Imperfect Buddha Podcast: introducing post-traditional Buddhism (P.2)

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We finally made it. Our latest episode of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast has just been published over at Soundcloud and readers are invited to go and check it out. It is actually our twentieth episode and we have been going for well over a year now. Like all creative projects, there is a need for renewal and inspiration and you will likely notice some of this going on in the direction our conversation takes.

This episode takes forward our exploration of post-traditional approaches to Buddhism but we choose to begin with a discussion that touches on a variety of topics including Jordan B. Peterson, Sam Harris, archetypes, political correctness, and more.

We then move onto the discussion and exploration of post-traditional Buddhism, drawing on the original ideas of Hokai Sobol, and tying together all of the themes into a wonderful unitary whole…of sorts.

This episode represents change, not only for the content of our discussion, which is more serious than usual, but also for a number of sound bites which bring Sam, Jordan and Slavoj Zizek into the conversation. We hope you enjoy these and that they don’t upset the flow of the conversation, which goes deeper down the rabbit hole than usual.

Let us know what you think.

Episode is sponsored by O’Connell Coaching:

Music supplied by Taos Humm and RSD from Bristol, UK. Go and support the artists by throwing money at them.
Taos Humm…er-pre-order/

Against the spiritual




  1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not material; supernatural: spiritual power.
  2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
  3. Not concerned with material or worldly things.
  4. Of or belonging to a religion.
  5. Having a mind or emotions of a high and delicately refined quality.
Synonyms: religious, unearthly, apparitional, ghostlike, ghostly, phantasmal, spectral

When you say the word spiritual, what do you actually mean? What is it that you are referring to in the world or in yourself? If you can define it in other terms, what does calling it spiritual add?

Look at the definition of the word spiritual above. Now ask yourself how much of this should have a place in Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. Is meditation itself really a form of spiritual practice? If so, I personally may no longer be interested in it. I believe that the language we continue to use to talk about Buddhism and meditation in the West is bound too closely to the original baby boomer Buddhists who took their strong Judaeo-Christian cultural roots to the once exotic East and mixed them together with Hinduism and a rather romantic interpretation of Buddhism to produce a muddled hybrid. We are still caught up in their experiences and understanding of Buddhism and this stickiness has been further complicated by the infiltration into western Buddhist discourse of language and concepts that gained prominent usage in the New-Age of the 80s and 90s. Surely it is time we moved on! Surely we can find a better term than spiritual to describe what we are doing when we dedicate a sufficient part of our existence to an examined life, informed at a significant level by some form of Buddhism, whether traditional or post-traditional.


Post-traditional Buddhism: getting practical


A common request from those travelling around the Buddhist periphery looking for alternatives to traditional Buddhism is for innovators and critics to provide practical solutions and responses to the theoretical critique being made. I myself have been one of those who at various times in the past has asked for something practical to be done with all the theory and it behoves me now to do my part to bridge the gap between theory and practice but also remind listeners and readers that theory is itself the child of pragmatism and always results from action; the action of thought, contemplation, reflection, analysis, questioning, doubting and so on. Theory, therefore, will continue to be a cornerstone of practical, pragmatic approaches to engaging with Buddhism anew and makes up a great deal of the practical side of engaging with Buddhism from a post-traditional perspective.

Emphasising the role of theory is essential as one of the important contributing factors that has allowed Western Buddhism to give rise to its more problematic facets is the general US culture of anti-intellectualism that has accompanied the rise of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and now Donald Trump: I know I shouldn’t, but I simply couldn’t resist referencing these key figures involved in the dumbing down of American culture. Having been the Empire of the last century, The States has obviously had a very strong influence on Europe and the rest of the world and this includes not only its political and economic exports and political ideology but also in its exportation of cultural forms and styles, so that, although Europe generally does not suffer from the American suspicion of intelligence, nuance, subtlety and sophistication, it has accepted, in the world of Western Buddhism at least, a creeping form of anti-intellectualism, and in the world of the spiritual but not religious, an obsession with first person subjectivity and the cult of feeling. Starting out with the practical business of thinking, therefore, is an essential initial step because, as our more intellectual readers are all too familiar, theory, in the form of ideas and beliefs in particular, underlies, shapes and colours all of the practical stuff that our more down-to-earth brothers and sisters like to front.


11.1 Imperfect Buddha: Buddhism goes post-traditional


This episode starts off our exploration of post-traditional Buddhism, or better, post-traditional approaches to Buddhism. This might just be a major feature of the future of Buddhism in the West, if Buddhism actually manages to survive the rest of the century here as a powerful source for personal and social change. David Chapman may not think so, but who knows? If Buddhism was to benefit from a sufficient degree of cultural innovation, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t find itself once again providing meaningful responses to some of our wider concerns.

After a short preamble and our usual silliness, we get into a serious discussion of the power and appropriateness of post-traditional approaches to Buddhism, even touching on how traditional Buddhists might explore such an approach themselves. Stuart gets in yet another dig at Shambhala…but if you are a good ol’ Shambhalian, do try to avoid taking it all too seriously.

We also include our end of year awards for 2016. A strictly tongue in cheek affair, it will give you the chance to hear all about the big Buddhist winners from last year with categories including; Buddhist scandal of the year, best book, best website and best German.


The imperfect Buddha podcast is sponsored by O’Connell Coaching. If any of the topics in the podcast are personally relevant and/or problematic, or if you wish to explore life after Buddhism and are looking for support and guidance in personal development, an exploration of spiritual practice and transformative practices within a coaching context, follow the link to find out more:


The imperfect Buddha podcast supports up-and-coming musicians in Bristol groups. Hundred Strong and Joseph Malick provides this episode’s music. Do have a listen and if you like what you hear, support the artist at the band camp site:



10.0 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: David Chapman on stages of maturation, Dzogchen & the future of Buddhism


In this episode of the imperfect Buddha podcast, we finally get round to speaking to David Chapman. For those familiar with David’s work, there is so much that could have been discussed as he writes on all manner of fascinating topics ranging from Buddhism to philosophy, psychology to Vajrayana, artificial intelligence and more. Our interests converged on the topic of maturation outside of religious and spiritual discourse with David’s recent exploration of adult development and maturation just the sort of topic that we like to explore here on the podcast.

David has built on the work of Robert Keagan, an important living psychologist, in exploring adult development and maturation through five key stages. David focuses on three of them, aligning the final stage with Buddhism, in particular Dzogchen. An understanding of these stages has important consequences for Buddhists, especially considering the potential conflict between self-development, maturation and concepts such as no self, impermanence and so on.

We cover additional topics such as the present and future of Buddhism in the West, the current state of university campuses in the Anglo-American world, the problem with SJW’s and post-modern theory, nihilism and determinism, practices that may shift people onwards through the last three levels of maturation and more.



The imperfect Buddha podcast is sponsored by O’Connell Coaching. If any of the topics in the podcast are personally relevant and/or problematic, or if you wish to explore life after Buddhism and are looking for support and guidance in personal development, an exploration of spiritual practice and transformative practices within a coaching context, follow the link to find out more:


The imperfect Buddha podcast supports up-and-coming musicians in Bristol groups. Oliver Wilde, a Bristol musician on the Howling Owl label, provides this episode’s music. Do have a listen and if you like what you hear, support the artist at the band camp site:


David’s main site is a treasure trove for the discerning explorer of personal-development, spirituality and intelligent practice. A great act of generosity designed at clearing up much confusion in the realm of spirituality, David communicates clearly and concisely. Highly recommended, Meaningness:

Another of David’s sites, Vividness features an article on the podcast’s main topic:

Arot-ter site managed by David. Lots of good resources here:

Stories and their ubiquity: it just got more complex


Stories and their ubiquity

We live in a world of narratives, of stories, legends, tales and fictions that run very deep and saturate society. Ideologies are stories, social realities are built around narratives and religions are stories too, of course. Some would argue that all human systems of knowledge are stories of one kind or another. If we were to view the world in this way, then it may seem reasonable to retreat to familiar stories, reassert old favourites or embrace a relativistic approach and decide that any old one will do if it makes us happy and fits our personal needs. This may seem attractive at first but not all stories are equal. It would initially seem wiser for us to choose or tell stories that find a healthy balance between closing the gap with what is objectively real and meeting human social needs. They would be stories that provide means for humans to navigate the relationship between what is real, the social realities on offer and the life situations that are ongoing, emergent and changing. Good stories would ideally enable us to refine these relationships and continue to evolve them for the betterment of our species and those we depend on; animate and inanimate. This is one reason that many intellectuals continue to promote the modernist story of progress. In its ideal form, it is concerned with the betterment of our lot, the increase of knowledge and refinement of technology for the advancement of our species. That is a very good story, an admirable story. Like all stories though, it has holes and has created a multitude of historical problems and in one telling has had grave impact on the life situation of millions whilst contributing to the ecological disaster we are facing ahead. Modernity emerged in response to pre-modernity and its stories and their religious genesis and many still cling to those stories too. Postmodernists have their own stories as well and just like previous historical phases, true postmodernists are unable to see their own theories as fictional accounts that are productive of social realities and contentious relationship with what is real; something many of them hold to be non-existent. In fact, one could argue that much of the fragmentation we see in society today is reflective of the postmodern experience of social reality: one in which the unstable nature of socially constructed stories denies the physical, material, biological ground on which they depend. These stories that emerge in these historical phases are deeply, deeply involving.


Identity formation and Buddhism: some issues


Well done, you’ve made it this far. I hope you have found something useful to read in this stream of posts. Whether you agree or not with my ramblings is besides the point, I post because I like to write, to get better at it, and to challenge my own assumptions. Doing so leads me to think further, challenge myself more, and then share that with whoever might find it of use. My own ignorance continues to impress me and I think it wonderful that we have access to so much thought and history, and can struggle and strive to understand our shared human lot and at each phase of new understanding, stare into a open abyss with yet another new horizon looming. There are plenty of holes in this writing. When I reread pieces of it I still find typos, errors, badly worded phrases and room for improvement but it is pointless to be a perfectionist in any sort of creative endeavour. You do your best at the time and even though it’s never quite enough, you put it out there and it opens the way to the next challenge.

The final piece, to be posted tomorrow, will be on the ubiquitousness of stories and is in part a reflection inspired by Glenn Wallis’ description of Cassirer in the last podcast episode we undertook, and in part by my ongoing curiosity regarding the seeming need we have as a species to weave elaborate stories about ourselves in the world.

Identity formation and Buddhism: some issues

The opposite of subjectification is the process of desubjectification, and in the case of identity, it implies peeling away the layers of social conditioning and social formation that we have gone through. At the heart of the desubjectification process is the need to explore identity formation and its curious relationship with the emptiness, space, or void found within each layer of conditioned being that is encountered. One of Buddhism’s great offerings has been its insight into this vacuousness of selfhood along with its elaboration of an immense array of practices designed to acquaint practitioners with it. This insight is present across a plethora of academic fields too. Much of western philosophy recognises, since David Hume, that there is no core to our being or unifying consciousness such as a soul. Psychologists recognise that we have no internal controller or commander driving the bus, and neuroscience has not found anything resembling a self in the brain either. But what do we make of such insight? How we respond to it is of utmost importance if it is to have any productive value after all. In most cases, the emergence of these views in western society seems to have had little impact on how we conceive of ourselves and even those more inquisitive folks who read books such as The Self Illusion likely take the new information on board and then continue on with their lives as usual. It’s quite understandable, though. Subjectively, we continue to feel pretty consistent and the people around us seem to confirm this. We generally experience ourselves as progressing through time with a reasonable degree of stability and we wake up each day and there’s that face in the mirror again. The self as illusory may be a Buddhist truism but our relationship with subjectivity is not abandoned so easily.