Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Book and podcast reviews?

Posted by Glenn Wallis on October 31, 2015

HalloweenIs anyone interested in writing book reviews for this site? The new publications below have come to my attention recently. Maybe you have other suggestions? If you are interested, either email me at gw@glennwallis.com or leave a comment in the usual spot. Here are the books and podcast I have in mind, including their press descriptions and my two cents (links are at the very end):

  • Marcus Boon, Eric Cazdyn, and Timothy Morton, Nothing: Three Inquiries in Buddhism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2105).

Though contemporary European philosophy and critical theory have long had a robust engagement with Christianity, there has been no similar engagement with Buddhism—a surprising lack, given Buddhism’s global reach and obvious affinities with much of Continental philosophy. This volume fills that gap, focusing on “nothing”—essential to Buddhism, of course, but also a key concept in critical theory from Hegel and Marx through deconstruction, queer theory, and contemporary speculative philosophy. Through an elaboration of emptiness in both critical and Buddhist traditions; an examination of the problem of praxis in Buddhism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis; and an explication of a “Buddhaphobia” that is rooted in modern anxieties about nothingness, Nothing opens up new spaces in which the radical cores of Buddhism and critical theory are renewed and revealed.

This book includes some discussion of the speculative non-buddhism project, both favorably and critically. In bringing “contemporary European philosophy and critical theory” into the discussion, it also attempts something like a feast of knowledge. One interesting point of difference between Boon, et al. and what they term “Wallis et al.” is that the term Buddhaphobia appears in contrast to our (or maybe just my) very early term buddhaphilia. The former is Timothy Morton’s invention. It “overlap[s] with those [coordinates] of homophobia: a fear of intimacy, a fear of ambiguity, a fear of inwardness and introversion, a fear of theory rather than praxis” (187). The latter refers to westerners celebratory Romantic embrace of all things buddhist, particularly of those very “coordinates” that Morton sees as pointing to Buddhaphobia!

  • Richard Boyle, Realizing Awakened Consciousness: Interviews with Buddhist Teachers and a New Perspective on the Mind (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

If, as Buddhism claims, the potential for awakening exists in all human beings, we should be able to map the phenomenon with the same science we apply to other forms of consciousness. A student of cognitive social science and a Zen practitioner for more than forty years, Richard P. Boyle brings his sophisticated perspective to bear on the development of a theoretical model for both ordinary and awakened consciousness.

Boyle conducts probing interviews with eleven prominent Western Buddhist teachers (Shinzen Young, John Tarrant, Ken McLeod, Ajahn Amaro, Martine Batchelor, Shaila Catherine, Gil Fronsdal, Stephen Batchelor, Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Bernie Glassman, and Joseph Goldstein) and one scientist (James Austin) who have experienced awakening. From the paths they traveled to enlightenment and their descriptions of the experience, he derives three fundamental properties of awakened consciousness. He then constructs an overarching model that explains how Buddhist practices help free the mind from attachments to reality and the self and make possible the three properties of awakening. Specifically, these teachers describe how they worked to control attention and quiet the mind, detach from ideas and habits, and open themselves to compassion. Boyle’s account incorporates current theories of consciousness, sociological insights, and research in neuroscience to advance the study of awakened consciousness and help an even greater number of people to realize it.

This book strikes me as a living, oral testament to x-buddhist specularity and to the principle of sufficient buddhism. In interviewing the figures that he does, Boyle also–inadvertently, I imagine–gets as close to a definitive statement on the slippery question: what the hell is “Western Buddhism” anyway? One result is that the vehement criticism that was leveled against Žižek’s “ignorant,” “uninformed” critique of Western Buddhism appears to be proven mistaken. In other words,it looks like the Slovanian devil is on to something.

  • William Davis, The Happiness Industry (London: Verso, 2015).

In winter 2014, a Tibetan monk lectured the world leaders gathered at Davos on the importance of Happiness. The recent DSM-5, the manual of all diagnosable mental illnesses, for the first time included shyness and grief as treatable diseases. Happiness has become the biggest idea of our age, a new religion dedicated to well-being. In this brilliant dissection of our times, political economist William Davies shows how this philosophy, first pronounced by Jeremy Bentham in the 1780s, has dominated the political debates that have delivered neoliberalism. From a history of business strategies of how to get the best out of employees, to the increased level of surveillance measuring every aspect of our lives; from why experts prefer to measure the chemical in the brain than ask you how you are feeling, to why Freakonomics tells us less about the way people behave than expected, The Happiness Industry is an essential guide to the marketization of modern life. Davies shows that the science of happiness is less a science than an extension of hypercapitalism.

As I read this book, I continually thought of the Buddhist Geeks and allied projects. Virtually on every page I paused and thought Vincent Horn should read this book! What Davis is describing is alive and kicking in the Geeks’ “koan:” “How can we serve the convergence of Buddhism with rapidly evolving technology and an increasingly global culture?” Would that be a good thing?

  • Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
Some twenty-five centuries after the Buddha started teaching, his message continues to inspire people across the globe, including those living in predominantly secular societies. What does it mean to adapt religious practices to secular contexts?
Stephen Batchelor, an internationally known author and teacher, is committed to a secularized version of the Buddha’s teachings. The time has come, he feels, to articulate a coherent ethical, contemplative, and philosophical vision of Buddhism for our age. After Buddhism, the culmination of four decades of study and practice in the Tibetan, Zen, and Theravada traditions, is his attempt to set the record straight about who the Buddha was and what he was trying to teach. Combining critical readings of the earliest canonical texts with narrative accounts of five members of the Buddha’s inner circle, Batchelor depicts the Buddha as a pragmatic ethicist rather than a dogmatic metaphysician. He envisions Buddhism as a constantly evolving culture of awakening whose long survival is due to its capacity to reinvent itself and interact creatively with each society it encounters.This original and provocative book presents a new framework for understanding the remarkable spread of Buddhism in today’s globalized world. It also reminds us of what was so startling about the Buddha’s vision of human flourishing.

I could only glance at it so far, but as we should probably expect from Batchelor, the portion available on Nook for the Web reads as a latter-day modernist-romantic attempt to resurrect a dying god. Amiwrong?

  • Finally, Matthew O’Connell, founder of the blog Post-traditional Buddhism, and Stuart Baldwin have created an intelligent, informative, and entertaining podcast called The Imperfect Buddha.

The Imperfect Buddha podcast explores the world of contemporary western Buddhism in all its facets, mixing in banter with analysis and no holds barred discussion along with occasional guests. This is the Buddhism podcast that goes where other Buddhist podcasts fear to tread and it is a podcast, not the nightly news.

To me, this podcast is a manifestation of what we might start calling the critical turn in western-buddhism. The hosts are favorable to Buddhism. Yet, they do seem to be “go[ing] where other Buddhist podcast fear to tread.” The contrast to, say, The Secular Buddhist podcast, is striking. See for yourself.


If you are interested in writing a review, I will send you the book. The advantages in writing for this blog: (1) it still gets 200 views on a quiet day. That number regularly spikes to 500+ when an old post is discussed on social media. So, you will be read; (2) the discussion forum will permit you to engage with others–and we all know how much fun that is! (3) from the looks of some of these books and of certain trends around the web, this blog got and still gets an interesting and productive cast of lurkers; (4) jams will once again get kicked out, motherfuckers…

Marcus Boon’s website

Eric Cazdyn’s website

Timothy Morton’s blog

eBook preview of Realizing Awakened Consciousness

Buddhist Geeks’ koan page

Vincent Horn’s website

Stephen Batchelor’s website

Nook preview of After Buddhism

The Imperfect Buddha Soundcloud

Matthew O’Connell’s blog

The Secular Buddhist podcast

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | Tagged: , | 7 Comments »

Lines of Flight 2

Posted by Glenn Wallis on September 18, 2015

mod-st8Just a quick message to let subscribers know that Tom Pepper and I are going to relaunch Lines of Flight. Readers of Speculative Non-Buddhism will recognize many of the themes there, although they are in wrapped in quite different garb.

Stay tuned for a fuller description at the blog. In the meantime, maybe you’ll want to check out the new piece with Curt Dilger.

–Glenn Wallis


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »


Posted by Glenn Wallis on November 29, 2014

EndlicherI am archiving this blog.

Thanks for your interest in our project.

Glenn Wallis

Image: Michael Endlicher.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Organizational Notes #34

Posted by Glenn Wallis on November 24, 2014

fatigueWho can still doubt that the logic of contemporary western x-buddhism is a redoubling of the logic of western neoliberal capitalism? On one hand, this should not be surprising. For, everywhere it goes, x-buddhism conforms to the dominant ideology of its host. On the other hand, it should be outright revolting. For, everywhere it goes, x-buddhism carries with it seeds for the destruction of that dominant ideology. Which way it pivots depends on the organizations that are built to house it. These organizations conceive of the subject and fashion the person who then replicates their values. The organizations of western x-buddhism, so far, have opted for the conservative status quo role. In doing so, they function as enablers of the social-economic turmoil, the effects of which their conformist practices are, so they tell us, designed to cancel out.

To claim that the current x-buddhist situation is simply “what it is,” and that nothing can be done about it, would, of course, just be adopting a cynical neoliberal position. Repudiating this stance, we can ask questions like: under what conditions might a militant thought-practice develop? Asked another way: given the intimate group nature of x-buddhist practice–people gathered in snug settings, even private living rooms–for practice and edification; given concepts such as radical interdependency,  social-symbolic selfhood, and void; given the roots of the teachings in an urgent and outspoken disavowal of a repressive social formation, why are western x-buddhists such politically harmless creatures? Maybe it’s the organic food. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists | Tagged: , | 9 Comments »

Dialogical Meditations I

Posted by Glenn Wallis on November 13, 2014

dialogueMatthias Steingass: We have been talking about direct interaction in Germany/Switzerland for some time now, but for some reason it hasn’t happened so far: After some initial interest in the project most people pull out again. The initial interest oftentimes seems to consist of two parts, a) a vague notion of a new truth, and b) the expectation of authority leading to a new truth. As soon as it becomes obvious how deep the critique goes and that there will be no authority leading into the transition to a hypothetical new truth, interest fades or changes into naïve x-buddhist opposition. The result is that very few people go any further.

Glenn Wallis: I’ve experienced the same outcome. It was quite disheartening, but not the least bit surprising. I tried an experiment with a meditation group. To explain briefly, I altered the group from one that would seem strange but nonetheless familiar to a traditional (western) soto-zen-buddhist to one that was, well, just strange. The original group was popular, with twenty to thirty participants each session, and a constant stream of new people. Participants were accustomed to a predictable protocol—instruction, sitting facing the wall, walking, bowing, more short sitting, talk (by me) and discussion. There was a lot of buzz around the group, and its reputation spread. Now, I asked comers to sit facing one another in a circle for a full hour without a word spoken. After the hour, someone would read a short piece of text. Everyone was then invited to dialogue. After a few weeks, the group shrunk to three or four participants,

Matthias Steingass: To me it seems something is missing here. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | Tagged: , | 51 Comments »

Worstward Ho!

Posted by Glenn Wallis on October 23, 2014

From a talk by Badiou.

From a talk by Badiou.

I thought I’d start writing on this blog again for a while. I’d like to use it to think through some issues related to the non-buddhism project. Specifically, I want to explore, more explicitly and robustly than before, the constructive side of the critical-constructive dialectic. Many of the posts on this blog and at non + x already present promising work in that area. As a particularly pertinent example, I suggest you read Tom Pepper’s essay “Taking Anatman Full Strength and Śāntideva’s Ethics of Truth.” 1

As before, the argument driving this blog is that Buddhist conceptual materials offer potent resources for thinking radical reformations of self and society in the contemporary West. (I am primarily concerned with western Buddhism.) And yet, the noun “Buddhism” (or what I call “x-buddhism”2) indexes a historical failure to unleash the force of its very thought. “Buddhism,” that is, names an obstinate containment of potentially dynamic human goods. The end result is that Buddhism everywhere functions as a conservative protector of the social status quo, however toxic, and as an ideological fortress spawning subjects whose treasured goal is merely to rest at ease therein. Paradoxically, therefore, we cannot look to Buddhism—to its teachers and defenders, to its commentaries and explications, to its communities and organizations—to assist us in ransacking its “refuge” and interrogating its residents.

Why? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 22 Comments »

News and Updates (October 6: one new item)

Posted by Glenn Wallis on April 6, 2014

RonanPicScroll down for most recent updates.

This blog ran from May 2011 to March 2014. [I recommenced posting October 23, 2014.] Over 100 posts were published and over 6,000 comments written. Many of the comments are substantive essays in their own right.

If you are at all interested in the critical project called non-buddhism, this site offers you a wealth of material. The sites linked to the right will also be useful.

This phase of the project is over Yet furies remain aflight. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 14 Comments »

Circles of the Same || Lines of Flight

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 10, 2014

linesandcirclesI am going to put this blog on low burn. Super low burn. So low that you may not even see its glow. Maybe the glow will die out, and this site will remain as an archive. In any case, I am turning my attention to a new project. It’s not overtly related to non-buddhism in any way. The one thing I can say about it is that it swings back toward the creative end of the critical-constructive continuum. I’ll announce the launching of the new project when it’s ready. In the meantime, a few thoughts.This is some text!


The circle is an apt image for Buddhism, but not for the reasons that x-buddhism itself gives. The circle is apt because with x-buddhism it’s always ’round and “round we go. Nothing ever really changes. It’s just one of a multitude of rich x-buddhist ironies that one of its central tenets is impermanence, the claim that things don’t and can’t remain the same. Yet, for Buddhism itself, it’s just the opposite: nothing really changes. Buddhism is caught in a vicious circle of sameness. No, that’s not right, vicious doesn’t work here. It suggests dynamic energy and directed intention. X-buddhism lacks both. A better word is moribund: Buddhism is caught in a moribund circle. Picture a rickety old windmill–slowly wobbling around, creaking and cracking as it does.

Another unintended x-buddhist irony is found in the person of the Dalai Lama. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 13 Comments »

The Faithful Buddhist

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 7, 2014

TFBBelow is a repost of a piece by Tom Pepper. He recently published it on his blog, The Faithful Buddhist. I asked him if I could repost it here because I thought that the larger non-buddhist readership would be interested in what he is saying. Comments are open. Be sure to see the comments on his blog, too.

From the beginning, I have viewed Speculative Non-Buddhism as a means to ignite a robust critique of x-buddhsm. The x-buddhist image of thought is so closed off to genuinely creative innovation, and its practitioners so complacently tradition bound, that nothing short of an explosion could force open a critique. As most readers of non-buddhist blogs understand, we believe that critique is a necessary companion to constructive change.

Tom Pepper played a vital role in this initial blast. I’m not going to eulogize him, though, because he’s not finished working with x-buddhist materials.

Taking a Lesson from Santideva

In his Siksa Samuccaya, Santideva warns against the dangers we will meet on the bodhisattva path, collecting a compendium of advice from Buddhist texts to help avoid the pitfalls of pursuing awakening. I’ve been thinking over his suggestions lately, and have decided I can’t do better than to follow them. So after this post I’m discontinuing this blog for the foreseeable future.

Santideva devotes about a third of his text to advice on protecting the self. This may seem contradictory at first, if Buddhism is understood to be devoted to the teaching of non-self; however, what Santideva has in mind here is not the purification or protection of some kind of atman. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Critics, Speculative Non-Buddhist | 12 Comments »

Why Buddhism?

Posted by Glenn Wallis on March 1, 2014

boatWhat does Buddhism offer that we can’t get from any other system of thought and practice?

In this post, I am asking you to share your answer to this question. You can just drop a word or short phrase into the comment section. Don’t worry about formulating a long explanation. You can do that, of course, and it would be welcome; but my aim is to encourage as many responses as possible. I particularly hope to draw out the many lurkers on this blog. I can surmise or outright conclude from subscriber data, for instance, that at least two dozen prominent x-buddhist teachers are regular readers. I also know firsthand that a good number of Buddhist studies scholars read. Both of these groups must have quite firm answers to the question. A third source of valuable responses would come from the many committed x-buddhists who read here. And then we have all of you ex-x-buddhists. You must have thought about this question in some form already, and reached certain negative conclusions. If the 90-9-1 theory of blog participation is anywhere near accurate,1 we have a huge reserve of potential respondents. So, please, tell us what you think. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Constructivists, Interpreters | 105 Comments »


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