Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds /Milk Tea Alliance

Declaring a Buddhist Spring: 1st Conference on Buddhist Anarchism


I am just utterly fed up with Buddhist authoritarianism, with narcissists disguised as gurus and ‘authoritative’ teachers, with hierarchies and one-ups-manship. I’m fed up with non-profit corporate boards that act as secret societies and gatekeepers, as ‘yes men’ that protect corrupt leaders. I’m fed up with the exploitation of sangha members for money, sex, power and adulation. I’m fed up with the total lack of ethical leadership on the part of ‘authorized’ teachers. And I’m fed up with the way hierarchy and authoritarianism create barriers to effective leadership by the whole sangha. And on the more positive side, I’m concerned with the possibility of exploring decentralized, distributed networks of sangha-relationship, internet Buddhism, sangha collectives, non-hierarchical, open-architecture organizations that trust people instead of mistreating them like idiots that have to be contained. Instead, Buddhist organizations should treat members like valued and knowledgeable practitioners that have much to offer everyone. I’m interested in the practice of sangha as encuentro in the horizontalist tradition. I’m interested in creating Buddhist organizations that are horizonalist, autonomist, communitarian, where every member is a trusted contributor and not a self-gratifying consumer. I’m interested in autonomous sanghas where every member is held responsible for the care of others and the vitality of the organization.

So let’s get this started: workshops could include anti-fascism, anti-racism, patriarchy and gender freedom, the psycho-social dynamics of Buddhist cults, the anarchist tradition in Buddhism, the politics of sangha, horizontalist organizations and autonomist practice, encuentro, communitarian anarchism and its links with democratic socialism, models of social enterprise, new model sanghas, Ambedkar Buddhism, Gandhian swaraj, links with movements for liberation and eco-justice, the governance of the Commons, and so on.

I’m also interested in heterodox approaches to Buddhist dharma, such as Non-Buddhism, Post-Modern Buddhism, Radical Dharma, Anarchist, Post-Capitalist and Acid Communist Dharma.

I realize that calling it Buddhist ‘anarchism’ is problematic for many people, but let me tell you something: I’m here to ‘problematize’ the current state of Buddhist sanghas. So if you think Buddhist ‘anarchism’ is a problem, GOOD. Come armed with a bunch of reasons for why you think it should be defined otherwise.

I’d like to hold the Buddhist Spring: First Conference on Buddhist Anarchism in Worcester, central Massachusetts. I’d like to see this up and running by next May 2020.

—and if it’s not the First, tell me why because I would like to know the history of this movement.

16 comments on “Declaring a Buddhist Spring: 1st Conference on Buddhist Anarchism

  1. Glenn Wallis

    Hi Shaun. Your idea for the conference sounds really exciting, extremely timely, and super necessary. I could imagine this happening. Can we communicate by Zoom or something, or at least over email?

  2. Shaun Bartone

    Hi Glenn. Yup, let’s get this dialogue going. Email is good for a start. Please think of some other people you’d like to bring into the conversation.

  3. Shaun Bartone

    I’m now calling it DECLARING A BUDDHIST SPRING: 2020.

  4. don socha

    Thanks again for your work, Shaun.
    We are ‘headless’ at our ‘interdenominational’ sangha here at The Central Michigan Sangha. I’ve suggested we were ‘Acephalic Buddhists,’ but the others seemed to take it as a joke.
    Anyhow, consider this post ‘shared’ on our FB page.

    Don Tetsufu Socha

    • Shaun Bartone

      Thanks Don. I just had a zoom talk with Glenn Wallace today, and we’re going ahead with Buddhist Spring May 2020. We’d love to have you and your sangha on board. I’m about to set up a separate WordPress site, which will be an Event site for May 2020. The idea is to organize it like the Occupy movement, “local everywhere.” So during the month of May 2020, your sangha could have an event that is part of the Buddhist Spring, and your event would feed into all the other events for the whole month. We’re still in the early stages of planning this, but if you have any ideas, please contact me directly at sbartone22@gmail.com

  5. Pingback: Declaring a Buddhist Spring 2020 | Speculative Non-Buddhism

  6. Daniel Scharpenburg

    I’m interested

  7. Failed Buddhist

    This is a great idea, Shaun. I’d love to get involved in any way I can.

    I think it would be useful to try to invite some Buddhist leaders to join the conference and engage in some of the issues that need to be addressed. Particularly the “pragmatic dharma” and Buddhist Geeks crowd, because they ask a lot of the same questions, even though I think their solutions are often misguided and only hide the problems of hierarchy and ideology rather than actually addressing them. I doubt a lot of these folks would even consider sitting down on a panel with harsh critics, but it’s worth a try, and I’d love to be proven wrong!

    • Shaun Bartone

      I appreciate your wanting to ‘confront the leadership’ but I don’t think it’s helpful. We have to do this ourselves, take Buddhism into our own hands. That’s the idea behind Buddhist Spring 2020. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, and that means we are responsible for ourselves and for each other. We dream, we experiment, we are the avant garde, we are the revolution, no matter how insignificant it might appear.

  8. James R. Martin

    How many anarchists and other assorted anti-authoritarians are interested and involved in Buddhism — and vice versa?

    A lot of Buddhists seem pretty committed to the millennia old structures of authority in Buddhism. Perhaps we should all convert to Taoism? I bet you can find a lot of anti-authoritarianism in Taoist circles! LOL

    • Shaun Bartone

      I think you’d be surprised at how many Buddhists (and ex-Buddhists) are fed up with the system of hierarchy and domination that is called ‘leadership’ and ‘teaching’, fed up with the guru system. Many folks have left that would still be practicing Buddhism today were it not for the cycle of exploitation and abuse that people are subjected to when they walk into a meditation center. My theory is that many of the people who show up at dharma and meditation centers really get most of their instruction and community online, from Zoom meetings, books and youtube videos. We think it’s time to create a whole new way to get together and support each other as Buddhists, share what we know and learn from each other.

  9. James R. Martin

    While I no longer identify as Buddhist, I’m very much of the belief that we should not toss out the Buddha with the bath water. In fact, I’m very much engaged with a practice of meditation which draws inspiration from many sources, with the Buddhist tradition being a major strand of influence, indeed. (Also, the contemporary somatics field and somatic psychology are major influences — as with phenomenology, etc.)

    I’m also philosophically deeply committed to what I like to call “open inquiry” — meaning inquiry not foreclosed or enclosed by dogma, doctrine, entrenched authority or habit…. Doubt and questioning are centrally important in open inquiry — and, for me, open inquiry is necessary to meditation practice as well as to psychology and philosophy — which are, one would presume, facets of “Buddhism”. So Buddhism, if it is to be preserved at all, will certainly need to open up its sangha doors and windows to allow for the full and unhindered presence of open inquiry.

    • Shaun Bartone

      I am also deeply committed to open inquiry. In fact I had a small group going in Halifax NS called Meta Buddhist Inquiry, which was all about doubt, questioning and challenging the dharma, and Buddhist institutions, and finding out for myself what was true or meaningful. I also believe it is just as necessary as meditation. I try to do that on various web forums like Speculative Non-Buddhism. I would love to participate in that kind of inquiry again.

  10. wingulls

    I’ve been doing lots of research into this topic recently. Would love to connect and chat with people working on anarchizing buddhism.

    • Shaun Bartone

      hi wingulls; I’m open for discussion on anarchism. lately I have reframed it as ‘direct democracy’. it has a different connotation, although many anarchists would say that’s what anarchism is–direct democracy. if you’ve written about it, or have a bibliography you’d like to share, please send it to: sbartone22@gmail.com

  11. Pingback: Buddhist Anarchism Redux | Engage!

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