Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, August 16, 2013

Brief Blog Reviews VIII: Meaningness

[Apologies for previously broken links in this post, now fixed, I hope. Thanks to the reader who pointed the problem out.]

This series of Brief Blog Reviews continues to be an exercise in revising criteria. My review this month is not of a single blog but of a group of blogs. Though not as frequently updated as most of the blogs I have included, collectively their frequency should just about edge them into the ballpark. They are, moreover, all accessible via a single page, Meaningness, and are all by a single author, David Chapman, who I am commending especuially but not solely for his funny, straight-talking (except when he’s not), and generally right presentation of Buddhism.

By “right,” here, I mean two things, neither of which I am qualified to pronounce upon: technically right about Buddhism, and view-from-nowhere right about reality. Aside from the usual characteristics (smarts and style) that I tend to point out in these reviews, Chapman is “right” often enough to make me suspicious. My guess is that if I read him long enough I may find myself staring at my own prejudices. (I hope I recognize them as such.) His critique of monism (scattered through more than one post but a good place to start is here) is close to spot-on, and generally sympathetic enough to make one feel that he understands pretty well the temptation of the monist enough to give his criticisms street-cred. (I am, however, a little more sympathetic to the "bad ideas," or at least the dead Germans, that he's talking about.) He’s less understanding, as far as I can tell, when it comes to nihilism, which he seems to think is a kind of metaphysical boogeyman. Chapman describes himself as a serious practitioner of a relatively obscure form of tantra, and tantra (according to my limited and book-acquired comprehension) pulls no punches about terror, despair, and paranoia; so I assume he’s seen a bit of metaphysical horror. I find him just a bit dismissive on this count; but this doesn’t keep me from being able to smile.

Chapman, who may or may not be the central character in Ken Wilber’s Boomeritis, is a former neopagan and AI researcher; his current project (aside from writing about vampires) trying to elaborate a space for possible alternative Buddhisms, outside what he sees as the consensus version. In this he is not unlike Tim Morton, or Brad Warner (Chapman expressly credits Hardcore Zen), or (maybe a bit more iffy, this one) Glenn Wallis’ Non-Buddhism; maybe, too, by what people are doing over at the Dharma Overground. (Note: these parallels are Very Rough.) By “consensus” Buddhism I take it Chapman means something fairly close to Yavanayāna (as Amod Lele calls it over at Love of All Wisdom), or what Wallis often refers to as x-Buddhism (again with the Rough Parallels): a general convergence in First-World countries that Buddhism is about interconnectedness, kindness, and the transcendence of ego. Of course, this devolves into a culture of niceness, and at worst of egoism masked as the quest for enlightenment – but Chapman is too wise and too kind to just sassily point this out (we knew this about religions already, after all, from Christianity and Marxism and etc...) and leave it at that.

His close critiques of consumerism-and-Buddhism are well taken, and well served both by his familiarity with Buddhist history (recent and ancient) and by his willingness to look into some of the sorts of Buddhism that rub “the consensus” the wrong way, both aesthetically or morally. (See, for instance, his post on corpse meditation.) All of this falls to some degree under his negative project, the “making space” project. I’m especially impressed, however, by his by his overall positive project of Meaningness (as a word this a barbarous coinage, but as a pointer to experience it works very well), work which promises to eventually coalesce into a book elaborating this eponymous concept, which is in some ways close (i.e. "Very Roughly" parallel) to what I mean by Participation, and (more close to Chapman’s own intent) is a thought-provoking reworking of the central notion of pratityasamutpada.

“Right” though Chapman so often is, of course, we are bound to disagree. He would likely regard me as a sort of Eternalist by some measures (what with my Christianity and all), and I defend myself by distinguishing between Eternity and Sempiternity, as usual. That defense, however, is not this post. I do find his analyses of the pitfalls of Eternalism pertinent, and his takes on other of our contemporary cults -- e.g. that of Bayesian statistics, or the search for the True Self, or “Spiritual But Not Religious,” (an especial peeve of mine; Chapman points me to its apparently popular abbreviation SBNR, one I ought to have thought of) -- are these all rife with compassionate and truthful zingers. (Also, he discovered Eric Voeglin via Robert Anton Wilson, which I cannot help but find pretty charming.) The comments on his various posts tend to be engaged and forthright and Chapman almost always responds with thought and care. I urge you to go over yourself and at least eavesdrop on the conversation.


  1. I agree, David blog is a fine one.
    Have you ever dialogued with him there to test your Eternalism?
    You won't know until you try, eh?
    Did you find him through my blog?

  2. Hi Sabio, & welcome.

    The answers are 1. No, not yet, and 3. No, actually, the other way around!

    As for 2., please note that, while I am relatively confident (though as you point out, I don't know 'til I try) Chapman would consider me an "Eternalist" -- I think most Christians smell like "eternalists" to most Buddhists -- I consider the jury still out. When the Buddha, or his disciples, formulated the categories that we render as "nihilist," "dualist", "eternalist' and so on, they were arguing with or about philosophies that arose in the Indian subcontinent for the most part (and later in China and the Himalayas). The "religions of the book" are lumped in with eternalism mostly for convenience's sake. It has taken a long time for Western scholarship to even begin to regard Indian and Chinese philosophy without Christian presuppositions, so I expect it will take a while before the reverse process is also noted and allowed for. In many ways we are still just beginning the inter-religious encounter. And in other ways, of course, it has to be re-begun every generation (at least).