Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism

Speculative non-Buddhism suspects Buddhism of avoiding the labor of hard thought. The previous post addressed this issue directly: a Buddhist teacher invoked the unsentimental demands that historical analysis makes on tradition; but she left undone the hard work of thinking through the implications of those demands. Thinking through—i.e., permitting thought to take its potentially destructive course—necessarily unsettles the matter at hand. Yet, somehow, whenever Buddhists think, Buddhism remains unscathed.

Why is that? Why allow the intellect to do only so much work, and then show it the door? X-Buddhists of all varieties invoke the sciences and humanities as allies in their search for knowledge—only to retreat back into the sureness of doctrine and, as Tom Pepper puts it, “down into the thought-free depths of the body.” Why? One reason: anti-intellectualism.

Anti-intellectualism? Consider this statement by a figure who has exerted an exorbitant influence on the shape of Buddhism—and not just Zen—in the modern West:

“Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis;” sutras are “mere waste paper whose utility consist in wiping off the dirt of the intellect and nothing more” (D.T. Suzuki, in An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, 8-9).

In this post, I present to you an essay by Tom Pepper that explores the nature of this tendency of contemporary western Buddhists to “reject the demands of rigorous thought.” From the perspective of Speculative non-Buddhism, Pepper’s essay is a valuable instance of escorting Buddhism to the Great Feast of Knowledge. Continue reading “Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism”