This conversation explores an obscure historical figure, Dhammaloka, who was perhaps one of the first Westerners ordained as a Buddhist monk in 1901 in British occupied Burma. Laurence Cox is co-author of The Irish Buddhist: The Forgotten Monk who Faced Down the British Empire, published by Oxford University Press. Based on ten year of archival research, it’s fascinating tale about the extraordinary life of this Irish working-class migrant worker, who was also a hobo and sailor, an anti-colonial activist and a devout defender of Buddhism against the onslaught of Christian missionaries and the British empire.
Laurence Cox is a long-time social movement activist and practicing Buddhist who has been involved in many different movement struggles in Ireland and internationally since the 1980s. He co-edits the activist/academic movement journal Interface, works with the Buddhist-based Ulex activist training centre in Catalonia and with low-impact child-friendly meditation retreats in SW England. He is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth and the author/editor of ten books and many other academic and activist pieces on social movements, revolutions, modern Buddhism and new religious movements, including Why Social Movements Matter; Buddhism and Ireland: from the Celts to the Counter-culture and Beyond; and Voices of 1968.
Titmuss was an ordained monk in Thailand, spending six years there from 1970 to 1976. During that time, he resided for three years in a monastery with Ajahn Dhammadharo, his Vipassana (Insight Meditation teacher) and Ajahn Buddhadasa.
Our conversation takes a deep dive into the themes in his insightful book, The Political Buddha. We explore just how central the role of critical inquiry is in the Dharma, Buddha’s position on wealth and war, the privatization of spirituality, corporate mindfulness, ethics and institutional change, and the importance of the community.
How many times have you heard people claim that Buddhism isn’t really a religion, that it’s a philosophy, a way of life, that its spiritual but not religious, or even that it’s a “science of mind”? These familiar tropes are a legacy of Buddhist Modernism, what Evan Thompson aptly has coined “Buddhist exceptionalism.” In this episode we explore these common claims, especially how they have been taken up by Secular Buddhists, mindfulness teachers and even scientists. We explore in this interview the historical reasons for why Buddhism has received special treatment, with its modernist claim that it is fundamentally different than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism. We dive into the confused understandings of mindfulness meditation which has been portrayed as a privatized “inner telescope” to objectively view our interior minds (brains), along with the misguided attempt to map meditative experiences onto brain states and neural correlates (Neural Buddhism). Evan challenges the popular view that Buddhism is compatible with science, and that science can validate Buddhist insights. Drawing on his intimate friendship and collaboration with the late Francisco Varela (a key founder of the Mind & Life Institute) he takes aim at how the so-called Buddhism – Science “dialogue” has been one-sided and stifling of mutual learning.
Evan Thompson is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He writes about the mind, life, consciousness, and the self, from the perspectives of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy (especially Buddhism and other Indian philosophical traditions). As a teenager, Evan was home-schooled in Southampton, NY and Manhattan at the Lindisfarne Association, an educational and contemplative community founded by his parents, William Irwin Thompson and Gail Thompson. He received his A.B. in Asian Studies from Amherst College (1983) studying with Robert Thurman, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1990). Evan has been actively involved as one of the leading researchers and advisers for the Mind & Life Institute.
We spoke today with Evan about his new book, Why I Am Not A Buddhist, published by Yale University Press in 2020. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); He is also the co-author with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition 2016).