New book is out. A Critique of Western Buddhism

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How is non-Buddhism different from non-Christianity, non-Islam, non-Judaism, non-Shaiivism, non-Daoism or non-Shintoism?


One difference, it seems, is that non-Buddhism is now old hat, for the Christian avant-garde has already moved on to “Non-non-Christianity”.

Performing Profanation: Giorgio Agamben’s Non-Non-Christianity


Yes, it seems that there are a great number of talking heads creating a cacophony of noise drowning out that which needs to be heard. So many teachers teaching insights that were meant to be insights, not teachings.


Buddhism like any institution tends to reflect the ills that pertain to our social and political life. The treatment of women is such a case. Wallis is not attacking Buddhism and he does not profess to have the answers. He is encouraging a more reflective approach.


More reflective than what? What is the point of comparison?


More reflective than just pretending Buddhism is not influenced by the society its embedded in.


OK, but who thinks that?


So for example some monastics suggest the marginalisation of women in the Buddhist monastic order is just suffering to be transcended. Others would argue that this affects all of us at some level in a negative way and it probably needs to be addressed even if it cause a lot of uncertainty in the short term.


Sorry, I should have been more specific. I meant, who are the people arguing that Buddhism is not influenced by the society in which it is embedded?


Those who are threatened by change.


Ok I’m sorry. This little conversation is going nowhere. My fault. Peace out.


I think you might be right.




Post-modern French philosophy, as I understand it, doesn’t translate well into English and important key subtleties are completely lost in translation. American philosophers who don’t speak French and adhere to, say, Foucault are missing out on some of the meat. The restriction of the French language prevents the creation of new words to express new ideas. It is difficult to create new words, especially in Academia, and still be able to get published. This results in interesting creativity and nuances in French philosophy that simply do not make much sense outside of the language.

Imagine an Academic whom has decided to specialized in Shakespearean literature, yet can’t read English. They aren’t reading Shakespeare, but a translation of Shakespeare. Non-French speaking American philosophers aren’t reading Foucault, but a translation of Foucault.

Not many American philosophers can read French with the fluency of a native Parisian.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t my own analysis. I heard this from an American professor. She was very dismissive of American philosophers who adhere to the French post-modern school and aren’t themselves French or haven’t been long term residents there.

She also didn’t mention Laruelle, so I don’t know if this analysis applies here, but I think it might. She was lamenting in general at the gross misunderstandings of the fundamental nuances in post-modern French philosophy by English-only professors and their resultant crude applications of it.

Has anyone else heard this criticism/analysis before?

I am no expert nor learned person on this. I generally steer clear of philosophy.


Good thing this topic is in the Watercooler forum since it strays rather far from EBTs, but perhaps I can steer it a bit in that direction.

I am sort of “guilty” of being an English-speaking scholar who has waded into French post-structuralist theory. I wrote one book that was vaguely influenced by Foucault. I have also written or co-written several articles that draw on Foucault and Baudrillard for inspiration (one employed these two philosophers overtly). In my defense, I am far from being the only non-French speaking scholar to wade into these waters. I think it’s fair to advance new ideas that expand on the work of any philosophical school of thought, from the Ancients to the modern-day. I make it quite clear in my work that I am using the ideas of Foucault and Baudrillard, among others, as a basis for pursuing themes in related areas of social science, bearing in mind that I am not seeking to replicate their work.

By the same token, even the most wise and sage present-day students of early Buddhist texts will concede that the original Pali scriptures will not be entirely intelligible in a contemporary context. The Buddha left an immense set of teachings for later generations to ponder and, perhaps more importantly, practice. I am amazed at the impressive translations (both literal and figurative) of the Buddha’s teachings by modern scholars such as @sujato. I don’t pretend to be able to reproduce the Buddha’s teachings any more than I can perfectly interpret the works of the French post-stucturalists.

Rather, as with scholars such as Foucault, I allow myself to be inspired by the Buddha’s teachings which I then try to put into my own practice. As I deepen my practice, the wisdom of early Buddhist texts becomes clearer to me. Humility is essential in both my scholarly work and my daily Buddhist practice. It’s all in the practice.



For sure!

I think the beauty of the Buddha’s teaching is that he meant for it to be taught in the local languages of the people being taught. That the message, while very subtle, could be conveyed in very common and simple vernacular. I have been learning Pali for years and am always improving, but I will never be finished. Pali isn’t some scared language. It just happens to be the linguistic coding that preserved the oldest of the teachings that managed to survive.

Getting better at reading Pali has been a hug help in my practice, but reading translations will always flow better in my head. As I have gotten better at reading the Pali it has become much more interesting and it enriches my appreciation of the past translators.

Bravo! :clap:
Thats a winning perspective and outlook to have. It all comes down to the practice. The practice is the most important part. Whether you read the suttas in Pali, English or German is just a detail. The meaning and progress it brings to your practice is what counts.


Hi Dan,

I may well be mistaken, but from my original reading of the article about the book (a while ago now so my memory may be mistaken) but my impression was not so much that the author was critiquing Buddhism per se but was actually pointing the finger at Western practitioners that want to change Buddhism to suit their own personal preferences rather than accept what the Buddha taught. Hence Western Buddhism needs to be ruined.

That is also my perception of how most western practitioners I meet seem to approach Buddhism and I have to say that I was exactly the same myself with my own initial investigation into Buddhism. I wished to only accept the parts that made immediate sense to me and rejected all the ideas I found to be irrational, non scientific, or that I just disliked for some vague reason or seemed to be in any way ‘religious’.

Having come from a christian religion into atheism I wanted nothing to do with any ‘religion’. That included any concept of heaven or hell, other worldly planes, reincarnation, rebirth and especially the christian concept of an afterlife, karma, deva’s or anything that smacked of irrationality or delusion.

In time I have come to see that some of these ideas are central to the practice of Buddhism and whilst I may not have personal proof of their existence I have come to accept that the Buddha’s teachings work as advertised when applied diligently and he seems to have been universally accepted and venerated in his own time as more than just a decent, honest bloke - he was venerated as a genuine wise and holy man so therefore one should place a great deal of weight upon the significance of the methods of practice he taught and should not seek to alter them significantly or (within reason) try to make them fit your (modern) life rather than the other way round. This other fellow seems to be saying the much same thing, just in a very, very convoluted way.

Why he bothers though, I have no idea. People will come to their own understanding or they wont. Pushing this version or that version doesn’t matter. The individual will come to see the truth of this issue if they have the capacity to see through their own cognitive bias. Or they will not and would never have been able to anyway.

One thing I do remember strongly was my impression that his speech is convoluted and nearly impossible to understand. It strikes me that is the sort of academic double speak that some academics like to use when they want to sound like they are really smart. That kind of detracts from his argument but then that is also my own cognitive bias that it seems to be that way to me.




Hi @David. Yes, but putting it that way suggests that Wallis has a special commitment to what the Buddha originally taught, and is critical of western Buddhism for deviating from the original message. But in the interview he makes it clear that is not his outlook. He appears to think that Buddhism in all times, even the earliest, has been incapable of accepting its core message of profound realism about life - that suffering pervades all of life and death is final - and so has manufactured all kinds of fantasies and extras to avoid accepting that message. He also doesn’t like the fact that Buddhists sometimes embrace a sort of commitment to the ultimate ideological hegemony of Buddhism, and think that some kind of “Buddhist idea” must “prevail” over other thought systems.


I don’t think anyone is forcing such an idea! Logically, practically and philosophically many find it out-does other systems of belief.

After a period of time it becomes apparent to me at least that voices negative about the Dhamma do so because they are missing out on key concepts.


I think he believes that going so far is already going too far.