Comments on “Imperfect Buddha podcast”

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D.C. Wijeratna 2017-01-08

Buddha is a statue or a picture. No statue or picture is perfect because the perfect one is unknown.
The title is meaningless.

James Hansen 2017-01-09

I quite enjoyed the podcast, keep up the good work!

I have a point of curiosity:

If it is the case, as it appears to be, that Buddhism is so drastically re-shaped by teachers/students over time, and if there is this desire to have a Buddhism of a certain kind (i.e. cured of the ills of the mainstream politicization/eternalism/closet-racism), then why does it need to be Buddhism at all?

It is as though the Buddha came up with the whole notion of ‘mindfulness’, and so should be honored in name, and yet, there is so much to contrast the Buddhism of yesterday from today’s. Why this obligation to the name? Weren’t people having insightful experiences before/after? Surely, the guy can’t be singled out THAT strongly for encouraging people to ‘think critically’, right?

I hope that I’m articulating this in a decent enough way. If not, I can perhaps elaborate further. It is likely that I simply do not know enough history and so am failing to recognize just how unique his ideas are (and therefore how valuable they are, in terms of culture, in the preservation of the association between his name and principle/function of critical thinking).

I should add (in case you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up here): I think the Imperfect Buddha Podcast slogan about “going where other Buddhist podcasts fear to tread” captures the reason for my curiosity better than most things. Why go by the precedent of treading where others apparently fear to? I don’t mean to come off as too harshly critical, or anything, but this (in some ways) reminds me of the pop culture obsession with ‘revolutionary’ or ‘rebellious’ language that is so prevalent.

I’m familiar (personally) with the desire to socially signal about ‘intellectually-sounding stuff’, so this just reminds me of similar signaling where there’s an obsession with being ‘nuanced’ in one’s approach to something.

Again, it was a wonderful discussion on the podcast. I, too, am optimistic about what the race/nationalities of certain attendees of that conference could mean in terms of the Vajrayana zeitgeist. I very much look forward to your response.

James Hansen 2017-01-09

Also, @D.C. Wijeratna, that’s very deep and all, but how is your comment any more meaningful than the title of a podcast? I find it impressive, actually, that you can simultaneously call something ‘unknown’ and so confidently tie that thing to the attribute of ‘perfection’. But, I suppose that may be because you are drawing an identity between nothingness and perfection. After all, if it never bothered being a thing, it can’t be called imperfect, right? But, by the same token, how can the dichotomy be justified at all, in that case?

I hope I’m not sounding facetious, here. I’m genuinely curious.

James Hansen 2017-01-09

“But, by the same token, how can the dichotomy be justified at all, in that case?”

Oops, that was redundant. I don’t think I’m doing my best writing here at all, come to think of it.

David Chapman 2017-01-09

Hi James. I’m not sure what you are asking here, so I’m not sure how to reply. I think you may be asking about the podcast series, rather than about the episode I appeared in. If so, you’d need to ask Matthew rather than me!

brainonholiday 2017-02-28

I really enjoyed your discussion. It’s encouraging to hear two people thinking deeply about how buddhist practice can transform the culture in the West. I appreciate the critique of consensus buddhism, which I originally encountered on the Buddhist Geeks Podcast. It named something I myself had experienced in several communities over the years. Thanks for that! Buddhism certainly isn’t what I want it to be, but I am quite thankful that it made it is available in one form or another. I’m not surprised that buddhism has succumbed to the dominant culture forces that everything else has succumbed to. Innovation is typically carried out at the fringes. Maybe with the “buddhism is dead” declaration you are saying that innovation isn’t happening at the fringes either. I don’t know if it is, but if it is happening on some level than I hope it will have an impact on the culture-at-large and help wake people up along the way. In some way the conversations and activities you and other like minded folks are engaged in is a form of innovation.
I also see the steady growth in the study of meditation in the neurosciences, the field I studied, as a positive sign. I think innovative things are happening in this domain, alongside more consensus-y, status quo approaches. It’s still early days for the science so there may be hope there. I’m certainly not putting all of it in neuroscience, but it is still early days so I think it’s a worthwhile piece of the puzzle.

David Chapman 2017-02-28
Innovation is typically carried out at the fringes. Maybe with the “buddhism is dead” declaration you are saying that innovation isn’t happening at the fringes either.

That’s a great insight! I hadn’t thought it that way… but I think it’s an accurate summary, and I also think it’s what’s (not) happening.

Matthias Mauderer 2019-03-11

Dear David,

in a blog entry by Matthew shortly after your episode was broadcasted, Matthew had written the following:
“This episode [here he does not mean the episode with you but one afterwards] starts off our exploration of post-traditional Buddhism, or better, post-traditional approaches to Buddhism. This might just be a major feature of the future of Buddhism in the West, if Buddhism actually manages to survive the rest of the century here as a powerful source for personal and social change. David Chapman may not think so, but who knows?’

After reading that I wondered why you should not think so? Isn’t your work inspired by Dzogchen and your reinvention of Buddhist Tantra some post-traditional approach to Buddhism?

I asked Matthew what he means by naming you on this topic. He writes: “David had previously spoken of his belief that Buddhism would not survive this century in any culturally meaningful form in the West. The link is in that and not to post-traditional expressions of Buddhism. That said, I am not sure whether David is doing any explicit post-traditional work on Buddhism, but rather is motivated in critiquing Buddhism and culture more broadly.

There seems to be a contradiction in view, at least to me it seems so. Above you write that “…in discussion with Matthew, I asserted that “Buddhism is dead”—by which I meant that, in the West, it no longer functions as a forward-looking cultural force. It only seeks to preserve the Consensus approach that merged mid-20th-century Asian Buddhist Modernism with the Western monist counterculture of the 1970s. Both are irrelevant to current concerns.”

Your creative engagement with Dzogchen and Tantra looks to me as if you search for strands within Buddhism which could serve as a cultural force. This surely is something entirely else than the Consensus approach. But is the result not some form of Buddhism?

So which is your view actually on this? Does Matthew get it right? Would you see your work as a post-traditional work on buddhism? And if not, what is it then for you use Buddhist thinking material in it?

All the best,
Matthias

David Chapman 2019-03-11
Your creative engagement with Dzogchen and Tantra looks to me as if you search for strands within Buddhism which could serve as a cultural force. This surely is something entirely else than the Consensus approach. But is the result not some form of Buddhism?

Yes, that was the idea. I’ve back-burnered the project because I’m not sure how to make it work under current cultural conditions (and also I don’t have time). I still hope something can be salvaged from Buddhism; it remains to be seen whether and what.

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