User Tools

Site Tools


Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism — Marcus Boon, Eric Cazdyn & Timothy Morton


As Anya Bernstein notes in her recent study of Buryatian Buddhism, there was a significant Buddhist reform movement in Buryatia in the 1920s, many of whose goals resemble those of contemporary/secular engaged Buddhists today

Asian areas such as Buryatia, Kalmykia, and Tuva with significant Buddhist populations into the USSR

For Žižek, the emergence of Buddhism in the West is a form of fetishistic disavowal of the material conditions of late capitalism, notably taking the form of an orientalist valorization of feudalist Tibetan Buddhist society and/or a fantasized position of removal from the “stress” of real material conditions via meditation and the doctrine of “no-self.”10 For Hallward, the turn to Buddhism is one of the symptoms of a postcolonial celebration of pure difference that results in a state of depoliticized disengagement from the world.11 Both Žižek and Hallward in part develop their arguments in response to the work of Alain Badiou and his argument for a philosophy and practice that maintains fidelity with the idea of communism

But as Ernst Benz suggests in his 1963 study Buddhism or Communism: Which Holds the Future of Asia?, the Japanese story is quite specific, and the actual historical relations between Buddhism and communism, imperialism, fascism or, for that matter, postcolonial empire have been variable


There is something ambiguous, something queer about the statue—something that might awaken anxiety, but in the Buddhist context in which the statue is viewed, no one seems anxious. As I shall argue here, this queerness is precisely correlated to the irrational fear of Buddhism. Indeed, many of the coordinates of what is here called Buddhaphobia overlap with those of homophobia: a fear of intimacy, a fear of ambiguity, a fear of inwardness and introversion, a fear of theory rather than praxis

Awareness might be the point, or a point—but it's what one is aware of that is the real point: impermanence, suffering, emptiness. Mindfulness might be a way to achieve awareness, or not.

The critique of mindfulness is immanent to Buddhisms. So much so that one might say that to critique mindfulness is . . . to be a Buddhist. Indeed, the Buddhist critique is far more searching, insofar as it does not suggest that mindfulness is evil or complicit with oppression, as if running around screaming and hitting one another were a path to realization (how's that been working out?). Rather, Buddhisms suggest that mindfulness is a helpful way to induce a state of relaxed attentiveness necessary for most people to notice some basic facts.

This sect regards the teachings of Mahamudra (“Great Symbol”) and Dzogchen (“Great Perfection”) to be practically identical. In those teachings, the Buddha nature is not to be sought anywhere outside of one's regular mentations (philosophizing, asserting, loving, hoping, hating, fearing, desiring, and so on). It is not to be striven for at all, but rather appreciated for what it already is—the essence of one's mind. And yet there is a sharp difference between such mentations, which are confused, and the basic default state, which manifests all the aspects of Buddha mind: unchanging, open, lucid, compassionate, suffused with renunciation and devotion. It is just that the Buddha mind is discovered to be the default state of mind as such. The analytic meditation of a pandita is intended not to produce concepts but to allow one to appreciate the default state.

The intellectual approach I adopt in this case is that favored by Mahamudra and Dzogchen, namely that of the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka exemplified by Chandrakīrti. This approach is most similar to the destructuring of thought common to Heidegger and Derrida

In this thought, nothing (reified or conceptual) is posited. Instead, all reified positions are deconstructed until their inherent paradoxes and aporias are unloosened. Thus Prāsaṅgika is used as a tool to exhaust conceptual mind, allowing the default state (known in Dzogchen as rigpa) to become obvious.

Appreciation is what is known as the aesthetic experience in Western philosophy, and it is the best translation I can think of for gom, which is the Tibetan for meditation: it literally means “growing accustomed to,” without applying a prefabricated technique

In short, the goal is to appreciate what is already the case

Meditative appreciation is of itself, in this case—there is, claims the esoteric view, an awareness that knows itself as such without an infinite regress of meta-ness. To this extent it is “secret,” not only because the instructions for this meditation are orally transmitted under special circumstances, but because they depend upon actualization to be appreciated, and because what is appreciated is vivid but unspeakable. There is no way to figure out what the view is about in advance

In Hegel's rage against a static image, there is something uncannily similar to the Taliban assault on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, endorsed by Žižek—along the lines of “at least the Muslims were sticking up for their beliefs!”17 These assaults are profoundly symptomatic of Buddhaphobia. As Žižek argues in The Sublime Object of Ideology, the sadist reduces the other to a malleable, faceless cartoon he can beat up without consequences.18 Like a statue. Statues cannot take offence. But what if they could? Žižek's equation of Buddhism with capitalist complicity—I can shop and subject myself to capital while I meditate, blissfully detached in a Matrix-like simulation of happiness—has to do with the fear of a certain kind of object, an object such as a statue that appears to have a weird agency. And can't we discern this agency, goes the fantasy, in the aesthetic seduction of the (consumerist) object? In his equation of Buddhism and capitalism, it appears as if Žižek does not credit this part of Lacan's seminar with the seriousness and relevance it might obtain in other hands. Why this disavowal of his father, Lacan? Why his return to grandfather Hegel, who expresses[…]

Buddhist “dharmas” (“atoms” in this case) are somewhat sophisticated correlations of subject and object

Something is wrong, out of joint, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, a slight flickering

Law of the Excluded Middle

Suspension plays with nothingness, in something like the same way in which evolution or capital or dreamwork play with nothingness. There is a strange in-betweenness that these concepts exemplify, neither one thing nor another, but rather the suspension of solid, stable constancy. Another term for this suspension is the aesthetic: the world of representation that is capable of suspending the will in phenomena such as music. Such ideas had precedents in the “darkness mysticism” of medieval apophatic theology, which played with the idea that thought and language could negate themselves

fear of consumerism, fear of narcissism, fear of passivity, fear of loops, fear of things

Either reality is not logical, or the Law of Noncontradiction is not congruent with reality and thus not logical enough. It is this second view that Buddhism espouses

The Law of Noncontradiction (LNC) has been the touchstone of Western philosophy. The touchstone, that is, until Georg Cantor and nineteenth-century mathematicians discovered all kinds of entities that defied it

Yet this teeming world is underwritten by nothingness

nothing_boon_cazdyn_morton.txt · Last modified: 2018/10/25 13:54 by nik