This is a hefty book, though not as hefty as it seemed from first glance. It definitely isn’t what I thought it would be. It will take some re-reading of paragraphs, some word-lookup, and some consideration—especially if one is not versed in academic reading. Mostly the weight comes from having to digest Wallis’ points and concerns, sometimes moving on then realizing one needs to backtrack then proceed again. Other points don’t become clearer until later in the reading. Finally, at the very end, his conclusion emerges from behind the clouds, made graspable by everything before it. Overall, for anyone interested in a prolonged look an alternative lens to view Buddhist thought and action, I think it’s worth reading. For others it may be old news.
Too long, didn't read :)
Wallis, if I’m understanding him correctly, critiques what he sees as the subjugating force of Buddhism. A Buddhist must adhere to the Buddhist view of the world, which—for Buddhists—is the same as the way the world actually is, objectively. (Accordingly, anyone who does not hold this Buddhist worldview is ignorant or mired in suffering.) His position is that this Buddhist view is inherently _sub_jective, in both senses of the word, and what Western Buddhists in particular do over and over, is champion Buddhism as a science when it is an ideology, a view, a self-propagating system of belief created and held by mere humans—especially if we consider the influence of such Western ideas as Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Protestantism.
He notes the “reflexive tendency within Western Buddhism to gaze into the world and see reflected back its own theories, postulates, categories, etc… the world becomes, for the Western Buddhist, the mirror of Western Buddhism… it projects its colors onto the black universe.” That’s all well and good for what he refers to as the x-buddhist (the x, in short, means any variation of Buddhist you could name—Secular, Thai, Zen, American). And if Buddhism were strictly a faith, according to him, it wouldn’t be worth critiquing. But precisely because Buddhism sees itself as a rational sharer of ultimate truth, he believes it’s worth examining, both for the believer and non-believer.
That said, Wallis does see use in Buddhist materials. But they should be stripped of their seductive, majestic, otherworldly aura, and instead used by humans for humans without flinching (as, he says, Western and secular Buddhists do when handling, for instance, the full implications of anatman), and without having to consider Buddhism as anything other than buddhism—human material offered up like any other philosophy, belief, or cultural contribution that tries to make meaning of the world, which can be juiced for its contributions to the immanent human realm and/or set aside as needed. His critique is one of “demagification, despellification, disconjugation, disenchantment.”
Of course, there is a lot more to the book than I’ve mentioned in just a few paragraphs, and I may not have even pinned down his right meaning. He does make what I see as valid points regarding the nature of Buddhism as we have it, but to see, understand, and evaluate those points, I recommend reading it for oneself
Such reading require some brain work, but, again, less than I expected. It helps to be used to reading academic and philosophical texts (like the ancient Buddhist texts actually!) Every so often Wallis drops in some humor or vivid imagery to lighten the intellectual load, but it is a book that requires occasional breaks. In the end it was worth it for me to read, if only to have another lens with which to view the practice (or non-practice :P)