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

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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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An Unhappy Mother’s Day: Tibetan Self-immolation protests and Splaining over Corpses

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(Tibetan self-immolater Sonam Tso)

Today is Mother’s Day. The day before yesterday, on Friday, the 6th of May, news broke about yet another Tibetan self-immolation protest that took place inside Tibet. This was delayed news, however. The self-immolation took place some two months ago, but Tibetan exile media organizations had only now been able to even verify that it had happened. The woman who self-immolated was a mother of five. I had got up from being asleep and saw the news on Facebook. I shared this link, after quickly making a rough translation of the initial written information in the article: Continue reading

The Social Life of Magic: Memories of Hoodoo in Detroit

 

In occult ‘scenes’ you find a lot of people identifying as magicians. Of course, this makes sense: if you do magical rituals, especially if you do them professionally for clients, then why not call yourself the rusty, graveyard dirt-smeared spade that you are?

Still, discussions about self-identifying as a contemporary practitioner of magic and the supposed implications of this, can potentially distract from the fact that magic isn’t just something people say they do or are, it’s something that merely exists as part of the everyday rhythms of many people’s lives, and that’s ok. In a beautiful piece, Kenya Coviak reminisces about growing up in Detroit and reflects on the ways that Hoodoo was literally a part of the scenery, furniture, and foundations of her daily life.

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Everything is fake in China: Treasure-revealers, False Prophets, and the Miracle of Community Belief

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(Not sure why this picture is so small, but hopefully at the top you can see some of the photos of the allegedly fake Golok terton Drolma Thar, on the bottom left, Pema Lingpa, and on the bottom right a pensive Jesus Christ)

Tertön གཏེར་སྟོན་ or ‘treasure revealers’ are visionary prophets or saints in Tibetan Buddhist tradition. They are understood to be reincarnations of the original disciples of Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the Indian tantric master or ‘Second Buddha’ who established Buddhism in Tibet. Before he dissolved his 8th century physical form, Guru Rinpoche is said to have hidden various ‘treasures’ or terma གཏེར་མ་ all over Tibet and the Himalayas, with the intention that these treasures would be discovered by appointed persons at a later date. Guru Rinpoche left various treasures for safekeeping with guardian spirits in the sky, under the earth, in rocks and caves, and in the mind-streams of his closest disciples. Centuries after his time and into the present, certain individuals have claimed to have had powerful visionary experiences and past-life memories which have convinced them and others that they are reincarnations of Guru Rinpoche’s elect. Attending to these visions, insights, and memories, these individuals have been able to follow the clues to unearth treasures left specially for them across space and time by Guru Rinpoche and his partner the great female Buddha and queen Yeshe Tsogyal. Continue reading

Bathtub Seances, Delayed News of Passing, and Facebook as a Mausoleum

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I just found out through a chance appearance on my Facebook feed that another friend and lover of mine in Denver passed away six months ago (it wasn’t that long ago that I learned that another friend and lover of mine in Denver, John, passed away as well – you can see my memorial to him and my conflicted reflections on public mourning and Facebook here). Somehow I missed this news entirely, no doubt because I’ve been away abroad doing other things. A friend of Sammy’s just posted on his wall saying that she had dreamed of him appearing in the back of a car. She’d asked him how it was he could be there, and he’d replied, “I’m everywhere”. I went to his page, realizing I’d not seen sign of him in ages, only to discover that he had taken his own life in July of last year at the age of 31.

Sammy came up in conversation only a day or two ago, while I was talking with my friend Ella who’s my current travelling partner in Rajasthan. I told Ella a story about an unusual experience that I once shared with Sammy that has always stuck with me. When I told it to her I made a mental note to reach out to Sammy to find out how he was, and to ask him if he’d mind recounting his version of events to me for comparison. I now realize this won’t be possible in the way that I had hoped.

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A Modern Tibetan Refuge Formula

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I was sent this parody of the Tibetan Buddhist ‘refuge formula’, as seen on Tibetan social media, by a young Tibetan monk friend in McLeod Ganj. There’s potential commentary here on how much Tibetans depend today on social media and virtual connectivity to keep their sense of community together in diaspora. Continue reading

Facebook, Public Mourning, and Virtual Graveyards

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Yesterday I found out that one of my friends and ex-lovers in Denver, John passed away. What a strange thing it is to be able to publicly tag a dead person on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about doing so, and about discussing John’s death at all. John wasn’t always a big talker. I doubt I wrote as much to him on here in the time we were friends and while he was alive as I am now. I don’t know what to think about virtual mourning. The whole narcissistic architecture of Facebook seems kind of gross in the face of death. The platform has none of the intimacy of a quiet, fleshy memorial, and I’m not sure yet what the social-ritual function of likes may be when it comes to honoring the departed. But John’s Facebook page has already become a space of commemoration Continue reading