I finally hit on what it is that I’ve been seeking in my Buddhist practice that is so missing in the usual sanghas of Buddhism-as-religion: avant-garde Buddhism. I have called it by many names: post-buddhism, x-post-non Buddhism. But “avant-garde’ finally hit the nail on the head.
My greatest inspirations in the dharma have been avant-garde artists who were also Buddhists, or who were influenced by Buddhism: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Lou Reed, Meredith Monk, and transcendental artists like Patti Smith and Bjork. I’m about to get into a book on the subject: Nothing and Everything – The Influence of Buddhism on the American Avant Garde 1942 – 1962 by Ellen Perlman (Penguin-Randomhouse, 2012).
But beyond avant-garde art forms, I’m also keen on avant-garde approaches to the dharma per se. Avant-garde art influenced by Buddhism gives way to avant-garde transformations of Buddhism itself. I’d like to courageously push the dharma as far into the avant-garde edges of mysticism, philosophy, sociology, art and human experience as I can. I’m sick of religious Buddhism and its use as a narcotic for the neurasthenic middle class. I want to engage in a practice that pushes the dharma and my own practice experience to a vertiginous edge.
I’m working on a new piece of music and performance art called Shunyata: process, flow. I use electronic and improvised music, light, chant and dance to portray shunyata as the process/flow of natural events.
The key for me is not to push only on the avant-garde end, but to let the rebellious dissent and transgression of the avant-garde vibrate in tension with religious Buddhism. If one only pushes toward the avant-garde, then all you get is something that tries to be weirder than weird and fails to communicate anything. But if you let it stand in direct tension with religious or traditional Buddhism, it gives the avant-garde something to push against, something to define itself.
And mind you, this is not some schmaltzy attempt at the “middle way.” No, this is a head-on collision between two opposing forces, and the messy explosion of atomic energy that it generates.
The following blog post by author Joseph Hutchinson starts to say what I’m getting at.