A Critique of Western Buddhism

It’s not quite there yet (including the cover, I hope), but getting close. You can pre-order at Bloomsbury Academic. Here’s a description from the publisher’s site:

A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real 


What are we to make of Western Buddhism? Glenn Wallis argues that in aligning their tradition with the contemporary self-help industry, Western Buddhists evade the consequences of Buddhist thought. This book shows that with concepts such as vanishing, nihility, extinction, contingency, and no-self, Buddhism, like all potent systems of thought, articulates a notion of the “real.” Raw, unflinching acceptance of this real is held by Buddhism to be at the very core of human “awakening.” Yet these preeminent human truths are universally shored up against in contemporary Buddhist practice, which contradicts the very heart of Buddhism.

The author’s critique of Western Buddhism is threefold. It is immanent, in emerging out of Buddhist thought but taking it beyond what it itself publicly concedes; negative, in employing the “democratizing” deconstructive methods of François Laruelle’s non-philosophy; and re-descriptive, in applying Laruelle’s concept of philofiction. Through applying resources of Continental philosophy to Western Buddhism, A Critique of Western Buddhism suggests a possible practice for our time, an “anthropotechnic,” or religion transposed from its seductive, but misguiding, idealist haven.





Introduction: Raise the Curtain on the Theater of Western Buddhism!

Why Western Buddhism?

Theaters Comforting, Theaters Cruel

1. The Snares of Wisdom



Neoliberal Subjects are Us, Wise and Well

2. Specters of the Real

The Rhetorical Unconscious

The Principle of Sufficient Buddhism

3. First Names of the Buddhist Real

First Names

Self-void (anātman)

Suffering-desire (dukkha-taṇhā)

Nihility (śūnyatā)


4. Non-Buddhism


François Laruelle and Non-Philosophy

A Science of Buddhism


5. Immanent Practice

The Great Feast of Knowledge

Thinking from the Real-One

Interlude: The Immanence of an Actual Suffering

Radical Immanence

Axiomatic Real


6. Buddhofiction

The Deliverance of Fiction

A Buddhism without a Past

7. Meditation in Ruin


11 thoughts on “A Critique of Western Buddhism

  1. Hey Glenn,
    Congratulations this is great news and like Matt, I’m very excited to read it. Of course Mal makes a good point–too bad it can’t be as accessible as a copy of Old Path White Clouds! but I understand there are many many costs associated with such a publishing. I’ll be happy to share mine with any readers here at SNB blog soon as I’ve finished it.

  2. Mal. The price will change, too. It’s typical for academic publishers to first sell to libraries, most of which are already subscribers to the publisher’s list. After that process is complete, the book will come out in paperback, and the price will come down to the $20-30 range. At least that has been my experience so far.

  3. Congratulations. It can be a long and frustrating process.

    The price on these kind of books is always ridiculous at first—they only expect to sell hardcovers to university libraries. Hopefully it won’t be too long until they make a paperback available. Of course, it will still be pricey compared to the new Think Not Hanh book on Amazon…

  4. I will commit to buying your book Glenn even if it doesn’t come down in price. Having recently read The Bhudda Pill which took a skeptical look at the promises of contemporary meditation and mindfulness, it is good to see the publication of another intelligent and critical voice. No doubt Josh Korda(also about to publish) over at Dharma Punx ( who claim to go against the stream, but whose preoccupations seem to be entirely mainstream) and some of his mates such as Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield will no doubt have a bit of a hissy fit when your book comes out as they did when Zizek made his interesting crtique of western Buddhism and its compatibility with a stagnating and unstable western capitalism. They seem to be increasingly reliant on neuroscience and evolutionary psychology to sell their message to a western audience. Evolutionary theory is a contentious field at best and plagued by circularity of argument and certainly not a science in my opinion. Hope I can get my head around Laurell. All the best. Paul

  5. Paul: just a query. I’ve read some good criticism of the cult of neuroscience, but none of evolutionary psychology. I’m sure there must be some serious responses, but the only one’s I’ve encountered are kind of right-wing and anti-intellectual nonsense. Do you have any recommendations for more interesting and intelligent critiques of evolutionary pscychology? It does seem to be ruinously full of unexamined ideological assumptions mistaken for scientific truths, but the few responses to it I’ve seen tend to miss this problem, and instead just assert more absurd unexamined ideological assumptions.

  6. Can’t wait to dig in to this tome. But just a thought: I think ‘Ruins of the Buddhist Real’ is a much more interesting title than ‘Critique of Western Buddhism.’ Avoiding the Real is exactly what Western Buddhism is about. Did you think about reversing the title/sub-title?

    Also, how is this different from Cruel Theory-Sublime Practice? What does each book have to offer? If I didn’t read ‘Cruel Theory’, would I be missing something in ‘Ruins of the Buddhist Real’?

  7. Hi Shaun.

    My original suggestion was Ruins of the Buddhist Real: A Critique, etc. The publisher insisted on A Critique of Western Buddhism: The Self-Help Myth. The subtitle was based on their search engine optimization research. I insisted that that would not work because I never address the self-help myth in the book. Hence, the compromise title. I’m happy with it. Thanks for your interest.

    Hi Paul. Thanks for your commitment to buy and read. I hope you’ll wait until the price comes down, though. Do it out of principle if not for the savings.

  8. Second question: How is this different from Cruel Theory-Sublime Practice? What does each book have to offer? If I didn’t read ‘Cruel Theory’, would I be missing something in ‘Ruins of the Buddhist Real’?

  9. Hi Shaun. The book is very different from my piece in Cruel Theory. The book is actually constructed as a theoretical argument. I added a short buddhofiction at the end as a necessary next step. The CT|SP piece was constructed as a provocation cum methodology. It assumed that other people would start creating buddhofictions, and so provided some support. The tone or voice of the two are thus completely different. As far as what each has to offer, beyond what I just said, I think that question can only be answered by reading. As far as your last question, each stands on its own. If anything, Cruel Theory is an extremely condensed version of the book. But it’s also very different.

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