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Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds

Non-Buddhism Non-plussed

Glenn: Here’s my latest thinking on your Non-Buddhism argument, esp. with regard to Laruelle and the Real. Simply this: there is no other kind of Buddhism other than X-Buddhism. (I will say this in different ways so you get my point.) X-Buddhism is the only kind of Buddhism that exists or that CAN exist. There is no Buddhism ‘outside’ of X-Buddhism. There is no Buddhism ‘different from’ X-Buddhism. There is no possibility of another kind of Buddhism other than X-Buddhism. There is no Buddhism that is Real, or that is ‘more Real’ than X-Buddhism. The only way to access the Real is by ignoring Buddhism altogether, except to observe it as an artifact of history. In order to define the possibility of the Real, one must make no reference to Buddhism whatsoever. The Real will not use [Non][X]Buddhism as any part of its description or definition or reference any of its terms or ideas or historical artifacts. Once you say ‘Buddhism’ or ‘Non-Buddhism’ you have created a category that is severed from the Real. So it’s already and automatically [Non][X]Buddhism // Real. There is no connection between [Non][X]Buddhism and the Real. The only thing that is the Real is the Real. Therefore, all Buddhisms, no matter what kind they are, Non, Post, Un, Anti, or X, are already and automatically outside the Real. Just as Chaim and T. Pepper posit a more truthful or faithful or immanent (non-transcendent) Buddhism as Marxist-Buddhism, you are positing that there is some kind of ‘other’ Buddhism that is possible outside of or different from X-Buddhism. But there is ONLY X-Buddhism and it can never be the Real or even reference the Real or point its crooked finger at the Real. It is always and only X-Buddhism and it is always severed from the Real.

Editor: I am updating this article with a critique posted in the comments by Matthias because I think its a valid critique of my article, and actually helped me to revise and improve my argument. So thanks, Matthias.

[Matthias]. Dear Shaun,
I stumbled over this short article while having surfed on the Engage! – blog. After having read your thoughts on Laruelle and the Real, I wondered if I have misunderstood the non-buddhist project.

Of course, there is no other buddhism than x-buddhism. All –isms show a tendency to fabulate a Real, making it transcendent to our immanent thoughts. Despite -isms totalizing approach towards the Real, all thoughts are severed from the Real.

So I think it is a misunderstanding of the non-buddhist and the non-philosophical stance to say that these projects create something that is more REAL than x-buddhism or x-philosophy.

What the non-buddhist stance does is to disempower x-buddhisms‘ totalizing approach towards the Real. To me, the Real plain and simply is the recognition that all thoughts bounce against the wall of the Real when these thoughts are tried to be transcended and projected towards a Real.

So the whole non-buddhist project is not about creating some more REAL kind of buddhism, but rather, as I said, to disempower all kinds of buddhism and release the materials within these kinds of buddhism for a creative, use.

Response, Shaun:

Ok, Matthias I accept most of your critique in the comment, which is about Wallis’ use of Laruelle to dismantle X Buddhism as a totalizing world view.

However, I would respond that flattening the whole variety of Buddhisms into ‘X’ Buddhism is itself a totalizing argument; and then to say that “and what I argue about X Buddhism vis-a-vis Laruelle is more true than X Buddhism” (that is, any and all Buddhisms) is also a totalizing argument. I think it’s hypocritical to make such a totalizing claim. 

So now I have a different critique of Wallis’ argument: that it flattens all forms of Buddhism into one paper-thin category, and then declares it ‘totalizing.’ That’s not even how I experience various kinds of Buddhisms. Individual practitioners may think of their particular form of Buddhism as a total world view, teachers may teach their particular Buddhism as a totalizing world view, but that does not mean that all practitioners think that way. I certainly don’t and never did.

Furthermore, my argument in the article was not whether X Buddhism is a totalizing world view (or not) but about whether X Buddhism (as Wallis defines it) provides access to the REAL. I argue that neither X Buddhism nor Non-Buddhism provides access to the REAL. 

Wiki, the REAL:”If the symbolic is a set of differentiated signifiers, the real is in itself undifferentiated: “it is without fissure.” The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”

If this is the definition of the REAL, then my argument is that neither Wallis’ X Buddhism nor Non-Buddhism provides access to the REAL.

HOWEVER:

My more recent approach is to say that most forms of Buddhism are mythological in nature, mytho-poetic narratives. But not all Buddhist mythologies are the same, thus I am not flattening all Buddhisms into one category of ‘X’ Buddhism. There is a huge variety of Buddhist mythologies and some are diametrically opposed, e.g. Tibetan tantra vs. South Asian Theravada. The very diversity and contraposing doctrines and forms of Buddhism suggest they are not, and cannot be, totalizing. 

Furthermore, in claiming that most forms of Buddhism are mythologies, I am not saying that they lack truth. There are truths in mythologies, but it’s not the kind of objective, scientific, rational, philosophical truth that (mainly) Westerners project onto it. It’s mythological truth, narrative truth, truth about the human experience. Mythologies are what humans typically use to construct world views, particularly religious or “spiritual” world views. 

Political world views are no less mythological, in my book. What is the scientific, observable, factual truth about “democracy”? No, it’s a political mythology, a belief system, a set of agreed upon propositions and values held by a collective that directs their power relations with each other, that influences their form of social organization. 

Moreover, if we understand various Buddhisms as mythology, then we shouldn’t expect or insist that various Buddhisms should be logically consistent. We should not expect truth-as-logical consistency, or truth as ‘claims of absolute truth’. We can examine the various and contradictory narrative truths they offer and find what is conducive to human understanding. That takes the pressure off the practitioner to believe in some kind of false narrative of Buddhist self-sufficiency, which is one of Wallis’ main arguments against his X-Buddhism. For me, understanding that various Buddhisms are mythologies freed me from the constraints of Buddhism as a totalizing world view. I’m free to find out what works for me and leave the rest to “mythology.” As I’ve been saying about Buddhism for a couple years now: It’s metaphorical, not metaphysical

As a mythology, I don’t expect Buddhism to do what it can’t do: be logically consistent or make valid claims to absolute truth. I can accept what various Buddhisms actually are and what they have to offer: they are flawed, socially constructed narratives about human existence that also contain some truth about the human experience.

Buddhist mythologies of various kinds do not provide access to the REAL as Laruelle and/or Lacan and/or Zizek define it. They contain truths about human existence and attempt to create a context of meaning for the human experience.

*Note: I’ve recently been watching the videos of Sabine Hossenfelder, theoretical physicist. I would say that she is the first Critical Physicist I have encountered. One of her famous remarks is “Don’t take quantum physics so seriously.” She is keen to point out the inconsistencies, fallacies, and failures of research in quantum physics. Sabine is highly skeptical, yet she is also clearly in love with the science, and adept at explaining it to popular audiences. My point here is that if a hard science like quantum physics has problems with logical inconsistency, mystification, and huge gaps of knowledge, then what do we expect from a 2500 year-old religion like Buddhism? And if quantum physics and relativity theory cannot make claims to absolute truth, or the ultimate nature of reality, how the hell can we expect Buddhism to do the same? It’s just not realistic.

9 comments on “Non-Buddhism Non-plussed

  1. When you speak of the Real, That’s the actual teachings of the Buddha, the truth, the real truth, the Noble truth. This truth, this is real because it is liberating.
    Buddhism is not the real, not the truth because it is not liberating. Asian Buddhism Is large and hiding within the sangha is the real liberating teachings and available to the few. Western Buddhism is just a shell, empty of the real liberating wisdom of the Buddha, and is a false sham of a religion just as is modern Christianity. x-non-anti Buddhism (mostly from Harvard and other scholarly sources) can see that the Buddhism that they know about is not that liberating truth. But that is all they know, they only know the useless as useless, but they do not know the useful and think it does not exist or that they can find it.

    But all of western Buddhism including and especially x-non-anti-Buddhism is a miserable failure and it is miserable because it has no value in eliminating misery.
    So whenever anyone writes in the name of x-non-anti Buddhism, they are even further from the real noble liberating truth than those religious Buddhist they criticize. While Western Buddhism has taken a step away from the real and liberating truth into magical thinking, x (and the rest) Buddhism has taken a step off the cliff into clinical (cynical) ignorance that has little change to gain any benefit other than having something to write about.

    Spending time finding real liberation would be time better spent than writing and posting for the trashing of western Buddhism and commiserating with those trash mongers. Why spend time trashing something that has little value and spend time finding something useful. In short, you might want to find a teacher willing to set things upright for you. Time to stop crying over spilled milk.

    • Shaun Bartone
      2019/11/09

      This is the first post I have ever published (as I remember) on the topic of Non-Buddhism. I’m offering a one-off critique of the whole Non-Buddhist argument. Otherwise, I haven’t spent any time on it. But whatever. If you look at the five years worth of articles that I have posted on this blog (engagedbuddhism.net and engagedharma.net, and dharmanerds.wordpress.com), you will see that I write and promote hundreds of other issues and ideas besides this particular strain of [non]Buddhism. And this is the end of comments on this particular article.

  2. Matthias
    2020/09/21

    Dear Shaun,
    I stumbled over this short article while having surfed on the Engage! – blog. After having read your thoughts on Laruelle and the Real, I wondered if I have misunderstood the non-buddhist project.

    Of course, there is no other buddhism than x-buddhism. All –isms show a tendency to fabulate a Real, making it transcendent to our immanent thoughts. Despite -isms totalizing approach towards the Real, all thoughts are severed from the Real.

    So I think it is a misunderstanding of the non-buddhist and the non-philosophical stance to say that these projects create something that is more REAL than x-buddhism or x-philosophy.

    What the non-buddhist stance does is to disempower x-buddhisms‘ totalizing approach towards the Real. To me, the Real plain and simply is the recognition that all thoughts bounce against the wall of the Real when these thoughts are tried to be transcended and projected towards a Real.

    So the whole non-buddhist project is not about creating some more REAL kind of buddhism, but rather, as I said, to disempower all kinds of buddhism and release the materials within these kinds of buddhism for a creative, use.

    • Shaun Bartone
      2020/09/21

      Ok, Matthias I accept most of your critique in the comment, which is about Wallis’ use of Laruelle to dismantle X Buddhism as a totalizing world view.

      However, I would respond that flattening the whole variety of Buddhisms into ‘X’ Buddhism is itself a totalizing argument; and then to say that “and what I argue about X Buddhism vis-a-vis Laruelle is more true than X Buddhism” (that is, any and all Buddhisms) is also a totalizing argument. I think it’s hypocritical to make such a totalizing claim.

      So now I have a different critique of Wallis’ argument: that it flattens all forms of Buddhism into one paper-thin category, and then declares it ‘totalizing.’ That’s not even how I experience various kinds of Buddhisms. Individual practitioners may think of their particular form of Buddhism as a total world view, teachers may teach their particular Buddhism as a totalizing world view, but that does not mean that all practitioners think that way. I certainly don’t and never did.

      Furthermore, my argument in the article was not whether X Buddhism is a totalizing world view (or not) but about whether X Buddhism (as Wallis defines it) provides access to the REAL. I argue that neither X Buddhism nor Non-Buddhism provides access to the REAL.

      Wiki, the REAL:”If the symbolic is a set of differentiated signifiers, the real is in itself undifferentiated: “it is without fissure.” The symbolic introduces “a cut in the real,” in the process of signification: “it is the world of words that creates the world of things.” Thus the real emerges as that which is outside language: “it is that which resists symbolization absolutely.” The real is impossible because it is impossible to imagine, impossible to integrate into the symbolic order. This character of impossibility and resistance to symbolization lends the real its traumatic quality.”

      If this is the definition of the REAL, then my argument is that neither Wallis’ X Buddhism nor Non-Buddhism provides access to the REAL.

      HOWEVER:

      My more recent approach is to say that most forms of Buddhism are mythological in nature, mytho-poetic narratives. But not all Buddhist mythologies are the same, thus I am not flattening all Buddhisms into one category of ‘X’ Buddhism. There is a huge variety of Buddhist mythologies and some are diametrically opposed, e.g. Tibetan tantra vs. South Asian Theravada. The very diversity and contraposing doctrines and forms of Buddhism suggest they are not, and cannot be, totalizing.

      Furthermore, in claiming that most forms of Buddhism are mythologies, I am not saying that they lack truth. There are truths in mythologies, but it’s not the kind of objective, scientific, rational, philosophical truth that (mainly) Westerners project onto it. It’s mythological truth, narrative truth, truth about the human experience. Mythologies are what humans typically use to construct world views, particularly religious or “spiritual” world views.

      Political world views are no less mythological, in my book. What is the scientific, observable, factual truth about “democracy”? No, it’s a political mythology, a belief system, a set of agreed upon propositions and values held by a collective that directs their power relations with each other, that influences their form of social organization.

      Moreover, if we understand various Buddhisms as mythology, then we shouldn’t expect or insist that various Buddhisms should be logically consistent. We should not expect truth-as-logical consistency, or truth as ‘valid claims of absolute truth’. We can examine the various and contradictory narrative truths they offer and find what is conducive to human understanding. That takes the pressure off the practitioner to believe in some kind of false narrative of Buddhist self-sufficiency, which is one of Wallis’ main arguments against X-Buddhism. For me, understanding that various Buddhisms are mythologies freed me from the constraints of Buddhism as a totalizing world view. I’m free to find out what works for me and leave the rest to “mythology.” As I’ve been saying about Buddhism for a couple years now: It’s metaphorical, not metaphysical.

      As a mythology, I don’t expect Buddhism to do what it can’t do: be logically consistent or make valid claims to absolute truth. I can accept what various Buddhisms actually are and what they have to offer: they are flawed, socially constructed narratives about human existence that also contain some truth about the human experience.

      Buddhist mythologies of various kinds do not provide access to the REAL as Laruelle and/or Lacan and/or Zizek define it. They contain truths about human existence and attempt to create a context of meaning for the human experience.

    • name required
      2020/09/21

      “Of course, there is no other buddhism than x-buddhism.”
      Are you intentionally trying to insult? Do you see that making statements like this will make enemies out of those who might agree with you if you used kinder language.

      Actually you are proving two things. 1) there are not just many detailed differences in the various Buddhism, but there is diversity in understanding when is comes to the western minds. 2) you are one of those who think they know when others more wise smile at your lack of knowledge, and wintz and your cruelty.

      All in all you do more damage than good, and it would be wise for you to go attack Islam or something that can not answer your criticisms with humor and wisdom, but will respond to you with violence.

      There is the tree and then there is the fruit of the tree. You are eating the tree and finding in untasty and you have missed out on the fact that there is fruit also.

      • Shaun Bartone
        2020/09/21

        to Luludhamma: “2) you are one of those who think they know when others more wise smile at your lack of knowledge, and wintz and your cruelty.”

        I’m not sure what you mean by this, your grammar is way off, but it’s obviously an insult.

        “All in all you do more damage than good, and it would be wise for you to go attack Islam or something that can not answer your criticisms with humor and wisdom, but will respond to you with violence.”

        I have no intention of attacking Islam, regardless of how (various) Islamists might respond, with humor or with violence.

        I am not trying to intentionally insult anyone. Actually, this argument is aimed very narrowly at one particular author, Glenn Wallis, and his thesis about Non-Buddhism v. X-Buddhism. It’s based on his peculiar definition of what X-Buddhism is, which is not explained in the article. So that’s why the article fails to properly argue the issue, which is why I conceded to Matthias’ critique, which is a valid critique.

        Thanks for your critique, I appreciate that you took the time to comment.

  3. Glenn Wallis
    2020/09/22

    Thanks for engaging with the non-buddhism project, Shaun. Really, I can’t do better than to say that Matthias nails it with this comment: “So the whole non-buddhist project is not about creating some more REAL kind of buddhism, but rather, as I said, to disempower all kinds of buddhism and release the materials within these kinds of buddhism for a creative use.” Also, it should be helpful to mention that that “if” following the Wiki definition of the Real must be responded to with a negative. That Wiki definition is, for non-philosophy, way, way too imposing, way too philosophical/psychoanalytical. Laruelle’s move to “axiomatize” the Real is for good reason, and has far-reaching consequences that, your interesting take aside, may be missing. I’d be happy to send you a PDF of my critique if you want to dig in further.

    • Shaun Bartone
      2020/09/23

      Sure, I’d like to understand more about the REAL, and how Laruelle defines it. But actually, the notion of the REAL is just another kind of false reality. It’s another idealized philosophical concept that doesn’t exist in its idealized form in anyone’s actual experience, at least not mine. Maybe Laruelle’s definition of the REAL is closer to actual experience. The REAL has never been empirically tested to actually manifest in an observable way, such that it could be proven or disproven. Sorry to be such a stickler for empiricism, but I trust it more than philosophy, even though it is also flawed and often disappoints.

      • Shaun Bartone
        2020/09/23

        More on Buddhist sufficiency: I’ve recently been watching the videos of Sabine Hossenfelder, theoretical physicist. I would say that she is the first Critical Physicist I have encountered. One of her famous remarks is “Don’t take quantum physics so seriously.” She is keen to point out the inconsistencies, fallacies, and failures of research in quantum physics. Sabine is highly skeptical, yet she is also clearly in love with the science, and adept at explaining it to popular audiences. My point here is that if a hard science like quantum physics has problems with logical inconsistency, mystification, and huge gaps of knowledge, then what do we expect from a 2500 year-old religion like Buddhism? And if quantum physics and relativity theory cannot make claims to absolute truth, or the ultimate nature of reality, how the hell can we expect Buddhism to do the same? It’s just not realistic.

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