“What are we to make of Western Buddhism?”
So Glenn Wallis begins the introduction of his new book A Critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real. Semantically, this question may be viewed as asking two quite different things. The first way to view this question is to read it diagnostically or perhaps sociologically: “How should we understand what Western Buddhism is?”
The second is to take the question literally: “What can be made—manufactured—of Western Buddhism?” Can anything be made of it at all, or has it so utterly decayed into an embarrassment of an anti-intellectual circus? A Critique takes to the task of answering, or at least proposing answers to, both of these questions, simultaneously presenting an absolutely devastating critique to Buddhism while yet forgoing final judgement as to Buddhism’s ultimate veracity.
There are a number of approaches one could take in waging a critique of Western Buddhism. The ones that have been taken thus far have all operated from one of two positions; the first being from within Buddhism itself (the reformist critique) and the second from without Buddhism (the deconstructive critique). This has led to essentially endless iterations of the same few critiques, repackaged in different rhetorical forms. Much of the writing on this blog fits either of these categories. What is stimulating about Glenn’ critique, originating from the work at his blog Speculative Non-Buddhism and laid out systematically in this book, is that it takes an altogether fresh direction, one which operates neither from a reformist nor a deconstructive agenda.
In A Critique, Wallis is not attempting to explicate Buddhist thought so as to restore Buddhism to the glory of an historical Buddha’s ideological authenticity, nor is he aiming to reject Buddhism altogether. In fact, it is precisely the former two exercises that he wants to expose as being a problem with Buddhist discourse—and indeed, in a sense, philosophical discourse—in general. As such, A Critique functions in some sense as a kind of socio-philosophical survey of Buddhist thought…