Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds

Meme: #Raw

I’m beginning a new meta-series on the dharma of aesthetics, called RAW.

What is a Buddhist Aesthetics? What is the dharma of aesthetics? Is it meaning? truth? experience? expression? beauty? pleasure? is it conceptual or intuitive?

Is a dharma of art any better than just “art”?

Aesthetic pleasure is good pleasure. It’s pleasure that has some deeper meaning than just addictive gratification. I need a more challenging and visceral art, a more challenging and deeply felt aesthetic experience, an art that provokes an encounter with the REAL.

What is the REAL? It’s simply being here, being alive, that’s the real. Being born is real, living is real, dying is real. What if dukkha wasn’t craving or suffering, but the existential REAL of being alive, the sharpness of it? The angst, the agita of simply living another day? What if that is what we have to contend with, not by numbing out, but by simply and totally accepting it as a condition of being alive?


The word ‘dukkha’ could be translated as ‘raw’, that feeling of being exposed to life, it’s pleasures and dangers. The rawness of feeling. Sometimes that’s good, as in ‘feeling alive’, tingling, and sometimes it’s bad, like angst, pain. That’s a Buddhist aesthetic. It’s rawness.

It’s the naked exposure of our bodies to the world, and the consequent need for shelter and food, the craving for comfort and security. There is no end of rawness, unless you choose to numb out with drugs or screens or food or… whatever. We can’t transform it into a positive or a negative or a neutral. We can just experience it, because it is inescapable, no matter how it feels. Rawness is exposure, vulnerability. These are the necessary conditions for sensation and perception, for feeling and responding to the world, for empathy and compassion, for insight.

Rawness is sensitivity, the immediate, naked sensation of being alive. But rawness captures it best. That’s what dukkha is to me. Living the dharma is allowing that feeling of rawness, really feeling it. You can be numb, or you can be raw. I’d rather be raw.

The rawness of being alive makes you aware, conscious, though it’s not necessarily pleasurable. Raw experience is the goal of dharma practice, not bliss. I think that’s what meditation should be about. Raw experience, tathata, being able to experience that rawness with greater sensitivity over time.

Rawness is the aesthetic dharma. It’s the ‘structure of feeling’ that defines a wider experience of the world. It’s sensitive, but not sentimental. It’s responding to the immediate, tactile sensations of taste, smell, touch, vision and hearing, but also the raw emotional connection to the material of the subject. It’s intuitive as well as conceptual, but not over-cooked as in over-thinking the product and how it will be received. It’s raw thinking acted as kinetic gesture without self-judgement.

It’s the artists way of Buddhism. Luckily, after I wrote this post a few days ago, I had the chance to delve into a raw aesthetic experience through a couple of articles posted on Affidavit, a cultural magazine. I present the first one here today [partially] so that you can share with me what it means to experience the raw. The Covid Sex Diaries by Brontez Purnell, Nov. 17, 2020

I was supposed to write a long think piece about my black life mattering but I kinda just wanna talk about fucking instead. As we learned during the last plague, gay men will have sex even in the face of imminent death. In fact, we are the best at it. From the jump, men of my age group were burdened with the fact that sex very well could equal death. We knew what AIDS meant before we even really knew what sex meant. However you want to judge us, there are men who will very willingly take the gamble. We are the generation that spent our teen years jerking off to Oz, (God protect us). Subsequently, we don’t give a fuck. Recently, I had a convo with a 78-year-old gay mentor of mine who shocked the hell out of me when he said that he was still hooking up. Keep in mind this man was double immunocompromised. He had been HIV positive since like before the sun had planets. Like, he was so old he had actually taken AZT. I was like “girl, did you really survive the AIDS epidemic just to die of Covid?” To which he responded “I’m old as hell. I don’t give a fuck.” Touché. But for those of us who (conceptually) had a long life in front of us the path seemed a bit more rocky. At the start of quarantine I was particularly stunned at the idea of “podding”—staying home, limiting contact with people. As a broke ass Bay Area artist I have always lived communally. In fact, the last five years has been the first time I haven’t lived with a double-digit amount of roommates, and even then our collective economy centers around communality—working for Lyft, weed trimming, sex work. Already, there was this smug moral assumption that with the rent still due, and just a $1200 check in the mail (I still haven’t got mine, by the way) that we even had the option of just staying home. Being that my life as a punk has always flagged danger, I did what I have always done; I moved forward. I religiously wore my face mask, fanatically washed my hands, and prayed for the best outcome. But then came the other problems of quarantine: boredom, overactive self-reflection, and of course being horny as fuck. Then something strange happened. I started to notice that men who had ignored me on Grindr for years were suddenly all too happy to send me like every butthole and dick pic in their ho pic arsenal. The line was drawn—who were the boys who would remain celibate? And who were the boys who would fuck? Of course, I being of the thrill-seeking faggots, would soon find out… Read the rest at affidavit.art

2 comments on “Meme: #Raw

  1. flaneurhenry

    Shaun, I am excited by your new series on Buddhist aesthetics. Raw! I’m now thinking of a piece on raw sex, BDSM to be precise.


  2. Shaun Bartone

    I’m very inspired by AdBusters’ current issue on aesthetics, which really nailed it for me. AB never used the word “raw”, but that’s what came to me as I thought about the issue. btw I don’t think ‘raw’ is the only valid dharma of aesthetics, but it’s what I’m focusing on right now. There are lots of other interpretations that we can explore.

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This entry was posted on 2020/11/17 by .


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