New book is out. A Critique of Western Buddhism

Lion’s Roar article: “The Case Against Buddhism” Randy Rosenthal talks to scholar Glenn Wallis about his thought-provoking new book ‘A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real.‘
Obviously I haven’t read the book yet. Not sure if I will or not, but it’s fun to have views questioned.

In the interview Glenn Wallis calls rebirth a “hallucination” and seems to have a snide or not-so-snide tone towards Buddhism for someone who has a PhD in Buddhist Studies from Harvard, has been studying it for decades and has even lead mediation retreats, according to his website. Of course that’s sorta typical for a secularist who has spent their whole career in the Academy(not mentioned in the article is that he’s been teaching at universities since the early 1990’s).

Can’t judge the book from this interview, but…:thinking:

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I’ve read Wallis’s online writings a few times, but generally have no idea what he is talking about.


Wallis (~80 words):

This is the frustrating part of non-buddhism. You can’t say what to make of it. Saying what it might be is to start all over again with the harassment of a system — to harass you by saying what your life should be like. The non- is about the elimination of harassment. You lay out the materials. You do interesting things with it. But it can never be prescribed. The criticism of systems of thought is that they’re too prescriptive.

The Buddha (17 words):

Ignorance is a vital condition for choices. … Freedom is a vital condition for the knowledge of ending

I like simple.


Wallis’ interview isn’t long but he managed to be relatively convoluted in what he said. Possibly an indication of how the book is, or maybe it’s just how the interview went and he was trying to cram as many points in as possible. I have never read anything by him that I can actively recall.

I can understand being on the fence about rebirth. Stephen Bachelor is famous for that, but I’ve never heard him say anything even remotely close to comparing it to a hallucination. Bachelor just hides behind the Kalama Sutta, which is fine.

Indeed. :sunglasses:


Is this an opinion piece?

I’m glad for the reactions from D&D friends here. I am in Chiang Mai for the week, and saw the interview noted on Facebook. I sat down with my coffee, read the interview, and decided it was indeciferable near-gibberish. I couldn’t understand it at all; not that I didn’t understand the language, but I could not for the life of me understand what relevant or important points Wallis was trying to make. I resisted posting something snarky on Facebook/Lion"s Roar…it is Wallis, after all.


He is coming from a very different intellectual tradition than mine. Just a completely different wavelength.

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Yep. It seems to me that it just doesn’t aid anyone in understanding the Dhamma. Even Einstein had a way of explaining complex physics in language that was understandable and clear.

The book is $95 USD on!!

I am concluding that this book is an intellectual-nothing-burger based on this absurd price point. No one is going to read this. It is only 232 pages!

Last sentence of the book’s description is telling:
“Through applying resources of Continental philosophy to Western Buddhism, “A Critique of Western Buddhism” suggests a possible practice for our time, an “anthropotechnic”, or religion transposed from its seductive, but misguiding, idealist haven.”
:nauseated_face: :face_vomiting:


$95 is pretty standard for an academic monograph.


Lion’s Roar presented it as a book, not as a textbook for a grad/post-grad university course on post-modern French philosophy applied to Eastern religion(which is probably where Wallis was aiming, just my guess).

Indeed. And in case people don’t know, that price point is not for printing (the Kindle version is $100), nor royalties for the author (who will get little to none), nor for the editor (ditto), but for the multi-million dollar profits of the parent company, Bloomsbury.

This has been a periodic reminder that academic publishing is a neoliberal rort.


Oh, but I don’t think that’s Wallis’s intention. From his book (pp. iix-ix):

Such questions merely postpone my conclusion: Western Buddhism must be ruined. This, at least, is the belief animating this book. I have come to this belief after forty-some years of actively surveying the Western Buddhist landscape.

No thanks! Not for me! :grinning:

Some positive developments in Europe: Radical open-access plan could spell end to journal subscriptions


I have no idea what he is talking about. :yum:

What is your intellectual tradition and what is his?

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‘There’s a profound sense of each individual having to make a life for him or herself, free to the greatest extent possible from harassing systems of thought.’

I think he is ok.

Buddhism says a Buddha is required to figure this out. You are the student :woman_student:.


I have a PhD in western intellectual history. The review does not make this book sound like a terribly instructive application of continental philosophy to Buddhism.

I would actually love to write a book about exactly this subject, but I would probably start with Kant, and with his comment that “of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” This is a great deal like the first noble truth; all things that come from experience, from the senses, and from human social institutions… they are going to disappoint you. Always. That’s what Kant meant, and it’s my understanding that that’s what the Buddha meant as well.

Kant also believed that humans had access to unconditioned truths, knowable through reason alone, and that these were a more promising basis for an ethical system than, say, the mere pursuit of sensual happiness.

From here, we could move forward to Schopenhauer, who knew about Buddhism and whose philosophy shares many points of similarity. And it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look back at David Hume (whose picture is my avatar), because at many points Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature makes arguments similar to the Buddha’s about the nature of perception and knowledge. Hume isn’t strictly speaking a “continental” philosopher, whether by geography or by tradition, but he definitely inspired Kant, and he inspired him along these lines in particular.

Indeed, the strong similarity between the arguments in the Pali canon, and the arguments of these philosophers in particular, are what first drew me to Buddhism. Discovering a line of argument more or less independently, as Hume and Kant did, amounts to a powerful confirmation that there’s something interesting and important to it.

It’s strange that someone positioning himself as a continental philosopher does not begin here, although perhaps he did do so elsewhere. (I am otherwise unfamiliar with his work, and I agree that at least in this case it suffers from the inscrutability that much academic philosophy now displays.)


The Buddha points the way. Ultimately we have to rely on ourselves. At times this might mean stepping back from systems that have evolved around the Buddha and developing our own agency.


By which he doesn’t mean “destroyed”; he means, it must grow old, decay, be overgrown and become part of the landscape like an old ruin, rather than a shiny new development plonked in the middle of a lived environment. I don’t know if I agree with him, but it’s an interesting point.

Indeed, yes, there are hopeful signs.

I would love to read a book about this subject! There is still far too little of Buddhism in philosophy. But the problem is finding philosophers with a deep enough understanding of Dhamma. Philosophy is just so specialized.