Humophobia. “Above all, we should cease postponing the act of becoming what in fact and essence we are,” says Henry Miller (Plexus). What we, in fact and essence are, of course, is human. The force of x-buddhist subjugation can be understood as an effort to repress this fact and reverse or even obliterate this “essence.” It does so by offering a pantheon of realized types – from the traditional arahant and bodhisattva to the contemporary mindful practitioner – skilled in the enlightenment arts of wisdom, compassion, kindness, non-judgmental clarity, and a host of other salvific dispositions. X-buddhist typology cynically belies fear of the human of flesh and blood, and thus fashions in its place fantastic constructions of enlightened mutants. The only way the x-buddhist typology can function is both to subsume and to overcome the human. That is, x-buddhism, first determines what the “the uninstructed worldling” is (lustful, deluded, hostile, unskilled, etc.), and then instructs him on how to surpass himself.1
Reading texts such as Ajahn Chah’s Our Real Home, it’s relatively easy to see the way in which one of those realized types – an enlightened mutant called the arahant – is still, in the twenty first century, used to exploit human fears – in this particular case fear of deterioration and death – in order to subjugate the flesh and blood of any potential reader. This particular case is an extreme one. It could easily shock the contemporary enthusiast of mindfulness, who very often know next to nothing about the bleak and terrifying side of a tradition from which her mindful practice (sati), supposedly, derives. Yet I think that this glaring example of x-buddhist parasitism allows us to portray what constitutes a common denominator for modern propagators of the mindfulness industry. In the general x-buddhist discourse, this denominator functions to strengthen the belief in the existence of variously defined defects supposedly inherent in man’s nature (very often called an “ego” in modern x-buddhist circles) – allegedly manifesting as lust, deception, hostility, ignorance, etc.
Chah, contrary to the politically correct message of the marketers of mindfulness industry, at least doesn’t beat around the bush – he openly speaks about the sickness and pain which consumes the whole of humanity. Whereas the propagators of mindfulness, unable for obvious reasons to expose today’s middle class, which constitutes the majority of its clientele, to such shocking “traditional” rhetorical devices, talks obliquely, in therapeutic lingo, about disorientation, absent-mindedness, being distracted, being absent, ADHD and/or depression. Nonetheless, in both cases, the whole indoctrinating manoeuvre involves instructing a confused “average” person, firstly in what is the essence of this defect, and secondly, how, by skillfully implementing/buying x-buddhist/mindfulness instructions/services, she will be able to surpass herself, and thereby, ultimately overcome the defect/sickness. In other words, through the offered elixir of mindfulness, wisdom, compassion, kindness, non-judgmental awareness, etc., this poor person is told how to attain salvation/self-realization/well-being.
In the case of Chah instructing/subjugation begins when our sympathetic Chah, at the very beginning of his talk, rhetorically transforms himself into the Protagonist himself, no less: “During the time that I am speaking, be as attentive to my words as if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting in front of you.” Another SNB heuristic comes to mind here, namely, rhetorics of self-display – all the means whereby the x-buddhist rending (de-cision) from reality is initiated. Then, concluding his speech, he says that he brings “you the Dhamma as a gift in this time of illness.” Thus, Chah/Buddha has a gift for you! Yet the key, I think, to understanding this specific rhetoric is the very last, catchy word “illness”: our whole life, according to this ascetic tradition of Chah is bad, everything is contaminated, painful, rotting and morbid – and only the nirvanic “peace” pushed by Chah, masquerading as the Protagonist, is able to protect us all against this omnipresent evil. At first glance, it is indeed a beautiful “gift” – a real cure for all evil. Or, a vivid instantiation of how x-buddhist rhetoric is cunningly applied to cure the rending from reality or satisfy decisional yearning which it itself induced in the first place.
Can we really perceive this gesture, this gift as an act of “compassion” – another staple of x-buddhist rhetoric? How so? First, the reader is presented with a rhetorical questioning of the meaning and value of her whole human existence – literally everything – and then, in conclusion, something called “peace” is bestowed upon her. Of course, as everyone can imagine, this is a very inviting offer for an “average” person with her inevitable assortment of ills and perplexities, and additionally stunned by the bleak scenario painted by Chah. The only problem is that this particular “gift” and the cost of its implementation – following the canonical interpretation – is unimaginable for a worldly/average person. I write this in order to emphasize the fact that under the guise of the “gift of the Dhamma” we cannot actually find anything a man of flesh and blood, living in a world of shit, wood and stone, could describe as compassionate. What we actually do find in this talk is the negation of her entire existence. Nothing in this scheming, of course, is surprising, since originally this offer used to be addressed primarily to those who from an ordinary point of view, were so mad that they took the x-buddhist offer for granted, and attracted by the vision of transcending this human sickness and pain (that is, their own lives and bodies), turned away from everything (family/community) and hit the woods, in order to heroically crack down on their senses, the very last bastion of “disease” – their unmanageable bodies still swarming with organic life.
So if we take seriously the ancient message of the Protagonist – apart from this apparent rhetoric of “compassion” resulting from the pressures of adaptive mechanisms in the context of a new culture, the version preached by today’s epigones such as Chah – it turns out that under the guise of appearances, we find nothing but the old ascetic call to leave this rotting and decaying world and escape into the dark forest. Over there, in retreat – not giving a shit about anything or anyone but complete cessation and end of rebirth – the ascetic arouses, in the virtual space of her highly concentrated consciousness, only phantoms of natural compassion, an emotion which in case of individuals not receptive to the ascetic message (mere householders), is commonly expressed in various ordinary acts and relationships within the context of community they live and eventually die. I wrote “phantoms of compassion” because the ascetic compassion, so extolled by x-buddhist apologists, ideally should not be a part of any social relations, maybe except of the magical exchange, where the ascetic being high on jhanas is believed to transfer her miraculous healing powers to the laity.2 This passive form of compassion is used by the ascetic to temporarily secure her basic existential needs (some food scraps, rags, not being persecuted by the hostile laity) enabling her to continue this reclusive pursuit which technically speaking aims at lowering her bodily arousal to the absolute minimum3 – that is, to facilitate the aforementioned “peace.” And when an appropriate moment comes, says the myth – when the “fruit” is ripe – our heroine will be catapulted toward the nonexistence of “Nibbana,” a state having nothing to do with active compassion – this emotion so entangled with sickness called life.
And what of today’s amateur of “mindfulness”? In this case, the attainment of quasi-nirvanic nonexistence is not to be realized in the process of isolating the person from the outside world, and blocking her sensory experience. On the contrary, the non-existence is to be materialized, initially, as a a state of contemplative distance from the racing mind, and the temporary cessation of thoughts agitated by the capitalist vortex. Eventually this process will produce a gradual immersion in a “direct experience as it is,” regardless of its current modality. But what to do with the paradoxical fact that the most common cause of the turmoil and “stress” (read, defect of the worker), pushing modern man to the services of the mindfulness industry, is precisely this constantly accelerating systemic vortex? Is it likely that a person who divested herself of critical thinking in the process of “mindful practice” and thus decreased the likelihood of deliberate participation in a common, that is, political action, will be able to overcome such a deadlock? Is it possible to counter this vortex, which contrary to the assurances of the mindfulness industry, is not so much “in us,” as “around us,” spinning into existence a world molded by ideological and political forces? Can “mindfulness practice” help us to oppose this vortex? Or it is just another disciplinary method: a modern example of humophobia which enables gradual transformation of the human into hormonally optimized mutant/cyborg that will dutifully propel the predatory turbo-capitalistic system along its trajectory of never-ending growth?
1 Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice. Glenn Wallis, Tom Pepper, and Matthias Steingass., p. 136
2 The Making of Buddhist Modernity. McMahan, David L., p. 209
3 “Buddhist candidates for liberation (…) withdraw from all human company. By abandoning home and property, they are no longer involved in social life. By abstaining from killing living beings, giving up the possession of arms and renouncing all forms of human interaction including sexual intercourse, they minimalize the opportunities for social emotions. Instead they practice a form of passive compassion, presumably an emotion that facilitates the lowering of bodily arousal. Also the attempt to promote friendship and concord rather than their opposites where intercourse with other human beings is unavoidable is to serve the goal of calming body and mind.These practices do not promote ‘Buddhist morality,’ and therefore a vision of society. Rather their aim is to calm body and mind. The level of (bodily) tension is in this way reduced as far as possible, as a precondition for the psychological work that is to come.” Absorption. Two Studies of Human Nature. Bronkhorst, J., p. 105-106