Here are recent explorations of Dharma, history, theology, performance, and social justice discourse. Scroll down for academic work, including dissertation abstract and unpublished essays.

Gratitude for the Text Transmission

Gratitude to Gotama for speaking the Dhamma,Beloved Ānanda for remembering it all.Gratitude always to the First Council Elders, and Ānanda again, his own path assured. To the monks with no master, for 300 years,committing to memory their teacher’s words,lifetimes pre-literate, sati is memory, gratitude.How many lives given becoming these books? To the …

Read More

Dāna & the ancient practice of Gift Economy

In my home tradition of Theravāda Buddhism, teachings are traditionally given freely, without a set price or limitation. When this works well, those with more material resources and those with less can both give to support the community, each in a way that is sustainable for them.

Read More

Resilience & Trauma Resolution in Buddhism & Yoga

As Buddhist and Hindu Yoga lineages take root outside of Asia, their insights into human nature, the causes of suffering, and the paths to joy and liberation are finding fertile soil in sincere seekers and dedicated spiritual practitioners worldwide. As many of us find our personal and collective journeys deeply …

Read More

Ditch your meditation timer (use it differently)

If meditation is part of your daily home practice, you probably keep time in some way. Peeking at the clock every 30 seconds is clearly not the point, so you have to have some structure for sitting with your eyes closed, right? Either you set an alarm (crickets seems to …

Read More

A new meditation and yoga retreat format

If you've sat a meditation retreat at Spirit Rock, IMS, Insight Retreat Center, or any of the other Insight Meditation spots around, you know the standard retreat schedule well: basically a day of alternating 45 minute sitting and walking meditation periods, dharma talk in the evenings. All in silence except …

Read More

Authentic Movement as Tandava

For many years, parallel with my training in Buddhism and Yoga, I practiced a contemporary contemplative discipline called Authentic Movement (AM). Developed by dancers and Jungian analysts in the 1970s, AM is rare in both its provenance as a contemplative art created and maintained almost entirely by women, and in …

Read More

Intro to Authentic Movement

Authentic Movement (AM) is a mystical-therapeutic process work created by Mary Starks Whitehouse (1911-79), a dancer turned Jungian therapist who studied with modern dance pioneers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham. Whitehouse’s work distills the archetypal theatrical roles of performer and audience to two bodies in a room, Mover and Witness, with the …

Read More

Hatha Yoga Sadhana: The Subtle Dance

Physical movement with the goal of cultivating energy is one of the most dynamic and creative types of liberation practice. It has been part of both Buddhist and Hindu-lineage contemplative work since the earliest centuries of Yoga and asceticism as formal paths in South Asian spiritual life. The Sanskrit word sadhana traditionally …

Read More

Traces of a past life

[Putting the last few words and videos I have from my brightest years as a performance artist here. How tremendously far away they, this I, feel. Making it a "post" instead of a "page," date-stamped, scroll-lost, faded even more. I almost just left it off the new site entirely, but …

Read More

I have seen the yogi and he is us: Patañjali and the consolations of ambiguity

One of the marks of a great text seems to be that it can be deeply important to wildly different people from cultures separated from each other by vast distances of time and space. A theater company in Kolkata establishes a reputation for cutting social realism by putting on Ibsen's A Doll's House, while a British director in France hubristically (and with some success) attempts …

Read More

Devotion and doubt: race, religion, and postmodern kirtan

After a long day of sessions, feeling with clients/students through the morass of feelings and confusions that seem to be the near-universal experience of being human around here, I light a dry leaf of white sage, shake off the fire, and walk slowly around the practice room both clearing the …

Read More

Academic essays


Working between Religious, Cultural, and Performance Studies methodologies, I research states of consciousness, contemplative practice, and the social justice turn in Western contemplative and artistic communities through a Buddhist phenomenological lens. My field work is with two primary cohorts: Theravāda Buddhist meditators and dance-based performance artists.

Combining work with meditators and dancers reveals similarities and differences in both View and praxis. The arts at their best teach us how to feel, and how to stay open to mystery, dissonance, and not-knowing. Meditation at its best does the same, but with different methods and aims. Live art is a culture’s visible growing edge, while dedicated contemplatives, often in seclusion, push that edge perhaps further, before returning to share their insights.

Current writing is focusing on issues of privilege, trauma, and systemic oppression in relation to Buddhist doctrines of renunciation, karma, and Dependent Origination.

Dissertation & Published Work

PhD Dissertation (2016): “This Very Body is the Bodhi Tree: The Performance of Contemplative States in the Western Jhāna Revival & Contemporary Movement Theater” (abstract)

“Commit, Amplify, Inquire: Dark Work and Remix as Contemplative Rehearsal Practices” in Blum, ed., Dancing with Dharma: Essays on Movement and Dance in Western Buddhism (McFarland, 2016)

“Her Heart Can Lift Mountains by Beating: Form and Formlessness in Performance Process” in Hunter, Krimmer, Lichtenfels, eds., Sentient Performativities of Embodiment: Thinking alongside the Human (Lexington, 2016)

Unpublished Work
(Please do not use or cite without permission. Thank you.)

The One Who Listens: Meaning, Time, and Momentary Subjectivity in Music (2013) (presented at Performance Studies International 19, Stanford 2013.)

Inner and Outer Object, Inner and Outer Gaze: Paradoxes of Buddhist Performance (2013)

Hugo Wolf’s song “Der Verlassene Mägdlein”, an analysis (2012)

Inverted Bowls: Buddhist practices as protest vocabulary (2011)

Buddhist Pragmatic Phenomenology: an object-oriented inquiry (2012)

The White Empty Space: A conversation with Jason Engelund on Buddhism and contemplative photography (2012)

You Are the Music While the Music Lasts: Improvisation, silence, practice, research
(presented at IGPS Symposium, UC Davis, 2011)

Standing Somewhere and Nowhere: Buddhism, performance and social change (2011)

Memory, Hope, Recapitulation, Anticipation: Meditations on time initiated by Haydn piano sonata #49 (2011)

Mother Chord: Authority, meaning, and collaboration in music (2011)

Reason Exhausted, Concerns Forgotten: notes on a life in art and Dharma (2011)
(autobiographical reflections)

Deep River, Great Blackness: Ritual space and Black Power in the Art Ensemble of Chicago (2010)

From Nothing to Something: Music in experimental dance from Judson to Contraband (2010)

Thanks for reading!

If you find the resources on this site of service in your own practice and study, and you are inspired to support Dr. Oakes as an independent teacher and scholar, please consider making a donation.

Text: The Written Being / The Being Written

On the one hand, if modern linguistics remains completely enclosed within a classical conceptuality, if especially it naively uses the word being and all that it presupposes, that which, within this linguistics, deconstructs the unity of the word in general can no longer, according to the model of the Heideggerian question, as it functions powerfully from the very opening of Being and Time, be circumscribed as ontic science or regional ontology. In as much as the question of being unites indissolubly with the precomprehension of the word being, without being reduced to it, the linguistics that works for the deconstruction of the constituted unity of that word has only, in fact or in principle, to have the question of being posed in order to define its field and the order of its dependence.

Not only is its field no longer simply ontic, but the limits of ontology that correspond to it no longer have anything regional about them. And can what I say here of linguistics, or at least of a certain work that may be undertaken within it and thanks to it, not be said of all research in as much as and to the strict extent that it would finally deconstitute the founding concept- words of ontology, of being in its privilege? Outside of linguistics, it is in psychoanalytic research that this breakthrough seems at present to have the greatest likelihood of being expanded.

Within the strictly limited space of this breakthrough, these “sciences” are no longer dominated by the questions of a transcendental phenomenology or a fundamental ontology. One may perhaps say, following the order of questions inaugurated by Being and Time and radicalizing the questions of Husserlian phenomenology, that this breakthrough does not belong to science itself, that what thus seems to be produced within an ontic field or within a regional ontology, does not belong to them by rights and leads back to the question of being itself.

Because it is indeed the question of being that Heidegger asks metaphysics. And with it the question of truth, of sense, of the logos. The incessant meditation upon that question does not restore confidence. On the contrary, it dislodges the confidence at its own depth, which, being a matter of the meaning of being, is more difficult than is often believed. In examining the state just before all determinations of being, destroying the securities of onto-theology, such a
meditation contributes, quite as much as the most contemporary linguistics, to the dislocation of the unity of the sense of being, that is, in the last instance, the unity of the word.

(Derrida, Of Grammatology, 21-22)