In this Episode, we interview Jaime Kucinskas, author of The Mindful Elite (Oxford University Press, 2019), as she draws on first-hand accounts of the elite mindfulness circuit and describes how white, affluent and privileged networks became co-opted and beholden to institutional and corporate interests. In their efforts to "scale" mindfulness and make it accessible to the masses, Jaime tells us how this messianic movement led to a glaring social myopia, coming to reinforce the problems the Mindful Elite aspired to solve.
Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University's Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. His training was mainly philological, concentrating on Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan Buddhist literature. Glenn has been concerned with how to make classical Buddhist literature, philosophy, and practice relevant to contemporary life. Since the early 1990s, Glenn has taught in the religion departments of several universities, including the University of Georgia (where I received tenure), Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Won Institute of Buddhist studies.
Glenn Wallis is the founder and director of Incite Seminars. As he describes it, “Glenn founded Incite Seminars as a very personal response to the escalating social inequality, intensifying racial unrest, and eviscerating techno-consumer capitalism that he increasingly witnessed all around him.” Incite Seminars was thus founded on the conviction that education in the humanities offers us a means to recognize, resist, and counter the forces of personal alienation and social division—forces such as hopelessness, bigotry, passivity, and self-delusion.
In this episode, David Forbes and I discuss with Glenn the ideas in his recent book, “A Critique of Western Buddhism” (Bloomsbury, 2018). We cover a wide range of topics, some from his provocative blog, Speculative non-Buddhism, such as the “Elixir of Mindfulness.”
Our conversation dives into a critique of Western Buddhism via Laurelle’s “non-philosophy” – in our case, “non-Buddhism.” Glenn helps us to understand such notions as the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, “decision,” the “organon,” and how Western Buddhism backs away from the potency of the Real. Typical Western Buddhist concepts such as wisdom, emptiness, anatta (no-self), “the Dharma” – ideas which could be forces for thought and transformation – are turned around, and returned to the safe and familiar shores of the already known. Western Buddhism seems to suffer from a perpetual parapraxis – a series of misturnings – that relegates it to a form of spiritual self-help, ensuring its entrapment in a self-sealing echo chamber. Thinking things through is itself a form of practice/praxis. Glenn joins us in challenging the common tropes of the mindfulness movement – particularly Jon Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis that our ADD Nation is suffering from a so-called “thinking disease.” Turning this nonsense on its head, we discuss how thinking – how a force for thought – can cut through the tendency to stay ensnared in the World, liberating thinking for a counter-subject formation that resists capitalism and the neoliberal order.
Dr. Deborah Rozelle is a clinical psychologist who trains widely on psychological trauma and its relation to contemplative practice. She is co-director of the Jewel Heart Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, co-editor of Mindfulness-Oriented Interventions for Trauma: Integrating Contemplative Practices, and was Senior Fellow for the Initiative for Transforming Trauma at Garrison Institute. She is a long-time Buddhist practitioner under the tutelage of the late Gelek Rimpoche.
Dr. David Lewis is a student and independent researcher of western and eastern philosophical and psychological traditions. David is a retired computer scientist, mathematician and software development manager, and served on the faculty of Brown University, Cornell University and Ithaca College. He is a long-time Buddhist practitioner under the tutelage of the late Gelek Rimpoche.
In this episode, Deborah and David begin by discussing their work with trauma and its relationship to contemplative practice. Our discussion examines mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), comparing these psychological treatments to the fundamental tenets and ultimate goals of the Buddhadharma. Deborah and David employ a unique analogical methodology to compare key aspects of the MBIs and the Buddhadharma teachings and practices, focusing on commonly used terms as suffering (dukkha), impermanence, and no-self. Our discussion takes aim many of the claims put forth by Jon Kabat-Zinn – the MBSR (and other MBIs) embody the essence of the Dharma. This discussion is based on their chapter, "Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Clinical Psychology, Buddhadharma, or Both? A Wisdom Perspective," which was published in the Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement (Springer, 2016).
After a summer hiatus, Ron Purser and David Forbes, discuss what they have been up to on our summer break, as well as make mention of upcoming episodes.
In Episode 10, we interview Justin (Lama Karma) Wall, a mindfulness teacher trained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We explore his paper, "Sacred Groundlessness: Deepening the Ethics of Mindfulness in the Midst of the Global Crisis."
Justin Wall (Lama Karma) has over seven years of teaching experience, both as a facilitator of Mindfulness training through Clear Light Mindfulness and in more traditional contexts. He graduated with honors from Columbia University with degrees in English Literature and Religious Studies and completed two three-year retreats and one six-month retreat in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He completed a year-long certification course in Mindfulness Facilitation through the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA
He is also an accredited facilitator of the 8-week Open Mindfulness Training through the Altruistic Open Mindfulness Network, as well as the Tibetan Inner Yoga Training. He is the spiritual director of the Milarepa Retreat Center in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and founded the Earth Vase Pilgrimage project in the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain region.
In this episode Brian Victoria, author of Zen at War, discusses how Buddhism, and Japanese Zen in particular, have a long history of violence. From Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II to Corporate Zen training of "industrial warriors," Brian Victoria expounds on the dangers and risks of religion serves the powers of nationalism and the state.
Ruth Whippman is an author, journalist and documentary film-maker from London, living in the USA.
Ruth’s humorous essays and comment pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Guardian, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine and The Pool among other places. She is a regular contributor to Time.com and a blogger for the Huffington Post.
She is the author of America the Anxious, How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks (St Martin’s/ Macmillan, out 4th October 2016)
Before becoming a full time writer, Ruth was a producer and director at the BBC making numerous documentaries and current affairs shows for BBC television
Barry Magid, MD, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. He received Dharma Transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck in 1998 and has been teaching Zen at the Ordinary Mind Zendo for the past twenty years.
In this interview, Katie Loncke begins by sharing her personal journey of how she came to be both a Buddhist and activist for social justice. As a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor from the most infamous Nazi concentration camps, and her grandmother a descendant of Afro-Caribbeans who survived the Middle Passage, Katie’s activist roots go deep. Her mother--an attorney for Planned Parenthood in Sacramento; her father--one of the first black students to attend Yale and become a state judge. From her education at Harvard University to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Katie offers a wealth of insights forged from being on the front lines of socially engaged Buddhism.
Katie Loncke is a Co-Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), combining dharma with social justice. She connects with others similarly fixated on the paradox: how to love and accept the world as it is, while fighting like hell to change it. Nationwide she speaks, facilitates, and trains groups on combining Buddhist ethics with concrete skills for nonviolent direct action. Her writing has appeared in digital and print publications — most recently, she authored the chapter on race and racism in A Thousand Hands: A Guidebook to Caring for Your Buddhist Community (2016, Sumeru Press), edited by Nathan Jishin Michon and Daniel Clarkson Fisher.
Katie loves lemons, cats, warm nights, Black Power, clean water, and the Temptations.
Go to the Mindful Cranks website.
In this interview, Funie Hsu provides a very personal account of why she became increasingly critical of the mindfulness movement, particularly given her Asian heritage. She explains why it’s time we recognize the contributions of Asian American Buddhists by taking notice of the racism and cultural appropriation that has marginalized their voices.
Funie Hsu, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at San Jose State University. She received her Doctorate in Education from the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender and Sexuality and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis in the School of Education.
Go to the Mindful Cranks website.
Will Davies, Ph.D., is a sociologist and political economist and a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and also Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre.
Dr. Davies is author of two books, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2014) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (Verso, 2015).
In this interview, we explore wide-ranging questions as to why corporations have suddenly become interested in measuring and quantifying the well-being and happiness of their employees. Will Davies explains the phenomena of psychological collapse, and how neoliberalism has given rise to the psychosomatic worker. Likewise, we probe the links between the neoliberal ideology driving the quest for employee well-being and social harmony, manifesting recently in corporate mindfulness programs. From Frederick Taylor to Elton Mayo to Hans Seyle, Will Davies articulates the common philosophical thread of utilitarianism underlying these various schemes, which all have relied on messianic messages and charismatic authority characteristic of management gurus. We explore the explosion of surveillance technologies, wearable monitoring gadgets, and data analytics--which are increasingly employed in the service of "well-being optimization." Finally, we discuss the purpose and value social critique in a world fraught with economic inequalities, social suffering and concentration of global elite power.
C. W. Huntington, Jr. translates and interprets Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist texts. He is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Hartwick College and author of Maya: A novel, and The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamaka, as well as a number of scholarly articles on Buddhist doctrine and practice. Huntington is particularly interested in exploring new avenues for the translation of ideas and practices of Asian Buddhism into a modern Western idiom.
In this episode, we explore his recent article, "The Triumph of Narcissism: Theravada Buddhist Meditation in the Marketplace," which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, September 2015.
Manu Bazzano has a background in philosophy and rock music. He is an author, psychotherapist, supervisor in private practice and visiting lecturer at Roehampton University and various other schools and colleges. He facilitates workshops and seminars internationally and teaches philosophy in adult education. He studied eastern contemplative practices for 35 years and was ordained as a Zen monk in the Soto and Rinzai traditions. He edited two best selling anthologies, Zen Poems (MQP, 2002) and Haiku for Lovers (MQP, 2004) and is the author of Buddha is dead: Nietzsche and the Dawn of European Zen (Sussex, 2006); Spectre of the Stranger: towards a Phenomenology of Hospitality (Sussex, 2012) and The Speed of Angels (Perfect Edge, 2013). He edited After Mindfulness: New Perspectives on Psychology and Meditation (Palgrave, 2014). He is co-editor of Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies International Journal, Therapy and the Counter-Tradition (with Julie Webb, 2015), and book review editor of Self&Society – international Journal for Humanistic Psychology. www.manubazzano.com
Recording of Ron Purser's talk given at the International Contemplative Studies Symposium, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, November 2014, Boston, MA