New book is out. A Critique of Western Buddhism

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I may be proposing what is appropriately on or more threads includes questions in other categories.

It seems to me that a critique of Buddhism needs to be mindful of the grounds or basis of critique. To take the “secularization of mindfulness” for example. There are two (or more) distinct paths of analysis that might be employed. The first concerns what the EBT (Early Buddhist Texts) have to say on the topic. A second path employs a significant amount secular social theory in it’s analysis.

IMO a sound writer/teacher explicitly acknowledges which path of analysis/teaching the analysis is walking. That assertion, I hope, is one that can be answered by the first path … with a analysis of what the EBT or later dharma have to say. The assertion speaks to what seems to be a trumping, unacknowledged “elephant in the room” of many discussions of the type illustrated by this thread. It’s seems to me as important meta-discussion – a practice of mindfulness – which needs to be in place in a dialog that calls it’s Buddhist.

I would be grateful to pointers to other threads that have already addressed this meta question.

About the book: Does Wallis speak to this meta question? And does Wallis apply this framework to his own analysis?


Much metta, Lokantara :wink:


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 :slight_smile:

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)


Donald Lopez has also criticized the tendency among some western Buddhists to see Buddhism as a uniquely “scientific” faith.


‘Glenn Wallis’ deserves deep compassion . The mind that has not fully comprehended and realized the truth that is ‘Dhamma’ inspite of years of effort forced to believe what he is doing is false and it starts thinking his faithful friend has decieved him.That is why ‘doubt’ is the second important fetter to overcome on the long journey towards nibbana. He should continue to put the effort .there is no ‘western’ ‘Indian’ srilankan’ or Buddhism there is only one law of nature I.e " Dhamma":grinning:


Here is a reddit AMA with Glenn Wallis from the other day, in case anyone is curious. This quote really struck me:

In the case of the x-buddhist dispositions, I would further argue that the supposed result, even if possible, is undesirable. Would you really want to uproot desire or lobotomize quite natural and often useful traits like anger, sadness, anxiety, and depression? If the answer to both questions is yes, then at what cost? Becoming a lifelong monk? A three-year silent retreat? Interminable retreats at fancy bourgeois venues?


I listened to most of Wallis’s recent exchange about his book with Charles Hallisey at Harvard. The discussion is available on You Tube. I wasn’t able to get much out of it, but perhaps others will have more luck.


Literally lol. Anyone who finds usefulness in anger is interminably lost. Much karuṇā is needed here. :mudra:

That quote is funny coming from a member of the academic intellectual bourgeoisie. The view must be quite different from that academic ivory tower.

I will say that people who go into intensive retreats with absurd expectations are barking up the wrong tree.


Yeah! That was super interesting when he also said that his ideal answer is “anarchist communities.” Um… the Theravadan Monastic Sangha is the world’s oldest and most successful “anarchist community!” He’s so close to getting it!! :joy:


The sangha is not an anarchist community. The monks live in complete dependence on the labor of others. There is a spiritual hierarchy in the community which also has a material basis.


Quite right.

The formal hierarchy is mostly a 19th century imposition in Theravada countries. Burma, Sri Lanka & especially Thailand.

Even the concept of the abbot is a later phenomenon as I understand it.

I think there should be a distinction make between anarchy and pure chaos.

The sangha certainly falls well into the second definition of anarchy, according to Oxford.