Ken Jones: Buddhism as Ideology

Can we imagine a space of really radical freedom?

Buddhism as Ideology:

Ken Jones identifies five characteristics of ideology:

  1. Solidifies the objectivity of mere ideas into subjectively freighted articles of faith shaped to serve the believer’s aspiration. Inconsistencies are smoothed out in seamless certainty. Thus for many Buddhists the various orders of cause-and-effect presented in the canonical literature are conflated into one—karma, which is then given a moralistic, punitive, and judgemental weight as the flywheel of popular Buddhist metaphysics.
  2. Any questioning of authoritative texts and personalities is discouraged except perhaps at a superficial level—including among the rank and file of “the movement,” who can get very resentful about anyone rocking the boat. The publications of ideological movements consequently tend to have a repetitive formulaic quality about them, no matter what the subject. Their main purpose is to confirm the faithful in their beliefs and loyalties and to attract new aspirants. Since ideology is about clinging to ideas for all one’s worth, reason is subordinated to dogma, experience to self-righteousness, and evidence to belief.
  3. Ideology fixates on one or more key issues or ideas (such as patriarchy, the class struggle, the market) [or emptiness, suffering, impermanence, SB], that then become universal organizing principles. Everything else is subordinated, marginalized, ignored, or angrily denied.
  4. Ideologies are commonly embodied in movements, and characteristically these have a proselytizing mission. Such movements provide their members with more or less new “identi-kits”—a whole life-world of activities, friends and lifestyles.
  5. Ideologues take themselves very seriously. Conversely, a sense of irony, a little playful humour about oneself and about one’s beliefs and affiliations, does suggest a person who is not too badly hung up on any of these.

(Ken Jones, 2003, pp. 59-60

To describe Buddhism as an ideology, Jones quotes the Vimilakirti Sutra:

He who is attached to anything, even to liberation, is not interested in the dharma but is interested in the taint of desire. .  . . The dharma is not a secure refuge.  He who enjoys a secure refuge is not interested in the dharma but is interested in a secure refuge. . . . The dharma is not a society. He who seeks to associate through the dharma is not interested in the dharma but is interested in association. (Ken Jones, 2003, p. 62)

‘Emancipatory politics involves two main elements: the effort to shed shackles of the past . . . the dogmatic imperatives of tradition and religion. . . ” Anthony Giddens Modernity and Self Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age in The New Social Face of Buddhism by Ken Jones. p. 70

There is thus an inherent tension within Buddhism, between Buddhism as a theory, a method, that can lead to the dissolution of self-identification with Buddhism and anything else, and Buddhism as an ideology, a metaphysic, an identification of self with Buddhism. Instead of our sense of lack being seen as simply illusory, lack is filled by Buddhism. (Ken Jones, 2003, p. 62)

Dzongzar Khyentse said something interesting at the end of his talk in Vancouver. He said (paraphrasing) “You’re all obsessed with enlightenment. And that’s not enlightenment. That’s obsession, which is a form of ignorance. For now, you need that. But you have to understand that eventually you have to give up the quest for enlightenment too.” Insert “Buddhism” for enlightenment—same thing. Those people—myself included—who are still passionately pursuing Buddhism, or enlightenment—we must let go of it.

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