Humophobia

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 –Mun 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, talksMindfulnista 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?

Cruel Theory/Sublime PracticeGlenn 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

 

10 thoughts on “Humophobia

  1. Tomek,

    Thanks for this text. I am struck by your link to Ajahn Chah’s text and the dark vision of world renunciation there, a living relic from the buddhist past—as out of place in the context of present day religious/spiritual discourse and practice as the morbid obsession with sexual sin of the catholicism I grew up with.

    then truly, never again will one return to be conceived in a womb.

    This last line of the discourse on loving kindness, which always succeeds in shocking me, says it all…. what sort of loving kindness wishes this on any being? Only the most virulent world hatred surely?…not to be conceived in a womb. Who would wish it? And the aversion to flesh, to the body, that bloated bag of puss and vile contaminants—as if even in life it were halfway to putrefaction. The barely disguised misogyny. The womb being after all the incubator of all of this filth.

    And yet for all of the aversion such a vision engenders one has to admire its extremism—its determination to go the whole hog. Beside it the watered down commodified excuse for a Buddhism concocted by latter day practitioners of mindfulness pales into insignificance. If, that is, we can even call it Buddhism. There seems to be good evidence,as you point out, to suggest that its forebears, at least on the Kabat Zinn side of things, were homegrown.

    And what of compassion?

    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.

    In return the practitioner is left in peace to foster the concentrative jhanas necessary to propel him into a state of nibbana —ultimate release.

    This will seem to some an assassination of early Buddhism; a vindication of the Mahayana and its elevation of the compassionate form of the bodhisattva, and his vow to be reborn time and time again in order to save all sentient beings. Tibetan Buddhism, though, seems to have made a sound job of integrating the two in the form of the lam rim discourses, so that the renunciative power of early Buddhism is still a force to contend with, and a means of subjugation.

  2. Patrick (#1),

    If, that is, we can even call it Buddhism. There seems to be good evidence,as you point out, to suggest that its forebears, at least on the Kabat Zinn side of things, were homegrown.

    The early and important mentor for Zinn was “venerable” DSSN Seung Sahn, Korean monk/soldier who although originally formed by traditional Korean Chogie order, when he made his way to the US, he – like Shoyen Shaku, D.T. Suzuki and other numerous Dharma modernizers before him – started to push this completely de-traditionalized Zen for mesmerized Westerners. One of them apparently was Zinn. Then there is a story line with his involvement in Insight Meditation Society, namely Kornfield, Salzberg, Goldstein – all the members of this company are so called “Dharma heirs” of the Thai or Burmese teachers among therm our sympathetic Chah.

    So I wouldn’t suggest that Zinn’s Buddhism or rather “mindfulness” was entirely homegrown – he certainly inherited something (mana?) through his sheer association with those people I mentioned. And lets not forget that “mindfulness” is always tied to the canonical sati buddheme – so he himself evidently manifest all the signs of x-buddhist decision. But on the other side, when you look at the main characteristics of his “method,” as I tried to do in my post about “relaxationism,” there seems to be virtually nothing in them to indicate some x-buddhist inheritance. All of those “tools” of dealing with “stress” were devised by Westerners in late XIX, early XX century, people who had nothing in common with x-buddhism. So the “age-old optimisms” are indeed repackaged, as Glenn once suggested, but this time with the “mindfulness” logo on it, and a faint glow of “Buddhism” behind it to enhance the new brand on the Market.

  3. Tomek,

    I think that it is a common and utterly human strategy to counter the uncanniness of the void, coming in with its myriad of explanations and valuations of the human place in the (dis-)order of things, with explanations that obfuscate unpopular ‘flesh and blood’ – explanations. Only few want to hear that there is a chance that there are sickness and pain without any form of salvation whatsoever. Why should there be any salvation? We are thrown in a universe in which “…everything is contaminated, painful, rotting and morbid.” The cosmos presents no solution, to a greater degree it is indifferent to our conscious experiences of pain, decay and morbidity.
    Why not be “…stunned by the bleak scenario” without dodging behind human values and soothing images? Maybe the capitalistic machinery cannot be countered of any kind whatsoever. Like the ooze or fog in some horror novels, it will eat humanity up, in an act of complete indifference to human life. Then we would have the stuff for a new horror novel: The Call of Capithulhu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu).

  4. Excellent quote from Marx posted by Patrick in the Reorientation thread (#31). But it occurs to me that this to some extent undercuts Tomek’s point about Ajahn Chah “openly speak[ing] about the sickness and pain which consumes the whole of humanity.” As Marx points out, both religion and scientific socialism seek to address exactly this sickness and pain. Though they may identify different causes and prescribe different remedies, Marx does not find the human condition any less unsatisfactory than does Ajahn Chah.

    Also we should not overlook that Ajahn Chah purports to be addressing the topic of death. Marx says that the “abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.” But it has never been clear to me that socialism makes any claim to free humans from the specter of death. The classic causes of suffering identified in Buddhism are aging, sickness, and death. Marx says religion is the “sigh of the oppressed creature,” and socialism promises an end to that oppression. I hope I harbor hopes for what socialism may achieve, if we are ever able to achieve socialism, that are as exalted as anyone’s. But I certainly do not imagine that socialism will overcome aging, sickness or death.

  5. Matthias m and David,

    Great points. The juxtaposition of the Ajahn Chah text with the quote from Marx raises vital points about suffering, its origin and the limits of the solutions offered by both forms of thought, although I wasn’t thinking of that particular one when I quoted from Marx. And then there is the question of the way both can become self contained totalist systems. Laruelles non-philosophical method is as applicable to certain versions of Marxism as to Buddhism. So the overlaps are very productive to an understanding of the limits of both. Add to that the historical relation between Marxism and the emergence of versions of Stalinism, in which the cult of personality predominated and you have a third common factor— the phenomenon of the charismatic guru/leader offering profound insights exclusive to a thought that grants itself a form of ocular superiority .(although, of course, the guru/leader worship evident in some forms of western Buddhism pales into insignificance beside the cult of Mao or Stalin. Still common psychological/social factors seem to be in play).

    In my post ‘Marx and the human‘ I tried to touch on these issues to an extent, but there is great need for a thorough exploration of the way both systems identify the causes of suffering and its amelioration.

    Only few want to hear that there is a chance that there are sickness and pain without any form of salvation whatsoever. Why should there be any salvation?

    Why indeed. This question has been a preoccupation of ‘western’ philosophical and artistic exploration for almost all of the first 80 years of the 20th century and for good reason, considering its history. This legacy of thought is forfeit if you seek to answer the question of suffering exclusively from a Buddhist perspective. This is one factor that brought about my disillusion with X-buddhism. One has only to consider the works of Sartre or Camus, to cite just two thinkers, to realize just how much original thinking on this question is available to us. Both these writers explored these issues by means of philosophical texts and novels . Or consider the poet Celan, for example his poem ‘Death fugue’ and the related series of paintings“Your golden hair Margarete/Your ashen hair Shulamithe” by Anselm Kieffer. Here is just one example of the heritage of exploration we overlook in favor of exotic ‘eastern’ phantasmagoria abstracted from the original cultural setting and reduced to a mindless caricature . As for European history, one could go on and on about the legacy of suffering and the inquiry into suffering we are heirs to. All of this is sidelined in x-buddhist discourse and practice in return for what has turned out to be an intellectually poverty stricken obsession with ‘personal realization’.

    I hope I harbor hopes for what socialism may achieve, if we are ever able to achieve socialism, that are as exalted as anyone’s. But I certainly do not imagine that socialism will overcome aging, sickness or death.

    Marx , of course, didn’t either. This raises the question about the limits of any solution to human suffering dependent on social transformation. But we are talking about the meaningful (or meaningless) horizon against which we experience aging and death, as much as about the process itself. And Marx , especially in his early work, has a lot to say about that. Can we, or should we, seek for some form of hope, or consolation, in the face of personal and ultimate collective extinction? The chah text obviously has made an a priori decision about the value of human life and implies, for all its realist insistence on decay, a transcendental escape that very soon becomes the full-blown reification of a metaphysical originating ground to which we will eventually return, via a process of the dissolution of the samsaric skandas. That is to say , a realist insistence of the inevitability of suffering , decay, and death is a rhetorical foil for nibbana . Anything else is denounced as nihilism and rejected.

    From my perspective , such questions are unflinchingly addressed, not by pali cannon buddhism, but by western atheism— by, for example existentialism and the artistic movements it inspired, or the works of Nietzsche, Bataille, Celan, and a host of other writers and poets. Consider how the inevitably of death and the thirst for oblivion runs like a red tread through the works of Schopenhauer and how that is turn is obsessively explored in the operas of Wagner, the symphonys of Mahler, and the novels of Thomas Mann (to name but a few of the artists who have been indebted to his thought).

    In comparison, how poverty stricken the western x-buddhist discourse appears, and how foolish to remain obsessivly fixated on its banal outpourings.

  6. Pingback: News and Updates (May 13–3 new items) « Speculative Non-Buddhism

  7. Why not be “…stunned by the bleak scenario” without dodging behind human values and soothing images?

    Matthias (# 3), one of the mine points I’m trying to make here – this regarding Chah’s thaumaturgy – borders on cliché. I am not talking about whether to be or not to be “stunned” by scenarios such as these. It’s not of my business what someone “experiences” in this particular regard.

    The cliché I mean here is simply an exploitation – that goes under the guise of soothing – of universal human experience of fear of death and deterioration by the castes of “religious specialists” and institutions they represent. Robed individuals like Chah, utilize various rhetorics of display (including feeding fear of death and deterioration) to trigger this natural in our species cognitive disposition towards casual essence. Those “traditional” strategies result in setting such individuals apart from the common folk and make them really powerful. See Matthias Steingass piece on thaumaturgy or Glenn post on Buddhist of Oz.

    But there is another point I’m also interested in, namely, how is this much more diffuse notion of what in the text I call defect, utilized by mindfulness industries, or more widely, by contemporary psychotherapeutic culture. And what it actually has in common with much more straightforward strategies such as those pushed by x-buddhist traditionalist like Mr Chah. I assume that under a veneer of political correctness, there you find similar old tune about ultimate helplessness of flesh and blood, it’s need of guidance from the specular authority and its purveyors – in case of neoliberal ideology, the self-regulating Market and various experts implementing it, therapists shaping the “evil ego” of of malfunctioning workers included.

  8. Hi Tomek,
    Re 7#

    I assume that under a veneer of political correctness, there you find similar old tune about ultimate helplessness of flesh and blood, it’s need of guidance from the specular authority and its purveyors – in case of neoliberal ideology, the self-regulating Market and various experts implementing it, therapists shaping the “evil ego” of malfunctioning workers included.

    The point you make here has much to do with the ‘structural’ connection between critiquing a particular form of systematized thought—-thought that claims for itself a specular authority concerning the real based on nothing more than an arbitrary decision—and the politics of power in its various guises, ‘free market’ neo liberal agendas morphed with psycho-theraputic and ‘spiritual’ discourses seeking to reform the individual in various ways, to make them malleable, less resistant to control, more inclined to individualistic dissatisfaction, more amenable to the idea that there is something wrong with me rather than with the distorted social relations producing a dysfunctional world—a world to which I must conform, or risk failure, exclusion.

    This process of subjugation begins at the point where the discourse on what is normal has already taken on an aura of incontrovertibly in the form of what everyone knows —a form of subjugating consensus in which everyone agrees to site the origin of malfunction within the individual prefigured as designated individual social identities—the poor, the social failures, the incompetents, the maladjusted, the marginalized, the mentally ill —-and not between individuals. To be a realized human, in this society, is to avoid being classed among the ‘failures’. What any unbiased examination of the fate of the growing army of failures will show is that their fate is bound up with states of collective malfunctioning and not in states reified as internal deficit (to use the pervasive language of exchange on which notions of human value are grounded). Further investigation will show a connection between these states of collective malfunction and structures of inequality in the ownership of wealth and the exercise of power along a continuum in which the poor and the powerless accumulate and display the symptoms of failure while the rich and powerful accumulate and display the symptoms of success

  9. Patrick (#8), I subscribe to everything you say above. I would add that what is also interesting to me is how those “‘spiritual’ discourses,” as you say, meaning here particularly x-buddhism’s axiom of eliminating desire in order to derail the karmic chain of “diabolic” cause and effect – when translated into, or better co-opted by hyper-capitalistic and secular culture – form collective entities or subjects that are profoundly ambivalent towards desire or completely devoid of it (in a constructive way). In other words, what follows is a quiet colonization by the “Market forces” (with a paradoxical help of ancient ascetic traditions) of large swaths of modern (immobilized or derailed by the lack of desire) societies and in effect implementation of Market’s particularistic form of (false) desire – hence the inability of human flash and blood to built its own form of authentic collective subjectivity in the first place.

  10. Tomek,

    Re 9#

    I find your last comment very interesting. By in a constructive way I take it you mean that they (collective entities or subjects ) lack a ‘healthy’ or ‘normal’ or uninhibited desire …an energetic drive to realize their needs. Instead there is the opposite—a passive state in which substitute objects are consumed through entertainment, general consumption of material goods, relationships, even selves configured as acquired ways of being, as lifestyles.
    How would you define desire? My way of thinking about it is as a morphing of biological impulse and symbolic representation —something like a thought propelled by an energetic charge, a surge towards the desired object. The object of desire is symbolic, a mental construct embedded within a narrative, a story about its desirability. Its quite possible that this mental construct has no referent in the ‘world’ no actual object—that would be a form of hallucination. I think the varied lifestyles of fulfillment and self realization, peddled by the advertising and entertainment industry and by much of x—Buddhism are such empty constructs—pure hallucination, nonexistent in the world.
    This would be something like Freud’s death drive—the drive for an equilibrium, a state of minimum agitation—which has something to do with the immediacy of consumption, its capacity to deliver a fix so that one relieves the energetic charge into the hallucinated object as quickly as possible and with the least expenditure of effort . So when you say:

    a quiet colonization by the “Market forces” (with a paradoxical help of ancient ascetic traditions) of large swaths of modern (immobilized or derailed by the lack of desire) societies and in effect implementation of Market’s particularistic form of (false) desire – hence the inability of human flash and blood to built its own form of authentic collective subjectivity in the first place.

    you are describing the way in which capitalism harnesses the death drive and represses real desire by substituting the false desire of a passive, manipulated and exploited object, negating any possibility of true subjectivity,of a real person (of flesh and blood).

    Somewhere in all of that we should insert the idea of power structures as either functioning to direct the energy of desire into the world or recoil it back into the victimized person so that it reconstitutes itself endlessly as the process of hallucinated desire and momentary discharge.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s