Feast, Interrupted

A Review of B. Alan Wallace’s Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic

In the following essay, Tom Pepper escorts B. Alan Wallace to The Great Feast of Knowledge. The Great Feast of Knowledge is a speculative non-buddhist trope intended to capture a scene where Buddhism’s representatives discuss their views and theories alongside of physics, art, philosophy, literature, biology, psychology, and other disciplines of knowledge. A central contention of speculative non-buddhism, of course, is that all forms of x-buddhism confuse knowledge of the world with discourses on knowledge of the world; and that we need a critical practice like The Great Feast to help us discern the difference. In such an exchange, Buddhism loses all status as specular authority. That loss is significant because it permits a consideration of Buddhism’s views on equal footing with the feast’s other participants.

On the surface of things, Pepper and Wallace seem to have much in common intellectually. Pepper, after all, is a literary scholar who characterizes himself as “a Buddhist who is also interested in philosophy of science.” Anyone who has read Wallace knows of his training in physics, philosophy, and religion. Indeed, as he writes on his website, Wallace sees himself as a “progressive scholar” who “seeks innovative ways to integrate Buddhist contemplative practices with Western science to advance the study of the mind.”

But the two thinkers, to my mind, could not be any more different. From a speculative non-buddhist view, the difference between them lies in their respective willingness and reluctance to engage thought in the service not of tradition’s validation, but of knowledge itself—even if, as Pepper points out, knowledge itself may have no discernible terminus.

But that’s just my view. Please, pull up a seat, and enjoy the feast! (Glenn Wallis)

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