Speculative Non-Buddhism

ruins of the buddhist real

Why x-buddhism?

X-buddhism

This blog is a critique of what I term x-buddhism. Why don’t I just say “Buddhism”? Here’s my thinking.

“Buddhism” suggests an abstract, and abstractly static, One.  A study of this One would show it to be of the (abstract) type of cultural-doctrinal systems (religion, philosophy, mythology) that claim grand authority concerning human knowledge. “X-buddhism” means to capture a crucial fact about “Buddhism,” the abstract One: it loops incessantly.

We could study the x. Such a study would be historical and comparative. We could compile a descriptive catalogue of Buddhist schools from a (atheist) through m (Mahayana) to z (Zen), graphing their relations and tracing their divergences. In so doing, we would discover differences concerning, for instance, each x‘s version of the means and end of the One’s grand authority. From such a study we would begin to see that the One, Buddhism, breeds infinite interpretation not only of the world, but of itself. Hence, Buddhism splinters into unending modifiers, x.

Yet, this same study of protean variation would inhabit clues as to the function producing such difference-of-the-same. (After all, each modifier indicates membership in a single set: Buddhism.) My critique stems from the function of the same—from the identifying mark of the set as a whole. “X-buddhism” thus intends to capture the fact that the One is indeed a unity, but a splintered unity, a pluralized singular. Abstract and inert “Buddhism” devolves to the concrete and spirited interpretive communities of limitless “x-buddhisms.”

Devolvement ensures replication. And, indeed, what we find in each and every x is the sign of the One. Following the work of François Laruelle, I call this sign decision. My contention is that we can trace the authority of each x back to a simple yet powerful syntactic operation, an operation that is embedded in, indeed, constitutes, the abstract One. In short, decision functions as an algorithm of infinite iterations (x) of the One (“The Dharma;” “Buddhism”). That is the general sense of the term “x-buddhism.”

X-buddhism runs the alphabet, and includes classical and contemporary forms. Commonly known forms include the Zens/Chans/Sons, Tibetan this-and-that, the Nichirens, the Pure Landers, the Theravadins, madhyamakas, foresters, and, more recently, atheist, agnostic, secular, The Mindful Ones, progressive, progressive, and the posts-. You get the idea. So rather than categorize x-buddhism by name, I use the following designations throughout the blog. Here’s a rough run-down.

  • Accommodationists. Writers, teachers, etc., in this vein know better, but let be. That is, their rhetoric suggests avenues of critique or even contradiction; yet, they leave these pathways unexplored. Why? In order to preserve the x-buddhist status quo.
  • Apologists. For whatever reasons, these figures seek to have x-buddhist teachings, theories, practices, etc., come out on top—always. Thus, they act in defense of x-buddhism. Quite often, they must resort to logical contortions and, more seriously, omission of contrary evidence. But not always, of course; sometimes they do indeed correct misunderstandings and misrepresentations.
  • Comparativists. They have proficient knowledge of other teachings and systems, as well as a robust interest in the x-buddhist versions of whatever it is they are treating. And they use this knowledge to illuminate via contrasts and comparisons.
  • Conservatives. They are disposed toward the status quo—of whatever school/text/practice/community/ institution/teacher, etc., they hold sacred.  And they do tend to hold it all sacred. Everything in the universe changes except, of course, whatever the conservative x-buddhist holds dear.
  • Constructivists. They seek effective application of x-buddhist teachings and practices, yet often recognize the need for adaptation and innovation. Such writers and teachers are less concerned with upholding tradition than with finding new applications of tradition.
  • Critics. They offer insightful queries, which, given the nature of criticism, often threaten fissure. They are not concerned with ameliorating this fissure.
  • Fundamentalists. They are the gardes suisses at x-buddhism’s holy vallation. Their reasoning for, say, the truth of rebirth, is hyper-precise. They are master exemplifiers. Scripture, after all, is always on their side, even when it isn’t. And how they know their scripture! Thumpers here to put Stomp! to shame. Sutta-thumpers, sutra-thumpers, Shobogenzo-thumpers, Lotus-sutra-thumpers–thumpin’ their way to certainty—messy reality be damned!
  • Interpreters. They explain, clarify, expound on the teachings of the literary conceit known as “the Buddha.” They make it all make sense, even when it doesn’t. They tend to be benign. They value description over analysis, since the latter, done well, veers toward the dark depths of critique.
  • Post-traditionalists. Like traditionalists, they uphold the values gleaned from the Asian dispensation of x-buddhism. However, they seek a renovation of the archaisms and (certain) superstitions favored by their Asian patriarchs. They do not want a new house, only a freshly painted one with, perhaps, a modern kitchen.
  • Secularists. They claim the values of  modern scientific methodology, such as evidence-based claims, critical thinking, rigorous debate, and the light of reason. But they hesitate to test their cherished beliefs against these values. They do do so; but not too robustly, lest the house collapse. While respecting tradition, they seek a contemporary application. Yet, what they have produced is just the same old thing. Nothing new here.
  • Traditionalists. They are committed to the forms—doctrines, practices, beliefs, etc.— that are preserved in Asian institutional structures. Some of these structures are of ancient or medieval origin, some are modern. They espouse pre-scientific worldviews. They axiomatically adhere to archaic cosmologies. They often believe in a world animated by spirits and hidden forces. They know no other possibility.
  • True Believers. They raise the (western) x-buddhist banner. They heart Buddhism, though “Buddhism” is always proscribed by their particular school. Some true believers, of course, literally love all things Buddhists. This person, I think, is a peculiarly recent, North American type. They subscribe to some version of “One Dharma,” and are desirous of finding unity in diversity.

Each of these categories is easily coupled with others. For instance, comparative work may be done with an apologetic intent; interpretive work, in the search for new constructions. Someone may be doing three or four things at once. An awareness of variegated strategies and intentions will prevent us from too quickly pigeonholing an author, teacher, etc.

You may have suggestions for additional categories or modification and refinement of those above. I’d love to hear from you; gw@glennwallis.com.

Let’s get to work!

11 Responses to “Why x-buddhism?”

  1. Wm Gardner said

    Would you please add the definition of “x-buddhist” somewhere? Not sure it falls under a “category” but that was the first place I looked. Took me a while to figure out (from context) how you were using the term. From a quick Google search, it appears that your particular usage of the term could be unique to your site. As such, it could be beneficial to first-time visitors to have the definition available.

    Thanks!

  2. Good suggestion, William. I changed the “Categories” page to an “x-buddhism” page. You’ll find a full explanation of what I mean by the term there. I hope it helps. If not, please let me know. Thanks!

  3. TheScadMan said

    “Buddhism” suggests an abstract, and abstractly static, One.

    Already false!
    This is one of the questions (is the All One or Many?) the Buddha didn’t like to talk about. But in one Sutta the Buddha gives the answer that “All is ONE” or “All is Many” are both possible cosmologies.
    Seems your whole critique of Buddhism is based on non-logic and non-knowledge! ROTFL :D

  4. TheScadMan said

    We could study the x. (…) Hence, Buddhism splinters into unending modifiers, x.

    Your view is suffering from the idea that Dhamma somehow explains the world. That is not its agenda! Buddha explicitly warned people that they only enter a thicket of views. All he was teaching was suffering and the ending of suffering, but I guess you know that already. So, you non-critique might hit a non-buddhism based on non-knowledge… ROTFL

  5. TheScadMan (#3, 4).

    Read around when you get a chance. There’s a lot here. Some of its logical and knowledgeable; some of it’s not. A motto of this blog is kick out the jams, motherfucker!. So, as you can imagine, it be at times rollickin’ yo. Logic may thereby suffer. But it’s always fun!

    Given your reference to “Buddha,” maybe you can start with the post “Ghost Buddha.” Once you get up off the floor, that is. KOTJM!

    Peace and beer!

  6. This is as good an answer as it can get.

    An important point:

    Many people, after understanding the definition above paragraph [Why do we meditate?], gain a mental context that makes the answer obvious and the question feel rhetorical.

    The obvious can blind, indeed. Thanks for the hint.

    But objection to your guess about the motivation for writing here. A simple wish for attention might be part of it. But making it exclusive throws out some pretty good stuff which should have some attention. After all what you say about ‘meditation’ is really important. But it is only important as long as people don’t know that it comes down (in part) to some pretty basic stuff. If they see that it is about learning and training and not about obtaining some magic powers for most people the interest fades away. X-Buddhism is about this magic stuff and so to show that this emperor wears no clothes is an important point of this blog.

  7. leon bertram said

    I can go anywhere on buddhist usenet To go get my butt flamed. The ad hominem statement by your own contributor makes me think this blog is just another noisy sad corner of the internet. I like to talk about the dharma. I do not like being put into position of trying to understand somebody’s animosity and vituperative statements. I cannot speak at length due to time constraints, so I try to strike a dialogue on that which I can efficiently cover. To face a confrontational Polemic in response to a polite question strikes me as a bit counterproductive. I for 1 will not be coming back.

  8. max said

    This is a very interesting website. I would like to participate in some sense in these conversations. As a person in life I have reached what one might call “nihilism.” I am now reading different approaches to this problem, and have found Buddhism to be unparalleled in some way. This website here is one of the most interesting and potentially valuable, we’ll see!

    As for me, when reading this, I come to an interpretation which is that the writer is clinging too much to intellectual pathways, which inevitably come up short. Buddhism calls for a letting go of all ideas. There is implicit in this the idea that even this statement should be let go of. I’ll be here.

  9. Tom Pepper said

    Max: Part of the goal of this blog is to question all “Buddhism says…” or “Buddhism calls for …” statements. It may be that some x-buddhist texts do call for us to cease all thought and wallow in the transcendent bliss of blind emotion, in fact many contemporary teachers do teach that this is “true Buddhism.” Non-buddhism would ask us to consider the ideological implications of this rejection of all ideas–what kind of World is it meant to create? Who benefits and who suffers if we stop thinking? Why, for example, might one assume that thousands of years of Buddhist philosophy is not “real” Buddhism because it demands rigorous thought, while a handful of anti-intellectual works from the Kamakura period in Japan are “true Buddhism”? What is the goal of this x-buddhism.

    Phrases like “clinging to intellect” are the kind of x-buddhist cliches we want to investigate, not take as given.

  10. Max said

    Hello again, it’s a few months later and I am returning here to provide this blog to friends. I have seen since that rather blind-eyed post of mine that all is not Honkin’ in the Kingdom of Krimps.

    Therefor I have revised my view, that there is something else that needs to be thought about. Buddhism, it seems to me, is just another piece in a larger puzzle. There is no Buddhism, a Buddha might say. And this is true. But there are a lot of people still trying to tell me that there is Buddhism. And there is a brain here, trying to find another way. Another way, a way, away. So, call this a “marker” on my own journey. Journey, my ass. What kind of simpleton thinks of his life as a journey?

    Therefor, therefor, therefor.

    I will return.

    But not until after I draw attention toward the problem of “ego,” which seems something that Buddhist thought might be quite good at dealing with. Maybe not though, either way, it’s a problem I personally need to investigate. But to what conclusion, it really isn’t clear. I won’t settle for any of that “enlightenment” hoopla. Well, maybe I’ll have to settle for a little bit of it. Childishness. A new level of “riding the barge” has emerged: call it what you will, folks, but the barge has neither “arrived” nor “emerged.” What’s that shit about “always already arriving?” I hate that stuff.

  11. sidg219 said

    I am not easily persuaded by propaganda, as a Buddhist, if it goes against my intuitive sense of reason. However I did try to read through the basis of ‘reasoning’ adopted by this blog’s founding members. Of the several glaring areas of misunderstanding, this one stands out as a classic piece of clueless misrepresentation : ‘Buddhism” suggests an abstract, and abstractly static, One’.

    In reality the Buddhist core concept of ‘anicca’ or insubstantiality is just the arch-opposite. It is one of three fundamental pillars on which Buddhism rests, and even the Wikipedia entry defines it in simple terms as : ‘The term expresses the Buddhist notion that all of conditioned existence, without exception, is in a constant state of flux.’ Mahayana Buddhism takes this concept even further by propounding a kind of existential emptiness (shunyata) as a basic state of nothingness from which all phenomena arise. While I am not arguing here about the correctness of these Buddhist principles, I would express my grave concerns about a lapse in fiduciary responsibility that I see in this blog, even though it is just on blogosphere. We owe this to the society we live in as a pre-condition to our claims to have ‘obtained an education’.

    However strongly our anarchist impulses propel us to challenge all authority, members of an ‘educated ‘free’ society are duty bound to discuss issues on the basis of data, not their prejudices. Our very freedom depends on this. Distortion, deception and lying are the forerunners of the collapse of freedom of information, and often part of a strategic game-plan to benefit in some way from disinformation. While I can share the joy of the blog owners in seeing the number of visits to this blog escalate on the basis of its anti-authoritarian stance, I cannot but state my utter disappointment about the anarchist mindsets, which is becoming a signature of our times in some respects : creating a splash mattering more than the principles upon which such a splash needs to be created.

    I can only appeal to reason to the blog’s ‘creative’ meme-generators : The Lure of fast, easy claim to fame through unleashing anarchism is really nothing substantial – its as transitory as a desperate starlet’s attempt to force entry into the headlines through blazing acts of indecency. Life is much more meaningful if we have the tenacity to pursue reason in relative obscurity than self-gratify our illusory impulses for ‘fame’. That’s when our personal sense of bleakness starts receding.

 
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