Anthropology, Esotericism, and ‘Fringe’ Buddhism: Interview on the Imperfect Buddha Podcast

devil-woodcut

A month or two ago I did an interview with Matthew O’Connell for his ‘Imperfect Buddha’ podcast, where I talked about doing research on Western esotericism as an anthropologist and scholar-practitioner, and about some of the more ‘fringe’ dimensions of global Tibetan Buddhism today. I ended up talking a lot about myself and not that much about the specific details of my research, and Matthew barely got a word in edgeways, but it is what it is. Many of the posts and articles on this blog get a mention. I no doubt said a lot of things that would benefit from further qualification and which I would probably take issue with if I heard myself saying them now. The thought of listening to my voice drone on for that long curdles my juices and fills me with acute horror though, so I’m can’t be sure – you’ll just have to listen to the interview yourselves and tell me how it makes you feel instead.

Shout out to Matt for arranging things, and thinking I was interesting enough to have on the show. Let me know what you think!

8.0 Imperfect Buddha Podcast: Ben Joffe on the paranormal, Tibetan Buddhism & the Ngakpa

 

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Secrets of the Scoby: Tibetan Taoist Gummiberry Juice and Boulder’s Buddha’s Brew

gummiberry juice

I was recently reminded of an old entry from the annals of Shangri-La La Land: the apparently Tibetan fermented drink known as ‘Jun’. Jun is a relative of the classic fermented health-drink Kombucha. Whereas Kombucha is born from the alchemy of adding a kombucha culture or ‘scoby’ to black tea and sugar, Jun is made from Jun cultures mixed with green tea and honey. According to popular legend, besides being more obscure and more magical than Kombucha, Jun also hails from Tibet.

On August 4th, 2010, Emma Blue penned an article for The Elephant Journal which she, mincing no words, called ‘Jun: Nobody Wants us to Know About it’. The Elephant Journal claims to be committed to a more thoughtful, ‘non-New Agey’ brand of spirituality, but you could be forgiven for not quite believing this after reading Blue’s article. Continue reading

De-calcifying your Pineal Gland, and other New Age Literalisms

“It’s not you…I just don’t think our pineal glands are in the same place right now.”#NewAgeDatingProblems

A while back, I was kinda bored and for reasons I still don’t fully understand, I made this meme. I thought it came out quite well.

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I was just going to post this meme here, but then it got me thinking. Jokes aside, I find the idea of doing something like ‘de-calcifying your pineal gland’ quite fascinating. The concept is one of a panoply of New Age lifestyle/purificatory options, which rely at least in part on a veneer of scienc-i-ness for their legitimacy. Continue reading

Tripping on Good Vibrations: Cultural Commodification and ‘Tibetan’ Singing Bowls

 

pizza yoga.jpeg

This was also a piece I did not expect to write. Popular media, and reactions to popular media however, got me thinking more about issues of commodification and cultural appropriation, and the singing bowl turned out to be a particularly useful entry point into a lot of these.

I find it quite surprising that so little academic material has been written about singing bowls and their history, despite them being such iconic and familiar New Age objects. Continue reading

Secrets of the Sex Magic Space Lamas Revealed! Tibetan Buddhist Aliens and Religious Syncretism

tibetan aliens

This was probably my favourite of the four October essays to write, probably because it involved so many things that I love to think and talk about, but was also something I never, ever imagined I’d be writing for an anthropological audience, or maybe at all.

Years ago I was warned by a lovely acting HoD in an anthropology department to be careful of pursuing the study of esotericism Continue reading

So, You Want to be a Tantric Wizard, Huh?

so you want to be a tantric wizard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of my current PhD research focuses on the overlaps – and divergences – between ideas about what practicing tantra means in ‘traditional’ or ‘indigenous’ Asian contexts and in what can be called ‘neo’ or ‘New Age’ tantric settings.

Recently, I’ve been coming across a great number of (white) people who describe themselves as ‘Tantrikas’ and ‘Dakinis’, traditional terms for somebody following the path of (an often but not always non-celibate) tantric practitioner and vow-holder. The (often, but not always) white people who use these terms most liberally frequently seem to be operating well outside of the boundaries of traditional Indian or Tibetan tantra, that is, the native religious system of someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama. As an anthropologist, I’m not interested in categorically dismissing or merely debunking these white self-avowed tantric masters and goddesses Continue reading