I will be participating in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) on March 30th from 2-3pm EDT. It is being hosted by subreddit r/ShambhalaBuddhism. Here’s the page. It’s a very straight-forward process: you ask a question, and I answer it. You can read more about AMAs here. Ask away!
AMA – Saturday March 30, 2-3 pm EDT. Glenn Wallis (Speculative Non Buddhism) author of A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real
[Here’s the entire session:]
More from his own bio:
I hold a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. My training was mainly philological, concentrating on Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan Buddhist literature. For a long time, I have been concerned with how to make classical Buddhist literature, philosophy, and practice relevant to contemporary life. So, much of my work stems from that concern.
I have written books and articles on various aspects of Buddhism. Some of this work is intended for the public, some is more specialized. I have also practiced for many years in several Buddhist traditions, including Vipassana, Dzogchen, and mainly Soto Zen. At various periods in my life, I have led meditation groups and offered retreats.
My recent work is best summed up in the title for a book I recently published with Bloomsbury: A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real. My critique draws from François Laruelle’s non-philosophy. The blog I founded in 2011, Speculative Non-Buddhism, contains many essays, by me and others, that reflect this critical direction.
Since the early 1990s, I have taught in the religion departments of several universities, including the University of Georgia (where I received tenure), Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Currently, I am director of Incite Seminars, in Philadelphia.
Here’s some links to get you started:
- Incite Seminars
- Glenn Wallis homepage
- Speculative Non-Buddhism
- A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real
Some selected recent writings by Glenn:
- Annabella Pitkin’s Review (Response to a book reviewer)
- Anne Gleig on SNB (Response to Anne Gleig’s book’s section on Glenn and SNB)
- The Case Against Buddhism
- Gautama vs the Buddha (Lion’s Roar 2018)
In the meantime, if anyone needs assistance obtaining a digital copy of the book before his AMA, send a note to the mods and we can help arrange that.
EDITED: Saturday March 30. 1:45 pm EDT
We are just about to welcome Glenn. His reddit account is verified as /u/glennwallis. Look out for a hello post around 2 pm sharp.
One caveat: as many here have probably already ascertained, Glenn has an interesting relationship to speech and so-called Right Speech. He offers this in advance of answering questions:
I am a militant anti-right-speechist. So, I actually value very critical, even hostile, questions.
EDITED: Saturday March 30. 3:05 pm EDT
Huge and humble thanks to Glenn for doing this. There is a tremendous amount to think about, discuss and consider. Make sure to keep tabs on this very prolific writer and definitely check out Incite Seminars if you have the good fortune to live in Philadelphia. Thank you Glenn!
The mods have a few very exciting AMAs in the works. The next one on the agenda is Dr. Anne Gleig in April. Keep your eyes out for details.
I hope Glenn won’t mind ending on this, his proposed title for a Buddhist horror fiction:
“A Better End to the World is Possible.”
What does sangha look like for speculative non-Buddhists?
I, and it seems many others, genuinely yearn for a social context that supports Buddhist practice. However, Buddhist groups tend to be very unfriendly towards critique. How can we, who are interested in both analysis and practice, but without a drive for the preservation of any particular teachings, find community?
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
I love questions about practice. Thank you, AbbeyStrict!
To my way of thinking, this is the question that goes to the heart of the matter. The answer I give in the book involves a practitioner called sometimes “the stranger subject” and sometimes “the buddha subject.” To be very brief, this subject lives, like the Buddha himself (in the stories), initially in a ferocious struggle against “the world under the sway of death.” This World is a place of interminable harassment. It is a conglomeration of controlling forces–the authorities; formative structures, like family and school; national and group ideologies, “spiritual” traditions like Christianity and yoga and Buddhism, etc., etc.—that ceaselessly tell us what to do and how to be, what emotions are healthy and which are toxic, how to be “happy,” what to desire, what not to desire, what to fear, what to embrace, the nature of the cosmos, what happens after death, and so forth. The stranger/buddha subject refuses to be harassed by the World and its authorities. (Think of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s line “To you, insane world/but one reply—I refuse.”) This subject lives fashioning self-determined ideological positions. Peter Sloterdijk’s premise about practice applies here: “anyone who takes part in a program for de-passivizing himself, and crosses from the side of the merely formed to that of the forming becomes a [stranger/buddha] subject.”
Having said that, it should be clear that non-buddhism wants to steer away from yet more—new and improved!—prescriptions for a more formalized practice. The idea of the stranger/buddha subject is surely suggestive of a practice; but because we want to avoid yet more harassment of the human, we must tread very carefully here. One thing to bear in mind is that the very concept of “practice” might prove useful only once freed from the cage of the Buddhist assumption that it must entail a yogic form. That is of course the ancient term for disciplines that were intended to act on the consciousness of the practitioner. The ultimate goal is commonly a kind of cataclysmic insight that initiates liberation, moksha, nirvana. Of course, the precise nature of these terms varies from tradition to tradition. But the general principle of an inwardly directed practice is consistent. Two contemporary thinkers have something to say about the very premise of such “practice.” Slavoj Zizek calls it the “New Age Apocalypse” because it entails beliefs about the end of the current world and the coming of a new world. Decisive to this formulation is the fact that the new world comes into being not through collective social action or through revolutionary operations on material structures, but rather through some sort of “shift in consciousness” or through collective “cosmic awareness.” Simon Critchley terms the inward move of buddhistic yogic practice “passive nihilism.” He writes: “In the face of the increasing brutality of reality, the passive nihilist tries to achieve a mystical stillness, calm contemplation: ‘European Buddhism.’ In a world that is all too rapidly blowing itself to pieces, the passive nihilist closes his eyes and makes himself into an island.” Whether or not we ultimately agree with these assessment of yogic practice, I think one aspect of it is irrefutable: it forms a perfect homology to capitalism. Both yogic practice and neoliberal corporatocracy require an individual practitioner. Yes, sangha is a collective. But it is a collective of atomistic agents, each effecting an individual outcome. Before saying something more specific about a possible practice, I’d like to present an important statement touching on this convergence between capitalism and Buddhist meditation:
[In neoliberal societies] the area of the individual’s transformative activity is essentially reduced to a disciplining of the inner self…The psychic inner life of the subject, and the social milieus through which it is seen to be constructed and influenced, become the sphere of transformation in order to develop the faculties of resilience and adaptive efficiency held to be necessary to respond to external environments more securely. In this way, neoliberal frameworks reduce the cognitive and psychic life to a domain of insecurity. In effect, human subjectivity itself, the ideational, cognitive, and practical contexts of its reproduction and the psychic life of the subject especially, become problematized as dangerous. —David Chandler and Julian Reid, The Neoliberal Subject: Resilience, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016).
So, if you find sufficient grounds to reject such an idealist yogic-oriented practice, what might an alternative be? I think it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that it would tend toward a materialist, dialogical, and interactive form. If we begin with the assumption that awakening and liberation are possible only as a collective endeavor, then doesn’t this follow? And if you find plausible my claim about the World’s harassment, doesn’t it follow that a practice must encode the very possibility of continued—of *its—*potential for violence to the practitioner? So, the practice would entail collective dialogue around issues that the practitioners deem essential to human awakening and liberation. And, crucially, such practice makes explicit the nature of ideological and subjective formation. You could, of course, include a “wellness” or “self-care” yogic element, like meditation. But beliefs about its power would necessarily be minimized in a materialist conception of “practice.” Beyond that, I think it would be too prescriptive to say more. My own thinking about the question you posed led to the creation of Incite Seminars.
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
Where else do you see possible inspirations for living/practicing sangha as something that is other than atomistic?
Real quick answer: in anarchist communities. But I would have to elaborate on that to avoid certain pitfalls that I see. I went to an anarchist high school, and so was intimately exposed to radically different ways of organizing a group of people. That experience is still coursing mightily through my body-mind.
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
Shamhbala has a privileged mythos that you may or may not be familiar with of “the Rigden kings” who are sort of ethereal cosmic patriarchs. I remember the moment when I realized how closely (in some ways) this maps out to the Archons from which An-Archism originates…..Ha.
Thank you, I really appreciate your ideas. They feel authentic and generative.
As a follow-up, I wonder if you have any more thoughts on whether and how Buddhist ideas can support material action in the world. I’d say social justice but that isn’t exactly what I mean, I mean something broader. How can Buddhist ideas (or other ideas!) help us help others in a material way?
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Thank you, AbbeyStrict. You really get to the heart of the matter. My short, non-prescriptive answer is: please figure it out for yourself! I don’t mean to be flippant. I really believe that (i) the question is generative of the answer (and so must be continually posed), and (ii) Buddhism does contain potent resources for social change. The non-buddhist approach is to get to work creating communities and crafting practices and writing texts and communicating with other yearning people and…
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. agoCall me Ra
For those here who are intimately familiar with Shambhala, to varying degrees, but have little to no familiarity with what the term Non-Buddhism means, how would you introduce it?
Edit: Going to add another question here rather than pummel you with more comments:
Neoliberalism has come up here on this sub frequently. Your own work has been posted as has the work of yogi/writer Matthew Remski. David Harvey recently entered the discussion as one of the most influential recent scholar/critics of neoliberalism. His definition, however, seems admittedly quite bound to the role of labor and sometimes seems almost like a fetishized return to Capital. Which then, for me, leads to an implied parallel between the 19th c’s Opiate-epidemic and Marx’s use of that as metaphor. Despite our current opioid crisis (which is admittedly far too lethal to suggest a kind of functioning society-wide structural dissociation), it seems that it might follow here to draw a parallel between opiates and meditation/mindfulness/x-buddhism. The similarities seem clear but the differences do too. I wonder if/how you’d speak to them and perhaps, specifically, the sense of a promise or “potency” which still haunts Buddhism.
A great place to start. Thank you!
Non-buddhism is a way of thinking and living that employs Buddhist materials (concepts, ideas, postulates, practices, etc.), but in a way that will strike most people as not at all Buddhist. The term non is a way of capturing this strange relationship to Buddhism. It is crucial to note at the outset that non means neither negation of-, not-, everything but-, nor anti-Buddhism. It means Buddhism that has undergone certain operations.
The first move in the non operation is to perform a thought-experiment that poses the question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what might Buddhism offer us? This initial question contains an assumption that will decide whether a person will continue in the non-buddhist practice or reject it. The assumption is that Buddhism is valuable as a form of human thought and practice to the extent that it refuses to hoist the transcendental or metaphysical big Other that defines theistic and idealist traditions. If you want your Buddhism to be idealist, than non-buddhism is a moot point for you. Since a major concern of non-buddhism is to minimize Buddhism’s transcendental operations, I can see no reason for someone who desires transcendence to engage in it. But if you believe that Buddhism is valuable because of its ability to deliver a robust and discerning account of immanence, then I think you will find non-buddhism extremely useful. This notion of “usefulness” is crucial to understanding what the term “non-buddhism” means.
The very first sentence of my new book is a question: “What are we to make of Western Buddhism?” This is a real question. It is the question that drives the entire book. (And, although I say “Western,” I mean all of Buddhism.) So, like Shambhala Buddhism itself, non-buddhism is through and through a practice. It is an approach to living Buddhist teachings. But, again, it results in usages of Buddhist materials that will almost certainly appear untenable to most followers of Shambhala Buddhism. One reason for this is that non-buddhism subjects, say Shambhala Buddhism, to an analysis that will prove much to critical and deconstructive for most committed followers. But the reason it does so is not to show where Shambhala Buddhism “goes wrong;” it is rather to reveal that tradition in a more creaturely, more immanent, light.
The second part of your question is super interesting to me. I am referring to the part about the current opioid scourge and “the sense of a promise or ‘potency’ which still haunts Buddhism.” The content itself is interesting; but the analytic implied in the question is even more interesting to me. Pursuing questions like this are precisely how we unlock ourselves from the view that Buddhism is an isolated, unitary, sufficient form of thought, to the view that Buddhist thought itself suggest to us: Buddhism as a perpetually mutating event within a larger social-cultural-political-economic forcefield. In my new book, I treat this issue in a subheading called “Wellbeing.” I draw from the work of William Davies in his book The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing. I argue that Western Buddhism, with its promise of potency, has a “symbiotic historical relationship to big pharma’s medicalization of sadness, positive psychology’s hyper-affirmationism, and even the military’s embrace of emotion (and trigger finger) steadying mindfulness practices.” In the book, I turn away from this pathway to critique. But other people are pursuing it. Per Drougge even has an article titled “Notes Toward a Coming Backlash: Mindfulness as an Opiate of the Middle Class.” That’s in Handbook of Mindfulness (Springer 2016). Two of the eds of that volume, David Forbes and Ron Purser, address your question more directly as well, I believe.
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
Thanks so much and especially for that Drougge link.
A follow up – how do you relate to or respond to, say, the charge that non-buddhism continues a kind of imperial cultural appropriation? In what ways does it matter (or not) that rejecting the transcendental claims of Buddhism stand to reject the value or meaning systems of people elsewhere? Or, at a garish extreme, that one could draw a connection between your rejection of said transcendentalism and China’s longstanding assault on “lamaism” as a kind of supernatural/bastardized cultic form?
I understand non-buddhism, like non-philosophy, to be a usage or practice. A non-buddhist approach doesn’t entail the rejection of, say, transcendence. It analyzes the force of the concept within a larger forcefield, ranging from in-group formation to broad socio-political practices. As Slavoj Zizek has demonstrated, there is a place for–a value to–supernaturalism even within a hardcore atheist subject position. It’s a question of usage and production.
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Wow, that went by fast! It seems like we just got started. I’ll hang around awhile. Thank you everyone. Those were all really stimulating comments and questions. I will be checking in from time to time and following up on any additional questions or comments. Also, feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Onward!
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
Huge and humble thanks, Glenn. This was extraordinarily good!
Tsondru_Nordsin·4 yr. ago¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Thank you so much for the precise and inspiring dialogue.
Why did you choose the lens of non-philosophy as developed by French philosopher Francois Laruelle to evaluate Buddhism and its manifestations? Would another philosophic lens provide an effective analysis as well? Would you come to different analyses with a different lens? How do you see Buddhism evolving in the West? Globally?
Thank you, KalajokiKachina!
A few reasons guided my decision to pick up Laruelle’s tools (=a better metaphor here than “lens,” I believe). First, I don’t know of any other method, “philosophic” or otherwise, that could do the kind of work on Buddhism that I am interested in doing. The reason I put scare quotes around philosophic is that Laruelle is employing the operations of the non to the unitary discipline known as “philosophy.” That is, using his tools, he shows that even supposed non-idealist philosophical traditions, stemming from, for instance, Nietzsche, Kant, and Heidegger, suffer from transcendental pretensions. By “transcendental pretensions” I mean that they ground their supposed immanent-empirical claims in a transcendent-rational warrant, or guarantor of meaning. (The Buddhist concept of “the dharma” is an example of such an warrant.)
Second, I want to avoid at all costs approaches that really only create yet another form of Buddhism via a kind of reformism. That is, non-buddhism is not a purification of Buddhism. It’s not the right and true Buddhism. It is certainly not “Buddhism 2.0” or “the future of Buddhism or “Buddhism hacked” or anything such current reimaginings of Buddhism. Speculative non-buddhism is to Buddhism what the cancellation of Euclid’s fifth postulate is to geometry: by performing a simple operation on the basic syntax of the system, all sorts of new possibilities emerge. In the case of non-Euclidean geometry it meant that where previously only a rigid parallelism of lines could be represented, now elliptical and hyperbolic curvature was possible. Given that such forms are in fact real, this was a helpful development in geometry. Significantly, however, all the rest of geometry remained as it was. Non-Euclidean geometry is not a negation of Euclidean geometry. It is geometry minus a certain operation that, on investigation, can be shown to be a hindrance to the very intent of the system (to describe real forms). Similarly, by cancelling the warrant that I mentioned, non-buddhism permits previously untenable postulates for Buddhism. I argue that what it permits is the unhindered force of its very thought (emptiness remains empty; no-self remains no-self; dependent origination remains dependently originated; consciousness remains bound to materiality, and so on). So, to your question, tools from anything resembling the history of ideas, the philosophy of religion, doxography, analysis of Buddhist debates, etc. would render this project impossible.
Many critics of my work argue that a better approach to investigating the viability of Buddhists’ claims would be to systematically present and analyze Buddhist teachings. But the very thought of such an approach strikes me as tedious beyond belief. More importantly, I believe that it would ultimately prove unproductive. I say this because contemporary Buddhists typically respond to criticism with an appeal to exception: As I put it in the book: “Apparently, there is no criticism of a given Buddhist concept that cannot be decisively dismissed with an added detail, an overlooked facet, an ever-so-slight shifting of the dharmic goalpost. The detail is taken from this teacher’s meticulous interpretation, from that pinpointed textual passage; or, failing its intended effect, from the hidden sphere of wisdom known as personal experience. The detail corrects, alters, refines, and reshapes. And along the way, it inevitably derails any criticism, rendering it irrelevant.” Unlike anything I am familiar with, Laruelle’s theoretical tools enable a dismantling of this appeal to exception, and make possible a decisive critique.
I know you are critical of the use of mindfulness as a therapeutic tool, its use perhaps creating the perfect capitalist-accepting subject…What would you say to someone like me who, although not buddhist, has almost entirely healed a very painful and life-long anxiety disorder using its methods, and further finding great comfort and strength out of pondering the doctrine of nonself and impermanence? These doctrines and methods have changed my life but I see no talk of their positive affect on your site (perhaps there is none, in most cases – though not mine). Keep up the work of your fantastic, stimulating blog.
Thank you, Millwalljim!
Who can blame people for wanting to create some ease and peace for themselves? Not me! I can say two things about the issue you raise. One has to do with the difference between mindfulness and Mindfulness. The other has to do with the intended audience for the SNB critique of the latter, Mindfulness.
I am not critical of mindfulness, with lower case m. I am critical of Mindfulness, with upper case M. What’s the difference? I understand mindfulness to index a simple (if not necessarily easy) cognitive function. At the risk of wading into a conceptual mire here, I will say that this function involves a kind of self-aware meta-cognition: I can reflect on my subjective experience; I can attend to thinking, feeling, etc. states or processes. If the development of this ability is what helped you, then we are in complete accord. In fact, I would even want this to be an element in the practice that I mentioned to AbbeyStrict above. But I would want to extend it to the social sphere? Why? Because placed in a materialist framework, mindfulness ultimately enhances awareness not merely of “subjective experience” but of “social experience.” That is, what this framework wants to clarify is that my “own” experience is but the existential vortex where the social meets me, my body, my awareness, etc. Taking this approach, how can you be sure that your anxiety wasn’t a ping of wisdom? (The truth often hurts, right? How might we view “anxiety” in light of that fact?) This is sounding much more teachy than I intend it to be. What I want to say is that mindfulness is a useful cognitive function in that it allows us to gain a vantage point on experience, and so enables reflection. How can that not be a good thing? Here’s how—
When mindfulness becomes the motherlode in an ideology that serves the neoliberal corporatocracy of Western capitalism. The name of this ideology is Mindfulness. It is, of course, too much to run through my argument here. I treat it in the first chapter of my new book under the subheading “Neoliberal subjects are us, wise and well.” It is not an idiosyncratic theory. Plenty of other people are making the case these days as well. (See the work of Richard Payne, Per Drougge, Matthew O’Connell, Ron Purser, David Forbes.) If you look into the matter, I am confident that you will discover significant evidence of an apparently unintended confluence between our reigning economic-political system and the ideology that is Mindfulness. If you think that consumer capitalism is the way for humanity to go, then you will not, of course, see this confluence as a problem. If you believe that capitalism lies at the heart of our unending catastrophe, you will. The fact that Mindfulness shields its covert ideological force behind the language of, as you put it, the “therapeutic tool,” is deeply problematic, to say the least. But the real danger lies in the precise features of its ideology. Whatever else it might be, at its heart it is an ideology of individualized self-soothing. I quoted Simon Critchley in my answer to another question. It applies here as well. Critchley terms what I am calling Mindfulness (the ideology) “passive nihilism.” He writes: “In the face of the increasing brutality of reality, the passive nihilist tries to achieve a mystical stillness, calm contemplation: ‘European Buddhism.’ In a world that is all too rapidly blowing itself to pieces, the passive nihilist closes his eyes and makes himself into an island.” One way to see ideological machinations explicitly at work in Mindfulness, the ideology, is to ask why mindfulness, the simple cognitive operation, is not put in the service of a robust and courageous social engagement. Why does Mindfulness encode mindfulness with the particular values that it does, and not others? Why does is present the particular inventory that it does of permissible/impermissible emotions, proper/improper ways of speaking, rules of decorum and comportment, and so on? The answer seems clear to me: because Mindfulness is an ideological, subject-forming framing of mindfulness. And it happens to be one that thrills the likes of the right-wing libertarian Koch brothers, the corporate-capitalist Davos crowd, and every CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.
Finally, my critique is not intended for people who want to develop mindfulness. It is intended for the gatekeepers of the Ideological Mindfulness Apparatus. Not that these “thought-leaders” read anything I write, or, if they do, ever admit it or actually engage with me. But maybe people who are about to enter into the Apparatus will benefit from considering my critique. Think of a critique of big pharma. On an individual level, maybe antidepressants can alleviate some pain. Maybe. I don’t know. The research is all over the place. But let’s say they can. Is it not still valuable to critique the Ideological Therapy Apparatus, the elements within our culture that serve up antidepressants as a remedy not for the rampant capitalist Golem that arguably creates the conditions for depression, but for the depressed individual? Whatever else we see in therapy and antidepressants, such a critique would also reveal the ways in which they interact with and serve the dominant structures of the control society. Similar arguments can be made for mass consumption (we have to buy shit, but…), the auto industry (we have to drive cars, but…), the culture industry (watch Netflix for fun, but…) education, and so much more. So, my critique of Mindfulness goes beyond individual application and looks at the broader social ramifications.
Kein25·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Greetings from France.
Thank you for your work on Non-Buddhism. I am actually reading your book “A critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real”. Very good food for thoughts ;). I also enjoyed listening to your interviews on the Imperfect Buddha Podcast.
One question that has bothered me for quite a long time is the role of rituals in Buddhism and more globally in society. I always had mixed feelings regarding them : do we need rituals ? If yes, why ? What is their real purpose ?
I would be happy to have your views and thoughts on rituals. Do you think there is any value in them ? Should we get rid of them ? If not, what do you think would make a ritual meaningful/useful ?
Bonjour et merci, Kein25!
I think ritual is unavoidable. And I am very interested in it. Maybe it is better to speak in terms of “ritual sensibility.” This is Ronald Grimes’s term. If you want to further explore “ritual,” I highly recommend his work (email me and I will send pdf/links.) Grimes distinguishes between the following modes of ritual sensibility:
His claim is that every single human encounter involves one or more of these forms behavior. The very format of the Reddit AMA is deeply ritualized. We could analyze precisely how that and the other modes are manifesting, and, from that analysis, determine all sorts of other things, like implicit subject, hidden values, world-forming assumptions, community formation, and so on. From this latter comment, it should be clear why I am so interested in ritual. If it must, of necessity, be an element within a human practice, how can we create rituals that best serve the ideological-subject formation that we seek? How can we fashion rituals that are generative of the World we desire to live in? This not easy. Precisely because of its potent nature, inscribed perhaps deep within the memory of homo sapiens, a ritual can quickly become yet another (magical) big Other, yet another (liturgical) matrix of human self-delusion regarding the curative fantasy and imaginary plenitude. My thinking about these aspects of ritual have actually led me away from the kinds of *yogic/*contemplative rituals that the x-buddhist World assumes, and toward more communicative dialogical practices. The latter are, remember, deeply ritualized forms, too.
By the way, my first book is on ritual: Mediating the Power of Buddhas. While I was writing it, I went to a Catholic mass virtually everyday. I am about as non-theist as you can imagine, but in participating in such high ritual pageantry, I experienced the ways in which liturgical ritual can be catalyzing. (Of course, the Catholic mass contains a rich mixture of each of those ritual sensibilities—and a big dollop of magic!) Thanks for your question. Stumbling through an answer makes me want to write more about the topic.
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
how can we create rituals that best serve the ideological-subject formation that we seek? How can we fashion rituals that are generative of the World we desire to live in?
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Again, non-buddhism is all about the force-of-the-question + morphing, cloning, and usage of whatever-material = an x-fiction that is a force-of-practice in the World (to use Laruellan-speak). I would challenge you to answer your own question. I would happily then discuss it with you.
Hokai Sobol — in an interview with with Mr. O’Connell — talked a little about drawing distinctions between three modes of relating to contemplative traditions:
- therapeutic (eg: mindfulness for productivity, health, etc)
- church religion (identity, community, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, shared narratives/thought-worlds)
- mystical approach. Here not mystical as supernatural, but mystical as being unwilling to rely on any collective-story to be sufficient. Instead of having violence done upon one’s being, being made a subject, the mystic does violence to the tensile forces which would hold ‘inter-subjective space’ (cultures?) together, so to speak. The mystic recognises that their person is located across worlds, and so they may embody a range of roles at any time. This applies to all people, but the mystical approach is to not land on an answer, or to solidify one’s stance as a means of comfort.
Q: do you have any thoughts on this distinction?
Q2: Do you still maintain a meditation/ritual practice? If so, what practices are you drawn to, what practices (if any) do you find enjoyable/helpful/interesting?
Q3: What is your favourite book you’ve read in the last three months?
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Hi thomyor. Thank you for your questions.
Q1. If I recall correctly, one of the very first posts at Speculative Non-Buddhism was on Hokai Sobol’s explanation of “post-traditional Buddhism.” I used his statement to create a contrast to what I was going to try to do with non-buddhism. I’d have to go back and review that post, but for now, this may help: Non-buddhism is all about crafting buddhofictions from the decimated ruins of Buddha chora, or raw cultural material. That means that the buddhofiction is crafted away from the gaze of punctilious Buddhist mastery. This ensures that the buddhofiction is not inscribed with more, but different, buddhist sufficiency. It is a creative yet productive usage of x-buddhist material. So, on the basis of what you give of Hokai Sobol’s ideas, it seems fine. Sure, why not form such categories as he does? Apply them and see what happens. Again, the key is to decide whether or not he, the teacher, is positioning himself as possessing special insight or wisdom, such that his categories are necessary and sufficient. I will only add that the very usage of the name “Hokai” is, from a non-buddhist vantage point, already revealing a degree of unnecessary x-buddhist paraphernalia display, or what we call vibrato. It’s a vibration, this vibrato, the tugs at the soul’s heartstrings, arousing longing for plentitude, and directs the gaze of the seeker toward the Master. So, non-buddhism is filled with terms of analysis that help us to see the machinations of mastery. The point is not to reveal the idiocy or wrongness of the master teacher. It is, as I like to say, to view the teachings in a more creaturely light. That is my idea of ruin: the teaching depotentialized of certain forms of human capture, and then otherwise utilized.
Q2. I am drawn to Soto-style zen meditation. I am like to create my own rituals. These usually involve the ritualized recitation of some text. But lately, my main practice has been dialogue with other people about big issues and ideas. Writing, too, is a practice.
Q3. I always read the book of Incite Seminar facilitators. My favorite in the last three months were Gabriel Rockhill, Radical History and the Politics of Art, and AK Thompson, Premonitions: Essays on the Culture of Revolt.
Some Westerners are studying in the United States with Buddhist Masters from Tibet who are teaching the traditional forms, including the Vajrayana. In some communities, there has been what I have been calling a “culture clash.” The students are attempting to align themselves with mystical practices and thinking, while at the same time continuing to live the usual Western lifestyle. The question is whether it is possible for a Westerner to fully embrace the Vajrayana within the Western culture. And secondly, do you see the present uncovering of abuses by many of the teachers to be related to this cultural clash?
Thank you, sherabwangmo. Another important issue. At the risk of getting called to the principal’s office, I will say two things about it. Here goes:
The first is more theoretical, and the second more personal. Really, though, the theoretical and the personal intersect in my case. What I say may be broader than what you have in mind. But maybe you can extrapolate a more specific answer from my comment.
I give a lot of thought to this issue of authority, of the teacher or guru, of “the one who is supposed to know.” I find this figure of the “Master” to be deeply contradictory within a program of personal-social liberation. As indicated in my answer to another question about non-buddhist practice, I want to argue that collective teaching is the way forward, and that the old authoritarian-guru model is the way backwards. I would even go as far to say that the “Masters from Wherever” perpetuate a kind of violence against the self-determination of mutually constituted groups such as a practice sangha.
Laruelle sees a similar danger in the lordly figure of the “philosopher.” So, I can begin by riffing on a relevant statement by him, changing the language to fit our topic:
The Buddhist Master, legislating for the Dharma, for the life of the awakened mind, makes an exception even of the fact that he does not do what he says or does not say what he does, but, speaking the Dharma, he makes an exception and enjoys the privilege of speaking about it and imposing it with his authority. I speak the truth, says the liar; I speak democracy, says the anti-democrat: this is the paradox of the Buddhist Master as thinker of the Whole who is never short of expedients for presenting the paradox as if it were acceptable.
I believe that basic reasoning should convince us that Buddhist Masters from Tibet, like those from Toledo and New York City and Los Angeles or Anywhere Else, do not do what they say they do, and do not say (admit, advertise) what they actually do. This can be said of Buddhist teachers of any stripe—secular, Zen, Nichiren, Shambhala, whatever. At issue, of course, is the development and application of the dispositions that x-buddhist tradition considers as decisive for Wisdom or awakening or whatever it is that supposedly sets the Master off from the common practitioner. As the Laruelle paraphrase indicates, the theoretical claim is that it is not possible to______(fill in the blank: uproot desire, eradicate anger, have compassion for all sentient beings, attain one-pointed concentration, etc.). Claims about such accomplishments are merely rhetorical; they are part of the display of mastery. In the case of the x-buddhist dispositions, I would further argue that the supposed result, even if possible, is undesirable. Would you really want to uproot desire or lobotomize quite natural and often useful traits like anger, sadness, anxiety, and depression? If the answer to both questions is yes, then at what cost? Becoming a lifelong monk? A three-year silent retreat? Interminable retreats at fancy bourgeois venues?
Personally, I simply have never seen any reason—literally have never perceived, witnessed, observed—evidence that suggests any “Buddhist Master” has the slightest inside “specialist” knowledge on any of the exigent matters of which he/she speaks (nature of consciousness, whatever). This claim will likely sound preposterous to many people who are attracted to communities like Buddhism that place such figures at the center of their spiritual world. I can suggest a simple exercise for getting a view on what I have come to term “x-buddhst thaumaturgy,” or curative wonder-working. Just ask two questions of any prescriptive statement from an x-buddhist teacher, even the most seemingly vacuous, about how you as x-buddhist should be, or what you as x-buddhist should do: (i) is this really possible (if yes, at what costs?); (ii) is it even desirable? I would be happy to have discussions with you or anyone who wants to puts this approach to work.
One of the first questions I posed on the SNB blog was: Do Buddhist teachers in North America affect thaumaturgy? If so–and, bear with me; this is not meant as a nasty question–how would they compare to the Wizard of Oz? With the aid of high sensory pageantry and other catalyzing paraphernalia, the Wizard of Oz affected wonder-working powers. Do North American Buddhist teachers do so as well?” I still see berobed Zen roshis and bethroned Shambhala acharyas as bearing (and obviously enjoying!) their symptoms. The question then becomes of what are they symptoms? In the heuristic to Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice, I list a few possibilities, like spiritual narcissism, vibrato, exemplificative braggadocio, ventriloquism*,* and others. (You can read a version here, “In Augury of Oneness Restored.”)
I believe that before a person can make a decision about the matter your question addresses, he/she needs to examine to what extent they are operating with the idea that such “Masters” possess some “internal, vaguely defined quality that sets them apart from the common folk,” as one cognitive scientist of religion outs it. On both rational grounds and personal observation, I see no reason to assume the presence of such a quality. Because no such spiritualize postulate is put into play, a non-buddhist practice would be non-authoritarian and non-hierarchical.
Hi Glenn. Here’s my question: have you ever doubted your approach on violent language as a default – and self-sufficient? – choice for liberating oneself and others from (/within) language?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I can’t see and greatly appreciate your reasons for contrasting the Buddhist “right-speechist” defaults, which I also find just as annoying, nor am I saying that you’re not – or have not been – capable of using language in subtle, varied and flexible ways (you’re pretty good; you know you’re pretty good), but rather that in most, if not all, of the materials you and the others have produced in these years – books, texts, posts and comments -, at least those I’m aware of and I’ve read, it’s never made quite explicit, never quite explored, what the other side of the coin should or could be like, if there’s any other side of the coin at all. On the long run, one even gets the impression that any form of kind speech is something to be ashamed of, in quite specular ways to what happens in the “right-speechist” communities; if you can’t bad-mouth them about something, you’re not quite in. I don’t believe that to be the case for you, but I’m not at all sure that everyone’s been/being that clear about it and aware of its partiality, limitations and setbacks. How can one avoid the “wrong-speechist” trap, if there’s in fact one such trap for you? How can one get some real intimacy with the violence inherent in language – any kind of language, whether violent or kind on the surface – but not just stop there? Have you ever thought about tackling the issue in an explicit way? Or, if you’ve done this already, can you please point me to it?
I’m quite familiar with your work on the blog and I’ve read and really liked your latest book, but I think it might be worth it to write about the issue in a way that’s accessible and useful to everyone. As Anne Gleig’s chapter indicates, that’s probably one aspect of your work that stands out, after all. By the way, the exchange with Gleig is what has made me think the most about this stuff. I can see why you can – and did – say that Gleig’s treatment of your work is marked by ressentiment and stuff, but wasn’t the whole exchange just a clash of two opposite ressentiments? I can’t find one single useful or fruitful thing in all of that, as in similar exchanges. Just frustration. Or, at best (/at worst), some moralistic undercurrent of satisfaction. Some of that might be intentional or even planned for, but I’m really starting to think that such guerrilla tactics can only get you so far, and that it might be time to explore new territory (though without ever abandoning the old, which, I think, will always be needed). That’s why I’m asking this.
In still other words, how can violent language by itself be prefigurative of anything but a violent world?
Pick up the version of the question that you feel is more productive. And thanks for your work, really. I might be joining you guys in reflection soon enough. Bye for now.
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
Hi momorio_no_kage. Thank you for you question.
Concerning the first part of your question-comment, I think I see two issues—violent language and anti-right-speech—where you see one. I am anti-right-speechist not because I think there is any particular value in piqued speech, such that “wrong-speech” should be privileged in some way. “Right-speech,” whatever it means in the classical texts, functions in contemporary Buddhist forums, intentionally or not, as a means of censorship and emotion control. That’s why I am against it. The significant point is that once you lift the right-speech gag order, you open up the expression continuum to include all sorts of otherwise depotentialized intensities. So, I am erring on the side of the unruliness of human emotion and communication. As a wanna-be psychoanalyst, I believe that important yet hidden truth-value is encoded in the explicit forms of our speech; so why would I want to encourage overt camouflaging? What interests me is discourse that is unfettered by rules of decorum. Buddhist right-speechism is particularly insidious because it is a feature within a system of ideological subject formation. Good Buddhist Subject does not even have to follow Admin’s rules because she has so deeply internalized the values of proper speech, kindness, compassion, and so forth. This is, to my mind, the workings of what Michel Foucault calls bio-politics: the self-policing of the person.
When I speak of the violence of Buddhism, I am referring to such elements of subject formation. Accusing an interlocutor of being stupid in a comment thread might be poor argumentation, but it is not violent in the sense I intend. In my new book, I analyze the following statement by Suyra Das as an example of x-buddhist violence:
Inner speech causes all of life’s problems. It constructs fear and guilt, anxiety and depression. It builds these illusions as deftly as the skilful actor manipulates the audience to create terror or tears. So if you seek truth, you should value silent awareness and, when meditating, consider it more important than any thought.
Obviously, that statement is about as commonplace and banal as you can get. So, I imagine my claim about its violent nature will strike many readers as wrong-headed. Yet, I am indeed arguing that the statement exemplifies one way that x-buddhist teachers inflict violence on the human. As I say in the book, the x-buddhist statement is a “directory of subject [person] determinations. It is rife with tacit assumptions about the subject, with passive-aggressive demands, hidden values and prejudices, gaslighting manipulations, and quite a lot more. In short, the passage illustrates the fact that if x-buddhism enlightens us as to the actual indetermination burrowed within representational thought, such that its subject is grounded in emptiness, no-self, thusness, etc., things quickly turn dark with its extreme over-determinations of the same.” What makes this violence so difficult to detect is that it is wrapped in the language of wisdom, awakening, love, health, compassion, and so on. Remember that my critique is interested in “wresting vital potentialities of humans from the artificial forms and static norms that subjugate them” (Marjorie Gracieuse). I believe that if people are made aware of the kinds of artificial forms and static norms that x-buddhist membership in the sangha entail, they can better wrest the with vital human potentiality circulating therein.
About the second part of your question-comment, there are a few points. I understand that much of the SNB writing is difficult. But, still, I don’t understand the complaints about that difficulty. Those complaints arose with the very first post, and have not abated. We even wrote a few essays addressing the issue in the broader terms of a deep-seated Anglo-American anti-intellectualism. But still, the complaint too difficult is #1 on the list.
I began participating in Buddhist communities as a fifteen-year old kid. Even then, in those early days, I was irritated by the cultural and literary anemia of Buddhist communities. But I was also confused. Doesn’t “Buddhism” have the root budh (waking up, understanding, knowing, intelligence) at its very heart? Why this resistance to dig into difficult thought, language, ideas, discourse, etc.? As I replied to an editor who asked me to simplify a section of an essay (for a Buddhist practitioner/Buddhist studies audience) on Jacques Lacan and Buddhist discourse, “So, your readers understand the teachings of a timeless Master on the rhizomatic movement of desire; the dark dissembling of self-delusion; the mirage-like being of the subject; the flammable bundled constituents of subjective experience; the bountiful void at the heart of phenomena; the quantum unspooling of space and time; but they can’t be made to grasp a few technical terms of a 20th-century psychoanalyst?!”
Having said that, I am speaking to Bloomsbury about another, “easier,” version of the book. I’m not sure I am the person to write it, though.
In my response to Ann Gleig, I was questioning her rhetorical decisions. One impression I come away with is that she did not do her homework on SNB. My own rhetorical strategy is to point out the chasm between her claim that “The most theoretically sophisticated and sustained interrogation of Western Buddhism has come from the Speculative Non-Buddhists” and the paucity of good-faith evidence she presents for her own assessment. I make the additional move of offering another impression of mine: ressentiment, or the display of irritated hostility that is commonly directed toward language, texts, theories, etc., that we have difficulty grasping yet are unable to admit it for whatever reason (personal reputation, social expectations for scholarship, etc.).
I don’t know for sure what you mean by some of your terms, like “guerrilla tactics” and “moralistic undercurrent of satisfaction,” and “liberating oneself and others from (/within) language.” If by the former you mean stealth or underhanded, I would say that Gleig employed tactics like that. And if by moralizing you mean the kind of thing I am trying to counter via the opening of the polemical valve in discourse, then same. Out of hundreds or thousands of possible statements to close out her treatment, why did Gleig choose the two that she did? In journalistic terms, it constituted a framing of the prior material. In scholarly terms, its editorializing via quotation. That’s underhanded. In this case, it’s done, as far as I can discern, out of a sense of proper decorum. That’s moralizing. You can probably imagine how annoyed Buddhist practitioners are with the non-buddhism work. But that annoyance is nothing compared to the irritation coming from Buddhist studies scholars! There are a few exceptions, of course. That does not mean that these exceptions necessarily agree with non-buddhism; but they are at least making sure they understand the theory before they pronounce on it. I am not greedy. That’s all I ask in a critic!
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
I am not greedy. That’s all I ask in a critic!
Funny thought … I have not yet read all of Gleig’s book but am excited that she will be doing an AMA here next month. I did listen to her on the Imperfect Buddha podcast last week and I was actually most struck by how she spoke of generosity in her academic practice. I found this quite fascinating, actually. And so it’s funny to see it here too, in your comment. I also have a connection to the academic world and am quite certain that even my own interest in reading authors generously is closely related to my experiences within dharma communities. I’m quite intrigrued by this. It’s a small prototype of something which I think is other than the well-honed subject of neolib Mindfulness. Just wondering aloud here.
Good point, rubbishaccount88! I have the following experience with academic generosity. I once took a seminar in grad school with the Buddhist studies scholar Charles Hallisey. He gave us an extremely difficult assignment. We had to read a certain book by a Buddhist studies big shot, and then write a favorable account of it. This wasn’t a phony account; just one that accentuated the good. This was difficult on two grounds. First, we were Ph.D. students, and so were practicing our academic chops by trashing established scholars. Second, this really was a trash-worthy book. To cut to the chase, I was the only student who surrendered to the assignment and actually wrote an essay detailing what was valuable. Everyone else was all “fuck it, this books sucks…” Hallisey’s lesson was precisely in academic generosity. I don’t mind trashing shit, but I do try to get the argument right first.
This reminds me of my husband’s proposed AMA questions based on my initial reactions to the SNB website: “Why are you difficult? Why is your website beautiful?”
ooh nice questions. I’ll work on them as non-koans.
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
Tsondru_Nordsin·4 yr. ago¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Does the dharma have a gate that must be entered?
OMG I wish I could go to this! ! !! !!! !!!!! ❤ synthesizers ❤ I guess I’ll just have to synthesize something else instead…
rubbishaccount88OP·4 yr. agoCall me Ra
With a small nod to Eugene Thacker, have you given any thought to what a Buddhist horror film might look like?
glennwallis·4 yr. ago·edited 4 yr. ago
I wouldn’t dare not defer to David Chapman on this question. But taking the job as an assistant writer under David, I would suggest exploring that “potency” haunting x-buddhism you mentioned in an earlier question. Bringing to bear a psychoanalytic expectation of the eternal return of the repressed, coupled with a suspicion that meditation/mindfulness is merely the death drive spiritualized, the promise and potency of x-buddhism begins to look quite creepy (and real!). The Buddha himself would appear as a spectral Golem, an undead Master haunting the self-confidence of the ever-insecure Precariat slouching perpetually into the late-capitalist apocalypse. I would title my contribution to this buddhohorror: “A Better End to the World is Possible.”
Well if you’re hanging around, I did have one other little question…why do you characterize encounters with the real as being violent? Couldn’t they just as likely be nurturing? I’m pretty sure I’m misunderstanding something here.
Hi AbbeyStrict. Can you point me to the context of that statement? In my thinking, encounters with the real are as likely to be funny as they are cruel, impossible, or violent. I believe there is always, in some weird way, a nurturing element to the real. But we have to be very careful here, don’t we? I think I need a whiskey.
In the beginning of A Critique of Western Buddhism you mention Artaud’s idea of the cruelty of the real. You also talk about “the primal aggressive force circulating within the concepts of” ideological Buddhism. The “id” of Buddhism seems to be characterized sort of negatively too, like a troll. I guess I’m curious why you chose this tone to describe the real, if that makes sense?
Hi AbbeyStrict. Ah, yes. I begin the book with faint gestures toward the Real made by semiotics and psychoanalysis. These are two areas of thought that recognized that there “exists” a void at the heart of their respective objects of study: language and the person. Via the work of Avital Ronell, I discuss the deconstructive idea of the “rhetorical unconscious.” This is the idea that a text/author sometimes says things it implicitly (and logically) believes but doesn’t admit for whatever reason. So, it remains hidden in the text, yet nonetheless discernible with a certain kind of excavation. This condition is usually discussed with language along the lines of hiddenness, darkness, deception, productive void, aporia, and so on. This is similar to the psychoanalytic Real, which posits such a deceptive productive void in the human unconscious. We know that we will die. And unless we are able to clutch at some imaginary plentitude like rebirth or God or a happy life in heaven, our death means eternal oblivion. Psychoanalysis claims that we are dimly aware of all such Reals affecting our human condition. But we can’t abide the Real. So, we repress it. We attempt to banish it from our human systems of symbolic communication. Yet, the Real being real, it always appears–as horror, terror, absurdity, negation. But IT is not any of this. We make it that because of our deep desire for the curative fantasy. It is just the Real, the condition of existence itself. In the book, I use these kinds of approaches to the Real because they are helpful to an extent. Eventually, however, I turn to what I consider a much more valuable approach: Laruelle’s axiomatization of the Real. That is, the point of my critique is not to say what x-buddhism gets wrong about the Real. It is to give the reader-practitioner tools for recognizing when the Real has been irredeemably mixed with the very material of x-buddhism. “The Real” remains a function of human thought that is foreclosed to symbolic systems of meaning-making.
Thank you for your reply, I think I understand now. I have no background in semiotics or psychoanalysis, but it makes total rhetorical sense to start out there with a more felt and maybe more narrow description of the Real before moving into a new, complex, more abstract definition.
I really appreciate how you’ve created a helpful model for the ways in which x-buddhisms dampen our experience of the Real, wait that’s not exactly what I mean, whew this is hard to write about! But you have done a really impressive job writing with clarity and precision about this topic. And I really, really appreciate that your models aren’t overly simplistic (not to dissuade you from writing simpler models, I know those can be really helpful to people too!).
Thank you, and you’ll probably see more comments from me on your blog in the future!
What do you think?