418: Adaptive Contemplation

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C-Realm_418_coverKMO talks with Vincent Horn of Buddhist Geeks about how Buddhist practices are adapting themselves to thrive and be useful in technological society. He sees Buddhism as co-existing in the same space as the DIY and Maker movements where bio-feedback, sophisticated sensors and psychedelics stand side by side with meditation as technologies for hacking one’s own consciousness. KMO wraps up with some comments on individualism and community.

 

Music by The Shiz.

  • Dan R

    I’ve got to say that I find Buddhist Geeks extremely hard to stomach. The kind of (to quote Jim Kunstler) Ted Talk techno-narcissist triumphalism they come out with is pretty dire. Rewriting the human operating system? Trans-humanism? Really? This self-regarding hyper-individualism and obsession with technology is so clearly a product of a very, very narrow historical epoch – this really is neo-liberal religion for gated communities. Why, after all, does Silicon Valley love all this stuff so much? That’s hardly the sign of radicalism, is it? And whilst this is not as progressivist and panglossian as the full-throttle trans-humanist bullshit, much of this techno-Buddhism certainly has a tendency to veer that way – all we need is one more iPhone app and the devaraja (or Steve Jobs, whoever is better) will descend from the heavens to reign over us.

    And that’s a shame because there is a lot in Buddhism which is enormously valuable, both as it relates to the human experience generally (Buddhism hasn’t survived for 2500 years by accident) and as a way of getting to grips with the problems which we will face as ecological, economic, social and political decline gathers speed. I just don’t believe that a form which is so closely tied to the political and economic institutions which are pushing the world over the edge will (or could) ever offer much help.

    By the way, I think the library/life metaphor you mentioned at the end of the show is wrong. It presupposes the (I believe wrong-headed) assumption that individuals are prior to their community; that is, that you collect people together and that makes a community. The process is at least as much the other way round – individuals are born out of communities and communities find expression in individuals, even in the paradoxical situation of the hyper-individualist communities of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. I think it’s somewhat unlikely that traditional, indigenous or aboriginal communities would understand this metaphor in anything like the same way as you or I might and
    that’s surely the point, isn’t it? If we are to have hope for a future, along with everything else, we need to change the very foundations of our thinking (though that’s a good reason for not having that hope).

    Still, that said, you cover a lot of interesting ground in your podcasts and you’re very good at your work so many thanks for doing this. As I’m as poor as a church mouse (and I don’t even have a credit card), I’m afraid that all I can offer is my thanks.

  • yokkaichi1

    KMO and Mr. Horn, thanks for a terrific discussion. Your discussion gave me an opportunity to clarify my beliefs, though they are dissimilar to Mr. Horn’s in two ways.

    My spiritual leanings are mostly shaped by Buddhist teachings, and my practice is informed heavily by Zen Buddhism, but while my path is similar, I will not call myself a Buddhist. The Buddhist dogma on the role of women prevents my acceptance of the institutional religion. I have seen and heard it first hand in Soto Zen training temples in Japan and from highly regarded Tibetan Lamas. I take a different tack from Dan R’s comment below, where he says, “Buddhism hasn’t survived for 2500 years by accident.” Buddhism has had 2500 years to get it right, both on the role of women specifically and human suffering in general, and the religion has not delivered.

    Secondly, the reason that I have chosen a Zen path as my model is because I know myself well enough to know that I will cling to everything, every hymn, vestment, dorge, drum, mandala and monk as my ego struggles to remain. Zen offers me the glass wall, no holds, no images to attach to. Tech for me, on my path, would become just another lifeboat for my ego to cling to. One more “maya,” illusion or delusion, to break free from.

    Gratitude to both of you for the insights, and thanks as always to KMO for the great podcast.

  • Dan R

    “I take a different tack from Dan R’s comment below, where he says,
    “Buddhism hasn’t survived for 2500 years by accident.” Buddhism has had
    2500 years to get it right, both on the role of women specifically and
    human suffering in general, and the religion has not delivered”

    Buddhism can have things of value to say without having everything ‘right’ (whatever that would mean). I have lived in rural Thailand for a long time so I see Buddhism on a VERY regular basis (or at least one version of it) and, yes, it’s enormously conservative and the sangha is deeply tied to a profoundly reactionary, patriarchal and hierarchical social order – when you’re being outflanked on the left by Catholicism, you know you’ve gone badly wrong somewhere so I’m very sympathetic to those complaints. Nevertheless, the Four Noble Truths are still the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path is still the Noble Eightfold Path and we are not entirely bound to the social forms within which those have found expression. If you consider the fact that both Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are, despite the vast differences between them, considered forms of the same religion, a form of Buddhism which overcomes its historical failings doesn’t seem unimaginable (and for example, Ajarn Brahm in Australia is making some steps in that direction with his ordination of nuns). I just don’t think – from the admittedly little I know – that Buddhist Geeks make any progress toward that goal.