Dharma is Governance
To the question, ‘what is dharma?’ I have a provisional answer: dharma is governance, in the Foucauldian sense. Glenn Wallis calls it ‘the Magistrate.” It is a potent combination of power-knowledge—dharma, scripture—with discipline— meditation and thought constraints, that produces constraints on thought, speaking and behavior. For westerners, it operates as the self-governance of the Neo-liberal subject.
It operates as a disciplinary regime by delegitimizing and precluding whole categories of thought and speech. One is not allowed to speak, to think, to critique or question the dharma outside of the discipline. One is not allowed to think outside of dharmic categories, to think about, and thereby legitimize, the categories of the ‘other-than-Buddhist.’ As a discipline, not only must one meditate for hours-per-day, without moving or speaking, but even in the presence of teachers, where one is supposedly in a dialogue, one must sit quietly, not move excessively or question anything that is said. The discipline of meditation posture creates ‘docile bodies’ that only receive and never question the power-knowledge regime.
But the subject can oppose this discipline through counter-power, by ‘speaking truth to power’, by seizing the category “dharma” and using it’s power-to-legitimate to thereby legitimate whole other categories of thought and speech. The subject can thereby create a counter-hegemony that not only refutes but supersedes the regime of Buddhist dharma. It can create a counter-power of discipline by using the power-tool ‘practice’ to introduce new “practices” that legitimate other forms of being, acting, doing. This creates a whole new form of self-governance, the self-governance of the post-colonialist subject
This is precisely how innovation proceeds in Buddhism when it is introduced into new cultures. When it was introduced to the West by avatars such as Chogyam Trungpa, he invented a new regime of power-knowledge, ‘Buddhist psychology’, and a new ‘practice’ discipline, psychological introspection and guru therapy, to adapt Tibetan Buddhism to western cultures.
Repeatedly on this blog I have used the power-knowledge regime ‘dharma’ to create and legitimate whole new categories of thought and speech, e.g. ‘the dharma of Valerie Solanas’, and introduced whole new ‘practice’ disciplines, such as the Situationists’ ‘derive’ and ‘detournent’ and ‘jazz dharma.’