…Western Buddhism, this pop-cultural phenomenon preaching inner distance and indifference in the face of the frantic pace of market competition, is arguably the most efficient way, for us, to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity – in short, the paradigmatic ideology of late capitalism…
Slavoj Žižek in Trouble in Paradise: from the end of history to the end of capitalism
Žižek’s on to something. An example: the mindfulness movement, which packages Buddhist meditation into a safe, corporate plug-and-play system for performance improvement.
Mindfulness practice makes us do our jobs better, the theory goes, by making us more chilled, more alert, more empathetic and more resilient; by making us better at being our best selves. Or alternatively by soothing us into a bland, compliant stupor. Either way, it’s considered promising enough for restless, ambitious individuals and organizations to make room for it in the schedule.
On the other hand, if mindfulness does anything at all to connect us with spaces beyond the narrow confines of material preoccupation, then it must also distance us from the values underwriting our peculiar, destructive, domesticated lives, and the unnatural hierarchies within which those lives unfold. And we just might conclude: screw it – I’m getting out of this fucking dolls’ house!
Maybe all contemplative religion does that same double duty: the opium that accommodates you to your subordinate role in someone else’s civilized scheme of things “while retaining the appearance of mental sanity”, but at the same time a door ajar through which to encounter and – if you dare – to run with untamed life.