Punk Embrace of Eastern Thought

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Uncategorized

I was a big fan of this guy’s first band: Youth of Today. My adolescence was deep in the D.I.Y. hardcore punk movement, I am still involved on some level.

My interest in new age thought, definitely begins with my interest in eastern thought. If you watched my Sam Harris interview you know that there is some defense for investigating eastern mystical practices by at least one prominent atheist.

I think its interesting how big chunks of the hardcore punk scene have embraced Hare Krishna, zen meditation, and other eastern mystical practices.

Though in general I reject the theism of eastern religion (though some eastern religions are atheistic 😉 ), I do enjoy the common thread of contemplation of the present moment, and the hostility to material attachment.

  1. Nolan Void says:

    The general state of Buddhism has always seemed more or less unconcerned with any sort of theism, though it doesn’t take a stand of absolute rejection of it either. I’ve always respected that it simply put it aside as something irrelevant to the practice. Of course, that does depend on which flavor of the practice your speaking of as well. Punk has always seemed to me to be about tearing down what one becomes disillusioned with, and I think the irony is that it eventually turns in on itself (or at least the preliminary stages of itself), which is why we probably see the other models of discovering truth entering into the lives of the people involved.

    • mindcore says:

      Nolan, I find your comment refreshing. I have mixed feelings about punk, when I was young it was almost my religion. I still think of its history as a big part of my life. Especially the D.I.Y. hardcore scene.

      But then I see its taxadermic corpse at places like Hot Topic, etc. Ironically, I was narrow minded about Buddhism for a long time because it seemed like such a cliche hippy thing, and I didn’t want to be a consumer sheep.

      Now, I totally subscribe to vast amounts of Buddhist philosophy, especially zen. I see my experimentation with Buddhism as kind of the missing link between my staunch atheism and my current interest in the occult.

      If one can find such insights, without embracing belief uncritically, and such profound experience, from meditation then why not go back and look at other “spiritual” practices which have interested me throughout my life.

      I am glad that you pointed out that Buddhism is perfectly compatible with atheism.

      Have you heard of Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist by Stephen Batchelor?

      Its a book about Buddhism basically having an atheist theology written by a Buddhist monk. Reading this book is definitely on my to do list.

      • Nolan Void says:

        It’s interesting interweaving of subject matter we have here. For me, Buddhism is in many ways what Punk is for a lot of people: an initiatory path, a good first step in the right direction. It is the building of a good foundation that ultimately left me wanting. I think Punk just doesn’t go far enough for some people. It is like an intermediary stage where you burn everything that isn’t worthwhile away, but if that is all you do then you’ve stunted your own growth and fallen short of the renewal that comes after the fire. Similarly, Buddhism help me to cut away what was false, but I feel sometimes because of the often personal and gnostic/experiential nature of seeking for a higher understanding of reality, Buddhism does not go far enough. Or rather it remains silent on what lies on the other shore once you use it as a raft to cross over. Perhaps that is the point, to not try and name what one experiences when the conceptual powers of our mind have finally been silenced and a pure conscious experience of what is comes into our scope.

        You touch on many good points, especially about the dangers of embracing beliefs uncritically, but I feel kind of in an odd position on these matters. I came to Buddhism because I needed a fresh perspective, to sort of start from ground zero with no bullshit, and Buddhism provided me with that. But whereas many people I see now use it as a prop for defense of their atheism, it led me in the opposite direction back towards the occult. I say the opposite because that is my experience of a contrast between what we commonly see as atheism and what we commonly see as occult in the general dialogue. It intrigues me that you seem to have atheist sympathies but confess an interest in the occult. How does that fit together for you? Is there an internal conflict somewhere, or do you have a unique way of arranging it all in a paradigm that works for you?

  2. mindcore says:

    Nolan, my whole point is that these things are not necessarily opposed. I am not surprised that studying Buddhism has resparked your interest in the occult. Me too. In this blog I am also not trying to criticize the occult, but to actually show how I incorporate it into my own life as an atheist and a skeptic.

    I consider myself an occultist. And an atheist. And a skeptic. I am not a Buddhist because I refuse to take the vows of Buddhism, but I think most Buddhist would welcome me if they knew how much I agree with them.

    I don’t just have atheist sympathies, I am a full blown atheist. I don’t believe in the supernatural at all, or any gods except for those of our own making and in our minds.

    For me thats the key of how it all works together. People underestimate the power of a rich mental life. For me to explain how I put all this together fully will take a lot more than this response, but its part of what I hope to accomplish with this blog.

    Though the main thing I want to accomplish with this blog is simple dialogue, like you and I are having right now.

    I will give you the quick and dirty version. I am fascinated by the universalism of several symbols and occult beliefs (I would toss in most mainstream religious beliefs like communion for Christians, and the prayers to the Kaba for muslims in with occult beliefs). I am also very fascinated by meme theory which roughly states that ideas and behaviors evolve in a parallel way to Darwinian evolution. Meaning that, like genes, memes use us to replicate themselves.

    These observations make symbols and ideas an obviously powerful thing. The power of symbols and ideas and rituals allow humans to transform themselves. This transformation factor is an unbelievably powerful thing to me.

    A person who can transform themselves according to their will has attained a great and powerful tool.

    I would also like to point out that Occult, if my understanding is correct, merely means secret knowledge. I see that occultists like Crowley and others have been cultivating these symbols, ideas and rituals for a long long time. Centuries with the alchemists. Thousands of years with mystery cults. I think these ideas, symbols and rituals are powerful just as memes, just as ideas.

    I don’t think they have an un-natural power, the way that our neurons respond to these things is powerful. The way we use that interface to transform ourselves is powerful, and a worthy endeavor.

    I would also like to take this opportunity to say that it is not my primary goal to convert occultists into atheists. Though I think skeptical thinking is well represented among many occultists, at least based on what I hear on occultist podcasts.

    I do think that occultists who believe in the supernatural, and who believe in god(s) can still benefit from taking my memetic perspective on occultism. Without abandoning any of their beliefs.

    Philosophically speaking, if god(s) exist that does not exclude memes from doing the natural things that are easily observed.

    As a skeptic and an atheist, I endeavor to only make cases for things that can be seen or dismissed as natural phenomena objectively (as opposed to subjectively).

    I hope that my response shows that I am not trying to use this blog as a way to say, “silly occultists, I am an atheist and you should be one too.”

    (From my research it seems that atheist occultists are probably not so rare in the first place)

    What I am saying instead is, “brothers and sisters who study the occult (the hidden knowledge), I am an atheist and a skeptic who is studying the occult in this way and I would like to share what I think I observe.”

    I also believe this conversation goes both ways. I have gotten a lot out of the Thelemite beliefs in the True Will, the Perfect Self, and the Holy Guardian Angel. I was not going to learn about these things at my atheist meetings. I have taken these ideas and put my own spin on them, but I learned them from theistic occultists. And they have fully enriched my life.

    This blog is about coming together.

    I have also learned from my research that in the late 1800s, when the occult and atheist movements were both beginning to find their modern momentum, both occultists and atheists shared the banner of “freethinker” and usually belonged to the same social clubs, and embraced the same cultural goals (like women’s suffrage).

    I take some inspiration from this historical fact.

  3. Nolan Void says:

    And I find no problem with your outlook, in fact I think it fits pretty well with many lines of reasoning in various esoteric schools. I think the question for me is whether or not these memes are simply products of materialistic and deterministic forces, or if they have an intelligence of their own. The study of magic/occultism led me to conceive of the possibility of spirits, angels, demons, etc. as things that haunted our neural circuits, not just disembodied “ghosts” out in the aether somewhere. Do they have substance beyond what we give to them? It certainly seems as if memetic entities can “enter” into an unguarded consciousness and use it up or possess it, if you will. But whether or not these types of entities are beings unto themselves or the tools of more clever practitioners that have sort of flourished and taken on a life of their own as they were sent out into the world remains unanswered for me.

    There are so many possibilities and elements of our experience that seem to have been deliberately denied to us by unseen forces over the years I think we have to question both belief and non-belief. When I typically hear a person claiming to be an atheist, it seems as if it is a declaration of certitude that there is nothing more to heaven and earth than dreamt of in our philosophies, much the same way the true believers declare with certitude that there is a panopoly of supernatural forces out there watching us from the abyssal and elysian vistas. In many cases the argument that I make to either side of these groups is that they are one in the same, just two opposing faces of a single coin, which as you can imagine doesn’t often do much to ingratiate me to either group. I would imagine in light of this blog, you have at least run in to some of the same sentiment. After all, there would be no gap to bridge if everyone were on the same page. How do you feel about these divisions? What methods, if any, do you use to cut away the biases of either side? Are not the majority of our peers evenly affect by what seems to be, to paraphrase Colin Wilson, equally unhealthy psychological needs to believe or disbelieve? Is there not a danger that even skepticism itself can become not merely a perception of what is available, but a view in and of itself that crowds out other possibilities? In regards to our ideas about memes, it would seem that they often form into these schema/paradigms that almost try to defend themselves against other offending bits of information that “threaten” their livelihood/structure/hold on an individual’s consciousness. For me these are the most subtle and dangerous threats to free thinking.

  4. mindcore says:

    I would submit that consciousness is not something that is well understood, most neuroscientists and psychologists won’t touch it with a 10 foot pole, and when they do they are refuted so severely by philosophers that the issue is nowhere near any kind of academic consensus. Which leaves open a great deal of possibilities for minds the likes of which science has yet to encounter.

    There are a couple of things I want to address with your statement about atheists. I have never met an atheist who thought that human beings knew all there was to know. In fact all of the atheists I have met have been passionately interested in expanding the field of human knowledge and are usually extremely interested in one or another unanswered scientific question. The idea that atheists think that they know everything is unfair, prejudiced, and contrary to my experience which includes being a member of several atheist and skeptical organizations and I have attended one international atheist conference). Atheists can be assholes, and dogmatic. But the majority of them seem to share a common love for science, and science is built on reverence for unanswered questions.

    Unfortunately your assertion that atheists can be quick to be dismissive about lots of things is true.

    I believe that all atheists are somewhat agnostic. I use the term atheist as opposed to agnostic because the second you call yourself agnostic it seems a target visible only to those looking to proselytize appears on your face. It also tends to carry this idea that you are on the fence about these things, I am not in a 50% state of uncertainty. Atheists, that understand science and logic, usually will acknowledge when pressed a certain amount of uncertainty.

    What I am opposed to, more than belief in any god(s), is faith. I will define faith for this purpose as it is usually practiced: belief without evidence. When one is opposed to faith, one might as wall be called an atheist.

    In fact, what I love about occultists, is many seem to be researching their views and looking for evidence, though usually subjective personal experience, to validate them. This is not faith, this is intelligence.

    Equally I believe it is important to always consider that I could be wrong. If I can imagine a way in which I could be wrong, then I am open to other possibilities. But I still bet my intellectual energy, my lifestyle, my values on what I currently believe. If I can’t imagine a way I could still be wrong, I still accept a possibility that I could be wrong based on my own limited knowledge and experience.

    I think its important for me to consider intelligent people to be honest unless proven otherwise, when someone’s beliefs are justified by experience and research then even if I disagree with them on their explanation I can still get some value from them and their thoughts. Perhaps even contribute to finding an answer that is satisfactory to both of us.

    For my own beliefs I prefer to limit myself to things that I can justify with an objective naturalist (materialist) model of the universe. If I say something is true I want people to be able to test it, or at least look into it objectively. My meme theory of occult practice may turn out to be bullshit. I am okay with that.

    As I lay out more and more stuff about my own occult practice and occult work I want it to be something atheists and occultists can find useful because its all based on this kind of perspective. The idea is even if you believe in stuff I don’t believe, I am trying to focus on things that we can all believe in because they are easily detectable, measurable, observable, objective and scientific. Within the reach of anyone.

    For example if your magic spell works because of a force unknown to science that doesn’t mean the ritual is not having a psychological effect on you. In fact this is something that is easily verified if one looks at components and peer reviewed empirical research from psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, etc. Much like scientists have recently done with meditation.

    But I am also mindful that until Richie Davidson and Jon Kabat Zinn began to study meditation physiologically it was dismissed as pseudoscience. Now its not.

    Alchemists did not have the modern scientific methods at their disposal when they began to map out many of the elements of the periodic table.

    I believe that esoteric and occult practices have a healthy historical tradition of being at the cutting edge of discovering new things. Things that can eventually be understood, measured, and studied objectively by scientific methods.

    I imagine that is true now.

    For this reason I don’t want to be dismissive about things that I don’t believe in.

    But I don’t want to sound too nice either. The world is full of gullible small minded people, I am cautious about who I give my time to. I may be trying to be open minded, but my time is exclusive territory.

    Your comments show that you are obviously an intelligent and well read practitioner, so I feel like we can both grow from this dialogue. I am bracing myself though for dogma from both atheists and occultists who dismiss my efforts and who are more interested in persuading or criticizing than they are about achieving mutual growth and understanding.

    People who approach the dialogue dogmatically from either side are just wasting everyone’s time.

    Yet, I am trying to make the point that there are not two sides to this issue; esotericism, occultism, spirituality, etc. There are as many sides as there are people willing to discuss it, study it, and try to understand it.

    I hope that answers some of your questions.

    The idea that memes have a mind of their own is definitely fair. In the same way that genes work to get themselves replicated, sometimes to the detriment of the organism that they help build. For example a gene for aggression may have replicated itself effectively by making aggressive humans more likely to reproduce, but in modernity makes the life of the individual human have complications. Memes do this too, though much much faster, since every time they are communicated they are successfully passing themselves along. They don’t have to wait for an organism to reach a mating cycle, and gestate, in order to copy themselves like genes do.

    Meme theory may also turn out to be bullshit. Its still a fledgling field.

    But if memes are any idea that gets communicated the only way to escape them is to not think and not communicate.

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