A Truth about Thaumaturgical Refuge (Towards Disenchantment)

M. Steingass —  2.9.17

In the wake of the explosive news about Sogyal Lakar (previously known as Sogyal Rinpoche) put forward in The Letter of the 8 one hears a lot of people confess that they have been, or still are, completely taken in by the man. They have been, or still are, so impressed and overwhelmed by his appearance, his kind attitude, his humor and last not least his wisdom – which speaks directly to your heart.

The Letter of the 8 starts – although it is a severe indictment – with the confession that the 8 are „long-time committed and devoted students“ (my emphasis) of Sogyal Lakar and it ends by stating:

What you have taught in the last thirty years, and in particular The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, has brought immense benefit to so many people including those who write to you today.

What is it that makes people „devoted students“ who speak about the „immense benefit“ brought to them by a person who is considered by others a guy talking shallow esoteric drivel? What is it that makes such a person so attractive to some? Is it that only they really know him to be enlightened?

There are some interesting answers to this question. They seem to point at first solely to the level of social-symbolic interaction. The notion of Symbolic Capital developed by Pierre Bourdieu is such an answer. But there is another level which can be scrutinized to bring to light how we humans function in such circumstances. This level is that of the cognitive apparatus we developed in our evolution. To answer such questions on such a level means to look into how we process fast and efficiently data our organism receives on the level of cognitive functions and how we evaluate again on that very level the information we get out if this data.

The sobering truth such an investigation offers is that we – as consciousness – sit on top of a huge apparatus in which evolutionary heritage interacts with all kinds of socially constructed artifacts, all of which we cannot observe first hand – by introspection.

That means too, that the dear lama, the guru, the holly enlightened teacher and his endearing appearance, his overwhelming presence and radiance is a product dependently arisen within the conditions of historically formed sociality and evolutionary–phylogenetically developed cognitive domains.

Sobering indeed that is. Poor I-me-mine isn’t master in his own home (as Freud observed long ago).

The following text examines this a bit further. It is taken from my contribution to the book Cruel Theory | Sublime Practice – Towards a Revaluation of Buddhism (published together with Glenn Wallis and Tom Pepper). 

But be aware. The topic is no easy reading.  It will take (perhaps) some effort and it too will take (perhaps) some further reading – and thinking! – beyond my text to grasp the impact.

Also, this by no means is a qualitative statement about any relationship with any fellow human being we might have. It rather puts this relation into another light. It might make all the more possible the appreciation of the wonder of affection.

Finally, the notion Neo-Buddhism I use in this text is developed elsewhere in the contribution to the book. It points to elements of pop culture in which Buddhism in the West is partially rooted. Of course you know Neo from the famous saga Matrix.

The Thaumaturge (pdf)