Collective Minds

The central theme in Buddhism is the attempt to achieve enlightenment through a metaphysical realization, then finding peace and meaning in the implications of that metaphysical realization. So I’m working on groking Tom Pepper’s postmodern influenced interpretation of anatman, and if we aren’t an immortal soul, what are we then– maybe a naturalized collective consciousness. So I compiled this set of snippets removed from their context back at his blog.

“…the mind is both social and collectively produced, and that to live in nirvana is to live as an “absolute community,” one which collectively chooses to undertake social projects and in which each individual is part of, and receives the recognition of, the community.  It does take a sangha, then, to produce an enlightened subject…” (Pepper)
Since collectively, we the people, are tribes and governments, politics seems to play a role:

“… Until we can begin to grapple with the possibility that the mind is a collective symbolic/imaginary system, until we abandon atomistic and empiricist models of the subject, we will not be able to conceive of a world not structured by capitalist social relations. …” (Pepper)
And how Buddhist is this idea, who else has had this idea before?

“…In Islamic thought, the twelfth-century philosopher Averroes, who was influential in bringing Aristotle to the attention of Western Europe, explained that following Aristotelian thought we must arrive at the conclusion that the mind is a collective process, not located in the body, but making use of individual bodies (see Fakhry, 70-73)—his thought horrified Aquinas, who set out to recover Aristotle for the Catholic notion of individual immortal souls…..Hegel, as well, becomes much less opaque when we understand that he is arguing for a kind of collective mind existing in social practices” (Pepper)

Again, the implication of this metaphysical realization is engaged political action

“…Many Western Buddhists would say that the investigation of the social construction of our collective mind is not “real Buddhism,” because it is intellectual, and will lead not to passive states of bliss but to the sense of obligation to make endless efforts to change the world…” (All quotes are T Pepper, okay?)

More open ended pointers on the consequences of a collectively constructed self & collective mind:

“…Or are we perhaps better off avoiding the negative critique altogether, and attempting some positive practice?  Perhaps engage in some new kind of collective creative endeavor instead of endlessly deconstructing those that exist?  What might this creative activity look like?  Organized protests?  Community theatre?  Independent film making collective? Journal for radical literature?  Where can we produce ideology, instead of only critiquing it?…”

I’m scanning here, couldn’t grok “bad subject”– but here is again the core theme

“…In effect, the solution to being a bad subject, suffering unto death, is to recognize that one’s “deepest self” is socially constructed all along, and if it is poorly constructed, the fault lies not “deep within,” but in the social formation, which we can change, but only once we, collectively, as a community, realize how it constructs us….”

The metaphysical realization needs to be realized collectively? This will make the task rather difficult, pragmatically speaking. Less than 1% of the US are Buddhists and of those, most are so-called x-Buddhists, who may have missed the point of the historical Buddha (or missed the worthy points of people in between) and practice it as quietist, devotional religion.

“…If we want to live as agents in the world, without suffering, and able to act, we need to abandon the delusion of the atman, and root it out in every appearance.  That is the practice, and it needs to be done collectively, because, as Hegel reminds us, what we do is always social, and our practices can free us only if we choose them consciously and collectively…”

An example of enlightened collective action:

“…We can change these practices only collectively.  Just as any language requires multiple individuals, any social practice requires a collective to participate in it.  We can only produce better social practices collectively; they can never be prescribed in advance by some individual who plans them out, because the thinking involved in such planning would necessarily occur in the current socially form of reasoning, and so would of necessity be limited.  As a result, any such collective practice would always be a “work in progress,” not a dogma.  Think, for instance, of the stories of the earliest Buddhist sangha and the Buddha’s gradual changing of rules (such as the acceptance of women into the community).  Such changes would not be a sign that the Buddha’s original “awakening” was incomplete; rather, the ability to make such changes would be a sign that the sangha as social practice was enlightened….”

And a hyper translation, which sums up the self (we are created by our society), we by default just imagine that things are as they always been and must be (sort of like an immortal soul), but we can and should instead collectively evolve ourselves and society.  Departing from Pepper, it seems like this could be done in the context of many political environments. Whatever the answer, it seems we have to start where we are and work with what is possible.

Samyutta Nikaya

Part II: The Book of Causation

Chapter 1: Connected Discourses on Causation

38: Cetana Sutta


When he was in the capital, teaching those who were good subjects of the city, Buddha explained the nature of ideology and the subject in this way:

Our choices, our plans, and the structures of our social formations, all of these together make up our ideologies, and give rise to subject positions.  When all of these work together, we have ideological “consciousness,” that state in which we take our desires to be naturally determined, our plans to be thoroughly rational and covering all consequences, and we mistake our social formations for the natural order of things.  When we have this state of consciousness, we are completely interpellated, we are “good subjects” of a social system, and our consciousness exists only to reproduce that social system, mistaking it for natural, forgetting that it is a structure made by humans to achieve some end, to accomplish some human project.  When this occurs, our ideology is reified, stagnation occurs, and then suffering and deterioration and dissatisfaction occur.

Now, it is easy enough to become aware that our choices and our plans are not part of the mind-independent reality, that they are constructed by our social formations, that we choose what we are taught to choose and plan in the ways we have learned.  And then we think we are liberated, because we are aware of the social-constructedness of our desires and forms of thought, of our cravings and our language and our construal of the world.

But at this point, we are still not liberated, because we are still reproducing the social formations which give rise to those desires and those forms of thought.  So long as we continue to act within these social formations, we can at best have a negative freedom, resisting the desires we still have, questioning the forms of our own thought; we continue to produce stagnation and deterioration and dissatisfaction, because we do not yet see that our desires and thoughts are thoroughly and radically immanent, the production of the very structures in which we live and move.

To be liberated, we must produce new social formations, new collective practices in which we can participate, because the individual is nothing but an effect of such structures.  This must be a collective action, an attempt to increase the collective capacity to interact with mind-independent reality; no individual can be free in an unfree social system, except in a kind of negative freedom.

Once we have begun to produce new collective social practices, then we can be free of the reified ideological “consciousness” that is the cyclical world of suffering.  Such consciousness then comes to an end, and we begin to have a new and liberated kind of consciousness, in an ideological practice that refuses reification, that never pretends to be natural or universal, and keeps us always aware of its ideological status, open to change with the production of new social practices.”

And another hypertranslation:

“…Because the self is constructed, and this constructed self is all there is, is the only one there is, we must be all the more concerned with how it is constructed.  And we cannot fool ourselves that we can simply reconstruct it on a whim, that it is unsubstantial and has no causal power, no inertial momentum of its own.  The self can only be constructed with great effort, and by changing the social practices in which it lives, not on a whim. …”

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