New book is out. A Critique of Western Buddhism

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‘Every philosophy has to be equal’ is artificially forcing a normalisation for political correctness.


In order to maintain itself as an institution within the consumerist capitalist framework in which it operates, says Wallis, “Buddhism” must package and market itself. In doing so, he contends that Buddhism negates the very teachings it aims to convey.The Case Against “Buddhism” - Lion's Roar

This message is hardly new or unknown, as dhamma for mass consumption distorts the message to gain popularity.


It would be interesting to see if Lion’s Roar accepts any letters or comments in response to the interview.

Wallis’ points present a certain outlook that isn’t always seen in a Buddhist publication–at least in such a lofty and provocative form–but then again, is that outlook much different from what adherents of Buddhist-influenced secularism have presented? I’ve seen more than a few names present the same ideas about the perceived need to separate out what they consider the fantastic elements of Buddhism.

As for the glorification of mundane observations—like mindfulness helping stress—I’ll agree that that isn’t a profound truth that needs to be labeled “Buddhist.” But if anyone reduces the entire Buddhist path to a simple technique—a technique, which is, at best, 1/8 of what Buddhism could be said to be about—then they’re missing something quite large about the Buddhist project. (I’d also note that Buddhism often—but not always—points out things that seem to be “common sense,” yet somehow no one seems to follow that advice anyway.)

Unless it somehow gets library circulation, I’ll probably never get around to reading it, though :man_shrugging:t5:


Yes, I don’t think Lion’s Roar would have any trouble with an article calling for separating out the fantastic from the non-fantastic elements of Buddhism. After all, the magazine was founded by Chogyam Trungpa who was known for his very psychological interpretation of the colorful imaginarium and history of Tibetan Buddhism.

But I gather Wallis wants to go further than this, and wants “western” Buddhists to stop thinking of themselves as Buddhists altogether, and to enter a new phase of “non-Buddhism” where Buddhist ideas have no sort of ideological supremacy in their lives, but just exist side by side with other systems of occasionally helpful ideas with which they are in dialogue.


Sorry for taking so long to reply I haven’t been online for a bit. Thanks for clarifying for me, from memory what he had to say was so full of undefined terminology that for me it was next to impossible for me to follow what he was saying even in broad terms. To be honest it doesn’t surprise me, just another academic who has failed to put any of the Buddha’s teachings into actual practice whilst pontificating on the subject with little to no practical understanding.




Is Wallis advocating secular Buddhism?


I don’t know if that’s right. I dont know that much about Wallis, but my understanding is that he was a dedicated practitioner for years and then became disillusioned with the instituons or ideology of western Buddhism.


I don’t think so. I think he views secular Buddhism as something that still wants to see or identify itself as a kind of Buddhism.


I managed to get a hold of a copy and am now reading it. It seems more coherent than the interviews he’s given—but I’m only on page 10!

Salient quote:

Western Buddhism is a progeny of the Enlightenment: it implicitly values, for instance, reason and rationality, progress, equality, empiricism, and the primacy of science. It is the spiritual kin of Romanticism: it valorizes personal emotions, creative imagination, intuition, nature, the exemplar heroic figure, and the primacy of the subject. It is a guardian of Protestantism: it reflexively values laicization, individual effort and personal achievement, psychologized internalization, ritual simplification or outright elimination, return to scriptural sources, and the primacy of “self-culture.” This modernized and Westernized Buddhism, far from being confined to the West, is international in scope, transcending as it does “cultural and national boundaries, creating… a cosmopolitan network of intellectuals, writing most often in English.” (9-10)

Western Buddhism is the term Wallis gives to the internationalized Buddhism, the form that was beginning to take shape since the 18th and 19th century when the West as a colonizing force began taking interest in Buddhism in Asia (and when Buddhists had to defend the religion against them).

I’ll keep reading :nerd_face:


I’d say that Wallis does NOT call rebirth a “hallucination”. I don’t know what Wallis has said elsewhere on the topic but the the evidence from the Lions Roar article does not support @Lokantara 's assertion about what Wallis says about rebirth.

Second, Wallis offers a longer version of the article:

I am posting here the version that I actually expected to be published …
The Case Against Buddhism | Speculative Non-Buddhism

What did Wallis say in the interview about rebirth?
Rebirth comes up in a discussion about what is real (or “a Real” in Wallis speak) and what we know from our experience. What is real? Wallis examples include: * pain and suffering (Dukkha-tanha), Pain, and Impermanence.

Wallis seems to suggest that we can have direct experience of death and knowledge of of death in a way that we don’t have with what happens after death. In a move some might call avoidance, Wallis suggests one can displace awareness of " the actual fact of the real of death", “the disappearance, the return into organic, inorganic matter, of our loved ones” with ideas of what happens after death.

You’ve seen a dead person lying there, right? They’re gone! That’s what we know, right? They’re gone. But we can hallucinate all kinds of things about them—fantasies about rebirth and other realms, which we have no experience of.

The meaning changes dramatically if the reader presumes that one can hold fantasies and hallucinates about things that are, never the less, real.

I’m not an apologist for Wallis and my main window into his beliefs is what was printed in the interview transcript. But it seems to me that Wallis’s comments about the difference on the experience level between death and rebirth are apt … at least for this less than fully awakened being.


Also, in the comments to his post, Wallis himself mentioned the book will be coming out for less in April 2020, but that it’s also available free online.


Just a friendly reminder to everyone to reflect on whether you know what you’re talking about before saying something.

I came here hoping to chat with people who have actually read the book, but instead I see a bunch of adolescent gossiping: “I think he meant this!” “I think he likes you!” “I think you’re crazy!” :unamused:

A technique that I like to use to avoid gossip and unskillful speech is to imagine that the expert on the topic was listening in on your conversation.

If you knew that, for example, Wallis himself were lurking on this (public!) thread, would choose your words a little more carefully? If you have any hiri-otapa (shame), you probably would (even if you do know what you’re talking about). That’s a good thing!

So, please, do everyone a favor and do this every time you speak in public: Imagine you’re speaking in the company of experts. Because, remember, you actually might be!


Wow! A friend recommended this forum to me. It’s like a thicket of views on acid! The reason my friend sent this link is that I am a careful reader of all things Speculative Non-Buddhism. I only wanted to mention some things about Wallis’s biography that should reorient some of you to his work. Wallis is a super serious practitioner of anapanasatibhavana. He has been for over 30 years. I know because I used to sit in his group. He also has deep roots in Soto Zen, and was a teacher for a while in that tradition. There’s more. He reads Buddhist literature straight from Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibetan. He has studied with very serious teachers. I really don’t think his critique can be so easily dismissed as it is here. It is the culmination of decades of thinking about and practicing Buddhism. Should I ask him to join this conversation?


(Hello. This is my first post!)

I actually have read this book. I think there are some very pointed and much-needed critiques presented. Unfortunately, about 2/3rds of the book leans very heavily on the work of French philosopher François Laruelle. I found this stuff to be mostly impenetrable, and I daresay almost everyone else will too–and I suspect the author would agree. It is not beach reading.

However, it still might be worth reading because of the other content. A few topics he addresses:

  • the secularization of mindfulness and how it has been co-opted by corporate, government, and military interests

  • an unfair (according to him) placement of personal responsibility on individuals for their own suffering, while ignoring oppressive structures of power (patriarchy, capitalism, racism, etc.)

  • a moving of the “goalpost” in regards to suffering–the focus has shifted to reducing suffering rather than eliminating it, in order to appeal to Western sensibilities

These parts of the book were interesting to me. If all this sounds like your thing, you may enjoy it, but be prepared for a challenging read.


These are good things to criticize, in my opinion.

The first and third are aspects of contemporary western Buddhism. The second is a charge that I think can be laid against almost all historical forms of Buddhism.


Yeah. That’s all stated right out in the open on his website. These aren’t unknown variables at least to myself, of course I can’t speak for anyone else here. :mudra:
There are multiple people who frequent or help operate this forum whom also read Pali and/or Sanskrit. Sounds like you’re arguing for his relevance via his “authority,” which isn’t a positive or flattering position to debate from. There are lots of really, really knowledgeable people with regards to dhamma whom have zero higher scholastic training.

Exactly what I was expecting to hear. That a large majority of the work would be dedicated to bending the dhamma to fit inside some obscure neo-world-view pushed by a secular atheist European.

A major pass for me. Thank for the confirmation.

:thaibuddha: :thaibuddha: :thaibuddha:


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Much metta friend. :anjal:


Don’t be so contemptuous.

This forum is dedicated to the discussion of the early Buddhist texts in Pali. As such, it attracts a broad range of people with an interest in those texts, from the skeptical and secular to more orthodox and traditional believers. People who participate here try to take all of those perspectives into account.


DKervick: I was commenting on the fact that “Lokantara” writes “Sounds like you’re arguing for his relevance via his ‘authority,’ which isn’t a positive or flattering position to debate from,” and yet everything about L. exudes this very unflattering posture. But as I look around this forum, I see such displays of priestly authority abound. I will not bother you all anymore. I have already been ripped up by way too many thickets on here! Good luck!