On the Liberating Force of Non-Buddhism

Screenshot 2016-09-02 at 5.18.51 PMUPDATE: I recently did a couple of interviews with Matthew O’Connell at the Imperfect Buddha podcast. Skype has its drawbacks as a format for conversation. I suppose that’s pretty ironic, given that conversation is the sole purpose for Skype. In any case, Matthew does an admirable job of guiding the conversation into interesting places, and of fostering dialogue. I wonder if thatgenuine dialogueis what’s missing from Western Buddhist practice today.

Heartfelt thanks to Matthew for taking the time and trouble of working through the non-buddhism material. If, doing so, he has come to recognize the practical and theoretical value of our work for contemporary Western Buddhism, maybe others will as well.


Matthew O’Connell and Stuart Baldwin have a lively, humorous, and insightful discussion of non-buddhism at the Soundcloud podcast Imperfect Buddha.

It’s heartening to listen to a discussion of our project by two intelligent and informed people. Thanks to Matthew and Stuart for putting in what must have been a considerable amount of time and effort to engage with Speculative Non-Buddhist ideas. We appreciate it.

If the listener takes away only one of the many fine points that Matthew and Stuart make, may it be the one about non-buddhism as a productive practice.

Here’s the description from Matthew’s blog Post-traditional Buddhism

This episode tackles a complex but thoroughly important topic, namely non-Buddhism. A theoretical project/applied critique of Buddhism as ideology; as an unintentional prison. This work gets at the heart of what’s missing in Buddhism and Buddhist discourse; a failure to understand the collective formation of selves. Due to such, Buddhism operates at the level of the individual and the abstract mythical landscape that is the six realms. It fails to understand the collective formation of selves and the omnipresent role of ideology in the mass suffering and ignorance that grips our species. Non-Buddhism is here to wake Buddhists up to this ignored and uncomfortable reality.

Glenn Wallis is the architect of this wondrous and terrible journey into the heart of darkness. He is a wordsmith and profoundly insightful corrupter of all that is beloved and pure in Buddhism in its guise as escape from reality. He is also a punk rock driven despiser of conformity and liberal ignorance. Glenn may be more compassionate than many realise as he provokes whilst simultaneously offering western Buddhist a way out of their voluntary imprisonment in the false promise of Buddhist refuge.

Stuart and I tackle the vocabulary, the concepts, the philosophy, the hard business of thinking, so that you dear listener can get a grasp on one of the most radical critiques of Buddhism to emerge in its entire history. Really.

Will it withstand the power of insight? Will it remain intact? Will it be changed by those who get it? Who knows? That’s in part going to be up to you.

Can your Buddhist identity take it? Can you withstand the depth of dismantling decimation? Can you handle the truth?

Find out by checking out the latest and greatest of recent Imperfect Buddha podcast episodes. Get some non- going on.


Imperfect Buddha: Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, and blog.

5 thoughts on “On the Liberating Force of Non-Buddhism

  1. Many western buddhists buy the whole ideology, lock stock, and barrel. I suspect that becomes prevalent when a person wants religion more than spirituality, or when some kind of surety or safety net is wanted.

    Now non-buddhism suggests that perhaps this conceptual approach to buddhism creates a prison of thought, all the while, busily creating a non-prison of thought.

    The map is not the territory, and buddhism was never the map.
    Arguing that non-directions will lead to a truer buddhism still treat buddhism as the map.
    Not the finger!

  2. This was great. Could listen to this conversation several times. Would like to have heard Glenn take Matthew to task on a few of his comments. It is interesting that Matthew seems interested in non-buddhism, but is still a ‘spiritual coach’. His site says he can ‘help with existential questions’. That seems like a classic example of a x-post-traditionalist buddhist postulate Glenn mentioned. Existentialism popping up to ‘explain’ buddhism. Or. ‘coaching to find balance in this life’. How different is that from Glenn’s critique of mindfulness in his traffic ticket anecdote? Even more interesting is this phenomenon of x-buddhists finding curiosity about non-buddhism but never really engaging with it. Before I came to this site my buddhist bubble had been burst. It was so ‘liberating’ to find critique and vocabulary for my experience in x-buddhism. But I really had nothing to lose and am always ready for a fresh critique of that which is thought to have been critiqued to death.

    Anyway, I comment for my own ‘discerning/arguing’ practice. I’m forever trying to tease out mine and other brave spiritualists blind spots.

    Tom Pepper next on the podcast!

  3. Good to be reminded of the inherent limits of …… Buddhism, & well, EVERYthing, really. It’s all just a finger pointing to whatever-it-is-directing-attention-to. Language fails.

  4. Really enjoyed this podcast discussion, and am about to start reading ‘Cruel Theory’, as a result. I sincerely hope that more people who either consider themselves Buddhists or have an interest in Buddhism start to engage with this kind of critical thinking and radical questioning – it is certainly very much in the spirit of Buddhism. Hats off to you, Glenn

  5. Hi BodhisARTva (#3)

    “Language fails.”

    Yes, it does–but as the symbolic species (the only animal that evolved this unique capability), language actually “speaks us”. Language is what makes us human, has enabled us to escape our natural history–our ticket out of the cave…
    Without language, then, there would be no Buddhism or non-Buddhism or any of our other humanly created conventional realities.
    So in going forward, I think, rather than reifying our structures or holding our “truths” to be settled affairs, or feeling defeated in language, we should never tire of working to bring our symbolic systems to a more correct understanding of how the mind-independent universe (what lies outside of our conventions) works, so that hopefully we might function more wisely and compassionately in it.

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