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The Mindful Cranks

Shortly after my Huffington Post essay “Beyond McMindfulness” went viral, a popular mindfulness promoter accused me of being a “crank”. So why not own it? Alas, The Mindful Cranks was born. The Mindful Cranks was the first podcast to critique the mindfulness movement. Conversations with guests soon expanded in scope to include critical perspectives on the wellness, happiness, resilience and positive psychology industries - sharing a common concern that such highly individualistic and market-friendly techniques ignore the larger structural and systemic problems plaguing society. Whether these be trendy Asian spiritualities such as mindfulness or yoga, or other interventions from therapeutic cultures, The Mindful Cranks will call them out without mercy. I am very fortunate to engage with my favorite journalists, authors and public intellectuals whose works that I admire, as well as educators and spiritual teachers who I have learned from — fellow cranks who don’t simply accept the way things are. They’re modern muckrakers who dare to question the unquestionable. But being cranky can be critically wise and compassionate. Casting a wide net around the impending meta-crisis, The Mindful Cranks also explores with leading thinkers how the problems of our times are deeply entangled with our ways of knowing and being. Rather than just retreating from such problems by sitting on cushion, doing yoga or listening to a meditation app, I believe using our minds is not necessarily a bad thing if it challenges the limits of human knowledge.
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Now displaying: January, 2019
Jan 10, 2019

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.

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