The value of non-Buddhist literature?

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:04 pm

I'm working my way through Slavoj Zizek's _The Parallax View_ right now, in part for work and in part for interest. Zizek's one of those thinkers who is more entertaining and provocative than he is substantive. There's a value in reading material that prods one to thinking in fresh ways, though. The trouble with Zizek's reasoning is that, for all his appeals to Hegel and Marx and Lukacs and dialectical thinking generally, he's forgotten the basics of deductive reasoning. For instance, he'll cite an example of how Jimmy Stewart passes gas in _Rear Window_, and declare that this tells us X about the structure of subjectivity... without any warrant or evidence. It might have worked as poetry but it does not as criticism or philosophy.

I bring it up because Zizek is one of the few contemporary social thinkers who has anything at all to say about globalized Buddhism, "Western Buddhism," and so on. Much of what he says about Buddhism as such is incoherent; if he'd read Trungpa on spiritual materialism and Nagarjuna (just to see what emptiness means and how a real dialectician works), his books would be a lot shorter.

There's another thing about Zizek. He's at his best (or at least his least obfuscated) when he's relying on the dialectical materialism of his youth, instead of the Lacanian patois he went to school for. That shit is opaque and not well reasoned. I'm unlikely to continue reading this book to the end, actually, because most of his relevant premises are worked out in advance by much earlier writers such as... Engels (Anti-Durhing) and Lenin (Criticism and Emperio-Criticism).

***

So, what's the value in reading this sort of material? I think it's useful to exercise the critical faculty. It's helpful to know what outsiders have to say about our practices as Buddhists, so we can interface better with the world at large and when appropriate reflect on the strengths and shortcomings of our practice. :cheers: You never really know until afterward who your friends are going to be, so you might as well have an open mind about it.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:08 pm

Jikan wrote:I'm working my way through Slavoj Zizek's _The Parallax View_ right now...


I like Adorno's Negative Dialectics, not least of all because it exposes the inherent fascism in eternalist thinking.
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འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:24 pm

Namdrol wrote:
Jikan wrote:I'm working my way through Slavoj Zizek's _The Parallax View_ right now...


I like Adorno's Negative Dialectics, not least of all because it exposes the inherent fascism in eternalist thinking.


:thumbsup:

One of Adorno's contemporaries, Karel Kosik, put together what may well be the closest position to dependent origination I've seen outside of Buddhist literature in _Dialectics of the Concrete_. It put Kosik in real difficulties with the Soviets though (he was a Czech writer)... so he's not well known at all. (Official philosophy in the Soviet Union at this time was itself eternalist in the sense of being idealistic, reductive, speculative, and constipated.)

There's something inherently anti-authoritarian in anti-eternalist, anti-idealist thinking. Lenin's materialism shows this up too (and he has a sense of humor about it), but at the fault not of nihilism, but of accepting the reality of objects outside the mind. That is: Lenin was too simplistic a materialist in my opinion. Even if objects are reducible to nothingness or their constituents, they're still real objects and not only conventionally. The rationale is that you need an ontology if you want an ethics (actions have to matter) and a politics (some object of public concern).

Following this argument, Zizek assumes that because Buddhists understand objects to be empty, we have no basis for ethics or politics. This is an error in my view. Zizek has a good handle on new-agey stuff, "conscious capitalism" and workplace meditation workshops, but a poor handle on Buddhism proper. (Is it obvious I'm working on a dissertation proposal about this? or rather procrastinating...?)

It seems strange that hundred year old debates in philosophy (Lenin tearing the Ken Wilbers of his day a new one) are relevant again now. Interesting world we inhabit.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Malcolm » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:28 pm

Jikan wrote:
Namdrol wrote:
Jikan wrote:I'm working my way through Slavoj Zizek's _The Parallax View_ right now...


I like Adorno's Negative Dialectics, not least of all because it exposes the inherent fascism in eternalist thinking.


:thumbsup:

One of Adorno's contemporaries, Karel Kosik, put together what may well be the closest position to dependent origination I've seen outside of Buddhist literature in _Dialectics of the Concrete_. It put Kosik in real difficulties with the Soviets though (he was a Czech writer)... so he's not well known at all. (Official philosophy in the Soviet Union at this time was itself eternalist in the sense of being idealistic, reductive, speculative, and constipated.)

There's something inherently anti-authoritarian in anti-eternalist, anti-idealist thinking. Lenin's materialism shows this up too (and he has a sense of humor about it), but at the fault not of nihilism, but of accepting the reality of objects outside the mind. That is: Lenin was too simplistic a materialist in my opinion. Even if objects are reducible to nothingness or their constituents, they're still real objects and not only conventionally. The rationale is that you need an ontology if you want an ethics (actions have to matter) and a politics (some object of public concern).

Following this argument, Zizek assumes that because Buddhists understand objects to be empty, we have no basis for ethics or politics. This is an error in my view. Zizek has a good handle on new-agey stuff, "conscious capitalism" and workplace meditation workshops, but a poor handle on Buddhism proper. (Is it obvious I'm working on a dissertation proposal about this? or rather procrastinating...?)

It seems strange that hundred year old debates in philosophy (Lenin tearing the Ken Wilbers of his day a new one) are relevant again now. Interesting world we inhabit.



This is due to the fact that all of the economic struggles waged by Socialists that led to the great freedom of thought that flourished in the mid-twentieth century have largely been undermined in the global capitalist hegemony.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

" The one who teaches the benefits of peace,
he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Jikan » Mon Apr 18, 2011 2:43 pm

True. But it also means that our fundamental relation to power hasn't really changed much.

The proletariat Engels described in Manchester is now scattered across the global south, speaking dozens of different languages, and is largely female and underage. It's hard to organize a vanguard in the maquiladoras of Mexico, the shoe shops of Vietnam, &c...

The ecological problems of scarcity and pollution that Marx saw in Capital III and the Grundrisse are coming up fast. If it's not climate change, it's poisoned water; if not poisoned water, deforestation; if not deforestation, then phosphate shortages that lead to famine. Or the oil runs out. (c.f. Mike Davis, David Harvey, Ted Benton et al)
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Madeliaette » Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:05 pm

Getting back to the original question - and giving from my own experience: I have gradually given up various bits n pieces as I progressed.

Originally, I read whatever I liked, watched tons of TV, played the radio.... I then progressed spiritually and then started to practice Buddhism. I gradually gave up radio and now only play CDs (no ads, no garbage chatter, no commercial stuff). I gave up TV in order to have enough time to meditate/read and because there was nothing worth watching (no media control, ads, mind-numbing junk to fill time with) and I have changed from reading anything I fancied to reading 90% Buddhist and 10% travel/Eastern psychology & philosophy/a few selected non-fiction titles.
:reading:
My reasoning is that I do not want to fill my head with garbage - I seriously want my practice and progress to carry through into the next life I have, rather than a pile of junk I filled my head with. (I would rather have the Tibetan refuge prayer 'ingrained' in my continuum than recall 'who killed who' on a favorite soapie, a Mariah Carey song, or some fictional characters in a book I read and felt attached to.)
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