Buddhism and Post-Structuralism

Christopher Vitale has been writing essays comparing Buddhism and, for want of a better term, post-structuralism. I don’t feel like I know enough about either subject to know how well he does.

Here’s a bit from the first in the series:

Meditation, then, is practice in separation from narratives and images which we have felt determine some aspect of who or what aspects of ourselves and/or our world are. As each thing comes by in our mind, we separate from it. I’m thinking that thought, but I am not that, it doesn’t bind me, I’m free from it, I can separate from it. I feel that emotion, and yet, it doesn’t control me, it is a part of me, I acknowledge it, I see it as caused by its contexts, but I am free to choose to dive into it and explore it, or let it fade, because I’m not that. I’m rather, a principle of infinite negativity, to use a Hegelian term, a site of infinite creativity. I am only limited by my relation to my contexts, and I can alter this through action, by making the world a better place, a freer place.

And this desire to free the world doesn’t mean doing what we think is best for it, to control it. Rather, it means to try to help the world free itself from its own chains, its own illusion of the necessity of the narratives and images, the essences, which imprison it. It is to want the world to self-actualize, on its own terms. A good therapist wants this both for themselves and their clients. This is what a Buddhist means by compassion.

Full Story: Networkologies: Wrestling with the World in Virtual Reality: A Deleuzian, Anti-Essentialist, Relational Reading of Classical Buddhism as the Radical Practice of Freedom and Desire

See also: Defending Post-Modern Theory (As Always) by Adam Rothstein.

1 Comment

  1. I am with you that I don’t know enough to answer the question. Though I suspect if Vitale has not made sufficient gains in the progress of insight the answer will be not well enough?

    He talks about the need for meditators, not just linguists, to make translations of these texts. And then about “emptiness” specifically he says:

    >The notion of emptiness is perhaps the single trickiest example of this.

    I have been meditating, and i have been reading some texts. I decided at one point that emptiness meant the same thing as clarity.

    Clarity to me now means the experience of awareness without discursive thought. Until I was meditating for a while I had not experienced this sufficiently in my life to really have a grasp on what it was and what it wasn’t, and I don’t pretend now to be an expert after having experienced it on and off for a year and a half.

    The last time I spoke with my meditation instructor he corrected my misunderstanding of emptiness = clarity. Like clarity, emptiness is a label for an experience. One I have not had yet, though my instructor told me when it might arise in the future based on our shared map of the progress of insight (possible hints after the fruition that is called by some the achievement of “second path,” with full on experience of emptiness after the arising and passing away of the next cycle of insight, which when completed is called by some “anagami.”

    So getting back to your question about Vitale, I think he’s right when he says that translators must also be meditators. But can a non-meditator then pick up that improved translation, theorize about it, and have that be of value to other people who have not had the experience either?

    Yes, but.

    Experiences from the progress of insight and meditation can be translated into words. Words can be shared. Those ideas can be applied by the listeners to their own experience and they can often benefit.

    But it is NOT the same as having the experiences oneself.

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