Buddhism: What Can It Offer Us Today?

Buddhism: What Can It Offer Us Today?

Glenn Wallis

Odilon Redon’s “The Buddha” (1906) exudes the Symbolist and early Modernist values of the artist’s milieu. How might we re-conceive the Buddha for our times?

Buddhism offers us concepts and practices that can be brandished to innervate life, both individually and collectively. Examples include: radical material contingency (pratityasamutpada), extended dissolution (anitya), void (shunyata), termination (nirvana), and social-symbolic selfhood (anatman). The primary western Buddhist example of practice is an organon, or instrument of thought and knowledge, commonly known as “meditation.” In distinction to its current idealist usages, this practice might be configured as an anthropotechnic, an intentional effort to form oneself as a particular human subject in relation to one’s existing material formations. In conjunction with the aforementioned concepts, the organon might be employed to foment severe awareness of the interrelations of self, others, society, and the environment. This would involve a form of ritualized deep play that intends both to internalize certain manners of cognition and simultaneously to effect habits of affect, such as courage and concern.

All of this might be. Its actualization would require that we strenuously resist the x-buddhist siren call of passive nihilism, whereby “in the face of the increasing brutality of reality, the [practitioner] tries to achieve a mystical stillness, calm contemplation…by closing his eyes and making himself into an island,” as Simon Critchley trenchantly puts it. Thus, in this seminar, we will together explore, articulate, and practice possible usages of these Buddhist materials for our lives today, at the beginning of the 21st century. Mainly, we will engage in the most ancient and significant (and overlooked) of Buddhist practices: acute dialogue. Might human “awakening” occur via an encounter between speaking beings?

Facilitator: Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University. He is the author of six books including Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice and Basic Teachings of the Buddha as well as numerous articles, chapters, and essays on various aspects of Buddhism per se and Western Buddhism in contemporary society. His most recent work, A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real, employs the “non-philosophical” methods of French thinker François Laruelle. Wallis has taught at Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the University of Georgia. He is the founder of the blog Speculative Non-Buddhism.

Reading: Seminar Reader 
Date: Saturday, December 14, 10am-2pm
Cost: $60-$90





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