I've been off and on following the writings Glenn Wallis, et al.

I am honestly bemused at what they are driving at. I don't mind that there are critical of something about various parts of modern Buddhism-- it's good to read criticism and write apologia, but much of it is couched in a certain, I don't know, "grad school" style.

What is non-buddhism? Is it some sort of pro-Buddhist Buddhist reform movement, or more as atheism is to Christianity?

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    +1 I've read it myself, and been bemused. The only conclusion I could come to is that whatever they're on about, they're pretty angry about :-)
    – tkp
    Jul 1, 2014 at 23:10
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    isn't this a question for their site? Jul 1, 2014 at 23:16
  • @yuttadhammo Not at all! SE sites are optimized to create surprisingly civil and fact based Q&A, the non-buddhists are unapologetically confrontational. And they aren't a one off, they are similar to Japanese "Critical Buddhism", a strand of academic buddhism that has a serious gripe with tathatagagharba. Jul 1, 2014 at 23:59
  • well, then doesn't this belong on nonbuddhism.stackexchange.com? I just wonder who here could answer this question. maybe you can point them to it at least? Jul 2, 2014 at 0:02
  • Glenn Wallis, et al. are academic Buddhists (or academics writing about Buddhism, it's hard to tell which academics are sympathetic or believers). They're on topic as much as something written by, say Donald Lopez. Jul 2, 2014 at 0:10

4 Answers 4


OK, I'll have a go, based on my (re-)reading of Wallis himself at his "What Is Non-Buddhism?" page. First, I have to say that one possibility is, it's an elaborate joke or hoax. The page says almost nothing substantial, except to offer analogies with non-Euclidean geometry or Laruelle. He says mostly what non-Buddhism is like and what it is not, but very little about what it actually is. But giving the benefit of the doubt:

His point seems to be that the label "Buddhism" may be attacheable to something valuable but that "x-Buddhism" -- i.e. all the "regular" forms of Buddhism, its types and sects and lineages, and their thought, practice, culture, and so on -- sit within a framework that pretty much makes it impossible to get to that something valuable. Therefore, in order to investigate the heart of the matter, you have to stand outside the x- stuff, and take a view from there. It's an attempt to apply Laruelle's "non-philosophy" specifically to Buddhism.

On the one hand it could be much ado about nothing. It's not completely false, but to the extent that it's true it seems kinda obvious. On the other hand, it certainly is possible for there to be deep, undetected aspects of human discourse and culture that, despite being undetected, have significant impacts on our way of life, and sometimes those impacts can be limiting and negative. So it may not be as obvious as I think.

Here's an analogy. Once upon a time, Aristotle codified logic. It was cool, and helped us figure out if arguments were valid. But it wasn't powerful enough to handle certain kinds of argument. Fast forward 2000 years, and in comes Frege. He produces a much more powerful form of logic, and also helps us understand what math is. But he makes a crucial mistake. So in comes Russel, and he fixes Frege's mistake. Or, at least he thinks he does. Then in comes Wittgenstein to show not only that Russel's fix wasn't complete, but that the whole thing just wasn't fixable at all. A few years later, Goedel belts the final nail in the coffin of a specific portion of the problem, but in such spectacular fashion that everyone sits up and says "WTF!?"

The point is, Wittgenstein and Goedel spotted that not only were prior systems broken, but that they were so fundamentally broken they were simply not fixable from inside those systems. To give Wallis etc the benefit of the doubt, I think they're arguing something similar (I'm stretching my analogy very thin now) about Buddhism. It's so busted that to fix it they have to step outside it.

  • Whoa, not only is that highly understandable, it fit in very well with what I do understand of the non-Buddhists' writings. Jul 3, 2014 at 1:15

Okay, I'm going to take a stab at my own question.

Nonbuddhism is a type of "Critical Buddhism" reminiscent of Japanese "Critical Buddhism". It appears to be a reform movement that is highly critical of a variety of elements in modern Buddhism. Unlike the Japanese version of Critical Buddhism, nonbuddhists (or at least Glenn Wallis) seem uncertain if anything will be left of value after removing the objectionable parts. The Japanese "Critical Buddhists" on the other hand, seem to want to remove a particular set of ideas they find unbuddhist.

Another distinctive part of the approach is mixing in modern Western philosophers. The name non-Buddhism is from Laruelle, who describes philosophy in a sort of "shadows on the wall" metaphor, where all philosophies are a project of what philosophy really is (which Laruelle confusingly calls non-philosophy). So non-Buddhism appears to be trying to recover what Buddhism really is from examining all the other Buddhisms.

Glenn Wallis previous wrote what were scholarly, mostly secular Buddhist books (and by secular, I mean, in the same family as Stephen Batchelor, pali centric and not interested in the reincarnation, karma, etc)

Tom Pepper is a Shin Buddhist, whose ideas overlap with Glen Wallis, but also clearly wants to integrate a Marxist viewpoint into Buddhism.

If anyone can fix up my answer by posting their own, that would be great.

UPDATE Okay, I'm going to try to include the content of some of the other answers here, since some of those answers are getting self deleted and downvoted for, what I suspect is their combative tone and obscurantist literary style. Not saying it's bad, just calling spades spades.

Non-Buddhism is a sort of methodology. The proponents aren't so much as coming up with a new list of orthodox beliefs but a means for people to transform the existing materials of Buddhism into something better.

Non-Buddhism entails a sort of particular dialectic, in the sense that to find truth, people should take up propositions and defend them vigorously, dispensing with social niceties, especially Buddhist social niceties. What comes to mind from the Buddhist tradition are the stories of eccentric Zen masters breaking arms and killing cats to make a point, or Shambhala style "crazy wisdom"

Non-Buddhism entails an ontology that roughly says, things are irreducibly complicated, the topics under discussion can't be simplified. Despite this, they don't seem to be arguing for a Mahayana view that certain parts of Buddhism are beyond (ordinary) comprehension, just that Buddhism requires what looks to me to be about a graduate degree to accurately work with Buddhist ideas.


Non-buddhism is an attempt to unleash the force of x-buddhist (or Buddhisms--plural) thought. The critique sees in all forms of buddhism a refusal to honor its most basic pledge: abetment of liberation. "Buddhism" names a particular means of shoring up the radical potential of Buddhist thought. But it--non-buddhism--wants to avoid becoming just another x-buddhism; hence, its difficult style. By the way, MatthewMartin, all the non-buddhist writers are staunch enemies of all forms of postmodernism. Their critique is serious enough that it will have to be dealt with at some point by x-buddhists figures. And also by the way, the critique does not come out of academia.

Hope that helps.

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    Yes, but with 2 profs (maybe 3) on the author list for their main published book, and a writing style suitable for grad school, I can see why I might think this is something out of academia. Jul 2, 2014 at 1:27
  • Why do Buddhists think they can master the Buddha's thought and practice yet can't read "grad" level text? Another major argument of the non-buddhists is that x-buddhism in the contemporary West has spawned a new variety of anti-intellectualism that is harmful to x-buddhist thought and practice. Jul 2, 2014 at 1:41
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    Do they? In any case, I am not sure the point of buddhism is to liberate only those with above average intelligence.
    – user70
    Jul 2, 2014 at 1:45
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    Okay, guys, stay on topic :P Does this answer really tell us what non-Buddhism is? I'm still fuzzy. Jul 2, 2014 at 2:50
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    This is one lame site! But it fits well the tendency toward conservative censorship that we find in Buddhist groups. Think that Orwellian idea of "right speech." Dream on! Jul 11, 2014 at 15:48

This site is poorly laid out for discussing anything niche or controversial. People who are actually familiar with non-Buddhism get voted down while the dross rises to the top because it is easy, wrong, and confirms the group thought (see 'affective decision').

Non-Buddhism is an operation on x-Buddhist Material, a critique originating out of the conviction that Buddhism in its various forms becomes an anti-liberative practice. NB seeks to elaborate some of the mechanisms that make it so and to, perhaps, induce aporetic inquiry, anchoric loss, and cancellation of the warrant of x-Buddhism. Once this is done, it is possible to re-visit the x-Buddhist well to see what principles in the Gotamic calculus survive Decimation.

The above is absolutely a sort of Non-Buddhist MadLibs, and I make no apologies for it. x-Buddhism stands accused of anti-intellectualism, a conviction in its own Sufficiency, and belief in imaginary plenitude - a transcendent enlightenment that 'solves' life, leaving the x-Buddhist able to enjoy bliss while remaining ignorant of the causal, dependent situation of their life (the horrors of capitalism, etc.). Refusing simple answers is an act of frustrating these tendencies and an attempt to induce thought, work, and change.

The refusal to give a clear, palatable answer to this question is also an acknowledgement that we live under the Terror of the Equals Sign, where foreign thoughts and practices are so readily exchanged for familiar ones, assuming that clear substitutions can and should be made. Yet, if we understand ourselves as contingent structures with understandings established by our history, we see that simple translation cannot bring about a change in structure and that change is necessary to understand something new. Liberating praxis is something to undergo.

So, this is an invitation for the curious, for those experiencing aporetic dissonance, or for those interested in becoming subjects to the Truths of a Decimated Gotamic Calculus to dive in.

  • Interesting observation-- the ontology (knowledge is irreducibly complicated) and dialectic (the buddha-fight-club) part make it hard to come up with what would be a suitable encylopedia entry for the topic. I checked wikipedia, no entry there either (another place where knowledge is general consensual & worked out by the crowd) Jul 6, 2014 at 13:27
  • @MatthewMartin, there is nothing that would prevent people from collaborating to work on non-Buddhist material
    – John
    Jul 6, 2014 at 14:36
  • (hit enter accidentally above) yuttadhammo, if you would like to engage non-Buddhism, there are plenty of resources and a forum to discuss specifics. @MatthewMartin, I think those are good observations. Several months ago, we did make an abortive attempt to set up a non-Buddhist wiki that does have the beginnings of 'what-is-non-Buddhism' entry.
    – John
    Jul 6, 2014 at 14:54
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    re: CT|SP- It's on my wish list but I'm hoping it gets into kindle format first. Tom Pepper is the most insightful, esp with respect to anatman. Re: non-buddhist dialectic-- I wouldn't know how an aficianado sees it, but I can see why I see it that way-- people on the mentioned blogs and forums are always on the attack. As for me, I'm a recent arrival to Buddhism, still building a set of beliefs I'm comfortable, I'm not sure I'm the straw man you're looking for-- I get the impression the non-buddhism is anti-establishment. Jul 6, 2014 at 16:42
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    Not looking for droids or straw men -- just poking actual ones. NB is primarily on attack because 1) it is based on critique of the establishment and 2) it is almost universally critiqued without being understood. I've opened up a category on the forum for introductory questions, rants, etc., if you're interested in dialectic. FWIW, my impression is that SNB people are sincere, passionate people.
    – John
    Jul 6, 2014 at 18:04

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