Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
[Editor’s note; I was supposed to be taking a break from Buddhism this summer. Well, that resolve lasted all of a week. But I’ve been working on my dissertation, and came across pieces that gave me an opening for introducing a series that I have wanted to write for many months: seeing through as a sociological application of shunyata.]
Seeing Through Collective Projections
Buddhism helps you see through a seeming reality: see through the hypocrisy, the misplaced trust, the false sense of power and authority inherent in all social structures. That’s what emptiness is as a sociological form of shunyata: seeing through social systems of power.
After reading much Buddhist text, I realize that what Buddhism teaches is to deconstruct the power of projections. “Our worlds” are a projection of our minds; tantric connection with a “deity” is a projection that we both create and destroy. Much of our klesha suffering is the result of our projections onto others and the world around us. Indeed, our whole perceived experience of the world is a projection. Foundational Buddhism teaches us to break down our projections to their constituent parts, perception, feeling, formation, etc. Mahayana teaches us that everything is really empty; so what we experience in “our reality” is nothing more than individual and collective projections of an “appearance.” Too little effort is made, in Buddhism, I think, to analyzing interactive and collective projections, including Buddhism itself. In the Mahayana, as in life, Buddhism deconstructs itself, revealing it’s own genesis as a collective and individual projection. You begin to see the religion of Buddhism not as an “ultimate truth”, but as just another collective projection. And when that reality hits you full in the face, it’s quite a shock, but also quite necessary for ultimate awakening. Finally the Vajrayana teaches us that deities are a projection of our own individual and collective energies, but that is a very powerful projection that has power to do all sorts of things in our lives and in our world. Look at how much power religions, universities, political ideologies, governments, and so forth, have in our world, and yet all they consist of are symbolic projections of group power and will. Deconstructing the genesis and power of collective projections makes for a kind of Buddhist sociology. Buddhist sociology is a project of demythologizing the social world and seeing it for what it is, a vast and complex network of collective symbolic projections.