The Present Moment: a Buddhist fetish

NOWHaving jumped in and out of Buddhist circles many times over the last decades, Glenn Wallis’ critique of a common pet sound bite used in Western Buddhism rings totally accurate to me: “be in the present moment”. I never liked the phrase, felt it mistaken and certainly knew it was an excuse not to think or justify some unrelated point.

Here are some of the values Glenn claims the phrase is used to signal:

  • an attitude of quiescence
  • passivity in relation to social formations
  • privileging pristine understanding over messy active analysis
  • a sense of superiority
  • belief in utopia

Consensus Buddhism” is the term David Chapman uses to label the sanitized, idealized, and romanticized forms of Buddhism permeating the West. In Glenn Wallis’ article he uses the term “X-Buddhism” to describe something similar, though these two authors approach their critiques of Buddhism differently. But in case you read Glenn’s article, I thought you’d like to know the jargon.

Is there value to recognizing and taming the infatuations people can have with their future or their pasts that can be crippling? Yes, but X-Buddhism goes way beyond this simple insight and uses “the present moment” phrase as a rhetorical trope. I recently ran into the Christian phrase “tough love” being used as a rhetorical trope also. The use of this Buddhist phrase struck me as having similar signaling function to the Christian rhetoric in that the both exceed any factual claim and are instead used primarily as manipulative signals.


Pic credit: explosion borrowed from here to make the illustration.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “The Present Moment: a Buddhist fetish

  1. Although the sentiment is lovely, I find the phrase a logical impossibility. There is no present, only past and anticipatory/predicted future. Light travels at the speed of, well, light, yet our brains do not process and store information (the unfolding reality) at anywhere near that speed. We are, as such, forever inhabiting the past.

  2. I once told a squirrel to be in the present moment. He stopped burying nuts and sat with me staring at the wall. I think he reached Nirvana that winter. He looked so peaceful and spiritual all skinny and frozen in the snow.

  3. @john: “lovely” is right, just lovely. “Lovely” is for romantics.

    @Abel: LOL — cracked me up. Thanx

  4. @ john zande 02/02/2014 at 9:25 am

    I agree with you. We cannot catch present; by the time we realize it; it has already passed and become past. In absolute sense; past, present and future are the same; part of the unseen.

    It is an attribute of the One-True-God that he knows the seen or present and unseen:

    [23:93] Knower of the unseen and of the seen! Exalted therefore is He above all that which they associate with Him!

    I think there is nothing from Buddha to live in the present and to ignore past and future.

Please share your opinions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s