Struggle Without Fear
by Patrick Jennings
This text came about as a comment on Arran’s post “The Ko’an of Extinction”. It is not a critique as much as a series of digressions inspired by Arran’s thoughts. It does not attempt to do justice to the range of his concerns. Even a cursory reading of the more than one hundred posts by Arran would show that he is in no need of a supplement to his thinking by the likes of me. Because it originated in a series of comments, my text probably reads as disjointed and disparate. That’s fine, since I seem to be bereft of a coherent set of propositions that might unify it (and no longer too worried about that to boot). My advise to anyone reading it is the same as Timothy Leary’s advice in the last lines of his “Politics of Ecstasy”- write your own politics of ecstasy. In like manner – write your own ko’an of extinction.
All quotes, unless otherwise stated, are form Arran’s text.
“The world-for-us corresponds to the world in our various comportments, to the world as it correlates to human cognitive and instrumental projects. The world-for-us is the world of the human interior, the one that our perception and philosophies have constructed. To it belongs all of human endeavour such that any scientific disclosure of that world is a necessary and accidental elusion of it…”
A key question is how the world-in-itself becomes a world-for-us. What sort of human thinking and action makes the “world-for-us” as it is?
Marx, in his thesis on Feuerbach, named the collective transformation of the givens of nature as “human sensuous practice”, an awkward phrase that tried to avoid reproducing the sufficiency of Idealist or Materialist postulates. The term points not at a system of concepts but at the actuality of human experience, the “real sensuous experience of the human being in his given historical situation”. The difficulty for Marx is that this “given of the human”, ( the world before it is bifurcated into “for-itself” and “for us”) is always already appropriated by philosophy as philosophizable in essence, conditioned on foundational concepts such as being, existence and becoming, out of which the “for-us” and “for-itself” are generated.
For Marx such appropriation by philosophy of the lived reality of the human, of human sensuous practice, was necessarily related to the expropriation of the labour time of the worker and its transformation into surplus value by way of commodity exchange. The medium of exchange – money – was the imposition of an abstract postulate on the human in which the energy of the worker was subjected to a process of becoming abstract – of becoming labour time measured in increments of the production process. The worker, in that situation, was merely a brain and a belly, as Marx put it, out of which surplus value could be extracted, appropriated and accumulated.
In essence, human sensuous practice, which would rightly involve the creation of use values out of the “givens” of nature, was now reduced to the extraction of surplus value out of the “givens” of economy – raw materials, production processes, machinery –in which the applied energy of the worker, inseparable from her embodied personhood, was abstracted as exchange value reckoned in units of time and units of currency. This constituted the imposition of a system of abstract postulates- economy– on the living body of the human and on the living planetary body, its continuum of sentient beings, animal and vegetative, and so called accretions of “dead” matter. A further set of impositions followed as a matter of course –abstract postulates such as justice, retribution, order, duty, crime, punishment, learning, normality, sanity etc, materialised as repetitive patterns of social relation; as institutions of the state and the state apparatus, as legal codes, law courts, prisons, armies, parliaments, churches, schools, bureaucratic and administrative bodies etc — the “World-for-us” as such.
By way of an imposed expropriation of human energy, human sensuous practice produces, contrary to human intention and interest, a world standing over and against the human as the inescapable given of the social– that alienated world of commodity production, consumption and exchange; that closed and viscously circular world mirroring the sufficient systems of philosophical postulates which are deployed to validate it; that self replicating system of commodity production whose ideology of unending development has reduced the planet to the point where scientists have declared a sixth extinction.
A world decidedly not for us in any human sense.
Marx designated the active component of human sensuous activity as “interests”- the actual practical interests of the workers for example, awareness of which arises in the very act of living, a thinking always embedded in human practice as immanent self-reflexivity, without the transcendent doubling which philosophy would impose on it after the fact. This spontaneously conceptual (but not philosophical) awareness, inseparable from the complex of feelings, emotions, and sense perceptions which arise out of the interaction between the biological individual and her environment, is the free expression of human interest which arises from the real as a “last instance”.
If we think of human sensuous practice as a form of “worlding” in which energy is expropriated, abstracted to units of currency and accumulated, the resulting world is not in any sense “for us” but is over and against us as the alienated distortion of human interests, perpetuated against the human as the “state of the situation”, perceived as naturally given. This givenness includes a sense of the self as this or that social/linguistic identity which, as we grow out of childhood, will be interpellated into the ideological/philosophical superstructure of concepts, the doublings of philosophy which function to validate the world as represented, mediated, and conditioned on the understandings of philosophers. In this way the self is implicated in the world and made identical with the abstract philosophical postulate “Individual” or “Subject” or “Agent”, without excess.
“The world-in-itself recedes beyond the bounds of intelligibility. The deeper we go the more incomprehensible the world shows itself to be.”
The problem, as Marx insists, is not to understand this world (for-us) but to change it.
This famous quotation is almost always understood as an admonition against the scholasticism of philosophers, or as a call to action conditioned on the postulates of philosophers. But there is a more immediate concern expressed here. One has to imagine Marx as the daily witness of human and environmental degradation on a par with post apocalyptic visions of collapse, precisely the scenario predicted by all of those environmental scientists not interpellated into the corporate/state consensus (and even some of those)
In this context Marx equates understanding with the world as reduced to philosophical postulates or mere scholastic contemplation, rather than as the thinking always and already embedded in a continuum of human acts predicated on a sense of the spontaneously arising awareness of our needs and interests. These needs and interests will always be “felt needs”; one’s perceptions, feelings and thoughts constitute an irreducible field of awareness inseparable from one’s embodiment as a biological/social being appearing as a particular manifestation of “persevering”. This persevering human in her actual situation is the condition for philosophical postulation and not its effect; is the condition for economy and not its raw material or one of it’s “imputs”; is the condition for society and not its excess postulated as this or that Subject of a Philosophical Truth.
The question upper most in Marx’s mind was why and how sensuous human practice could work against species interest, whereby the world-in-itself could become the world-against-us, rather than the world-for-us, a Kantian term of absolute scholastic blindness and hypocrisy in the face of the daily carnage inflicted on the population at large in the name of profit, a carnage which has, since Marx, only been put out of sight and mind as the site of degradation shifted from the “first world” to the “third”. The-world-against-us is the mother-of-all koans, out of which the koan of extinction arises. Even before extinction proper, death has already triumphed in the morbid, almost necrophilic transformation of living energy into the objects of exchange and the craving to acquire and consume more and more of them.
“Looming always in the darkness, behind every particular jolt or laceration we could endure, is death, and, exceeding that, the “existential risk” of human extinction”
We live, according to Badiou, under a regime of death. It can be thought of as the ordinary round of consumerism, the replication of a structure which has the appearance of movement – it goes round for sure – work, acquisition, consumption – but as the circularity of a treadmill offering no escape. The treadmill inflicts a structure of finite replication at an essential level. One way or another, we must transform the givens of nature into sustenance through work. The treadmill turns this necessity into slow death, a literal one for millions of “third world” workers caught in the cycle of globalised capitalist production. For the rest of us, gated into a relatively privileged Europe and America, its a more drawn out affair, an ethical, moral and spiritual death by slow degrees. Badiou calls this the “sluggishness of the democratic materialist lifestyle”; sluggish because the mind/body is sucked of its capacity to live a truth ; democratic because we are all equally free to aspire to this state of the un-dead; materialist because it harnesses desire to the productive drive and transforms it into a compulsion to consume dead objects.
In “Down with Death” Badiou describes the relation between consumption and death.
“If we think about it, commodity consumerism is also, ultimately, the repetition, the identity of objects etc. So it is death in its consumable form. I always have this feeling that when we buy an object, no matter what it is, particularly the most useless objects – that is, the most amusing ones – it is like in the Middle Ages when people used to buy indulgences. It is buying a little guarantee against the vileness of death, a little slice of anti-death fetish. The image I have of that in my mind is that after having little by little been covered up by these commodities, and then finally disappearing behind them, we are dead: and that is where the true reality, the truly immortal reality, triumphs – the immortality of the market. That is the great comfort – life is covered up by little parcels of indulgences, such that this covering ends up displacing death simply because it is identical to death.”
The treadmill carries the individual around – she works, she is paid, she consumes, she works – in a double bind that oppresses while replicating the machinery of oppression. No form of smiling atheism can compensate for the sheer futility of it all.
How to exit the treadmill of death?
Marx, a man of his time, put his faith in science, a science that might solve the puzzle of why the emergence of the social was everywhere accompanied by the degradation of the species through class division and exploitation imposed by force of arms (the state) force of thought (the ruling ideology) and force of fetishistic transference (the inclination to mythologise the possibility of an absolute transcendence of one’s immediate situation.)
Subsequent developments in all three fields point to an innate propensity for intelligent species such as ours to a low widow of opportunity, in ecological terms, before self extinction – the emergence of totalist state apparatus of control, fascist ideologies of extermination of whole sections of the population, transfer of the inclination for transcendent longings from religion onto the commodities who’s production produces human and planetary degradation, (guaranteeing its perpetuation to extinction of the species), the failure of grand schemes of social transformation of the last century, the production and maintenance of weapons of mass destruction, and the exponential depletion of resources, increase in population, extinction of other species and run away climate change. Finally, the failure of so called economic and social sciences, and the sciences of psychology and anthropology to solve the puzzle Marx described, leaving us at the mercy of social forces of our own making, forces bent on a path of extinction of all living entities.
“This is what it means to ask Thacker’s ramifying question: ‘Who is the witness of extinction?’ The question asks about subjectivity. It asks about the persistence of subjectivity beyond its own existential and speculative limits. It hints towards posthuman dreams of immortality. The witness remembers and in being remembered we will have been witnessed and allowed the dignity of the concept of extinction. It’s the paradox at the heart of the nondual state: if there is no self then who is it that is enlightened?”
There is no paradox here for Buddhism, only an oscillation between the extremes of eternalism, the reification of a self essence, and nihilism, the negation of that illusory reification. Buddhism instead proposes a middle way between extremes that is not so much in the middle as always and already before any process of conceptualisation and inclusive of it. It is this radical rejection of the sufficient postulates of the philosophers (not of thinking or philosophy) that allows for a crossing between classical Buddhism and contemporary critiques of the limitation of philosophy (Deleuze’s “plane of immanence” or Laruelle’s “foreclosure of the real”, for example)
At various historical junctures the oscillation between eternalism and nihilism expressed itself in Buddhist philosophical discourse as an opposition between schools, each of which reacted differently to Nargarjuna’s radical negations. One could generalise by saying that they proposed either a positive conception of the enlightened essence as surpassing conceptual oppositions or a radical negation of the possibility of a transcendent unity that left one in the relative realm of the six migrations. Roughly speaking, Nirvana was either an actualisation of an unchanging enlightened Buddha-essence and an escape from the realm of migration, or the liberating realisation of the actuality of dependent origination, where one cultivated a discerning wisdom rooted in a thorough understanding of interdependence, while remaining within the suffering of the migratory realm to undertake the liberation of sentient beings.
Neither side ever articulated a fully fledged nihilism, although both regarded the migratory realm as conditioned on an inexorable karmic law that could produce unending suffering for sentient beings. Here again there is a possible crossing between certain contemporary discourses on the self and on individual and collective liberation and Classical Buddhism, although as Buddhism evolved in the west it has tended to accommodate to capitalism and flee from the espousal of radical programmes that would transform the individual and the collective under the concept of dependent origination, if not Buddha essence. “
This endless oscillation is neither gloopey flux nor the abyss or void of nonbeing. The very categories of being and nonbeing, existence and nonexistence, seem to fail to apply to the nondual nature of experience and reality. The ‘quite gothic fear’ of the abyss is a deeply mistaken perception that takes patterns-in-nebulosity (or nebulosity-as-patterning) as if they were patterns-without-nebulosity; it is the very basic neurosis that constitutes the dual state that function to produce the separation between self and world to begin with. That the planet slips behind theworld is to miss the fact that the planet continuously comes forth as theworld. The world is the self-expressive experience of the planet. Thus the horror of the outside is the horror of duality when it realises thatthere is nothing but impermanence and nonseparation.”
For me this formulates the middle way for contemporary use, a formulation that would imply a whole series of departures from xbuddhist platitudes and the practice of conforming to the “state of the situation” in favour of a radical overturning. One must go beyond Buddhism and Marxism in their present iterations to actualise potentials lying dormant at their core, potentials that remain under-utilised in the case of Marxism, or actively suppressed in the case of xbuddhism. To realise these potential Buddhism could take its place at the “great feast of knowledge” so that its postulates and practice can be radicalised by putting them in proximity with, for example, the non-philosophy of Laruelle or the transcendental empiricism of Deleuze. In more general terms Buddhism must engage systems theory, psychology and psychoanalysis, science and radical ecological thought, a process that has been under way at the fringe of western Buddhist practice for decades but is still actively resisted by the mainstream.
That said, all such an exercise could achieve is to rid Buddhism of it’s transcendent element, continuing the process set in train by western secularism with regard to religion in general. Such a process would do nothing to address the more pressing question: how to exit the death wishing capitalist juggernaut before it imposes an apocalypse on the “western world”. I use that term in a non-geographical sense because, of course, a “third world” has always existed within the borders of Europe and America. In truth, the vast majority of the worlds population has already endured an apocalypse.
Thacker at least can’t be judged as mistaking emptiness as ‘mere Nothingness’ or as an absolute negation. Nor does he make the mistakes of Buddhist Romanticism or make a repackaging of German Idealism in exotic garb (cf. Edward Conze). Nonetheless Thacker does make a serious error here and it’s telling for development of pessimism. I don’t say for his pessimism because the error extends to all those who gaze into the abyss as though it were the case that over here is the gazer and over there is the abyss”
The bifurcations gazer and abyss, are already inscribed into a philosophical system, as are the philosophical antidotes – the non dual state, suchess, etc. Philosophy will always beat us to it, precisely because the whole world is, according to philosophy, already philosophized. Concepts such as the middle way, dependent origination, non-duality or Buddha essence, come to us ready made, inscribed into complex systems of Buddhist thought. It is true that certain strains of Buddhism seek to reduce philosophical postulates to the level of “view” but this is itself a philosophical stance, despite contrary claims by certain iterations of Zen or Dzogchen.
In the Indian classical tradition and in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism the distinction is made between two paths of practice – of the Pandit, who practices the path of learning, and those who choose the practice of meditative quiescence, although there are any number of combinations of these extremes in Buddhist history. Centres such as Nalanda were centres of philosophy as practice, inseparable from the quiescence and insight practices of meditation and from a commitment to ethical living. Even in Zen a mountain of philosophical texts have been accumulated right up to the present time. Dogan’s “Shobogenzo” or “Treasury of the true Dharma Eye”, is the quintessential Zen philosophical work, inspiring countless commentaries, despite and because of its relentless deconstruction of philosophical postulates.
We know these things about the world-for-us through the scientific successes that allows us to tentatively describe the world-in-itself. Yet in doing so we’re returned to the fact that even these feats are components of our world-simulation, the world-for-us, and that behind the mathematics the world-in-itself continues to recede. “
One cannot overcome this impasse by another philosophical move, seeking to catch the butterfly of thought in mid-flight to appropriate for use or contemplation the knowing it promises to deliver. One will, of course, always find oneself “behind” or “in front” of this form of discursive knowing precisely because each thought is also an object of thought in infinite regress. This thought-material is transcendental material, which is why Laruelle, following Marx, insists on a “last instance” of conceptualisation. This is not a question of an anti-philosophy but of a recognition of the unilaterality of the real of the human which enables the possibility of philosophy and sets a limit on it’s reach. Buddhism too was interested in the transcendental nature of thinking and its materials, expressed in the often quoted observation that thought cannot review itself but must be left to it’s own devises.
What follows this last instance is not philosophical silence, the absence of thought or meditative quiescence, but the “sensuous human practice” described by Marx, which is the condition for philosophical concepts and inclusive of their production, including the concept of last instance, the insights of meditative equipoise and so called non-conceptual realization. Indeed it is the condition for the whole of civilization, east and west, itself conditioned, in the last instance, on the eighteen inches of top soil which modern capitalist farming is intent on depleting out of existence.
Marx makes this crucial distinction between Scholastic philosophical contemplation and the active human practice which enables it.
The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism – that of Feuerbach included – is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as sensuous human activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence, in contradistinction to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism – which, of course, does not know real, sensuous activity as such.”
This active side is in no need of philosophy, meditative practice or enlightenment. It gets along quite well without it. In fact it is both the condition for abstraction as such and the practical realisation of what the philosopher/ Buddhist practitioner abstractly knows. It is what Laruelle, in the last instance, calls, simply, the lived. This lived, this sensuous human practice, is foreclosed to conceptual thought and to scientific understanding and/or empirical manipulation, although both science and philosophy can take a posture towards the real that recognises that they always already act from it. Philosophy just is the act of denying the unilateral relation between philosophical thought and the real, insisting on an identity between its postulates and the in-itself. To recognise the unilaterality of the real is to produce the non-pilosophical posture of openness which takes account of the already enacted folding of thought into the real as sensuous human practice, before the doubling which is the practice of philosophy.
Again Buddhism was aware of the unilaterality of the real which was the enabling condition for thought, accessible to empirical investigation but wholly foreclosed to an absolute capture in the form of philosophical postulates. The early Abhidharma tradition of precise and systematic enquiry into the elements that, in combination, went to make up the phenomenon of human perception, thinking, feeling and conceptualisation was, perhaps, a first science of the human. Likewise the later Yogacara school sought to unravel the complexities of thinking. It pursued the question of exactly how humans mediate experience and in the process construct their particular philosophical and ideological world-views with an unprecedented rigour.
Concepts such as foreclosure, plane of immanence, sensuous human practice or even Badiou’s infinite singularities resonate in strange and beautiful ways with sunyata, dependent origination, no-self, anatman, suchness and a host of other Buddhist concepts. This crossing between concepts will have effects on both sides. It is not possible to hark back to inviolate Buddhist notions of the Truth of Dharma to justify the worth of certain Buddhist concepts. As if the whole universe was able to fit into concepts which clearly arose at an identifiable historical juncture. The traditionalist will retort that the insight of the Buddha was just such a relativity of thought- simply a finger pointing at the moon, conveniently forgetting that finger, moon and the act of pointing function as a quintessentially Buddhist metaphor articulating a concept of the transcendent One.
The fact is that Buddhism is not a philosophy, although it contains aspects very like it (View) and, in some of its guises, makes use of it, instrumentalising it for soteriological purposes. In Buddhism we don’t seek to speculate for speculation’s sake but in order to live the view.”
Concepts, though, are more than ideas embedded in discursive systems. Concepts have a non- discursive or material side. They are part of a collective practice in which ideas, collective projects and individual actions evolve as interdependent continuum of lived experience. Concepts are concreted in social institutions and as patterns of habitual collective inter-action. The Buddhist concept emptiness, for example, is embedded within various, often conflicting discourses and concreted as a myriad of social practices and material objects— shrines, temples, sacred texts, ritual objects, venerated sites etc. In such a way is the Buddhist world created.
The difference between the experience of these infinitely varied materializations of the concept emptiness and the bare philosophical idea of emptiness is the difference between the lived concept and the abstract idea as such. We can know the former in our bones, as it were, and especially if we are on the wrong end of its materialisation. We can bodily suffer it.
A concept is an imposition on the body/mind of a structure I must accommodate myself to by a process of symbolic and material introjection— I must “swallow” the concept whole and be swallowed by it. The most unquestioned concepts — the ones we introject, as it were, with our mothers milk— seem as natural to us as our own bodily processes. Althusser called this introjection the act of interpellation in which we are “called” to a certain already structured and functioning subject position or system of concepts. That most apparently “natural” of concepts, the concept self , begins its material manifestation even before I am born. In the commonplace of being given a name by my parents I am already “in existence” in the form of an all too material concept which designates not only the site of a soon to be functioning subjectivity, but a very particular social position and role, inscribed into various social practices, including the surveillance and control practices of the family, the school, the workplace, and the state in all it’s forms.
How very strange that this most intimate of concepts– this I – came into existence as a ready made concept of the person which I am suffered to grow into and finally own in a way preordained by a social process over which I had no control. Such is the source of the power of the concept, and of its undoing also; because it is the product of our collective practices, the concept, any concept, including the concept of the concept, arises out of a performative space as such. Thus the Buddhist concepts – emptiness, no-self, interdependent origination etc—despite their nebulosity, function as a system of sufficient signs producing a uniquely Buddhist thought-world in which no-self happens to have precedence over self.
The way out of this impasse is to leave things as they are and not force the unthinkable but always already realised lived-of-the-human into the doubling of philosophical thought. Making no claims for “Buddhism” or any other “ism” is the flesh and bones of the Buddha way. This leaves us exactly where we are, with only our wits and ordinary kindness to rely on. There is no transcendently given guarantee that this will be enough. The alternative is to insert a concept of transcendence into the thought of the real and reinvent philosophy yet again as a new iteration of the identity of philosophy and the real. Buddhism succumbed to this temptation at certain junctures as a reaction to what it felt were dangerous nihilistic negations. Much of Dzogchen and Zen are attempts at equating emptiness not with the unimaginable complexity of interdependent origination but with a transcendent One as ground. Dzogchen and Zen masters were aware of this temptation and expended great amounts of time and energy trying to exactly express the true relation between discursivity and suchness or the in-itself. Some were content to express this relation in a rosary of negations:
Suchness neither becomes or ceases to become. Suchness does not stand at any point or place. Suchness is neither past, future, or present. Suchness does not arise from the dual or the non-dual. Suchness is neither impure nor pure. Suchness neither arises nor comes to an end.
Some in poetic language:
Mount Lu in misty rain; the River Che at high tide.
When I had not been there, no rest from the pain of longing.
I went there and returned…It was nothing special.
Mount Lu in misty rain; the River Che at high tide.
Others, like Tsong Kapha, produced texts of astonishing rigour:
“… it is not correct to hold that all thoughts occurring in analytic practice are substantivistic sign habits that are truth habits, and therefore terminate them; because as I have repeatedly established, truth habit thought is only one tendency of thought. If you decide that rational negations overwhelm whatever is held by discriminating thought, this becomes the nihilistic repudiation that has over extended the national negatee…In fact those sign habits are the fault of a defective habit pattern of mind and do not function with regard to all objects cognised…When one has not properly identified the measure of the negatee as explained above…one first begins to imagine that the object does not exist, then one comes to experience the analyser as likewise non-existent, then even that ascertained as non-existence ceases to have existence and one comes to a state wherein there is no ground for ascertaining anything at all…Such a voidness is the kind of voidness that destroys relativity… and is definitely not the meaning of Illusoriness”.
“Does the thought of extinction end in the morass of pessimism and speculative annihilation? Or does it produce the seeds of rebellion and experimentation? Do we wilt in resignation, or act with the nobility of compassion even as we relinquish that which must be let go?”
There is a strain of Buddhism, perhaps the oldest, that resolutely forecloses on the whole karmic edifice of human endeavour. It contextualises such effort against the horizon of the six realms of migration– of animals and men, gods and demigods, hungry ghosts and the denizens of the hell realms. All, says this early iteration of the Buddha’s way, are doomed to continue within the cycle of rebirths through an infinity of universes without respite. The only antidote to this cycle of suffering is Nibbana, an extinction so welcomed by the mythical progenitor of the Buddha Dharma that he could declare in the “Sutta on Loving Kindness” a last word on the human and her world.
Let him conquer the lust of the passions,
And he shall never again be born of the womb.
Is this a dire form of nihilism or a heretical thought directed at the Brahmic priestly cast and the powers they represented? Perhaps the words “born of the womb” is a thought comparable to Althusser’s idea of interpellation, in which the world always and already holds a place for the self-to-be, a self already inscribed into an oppressive regime of designations and habitual patterns of social relation even before the birth of the biological human being?
Perhaps the whole edifice of the “six migrations” and the Karmic laws that enable it is the world-against-us into which we are thrown at the very moment of birth, that vast illusory world composed of conceptual designations and karmic patterns of reactivity, concreted as social, economic and political institutions. No doubt “and he shall never again be born of the womb” is inseparable from the Brahmic thought/world in which it was formulated and against which it rebelled. And even if one insists that this whole edifice of religiosity needs to be deconstructed and re-envisaged along secular lines, we can still extract a kernel of truth, a usable injunction to radically abandon all hope in the world, conceived now as our own world of commodity production, unending development and impending collapse.
To abandon all hope in the world is to recognise that we were never of it in the first place.
Who is this Buddha-Heretic who proclaims the end of the karmic world?
“The heretic is an undefined singularity, a singularity that is even not definable by such mighty constructs as birth and death. So the struggle is one without fear….Laruelle
We can, axiomatically, ground ourselves in these latter day Buddha-words, without reifying a transcendent ground or insisting on a super-human act of will. To accomplish such a turning we need only insist on the passive power of the Human-in-person: that state of nebulosity which we already are and to which language must acquiesce as a matter of course. In the in-between of words and the fluidity of meanings the Human-in-person is already re-presented as that enabling space out of which categorisations congeal as this or that meaning or system of meanings, as this or that system of social relations, as this or that World.
Liberated from authorities of any kind, we are free to dream worlds other than the one we inhabit, to traverse realms, to imagine, even to the point of baroque decadence, the worlds we would like to inhabit. Capitalism is the anti-thesis of such freedom, a name for the process of calculation and exchange in which the science of number is harnessed to the computational, communicative infrastructure in the service of the interests of a particular class. Capitalism is the regime of the finite in which, by power of number, one possible world has established itself as the only possible world in a universe of an infinity of possible worlds.
We are that space which enables the possibility of our own re-presentation. We arrive at our selves via language ; words come together and dissolve according to the dynamic of a particular moment or pattering of social life and we appear. We speak our world into being and are in turn spoken into and out of being by that world. But we are not reducible to its mighty constructs of birth and death.
So the struggle is one without fear!
Down with death!
There are two Buddhist sayings that I think work well here:
One becomes enlightened only to see that enlightenment does not exist.
If two boddhisattvas met, one would not be able to know if the other was enlightened.
Agreed, but I would do without the paradoxes and say that enlightenment is a trope of Buddhist discourse that probably functioned in a useful way at some point in the history of Buddhist culture but certainly doesn’t in western Buddhism.
I like that Patrick. SO what would be a better way to signify the upper reaches of development or attainment or release in modern terms?
Big question. Don’t know that the “upper reaches of development, attainment or release” makes much sense in our world, or even if it ever did. Buddhists make sense of the concept of enlightenment by, mostly, a straight forward idea of breaking through to a transcendent omnipotence in which the Buddha-being has, via practice of meditative equipoise and insight, rid herself of the obscurations to absolute knowledge conditioned on a very particular understanding of karmic action. There are so many levels of meaning one would have to address to make sense of that, a process made more difficult by disagreements among Buddhists themselves.
Of course, in relation to the structures, processes and concerns of different Buddhist societies and cultures at different historical periods the concept enlightenment does make sense to academic historians, or to those who study texts, or to the academic field of Buddhist studies.
And it obviously made sense to those who lived in those societies, although we can never know that sense except through the lens of our own interests and preoccupations, only some of which are in awareness at a personal or collective level.
I would rather use the term “individuation” to describe a partial ongoing process of integration of the elements that go to make up the person as an infinitely reducible comportment of drives, desires, inhibitions, conscious and unconscious processes, all of which are embedded in an equally infinitely reducible field of interconnected social/biological, ecological and material processes.
The disagreements in Buddhism can be traced back to those who insisted on the idea of relativity (which can be usefully crossed with contemporary ideas) and those who insisted on the reality of the transcendent realm. Enlightenment meant entirely different things to the members of both camps. On the whole it was the transcendent stance that held sway, and it was the linages who held this stance who also held economic and political power via the structures of land ownership and feudal patronage.
To answer your question, there is no hard and fast one dimensional way of signifying levels of attainment, development or release, since the method is folded back into the evolution of the collectivity of developing individuals, at social and biological levels.
In other words there are only partial understandings, of which this is one, and only partial ways of signifying levels of development, using partial to include “partiality” conditioned on interests and access to power.
Reading what I just wrote I’m struck by the note of (false) confidence, at odds with a concept of relativity turned back on its origins to the pre or non conceptual – the unseen and unimaginable minutiae, the unseen and unimaginable hyper-objects.
Non-philosophical language should hesitate, stumble, engage it’s own means, like poetry or auto-commentary. Would that make it more or less accessible? In any case writing is a form of personal/collective individuation. Some processes are trying for integration. Philosophers are like parts of us broken off and eavesdropping from behind a door. The tone of what I wrote still has that quality of doubling, as if the eavesdropper was relaying information to a community of eavesdroppers!
I just want to leave a placeholder comment to say I’m not ignoring this – I’m just incredibly busy at the moment
Hi Arran. Don’t feel stressed! Reading your posts here I doubt anything I have said in the above post is news to you!