Already they have consumed much of Mongolia, where they have outlawed the search for the reincarnation of Jetsun Dampa, the incarnate head of the country. They have robbed and destroyed monasteries, forcing the monks to join their armies or else killing them outright. Therefore, when strength of peace and happiness is with us, while the power to do something about the situation is still in our hands, we should make every effort to safeguard ourselves against this impending disaster. Use peaceful methods where they are appropriate; but where they are not appropriate, do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means.
Work diligently now, while there is still time. Then there will be no regrets. Marxists often joke among themselves that they have successfully predicted ten of the last two crises. It truly is an unimaginable transition—a world without capitalism. And yet that is where many scholars, economists, and academics think we are headed.
We are not destroying anything. We are only witnessing how the system is destroying itself.
We all know the classic scene from cartoons. The cat reaches a precipice but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath this ground. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are beginning to live between two worlds, in a cultural bardo. The consolidation of economic power displayed in capitalism is not necessarily a benign event. The materialism and affluence of the West was certainly a new and unknown condition for the Buddhist pioneers who scouted the West and studied our culture.
Are we aware of the forces of capitalism? If you simply get excited about the journey, you will never find out what we are really up against. What are we really up against? Car and trucks are nothing now; faxing is an antique technology. Many teachers and adepts have exposed some of the cultural overlays of imported Buddhism and simultaneously unearthed aspects of the essential teachings. Is Buddhism irrelevant in a world of brutality and permanent crisis? Does it have the legs of an emancipatory religion, a religion of liberation with the power to transform societies and cultures?
These criticisms are certainly valid to some degree, but they also express a defensiveness that fails to engage the bigger point: Western Buddhism, with its introspective emphasis on personal liberation, fundamentally aligns itself with the societal status quo.
In many respects Buddhism does seem to function as a fetish. To be clear, Zizek criticizes the Western Buddhist attitude not because he has a theological axe to grind, but because he is adamantly in favor of a realistic engagement with the world and its forces. Following his Marxist bent, he argues that if one possessed such a realistic view, then one would naturally feel compelled to act and not withdraw.
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Zizek sees the meditative and contemplative position as withdrawal. Meditation as fetish allows us to withdraw—to distance ourselves from the world—and thereby maintain our sanity. Further, the structure of the fetish relationship enables us to pretend to accept reality as it is. It enables us to fully participate in the stressful, greedy, pressured, alienated, painful working world of contemporary culture while maintaining the conceit that we are separate from the spectacle, able to play the game as we like, and supposing that what really matters is this contemplative self detached and uninvolved.
What riles Zizek about this scenario is that this fetish logic leaves the world intact as it is, and even strengthens hegemonic threats. If the fetish were removed, the structure of false consciousness would collapse, often with devastating effects for the subject. I think it is important to say that Zizek and cultural critics increasingly see differences between East and West dramatically diminished as Asia has been absorbed by global capitalism.
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Asia might be the geographic origin of Buddhism, but the distinction is of little importance as the world becomes modern, Westernized, and the hegemony of global capitalism has become total, worldwide. So it is not surprising that Zizek would maintain that Buddhism globally is becoming Western Buddhism—and increasingly functions as a fetish that ultimately enables the status quo to maintain its continuing control, dominance, and expansion.
If Buddhism is finally about liberation from ignorance and errant views, both individually and collectively, then we might consider studying not only what we are but also the culture that invisibly influences and dominates us. Quite apart from advocating any alternative to the current system, we may discover sources of suffering and new patterns of desire and ignorance that are embedded in our actions.
The study of capital would quickly become the study of suffering and false consciousness. Marx approached something similar in German Ideology , a work he wrote with Engels in first published in Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The movement of the real abolishes error and simultaneously manifests as the self-liberation of society. But the charm of capital remains so great that I doubt Buddhists will be any less seduced by it than other groups.
Regardless of the answer, there is something threatening and potentially discomforting about mixing Buddhism with discussions of money and politics. They would prefer not to talk about property, income inequality, structural poverty, permanent unemployment, and the structural weaknesses of capital. For a long time now, Wall Street, politicians and the media have preferred not to talk about these issues. However, that wall seems to be breaking down.
Many Buddhists seem to have preferred not to hear him.
The movement of the real is emotionally tough, because its first move is to reveal error. But it also appears in the emerging sangha, an invisisble movement of unification that appears in the action of the collective. The action of the collective is to be collected, to come together and deal with whatever arises from this being together. In the decline of capital, the saving power of the collective might appear in new and unexpected forms.
Buddhist insurgency might look like a shift to a new leaderless sangha, or a new type of leader and teacher who discovers and understands the vast unrecognized potential of the collective movement of the real. If the movement of the real lives, it must constantly escape the known, the easily reproduced form:.
A general uprising, as we see it, should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners. When that happens, the people will lose heart and, believing that the issue has been decided and further efforts would be useless…. On the other hand, there must be some concentration at certain points: the fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightning will may strike at any time.
Carl von Clausewitz, On War. This is an image of Buddhist insurgency, of the future sangha. The bolt of enlightening energy, the sincerity of search for the real, could appear at any moment and in anyone, not just a sanctioned or authorized leader.
Marxian class theory
The dark and menacing cloud is only menacing to the old order, to ignorance and forces of manipulation. The thickening collective of the group is the ground for the movement of the real and the abolition of error. The new sangha will be nebulous and elusive, yet it will appear in moments when the movement of the real is especially concentrated in individuals. In that moment the group will know the presence of the real. The Dalai Lama lamented that there had not been enough time for a transition to genuine communism.
Maybe the time has come to ask him what he thinks genuine communism looks like. Events are happening now that signal, for some, the end of capitalism as we know it.
Several critics have suggested that we need to start thinking now about what alternatives we might work toward. The challenge is probably greater than we think. What matters is the day after, when we will have to return to normal lives. Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle!
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As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available. Subscribe now to read this article and get immediate access to everything else. Greece is a case in point, but so is the case of Spain, where the experience of the last decade has served to expose the illusory nature of the democratic transition.
'Cultural Marxism': a uniting theory for rightwingers who love to play the victim
It is, of course, the duty of any activist, and not only of the leadership, to attempt to understand the world in which we live and to overcome its self-evident deficiencies in practice. However, in order to obtain a satisfactory answer, it is first necessary to formulate a satisfactory question; and in order to find something, one has to look in the right places.
He therefore runs the risk of failing to see the wood from the trees and to analyse his own responsibility, that of the leadership of the United Left on his watch, and of the left as a whole. One of the things that unites all the intellectual quacks who serve the interests of the bourgeoisie everywhere, is the constant declaration that Marxism is dead, or at least has been left far behind.
Marxism is rather a humble instrument for the analysis of society and also for political practice. But it is most definitely the only consistently revolutionary theory that provides us with a powerful tool for understanding capitalist society, and therefore preparing the ground for its revolutionary overthrow. If that is what Alberto means to say, then we agree with him. Nevertheless, the entire content of his article leads us to the opposite conclusion. Marxism, in our firm opinion, is indeed scientific socialism without inverted commas and therefore very far from any kind of religion.
It is based on a rigorous scientific method dialectical materialism and a scientific interpretation of history historical materialism. Like any scientific theory, Marxism can be modified, added to and changed in the light of recent discoveries. But if one examines the fundamental ideas put forward by Marx and Engels, what is surprising is just how little has had to be changed in the course of the last years. This fact is itself a striking indication of the robustness and vitality of Marxism.
Let us submit this claim to a little test. If we go to a library and take out any bourgeois book on sociology, economics or politics written years ago, it will immediately become obvious that this book is merely of historical interest — its application to modern conditions, next to zero.