Bow to the Supremacy of Peace

 

I have recently visited the largest Polish internet x-buddhist forum, as I do from time to time to assess a general mood of this still fringe, virtual community subsisting in my dear Catholic Poland. There, in the header, spread across the whole page, I read the following message taken from one of the essays by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

If we trace external conflicts back to their source, we will find that they originate not in wealth, position or possessions, but in the mind itself.

Well, there we are, I thought, another fine example of x-buddhist rhetorics that rhymes so well with the general message of neoliberal hegemony, namely: blame the victim. It is you, you, and you, and your miserable minds that are the real source of all the external conflicts and misfortune, not some wealth, position or possessions.

In a country that, for a couple of postwar decades, was molded by a communist regime, such a message of personal responsibility, touted since 89′ as individual freedom and liberty, is particularly persuasive and contrary to any collectivist way of seeing contemporary social ills. Which is rather ironic, considering the founding ethos of the Polish mass Solidarity opposition movement of the early eighties. This irony is somehow prefigured by the controversial poster made by Solidarity for the first free parliamentary election in 89′. It shows a free, fearless, but also pure and rightous individual, in the person of lone sheriff Will Kane (played by Gary Cooper) heading off with a swagger to mete out justice. Solidarity is left behind in the shadow.

SolidarnośćThe so called new Polish middle class, those who benefited the most from the process of restructuring (privatization) of the  political and economic system inherited from the Communists – seems to be an ideal target for such crypto-Thatcherite TINA slogans, delivered by such exotic Holy Men as Mr. Bodhi. Those who have succeeded, reading such texts, remain assured that it has been their very flexible minds that allowed them to gracefully flow with the stream of freedom. On the other hand, those members of this social group who has slipped up somewhere while  competing fiercely with other entrepreneurial minds, those who may potentially rage against it, get depressing and defeatist finger-wagging from Venerable Bhikkhu:

As private individuals we cannot hope to resolve by our will the larger patterns of conflict that engulf the societies and nations to which we belong.

But he quickly adds, to uplift the loosers, that:

But as followers of the Enlightened One what we can do and must do is to testify by our conduct to the supremacy of peace: to avoid words and actions that engender animosity, to heal divisions, to demonstrate the value of harmony and concord.

And here lies the double bind: it is not only that the poor thing is himself or herself responsible for all the external conflicts, but to top it all, s/he is explicitly prohibited by this message from meaningfully expressing his or her rage – that is, to activate political agency – thus posing direct challenge to the systemic source of his or her misery. But the only prescription offered by the Holy Man to those who happen to be hooked on the dharmic good is to form a depressing compliance with the state apparatus that – in order to hide systemic inequality – is peddling the slogans of personal freedom and individual responsibility. In short, it is your very mind that is solely responsible for all the external conflict. Do not be divisive, just bow to the supremacy of peace.

Real Work

The last thread once again developed in un-anticipated directions. Be it as it may, it is a rhizome-like structure and that’s good – but only when we somehow take with us some results and if we don’t always come back to the same questions.

Sadly the latter is the case. I think the reason is very much the unorganized, loose structure this SNB-blogging thing has and that there seems to be no one asking questions like 1) what is it that interests me really in this project, why do I come back reading and maybe commenting; and 2) what kind of commitment, if at all, would help to develop this further in the directions which are motivated and to some extent determined by the interests in the first question?

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Super Mario and the Gray Matter

Mario and the Gray Matter

Can meditation have something in common with video gaming? It appears that it can. And that something what brings together those two seemingly distant spheres of human activity is an increase in gray matter. Yes, just have a look at the results of studies published last year in Molecular Psychiatry and compare them with some of the conclusions presented by the authors of the article entitled “Mind of the Meditator” that has just appeared in the latest issue of Scientific American. For all those of you who, with some understandable reluctance, abandoned your Nintendos in favor of thickening your brain tissue and honing your concentration skills through practice of meditation, this could be surprisingly welcome news. It seems that now you can safely skip those grueling hours of sitting practice and simply return to grow your grey matter with your old pal, Super Mario.

But before you happily dust off your consoles and plunge into the game, let’s look at Mind of the Meditator from a slightly broader and critical perspective. Promise, it won’t be long.

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Body, Nature, Commodity : The Regime of the Spectacle.

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Civilization and the Stories we tell Ourselves.

I’ve been reading recently over at the Dark mountain project. For a number of reasons. Weariness with the same old inanities churned out by politicians — sustainable business, sustainable agriculture, the “management” of climate change — at best, fiddling while Rome burns, more often cynicism of the worst sort. I think a lot lately about the relation between the body, nature, ecology, and the way such a discourse might dovetail with a critique of capitalism and the opportunist embrace of environmentalism by liberal political parties, capitalist entrepreneurs, and marketing strategists out to create and exploit niche markets. Not to mention the buying and selling of carbon quotas by western governments, intent on business as usual despite impending catastrophe. Same old story and one structured on an unquestioned anthropocentric discourse that looks to me increasingly bankrupt.

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A New Subject?

job-rebuked

By Labelling as heresy all views of which it disapproved the Church successfully passed off its orthodoxy as a unique scale for weighing the true meaning of words, beings, and things. It nevertheless felt inadequate and disarmed in the face of certain attitudes that it deemed “meaningless and demented”. With some unease the Inquisition attached the words “free spirit” and “madness” to men and women who renounced all spiritual and temporal authority, seeking no more than to live in accordance with their desires…….    Raoul Vaneigem: The Movement of the Free Spirit.

Intro

This post addresses points about meditation Matthias and Tomek brought up in a recent comment tread. My thoughts were further stimulated by Tomeks video links and related printed material and by Matthias’s list of points on meditation. (links below). The following is structured on a series of questions (the section headings) to emphasize the exploratory nature of the content and its provisional character.

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Mindfulness 1.0

Originally posted on Richard K. Payne:

In attempting to formulate what I have meant by mindfulness, and its possible benefits, I have like any other dutiful plodding academic—stoop shouldered, threadbare elbows in my imitation Harris tweed coat, staring fitfully and distractedly into some ill-defined middle distance—had recourse to what others have written on the subject. Only to discover that the literature is mind-numbingly bloated.

I have been fortunate enough, however, to come across one very useful, deeply informed and well-modulated essay—Georges Dreyfus, “Is Mindfulness Present-Centred and Non-Judgmental? A Discussion of the Cognitive Dimensions of Mindfulness,” (Contemporary Buddhism 12.1 (May 2011): 41–54). Dreyfus examines the contemporary representations of mindfulness as found in the therapeutic mode, which we may note is much the same as that found in the business administration, and self-help modes. Taking as just one of any number of similar definitions, he quotes the work of S. Bishop, et al. (“Mindfulness: A Proposed Definition,”

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Meditation, Pain and Liberation: Thoughts on a long weekend.

Intro

Recently, Matthias and I took part in a long weekend meditation retreat. It was a self organized affair between friends. The nominal leader of the retreat trained in the Zen tradition of Deshimaru and has practiced for over 25 years. We sat for four hours a day in hour-long stints. This was the most intense experience of meditation I have had since I became involved in the non-buddhist project. It was an opportunity to examine the effect on my practice of a year of reading and thinking about contemporary philosophy and non–buddhist thought. Not to mention writing, which I now consider a practice in itself.

Of course many x-buddhists would not consider this a ‘real’ retreat, since it was missing the legitimacy bestowed on such an undertaking by a Guru or his appointed teacher. Lets leave that aside for the present; anyone who has read here will know that we are not worried by such a lack and in fact welcome it. That does not mean, though, that one can get by without the presence of someone with experience. What it does mean is that one can organize such an event outside of x-buddhist practice and produce an experience every bit as useful.

In future posts I hope to explore the relation between meditation and non-buddhist thought, using such weekends as a sort of laboratory experiment. For this post I want to concentrate on one of the consequences of intensive periods of meditation – pain.

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