Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Queer Dharma


I think it’s time for me to begin the project of queering the dharma, of producing queer dharma. Queering the dharma is a practice, following the French root of ‘queer’, of torquing or twisting the dharma, of introducing contradictions and tensions. I’m not focusing (exclusively) on sexuality and gender, but on the process of surfacing contradictory and paradoxical meanings that introduce tensions, dissonance and dissidence. From the standpoint of tantric philosophy, tension, dissonance and dissidence is not ‘impure’, nor does it ‘defile’ the dharma. In fact, seeing the natural purity of ‘defilements’ is the essence of tantric philosophy. I choose not to focus on defilements such as eating meat, drinking alcohol, or engaging in sexual acts, which is the traditional practice of tantra, but on challenging the ‘straightness’ of the dharma, revealing its dissonant undertones, its heresies, it’s political and cultural dissidence. The purpose of this queering is spiritual and it is dharma; it is to liberate us from orthodox dharma, from fixed ideas about Buddhism. It startles us with a flash of surprise that wakes up our senses , breaks through our conceptual limitations. It is the queering of dharma-as-emptiness, deconstructing labels, categories, doctrines; queer as shunyata.

4 comments on “Queer Dharma

  1. Shaun Bartone

    Wow, thanks for this paper, Zack. I’ll read it and post comments here. And write at least on blog post.

  2. Shaun Bartone

    Well, here’s your answer Zack: “Based on ethnographic evidence from post-Soviet Moscow, Larisa Honey (2014) discovered that self-help practices like mindfulness produce neoliberal subjects “characterized by depoliticization, the rejection of institutions of social welfare, and the stigmatization of individual misfortune.” Ergo, Mindfulness is negatively correlated with political engagement. This would be an interesting research model to use for North American subjects.

  3. Shaun Bartone

    Zack: quoting your paper: “In Buddhism and Cultural Studies, Edwin Ng (2016) advances one step further, experimenting with mindfulness as an ethico-political practice that transgresses the limits of neoliberal governmentality. He examines how ethical self-cultivation and vipassanā meditation can “defuse normative modes of subjectivity and catalyse the transformative processes of un-becoming.”
    I agree with Ng’s argument about mindfulness and ‘unbecoming.’ I argued so myself in a blog article called “Conduct Unbecoming: Trans*Queer Dharma.”

    But I challenged Ng on the question of Foucault’s notion of “docile bodies” and how the practice of meditation produces “docile bodies” (Discipline and Punish) that are subjected to a particular physical discipline: silent, still, emotionless, expressionless bodies. This is precisely what I identify as ‘anti-queer’. To create a ‘queer dharma’, I must start with Queer Embodiment, an ethnography of queer bodies, how the body is ‘queered’ by movement, by voice, by speaking, by clothing and other cultural markers of queer identity and expression.

    If one were to observe a person sitting in meditation in loose ‘sensible’ clothing, one would have no way of knowing if that subject was queer. Identifying Queerness requires queer expression: movement of the hands, the eyes, the postures and gestures of the body in relation to other queers and/or straight people. It requires queer vocalization, queer slang, ‘fag’ dialect, identifying queer categories applied to self and others; queer clothing markers (cross-gender or just loud and non-conformist), queer emotional excess otherwise known as “drama” and “flaming” (whether jouissance, rage or desire), queer sexual desire, queer desire for other-genderedness, queer responses to dominant culture and sub-culture; music, dance, visual arts, and so forth, all the features of culture.

    Meditation produces a ‘docile body’ that does not exhibit any kind of marker of difference, except perhaps the most obvious race and stereotypical gender presentation; but even then one does not know if that Black meditator is a ‘queer’ Black meditator, or that ‘woman’ is a cis or trans or queer woman. That can only be ascertained by voice, movement and speech, self-identification and group affiliation and cultural expressions.

    If there is going to be a Buddhism or a Meditation regime that works for me at all (and I doubt there ever will be) it must take into account Queer Embodiment, my queer body, how the Queer Body signifies, how it is not docile, not quiet, it is not still, it is not devoid of culture or sub-cultural affiliation. Queer Embodiment resists docility, fights against it tooth-and-mail. In Queer politics, “Silence = Death” and in queer dharma, “Silence = Erasure.”

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This entry was posted on 2018/02/16 by and tagged .


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