Comments on “Dark culture and tantric transformation”

Comments

Impact of Dark Magic

Fantastic intro -- it draws me forward. But I have some questions which I think I will state here before proceeding and see if they are answered after I read the four sections.

You contend that Black Magic (BM) can be positively psychologically transforming but also admit the opposite. It probably can be used to reinforce all sorts of negative mental habits too. But of course, that goes for any tool (method). But my image of those drawn to this stuff is negative: my experience tells me they are irresponsible outliers with little money, self-distain and full of bad decisions. This sort of material gives them the 'theology' to protect their neurosis. I may be very wrong, though. So I am interested to see it used otherwise.

You contend that as a method, it may be positively useful for those with rigid morality upbringing. But for how many of them it is harmful. Of course we will never get these statistics, but I am curious.

And as a 'left-handed' method, how does a teacher decide if it would be harmful or helpful to a student? Again, probably impossible to lay our an analytic algorithm.

You write of needing to go back to possibly kill the YOU who did AI work for the military, what will your future self think of the impact of this writing? :-) Shouldn't you just do a book about St. Francis of Assisi?
;-)
Great writing, David, I now dive in.

Cautions

Hi Sabio, Thanks for the comments!

my experience tells me they are irresponsible outliers with little money, self-distain and full of bad decisions.

Hmm. That's reasonably common. However, if you have not deliberately explored dark subcultures, I suspect you will have mainly seen the their most dysfunctional members—because those are the ones most visible from the outside, for their noisy dysfunction.

I've met many people within such subcultures whom I deeply admire, and whose good qualities seem inseparable from their engagement in those subcultures. As a random example, I'd mention Fakir Musafar, whom I knew slightly at one time, and might count as a teacher. He's a gentleman—kind, polite, open, helpful, generous—and worked as a high tech executive in Silicon Valley throughout the period during which he invented the "Modern Primitives" movement. Highly functional, in multiple domains.

The later pages in the series answer your other questions as well as I'm able.

An army of time-traveling Davids . . .

Noah's picture

"Perhaps I had better send a robot back in time to kill myself."

What if you, yourself, went back in time, and every time you got back to this point, you just went back again?

Firstly, you just might be able to avoid having to live during Skynet (not exactly FAIR, seeing as you MADE it, but whatever).

Secondly, would you make more and more Davids, every time you went back?

I think so.

You could make infinintly more Davids, right? You go back in time and meet up with past-David, and you and he live through your lives until it's now (2013) again, and then you two go back and meet up with your selves from the past, and then all four of you go through the cycle, and then eight, and then sixteen . . .

Until . . .
BAM!: You amass an army of Davids to fight the robot overloards!

There we go. Bingo-bango! Problem solved.

I should go into politics. :-)

questions

Hi David,

I started reading here and ended up here by following some links of interest, so forgive me if I have missed something.

In this essay you allude to transformation through black magic, and in We are all monsters , you write: “Given tools to drop the supposed meanings of emotions, they become simply biological energy, which can be put to use.”

My questions to you are: what is this use you allude? And what transformation occurs?

Using energy

Hi Patricia,

There's no particular use; energy is just generally all-round useful. This post might be helpful. It's an explanation of the use of energy in terms of the tantric completion phase, written in more-or-less non-Buddhist language.

I discussed the relationship between energy and transformation here.

Not sure if those answer your question? If not, please ask more (there or here).

David

what's the use, really?

Thank you David.

Your explanations and research are always very clear; I think I have come across your writing on "unclogging" before... but thanks for the reference anyway.

Unclogging is an interesting metaphor. Unclogging trapped energy feels good in the body. It makes me feel lighter and happy, for example. But what is the purpose of liberating more energy in the sense you are talking about here, particularly once you drop the meanings of emotions and "turn them into biological energy"? By what standard do you know energy to be "all-round useful"? I mean, at the most basic level, who or what is being liberated, to what end, and who decides?

What if this kind of transformation were in fact a form of emotional dissociation that does not actually create more energy but decathects it from objects of attachment?

You cite the work of Ken McLeod, in particular his "four stages of conflict". I have quite a bit of personal experience with Ken and conflict, and he is a classic example of someone who manages conflict by dissociation from it.

Looking at the entire history of Buddhism, it begins with an attachment issue of a man who lost his mother at birth. I suspect that the real "use" of the energy freed through practice is to dissociate from pain and other uncomfortable emotions.

I would love to hear more from you about this!

Purposes

What follows is a personal view, which probably most Tibetans would not agree with. (I do think it's consistent with scripture and historical practice, however.) Caveat lector.

The uses of tantra are divided into ultimate (i.e. becoming a Buddha) and relative (compassionate activity). Setting aside enlightenment, what counts as compassionate activity is a question outside tantra's scope.

I think tantra is amoral. It's not immoral; it just has no ethical content. It concerns hows, not whys.

Liberating energy gives you power—or so is the claim, and I find it plausible. What you use that power for is another question, and I don't find that tantra has much useful to say.

If tantra works, then it is dangerous, in the same way any power tool is dangerous. Chainsaws can be put to good and evil purposes...

What if this kind of transformation were in fact a form of emotional dissociation that does not actually create more energy but decathects it from objects of attachment?

It's possible you could misuse the practices that way. That would certainly be missing the point, but people do misuse Buddhism in all kinds of ways...

Sutrayana tries to decathect objects of attachment—that's its essential method. Tantra does the opposite: it's about creating connections.

circular questioning

You say "It's possible you could misuse the practices that way. That would certainly be missing the point". But, what IS the point, according to you? That is really my question, all judgements aside (I'm an amoralist too).

You say your answer is personal while answering in third person impersonal. I am not interested in learning more about Buddhism or tantra according to scripture. Rather I am curious about what they mean to you, as a real person living a real life and interested in writing about such esoteric subjects.

Assuming you have applied some of the transformative practices that you are talking about, how have you found them to be useful to you? Has the liberated energy enabled new connections or passions for you in your life? Could you talk more about this please?

Thanks for your patience, David.

the point of an engine

Hmm. An engine just supplies energy (or, more exactly, transforms chemical potential energy—fuel—into mechanical energy—motion). What you do with an engine is up to you. There isn't any one point to an engine; it's useful for lots of things.

(I fear this may not be answering your question, but I'm trying!)

What was personal in my answer was the assertion that tantra is amoral. Tibetans would say that it's skilful means for the bodhisattva path, and has the same purpose, namely saving all sentient beings.

I'm not an amoralist at all. I just don't derive my ethics from tantra. (Or from other Buddhism; I don't find any useful ethical content in Sutra either.)

Assuming you have applied some of the transformative practices that you are talking about, how have you found them to be useful to you? Has the liberated energy enabled new connections or passions for you in your life? Could you talk more about this please?

It's a bit hard to talk about this, because it's so much interwoven with the rest of my life, and without knowing me well, it might not make any sense. I also haven't thought about the question in quite these terms before. If I let it percolate for a couple of days, I may be able to give a better answer.

I'll give two random instances that come to mind off the top of my head. I'm not sure they will communicate.

The first is that, three years ago, I decided to like electronic dance music. EDM basically only came into existence after I turned 25, which is when most people's musical tastes freeze solid. I knew almost nothing about it, and to the very slight extent I did, I didn't like it. However, I had heard that it is where most of the formal innovation has happened in music in the past 15 years, so I figured I was probably missing out on something.

So I read a lot, and I listened to a lot, starting on YouTube. In fact, for the past three years, it's most of what I've listened to. I have gotten to love it.

Second random example: I've decided to take up hunting. I feel that as a non-vegetarian, I have an ethical responsibility to kill some of my own meat. Some parts of it seem like a lot of fun. It also does violence, in a useful way, to some aspects of my self-image.

This is a newish thing; so far, I haven't gotten further than reading books and a little target shooting.

David,

David,

Thanks so much for giving some thought to my questions. I was very touched by your answers, especially the hunting part (by the way, I do have an ethics, it is just not based on “good” and “evil” but on feeling. So when you talk about dropping the meanings of emotions, I ask myself: what else is left to guide us, short of a disembodied Kantian duty? Ick).

On the subject of the usefulness of tantra, it seems to me, reading between the lines of what you write, that it has stretched you in ways that have allowed a wider embrace of experience and a correspondingly wider range of responses to your life. I hope this also includes people; since this I another area where I see Buddhists of all stripes sadly lacking in connection.

I asked you about the usefulness also because there is an abundance of (too much!) information on how to practice: tweets, blogs, websites, retreats… and so little reflection on why we practice. I do not mean “why” in the explanatory sense, but “why” in the meaningfulness sense. The meaning of others’ practice is at times truly lost on me. Add to this, the endless self-promotional possibilities afforded by the internet, and the whole Buddhist enterprise quickly becomes absurd...

If percolating turns up further thoughts, please let me know.

meaningfulness

when you talk about dropping the meanings of emotions

To be clear, the idea is not to eliminate all meanings, but to dissolve fixed meanings; to allow meanings to be fluid, nebulous. That's the central point of my Meaningness book. I've used the word "spaciousness" to refer to allowing the nebulosity of meaning, and suggested that tantra consists of unifying spaciousness with passion.

So, yeah, in this case, I am not "the sort of person who loves dubstep" (a teenage girl) nor "the sort of person who hunts wild boar" (a rural working-class manly-man). Those taken-for-granted meanings need to dissolve to allow other meanings to emerge.

what else is left to guide us?

Meaningness, including ethical meaningness, still arises, albeit fluidly.

(I wouldn't want to try to ground ethics in feelings alone, btw—although those are certainly one consideration.)

I hope this also includes people

I hope so too!

I'm a pathological introvert, so I may not be a great exemplar for this. However, I do think that the practice of tantra makes me more open to people, less reactive, less judgemental, more able to enjoy being with people dissimilar to me, and so on.

I asked you about the usefulness also because there is an abundance of (too much!) information on how to practice: tweets, blogs, websites, retreats… and so little reflection on why we practice. I do not mean “why” in the explanatory sense, but “why” in the meaningfulness sense.

Ah, I see, I think I understand better now what you were asking for and why!

I agree that the "why" often gets lost in mass of "hows," especially in the case of tantra.

Part of the problem is the mythologization and fetishization of "enlightenment," which acts as a kind of empty signifier for "all good things that you want."

Besides that, I think that the Tibetans in particular mostly lost the plot several hundred years ago. There are very few among them who have any understanding of what tantra is about. That, among other factors, means that it is now almost completely unavailable and imminent danger of extinction. (IMNSHO.)

Much of what I write tries to communicate the "why" rather than the "how." Maybe my attempts are unhelpfully abstract, though.

responsiveness

Thank you, David, for your generous responses to my questions.

You say "maybe my attempts are unhelpfully abstract". No, they are helpful! Yes, they are abstract- and maybe this has something to do with your being a "pathological introvert".

To me, meaning does not come through by talking about it using Venn diagrams; much like your energy/engine analogy strikes me as mechanical, not human. Without connection and responsiveness, we remain cold and dead.

Something comes through in this exchange with you, for example, something alive and warm, that your theoretical writing (so far) fails to convey, at least to me. You have a page on ethical responsiveness that intrigues me, as I sense it may contain the heart that is missing.

I used to flinch at the word "responsibility" until my former mentor, Robert Misrahi, pointed out something that made me relax a little about it, which was that, at the root of this word, is the word "respond".

Without alterity, feeling, warmth and movement- without blood!- life is lacking.