciousness

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Welcome back to the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. After our lively discussion of theory and practice, we embark on a new series of interviews for all you Imperfect Buddhas. Our first for 2018 features Evan Thompson, professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, well known for his books “Waking, Being, and Dreaming: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy”, “The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience”, co-authored with the late Francisco Varela, “Mind in Life: biology, phenomenology and the sciences of mind” as well as “Self, No Self?: perspectives from analytical, phenomenological and Indian traditions”. Evan was invited onto the podcast due to his 2016 closing address to the ISCS and what appeared as a critical turn from Evan in the form of a critique of the fetishisation of mindfulness and its co-option for neo-liberal ends. Evan also argued for an embodied view of consciousness in his talk and critiqued the idea, popular in neuroscience work on meditators, that technology such as FMRI can give us a full or accurate picture of mind and an adequate picture of the significance of meditation and other contemplative practices. In his writing, Evan explores cognitive science, phenomenology, the philosophy of mind, and cross-cultural philosophy, especially Buddhist philosophy in dialogue with Western philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Evan has additionally been involved with the Mind and Life institution and its dialogues between scientists and the Dalai Lama.

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Imperfect Buddha Podcast 13.1: Theory & Practice & Happy New Year!

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Happy New Year folks!

Stuart finally makes his return to the Imperfect Buddha podcast in an in-depth discussion of the role theory and practice might play in a post-traditional engagement with Buddhism. This topic was inspired by a recent series of posts on exactly this topic over at the Post-Traditional Buddhism blog.

Our discussion goes critical as Stuart and I take our usual meander down the rabbit hole of taboos, and biting critique of the dysfunctional face of contemporary Western Buddhism.

This may just be our most controversial, critical issue yet! So, start 2018 with a bang and listen in. Any criticisms can be posted at the usual locations: here, Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments section at the blog.

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Theory and Practice + EXPERIENCE

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To open up this exploration, it would be appropriate to add in a third category with a word that is omnipresent in western Buddhist discourse but rather problematic: experience. We can place this term on a triangle to show its interdependence with the other two. The idea of this simple diagram is that the three are in relationship with, feed into, and inform each other, and that leaving one or the other out may lead to a dysfunctional relationship with the other two.

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Experience is one of those topics that solicit strong views from the philosophically trained, and for good reason, for experience is simultaneously simple and complex. What is experience, really? You may ask yourself this same question and an easy answer that fully satisfies will be hard to come by. For example, where does experience start and end? Is there a clear and abrupt shift from one experience to another? Where does experience go when it is complete? Where does it come from? The boundaries are less solid than we might initially believe them to be and yet we speak of experience as mine, easily identifiable and clear cut. For most folks it is enough to settle on a partial answer to the original question whilst happily skipping the awkward unanswerable, but this tends to reify experience. If experience is so central to Buddhism, then perhaps we shouldn’t take our relationship with it for granted.

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Theory and Practice: Performance

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This is the second part of a series of posts on theory and practice. If you haven’t already, you might want to start with part one. Click here to access it.

Seeing Buddhism and spirituality evaluated through a wider lens can help a practitioner to open up the Buddhist Sufficiency bubble and peek outside onto vast vistas of opportunities to grow and mature one’s idea of practice: although potentially destabilising, it is a liberating act and highly recommended. Before we proceed in that direction, it might be worth starting this section proper by reviewing some of the common meanings associated with the terms theory and practice. Depending on where you look, each can carry a good deal of additional and more precise meanings and no doubt many useful applications of the terms will be left out below. Though theory is used slightly differently in the humanities or the sciences each way can be related to one’s own practice and theoretical assumptions, so there is plenty of ripe ground for exploration. We can also tailor such terms to fit specifically to Buddhism. In consulting several dictionaries, we can find a wide range of useful definitions offered. You might like to read through the list and apply each to your own sense of Buddhism. Each of these definitions can be used to unlock a practice or theory and provide a simple means for gaining space from what may be a very personal and intimate thought or habit.

Practice Theory

1.      practical action

2.      action geared towards change

3.      the actual application or use of an idea

4.      contemplation of belief, ideas or methods

5.      the embodiment or enacting of theory

6.      the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing something

7.      repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it

 

1.      explanation

2.      a set of ideas

3.      abstract or generalised thinking

4.      the outcome of the process of thought

5.      a body of knowledge

6.      a set of principles on which the practice of an activity is based

7.      speculative understanding

8.      an idea used to account for a situation or justify a course of action

9.      an analytical tool for understanding and making predictions about specific matters

10.  a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained

I will apply the terms more specifically to Buddhism below, but if we were to simplify the two terms dramatically for a moment, we might simply say that;

Practice is what you do.

Theory is what you think and believe about what you do.

These simplifications are workable as reset points, but although a simplistic definition is desirable, to stop there would be to miss out on a richer understanding of the roles these two play in our relationship with Buddhism, or spirituality.

Performing Buddhism, Performing Identity

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

(Shakespeare, via Edwardes, via Petronius)

There is an associated meaning left out by the dictionary definitions above that is of great importance: the notion of practice as performance. Performance is evident in the ritualised nature of sitting meditation, tantric practices or dharma centre behaviour, to name a few. Practice is additionally the repeated identification with a style of being (i.e. equanimous, compassionate, caring, concentrated) and the navigation of identities (i.e. Dzogchen practitioner, Zen Buddhist, non-Buddhist). Do we identify as Buddhist? Are we engaging with Buddhist practices but refuse that label? Either way, an identity is being practiced: “I am this, I am not that, and I know this because of X.”

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