9.1 Imperfect Buddha Podcast Meets non-Buddhism

This episode tackles a complex but thoroughly important topic, namely non-Buddhism. A theoretical project/applied critique of Buddhism as ideology; as an unintentional prison. This work gets at the heart of what’s missing in Buddhism and Buddhist discourse; a failure to understand the collective formation of selves. Due to such, Buddhism operates at the level of the individual and the abstract mythical landscape that is the six realms. It fails to understand the collective formation of selves and the omnipresent role of ideology in the mass suffering and ignorance that grips our species. Non-Buddhism is here to wake Buddhists up to this ignored and uncomfortable reality.

Glenn Wallis is the architect of this wondrous and terrible journey into the heart of darkness. He is a wordsmith and profoundly insightful corrupter of all that is beloved and pure in Buddhism in its guise as escape from reality. He is also a punk rock driven despiser of conformity and liberal ignorance. Glenn may be more compassionate than many realise as he provokes whilst simultaneously offering western Buddhist a way out of their voluntary imprisonment in the false promise of Buddhist refuge.

Stuart and I tackle the vocabulary, the concepts, the philosophy, the hard business of thinking, so that you dear listener can get a grasp on one of the most radical critiques of Buddhism to emerge in its entire history. Really.

Will it withstand the power of insight? Will it remain intact? Will it be changed by those who get it? Who knows? That’s in part going to be up to you.

Can your Buddhist identity take it? Can you withstand the depth of dismantling decimation? Can you handle the truth?

Find out by checking out the latest and greatest of recent Imperfect Buddha podcast episodes. Get some non- going on.


The Site speculativenonbuddhism.com/about-2/
The PDF speculativenonbuddhism.com/2011/11/18/…n-buddhism/
The Book www.amazon.com/Cruel-Theory-Prac…ism/dp/8792633234
The Man glennwallis.com/
The Song www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLJal76Uk3U
The Article posttraditionalbuddhism.com/2015/01/02/…on-duality/
Francois Laurelle presents non-Buddhism www.onphi.net/texte-a-new-presen…philosophy-32.html
Introduction to non-Philosophy www.google.it/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&…NQXp_fTH3yNDqEwAjw
Some Fun: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r-e2NDSTuE





  1. Well, reading that introduction to your podcast only now, I must say the second paragraph sounds a bit too adulating (already commented here => https://www.facebook.com/imperfectbuddha/posts/1179010095474391). And the rest sounds almost like a kind of evangelicalism is at work here.

    Let’s add this: As it has been hammered home again and again on the Speculative Non-Buddhism blog: thought is collective. If you single out one person and attribute to him that “profoundly insightful” ingenuity that is contradictory to the theory of collective thinking.


    • Ja Comrade; Only groups, no individuals. Well, I disagree. Individuality and collectivity co-exist, I don’t see them as always and forever opposed. The two have their place and roles, someone has to make the initial effort, construct the text, make the speech, it almost never ends up being a group but an individual willing to swim against the tide. I see no problem in honoring that.

      I assume by collective thought you are referring to those thinkers that provided the basis for Glenn’s initial SNB heuristic and then the wider social conditions that formed him and allowed such a project to emerge? Eventually including those who engaged at the site, wrote, commented, etc? Which is fair as far as the whole SNB project is concerned, but episode 9.1 is specifically about the heuristic so Glenn be da man.

      By the way, it’s also a form of innocuous advertising and deliberately OTT.


  2. Matthew,

    it’s not my position that there is only collective thought. I just remark that that was hammered home at the SNB-blog with some verve. The “collective/individual” is a thought of scission. A dialectical scission of the real in Laruelle’s view. The point is: There is an unnamed and unthought third from which only this could be thought. A kind of transcendental glue that makes it possible to think in such a way. That invisible glue makes it look like natural that there is something individual and something collective and it makes it look literally impossible to think something else. Or can you imagine such an other? So, no, that’s not my position. I just wanted to point to a contradiction which (quite naturally) is born with the scission.

    Regarding the adulation. I see now the possible irony in our phrasing.


    • Thanks for that clarification. It makes me think of Gilles Deleuze’s idea of a plane of immanence, which I discovered very recently. He seems to be attempting to get round the idea and description limitations of dialectical splits by placing all categories on a plane in which there are degrees of distance, relationships, and so on, rather than opposing, fixed binaries. This seems a useful contribution to the development of process, relational ontology in the way that Adrian Ivakhiv has discussed.

      Of course, the creation of dichotomies allows us to get a bearing on something in order to make sense of our world. As pedagogical tools, they serve a very useful purpose. Is dissolving these artificial boundary markers a worthwhile endeavour? Or are we simply renegotiating them?

      Because of our finite nature, I would assume we will always be bound up with them, as we exist within language and ideology, within which they are asserted, formed, seemingly solidified. Thinking in and around them is certainly a worthwhile and essential endeavour for thinking a new and thinking our way out of ideological identification. Perhaps the further development of the non- to incorporate a third as indivisible from such dialectical pairs would be a useful addition? I wonder if we might end up with yet another form of ideational entrapment.

      I don’t know of course. I’m just thinking out loud. I’m still trying to make sense of the notions of immanence and transcendence so i guess it’s no surprise that an assertion we made in the podcast emerged as it did.


      • Hi Matthew, however that might be with Deleuze, artificial boundary markers, how (and if at all) we are bound to them, our finite nature, if we exist in language and ideology, etc. a worthwhile endeavor could be to investigate from what point of departure we develop such concepts. Deleuze/Guattari’s “What is Philosophy” might be helpful here (as a lot of other stuff). I think the point is to realize what invisible transcendent point one is using when one uses such concepts. What, for example, is our finite nature? Is this really an intransitive truth? Or is it another composition in a special historical situation in which we have developed a certain concept describing and forming the human. Or do we really live within language and ideology? I mean, at once the syntactical nature of this sentence itself makes it clear that there still is a transcendent particle leading it – the we – which renders the whole assertion paradoxical as long as we do not form a meaning which gets rid of that particle. But again, the presupposition I assert here – the meaning – still forms a transcendence. Facing that Deleuze/Guattari somewhere in the mentioned book say: transcendence or chaos! So to your question, yes we end up “in yet another ideational entrapment”. But the good message is, it’s not an end and it does not need to be an entrapment.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi – I’ve recently listened to this podcast, good direction to go in so thanks for putting in the effort and making this episode.

    To speak from a personal point of view (what else can I do?)… I first read the SNB things just over a year ago, I think I followed a link from the US ‘Secular Buddhist Association’ site (by the way – it was their podcast that drew my attention to yours). Early on I read something there which said (I paraphrase) ‘If you’re new to Buddhism you probably won’t get this. Go away for a few years and then you’ll see what we’re on about’.

    I’ve never really gone any further than the fringes of ‘organised’ Buddhism. I recognise a lot of the issues that come up in the heuristic from my own experience of having a religious Christian upbringing (up to the age of 19). However, other than reading books (admittedly at the secular end of the spectrum, Stephen Batchelor etc.) and a short retreat and a few meetings with a local Theravada group I’ve not experienced much of the institutionalised, closed (football-field!) Buddhist universe.

    Q1: Do you think that I can take the SNB project to be a big warning sign that says ‘DON’T GO THERE’ (as in, if you’re not already in just steer clear) with regards to Buddhism, particularly institutionalised, traditional Buddhism? I’m thinking of a vague analogy with my own profession (school teaching) where people who come in to school to do ‘observations’ prior to deciding to train to be a teacher are often exhorted by current teachers to steer clear, find another career, don’t even get involved in the first place.

    Q2: Have you come across the Middle Way Society? Its UK-based, very early days, but it was started by Robert Ellis who was moving away from the ‘secular Buddhism’ idea towards something that was workable and livable, but rejected any particular authority (e.g. ‘The Buddha’) and also rejected absolutisation of any beliefs. I don’t know his work overlaps enough with the scope of your podcast to get him in as an interview guest.


    PS I’m going to re-read the pdf now. I might be able to make more sense of it.


    • Hi Jim,
      I would start by saying each to his own as it’s not my place to tell people how they should be relating to any form of Buddhism. Informing and providing critique is different of course. As adults, choices need to be made but an appreciation for the complexity and inter-twining concerns and needs means that I am more generous towards ‘traditional’ and ‘innovative’ forms of Buddhism in the West than many of the SNB folks, specifically because I am loathe to painting the world in broad strokes.
      That said, all Buddhist organisations are flawed (as their human), filled with contradictions, have implicit and explicit objectives and social norms that lead to subjectification over time. The Secular Buddhist folks are working out what’s important for them and attempting to negotiate their relationship with Buddhism with a specific set of values. On the whole, I see what they are doing as positive and harmless for those involved. There are some very loose connections to the work I’m doing but their approach draws on a number of fantasies; a reliance on the Buddha in his original guise as authority and as existing apart from the narrative from constructed about him by followers, an attachment to the earliest remaining forms of Buddhism as the most authentic (seen as rational and compatible with science), and an excessive dedication to the rational. This approach, however, is very attractive to many folks, so if you are drawn towards it, go for it and see what happens.
      I don’t know enough about the Middle Way Society to comment, even after reading the intro at their site. I did once buy a book by Ellis, which I think was something to do with what he viewed as the trouble with Buddhism. I never finished it as I found it poorly written and rather dull.
      The SNB work provides a number of tools for thinking about Buddhism and spirituality in general, which you rightly acknowledge through reference to your experience with Christianity. Such tools also can help us when examining subjective experience too, as well as allegiances to stances, ideas, beliefs and seemingly fundamental drives, such as the desire for escape. I think you can apply the tools from it to the Secular Buddhist project and Ellis’ work as well and see what happens.
      I think it’s worth breaking down what is meant by ‘workable’ and ‘liveable’ and what it would mean to ‘reject absolutisation’ of beliefs. There are a lot of implicit assumptions in making each claim.


      • Thanks for the considered reply, and fair enough on all points.

        Looking forward to the Glenn Wallis interview appearing online. [I know he’s moved on into radically different territory since then, but I rather liked his ‘Basic teachings of the Buddha’ book. In due course I’ll buy the Cruel Theory Sublime Practice book]


      • Slightly longer reply to your reply…

        When I say I rather liked ‘Basic Teachings of the Buddha’ by Glenn, what I mean is that if I had to pick only one “buddhist book” to keep, then this would be it. It represents the kind of ‘secular buddhism’ that is attractive to me, but I’m still wary about plunging right in to a particular belief system – probably partly because of my experience of being brought up in one and then leaving it when I reached adulthood, also partly because of the worldview I’ve acquired over the years (nearly 40), and partly because of the ‘resonance’ with things I’ve come across like the SNB project. And probably a whole load of other things that I’m not even consciously aware of.

        With regards to the Middle Way Society, my understanding of it is that you keep doing what you’re doing (Buddhist, Christian, atheist, whatever else) but above all you question your assumptions and the givens in your views – and absolutisations are a fairly good indicator that you’re being blinkered in some way. (And so I guess I’m assuming that being ‘blinkered’ is a bad thing…). Aside from that, I’ve had some excellent non-fiction book recommendations from them (e.g. “Being Wrong” by Kathryn Shulz, and several more) and the podcast guests are a varied bunch with some interesting views, or views on views, or life stories, or projects or research, etc. I feel quite ‘at home’ with all that, as I do with the secular fringes of Buddhism.

        PS Thanks also for the Jonathan Meades tip-off, I’ve enjoyed his stuff on TV before but I must have missed the window of opportunity on iPlayer with the latest Mussolini docu-film. Hopefully it’ll come round again.


    • Hi drjimchampion, the heuristic might be read in different ways.

      It could be read as an document of frustration. That is, people, like me, might have had a very idealized view about Buddhism, not regarding a Buddhist kind of salvation but about its openness towards an investigation of the human situation. What instead happens to one in many cases is the realization that Western Buddhism mostly is a form of autoimmunized ideological formation, Wallis’ “ideological opacity”, in which people learn to speak in a certain language, “buddhemes”, which are presented as a kind of “ventriloquism”, powered by “detail fetish” and “exemplicative braggadocio” producing in the end the “voltaic network of postulation” and “the principle of sufficient Buddhism”. Nothing here is open to investigation. It’s a form of a cult.

      That said one can read the heuristic also as a kind of primer what to expect when one is new to Buddhism and one can use it then to check to what extend in a given sangha the principle of sufficient Buddhism is going to make impossible any investigation. One could check, for example, to what extent a given sangha would be able to go in the direction of “postulate deflation” and towards “recommission of postulates”. But that of course leads to a very uncanny result: there remains nothing buddhistic, certainly not in the sense of Buddhism we know it, that invention of the 19th century.

      A third point is that Wallis’ in the Heuristic only alludes towards a thinking beyond esoteric Buddhism or X-Buddhism, making it not clear that there could be made a clear distinction between X-Buddhism as that flat-world view only true believers believe in and a thinking which developed in India and other world regions and which is only partially translated and comprehended today. “Engaging Buddhism” by Jay Garfield, that’s my standard example, presents such a thinking and might be worthwhile investigating.

      I think with this background in view it is very important to think about ones own motivations for looking into Buddhism. One might be interested in meditation techniques. In this case one finds a rich field indeed – which is entirely covered with meaningless folclore, that is cultural artifacts, and the ventriloquism of those feeding their narcissistic neurosises with their mighty teacher attitude (not to speak about the Jesus like feeling of those newborn bodhisattvas). One might be interested in mahayana philosophie, in which case one also finds a rich and vertile field for investigation. Or one might look for means to end suffering – in which case Buddhism mostly only overs platitudes. Whatever motivation one has, I would advice anybody to at least become clear of them parallel to any investigation into modern day Buddhism. In such a way even the most stupid X-Buddhism might become in the end, in its implosion, a liberating means.

      And above all: Have fun.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Having read the ‘Nascent Speculative Non-Buddhism’ article (the “pdf” alluded to in the podcast”) and some other blog posts on the SNB site, probably the most helpful part was this one:


        which contains an excerpt from the Introduction to the book ‘Cruel Theory|Sublime Practice’. This comes at things from a different angle, hinging on the “single most important question for us”, namely ‘Is Buddhism fit for modern life?’. That’s quite a helpful way of framing the issue, and the thing about non-Buddhism seems to be that its the only angle from which this question can be asked and investigated (i.e. if you’re “a Buddhist” you’ll dismiss it with the answer ‘yes’ and if you’re “not a Buddhist” you’ll dismiss it with the answer ‘no’).

        I think the extract sets the scene well – if you’ve not read it (Matthew) then check it out.


      • Ok, having read your reply and listened to the 9.2 podcast interview with Glenn, I think I’ve got a clearer idea. It’s not that SNB says “Don’t go there” with regards to Buddhism, but instead if you do go there to go with things like the SNB heuristic which allow you to expose things that really aren’t fit for modern life (you know, in the context of the Great Feast of Knowledge etc.)… It may even be that none of it is fit, but that’s something to explore.


  4. “I’m still trying to make sense of the notions of immanence and transcendence so i guess it’s no surprise that an assertion we made in the podcast emerged as it did.” I don’t see a split between immanence and transcendence. I have experienced an immanence as such an intense experience that becomes a transcendent experience. I call it “transcendent immanence.” I’m not sure but I think it might be similar to what Glenn calls “radical immanence.”


  5. @drjimchampion: Whether or not to explore Buddhism? Good question. I would say yes, but keep your eyes wide open and question everything. Be skeptical. Don’t accept anything at face value. An awful lot of contemporary Buddhism is full of mystifications, magical thinking and delusions. As Steinglass said, I found that it was by breaking through all the delusions of Buddhist religion that I was able to completely wake up and be liberated. For a synopsis of my experience in Buddhism, check out the following; https://engagedbuddhism.net/2016/11/13/in-my-tribe-confessions-of-a-post-buddhist-dissident/


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