“Papanca” is this great word from the early Buddhist texts that means something like “proliferation of thinking” or “jumping from one thought to the next with no space between”. It’s crazy-making, obsessive, and seemingly unstoppable. “OMG” you say, “that’s totally what my mind does!” Mine too. When I’m not awake to it. And it’s hard to stay awake to it when my entire ecosystem (particularly the digital one) is calling for me to stay embedded in it. All day, every day.
This is why the Buddha and Patañjali both say that the path to any amount of peace is through “seclusion”. They don’t mean literal seclusion in a retreat cabin somewhere, though each of them seem to have liked that kind of practice, but seclusion from the pull of sense objects. They noticed that obsessive thinking is often triggered by sensory stimulus, and so figured that dealing with that stimulus was a good way to get a handle on the crazy mind (which Patañjali calls citta vrtti, literally “spinning mind/heart”).
My hyperlinked dharma and social life now includes communicating through this crazy little device every single day, which gets old quickly, but before you think that this is just another hypocritical gen-x complaint about computers and online life, let me assert something else. The threads (and what if we use the ancient word “sutra” for them, since that also means thread, and often looks similar — text consisting of short blurbs of concentrated information) I’ve been a part of on FB and other platforms have been some of the most stimulating and delightful Dharma conversations I’ve had lately. Yes, I also love to go for a long ramble in the Piedmont cemetery on a gorgeous Oakland day and talk about the subtleties of jhana and vipassana, but being able to share conversation space with dozens of smart, critical yogis, all hearing each other, and spread out over the globe? I’ve been loving it. Papanca makes me crazy, but somehow there’s this hopeful middle ground where words are flying all over the place but they’re inspiring us to practice, stay awake, connect with other smart heartful folks, and generally live a good Dharma life. Fingers crossed. (And don’t over do it!)
So, rather than offering a wonderful, wise (maybe!) dharma talk this month, I will offer a couple long Facebook sutras.
One is about wisdom in Louis CK’s comedy, in which I ask for folks’ opinions about his edgy, vulgar work after seeing a clip that made me think that he was a subversive Buddhist ninja bodhisattva. I’m not sure he’s that, but the thread contains some great discussion of the edge he walks, and shifted my initial position on his ethical stance.
The other is my contribution to the recent flare up of a really tiresome debate on the (mis-)use of sex between yoga teachers and their students that’s getting a lot of action right now after a particularly intense post by a well-known teacher, Cameron Shayne. It isn’t even really a debate, except in the way the House of Representatives “debates” things nowadays, in which one side is quite intelligent and coherent and the other is a bunch of raving lunatics. Sorry, that’s ad hominem, and neither useful nor completely true, but some of the comments out there (under the original blog posts, not my FB threads, which are quite cogent – thanks, smart friends) are truly absurd theater.
Fortunately, I’m trained in absurd theater, so the whole thing is pretty fascinating even while totally annoying. Maybe the new pope feels like this, as he’s getting both praise and mad flak for saying that the church might focus on more central issues than gays, abortion, and contraception. Like, “this is so not the point, people!”
But if it’s coming up again (exasperated emoticon here), there’s clearly karma still unfolding, with a bunch of excellent writing appearing this week. If you want to dig a bit, you’ll find some excellent Indian Summer afternoon reading. Here’s some:
Carol Horton’s excellent article goes into some of the cultural roots of this kind of thinking, tying in Radical Libertarian Individualism and New Age Magical Thinking.
And as always, Matthew Remski’s writing just kills. I have a blogger crush on this guy right now. (And not just because he quoted me in his post.) Smart, sharp rant.
And the comments thread on Shayne’s original post is interesting, with lots of views for & against, and Shayne responding to some of them (though not mine yet).
This too, covering much of the same, from It’s All Yoga, Baby.
Have a good time.
And speaking of reading, someday soon I’ll have something to say about this incendiary blog, Speculative Non-Buddhism, that’s stirring the Western Buddhist wasp’s nest pretty vigorously. Check it out if you like an intense mashup of pomo theory, agnostic takedown, and snarky rationalist critique. Stay tuned…
Blessings in all you’re up to, and stay inspired.