Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 1, 2008

The Dhamma Brothers

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 5:59 pm

Meditating prisoners

My interest in the documentary “The Dhamma Brothers” was heightened by the conflict in Tibet, where Buddhist monks have been charged by some leftists as functioning as CIA agents. In some ways, I feel torn between sympathy for the Tibetans and suspicion that they are being manipulated by Washington. Long before I became a socialist, I was sympathetic to Buddhist ideas even though I never practiced meditation or any other exercises associated with the religion. In the early 1960s, Buddhist ideas pervaded the “new poetry” movement in all its aspects, from Jack Kerouac’s novels to the poetry of Gary Snyder. Indeed, Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” (dhamma is the Pali language equivalent of the Sanskrit dharma) is all about Gary Snyder, who is called Japhy Ryder in the novel. The dramatic tension in this novel—Kerouac’s finest after “On the Road”—is maintained by Kerouac’s (named Ray Smith) failure to get past his ego, no matter how hard he tries through meditation, reading scripture, etc.

If Kerouac had problems, can you imagine the hurdles that would have to be overcome by “The Dhamma Brothers”? These were hardened criminals, including some death row inmates, who were incarcerated in the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Alabama. They live behind high security towers and a double row of barbed and electrical wire fences, the last place in the world where Buddhism might take root. But take root it did through the efforts of Bruce Stewart and Jonathan Crowley, two trainers from the Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. They were invited to lead a 10 day meditation seminar by Jenny Phillips, a cultural anthropologist and psychotherapist who believed that prison life could be more bearable after mastering Buddhist meditation techniques.

The movie spends little time showing the men meditating, a wise choice given the fact that it is done in silence and involves sitting for long stretches with one’s eyes closed. This turned out to be highly positive for the men even if it didn’t lend itself to thrilling cinema.

What makes the film interesting is the conversion of the men as recounted in interviews. They come across as genuinely enlightened by their experience. No matter how degraded they were before they entered prison, they now seem at peace with themselves and unburdened from the psychic woes of prison life.

Considering the lengths to which Christian fundamentalism will go to impose its views on the American electorate, it should come as no surprise that pressure was applied on the prison to suspend all Buddhist meditation seminars since they were drawing men away from Christian services in prison. Ironically, one of the first questions posed to the Vipassana trainers by a prisoner was whether they would have to give up their Christian beliefs. They were assured that they would not have to, but were urged to forgo prayers until the training had come to an end.

I confess to having some doubts about the motives of the prison officials who gave their blessing to the Vipassana-led training. One supposes that they would approve anything that led to a calmer environment behind bars. However, given the fact that Donaldson prison is an oppressive institution, one wonders whether prisoner-inspired reforms are possible if the prisoners are reconciled to their status there.

This ultimately is the question that I had to grapple with when I became a socialist in 1967. As partial as I was to Buddhist ideas, I wondered whether their wide acceptance in the counter-culture might have had the effect of tempering the mood on campus or in rural retreats in places like Vermont and Northern California.

After seeing “The Dhamma Brothers,” I go back and forth on these questions. It is impossible not to give credit to a philosophy or religion that will allow suffering to be reduced under circumstances that are beyond our control. Life behind bars is a fact on the ground that these men had to contend with, while for the rest of humanity old age, illness and death are just as intransigent.

As I continued to wrestle with these contradictions, I thought it useful to return to a classic that led many undergraduates to consider Buddhism back in the early 1970s. This paragraph from the final chapter of Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” remains compelling to me after all these years, while the reference to “this criminal in bondage” resonates strongly with “The Dhamma Brothers”:

He no longer saw the face of his friend Siddhartha, instead he saw other faces, many, a long sequence, a flowing river of faces, of hundreds, of thousands, which all came and disappeared, and yet all seemed to be there simultaneously, which all constantly changed and renewed themselves, and which were still all Siddhartha. He saw the face of a fish, a carp, with an infinitely painfully opened mouth, the face of a dying fish, with fading eyes–he saw the face of a new-born child, red and full of wrinkles, distorted from crying–he saw the face of a murderer, he saw him plunging a knife into the body of another person–he saw, in the same second, this criminal in bondage, kneeling and his head being chopped off by the executioner with one blow of his sword–he saw the bodies of men and women, naked in positions and cramps of frenzied love–he saw corpses stretched out, motionless, cold, void– he saw the heads of animals, of boars, of crocodiles, of elephants, of bulls, of birds–he saw gods, saw Krishna, saw Agni–he saw all of these figures and faces in a thousand relationships with one another, each one helping the other, loving it, hating it, destroying it, giving re-birth to it, each one was a will to die, a passionately painful confession of transitoriness, and yet none of then died, each one only transformed, was always re-born, received evermore a new face, without any time having passed between the one and the other face–and all of these figures and faces rested, flowed, generated themselves, floated along and merged with each other, and they were all constantly covered by something thin, without individuality of its own, but yet existing, like a thin glass or ice, like a transparent skin, a shell or mold or mask of water, and this mask was smiling, and this mask was Siddhartha’s smiling face, which he, Govinda, in this very same moment touched with his lips.

“The Dhamma Brothers” opens at the Cinema Village in New York City on April 11. For screening information elsewhere, go to the movie’s website at http://www.dhammabrothers.com



  1. Read your article with interest and you seem to be somewhat religious. Your comments about Christianity however are only true to the extent that Christians challenge the governments of the world to only apply principles which are basically humanitarian to all people. That is, as an example, killing unborn babies in the womb is a basic crime against the propagation of human beings and it also falls within the moral concepts of a Christian which would mean it is a sin against God also who teaches us to preserve life. No real legitimate Christian would ever want to impose their “concepts of faith” upon any other human being by force or coercion! Yet, the Christian would insist that they have a right to propagate their faith as any other group has to other people! Freedom of thought, press, speech etc., are basic tenants which Christians have worked for and died for over the centuries. Also, most do not realize this but Christianity is not a “religion” at all in its basic and fundamental meaning. It does have certain religious concepts and teachings that develop but it does not exist on religious concepts and practices as most other religions think of, but rather, Christianity is a personal relationship with the Living God and His Son Jesus Christ. So, for all practical purposes, you could say a Christian does not need temples, mosques, buildings, seminaries, certain clothing styles, certain physical actions such as bowing in a certain manner, or any writings at all for its existence. God through His Spirit comes into the persons life and convicts that person of His sins against HIM and the person turns from his sins and confesses them to God and asks for forgiveness of the same calling upon God to forgive him and apply HIS only Son’s sacrificial death to be a atonement and a covering so that this God’s wrath moves off of the person and the person is now in a favorable position with God and becomes one of God’s children knowing that this is so because Christ Jesus rose from the dead to prove HE was authentic and promises to give everlasting life to the forgiven person with a promise also of a resurrection of his body in the future! None of this requires any of traditional religious “stuff” at all. I think the perception of people outside of mainstream orthodox Christianity and even many inside do not understand this at all. In this manner no one can stop our faith and relationship at all or stop our worship because it is inward and from the soul and spirit of man toward God and God toward man! Christianity has moved far away from this basic Holy Bible teaching and many are caught up in religiosity and outward manifestations of things which have absolutely nothing to do with the life we have in Christ Jesus our God and Lord! Thanks for providing a comment opportunity relating to your article!

    Comment by riverman3 — April 1, 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  2. One question for riverman3: Why are these fetus worshippers of the Jesus blood cult so goddamn long winded? Or this only on April Fools Day?

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2008 @ 5:20 am

  3. S.N. Goenka and other teachers of this vipassana technique are quite clear that anyone can achieve the benefits of practice regardless of the religious background of the participant. Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Marxist, Capitalist, all are welcome to try the technique and experience for themselves the benefits. Because it is a practice, it does not require a belief system, only a need to follow the rules laid out by the code of conduct, which are quite rigorous. One caveat: Vipassana is not for the weak-minded. Vipassana is workerist and experiential. You have to work hard to experience positive results. And since there is no talking, except for the transmission of meditation instructions by the assistant teachers, there are no long-winded sermons.

    Religious practices and rituals of any and all religious traditions are proscribed during the duration of a ten day retreat. This is simply to allow the meditator to experience the full benefits of the practice. If you are going to dig a well, you have to stay in the same spot and keep digging down. You won’t get anywhere if you move to another spot and start digging there, etc., etc. Those of us who have done ten day retreats know there is water there if you keep digging. And if you have faith in your god you realize he or she will be there at the end of the retreat. Otherwise, your faith must be sorely lacking. And there is no question of conversion, because there is no faith to convert to. It is a practice, a technique to train the mind.

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 2, 2008 @ 8:26 am

  4. This sounds expensive. Myself I like religion one on one, just me and God, no cash register. That guru with the beard and professional smile at door always asks for my credit car. For peace of mind keep out of the self-help section of your bookshop. The AA is okay. It cuts down you bar bill.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2008 @ 9:12 am

  5. I know it sounds expensive, but actually no one has ever been charged money to take a meditation retreat in this particular lineage. Even though it is a layperson and volunteer group, it is very traditional with respect to the way it chooses to deal with issues of money. Donations-only fund the retreats, and no donations are accepted from individuals who have not taken a ten day retreat previously. I have done retreats while unemployed and donated nothing, and I have done retreats with money in the bank and have made a modest donation. All the workers in the kitchen are volunteers who have done ten day retreats before. They also participate in the retreat, and are present at all three mandatory group sittings daily, as well as during the question and answer period with the teachers, who are also there on a volunteer basis. There is no guru, there is no limousine.

    Some volunteers may also be permitted to sit during the grueling two hour marathon on the fourth day, when vipassana is first taught to the group as a whole. It depends on how they’re doing in the kitchen. You have to be strong, because negativity does arise from within as a result of the practice, and as a volunteer you are working and talking with other volunteers, usually from different geographical, cultural, and national backgrounds. Although sometimes you run into a familiar face or two. So there can be linguistic and cultural barriers to be overcome, and you have ten people feeding maybe over one hundred twice a day. Things can get pretty hot in the kitchen.

    (No dinner is served. New students get fruit at 5.00 pm. Old students get tea only. No solid food after lunch).

    Consequently, to practice more or less is always a consideration on the minds of the volunteers and the teachers. They all meet to discuss the day and plan the next day after the meditators have gone to bed. Serving a course is always hard work, and in many ways is more challenging than actually sitting a course. But that too has its own challenges.

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 2, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  6. Thanks for the information. You guys are other-worldly. But just tea and no coffee! I’d be a zombie without even resorting to meditation. I’ll stick to Italy and the Vatican. They do good espresso on the beach around the Holy See.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  7. But never mind the First Cause, umbilical gazing and other self-abuse. Sympathy for Kerouac under a Marxist masthead makes me wonder. What exactly is his appeal? Abroad, away from the U.S. and the English language, young people are still very taken with him. But they couldn’t be in more different social and economic conditions than his, nor farther from American rootlessness. To them Kerouac seems to mean freedom of movement,i.e., escape from the family. That seems ironic since he ended up housekeeping with his Mom. The writers of the generation before his didn’t think much of him. Truman Capote’s he-doesn’t-write-he-types is typical. On the left — see Nelson Algren — they were just as dismissive. They couldn’t see beyond the way he organized his books. “On The Road” is irreplaceable. But it’s hard to say why exactly.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2008 @ 1:35 pm

  8. I share some of your ambivalence about religion. In trying to make sense of how I feel about it, posts like this one help. Thanks.

    There’s also a long thread at Feral Scholar on the same subject, with plenty of interesting comments toward the end of the thread.


    Comment by Bruce F — April 2, 2008 @ 7:13 pm

  9. Bruce F is right to direct us back to the heart of this fine post and away from facetiousness. A young man is tempted to do full-time battle with his ego. But he decides he’d rather get out in the street and fight back. He realizes that people like Robert Mugabe or Dick Cheney don’t wrestle with their ego. They use it to beat their countries to death. So the young man choses to be Ray Smith rather than Japhy Ryder. And who’s given us more, Kerouac or some meditator?

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 3, 2008 @ 8:21 am

  10. Hello Louis,

    Your post is thought provoking as usual. At first I thought that a high security prison that restricts all forms of physical freedom is an ideal place for Buddhism to sprout since it only tolerates the freedom of mind. Then I realized that there is a flaw in this logic given that Buddhism is not a path to liberation at all. Like other forms of religion, Buddhism is a form of “desire” for freedom, which operates for not materializing its goal, but to reproduce and regulate its form as a desire. Therefore, a prison is a perfect place for Buddhism not by reason of that it promises the liberation of mind where the freedom of body is completely prevented, rather, a prison renders the desire for spiritual development possible. If we consider the reason of Kerouac’s fiasco to traverse his ego with mediation, we can straightforwardly conclude that because of his American practicality he didn’t comprehend the exact mechanism of mediation: It has nothing to do with weakening the ego. Rather, it validates the excess of ego by regarding it as an inner process of the isolated mind and the measurement of truth as if the true nature of life is only accessible by overcoming the ego. As a result, rather than undermining it, mediation ossifies the ego by obsessively circling around it.

    The same thing goes for the soothing effect of religion (a protest against real suffering) too. God is the object cause of the desire for a soul in a soulless world. God is the object that renders the human desire for attaining harmony with external reality. As I said above, the function of religious desire is not to materialize its goal but to circle around it. I think this is where the answer of the question of does religion and Marxism compatible could be properly answered. Marxism strives to change the external reality, not to circle around it.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 4, 2008 @ 10:14 am

  11. “Rather than undermining it, meditation ossifies the ego by obsessively circling around it.” Exactly. But to remain in the vein of “American practicality”, why did meditation serve the Dhamma Brothers any better than the Black Muslim program, bible thumping or even the discipline of push-ups and weight lifting? Their problem was to keep their personality together in inhuman conditions. I.R.A. prisoners in Longkesh pored over Marxist classics.
    When they finally got out, their comrades told them they were old hat. But that’s another story.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 4, 2008 @ 11:51 am

  12. I’m glad to see Mehmet weighing in on the subject of meditation. I understand the critique on the basis of unfulfilled desire, (is that Lacanian)? but I submit that argumentation without a real basis for understanding the subject at hand lends just as much to obfuscation as did Kerouac’s original misunderstanding of the same topic. Your argument is apriori and based on western critique of “religion”. You have no experience of meditation, so that makes it difficult for you to actually understand what is involved here. If you really want an informed opinion from a psychoanalytic perspective, I suggest checking out some psychoanalysts who are indeed experienced meditators within this tradition, such as the work of Paul Fleischman M.D. To quote:

    “Meditators must “have the seed”. Like the life of any seed, the seed of meditation eludes the microscope of words: is it basic good faith; or a sense of determination; or enough miseries and losses to have to keep going; or an unfathomable curiosity about their own true nature; or an intuition of values that transcend immediate life; or a yearning for peace; or a recognition of the limitations of mundane routines? It was said by the Buddha that at the heart of the path lies ahimsa, non-harmfulness. Is it an inkling of the infinite curative value that this most treasured and elusive cumulative virtue provides, that constitutes the seed? In any case, a life of meditation ia a path for those who hear the call, seek it out, and sit down to observe. Some may not seek it, some may not value it, some may not tolerate it, some may have other valuable paths to take.

    “The French psychoanalyst, Jaques Lacan, wrote, “Psychoanalysis may accompany the patient to the ecstatic limit of the ‘thou art that,’ in which is revealed to him the cipher of his moral destiny, but it is not in our mere power as practitioners to bring him to that point where the real journey begins.” Vipassana meditation is based on one thing; “This is suffering; this is the way out of suffering.” It is the path where the real journey begins. It is a healing by observation of and participation in the laws of nature. Even the stars are born and die, but beyond the transiency of the world there is an eternal that each of us can travel towards.

    The potential therapeutic actions of Vipassana include increased self-knowledge, deepened human trust and participation, integration with and acceptance of one’s past, deepened activation of one’s will, an increased sense of responsibility for one’s own fate; greater concentration, deepened ethical commitments, firm yet flexible life structures and disciplines, fluid access to deeper streams of feeling and imagery, expanded historical and contemporary community; prepared confrontation with core realities such as time, change, death, loss, pain leading to an eventual dimunition of dread, anxiety, and delusion; fuller body-mind integration, decreased narcissism, and a fuller panorama of character strengths such as generosity, compassion, and human love. Each student starts at a different place and progresses individually; there is no magic and no guarantee.”

    excerpt from “Karma and Chaos”

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 4, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  13. You can read Paul’s latest, a talk prepared for Harvard Medical School, in pdf format at the webpage below. This talk offers a more in-depth look at what actually goes on during a ten day retreat, both from the perspective of a teacher within the tradition and as a psychiatrist:


    It is titled “A Way Of Life”

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 4, 2008 @ 5:45 pm

  14. Greg’s comment brings to mind the immortal verses: Every day every way I’m less Narcisus, don’t you know?/ In fact there’s no one left in here, no to, no fro/It bothers me, eternal bound, who’ll drive the friggin’ bus.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 4, 2008 @ 6:03 pm

  15. Thanks for the information. You guys are other-worldly. But just tea and no coffee! I’d be a zombie without even resorting to meditation. I’ll stick to Italy and the Vatican. They do good espresso on the beach around the Holy See.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 2, 2008 @

    Actually they serve instant coffee and black tea bags. honey, no sugar. I do believe it’s Maxwell House. During the summers you can bring a tent and camp, and one summer I snuck in some killer coffee and my french press, but I hardly ever used it. Cravings usually diminsh quite a bit during retreats. After the third or fourth day I’m only sleeping 4 or 5 hours anyway. So after that I just started bringing fresh ginger root and give it to the volunteers in the kitchen so they can make fresh tea for everyone.

    If you end up serving a course there is a chai recipe to die for. All the volunteers drink chai.

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 4, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  16. Hello Peter,

    Since I don’t have adequate information about the Black Muslim Brotherhood, I can’t explain its particular failure in the prison system of the US. But as I grew up in a society that the influence of Islamic beliefs is palpable in every pore of daily life, I can clarify why Islam is incompatible with the environment of prison. To begin with, we should modify Marx’s famous statement regarding religion for Islam: Islam is the BDSM fantasy of the oppressed creature. The daily activity of a believer is entirely dictated by celestial law while this artificial world is a preparation ground for the real afterlife. The Islamic disavowal of the existence of any external reality as such could be traced in Qur’an which is infested with the statements about dualist opposition linking the imaginary and the real world. Such as, “the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion. (3:185)” or “and nothing is the life of this world but a play and a passing delight (6:32)”, etc. As a result, Islam functions like the Ego of the believer that suppresses one’s needs, wishes and desires as long as they are conflicting with delusive external reality. Here, one might probably ask: Then, how could you give explanation about the aggressive posture of Islamic fundamentalism towards western imperialism? If we completely abstract the fact that it has been molded by the immediate interests of its opponents to some extent, there is a significant paradox here: Muslim subject does not conflict with his own imaginary external world or with a world imagined by the Muslim subject. To be more precise, the controversy is between Muslim subject and the world imagined by the other and therefore which is exempt of Islamic suppression. I think for that reason Islam and environment of a prison is a downright mishmash because both of their purpose of existence is to control the freedom of human body.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 5, 2008 @ 8:59 am

  17. Mehmet, I appreciate your philosophical precision. My point was more prosaic. People in the unnatural situation of prison have to fight against being crushed as acting subjects. Any discipline they commit to personally can help them. I admire the Black Muslims for their effort to bring a community in disarray out of self-destructiveness. But they are as far from Islamic social, religious and psychological realities as other Americans. Your explanation of the Islamic doctrinal denial of a real world is telling and lucid. To the less theologically inclined, however, it has a downside. It makes the Muslim world seem arid. In fact it can be a very pleasant place and demonstrate more humanity than ours.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 5, 2008 @ 11:22 am

  18. Hello Greg,

    As I told you before in a private correspondence, my recent interest on psychoanalysis was incited when I neurologist diagnosed that I was displaying some symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder. After that, I have decided to figure out the source of my anxiety rather than taking the pills that he prescribed since it is a minor disease. Lust like reading Marx has led me to question my illusions of social relations, mechanism of market and capital, their interaction with working class, false idealist conception of history, etc. psychoanalysis has gave me a ground to deal with my the illusions about myself and my subjectivity. Actually it is exactly what Jack Kerouac’s character in “On the Road” naively expects from Buddhist practices. On the contrary, the genuine path to deal with ego is to get the picture of how it is structured as an illusion about our subjectivity. There are two subtle encounters of Alice respectively with the Caterpillar and the Pigeon:

    `What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’

    `I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’


    Well! WHAT are you?’ said the Pigeon. `I can see you’re trying to invent something!’

    `I–I’m a little girl,’ said Alice, rather doubtfully, as she remembered the number of changes she had gone through that day.

    In fact, the Pigeon is right. My subjectivity is something that I invented along my adventure in the symbolic order. And my ego is a product of my fantasy about this order, which directly resists the restrictions of the internal reality of socio-symbolic order.

    Here I fancied whether the famous quote from Sun Tzu, “Know thy self, know thy enemy” might be applicable to the game of poker. In my opinion, this would be a perfect advice for how to lose everything immediately in poker and in the battleground as well. We must undertake a necessary adjustment: Know thy table-image, know the table-image thy enemy. We should assign this statement to mediation too: Do not strive to know yourself in vein; there is no such a thing other than in the field of imagination.

    There is a particular chapter in The German Ideology in which Marx accuses Young Hegelians for assigning self-determining existence to consciousness and thus ascribing the social relations and limitations of humankind as products of consciousness. However, the accurate pathway to understand the function of human consciousness is to decipher its relation with material reality of humankind.

    As an obligatory confession, I have difficulties to understand Lacan. First of all, unlike Freud’s relatively direct and vivid narrative style, Lacan leaves readers in a jam of unintelligible expressions time and again. Secondly, I am deprived of the full access to his works as they are not available online thanks to copyright laws. I have no idea if they were translated in Turkish since making an effort to read Lacan in Turkish would be a waste of time anyway. I don’t even understand the Turkish translations of Marx, I have deserted this absurdity when I found myself in situations that I was continuously checking the English version to make sense of what our Turkish translator intended to say.

    In spite of my semi-ignorance, there is an entertaining dimension in grappling with the ideas of Lacan. For instance, couple of days ago, in the farewell letter to a former intimate friend of mine (now she declines to respond my usual sterile and sensible letters), in a little bit sarcastic fashion, I declared that masturbation is the only authentic sexual activity since it is the only unmediated contact with our fantasies that renders the physical sexual intercourse possible. Then I concluded that, the genuine manifestation of sexual desire is not to make love with the person that we desire. Contrary, it is the act of masturbation while fantasizing the person with whom we made love just now.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 5, 2008 @ 11:40 am

  19. Peter, I am sure that if I were a dweller in that prison I would be the first person who registers the meditation course. Specifically I am not disagreeing with there is a tranquilizing effect of spiritual readjustments that provides a flexibility to endure the antagonism of reality, like I never question whether god exists or not. The proper materialist question here is why does god exist or why religion renders the social scandal of the external reality bearable. You are right that in some ways a Muslim community occasionally displays superior qualities of humanity. In consequence of my last poetry attempts published in an Islamist magazine whose editor is an honest admirer of my poetry thus ignores their content (Ironically, I was free to make downright insult to God), I spent some time with their poetry clan. I observed a continuous solidarity, a candid bosom of modesty, a never-ending salvo of goodwill that provokes me to act like Maldoror, etc. But like sci-fi movies, there was something strange, a movement of an eyebrow, a transition in the tone of voice, a sudden change of the color of skin that reveals there is something lame about this pretentious normality. One day a known Turkish-Islamist-Poet told me his darkest fantasy: “I always imagine myself observing the world behind a rifle scope”.

    Comment by Mehmet Çagatay — April 5, 2008 @ 5:28 pm

  20. Mehmet,

    Imagine living the changes Alice goes through during her looking glass metamorphosis, but realizing directly, through observation of the impermanence of sensation in the body, that there is no-self, never was, never will be. When this realization comes at the experiential level, it comes at a deeper level than self-conscious ego, at the level of the previously automatic functioning of the mind as it processes sensory information, at the level of the limbic brain, the glands, and the nerves. and you sit through the terror of that realization, and finally you just let THAT go as well and keep observing with a huge sense of relief, actually. Hume came to the same realization at the intellectual level, but not at the experiential level. After you have that experience you never really come back through the looking glass the same person, but then, we’re always changing all the time anyway. The best we can do to rescue the self at the philosophical level is to posit it’s nominal existence. And yes, illusory ego construction goes on behind our back all the time. How else could people sell us shit? How else could a socio-economic order sustain itself? If we did not have a self-image inherited from outside, or constructed internally, or some combination thereof, capitalism would collapse in a millisecond.

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 6, 2008 @ 1:17 am

  21. Greg, That’s a neat piece of writing. But if capitalism only has to worry about opposition from the Vipassana program, I’m getting ready for another millennium of it.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — April 6, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  22. Yeah, that made me laugh. I have tended to make a separation between vipasssana and marxism in my own life, but it’s obvious how the two complement each other. From someone with one foot firmly in each camp, I must say that vipassana does not think of itself in opposition to anything really, they just do what they do, and the prison program is the extension of an awareness that prison is the perfect place to set up a beneficial group meditation practice. Wanting others to receive the benefits of the experience of vipassana is a natural and organic outcome of the practice. I have felt the urge to tell my friends about it, to encourage them to set aside ten days, etc.

    But there is something else afoot here. The marketing strategy is pretty ingenuous. They plan to have the film shown in prisons all across the country. I see the seeds of a movement. Can you imagine what a group of well-disciplined, compassionate and caring inmates could achieve if they bonded together and REFORMED THEMSELVES? It would take away a lot of ammunition from the hard core racist right wing, and could lead to a new civil rights movement. But I should not get carried away. These things take time….

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 6, 2008 @ 11:59 am

  23. A very interesting article and a subject that demands more attention and debate on the left

    Image how different most left conferences and factions would/could be if they meditated?

    Burmese and Tibetan Monks seem well able to rebel when pushed and the role of their practice seems to me to be complex in such situations.I also recall the Vietnamese monks who set themselves alight in protest at the WAR.

    Victor Serge in his autobiography writes of how interested he has become reading about meditation and that he would like to have the time to investigate meditation

    Now we might like to think about separating the process of meditation from the explanations and traditions that surround it.

    You might also be interested in the writings of Roy Bhaskar on the similarities between the Bhudda and Marx.

    I was amused by Mehmet Çagatay freudian slip

    “Lust like reading Marx has led me to question my illusions of social relations, mechanism of market and capital, their interaction with working class, false idealist conception of history, etc. psychoanalysis has gave me a ground to deal with my the illusions about myself and my subjectivity”

    Lust and General anxiety go together like birds of a feather Mehmet

    Comment by ANiN — April 13, 2008 @ 2:13 pm

  24. Anin,

    Do you have a link or reference for Bhaskar’s writings on Marx and Buddha?

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 15, 2008 @ 2:14 am

  25. @ Greg Mcdonald


    Bhaskar R, From East to West, Odyssey of a Soul
    Routledge 2000

    From Science to Emancipation ; Alienation and the Actuality of Enlightenment by Roy Bhaskar (Paperback – 2002)

    meta-Reality: The Philosophy of meta-Reality, Volume 1 Volume 1: Creativity, Love and Freedom (The Bhaskar Series)

    meta-Reality: The Philosophy of meta-Reality, Volume 1 Volume 1: Creativity, Love and Freedom (The Bhaskar Series) by Roy Bhaskar (Paperback – Nov 1, 2002



    Comment by anin — April 17, 2008 @ 6:40 pm

  26. Those who have done a ten day retreat and are trying to explain it to others are whistling in the wind.
    Those who have not done one and are making judgements about them, with all due respect, don’t know what they’re talking about.
    Find the time and go do one. If you make it to the end you will not regret it.

    “So the young man choses to be Ray Smith rather than Japhy Ryder. And who’s given us more, Kerouac or some meditator?”

    Hm. As someone else may have mentioned, the character of Japhy Ryder is based on Gary Snyder, who has written many books including ‘The Old Ways’, ‘The Practice of the Wild’, and ‘Turtle Island’. I’m a fan of both Kerouac and Snyder, but since Kerouac drank himself to death before the age of 50, and Snyder’s still going strong at age 78 (+/-), I’d have to go with ‘some meditator’ as the answer to that question.

    Comment by Alan Arcadia — April 20, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  27. Yeah I did my best to explain but you’re right; trying to explain the experience of a ten day retreat to a non-meditator is like trying to describe an acid trip for a Mormon

    Comment by Greg McDonald — April 21, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

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