In this episode, writer, critic, Buddhist scholar and Philadelphia punk legend punk Glen Wallis returns to the Imperfect Buddha podcast for the second part of our discussion on non-Buddhism and its consequences. We go deep into an issue at the heart of contemporary western Buddhism: the seemingly irresolvable division between immanence and transcendence, which in lay man’s terms is the distinction between spirituality as escape or as embodiedness. You may not know how deep these two go down the rabbit hole of modern spirituality and how they sit right at the dysfunctional heart of Buddhism. Applying constructive critique, we look at how Buddhists and teachers avoid the consequences of thinking them through to the very end and how that lack of insight leads to all manner of escapism and confusion.
This is an episode full of much of what Buddhists admire; compassion, wisdom, insight, perception, generosity. For those who don’t know Glenn, they will find the voice of a rare intelligence and generosity.
We additionally explore death as cessation, peak states and problems surrounding the way we think about them, materialism V idealism, collective and personal freedom, and the social ramifications of it all.
We also explore the construction of new ways of thinking about Buddhism’s greatest gifts of insight and potential methods for liberating Buddhism from itself and in so doing Buddhist practitioners that they may come to Buddhism with fresh eyes and greater imaginative capacity.
I consider this the most valuable interview undertaken by the podcast so far and a must for advanced Buddhists, Buddhist teachers and those with a rich understanding of this religion, spiritual path and philosophy.
Don’t be afraid. Don’t be a cynic, grab a stool and come on in. There has never before been a conversation quite like it in the history of western Buddhism. It’s a revolution folks, so don’t miss out!
Imperfect Buddha episode 9.1 on non-Buddhism: Post-traditional-buddhism – 91-imperfect-buddha-podcast-meets-non-buddhism
Imperfect Buddha episode 9.2 part one of Glenn’s interview https://soundcloud.com/post-traditional-buddhism/92-imperfect-buddha-podcast-glenn-wallis-on-non-buddhismpart-1
Speculative Non-Buddhism website: speculativenonbuddhism.com/about-2/
Glenn Wallis’ personal site: glennwallis.com/
Ruin interview: http://www.lionsroar.com/meet-ruin-the-fi…dhist-punk-band/
Cruel Theory Sublime Practice: http://www.eyecornerpress.com/?p=418
Episode music by Bristol (UK) based post-punk band Idles. Follow the links for more great music and tour dates;
Matt, you were inquiring with Glenn on how you could devise a “practice” around this set of teachings. It seems to me that it would be something like the “practice of philosophy.” “The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice” by PETER SLOTERDIJK is a good example of this kind of practice. I recently read Uma Charkravarti’s “Social Dimensions of Early Buddhism” where she describes the practice of the Shramanas. Wandering ascetic philosophers of all kinds (Jains, Ajivikas, Buddhists, etc.) would go from town to town and meet in “groves” or parks specially arranged for them by local authorities. These were more than just campsites. They were places where ascetics of all persuasions would discuss and debate ideas and philosophies of the day. We get the impression from contemporary Buddhism that the monks primary task was meditation. But I got the sense from reading this book (and Trevor Ling’s “The Buddha”) that their primary practice was learning, teaching and debate. We have inherited a very weak Buddhist practice that is only about meditation as self-care. I have never been encouraged by any Buddhist organization to question or debate anything. That’s why I keep my distance from most Buddhist organizations and stick with the sangha online. That’s where the debate is happening, at sites like Post-Traditional, Non-Buddhist, Secular Buddhist, and others. I hope my site, engagedbuddhism.net also becomes a place for debate; I recently started a forum section for discussing politics, social justice, ecology, and culture from a post-Buddhist perspective.
I think that there is way too much uncritical acceptance of Wallis’ work and assumptions in this podcast, ironically treating him as the great Oracle on western Buddhism. So here are some of my thoughts on reading his nascent speculative non Buddhism paper, taken from a post on dhammawheel.
Wallis claims that “all forms of Buddhism are identical. What makes them so is that they are all governed by what I call “buddhistic decision:” the syntactical structure that constitutes all things, discourse, and people, “Buddhist.” Decision thus constitutes both the ideological nature, and the ideological constant, of “Buddhism.””
This is definitely a big claim, to say that all forms of Buddhism are identical and based on a single decision. Wallis doesn’t go on to use careful scholarship, anthropology or text critical method to show this however, he simply goes on to affirm several views which are critical of Buddhist theories. This is mainly based on the work of Francois Laurelle, who has the view that all philosophy is based on a divisive “decision” and that it was mostly ideological and not self critical – hence his non-philosophy is an attempt at critiquing philosophy from the outside. There is no attempt to prove or argue for Laurellianism, and to prove that what applies for Western philosophy applies for Buddhism in this text. One could argue for example, that at the core of Buddhism is a practice, or a method, or as others have argued, a religious/spiritual experience. But Wallis, following Laurelle, has “decided” (ironically) that this analysis applies to all the myriad forms of Buddhisms in the world. Even more ironically, his decision indeed splits thought into that which is “ideology” and that which is “critique”, which is just as as much of an arbitrary and baseless de-cision as what he seeks to critique.
Wallis sees his project as: “The theory is designed with three primary functions in mind: to uncover Buddhism’s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by— especially by—Buddhists themselves); to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions; and to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.”
So far so good, though I would argue that the analysis of the structure of Buddhist thought has been a feature of Buddhist philosophy from the beginning, and continued / was refined in India with the development of Buddhist philosophy and its arguments against other Hindu systems. Buddhism does see itself as a view, an ideology, it just sees itself as a view which is skillful and teaches one not to get too attached to it. Does this mean that Buddhist self criticism has always been ideal and that it hasn’t missed important issues? No. But it does not mean Buddhism cannot be self critical, indeed, history shows that Buddhism has been self critical. It did not take the coming of French philosophy for human beings to think reflectively and critically about their own thoughts.
In fact, every religion, every system of philosophy is self reflective in this way, asking the question how and what it means to be part of itself, and Wallis makes the error of assuming he is somehow the first to analyze Buddhism in this manner, as if only he has the capacity to analyze Buddhism in a ‘meta’ fashion. These kinds of large metanarrative claims are common in Critical theory.
Wallis also makes the claim that non-Buddhism is a disinterested, neutral enterprise, and hence is better able to critique Buddhism, than all the various forms of Buddhism, which are blind to the Buddhist structure they are embedded in. But this is just a form of special pleading on his part, why non-Buddhism would be neutral is just taken for granted and not argued for, in fact, non-Buddhism is not neutral but simply has different values and views, mainly, those taken from thinkers like Laurelle, Brassier, Lacan etc. In short, it’s another ideology which claims to be neutral but is nothing of the sort. The language, method, presuppositions, are taken from recent French thought. So what is Wallis’ analysis of the “decision” at the heart of Buddhism’s structure?
“The word “Buddhist” names a person who has performed a psychologically charged determination that Buddhism provides thaumaturgical refuge. In this sense, decision is an emotional reliance on or hopefulness for the veracity of Buddhist teachings. As such, affective decision violates the methodological spirit of all legitimate knowledge systems, whether in the sciences or in the humanities.”
Wallis here makes a statement that he does not back up with evidence, then uses that statement to critique Buddhism. The truth is that what makes someone a Buddhist is not one single thing, not one single decision. Anyone with a good understanding of the psychology of religion understands that religious consciousness, identity and experience is multi-valent and complex and includes one’s culture, one’s community, etc. Morever there is no reason given why this is chosen as the single thing that makes someone a Buddhist – it is arbitrary. Wallis could have easily used the Buddhist idea that Buddhism means waking up to ‘things as they are’ or that Buddhisms are all just skillful means to end human suffering, two common ways that Buddhists define themselves and their religion, but he doesn’t, he takes one religious element (refuge) and misinterprets it. Faith and refuge in Buddhism is not some ideological affirmation to a creed. It is a certain trust in the teachings which arises from one’s personal practice experience. Of course, Wallis does not go into the complexities of the Buddhist concepts of faith because it would mess with his neat and simplistic just so stories which themselves are based on accepting the non-philosophy postulates of Francois Laurelle.
Wallis continues :” for Buddhism, decision, in its cognitive dimension, consists in the positing of a dyad (and countless ensuing sub-dichotomies) that serves to split reality in an attempt to comprehend reality, together with a unifying structure that grounds the dyad transcendentally and, simultaneously, by virtue of the necessary intermixture, partakes of immanence. “Decision” is thus meant literally. It involves a cutting off, a scission, of reality in the positing of particular terms of representation. The purpose of scission is to come to an understanding of the actual, immanent world. In the very process of understanding, though, decision divides the world between ostensibly evident immanence and ideally grounding transcendence. The decisional division is between (1) a major dyad, consisting of a conditioned given and that which conditions it, a fact, and (2) a prior synthesis necessary for
grounding (transcendentally) and guaranteeing the (immanent) unity of the dyad. In being both intrinsic to the dyad and constituting an extrinsic, transcendent warrant, synthesis is thus a “divided unity.” Decision is, given its specifically Buddhist terms and the representations that ensue from those terms, always, already, and only a buddhistic understanding of the world. Buddhistic decision is, moreover, precisely constitutive of that understanding.”
Although phenomenality is implied in the terms given (datum), fact (faktum) and synthesis, no components of the Buddhist decisional structure need necessarily be empirical. Like all ideological systems, Buddhism, of course, holds that its postulates are inextricably implicated in phenomenal reality and given to the most perspicuous thought. This, even though reality is, as a major Buddhist axiom has it, “empty of inherent existence.” Indeed, Buddhism’s estimation of itself as paladin of empty reality coupled with its axiomatic representations of reality is what constitutes it as “a faith, with the sufficiency of faith, intended by necessity to remain empty but which necessarily evades this void by its repopulation with objects and foreign
goals provided by experience, culture, history, language, etc.” Buddhist cognitive decision consists in positing spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara) as a conditioned given and contingency (paticcasamuppada) as its conditioning fact.10 The machinery of Buddhist decision is particularly relentless in that it produces a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of sub-dichotomies that obtain from the dyad: suffering/ease, form/emptiness, delusion/awakening, bounded- ness/liberation, grasping/release, desire/renunciation, beneficial/detrimental, cause/effect, proliferation/concentration, and so on. ”
We see here that Wallis simply affirms that “Buddhism” (presumably, all of Buddhism, taken as a monolith) philosophically divides reality in trying to understand it. He glosses over major differences in the various Buddhist traditions and their view of reality, Shunyata, dependent origination, etc and takes as his base the spurious assumption that all Buddhism holds the same ontological perspective of patticcasamuppada. In taking Buddhism as a philosophical project to be critiqued, he also ignores the fact that first and foremost it is a spiritual discipline meant to produce results, not a philosophy in the vein of Western philosophy. Wallis seems to assume that that he can apply the methods of Laruelle’s non-philosophy to Buddhism, as if Buddhism was of the same nature and structure as Western philosophy. A serious mistake. One could also ask, why is the primary dyad dependent origination and samsara, why not suffering / non suffering? Why not ignorance / wisdom or conventional reality/ultimate reality. The very analytical structure of non Buddhism here appears quite arbitrary. Why even posit the need for an analysis through dyadic structure? Because Laruelle does it? Is it that philosophically illuminating to do so? Does it tell us something we didn’t already know about Buddhism? It doesn’t, and Wallis doesn’t answer these questions. He takes for granted that this kind of analysis will reveal some unknown structure to Buddhism. Let us see where he takes it:
[quote]”Finally, the structure that synthesizes, and thereby articulates the syntax of Buddhist decision is The Norm (dharma11; in contemporary Buddhist writing, this word is almost invariably topped, like the point of a Prussian Pickelhaube, with a Germanic capital D: The Dharma). Dharma is a multivalent term; but its salient sense for non-buddhism’s purposes can be summed up in the statement the dharma is the dharma because it mirrors the dharma::Buddhist teaching (dharma) is the norm of existence (dharma) because it mirrors cosmic structure (dharma). Hence, dharma as The Norm (capitalized word are synonymous terms): the cosmic Ought machine establishing the Scale of the All, the physical and perceptual-conceptual cosmos, in relation to humans; revealing the Patterns governing humans in the face of the All; setting the Standards of behavior of humans toward one another and toward all sentient beings; proclaiming the Archetypal Equation of the All and Buddhist teachings; Founding the teachings in the worldly sphere of human being; and providing the Touchstone for human
beings to the teachings. (I will, for reasons that should become clear, leave the term largely untranslated as The Dharma.) In Buddhist decision, The Dharma is the function that synthesizes the dyad of spatiotemporal vicissitude and contingency. Crucially, the dyad occurs nowhere, bears no sense, outside of this idealized representation.
In order to serve as the dyad’s synthesizing (and necessary) guarantor within the world that the spatiotemporal-vicissitude-contingency dyad aims to lend intelligibility, however, The Dharma must simultaneously be extrinsic to the world given by the dyad. The function of The Dharma, and nothing else whatsoever, articulates the syntactical relationship of contingency and spatiotemporal vicissitude. The Dharma—the tri-part buddhistic dispensation, truth, and cosmic structure—functions, then, as a gathering together of reality’s splintered whole. In performing its function, The Dharma must necessarily operate as both an intrinsic or immanent and extrinsic or transcendent feature of reality: intrinsic precisely because spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency immanently instantiates it; extrinsic because it transcendentally (ideally— in thought) grounds that instantiation. This operation constitutes an inescapable circularity. The premise (The Dharma is the case), is contained in the conclusion (thus spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and the conclusion, in the premise. In other words, the entire decisional structure of Buddhism amounts to an explanans (The Norm: The Dharma), that is always and already present in every instance of the very explanandum (phenomenal manifestation: spatiotemporal vicissitude-contingency), and an explanandum, every instance of which always and already attests to the truth of the explanans. In Buddhist terms: The samsara- paticcasamuppada dyad (including the countless posited dichotomous realities that flow from its fecund font), is visible through the pristine speculum of The Dharma. And The Dharma is visible in the contingent and dichotomous unfurling of the samsaric swirl that it, The Dharma minutely indexes. Indeed: the dharma is the dharma because it mirrors the dharma. Decisional circularity, or what Laruelle calls “auto-position,” constitutes Buddhism’s “specularity.” Buddhistic decision renders Buddhism a world-conquering juggernaut from which nothing can escape.”
Once again we have mere ex cathedra pronouncements. Without showing that his dyadic analysis is grounded on any Buddhist sources or even bringing any of these to support his argument that Dharma acts as some synthesizing force, Wallis just states his opinions. I’ll give him credit for admitting that the Dharma is a multivalent term, but then he goes on to take a single view of that term to place it at the center of his critique as if it was a perfect puzzle piece.
The Dharma is not supposed to be everything and to represent everything. In fact there are quite many things which the Buddha of the Pali Canon sets aside as unexplained (avyākata). The interpretation of patticcasamuppada as the general law of contingency is not the only interpretation of that concept, and there are many. Wallis argues that Buddhism uses a kind of circular reasoning here, but that is because he is viewing it solely as an ideological project. For him all Buddhisms and Buddhists are the same, “What makes
them the same is that they are all governed by buddhistic decision: the mixing of the immanently given world, empty reality as spatiotemporal vicissitude (samsara)/contingency (patticcasamuppada), with its transcendently given warrant, The Dharma (the norm).” But again, this analysis is simply affirmed and he does not attempt to prove how the lived experience of a Theravada Buddhist in lower Burma is the same exact ‘decision’ as an African American Millenial practicing Zen in California, and how their experiences are all based on the same structural syntax he has so decisively discovered through the reading of French philosophy.
What he is missing is the importance of Buddhist praxis as an act of phenomenal introspection and observation as well as the communal and social nature of religion. Hence the Dharma here is more of a map, or as said in the Buddhist texts, a raft, which is used as a way to particular spiritual experiences and understandings which are non conceptual. Once these are reached, the raft is discarded. The map is not the territory, the view is not to be attached to. Wallis seems to think about Buddhism as a philosopher would view a particular theory, and this is his main failure. As any Buddhist worth his salt would be able to explain, The Dharma is not some ideological mirror to view the world through, it is something to be put into practice within a community, a set of instructions to do for and along with others, it is performative. One applies the Dharmic map to the messy complexities of life and through this process, understanding arises. It is not to be expected that the Dharma perfectly reflects reality, for the Dharma can only be expounded through language, which as Buddhists often point out, is not reality itself. Wallis’ has critiqued Buddhism from a perspective which misses the practical down to earth function of the Dharma itself, which is seen by Buddhists as its ability to produce results. But Wallis simply redifines Dharma as an ideology and a Buddhist as someone who inhabits a Buddhist thought world – what he does is not important to Wallis.
Another mistake he makes here is an either or fallacy, or the fallacy of the excluded middle. Wallis sees the basic ideological categories as either immanent or transcendent. He excludes the possibility that there might be a middle way, or a way which avoids this duality. In fact he ignores that this is the default and most common Buddhist position and a foundation for much of Buddhist thought. He simply redefines Buddhism with dyadic formula, damn the sources.
So what is the point of non-Buddhism again? Wallis:
“And herein lies a crucial task for speculative non-buddhism. It concerns empty reality, or what Laruelle calls “radical immanence”—reality shorn of “hallucinatory” representation. The actual world is empty of Buddhism’s dharmic inventory. “Buddhism,” contrary to its narcissistic estimation of itself as custodian of “things as they are,” indexes nothing in the world. Indeed, in hyper-fulfillment of itself as principal representer of exigent human knowledge, “Buddhism” indexes an occlusion of the world. Buddhistic specularity is impossible without the splitting of The Dharma into both immanent and transcendent functions. Such splitting, however, irrevocably corrodes Buddhism’s integrity as arbiter of empty reality, of radical immanence. Stripped of specularity, Buddhism is, in virtually every instance of its dispensation, quickly overrun by science and the humanities. Buddhistic decision therefore constitutes an unbending resistance to the very world that it aims to index, reflexively projecting its dharmic dream onto every instance of empty reality’s unfolding. Indeed, without this resistance, there is no Buddhism. But in the same vein, without this resistance there is no non-buddhism. “
Here Wallis’ strawman of Buddhism show itself, the idea that the Dharma somehow divides the world, splits itself, is dyadic in structure and is totally unable to understand the world. He makes no attempt to prove this assumption, he merely trots it out to rhetorically attack his conception of all Buddhism and present his perspective as having some special perspective on Buddhism. He ingores what Buddhists mean when they say ‘things as they are’ or the phenomenal content and psychological effect of Buddhist practice and religious experience, or Buddhist goals which are not like the goal of traditional Western philosophy, an abstract concept of Truth. He then curiously defines non-Buddhism as having the same special perspective of reality that he denies of Buddhism, the ‘non hallucinatory’ understanding of ‘radical immanence’. The rhetorical trick is done in the open: create a strawman, destroy it and present your view as being the true inheritor of the project sought by your strawman. It is quite audacious and obvious if one pays attention.
The second part of the paper is a list of heuristic terms which Wallis believes are useful in analyzing Buddhism from a non-buddhist perspective. It’s amusing that within these list of terms are terms which criticize Buddhists for using their own terminology to explain reality, which he terms Buddhemes (Buddhist memes). Hilariously enough, Wallis has created a list of ‘non-Buddhemes’.
“The investigator must remain unbeholden to Buddhism’s structural schemes, rhetorical tropes, and decisional strategies. To these ends, speculative non-buddhism offers specific methodological operations, or a
heuristic. The terms of the heuristic may be viewed as exploratory postulates.”
Basically, he is going to free us from one structural scheme by feeding us another. You can smell the b.s.
Wallis critique of Buddhists as ventriloquistically repeating jargon, “buddhemes” is just an empty critique. People use language in all sorts of ways, it’s up to him to show and prove his far reaching claim that all Buddhists and all forms of Buddhism use Buddhist terms in an evasive and defensive sense. The truth is that some people do this kind of spiritual bypassing, and others don’t. That the language and ideas of Buddhism can be liberating and freeing and can also be stultifying if grasped “by the wrong end” as Nagarjuna would say. Like any worldview, it can be misused or corrupted. But for Wallis there is no nuance, no complexity; no, for him Buddhist language is always ideologically suspect, always mistaken, never helpful, never self critical. Buddhists always just repeat the ideology they’ve been fed.
Interestingly enough, this critique could easily be turned against him for sprinkling his work with continental philosophical jargon and assuming the truths of ‘non-philosophy’ apply to Buddhism. It’s funny that he gets upset when some folks criticized his work for being filled with jargon and called people anti-intellectual for that, while in his criticism of Buddhism he uses the same tactic of criticizing the linguistic style and choice of Buddhists. Instead of understanding what is happening in these situations, that the writer or speaker is simply using language as part of a larger ‘language game’ and entering in a historical conversation, Wallis makes the unfounded assumption that Buddhists who use posit Buddhist views and use Buddhist terminology are always just parroting what they’ve heard. While this intellectual attitude might be true for some individuals, it’s clear that this is not really an argument but an ad hominem – similar to what the Anglo American philosophers sometimes use dismissively against Continental philosophy (“its just obscurantism”). Wallis is basically calling all Buddhists sheep for doing what he does, understanding the world by using philosophical language they didn’t invent.
All in all, what I see Wallis doing in this text is building up a strawman of “Buddhism” as a single project, with no nuance, no insight into the complexities of the field of experiences, practices and views that term refers to. He takes a few Buddhist views and fixes them on a procrustean bed of academic Critical theory and philosophy, taking potshots at an immensely complex and variated religious tradition from a hastily built theoretical trench. He does this with abandon and with the oracular rhetoric of a prophet, but not with careful reasoning or analysis of any sources. His critique is heavy on style but light on substance and evidence. It merely appears profound. In this post I have sought to point out some of the places in which the hay sticks out, to problematize Wallis’ critique which hides behind a wall of jargon and show that it rests on a weak foundation indeed and that ironically, it tries to do what Buddhism does, provide us with a look at things as they are, but fails, because of its own ideological assumptions. Buddhism does need criticizing, we do need a way to critically examine Buddhism and there is some great scholarship out there doing that, this is not one of those works.
Note: I think there are some interesting essays and perspectives over at the speculative non-buddhism blog (there are different authors there, not just Wallis). There is definitely something to be said for some of their criticism of modern mindfulness and its appropriation by modern institutions as well their criticism of certain modern Buddhists.
Thanks for taking the time and trouble to work through the non-buddhist material a bit. The only point I can offer in response is that you seem to misunderstand the essential thrust of the non-buddhist project. It is not an analysis of Buddhism using academic methods. It is certainly not a new iteration of x-buddhism. In order to hear Buddhism’s feral howl, as opposed to its genteel pontification, I had to quiet its screeching ideological vibrato. Of course, this assumes or suspects or hopes that there is indeed a feral howl to be heard. That may be part of why the critique appears so strange or wrongheaded to you. I don’t know. Anyway, you will understand more and more of non-buddhism only as you continue to practice it. Non-buddhism is a theory-practice, or a practice-in-doing-theory, or just simply a practice. I say “continue” because, in your engagement as evidenced here, you have already begun!
Peace and thanks…
Your piece is very long and I can respond to just a few points. If you write another comment, please don’t post an entire article published elsewhere, but summarise and leave a link. Thanks.
Firstly, though, we love Mr Wallis’ work very much and were happy to awash it with praise and adoration. We’d do it again at the drop of a hat. Considering the poorly thought out criticisms most folks have thrown at it, we thought it deserved a big hug and a decent airing.
A couple of thoughts;
Glenn’s work is as much praxis as theory. You seem to have missed that point, which makes some of your criticisms misguided or not particularly interesting. They seem rather defensive in nature too. The social reasons why many folks got defensive after reading Glenn’s work were understandable but they acted as a great excuse for not thinking about Glenn’s work and its implication: A work which is playful and humorous, in case you hadn’t noticed.
In the original text he is describing the idealised Buddhist subject. Some degree of that idealised form will be present in all committed Buddhists, including yourself, if you happen to be a Buddhist. The recognition of such is helpful in understanding to what degree you are identified with the ideology of Buddhism. That’s a form of practice. In fact, Glenn’s work becomes most interesting when it’s seen in that way. One of the most common complaints about the work is that it’s ‘too theoretical’ but contemplation, learning and reflection are part of many schools of Buddhism, and more importantly, standard practices in any decent education system. The key is to engage in reflection that disrupts the maintenance of ideology and gives space for the individual to find their own voice rather than parrot Buddhism or Plato, or Laurelle for that matter.
Buddhism is many things, sure. It is quite clearly a world religion and ideology though, in its various guises. To argue there are common themes that run through them all makes sense especially when Buddhism is treated as equal to all other forms of ideology, which is part of Glenn’s goal. I agree that there is some degree of hyperbole throughout Glenn’s original work, but he is doing his best to disrupt the excess of reverence for Buddhism so that some different perspectives can come into play and produce different thought and..praxis!
Laurelle understood that ideological blindness is a key factor of ideologically formed subjects and you’d be hard pressed to find Buddhists anywhere that see their religion/path as an ideological system and the implications of it being so. Most Western Buddhists would make the same claims you do, that it’s a path, which seems to provide a get out clause for dealing with the wider implications of Buddhist theory and its interaction with the western intellectual tradition. Calling for a stronger meeting between Western and Buddhist thought in a way that does not cuddle up to Buddhism is part of the work. Understanding how we are formed socially leads to insight and a recognition of many of the failings of Western Buddhism to be much more than a new religious refuge for the middle-classes.
The point of Laurelle’s work is to make the process of ideological critique transparent and operational in a way that does not assume outcomes or exist to prove or justify an ideology’s claims about itself. Glenn’s work then is not to define Buddhism as good or bad but unlock its ideological tendencies. He did so in his own creative way, which was appreciated by some, and loathed by many who, I imagine, would like to keep their Buddhism pure, unstained and uncriticised.
You also express a view of Buddhism that is far from the reality of committed Buddhists in many Asian countries where Buddhism is religion and pragmatic goals are most commonly associated with worldly fortunes and a better afterlife; not embodying the four noble truths or realising Mahamudra or some such goal.
The tension between Buddhism as religion, a pragmatic path, and ideological formation is a fruitful area of exploration. I would suggest that Glenn’s work helps to unlock that dynamic. That’s the point at which theory becomes practice and much of your criticism seems lost.
Matthew, thanks for your response. First of all, I would like to say that I totally get what Wallis’ project is supposed to do, provide a critical view of Buddhism which weakens its “vibrato” and make Buddhists and others who encounter Buddhism think critically about Buddhism. This is a goal that I am for and I have enjoyed many of the articles on the speculative non-Buddhist blog for that reason. However, my point, if I can be blunt, is that Wallis work fails to do that in an intellectually respectable manner, its arguments are weak, as I have shown, partly because it paints all of Buddhism with the kind of broad brush that no serious academic would touch. The reason is because Wallis arguments are mostly rhetorical, and not especially based on strong premises. The response that I have seen here to my points echo the dismissive responses that you might receive from certain “fundamentalist” Buddhists.
Like I said, we need work that does not cuddle up to Buddhism and that treats it critically. I have not argued against that, and I would go further and say that some of the names involved in such work include people like Robert Sharf, Gregory Schopen, David McMahan, Brian Victoria and the Japanese Critical Buddhism scholars. My point is that Wallis does not do what these folks do, which is actually make use of the sources in a serious way. As you yourself state, Wallis resorts to hyperbole, humor and other “creative” ways to form his critique of Buddhism. The reason why it has not resonated with a lot of folks is not just because of his continental language however, it’s because – most – of his critique comes down to sophistry, not engagement with the sources, people and scholarship.
We might just be spinning our wheels here. But I’ll try once more. You won’t get anywhere with non-buddhism if you demand of it the same methods as Buddhist studies scholarship. If I have to clone Buddhism fundamentalism in this case for now, so be it. My contention is that the people you name are just as caught in x-buddhist decision as are Roshi Joe Hikki Jones and Mindful Mary Sue Sweetspeaker. Don’t tell my publisher, but I’ll share this except from my forthcoming Critique of Western Buddhism. In the meantime, why not put some of the heuristic to work, just to see what happens. The excerpt. (Please destroy upon reading.)
Finally, I want to reiterate that I am not critiquing Western Buddhism as a flawed deviation from a pure “original” Buddhism or as a corruption of traditional eastern forms of Buddhism. Neither am I putting Buddhism on trial, and conducting an inquest into the truthfulness of its claims. The fact is that it is impossible to evaluate “Buddhism’s claims” because, as I have already mentioned, “Buddhism” is too slippery a term. Its very fluidity, however, is a richly instructive fact, one that provides a clue to its identity and thus to how to construct a consequential critique. In brief, I am employing a method that bears no resemblance to approaches such as the history of ideas, the philosophy of religion, or doxography. While readers might excuse me from following either of the first two methods, I can imagine they will be disappointed if I don’t base my critique on the evaluation of actual doctrines. I am following Laruelle here. He writes, “There is a frivolity of doxography from which ‘the history of philosophy’ does not always escape. It is not a matter here of objects, authors, themes, positions or texts; it is solely the matter of a problematic and of the reconstruction of this problematic.” I will work out below what I think this problematic is for Western Buddhism. The point that I want to make here—and it is a crucial point overall—is that whatever Western Buddhist “objects, authors, themes, positions or texts” I could name would amount to little more than indices. That is, names of specific texts, doctrines, teachers, etc., are but “indications of problems that we are striving to demonstrate and analyze in their coherence and functioning; guiding threads for penetrating into a [buddhistic] environment that exceeds them, but the extent, the possibilities and also the limitations of which they have made perceptible.” I am interested in the “environment” that both exceeds and precedes any Buddhist text, figure, and so on, that we might name. This environment constitutes the problematic because it, and not specific doctrinal details, is the incubator of the countless phenomena that comprise “Western Buddhism.” The general term for this problematic is “decision.” Very briefly, etc., etc., etc….
Thanks for sharing Glenn. I look forward to your book, honestly and maybe it will address some of my concerns about your method, which at the moment are legion. Ultimately it is up to you to show that your critique is sound through reasoned argument and examples, and that argument must be grounded in some way by referring to the object of critique – Western Buddhism and Buddhists and their sources in this case. To me, your statement that all Buddhists are the same in the way you argue, that they cannot possibly be self critical or that the academics I have named also share in this ‘decision’ will have to be backed up somehow for your critique to have actual force. For example, you will have to prove that counterexamples such as the Critical Buddhist scholars are not a case of Buddhists being truly self critical (which would disprove your claim). Another counterexample that was brought to this was by Michael Dorfman back in the blog, which was the example of the Dalai Lama’s use of a telescope (which was easily ignored) but shows that Buddhists can be self critical.
All in all, I just don’t see that you have managed to successfully argue for your claims. It could just be that because of your style and the nature of your project, you just are not interested in doing that sort of careful argumentation and prefer to be a rhetorical force. I have considered that, but then your project would just be a sort of counter meme now wouldn’t it? Instead of an actual rational critique. Hopefully this next book I will see some more carefully reasoned arguments, of course, with all of the rhetorical flair we find amusing as well.
you write: “My contention is that the people you name are just as caught in x-buddhist decision as are Roshi Joe Hikki Jones and Mindful Mary Sue Sweetspeaker.”
For some time I mused about the exact meaning of this quote. This morning I read a paragraph in Kolozova’s ‘Cut of the Real’ which may point in the right direction:
“The one I am atttempting to (re)claim here, with the help of the epistemological apparatus proffered by François Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, is exempt from debts to any philosophical legacy. Any relation to such a legacy, any referring to a philosophical Tradition of thought and its implication in our invocation of the “one”, will inevitably render it totalizing and universalizing (totalitarian) or, conversely, particularizing.”
Does this practice resemble your endeavour? What is it that holds “…people like Robert Sharf, Gregory Schopen, David McMahan, Brian Victoria and the Japanese Critical Buddhism scholars” (people named by Javier above) captive in x-Buddhist decision?
Using the example of Robert Sharf, why is he caught in x-buddhist decision? In my view he has a rather good intuition for the hidden ideological mechanism, for example in zen buddhism. So I would be interested what is it exactly which in his work can be identified as x-buddhist decision? I think this point is important to really work with the exposure of the mechanism of decision.
I probably shouldn’t chime in here–but just to point out what strikes me as an irony.
Clearly, the particular essay of Glenn’s being discussed doesn’t offer much in the way of detailed specific critique. But it isn’t meant to. It is meant to offer a conceptual space in which to do those critiques. When I offer a detailed critique of some particular Western Buddhist text, I begin from the position Glenn enables. Without being aware of the “decision” that structure the text, critique is impossible. Continental philosophy helps with this–as does, for me, a certain way of reading Aristotle, or even some analytical philsosophy, or Buddhist thinkers like Nagarjuna. If we start ruling out Hegel or Laruelle because they are “continental,” we’ve already made a decision about what kind of thought we will tolerate.
Most people despise my very concrete approach–being “critical” of someone like Young or Epstein is taken to be “wrong speech” and “clinging to views” and all the traditional x-buddhist jargon is employed: finger pointing at the moon, abandoning the raft, creating a straw man, etc. Even with my critique of Young, the main response was to either claim I am focusing on this one book, and everything else he says or does or writes clearly says the opposite of what this book says, or to claim that I am using Young as a “straw man” when clearly not a single other Buddhist in the West would agree with anything he says. In both cases, the strategy is to claim I’m focusing too narrowly, not considering the “big picture”…while Glenn is using a “broad brush” and not giving enough specific examples!
But look at the response you get on dhammawheel, Javier. Quoting sutras, and the typical patronizing condescension: we superior beings feel compassion for all these deluded beings, or something like that. Metta, in western Buddhism, is always an act of hostile silencing, right? So, even in the response to your post, you see evidence that Glenn’s claims are correct. And incidentally, I was banned from dhammawheel for responding to a discussion of an essay I wrote, reposted there without even bothering to ask my permission! (I think Glenn may have been banned from there, too?). Isn’t this the very “x-buddhist decision” that you are denying?
I don’t think that Glenn’s project demands that we assume Buddhism is never self-critical. Just that we be aware of the fact that it rarely is in its current manifestations in the West. At least, that’s how I’ve taken it–I see many examples of Buddhism working to gain critical distance on hegemony, but many more of it reifying ideological assumptions.
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About banishments from Dhammawheel:
Since this July, there is new forum management there, and some things have changed.
You might wish to review your status there.
Thanks for the info binocular. I did try–still blocked. It’s probably better, though–the kind of things I’m interested in aren’t really discussed there, and anyone from Dhammawheel could always discuss Speculative Non-buddhism and the SNB site, if they were really interested. It does seem the goal at Dhammawheel is still to discuss other folks’ ideas in a private group, with the goal of dismissing them as not really buddhist. Good luck trying to change that culture!
Hello Tom, I would like to say that I really enjoy your work at the blog, your essays on Young and Wallace in particular were excellent.
I totally agree with the need to create a critical space and like I said, I think that is being done, by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Likewise, there are people who are not very self critical, and there people in the middle, critical about some things and not about others. Human beings are complex and imperfect, and I heartily admit I may well hold views which might be simply wrong, or weakly supported.
Perhaps its just me, but I am just not a fan of polemics. The way to create a critical space is to carefully lay out the arguments of one side, and show why they are problematic. The problem I have with Wallis’ is that a lot of what I have seen from him (especially this essay) is polemical in nature, not truly critical.
Anyways, what’s up with your blog man? Is it coming back?