Alt-Buddhism: What It Is, or Could Be


Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. The Second Patriarch stood in the snow. He cut off his arm and presented it to Bodhidharma, crying, “My mind has no peace as yet! I beg you, master, please pacify my mind!” “Bring your mind here and I will pacify it for you,” replied Bodhidharma. “I have searched for my mind, and I cannot take hold of it,” said the Second Patriarch. “Now your mind is pacified,” said Bodhidharma. —Mumonkan, case 41 (Sekida’s translation)


     Ever since my return to the USA in 2011, after many years of living in Asia, I have observed that western Buddhism has been essentially highjacked by ultraliberal secularism—to the point that many western Buddhists have no idea that this is really a radical deviation from the Buddhism that has flourished in Asia for 25 centuries, and to some degree even from the fundamental, essential spirit of the whole ancient (or ageless) spiritual system. I have also observed that there are quite a few western Buddhists, especially nonconformist male ones, who cannot take the ultraliberal “progressive” approach to Buddhism seriously; in fact some of them are downright disgusted by it. Back in the days when I was butting heads with politically correct western Buddhism more than I am now, I was moved to compose a little rant on the subject, which is as follows…

…there is one institution that I still consider worth my while to rebel against: and that is what many (but certainly not all) people in America are pleased to call "Theravada Buddhism"—a movement in which laypeople who may not take three refuges or keep five precepts call themselves "Sangha," and if they do take refuge in the Sangha, take refuge in themselves; in which the members believe more deeply in scientific materialism and politically correct humanism than in Dhamma; in which even many teachers do not believe in fundamental principles of Buddhism, even Nibbana, because scientific materialism cannot explain it; in which the members sew new patches onto old cloth, and are essentially worldly materialists with a little Buddhist flavoring added; in which the possibility of miracles is rejected out of hand; in which monks are required to be politically correct, smiling politicians, or saints, in order to be considered the equals of the lay community; in which a monk must prove himself worthy of even receiving a bowl of food every day; in which many of the teachers are more ignorant of the Buddhist texts than a typical Burmese villager with a grade school education; in which most of Theravada Buddhism is rejected or ignored, with the system reduced to little more than a few elementary meditation techniques, being a pale shadow of a mutilated fragment of Dhamma; in which complacent lukewarmness is standard, with anything more than that being considered extreme, unnecessary, or "cultish"; in which truth is covered up with phony politeness for the sake of not ruffling feathers, or threatening people's fragile self-esteem; in which true renunciation is scorned; in which austerity is pretty much a nonstarter, with luxury and wimpiness being virtually mandatory (with the Goenka folks not culpable of this one); in which "sacred" is regarded as a superstitious word; in which Liberation in this very life has been replaced by enhancing the quality of their mental prisons, because the members are unwilling to go beyond a very casual and elementary level of commitment; in which a radical way of life designed for enlightenment has been rejected in favor of watered-down, soft, easy, convenient, comfortable, non-threatening, politically correct fluff designed to help them stay more comfortably asleep—THAT I rebel against. I lift my lower robes and fart in its general direction. And if that implies that I rebel against many or even most Western people who consider themselves to be Theravada Buddhists, then so be it.

     Mostly these fellows aforementioned, that is the people who do not want to follow a kind of lukewarm, materialistic, feminized Starbucks Buddhism, go alone like the horn of the rhinoceros, so to speak, at least to the extent of practicing their Buddhism alone. But many no doubt would like to find an alternative to this situation, if at all possible. There certainly are advantages to having the support of a group of like-minded people, or even a kind of “tribe.”

     So, it could be argued that something should be done with regard to this situation: the formulation of an alternative western Buddhism—or Alt-Buddhism for short. Already some preliminary motions have been made in that direction by fellow travelers, including an Alt-Buddhism subreddit as a kind of forum for the politically incorrect rhinoceros horns. Which leads to the obvious question of, What should this alternative western Buddhism be like?

     First and foremost, it would have to be a serious and realistic alternative to the ultraliberal, emasculated, politically correct elitist version which has dominated western Buddhism thus far. It would almost certainly be much more conservative, at least in a traditionalist sense—it certainly would not be “progressive.” How could Theravada in particular be “progressive,” unless maybe society itself progresses towards Dhamma, not Dhamma “progressing” towards cultural Marxist emancipatory politics? Though it would be relatively conservative, a new western Buddhism would not be conservative in the sense of adhering to traditional Asian forms and formalities either, especially not East Asian ones. It would have to be something distinctively western—or better yet, if possible, universal to humanity in general—in order for it to resonate with westerners and the western spirit, assuming that we still have a spirit.

     Fortunately for prospective Alt-Buddhists, ancient or “primitive” Buddhism was more western in its outlook than are long-established East Asian or Southeast Asian traditions. The Indo-Aryan Iron Age culture of northern India that produced early Buddhism was more similar to early Greek or Roman culture than it is to, say, traditional Burma or Bhutan. There are many who believe, for example, that democracy and republican systems of government were European (mainly Greek) innovations; but the fact is that the Indo-Aryan Ganges Valley, the birthplace of Buddhism, was also home to many of the same sort of early political experiments. This is because the general attitudes, let alone the languages and ancestral polytheist religious systems, shared a common ancestor—unlike the more authoritarian political and cultural systems more identified with the traditional “Orient.” Thus the Buddhism of the earliest extant Indian texts may be seen to be less alien to a western way of thinking than, say, later forms of Theravada which arose in Sri Lanka or Thailand, or for that matter variant forms of Buddhism which arose in medieval China, Tibet, or Japan. It also may prove to be less alien than biblical Christianity or quranic Islam.

     This fact also could be attractive to some alt-right types who are searching for an authentically Indo-European or Aryan spirituality in harmony with the archetypical western spirit—as opposed to attempts to revive ancient European pagan faiths (often resulting in little better than larping or pretending than an artificial replica is the real thing), or else settling for a Semitic import involving the worship of a deceased Jewish rabbi or the revelations of an Arabian warlord.

     At any rate, a new western form of Buddhism would not necessarily be orthodox Theravada. It could represent a more diffuse or diverse trend rather than one single organized system—in fact some Alt-Buddhist types don’t much like the very idea of being called Alt-Buddhists, or of being called by any label in particular, aside from just “Buddhists.” Nevertheless, the more far-out or “exotic” systems would presumably be excluded from a relatively conservative western Buddhist movement, like Pure Land or esoteric Tantrism; some established tradition that is simple, basic, and rather “stoic,” like Zen, could be included in the mix. The point would be to keep faith with the original spirit, if not totally with the original outward form. Then again, the new mode of Buddhism could be something other than any of the traditional, established Asian systems. Several years ago I proposed, on my old Buddhist blog, the humble or even borderline-derogatory name Navakavada—not Theravada, which means “Doctrine of the Elders,” but rather “Doctrine of the Newcomers.” This would allow the postmodern west to adapt an ancient (or ageless) spiritual and philosophical system into something better suited to the recent west than to ancient India, without mutating and corrupting a pre-existent system like Theravada, and calling it by the same name. This much has already been done in the west, though in an arguably bad direction.




     This Alt-Buddhism or Navakavada could have its own sort of renunciation, even monasticism of a sort, more adapted to current western society than brown-robed monks committed to ancient Indian rules of discipline. They wouldn’t be considered real, fully ordained bhikkhus, but perhaps could be acknowledged as a kind of affiliated quasi-sangha by an already established monastic tradition. Western quasi monks could wear a modern equivalent to monks’ robes, like grey sweats (considering that the robes of a monk were originally just a plainer, drab version of what most men were wearing in the Ganges Valley 25 centuries ago), plus sandals. Maybe as a concession to temperate zone winters some sort of army surplus overcoat could be worn over the sweats in cold weather. The new renunciants could keep eight precepts, maybe more, possibly with limits on how much money could be possessed and utilized. (One idea I had was that a Navakavadin could be required to discard all acquired money not used by the end of the day on which it was received.)

     At any rate there could easily be different levels of commitment with different degrees of discipline, and presumably also with different levels of authority within the system, based on the aforementioned commitment to practice. One aspect of very ancient Buddhism that declined in traditional Asia but could well be revived is the democratic nature of the early Sangha, in which membership is entirely voluntary, and important decisions are made by consensus, not by decree of an ecclesiastical authority appointed more for political reasons than for spiritual ones. Nevertheless, the more committed individuals would naturally have more ability to make decisions affecting the organization, assuming that there would even be an organization. It might also operate at the level of local “cells,” with each small group attending to most of its own needs, though not promulgating views agreed by the teachers and the tradition to be false.

     There could very possibly still be real monks involved, ordained in one of the more ancient traditions of Buddhism—which should satisfy the alt-right seekers who agree with René Guénon’s assertion that an unbroken initiatory tradition is of vital necessity to any organized spirituality. Even so, most of the movement, or whatever it is, would consist of unordained or quasi-ordained people, probably mostly men. Even though the ordained might call the shots with regard to purely spiritual matters, and have some dictatorial authority over their (voluntary) disciples, clearly laypeople should be handling the money, and anything else not specifically monastic or Dharmic, like organizing wilderness hikes/retreats, physical fitness training, or possibly even political activism. There would have to be a symbiosis between various levels of a spiritual hierarchy, which after all has been essential to the western spirit historically (hierarchical harmony, that is), and a key element of its success in this world.

     As a relatively conservative, non-feminist (in the emasculating, man-hating, socialist sense of the word) spiritual system directed mainly by men, there should be considerable emphasis on what can be called the “Divine Masculine” (as opposed to the Divine Feminine praised in some New Age circles). This in itself would be a return to an older, even primordial type of Buddhism. In William James’ classic The Varieties of Religious Experience (perhaps required reading for new converts), the author observes that old-fashioned religious asceticism is a venerable way for men to assert their masculinity without the necessity of violence or other traditional forms of aggression (militarism, hunting, competitive athletics, etc.); and so it could fill a real void among young men in the west who have been indoctrinated with the feminist idea that masculinity is somehow necessarily inclined towards evil. Thus the new western Buddhism would do well to emphasize not only austerity but also other stereotypically masculine virtues such as self-responsibility; the prioritizing of freedom before security, and of truth before friendship; the love of a great, or even a Herculean challenge; fearlessness; and a greater emphasis on the goal of cessation of delusion before the cessation of suffering. It would place more emphasis on head than heart, more on philosophy than on religion, and more on practicality than on idealism—all this would also be a return to the primordial essence of Buddhism, and a turning away from western secular decadence. Certainly some of the harsher and “rougher” practices of Buddhism, which were once very basic but have now been mostly abandoned, like contemplation of death for instance, could be revived. In short, the primary characteristics of Alt-Buddhism would be a form of Buddhism favoring the primordial principles, practical, philosophical, and relatively austere.

     Some who have expressed interest in an “anti-SJW Buddhism” evidently would prefer a more regimented religious system, maybe even something approaching old-fashioned fascism, a way of regimenting society and giving it a sense of meaning and purpose while at the same time inoculating it with the wisdom of an enlightened philosophy. Some see a real need for this in the west, if indeed the west is to survive its toboggan ride into globalized feminist socialism. Some see a need for a sufficiently militant religion that the west, by adopting it, can utilize to resist Islam. Consequently some of the people I’ve communicated with are keen on the formulation of a set of rituals, precise liturgy, and so on, that will serve to bind the new converts into a well integrated spiritual and societal tribe.

     It may be that something like this will evolve organically, if there really is a need for it and people resonate with it. But to some degree this would involve the right as well as the left adopting a kind of identity politics, presumably with increased social balkanization. Another complication is that Buddhism of course teaches anattā or No Self, so that identifying with anything would be discouraged as a kind of delusion—though perhaps the highest truth of anattā wouldn’t be emphasized until one reached a certain degree of understanding and would no longer be a member of the rank and file.

     But even if a new form of western Buddhism did adopt some sort of identitarianism or even militant fascistic ethno-nationalism, it would all have to be optional and voluntary for it to be truly Dharmic. This, as Evola (and to some degree also the Buddha) envisioned it, such a Buddhism would be intended for a kind of social and spiritual elite, and not just for everybody. It would be elitist in a spiritual and hierarchical sense, though not in the sense of the so-called elite Buddhism prevalent in the west now, in which pampered elites are the ones primarily attracted to the system. Rather, the system would produce the elite, and not some social elite simply favoring the system. A new Alt-Buddhist elite would certainly not be a group of Starbucks socialists paying thousands of dollars to attend luxurious meditation resorts, and desperately recruiting ethnic minorities, or trying to, in order to appear less elitist.

     The original form of Buddhism, which clearly must not be rejected or ignored, had little use for identity politics in the modern leftist sense of emphasizing ethnicities, etc., and pitting them against each other; anyone joining the Sangha became a de facto Sakyan, a member of the Buddha’s own tribe, and a member of the Kshatriya warrior/noble caste as well. All previous ethnicities and social classes were left behind upon entry, as the water of all rivers blends into the sea. So the whole notion of identity politics as it exists in the west today would be anathema within the context of Alt-Buddhism itself, as would the even more egregious grievance culture of the postmodern west, which represents the practical opposite of Buddhist ethics. Our karma is our own, and thus our happiness and unhappiness, our successes and failures, are our own responsibility, not something to be blamed on a convenient outgroup. At any rate, becoming an honorary Son of the Sakyans and member of the warrior class no doubt would be welcome to some of the more traditionalist and militaristic right-wingers. Ideally it would be open to all with the moral integrity and wisdom to fulfill the essentially Buddhist requirements.

     Anyway, time will tell what, if anything, such a movement would become. It would have to reflect the needs of the various people who turn to it, and would also have to reflect the “spirit of the age,” which at present is in a period of transition. Thus a new Alternative Buddhism could really serve a vital purpose in the west, as the dire consequences of the cult of cultural Marxism make themselves more painfully obvious. At any rate, such a movement could prove to be very, very interesting.







Ryūge asked Suibi, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?” Suibi said, “Pass me the board” [chin rest]. Ryūge passed the board to Suibi, who took it and hit Ryūge with it. Ryūge said, “If you strike me, I will let you. But after all, there is no meaning in Bodhidharma’s coming from the West.”
Ryūge asked Rinzai, too, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?” Rinzai said, “Pass me the cushion.” Ryūge passed the cushion to Rinzai, who took it and hit Ryūge with it. Ryūge said, “If you strike me, I will let you. But after all, there is no meaning in Bodhidharma’s coming from the West.” —Blue Cliff Record, case 20 (Sekida’s translation)



alt-buddhism subreddit link: https://www.reddit.com/r/AltBuddhism/

Comments

  1. This all sounds rather appealing actually. Would have I have to shave my beard to be a part of grey sweatsuit samanra?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not sure exactly what the rules would be. In the Buddha's time men in India wore long hair and beards, so the ordained renunciants shaved their head. In a culture with shorter hair and shaved faces the renunciants might grow beards, though that would be bad for me because I can't grow a good beard.

      Delete
    2. Navakavada, I actually like the idea of such a title the more I think of it. In my mind, it pays respect to the "Elders" both by not trying to co-opt their Theravada path while also giving a nod to them by stylistically adopting a similar name.

      How renunciation could play out for such a Navakavada path holds a deep interest for me. In American society, living a fully mendicant lifestyle seems difficult if not impossible. If one lived on the west coast, one could take up the lifestyle of many of the homeless who flock to cities such as San Fransisco, Portland, or Seattle. Anywhere else though, and that type of life becomes difficult due to the realities of extreme shifts in seasonal weather and potential lack of municipal welfare services.

      I think your point as to needing to have various degrees of renunciation for something like Navakavada would be essential for its ultimate success. There are likely many (I would include myself in this group) who hold a traditional job and rent/own some type of living space, but hold a long standing desire to some form of ascetic practices. Perhaps for some in this group, renunciation could be some sort of compromise where one admits the need to take part in the "world", but only as a means to sustain their real practice. This is similar in approach as many starving artists take and also with how some Christian ministers work (I've known a few priests/deacons who work regular jobs all for the sake of being able to sustain their spiritual work. Many monks as well also operate some type of business to sustain their cloister.). This group could also help to sustain its spiritual role models, such as people like yourself Venerable Paññobhāsa, who I would imagine would practice renunciation to a much higher degree.

      There is probably a whole conversation as to to how this ascetic "Rule" could and should be expressed. Distinct classes of individuals each with their own common rule? A single monolithic rule that is common to all but relaxed per the individual as deemed necessary by the greater community? A very interesting application problem...

      In all other thoughts within this post, I find complete agreement. In particular, avoiding the trap of identity politics seems to be quite crucial given that both the fringes of the left and right heavily rely on latent identity rather than earned merit; just substitute "PoC" for "White" and the arguments are more or less interchangeable between the two. While race may play some role, to elevate it to the highest place is pure delusion. Better to let it play out as it will without effort or concern.

      I have a lot more thoughts on this whole subject, but I'll stop here as to avoid rambling any further. Navakavada deserves far more discussion though, if not for the name alone.

      Thank you for writing this post.

      Delete
  2. From your personal experience of American Buddhism, would you say Abhayagiri Monastery has the same problems identified in the post? It always struck me as rather orthodox and conservative, and is one of the more prominent Buddhist monasteries online.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have very little direct personal experience with Abhayagiri, though I've heard and seen some second-hand accounts, naturally. First, Abhayagiri represents monastic Buddhism of the Thai Ajahn Chah tradition, somewhat westernized, and so in that regard it comes closer to Asian "ethnic" Buddhism than to the western secular version. Though second, it does seem that some of the monastics there, at least, interact with the western "Starbucks Buddhists" and accommodate, to some degree, to the ultraliberal attitude (for diplomatic missionary purposes or because the monks and nuns themselves were recruited from the PC left...I don't know which). So Abhayagiri, being in California, has drifted to some degree in the direction of Buddhist cultural Marxism, though not nearly so far as, say, Spirit Rock. Probably much more so than Wat Metta though.

      As for predominantly Asian monasteries or "temples" in the west, for most of them ultraliberal political correctness simply is not on their radar; though I do know one Sinhalese monk who tries to be politically correct (again, for missionary purposes or because he really endorses it I don't know).

      Delete
  3. Do you mind if I put readings of this and your Evola posts on my YouTube channel? Credited and linked, of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure, go for it. (So now I suppose I should look up your channel on YouTube.)

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I'll post a link here when I'm done.

      Delete
    3. ^^^ Here is that link:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkjcnUU1QE0

      A video which lead me here, great work guys.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Hello, I am now moderating comments, so there will probably be a short delay after a comment is submitted before it is published, if it is published. This does have the advantage, though, that I will notice any new comments to old posts. Comments are welcome, but no spam, please. (Spam may include ANY anonymous comment which has nothing specifically to do with the content of the post.)

Translate

Most Clicked On