Monday, 12 December 2011

Myth Busting & the harm of the body-mind duality (fra poco in italiano)

Whilst trying to complete a translation this morning I came across two fascinating articles that reflected not only my own recent musings, but also the direction my latest writings are taking. I have almost completed the third post in my 'Buddhism meet Shamanism' series, which moves our discussion from the west, the place of the body, to the north, the place of the mind, in which I speak about the problem of separating mind from the body. There is a tremendous tendency to split the mind and body in religious circles, but also in meditation groups too. It is deeply unhealthy and based on mistaken myths that need urgent dismantling. The new post will be up this week.

Myth busting has continued to be one of my favourite pursuits in my dialogue with spirituality over the last year and, as is so often the case, this purusit is part of a collective wave swepping through Buddhism at this time. The two articles are both proficient and accurate in their challenging of deeply ingrained myths in Buddhism that once smashed, lead to a richer, more human interaction with the pursuit of awakening and the path of becoming a decent, awake human being. I encourage you to read them, especially if you have been one of the many enamoured by the mystical veneer of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Elephant Journal link leads to a refutation of several spiritual myths sustained by organised religion, in this case Buddhism and Hinduism, through a critique by an 'ex-enlightened' being Shyam Dodge, who follows a video post by a young Tibetan, who is the supposed reincarnation of a great Tibetan teacher, Kalu Rinpoche, who died last century. In the video young Kalu describes how he was sexually abused and threatened physically in a monastery and it is visible how screwed up the poor fella is. I wish him well and hope he manages to use his position to get the help he needs and exert some influence as he matures, in changing the status quo that has allowed him to go through such an ordeal. 

Shyam goes on to describe his own difficulties in being part of a Hindu monastic order and the resulting denial of the physical over the abstract pursuit of purity and spiritual ideals. He has more or less expressed my own exact sentiments about the deep and troubling results of separating the spiritual and the physical.

The second link leads to some hardcore-intellectuals, who are both Buddhist & Non-Buddhist. The article posits the question, 'Did the Buddha exist in the way he's been portrayed by the many Buddhisms, or has he been lost to time in a muddle of reimaginings?'

I have recently started writing an article entitled, 'Does Buddhism have a marketing problem?' and in a way the theme is linked. The need to spread tradition is in part an exercise in marketing. Having a central figure with all the optimised human features, transcendent and so on, is a great marketing strategy, so perhaps he was invented? 

I've recently come to the conclusion that when you awaken, no one notices, so the thought that a guy awoke, told his mates about it, and then struggled with spreading the word, could indeed have ended up producing the figure of the Buddha as it has become. Have a gander. See what you think.

'I love myth busting!'

The sex lives of monks; confessions of Kalu Rinpoche, on Elephant Journal

Ghost Buddha at Speculative Non-Buddhism


  1. Hi,
    I've just come across your blog, which I am really enjoying reading. Your combination of shamanism and Buddhism is kind of cool. This article was really useful to me though as I wasn't at all aware of the experiences of young kalu. I follow traditional Tibetan Buddhism and was shocked to hear him describe the experiences that he has lived through. Thanks for the link. Keep up the good work.
    P.S. I'm an Aussie :)

  2. Hi Bob,
    Glad you like it. It's funny because at times I suspect my combo piece on Buddhism & Shamanism is way too off-the-wall, but then I realise, I don't give a shit. Although hardly revolutionary, I have no investment in maintaining the status quo.
    Take care.

  3. Hi Matthew,

    Seeing the words "Buddhism" and "shamanism" together reminded me of a really good book I read a while back. I was just wondering if you were aware of it. (I suspect you are.) It's called "Civilized Shamans: Buddhism in Tibetan Societies," by Geoffrey Samuel.

    Also, in that post you link to--and thanks for that--I don't refute that Siddhattha Gotama, "the Buddha," was a historical figure. I just argue that the historical/biographical has been completely and irreversible overwritten by the literary. That is an important distinction, I think.

    peace and thanks,

    1. Civilized Shamans is indeed fascinating although unfortunately I've only read excerpts. I tried getting a copy a while back but it's been out of print for a year or two although apparently a reprint is in the works and I'll certainly get a copy of it when it's out. Thanks for the heads up.
      I've adjusted the above sentence to honour your point. I pay less attention to this blog as it really started out as an exercise in writing and clarifying my own thoughts, assumptions and progressive shifts in conclusions and ideas about Buddhism which I consider much more game as intellectual criticism is concerned than Shamanism and its multiple incarnations.
      I'm currently writing a piece on re-configuring enlightenment. I'd like to send it to you before looking for an appropriate publisher to get your thoughts. Would you be up for that?
      P.S. I emailed you about Ken Wilber: too busy or uninterested?

    2. Hi Matthew. Thanks for updated my comment about the Buddha-figure. I did send you a response to your Ken Wilbur question. Check your spam box, and I'll see if I still have it in my sent box--and will re-send. And, yes, I'd love to have a look at what you're writing. Would you consider writing a piece of the next issue of non + x (


    3. Hi,
      No, your reply is not there unfortunately. I attempted to read Wilber's work on a few occasions over the years, but have always found him exceedingly boring and self-congratulatory and have never even managed to finish a chapter of his works. From the title of his project, Integral Theory, there seems to be something of value, but perhaps he's simply complicated a simple observation that development in one area of an individual does not equal overall development in all areas. I imagine there is also a reason why mainstream philosophers appear to totally ignore him.
      I appreciate your openness to my writing. I would certainly be happy to produce something for the non + x project, but how faithful to the project my writing might be is debatable. Although I gain great pleasure intellectually in examining critically the world of Buddhism, I am nowhere near the level of expertise that you, Tom and the others possess and although I am in great agreement with many of the views, analysis and criticisms at the NSB blog, it's likely my work would be infiltrated by levels of the ideological confusion that is torn up by you and Tom. Not that that concerns me, I have no position to defend or tradition to uphold, so for me it's healthy play, but in short I imagine my work would still lean too much towards Buddha memes to be of use to the non + x project cause, even if I'm attempting in my own small way to extract something useful from Buddhism that is no longer codified by its insider terminology, deference to dead, foreign or expert authorities and claims to specialness. These are elements I despise, but perhaps my individual approach is more hands on and certainly less theroretical.
      I have experienced most of the peak experiences that Buddhism alludes to and I've come out the other side with immense personal change, but I refuse to define any of it in Buddhist terms. I don't consider such experiences to be a reason to start being a Buddhist teacher or praise Buddhism either, or claim anything special for that matter. If anything these experiences have simply freed me up to think more critically, look more carefully and engage more cleanly with meditation as a discipline and with my criticism and evaluation of Buddhism. For me if the result of a given practise is not thoroughly human, i.e. not spiritual, special, etc, then it is not worth bothering with. In this sense I am highly curious about the tangible long-term results of disciplined meditation practise and the possibility of obtaining Buddhism's premise of nirvana (yeah, really), but I want to see it outside of Buddhism, standing on its own two feet as a thoroughly human endeavour; otherwise it's just more escapist nonsense. I consider the tendency of Batchelor and co to minimalise the end reult of Buddhism to be a cop out and a reflection of their rather middle class, secular approach to the thing, a sort of deradicalising. I'm interested in radical transformation of the human subject towards notions of freedom from the oppression of the individual and collective me-making that acts as a prison and limits the creative potential we have as a species to manage our lot on Earth better.

      I'll do this. I'll finish up the piece I'm writing on reconfiguring enlightenment and do a spot of cut and pasting. It's really long with a lot of ideas I've been considering for a year or two. I think that I could probably extract something suitable for the journal and let you have a look at it for possible changes. Otherwise you might like to make a suggestion on a topic that I could grapple with if the request still stands after reading what I wrote above.