The Buddhist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism

[Lecture given at EGS on August 10th 2012. You can find the transcript of the video below.]

WOLFGANG: Nietzsche pointed out the most dangerous person in the world is a philosopher because it comes in everything it was agreed on is no longer clear, it confuses everyone and tonight we have a founding professor of EGS, he was here on the first year and he is coming back every time he can. On his book one can read “the most dangerous man in the world”.

ŽIŽEK: Philosopher.

WOLFGANG: Now you have the most dangerous man in the world.

Please welcome Slavoj Žižek

ŽIŽEK: Thanks very much for the great number of you here, just a couple of points before I’ll begin, three points basically. First I must publicly, I promised this to myself, to apologize to my good friend Christopher that I was not here yesterday, I mean he is one of my absolute persons, the reason I’m here, and I was just … I have my problems with… I was not in a good, yesterday… sorry I really apologize, on the other hand, so you will not think something is wrong, I hope he is not here because I formally prohibited Alain Badiou to come here.

No, no, seriously because you know? He has some health problems and he came yesterday tired and I saw him, we have lunch this afternoon and with it the usual communist plotting against different persons and so on … he wasn’t here … Third thing, may it surprise you but I decided that, because we debated it a lot in my class, that I will talk about Buddhism and it is very open, so please don’t take this as a rhetorical point, I’m not sure how deep I’m into it, and even if, I will be very critical, this is more kind of a series of remarks to provoke you because I know that some of you are probably much more substantially in it than me, myself…So, why deal with Buddhism? Is it just the fashion so that we in the west feel more organic, holistic or whatever? No, I claim that there are two features which account for the, let’s called naively, actuality of Buddhism in our today’s global capitalist, whatever we called it, predicament. As we all know two features characterize our civilization today to put it very naively: a global capitalism with its unheard dynamics; and second: science, the role of science; and I claim in both domains Buddhism, and I’m not going now into if it’s an authentic one or not? bla bla bla, but some references of Buddhism, if not crucial at least it plays a very interesting role.

First I would like to begin with what may be dismissed, but I don’t think it is as simple as that, as some kind of a comical western copy of authentic Buddhism so called western Buddhism, by this I mean groups in the west who practice Buddhism and so on and so on. Now if you follow this trends a little bit you may have noticed something, how western Buddhism presents itself as the remedy against the stressful  tensions of capitalist dynamics allowing us to uncouple from this frenetic and frenzy rhythm and retain inner peace and enlightenment, but I claim, and do you know what take me to think this? When I read, I don’t know in what journal, an interesting analysis of let’s called it if not religious, spiritual trends among top managers, businessmen of today, and to cut a long story short, 80% are what they claim Tibetan Buddhist or whatever you called it, practicing so called … meditation, and I can understand it because in so far as, if you are really engage in modern capitalism at its craziest you know? like It is really as one of the top managers claimed, that when he studied Buddhist ontology the way he understood it, the idea of being, as you probably know, the fragility of existence, all are fleeting phenomena everything can fall apart at every point… He said but that this is our market today, you know? One rumour everything falls apart. So he got it correctly this manager, sorry I forgot his name, he said if you really want to be fully engage in this market you get crazy, so what you need is a kind of an inner distance which tells you OK it’s the crazy market, to teach you how to participate in it without being fully existentially engage in it, that’s why businessmen like this bullshit you know? even if I speculate all day it is just a cosmic play for me, I’m aware of the nothingness of it, it means nothing. It functions perfectly, which is why, to conclude this first point, I think that if Marx Weber were to rewrite his legendary book on capitalist protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism today the title of the book would have been, I’m sure, the Taoist or Buddhist ethic and the spirit of global capitalism or something like that.

Now more seriously, no no no, wait a minute, let me make one point, I cannot resist it, it’s in my nature to make so called bad taste jokes but I take Buddhism extremely seriously, it’s absolutely an authentic, I don’t like the term because it is itself western orientalist, let’s called it subjective existential experience. So the other reason, for me at least much more interesting is what some people call the so called cognitivist breakthrough, the new stage of our understanding of our brain, our thinking, provided by whatever you called them, brain sciences, cognitivism and so on.

Now  I don’t want to deal with the problem like are they true or not? What I’m just saying is that more and more they are somehow generally received, even those who should resisted it most, psychoanalysts, you know? Often play the game of how you call this? If you can’t beat them join them, you know? They like to claim “oh but you see how cognitivist scientists are arriving up, this is just a paraphrase of what already Freud knew and so on” you know? This kind of a join the enemy. OK, but there is none the less one interesting point for me and here I agree with … we have many problems with me and Wolfgang, but at one point I agree with him and I will make this point that if we want to retain Martin Heidegger as a reference it’s crucial not to read Heidegger along the lines of some kind of anti-technological or romanticism, you know? Heidegger walking in his stupid forest up there and cursing all the technology bla bla. No, Heidegger was quite rational here, I read in one biography of Heidegger that like, OK it is nice that authentic Todtnauberg, but at the end he wanted air conditioning, full electricity and so on, you know? Ok, so what I’m saying is that the question we should ask in this spirit is a very naive one, if we really accept, we don’t have to but if the results of brain sciences which is … but this already to be debated, but I don’t want to enter it… that our subjective freedom or the unity of our ego as a free and responsible agent is an illusion that in reality we are just a well-functioning neuronal mechanism? Whatever you put it.

Ok, the problem is how to subjectivize this? that is to say how should or does this affect your inner most, but not some deep metaphysical, even everyday sense of an agent engaging in social life and so on and so on? So here I think that Buddhism to be vulgar is doing quite well without any irony because there are three main attitudes the way I can see it, I mean only I’m talking only about those who accept cognitivist breakthrough, and Buddhism is the fourth one I think. The first predominant attitude is simple to resign ourselves to the gap between the scientific view of ourselves as neuronal automata, whatever you want, and our everyday self-experience as free responsible autonomous agents. The idea is that because off, you can be very materialist here, because of how we were produced through evolutionary choice and so on so on, it we cannot but experience ourselves as free responsible agents and so on, so that we are simply condemned to live in the gap. Scientifically we know but in everyday life, you know? It’s like the same, some of them like to use this metaphor, as we know very well how big moon is but you cannot help perceiving moon as the small circle up there, that is the same, we cannot step out.

The second attitude, the worst if you ask me, is the, I hope again we agree here we have many other reasons to kill each other so here we can agree, this is my declaration of love if you didn’t get it, you know? is the Habermasian position which is, he also fully asserts the duality but not as a necessary… but the non-naturalist aspects, is for Habermas not simply as an illusion we should tolerate, but a kind of a transcendental a priori which is necessary and even points to an immanent limitation of scientific knowledge. No, this Habermas’s reasoning is here a very transcendental philosophical one, it’s that science is a certain social practice, intersubjective practice where, you know? we formulate universal statements, we confront them through experiments in a debate bla bla, and in this practice the transcendental a priori of this practice, is that we are free responsible being reasoning in a certain way and so on. So even if the result for example of our scientific investigation is we are neuronal puppets, whatever, we should not forget that this result is the result of an exercise of our transcendental freedom of scientific thinking which is a priori you know? we cannot say no! that is false, if you neglect that the result also disappears.

Then we have an even more naive but in a way sympathetic to me attitude, that of some radical brain scientists like the big couple from La Joya I think California, Patricia and Paul Churchland, they claim, I don’t think it works what I’m saying, but it’s a beautiful position… They claim that no! they claim that our term among some brain scientists for this everyday attitude is as you probably know folk psychology, no? this spontaneous idea, my god, I do whatever I want, we are free and so on, OK. They claim that this folk psychology doesn’t have such a deep status as some Darwinists think, that it’s not a kind of a biological, evolutionary a priori but simply a reflection of our old naive ideologies. They say self like in old times when, I think this is even by Patricia Churchland, an example, when so called primitive people saw a lighting they thought God is sending us a message or there is a higher force behind and they claim when we act, I think ‘oh! I have a free self in me’ which is the true source of it it’s exactly the same type of superstition and in the same way that even if you are scared shit of a storm as I am I admit it, specially if you are in the plane when it happens, you know? nonetheless at least mostly I succeed not starting to pray and claiming you know?  like you naturalize it, we no longer think like so called primitives … They, the Churchland couple, they think the same thing is possible with even with our freedom of the will and self and in a pretty naive way they described how such a society would had looked, that it wouldn’t be simply a society without punishment as some people think, mainly the idea being, if I’m an automaton and there is no freedom of the will what right do you have to punish me? I’m not responsible, no, for them punishment can nonetheless be a regulative mechanism which works and so on, just a more kind, less oppressive society and so on. The reason I don’t agree with this solution is its implicitly naivety and the one who is my good guy here, the German brain scientist, maybe you should invite him, he didn’t want to come or what? Thomas Metzinger, it would be really nice to get him, maybe you can (referring to Wolfgang) if he has some son blackmail him like you know? mafia, everything is permitted to get good people here to Saas-Fee, you know? maybe your son will have an accident, who knows? if you don’t come, no, he is very well how this type of simple acceptance ‘OK so what? we change our view’ still leaves, even if it works, it recognizes it ‘yeah I admitted it , what’s the problem? OK I’m an automaton what the hell?’ but the de facto in your activity you still treat yourself as the good old free self, you don’t really existentially accept it and here again we come to Buddhism because Metzinger, who is a serious scientist not some kind of a shitty new ager like those who claim, you know? the Tao of quantum physics, we are not talking about that, he is in but at the same time for very precise reasons, although he is also totally materialist, he is Buddhist in the sense that he claims that although it may appear that we are, as the first position which I described claims, that we are condemned to this duality, that is to say scientifically we know we are neuronal automata but in your immediately self-experience you experience yourself as free agent and so on and so on, that there is nonetheless possible as a limit case and this for him as you can guess would have been precisely when you arrive at enlightenment in Buddhism, when you accept so called Anatman that your self does not have any substantial identity that… and this is beautiful thesis, I like it in a way… that, and again he is not in that sense a mysticist, he claims that he is totally a scientist, he just claims that if you go to the end in Buddhist meditation where you arrive a stage of, this is one popular book on Buddhism by John Epstein I think which is not so bad, the title is “Thoughts Without A Thinker”, that literally you arrived at a stage where you have thoughts but you no longer can say there is an I agent who is thinking this thoughts and that he claims, although for large majority of us, he puts it very nicely, we can’t, he agrees with the first position, we can’t scientifically objectively accept as an object of study our brain, OK, we are automata, but he puts this beautifully, his says we simply cannot really believe in it in our everyday life, even if you claim ‘OK, so what? I’m so kind off automaton’ in our innermost identity you cannot really believe this except if you come to the end of Buddhist meditation.

I love this position although, and Metzinger is aware of this, although, do you know that? and that is the beauty of all this debates: cognitive scientists, Buddhism; because you know? many of them are idiots but some of them are really bright guys and they know it, for example… My God I forgot his name… there is a scientist Jewish, because this affects his notion of free will, he is so well known in San Francisco, his name will come to me, who is the very author of the crucial experiment… his name will come to me, I’m sorry… Benjamin Libet, you know? the author of the crucial experiment demonstrating, allegedly, that there is no free will, you know? is that famous experiment where… don’t ask me how, I’m giving you a Reader’s Digest simplified version… that he wires your neurons and then he asks you to do some extremely elementary gesture, for example, grab this pen and he tells you just to say now drop it or whatever to somehow signal the moment you decided, OK you know the story, I don’t know how much part of the second before you decide your brain already knows it, signals are already on the way, but now comes the beauty, this is why I like this guy, a big shock to this common gang of morons stupid flat scientists is that they automatically took this as a proof of there is no free will, because when you think you decide you just, what’s the term? take cognizance, assume what your brain has already decided it but this is not, you see? this are intelligent guys, this is not Libet’s position and he has, that’s why not of any anti-Semitism or praising the Jews, that is why I emphasises that he is a Jew because he makes here a very nice theological, but he is a materialist just as spiritual point, reference to the ten commandments, prohibitions, and he claims, although it’s also very problematic topic, that we are looking for freedom of the will at the wrong point, that the basic, he is very Hegelian here negativity that the basic form of freedom is not I do this, there we are overdetermined by neurons bla bla, but to stop it, in that split of a part of a second when I do this (drops the pen) I can stop it and that is the form of freedom, It’s beautiful, then if you want a more complex counter-argumentation, Daniel Dennett, who again he is like a mix, sometimes too stupid but sometimes bright, has also a wonderful attack on this primitive reading of Libet, his point is, very Derridean almost, a minimum of, he almost calls it differénce temporality of the brain, he says that there is no freedom only if you presuppose what he wrongly I think Daniel Dennett calls the so called central Cartesian self where ultimately things happen at the same point, you know? if this, if you presuppose this then you can say I decided this but it already happened, but you must first presuppose an homogeneous central agent with basic temporality, if you renounce this then this primitive conclusion doesn’t work. I’m telling you this why? just to let you know that I’m not as if I were totally bluffing, you know? that I know that things are more complex, but OK.

Now, this is just the introduction, you know? you’ve got the idea why I think Buddhism is not just a kind of an amusing, exotic reference, but it means something spiritually today in our own constellation because it, again, it appears to be the ideal form of functioning in today’s crazy, frantic capitalism, at the same time it appears to be the proper mode of subjectivization of the results of modern science, though how do things stand with it? now I’ll go to an even more problematic stance and then I will try to turn directly into Buddhism, it will be of course… here I have 45 min or what? very short, but please believe me I do bluff a little bit but I know more than what’s in here you know? OK. So as you all know, let me begin with the beginning: Buddhism, we all know, is concerned with solving the problem of suffering so its first axiom, as it were, automatic presupposition is not only we but known living being wants to suffer, OK, I will not go now immediately into it but for me as a Freudian-Lacanian I will say here already problems began. I don’t, I think that if there is something which is from a Freudian standpoint not truth is that we don’t want to suffer and not only, I’m not going here in some obscure masochism or whatever, I just would like to invoke to you, I will be very pathetic here even in the sense of melodrama, imagine yourself passionately in love, isn’t it that if you are truth to yourself and you can be, no cognitive discordance here, you know very well or you suspect that at the end it will probably end bad, that whatever will happen at the end it will be for you terrible suffering, whatever, but nonetheless, and I’ve spoken with people to whom this happened, passionately in love and then dropped and now I’m quite open and I was one of those people whom I’ve spoken, heaven, but you know? when it ends in catastrophe, just suffering, and then a friend ask me the usual question: now you probably regret it, my answer was automatic: no! I will have done it again, you know? so I simply think that there is in our passionate engagement certain logic where you are ready fully to buy final fiasco, incredibly suffering, but you are ready to do it again, you know? but OK I will come to this later.

Now let’s go through Buddhist doxa, the source of suffering lies in the unquenchable desire of people for things which even if they get them will never satisfy them and it’s this satisfaction which causes suffering. So, the goal of the Buddhist practice is, as we all know, is liberation from suffering, we can called it reaching nirvana, enlightenment, awakening, whatever you want and everything a Buddhist does is ultimately for the attainment of this enlightenment. Buddhist practice first as we all know focuses on a morality that will lead to enlightenment, you know how it began for Buddha? He first establishes the fact life is this wheel of desire, it’s suffering, then he defines the causes of suffering and then the way to fight them and here, at least the moment Buddhism became an institution, it of course introduced a certain gradualism in the sense that first it begins with a simple morality, everyday morality, which is supposed to as it were paved, prepared the way, or put us on the path to enlightenment but as they emphasise, Buddhists, it’s not enough just to regulate your conduct or how you act, this should culminate in enlightenment, and the point of all this is enlightenment. This is already interesting because you know why? I read recently in a book, I think is a book of the guy, very interesting guy, I think… what’s the title? Buddha’s consciousness or what? (The Bodhisattva’s Brain) Owen Flanagan, one of the cognitivists scientists who is also doing Buddhism, draws attention, and here begins ours western distortion, to an interesting fact that for us in the west if you say I’m a Buddhist it usually means I practice some stupid transcendental meditation or whatever, it’s automatically meditation, while he draws attention to the fact that for the majority of the nations, I don’t know, Thailand, I don’t know which others where real Buddhism is a way of life for the majority, the large majority of people don’t meditate. For them being a Buddhist means two things, first to respect this ethic, moral rather than ethical, moral rules, you know? don’t be violent, don’t cause suffering bla bla, and where does then meditation enter? it is very interesting, it is just as a kind of an imagined presupposed point of reference; you need, even if they don’t exist to be cynical, you need to know that there are some people who made it to the end, you know? so that it gives you hope, it is more, it’s kind of this subject to paraphrase Lacan subject presupposed to meditate, people need it as a fix point of reference. OK, so let’s go on.

How do we then fight our enslavement to desires? Here we have the first point of Buddhism which is I think very nice materialist, there are no higher powers, you should forget about those later religious misreadings of Karma and so on and so on. The idea is simple that karma or faith triggered by your desires, actions, is a kind of, is immanent today to the way we act, because as Buddhists like to point out, you know? they have this wonderful, no wonder even some Stalinists-Marxists like it, the idea of co-dependent origination, you know? what Stalin called the ‘dialectical unity of all phenomena’ to be slightly cynical, no? so  the idea, I precisely try to give you an idea of karma which is not some kind of a divine out there, it’s simply that our acts being part of a rich texture of the world leave traces, have consequences, some consequences are good, wholesome, others are not and so on and in this way to deal with your karma means to regulate, try to diminish negative traces, consequences of your acts and, again, as you all know, I’ll just quickly enumerate them just to give you an idea of basically how, in a good sense, it’s not a criticism, how common sense this first step of basic morality is. You have this Buddhist classification where they claim actions can occur at three levels: body, speech and mind; and at each level, already Buddha but it was elaborated later, proposes a whole categorization of bad acts as it were.

First at the level of body there are acts which are to be avoided: killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, by misconduct is not meant so much perversion or what, but this excessive passion, excessive attachment. Then at the level of speech, four actions: lying, hard speech, slander, malicious gossip; and at the level of mind: greed, anger, delusion. So, the idea is that this is widely the first step as it were calm yourself down in what Buddha calls the middle way, not the Tony Blair’s third way, but a more authentic middle way, you know? like neither excess of, I don’t know, gluttony, sex or whatever; but also not some kind of sadomasochistic radical renunciation and so on and so on. The goal of all this is to acquire dispassion, as some translated, for the objects of clinging to which we cling, that is to say, the point is your subjective attitude of how much you cling, you attach yourself to objects, because, again, you all know this, I’m just repeating it, this what in Buddhism is called samsara is precisely this wheel of life, of suffering, and the point, this is crucial I think without this you don’t get it, is not that from bad samsara we should get good samsara or karma, the point is not if you do, this would be the western reading, if you do bad things you will have bad karma so let’s do good things to get good karma so when you die you will profit, no no, here Buddhism is not this type of bullshiting it’s serious, the point is not to get good karma, the point is to step out of it. But again I’m well aware how refine this is, stepping out doesn’t mean Melancholia, Von Trier, the End of the World; in one version of Buddhism even nothing has to change materially only your, let’s called it although it sounds too Californian, your attitude.

Now I see slowly emerging problems which are not imported by me, I registered this problems, the very ambiguities, conflicts, the way I found them in the Buddhists teaching itself, OK. The guy, sorry for the vulgarity, who reaches this state of acquiring distance, maybe the term stepping out is wrong because we have nowhere to go out, there is no transcendence in Buddhism, that is the beautiful about it, as you know it’s called Bodhisattva, the one who is concerned with freeing all sentient beings not just himself or herself, even not just humans from Samsara and it’s cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. But what makes it so difficult, so interesting here is that, and this brings me to the first conflict that I see, OK, conflict tension, you know that traditionally at least according to my information, we get three levels or notions of bodhisattva, they’re called very nicely king-like bodhisattvaboat-man bodhisattva and shepherd bodhisattva. King bodhisattva aspires to become Buddha as soon as possible and then help all others, like I do it myself, I try to reach nirvana, and the wager is by doing this, either me as an example or by acting in a more gentle way, I will help others. Boatman is already more communist, you know? the idea is yes but not me alone together with others. Now the highest, according to some classifications, but for me I agree here with critics with the other tendencies of Buddhism, the lowest, the most dangerous, where things go really wrong is shepherd-like bodhisattva, the idea is the following one: that the greatest ethical act is that you reach enlightenment but out of compassion for all those who are, as they called it the greatest work of American literature, I’m making joke, did you read the cycle of novels from, how are they called it?  by Tim LaHaye ‘Left Behind’? the lowest of the low, OK, what I want to said, I mean it’s really like Dan Brown is Shakespeare compared to them. But what I want to say is that, so again that should will be the great ethical act, you are there eternal bliss bla bla but out of compassion you go back into the wheel of suffering and so on and so on like, you know? you give priority to others you say no I don’t have the right to enjoy it myself, I’ll go back to help others, this delaying stepping it back. But some, I was told maybe I’m wrong many of you must know it better, there are other Buddhists made accounter, OK, in traditionally Buddhism there is a kind of a graduation here, you know? the lowest, the king bodhisattva ‘I’ll do it fuck you, you are following or not’, you know? then the shepherd like type communists, you know? and then the highest one, I was up there but uh I came in infinite goodness, I came down to help you all. But some Theravada guys and they are immediately on their side, they make a nice argument, even if the core of authentic Buddhism is not, has nothing to do with this ridiculous European spirituality uh I move up there into a higher domain, no, I stayed here, I’m fully here, I eat the same apples like you, whatever, it is just my attitude totally changed, I’m still socially active, I even, it even doesn’t mean to attain nirvana that you meditated, that you are in a some kind of pseudo orgasmic spiritual trance if this is true and authentic, Buddhists always emphasise this, you know? that this vision of Buddhists saying of someone hiding in a cave and just trembling bla bla bla that it’s false, so, if this is true, why then the necessity to step back? you can act like Buddha and so on, you can attain nirvana and at the same time be active here. The idea is, and I think again this is the origin of catastrophe, this idea, you know? the moment somebody who wants to redeem you here we us Nietzscheans should agree, both how good he was that he sacrificed himself, don’t trust the guy you know? OK.

So, what do I mean by this? Now I’ll come to another, please I’m here openly exposing myself, I’m not kidding this is not rhetoric do your criticism if you know more, I noticed another problem here, on the one hand some radical Buddhists, radical means I like them I’m sorry, describe in a wonderful way how authentic Buddhism deals with suffering, you first isolate the cause of suffering and blame the others, for example ‘oh I was deprived of that pleasure, fuck the world and so on, why me? this is the eternal why me? question, you know? like children are starving in Somalia OK I’ll give them five dollars a month to make me feel good but why me? or my child?’. The idea is that of course the first thing to do is to precisely stop blaming the circumstances, blame your desire and then extinguish, although I don’t like this term distinguish because it’s too violent in the wrong way, but here is a quote: “what has always been, what was extinguished when you stepped out of samsara, cycle of suffering, it’s only the false view of the self,  what had always been illusionary was understood as such, nothing was changed but the perspective of the observant, so I know this and again correct me if I’m wrong, I know this here the following tension which from my reading on my books on history of Buddhism, is all present there and it mirrors precisely this first tension in the notion of bodhisattva, ‘should I simple go there? and this way? is it the best thing for others? or, should I play this sacrificial game? no no I love you so much I stepped back and so on’. The problem is that on the one hand we have this radical description of nirvana which is everything is different but nothing changes, you know? like ‘it’s the same world out there and so on, just I’m aware of its illusory nature and I assume this illusory nature existentially’. Why? and this I call the minimalist attitude but then you nonetheless have, especially attached to this notion of bodhisattva as the one who sacrifices himself, the opposite of what I call it the maximalist attitude ‘I don’t want to reach nirvana before prior to all other sentient beings reaching it, so there it’s not just my subjective attitude, you are aiming effectively at some kind of a global, as it were, global cosmic change.

The next ambiguity I see is, and again I already debated this in my class and some of you reproached me so I did as much of homework as I was able to do and I still stick to my opinion, that there are serious debates among within Buddhism, I think this is the third level of the same tension namely, as you do remember how I described it? first you do morality, you know? not too much sex, proper eating, don’t curse, don’t be violent, as preparing the way for enlightenment; but the obvious point here is, is there any link between the two? this is a great problem in Buddhism, I read many texts on this were they claim if we are really honest we have to admit that once you are in enlightenment nothing imminently prevents you, for example from torturing people, you can just say my acts leave no traces because I’m already at the nirvana level, no karma and so on and so on. Now I know what you will say now ‘but nonetheless where is here compassion for others bla bla bla? I’m just making a typical western logical extrapolation totally out of touch with existential reality of Buddhism’, no, I will give you immediately proofs, sorry.

Before I’ll go into this, the fourth debate I encountered is the one where even the Dalai Lama has some wonderful statements like if drinking, by drinking he means real alcohol, helps you, why not? you know? like the problem is that many, if not all of the states, described as nirvana, can be if not totally it gets pretty close to it, you know? like they say money is not all, my answer is usually but it comes pretty close to it, no? Ok. That what if you can induce the experience which imminently, inherently, fits nirvana in a biochemical way with some drugs or whatever? how to distinguish? should we then distinguish the bad nirvana? ‘I’ll take a pill fuck you I’m there’ and then the good nirvana? ‘I was torturing myself meditating for years whatever’, as some guys, but here I don’t agree with them, try to introduce here an ethical distinction, quote from Owen Flanagan ” cases where happiness is gained by magic pills or is due to false belief do not count because the allegedly happy person must be involved in cultivating her own virtue. Happy states born of delusion are undeserved” but I think this is totally non-immanent, once you are in you are in, who cares how you got there?

Ok, back to that problem of suffering, compassion and so on, let me give you a little bit to shock you and then… yeah, yeah, I will stop then, to shock you, some of my all stuff, a little bit of Buddhism and war, because you know? like Buddhism did dealt with this problem, specially  interesting is here the relationship between Japanese Zen Buddhism and war and it’s interesting to know what tricks this Zen Buddhism employed to justified taking part in war. First there are two main strategies in Zen Buddhism, the first one to justified, participating in war, that is to say killing people whatever to be clear; the first one is the standard teleological narrative which is even well known in our western societies, a quote, I think this quote is from Teitaro Suzuki the great popular writer: “even though the Buddha forbade the taking of life he also thought until all sentient beings are reunited together through the exercise of infinite compassion there will never be peace, therefore as a mean to bring this harmony those things which are incompatible killing and war are necessary”, you know? the usual trick, you know? like… My God I’m sorry to tell you but Hitler would have argued you like this, he would had said ‘I’m totally against suffering, I want peace but fuck it, there will be no peace as long as Jews are manipulating our needs, so the only way to really fight for peace is to give to the Jews, to be cynical, one way first class ticket to Auschwitz’, no? I mean, Ok. So again did you listened precisely what this passage says, it’s the very force of compassion which guilts the sword, a true warrior kills out of love, and Suzuki was consequently here, you know? when he wrote many texts supporting Japanese war effort in China, he said “the Chinese are like stupid children, they cannot get that the sword which it’s killing them now is really the sword of love”. He even proposed so much, fuck you if you even think you will squeeze out by compassion. Suzuki and some other Japanese Buddhists introduced the wonderful term of compassionate war like, you know? you do it precisely out of compassion to prevent further att.. now comes the truth horror, OK this is the western bullshit also, we had it. But Suzuki and others then add to this teleological, let’s call it justification in the sense of war is a necessary evil to bring about the greater good, no? and of course in a certain way I agree with it, I mean I’m not going to bri… there is a much more radical line of reasoning which is, I really find this one terrifying and OK, look into my book, I think it’s ‘The Puppet And The Sword’ but I don’t want to repeat myself so I developed this in detail; namely Suzuki also dealt with this problem, how to make the Japanese military machinery more efficient? he knew well that we have a certain elementary decency like, let’s say you are my love partner, I meet you Wolfgang in a battlefield and even if I hate you I would find it somehow difficult  to stab my knife or sword into you. Here Suzuki enters and says ‘I have this difficulty because I’m still caught in the false illusion of myself, you know? because I still think I’m the agent of my acts I feel falsely responsible and so on but, quote from Suzuki, a beautiful one: “if, the logic is that, if I reach nirvana then I no longer experience myself as an acting agent responsible for the act but, you know is this very beautiful? I admitted, this Buddhist view of the world as a free flow of phenomena where I whatever remains of me, I’m no longer an agent but just a pure gaze, an impassive observer which meditates on this crazy dance. This makes things easier because here, quote from Suzuki: “when I try to kill some of you it is really not me, but the sword itself that does the killing, he (the killer) has no desire to do harm to anybody but the enemy appears and makes himself a victim, it is although the sword performs automatically its function of justice which is the function of mercy”. Now, are you? and please don’t just tell me that this are the freaky Japanese and so on, all around you find this idea that, all around Buddhism, that reaching nirvana, getting rid of your false self makes you a much better warrior. This is why you have this long mythology of, you know? Zen Buddhists as perfect samurai because you can do it with proper distance and so on and so on.

So if you allow me now from here just to, I mean I should squeeze it now, two concluding points. The one is that here I see, I cannot… (a butterfly appears) My God I feel like a bad Buddhist, let’s squash that! take a sentient being! good! he killed a sentient being! but you know this will worsen your karma, you know? in the next life maybe instead of being an even greater philosopher you will be reborn as that butterfly, who knows?

Sorry, I’m not making fun, but I hope, let me, you know why not? because, do not please misunderstand me and that’s my, I’m open to say this tragedy here, I’m not in any way saying that Buddhist enlightenment is some kind of a joke to make killers or military better functioning, it’s an absolutely authentic existential experience, all I’m saying is that we have to accept the gap and again Suzuki is here honest, he says Buddhism is a technique of stepping out of the karma and bla bla and he says you can be (his examples) a Stalinist, a fascist, a liberal, democrat, whatever, it doesn’t matter, so I think to be a truly radical Buddhist you have to accept the minimal gap between all those ethical, you know why? because, let me give you now a really brutal idea, if the point of acting kindly, the Buddhist moral injunctions and so on compassionate, if the true point of this morality is to teach you to bring you this dispassionate attitude of seeing the illusionary nature of reality and so on and so on. And when I, when I was in Korea a month ago, I debated there with a Buddhist and I laughed him, because he said yes what’s the problem? when I told him wouldn’t then be logical to conclude that the true proof that you are in nirvana would have been precisely that you can do horrible things without your acts leaving traces in your karma? like, it’s easy to claim I don’t cause any suffering bla bla if you just, you know? eat properly, don’t swear, don’t steal, don’t have too much sex and so on and no guilt; but wouldn’t the true strength have been to do acts which usually involve a kind of a crazy fanatical attachment, torture, killing, but to be able to do it in a Zen way with a distance? Here I go very depressed, when I read a biography of ha ha he was the one, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, and it is incredibly how many of his colleagues claim, people who met him, that Pol Pot had such an absolutely breath-taking incredible in direct human relations, his inner peace and kindness, even when he ordered you know what, that there was a kind of a myth all around the Khmer Rouge leadership that he is in the highest state and so on.

So, what I’m saying here are two things to conclude. First: I claim that, and I’m not even taking sides here, both positions are crazy but I claim that here we should grasp the gap that separates Buddhism as one radical condition from let’s call it the western Christian ethics which is, I think there is an absolute abyss here and all those shitty attempts to claim ‘no, we are all talking about the same God or this things we are wrong’, mainly as Chesterton and others emphasised, in western Christian ethics the truth is as it were out there, the whole point is excessive attachment, what Buddhists see as evil is for us the good itself, good means let’s take our love, you fall in love means, Alain Badiou will probably talk about too this later, which means you know you get this excessively attachment, you throw yourself to the end into it. In other words, as Chesterton put it so nicely, all other religions want to unite the world… how to unite with god? we are all one all bla bla… Christianity separates, it is the religion of separation, Christianity is not a religion of harmony, It’s a religion which says yes there is some kind of homogeneous, harmonious circle of life but this is bullshit, this is the pagan background. The Christian gesture is to say no! I do something crazy, I chose this, I stick to this even if it turns everything around.

Ok, I will, if you allow me just to take this next three minutes really to conclude, here also because some people try… this will be the really concluding part, some people try to bring together Heidegger and Buddhism claiming again two paths towards the same and so on, no, I claim not, you know why not? because for Heidegger what he calls Ereignis, this radical form of historicity, concealment, unconcealment and so on and so on, and precisely this radically historical dimension is missing in, for Heidegger  Ereignis is not nirvana, Ereignis is an historical event, this dimension I don’t find. But now if allow me just to conclude and it is madness because this is the speculative centre of what I’m trying to prove, where I would have been at the same time where I would have to entertained a certain distance towards Heidegger and towards Buddhism is in the following one, and this is not just ethical, it’s much more radical distinction, you know? as a guy called, if you want to get more on this there is an interesting book, very, it’s a modest book but very well written, I think the guy is Bret Davis, I forgot the title (Zen After Zarathustra) but basically it’s basically about Heidegger and Zen Buddhism and he points to one, to a deep ambiguity in Heidegger, how Heidegger sometimes he is radically historicists, you know? in the sense of like modern nihilism bla bla but somehow here and there Heidegger locates, let’s called it naively, the origin of evil of how things go wrong, into the a priori structure of this closure of being itself, for example I will read you this short passage from Heidegger’s Der Spruch des Anaximander where he claims something which sounds strangely Buddhist, a quote “an entity may even insist bestehen upon its while… strange translation, it means the way that goes on I think… solely to remain more present in the sense of perduring, that which lingers persist in its presencing, in this way it extricates itself from its transitory while (while is here substantive), it strikes the wilful pose of resistance no longer concerning itself with whatever else is present, it stiffens as it is the only way to linger and aims solely for continuance and subsistence”. So here Heidegger says something like the origin of disturbance is when a thing, and entity, persists too much, doesn’t want to just be part of circle of life whatever, you know what is the circle of life? I hate it, it’s, you know? I think it’s the most oppressive ideology that you can imagine, this is my old joke maybe you know it, did you see , I hope you didn’t, the Lion King, and you know when where you find there the song the circle of life precisely when the son asks his father the obvious question, is this right that we lions eat zebras? and father, it’s easy when you are on the top, sings the song which is ‘it’s all a circle of life, we eat zebras but we will die, we will turn into dust, our flesh will feed grass and grass will be eaten by zebras so it’s all one big circle of life’ no? so all I’m tempted to say is imagine in Beautiful Life, the movie by Benigni, the son asking him father but why are Germans killing us Jews? and I can well imagine Roberto Benigni singing back ‘it’s all one big circle of life, you know? Jews are killing us but we will die and we will turn into food, our manoeuvre for grass, grass will be eaten by cows and one of us will kill a cow and we will eat the cow so it is a big circle of life, you know?’ like, you know what’s the point here? the point, the point is yeah but what if there are different circles of life, maybe let’s hope there is a circle of life where you exactly you don’t have to do holocaust let’s hope, no.

But seriously now comes my final thesis, I will just try to hint it, if you want more read my big fat book. My thesis is that enlightenment is an authentic position but comes afterwards that, let’s say that at animal level immediately we are simply fully emerged in life and there is no fall, we are there like animals but how do you create the space for nirvana, void or whatever by acquiring a distance from being fully immersed into ordinary life? and this distance is true obsessive attachment, that is to say to be primitive how do, it’s very naive, I developed it much more technically in the book, how do animals become humans? when you say, no no sorry Mr. Lion King it’s not a circle of life, there is this woman, politically idea … I get fixated on that, if the whole world drops, I want that, you know? this fixation de naturalizes you, throws you out of the circle and in this way, that’s my claim, creates the space for withdrawal for nirvana, you cannot get into nirvana directly from full immersion into natural life, you must fall, fall in the sense of excessive attachment and this fall creates the void where you have to withdraw.

Now really to conclude, look I don’t even have a paper, this brings me, and here I’m not kidding, I’m sincerely asking you if you know more, I spoke with some guys here, this brings me to the crucial enigma that I find in Buddhism and again very respectfully this is not a critical remark, you know? Buddha says the fact is people suffer, how to get them out? as a Hegelian I like the opposite question, not how to get out but how did we fall in? and here, and this is the question I’m asking people, is simply samsara affected or was there some kind of, you know illusion of Maya? but, how did we get caught into this illusion? and I can make a report to you I’ve got three answers. The first one is the totally pragmatist one: Buddha is a practical guy, he is not, this is a concrete answer, I’m not mocking it, Buddha was a practical guy, his problem was how to get out of suffering, he didn’t care about this metaphysical questions. The second answer is a version of the first one but it is more a tricky one, a little bit of a sophism, it says to understand how this, how the follower, you have to be already there in nirvana but once you are there you don’t care about this, you know? it is a kind of like a trick. The third one, and some Tibetans that I met in Beijing half illegally told me, I really like that, here I can identify with Buddhism, they told me that, they gave me a kind of a, the name is meant ironically but basically very seriously, you know in star wars? now we are talking about real works of art, you know how they all the time mention this dark side of power, you know? and this is I think very Hegelian… so you don’t simply, we are caught into earthly confusion but then there is a higher domain of peace, but what if something can go terribly wrong in this nirvana domain itself? what is you know? what is we are here in deep shit not because, or to put it in more agnostic terms of Schelling and so on, human evil is not because we fell from God, human evil originates in madness reversal, something going wrong in God himself, I know in Buddhism you don’t have in this sense God but what they told me this guys is that and they gave me a wonderful experimental, experiential reason, they told me, my God just listen to and I do, it’s really pure horror, do you know that Buddhist music… they told me this is the voice of evil and no wonder, do you know who knows this? FBI, do you remember some 10 years ago they got to Waco Texas, those fundamentalists who were encircled by FBI, do you know what music FBI played to them to get them out to terrorize? this Buddhist horns and so on and so on. So this is I think some kind of a secret of Tibetan Buddhism witch, and again it is not rhetoric what I’m telling now, if you know anything about me I would… (someone walks out of the door) it is nice that you want to take a walk before I’ll finish come back in half an hour.. no, seriously, you see? this enigma speculative Hegelian of how, it is not just we are here in a world of illusions and then nirvana what if something can go wrong up there. I’m very sorry if I was too long but on the other hand I’m not sorry, fuck you, what can you do?

Thank you very much.

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