I saw this discussion on a Reddit group called Sorcery of the Spectacle. I like the writing by u/Seigio that kicks off the conversation. It’s also a rarity among online discussions about the non-buddhism project in that it is intelligent and informed. Who doesn’t appreciate criticism that is informed, intelligent, and well-written!?
I would make just one small correction. Narcissistic Young Thinker says that this blog is “pretty much dead now, Wallis and Pepper having moved on to other things.” I can’t speak for Tom Pepper, but I am keeping the blog alive with the hope that it eventually generates buddhofictions. I have seen impressionistic flashes of this currently non-existent genre here and there, including in the piece below. Chapter Seven of A Critique of Western Buddhism is my own effort at this genre. What is a buddhofiction? Well, to begin, you have to understand that, as Narcissistic Young Thinker says, “To be a sorcerer of the spectacle is to fashion your own.”
Narcissistic young thinker seeking special powers here, presenting a short introduction on the blog that got me into critical theory: Speculative Non-Buddhism. I encourage you to trawl through the blog yourself, especially if you share my fondness for acerbic thinkers spewing venom in long drawn out comment threads with horrible navigation. Certainly it’d acquaint you better with the thought, which I am undoubtedly about to butcher in my inexperience. If combing through blogs isn’t your thing, Glenn Wallis, the blog’s creator, recently published a summary of the project in his book “A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real”. You can find it on libgen, or pm me for a copy.
The goal of the Speculative Non-Buddhism (SNB) project is two-fold. At the surface level, it seeks the teardown of banal, ruling-class Buddhist thought – what Zizek describes as the religion of neoliberalism. Deeper, SNB seeks to apply Laruelle’s non-philosophy to Buddhist materials (hence the non-buddhism), smashing Buddhist thought and critical theory in a particle accelerator and seeing what happens. There’s both a reverence and a childlike glee in the destruction of Buddhist materials, breaking the clock to see what makes it tick, then re-purposing it into an IED.
The Buddha is a plastic virus. WHO spreads it.
Most of us have heard the standard critiques against Buddhism as practiced in the West. How it’s another form of capitalist palliative, a tool to increase productivity by allowing workers to manage systemic stress. As a way for the individual to cope with – read, reinforce – the experience of the atomized subject of neoliberal design. The twin Critical and Buddhist perspectives of SNB see the commodification of Buddhism with a kind of horror. Western Buddhism is a castrated and subservient lap dog fellating capitalists on 10-day retreats, barking obediently on the stage of the World Economic Forum.
I love my life. I’ve read so many self-help books, and bhikkhu Carl says I’m close to enlightenment! Just a few more 10-day retreats to go! My routine really works for me. Every day I mindfully wake up, mindfully meditate, mindfully take my SSRIs, mindfully eat breakfast, mindfully sit in traffic, mindfully generate profit, then mindfully go home and mindfully eat out my wife.
SNB is not, however, advocating for some return to a pure, original Buddhism which has never existed. To SNB, all flavors of Buddhism have core functions that render them the same, a cross they bear. Schools of Buddhism – Zen, Thai Forest, tantric, app-based, etc. – are referred to as x-buddhism. The fundamental lack that renders these schools the same is what Wallis recognizes as the inability to think outside of themselves, the formulation of Buddhist thought as always converging on itself, a tendency referred to as the principle of sufficient Buddhism. The core cause of this inability, Wallis argues, is the refusal of Buddhism to think the consequences of its own thought. The Sangha as a barricade against the Real.
You’re thinking too much.
Thought is a chain, a loop of attachment that generates suffering.
Just be mindful, focus on your breath. There you go.
Bring mindfulness in. Push those nasty, stress-inducing thoughts out.
Your suffering is always under your control.
You choose to be unhappy.
I can help you choose to be happy.
Just download my app.
What does this inability look like? Buddhism claims itself empirical. You receive the teachings, meditate on them, and come to a realization. Then this realization is confessed to the teacher, who puts on a Hazmat suits and feeds it into the doctrinal machine. Your belief comes out the other end, always affirming the original teaching. What can be put into this machine that does not spit out more of the same? Every issue is a matter of not having enough mindfulness, of being too attached. Every scientific revelation is already revealed. The virus knows everything worth knowing, the Dharma is complete. What is doesn’t know it can repurpose to fit its ends. Every diagnosis is dukkha, every prescription SSRIs.
This is not to say that Buddhist thought has no value; the goal of SNB is to crack open this self-referential loop to get to the sweet, revolutionary interior. Wallis identifies Buddhist first-names for the Real, or real qualities of existence that Buddhism identifies but must repress. Dependent origination, no-self, emptiness. Buddhism presented as a way to think nihilism. What does it mean for a religion which focuses so much effort around the creation of a certain kind of subject, with long lists of what is right and what is wrong, to contain within itself the truth that there is no real self, that reality is fundamentally empty of any meaning we drape over it? Can these beliefs be repurposed to fight the reification of ideology, to create a smooth surface?
A fundamental part of SNB is the enigmatic and vitriolic Tom Pepper. His writings are scarce now, his blog shutdown and his book difficult to find. He haunts the comments section of SNB past, a junkyard guard dog defending the ruins from stupidity.
In Pepper’s view, the goal of Buddhism is to understand the internal process of subjectification, to raise awareness of coming-into ideology, and to reach nibbana, a state he characterizes by the ability to consciously construct your own ideology and subjectivity. To Pepper, ideology is inescapable, a necessary condition for any form of human experience. Rebirth and karma are not the rebirth and karma of the individual but the recreation and rebirth of the subject, which must always be collective. The figure of the Bodhisattva is one who delays enlightenment, a recurring revolutionary subjectivity that fashions itself.
Pepper’s characterization of nibbana is what really intrigues me, as a young power-seeking narcissist, and which links this flavor of thought to SotS in my mind. Is not the goal of sorcery to create your own meaning – the philosophers stone as the true will. To see the spectacle is to see the process of subject building. To be a sorcerer of the spectacle is to fashion your own.
This is my first post here so I apologize if it’s a little sloppy, especially the formatting. I’m still working my way through Debord so the last paragraph is probably an inaccurate characterization of the spectacle. I definitely encourage you guys to check out the blog, especially the older posts. It’s pretty much dead now, Wallis and Pepper having moved on to other things, but it’s a worthwhile archaeological site for excavating ideas.