55. IBP: Daniel Ingram down the rabbit hole


Are we all going down it too? Daniel Ingram returns to the podcast for a third and final conversation and what a rich one it was. I believe it is well worth your time. After reading some Trash Theory, Daniel accepted Glenn Wallis’s challenge to read his book and after exploring the infamous SNB heuristic, based on the work of the rascally Frenchman Francois Laruelle, he came in for round three. We go back to the heuristic that started off the Trash Theorising, touching on Decision, Sufficiency, and the Great Feast of Knowledge, before exploring novel takes on refuge, philosophy and practice.

The first two recordings have solicited quite a lot of reaction from folks on Facebook and Twitter and at the Post-Traditional Buddhism blog. This includes Tom Wooldrige who has a new blog dedicated, it seems, to critiquing Daniel’s Pragmatic Dharma approach from a psychological perspective that has stimulated reaction too. Subsequently Evan Thompson has chimed in on Daniel’s views, as has David Chapman, and Glenn Wallis.

This is a sort of eruption and a sign of the feast taking place. I argue that we need more of these kinds of conversations. Let’s see what you think after hearing this final one in this series.

There are lots of episodes connected to this conversation, some of which you might like to give a listen to as well.

  1. IBP: Daniel Ingram Meets Trash Theory: https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/54-ibp-daniel-ingram-meets-trash-theory
  2. IBP: Daniel Ingram on the Practicing Life: https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/53-ibp-daniel-ingram-on-the-practicing-life
  3. IBP: Critical Turn #1: https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/52-ibp-critical-turn-1
  4. IBP: Evan Thompson on Philosophy, Buddhism, & Embodied Consciousness: https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/ibp-140-evan-thompson-on-philosophy-buddhism-embodied-consciousness
  5. IBP: the liberating force of non-Buddhism: https://soundcloud.com/imperfect-buddha-podcast/91-imperfect-buddha-podcast-meets-non-buddhism

O’Connell Coaching: https://oconnellcoaching.com
Post-Traditional Buddhism: https://posttraditionalbuddhism.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/imperfectbuddha
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Imperfectbuddha




  1. That was a very stimulating and enjoyable session. Thank you very much for all of the trouble both of you obviously went through in preparation. I feel more intelligent having listened. Hopefully, I won’t gum things up if I make just a couple of points. I will try my best (but probably fail) to be brief. I hope they make sense, and serves only to add a bit to your already rich and edifying discussion.

    About the Real. I really appreciate Daniel’s understanding of this…idea, fact, conceit? In some weird way, what Matthew said is actually not all that different. But he employed language that treads the edge of the precipice, and on a dark night. More about this as we explore mysticism and nihilism. (If those themes seem un-non-buddhist-like, recall that we view it all raw human cultural chora, produced by the in-human Real, available for usage once stripped of transcendental pretensions and the barbed snares of subjective capture.)

    “Close to Zen.” Absolutely! But Zen itself, I believe, habitually, indeed constitutionally, flinches from Zen. I try to demonstrate this is the book. Daniel makes the very good point that non-buddhism hews closely, but in a deeply perverse way, to x-buddhism.

    “If you really want to talk about the Real, then talk about the Real, right?” A crucial point is that we precisely do not want to talk about the Real. Tom Pepper and I have parted on precisely this point. He is continuing, at https://faithfulbuddhist.wordpress.com, in a philosophical vein to discuss these and related matters. I am following Laruelle in refusing to do so. Perhaps the most important idea of non-philosophy is the foreclosure of the Real to unitary discourses like philosophy and x-buddhism. So, we don’t want to talk about the Real: we want to live according to it. (This is called stranger subjectivity.) The major non-buddhist criticism is precisely that x-buddhism is constantly raiding the Real, intermixing itself therein, and projecting itself (x-buddhism) back out onto the world, but this time as hallucination. See “Sutras of Flesh and Blood.” (https://tinyurl.com/y3ovvq6w)

    About decision. This is by far the most important part of non-buddhism. Many readers have told me that it is also the most difficult. Somewhat bombastically, perhaps, I claim that decision constitutes nothing less than a discovery about Buddhism. At the same time, this discovery renders Buddhism something other than what it claims for itself. You both mentioned important facets of decision. I would like to add another. This is decision as immanent/transcendent scission, the practice of splitting off the ostensibly empirical, pragmatic, secular, naturalistic, phenomenologically-verifiable, etc., claims indexed by Buddhism in order to ground those claims in a decidedly unavailable, transcendent, operator. My claim is that if it is a form of Buddhism, I can locate the transcendent (immanently absent) concept that houses the warrant of the empirical claim (eg. “The Dharma”). I believe that decision is thus a devastating discovery about the actual identity of x-buddhism.

    About philosophy. We do use many ideas, concepts, and thinkers who would come under “philosophy” in an encyclopedia. BUT, recall that I, at least, am turning often to the thought of a thinker—Laruelle—who is profoundly disdainful of, as he puts it, The Philosophy. So, it’s best to think of my employing figures whom I encounter at the Great Feast, stripped, all of us, of our disciplinary medals. Also, in my reply to Ann Gleig (https://tinyurl.com/y5qqxp4r), I explain to what extent the various contributors to SNB differ intellectually from one another. I am really the only one to embrace Laruelle. And “to embrace Laruelle” does not mean simply adapting his ideas to some local knowledge like x-buddhism, but rather to USE his concepts and ideas in a creative manner. Laruelle does not offer the usual goods of The Philosophy, like ontology, epistemology, and so forth. (That is one of the features of his work that frustrates so many people, most of whom who can ONLY read and think philosophically.)

    Practice. Criticism, critique, thinking, argumentation, discussion, reading hard shit, writing absolved from the grooves of borrowed vocabulary, ARE practices that change the brain. They differ from the kinds of practices that x-buddhism promotes, I think, in that they are wholly collective. (Though, let’s not forget that the Pali canon has accounts of people attaining awakening in conversation with the Buddha. That is surely suggestive of a collective-awakening practice trajectory within Buddhism itself, right?) We want to destroy the image of practice that assumes the possibility of isolated “attainment.” This requires destroying the (axiomatic? dogmatic?) image of the atomistic mind of the atomistic practitioner. This goal is in play in our refusal to say what practice is or can do or aims for, etc. We hold such an approach to be but more spiritualized harassment of the flesh and blood human.

    Guadalajara pratekyabuddha. I would not be interested in her discoveries for the reasons just mentioned. No, that’s not quite right. I would be very interested, but only as a spark for deeper human engagement. I believe that the ultimate “tech”in terms of “changing the person” is critical human dialogue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Glenn,
      We’ve come some way with all this, right? Don’t forget you’ve been invited into the fold and I expect us to have a threesome some time down the line. Now, that said, I managed to find some time to read more comments and make a few contributions of my own.

      “So, we don’t want to talk about the Real: we want to live according to it. (This is called stranger subjectivity.) The major non-buddhist criticism is precisely that x-buddhism is constantly raiding the Real, intermixing itself therein, and projecting itself (x-buddhism) back out onto the world, but this time as hallucination.”

      I particularly like this point. In my coaching practice, the question at the back of my mind, and then inevitably in exchanges with clients, is “What is the pay off?” “What price do you pay to maintain that position? That dream? That belief?”

      Not only do we mere mortals fill the empty space, we do so within a story in which we emerge as the central figure and it’s kind of perverse and beautiful at the same time. I feel a great deal of tender affection for this habit of ours to “flinch”, as you so often say, and then weave wonderful tales to justify our actions, our instinct for self-preservation, which we then project, unconsciously, onto our foibles, plans and projects. Because this is ubiquitous human behaviour, it is worth having a sense of appreciation for it, or compassion as some random Buddhist might say. I think the only way to avoid this is to take as a practice the constant discovery of the edge of discomfort and acknowledge, accept and revolt against the comforting compulsion to return to or find new forms of refuge from the real: Nothing stands still after all.

      Exploring sensations can actually be part of such a practice, or rather, is essential to it, but it has become blindingly clear that we must be kept intellectually honest by engagement with the great minds of our species past and present too through learning, study, reflection, analysis, discussion, debate, and such forms of practice sought out with those who will not merely comfort us. Anybody reading this might now sense why I was so attracted to the SNB in those early days of the blog’s life.

      There seems, inherent to this proposal, the active need to seek out of that which alienates us from our comfort, and that knocks us out of the complacency and the certainties of our own subjectivity. I tend to view this as a further practice, of constantly renewing our exposure to the world, of a bringing out of our subjectivity into relationships that disrupt. This is far more than a mere passive practice of retreat from the world: I actually consider it to be wholly continuous with the promise of Buddhists like Trungpa when he was at his best. It could be argued that such a practice is dangerous, however. Perhaps it’s the sort of practice that would benefit those who have been at the meditation game for a long time, or have had other practices which have meant they have become formed solidly enough to take a metaphorical beating. Daniel made a point about capacity and fragility. This is sometimes left out of discussion at the SNB and elsewhere: mental health, maturity, robustness in life, as opposed to merely a sign of the neoliberal self being built, are kind of essential.

      I agree with your point on decision, or rather the consequences as you describe them in your comment. I think that is what marks out those who have, in a sense, ‘got’ what Laruelle is expressing and those who remain at a superficial level of engagement. At the risk of sounding like an acolyte who has seen the truth, I have started to sense how folks negotiate with the terms so as to protect their inner commitments to some remaining aspect of transcendental desire. Daniel was right when he himself noted the fundamental role of disillusionment, but also, perhaps, betrayed an ongoing fetish for aspects of Buddhism and practice in his later comments that were seemingly non-negotiable. I don’t doubt, however, that he would, with some encouragement, continue to exit the sufficiency bubble: He could ultimately take it, in part due to his life experience as a doctor and long-term meditator. We would all do well to remember though how painful, destabilising and destructive such a process can be. And just because so many of those who live blindly within the sufficiency bubble can be so smug, it doesn’t mean we should wish their psychological destruction upon them. Since Tom Woolridge at Parletre is a psychologist, I thought it might be worth mentioning the role of mental health in all this.


  2. Oh, I forgot one thing. The issue of accessibility. My hope is to incite others to mutate the non-buddhist work according to their capabilities, interests, lifeworlds, and so on. We should add: vocabularies and writing styles. I conceive of any such work as collective. (Remember: destroy the conceit of the atomistic/atmanistic self emanating out from the center of things.) As an example, I believe that my 2011 post called “The Elixir of Mindfulness” set off an explosion. Somehow, it was largely lost on the x-buddhist World as but a passing fireball of heat and rubble. And yet, shrapnel fell from that fire, gashing several vaguely curious bystanders. Articles, blog posts, conversations began appearing. They possessed a familiar mark: the blood-soaked stain of the primal cut. No, they did not cite “Elixir” or me or the blog. And that is as it should be. Ideas should infect, and thus become indistinguishable from one’s own body. Of course, on further reflection, and in discourse with others, we begin to discern the collective creation that we term “an idea,” or whatever. But, in the first instance, it lodges in us. In the case of the Mindfulness meets Neoliberalism critique, when did that get injected into the corpus of x-buddhist discourse: with Zizek? with “Elixir”? with Purser? It’s a mysterious thing, this surge and swirl of Discourse. All of this is to say that my part in the interdependent origination of Ideas is played at the level of, well, however you want to characterized speculative non-buddhism. Does that make sense? My event at Harvard created a lot of buzz. So, Bloomsbury asked me to follow through with an “accessible” version of A Critique of Western Buddhism. I tried. I really did. I am simply incapable of writing in a fashion that is accessible to most people. Can someone else please do that for me?

    One last point about practice in light of decision. In contrast to the language, aims, rhetoric, etc., of “attainment,” non-buddhism turns practice into a perpetual labor of inadequacy, into a mode of action that quickens creation precisely through the interminable withdrawal from decision.


    1. Ok, I have just read this and I think I arrived at the same point that you express right at the end of this comment in my response to your original comment.

      The collectivity of ideas is a fascinating one. Dare I say there is a field of ideas that binds us all invisibly that we can access in the way visionaries and mystics would argue they are able to with divine knowledge. It’s just that it is actually made of us, and our ancestors’ struggles, and not some divine being hovering above us wretched mortals handing down morsels of wisdom.

      Whatever happened to Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious? Group mind? Collective mind? On the immanent, horizontal plane, perhaps something like a shared consciousness exists. I say this only because I am not so intelligent or even that well-read, but I do seem to find ideas of profound depth and lucidity floating around me that I can fish out of the air. It’s what usually happens to me when I meditate on my sensate experiences for a sufficient amount of time.. 🙂


  3. I hope Glenn and Daniel will share a conversation some time soon. Glenn it seems to me Derrida does something close to highlighting the decision in The Philosophy? In some ways it seems like Laruelle is coming around to an understanding of Derrida and Deleuze (after perhaps initially rebelling against them). Without denying the utility of dialog, you risk to go down a rabbit hole that social constructionism went down if language is overly privileged. I see a similar risk of Daniel going down a rabbit hole of phenomenalism. Both of you might be served by a social perspective that goes beyond language and beyond embodied cognition, something along the lines of extended cognition – I wonder what you both think about enactivism (leaning toward social constructionism).


    1. Hi Mark,

      I’m a big fan of embodied consciousness but feel too it is overtly limited; it’s a step in the right direction away from the mind as somehow locked in our heads. The whole question of where mind starts and stops is a fascinating one. I think this is why phenomenology continues to be so useful when thinking about contemplative practices; it skips the hard questions of where mind is ontologically and at least gives us a basis for talking about, describing and working with direct experience. We need more than just those descriptions however.

      I assume the extreme end of consciousness or mind going beyond the body is Panpsychism and that in-between dualism and monism you have many way stages where mind is believed to stop. Each of those is worth exploring. There is something to be said, or rather understood, about the collective conscious/unconscious and the role the individual plays in it and I think that social constructivism represents an extremely impoverished view of mind if it stands alone. It is a non-negotiable element of mind, but not the whole picture.

      I agree that the two of them should still go ahead and have a chat on the podcast.



      1. Hi Matthew,

        Embodied consciousness (e.g. the body grounds experience) is not the same as extended cognition (e.g. cognition extends beyond the body).

        Social constructivism (e.g. society constructs an individual’s map of reality) is not the same as social constructionism (e.g. experience is socially constructed). There are lots of variations on these themes, for example, “strong social constructionism” can be associated with “extended cognition” to come up with something like “extended mind”. Some people seem to be taking Enactivism in that direction.

        Panpsychism appears to be founded in reductionism, like how we might explain matter with atomism. But it is also serving a purpose of denying our ignorance, which I think is tied up with a profound anthropocentrism. If we can get over the need to “ground” knowledge then propositions like panpsychism seem close to debates about the number of angels that can fit on a pin head.

        The reason I suggest some concepts for discussion is to see if Glenn and Daniel could see strengths and weaknesses in BOTH of their positions from another perspective. That exercise might be useful for both of them (and us listeners). It does not really matter what the perspective they use is, if it gets them out of the dichotomy their interactions seem to reflect.

        It might be worth mentioning that “strong social constructionism” only leads to ideas of relativism and arbitrary truth for those criticising that position. Nobody I’ve found worth reading about strong social constructionism tries to argue for those positions. To begin with the belief in a bounded individual goes out the window, so it typically leads to some form of relationalism.

        Social constructionism does not propose a metaphysics, it does not deny the utility (or inutility) of metaphysics either. It draws attention to the risk of socially constructed limitations of knowledge. I think of SC as a tool for thinking. It can expand the utility of the “non”. This might be of use: whenever someone uses a phrase like “X is just socially constructed” you know they have no idea about social constructionism.



  4. I have listened with interest to the three-part conversation between Matthew O’Connell and Daniel Ingram, devoted in part to a discussion of Speculative Non-Buddhism. I am new to these discussions, but a number of issues caught my attention, including: (1) the role, if any, of “unconstructed” or “direct” experience in Buddhist practice (and a related issue: is the ultimate goal of practice a non-conceptual state?); (2) the epistemic warrants for truth claims in the Buddhist tradition, including questions about the authority of experiences gained through meditative practice; note that important questions about authority extend to the authority of the Buddha, the authority of scripture, the authority of living teachers, and so on; and (3) how one can square the contemporary notion of “social construction” with the notion of “freedom” (whether understood as liberation, detachment, transcendence, etc.) supposedly gained through Buddhist practice. Note that all three issues ultimately bear on what (if anything) is meant by “the Real.”

    I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that at least some the parties engaged in these contemporary discussions are unaware that these same issues were topics of intense debates within the Buddhist tradition over many centuries. The question as to whether the goal of practice is a non-conceptual or unconstructed (nirvikalpa) state was at the heart of debates between the so-called Northern and Southern schools of Chan, as well as the Samye debates between the Indian master Kamalaśīla and the Chinese master Moheyan in Tibet, both of which took place in the eighth century. (The Chinese debates over the buddha-nature of insentient objects—whether a tree or a roof-tile, for example, can attain buddhahood and preach the dharma—revolved around the same issue: is the goal of practice non-thinking and is non-thinking tantamount to a kind of insentience?) But the topics raised in these medieval debates can be traced back to earlier discussions among the different sub-schools of Sarvāstivāda abhidharma: Vaibhāṣikas and Sautrāntikas, for example, disagreed over how to make sense of the notion of “direct sense perception” (that is to say, do we ever make immediate contact with the world as such). The question as to whether it makes sense to speak of direct or unmediated perception also figured into debates between Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. And even within the Yogācāra camp, different masters held different views on the topic; witness the disagreements between Dignāga and Dharmapāla over whether conscious awareness is inherently “self-reflexive.” (I.e., can awareness be aware of itself?) The question as to what is a legitimate warrant for truth claims—including truth claims based on direct perception, reflection and inference, and “meditative experience” (yogi-pratyakṣa)—is one of the core issues motivating Pramāṇavāda philosophy that emerged in India in the sixth century. (Chan would raise similar issues about the authority of the Buddha, the authority of the scriptures, and even the authority of the Chan master.) And the place of “social construction” is an important epistemological issue discussed in Yogācāra texts. Given the Yogācāra claim that we live in a mind-generated or “virtual” world, they had to account for intra-subjective regularity and coherence. The Yogācāra analysis of the sattvaloka (the intra-subjective domain of sentient beings), bhājanaloka (“container realm”—the “material world” that seems to surround us), and the ālayavijñāna (“storehouse consciousness”—the subdoxastic mental reservoir that gives rise to both the sattva and bhājana realms) are directly relevant to their understanding of what we call “social construction.” Note that all of these debates were motivated by the conviction that these issues bear directly on one’s approach to Buddhist practice. Proper practice is predicated, in part, on understanding what it is that you are supposed to be doing! (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I have spent much of my scholarly career focused and writing on these very issues.)

    Buddhist modernists come in many shapes and sizes, but on the whole they continue to believe that Buddhist practice, properly construed, consists of “meditation,” and that meditation is a sort of empirical technique(s) that leads to non-discursive (nirvikalpa) states of consciousness (whether states of dhyāna or the āryamārga). But historically, Buddhist practice (bhāvanā) entailed much more than the cultivation of mental states—non-discursive or otherwise. It entailed the cultivation of morality (sīla) and the cultivation of understanding or wisdom (prajñā) as well, and morality and wisdom were not held to emerge naturally or seamlessly from yogic states. Rather, morality and wisdom were to be cultivated in their own right, and the cultivation of wisdom entailed engaging the Buddhist teachings. And this meant coming to appreciate issues of debate, critique, and conflict, as they disclose precisely what is at stake in practice.

    There are many disagreements between the Speculative Non-Buddhists, Post-traditional Buddhists, contemporary teachers such as Daniel Ingram, and so on, and I find the conversations fascinating but also disheartening. There is still a striking ignorance of Buddhist history and thought among contemporary Western Buddhist teachers and practitioners, and I believe that a better appreciation of the tradition would enrich and deepen the conversations going on today. If one’s interests lie in grappling with the claims made on behalf of Buddhism, why not look first at what the tradition itself has to say on these issues, before jumping to critical theory and French philosophy? (Not that critical theory and French philosophy have nothing to contribute, but isn’t it appropriate to mine the Buddhist materials first? My own novice familiarity with “Speculative Non-Buddhism” leads me to wonder what, exactly, is “non-Buddhist” about it.)

    Perhaps the reason some people avoid plunging seriously into Buddhist thought (other than the fact that it is hard, but what practice isn’t) is a residual and misplaced prejudice—perhaps due to the lingering influence of Western Protestantism—that serious engagement with Buddhist teachings is somehow ancillary if not antithetical to practice. I would contend that, of all the tenets of Buddhist modernism, this odd bifurcation of “thought” and “practice” is the one that would have most perplexed many premodern Buddhist masters.


    1. Robert,

      Thank you for your comments. In the following, I assume you are referring to me (at least as far as this podcast conversation goes), “..it seems to me that at least some the parties engaged in these contemporary discussions are unaware that these same issues were topics of intense debates within the Buddhist tradition over many centuries.” I shall therefore respond for myself.

      Although in many cases, you might be right, and reference to traditions and their struggles might be useful, I think the issue of whether we should look to tradition in order to explore such debates and ongoing issues is most interesting when placed in our contemporary age and the state of knowledge today. Rather than ask what can a specific tradition of Buddhism tell us about ethics, mind, the purpose of practice, etc, I would suggest that it is far more fruitful to ask what do we as a species currently know about ethics, the mind, and so on, based on our global inheritance in terms of knowledge today. In the emerging attempts to carry forward age old debates, discussions, research, and so on, what does Buddhism as a site of multiple variance have to contribute to this far bigger discussion beyond the confines of any given tradition? It’s a very simple move, but it has profound consequences.

      Since Glenn Wallis has already commented, I shall make reference to two concepts he has drawn on from the work of one of those pesky Frenchmen (Francois Laruelle) mentioned by Ingram in the podcast; in particular, the notions of the Great Feast and Sufficiency. These are paramount in my own explorations of the contemporary Buddhist landscape and its relevance to my own pursuits. Although I am interested in what different Buddhist might have had to say throughout history on matters that are still very much with us, I am loathe to speculate about what an imaginary figure like the Buddha would or would not have said and believe most issues that have relevance beyond Buddhism can be found alive across different locations, including philosophy, sociology, psychology, the sciences. Although it is fascinating to ponder on historical debates, I find it far more fruitful to ask what do people believe and practice today, and what impact do such practices have? I also assume that knowledge we have today has moved on somewhat from the past and that unresolved issues remain and are understood slightly differently based on advances in knowledge and cross-cultural engagement, which has all expanded the kinds of discussions we can now have. Can the debates you mention add something to the mix, remind us that we are treading on well-worn paths, and overcome some of our over-focus on western history or philosophy? You bet they can!

      I think it’s great that someone with your knowledge, expertise and experience can bring a great deal of historical knowledge to bear on these ongoing questions yet I would find them most useful when placed in conversation with contemporary thinkers, from any tradition, as opposed to internal debates between Buddhist traditions and thinkers who can no longer speak for themselves. If we were speaking in person, for example, I would find it stimulating to ask what a major thinker from Buddhism, say Nagarjuna, might have to say about metaphysics today. Which contemporary thinkers would agree or disagree with his views? What would Wittgenstein make of his views? Does the philosophy of the middle way stand up to scrutiny today? And what position would YOU personally take today in those same debates with what you know as a westerner and academic?

      By the way, I do not consider myself a Buddhist modernist and the podcast should make that pretty clear. In terms of disagreements, I think it might be easy to assume that reference back to “more authentic” Buddhism, a better reading of history, or teachings would resolve many of the issues which are part of the more interesting debates taking place. I’m not sure I can agree with this sentiment. Buddhism in the West can be arguably seen as still going through an ongoing meeting with Modernity, post-Modernity (or whatever you want to call it), and the emerging challenges of our time, construed as Metamodernism by some (Wallis excluded). Considering how long it took for Buddhism to develop in the new countries in which it arrived, I think we can assume that Buddhism will continue to reform, reshape and act as a mirror and a conduit for the themes of the time we live in here in the West, and pick up the good and the bad of contemporary social practices as it develops. The ongoing debate at Parletre following the conversations I had with Ingram are an example of what happens when age old themes, the ones you pick up on, start engaging with contemporary thought and knowledge at the Great Feast. I personally find that exchange far more stimulating than the historical debates you mention.

      Finally, I am not speaking for Buddhism or Buddhists, but rather seeking to explore new terrain in which Buddhism is a participant, but not the only player, so I hope that gives you the sufficient context to not just see the podcast as more Buddhist material.

      As for your final comments about Protestantism, we have had a lot to say about anti-intellectualism in contemporary western Buddhisms throughout the life of the podcast and I would agree that the Protestants have played their part in laying the ground for many contemporary Buddhists to avoid the intellectual and study demands of engaging seriously with Buddhism. I would also agree that even a casual look at Buddhism through a historical lens makes it clear that study, learning and contemplation are inseparable elements of almost all forms of Buddhism: That is at least if we are speaking about the elites in terms of the monastic classes. If anything, meditation and the focus on sensate experience is what has often missing throughout Buddhism’s history, right? Perhaps that’s one reason why it has been picked up by Ingram and folks, many of whom are a product of their/our time, and therefore best understood through a contemporary, rather than solely historical, lens

      Thanks again,



    2. Bob, any chance you could please point to a reference or two that I could read regarding said debates: “Northern and Southern schools of Chan, as well as the Samye debates between the Indian master Kamalaśīla and the Chinese master Moheyan in Tibet.”

      Many thanks


      1. There is a large (but often somewhat technical) literature on these subjects.
        In my own writing on these issues, I have been concerned to show, in a more general way, what was at stake, and why the issues, which can seem arcane at first, are still relevant to contemporary philosophy, particularly if you are interested in Buddhist thought and practice.

        Most of my articles are available on my Academia.edu website:
        On the topic at hand, you might look at:

        “Is Nirvāṇa the Same as Insentience? Chinese Struggles with an Indian Buddhist Ideal”

        “Mindfulness and Mindlessness in Early Chan”

        “Buddha-nature, Critical Buddhism, and Early Chan”

        You may need to log into Academia.edu to access them–I don’t know. It is free to create an account and log in, but if you don’t want to do so, some but not all of my articles can be found on my old website (which I no longer maintain):

        If you want to delve more deeply into the scholarly literature, here are a few things to get you started:

        Peter Gregory’s edited volume, “Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought” (1986) is an excellent collection of essays (some of which, again, are technical) bearing on the topic.

        For a more detailed look early Chan texts and ideas (including issues surrounding the gradual-sudden debate) see John McRae’s 1986 book, “The Northern School and the Formation of Early Chan Buddhism.”

        If you can read French, Paul Demiéville’s 1952 book, “Le concile de Lhasa,” remains an excellent and comprehensive source on the Chinese materials bearing on the Samye debate.

        Again, the literature on the topic is vast–these are just things to get you going.


    3. Hi Bob, I have the impression that the traditional Buddhist debates you refer to are closer to “social constructivism” than to “social constructionism”. The constructed mind is a useful insight but I think the last 100 years or so in western philosophy do actually bring something useful to the table. Social constructionism as promoted in social psychology has integrated some of those ideas (e.g. Foucault, Derrida, Khunn). The insight of Buddhism into macro-social processes and the way macro and micro-social processes interact, seems to me to be very poor. For example we do not see Buddhist political parties being successful due to their deep and effective insight into these processes. Arguably Trump understands more about this than the Buddha 🙂 It would be great to be proven wrong, but concepts like non-philosophy just seem to be missing from x-Buddhism and attempts at reading them back in seem to demonstrate a misunderstanding of these contemporary concepts rather than historical insight. There is immense value in studying history so it is great to have you participating. Foucault, Derrida and Khunn are arguable first and foremost historians, so you are in good company. Mark

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  5. Thank you for your engagement, Bob. We all appreciate it.

    My very first attempt to articulate non-buddhism went like this:

    “[Non-buddhism] is not yet another attempt to reformulate or reform (in any sense of the term) ‘Buddhism.’ Neither is it concerned with ameliorating traditional Buddhism’s relationship with contemporary western secular values. In performing its first task, however, my emerging theory, called ‘speculative non-buddhism,’ can contribute to the current debate in a decisive way by showing that all forms of Buddhism are identical. What makes them so is that they are all governed by what I call ‘buddhistic decision:’ the syntactical structure that constitutes all things, discourse, and people, ‘Buddhist.’

    “Speculative non-buddhism is thus a way of thinking and seeing that takes as its raw material Buddhism. It is a thought-experiment that poses the question: shorn of its transcendental representations, what might Buddhism offer us? Speculative non-buddhism is thus a critical practice. Conceivably, a critical-constructive methodology could emerge from its ideas. Its way, its practice, its ideas, though, render Buddhism unrecognizable to itself. Speculative non-buddhism is an approach to analyzing and interpreting Buddhist teachings. But, again, it results in buddhistically untenable, indeed, buddhistically uninterpretable, theorems. The theory is designed with three primary functions in mind: to uncover Buddhism‘s syntactical structure (unacknowledged even by—especially by—Buddhists themselves); to serve as a means of inquiry into the sense and viability of Buddhist propositions; and to operate as a check on the tendency of all contemporary formulations of Buddhism—whether of the traditional, religious, progressive or secular variety—toward ideological excess.”

    Non-buddhism is a theory of Buddhism. It is not another variety of Buddhism. It is not concerned with adjudicating the relative truth-value of some x-buddhist position over some other x-buddhist position. So, with the above definition in mind, you should be able to see that the bulk of the issues you raise in your comment do not concern non-buddhism in the way you seem to think they do, or should. (Correct me, please, if I am mistaken.) Let’s take the fact that certain issues that are still contested in the contemporary arena of x-buddhist ideological struggle have been debated throughout Buddhist history. You seem to believe that contemporary teachers could make some progress in their debates, or indeed in their very conceptions, if they were only aware of the traces left by ancestral x-buddhists, who have already tread the same path. I agree. But this aspect of Buddhist history is interesting to non-buddhism not because important and potentially decisive x-buddhist conceptual data is lodged there. It is interesting to non-buddhism because it serves to highlight crucial features of Buddhism’s identity. In other words, non-buddhism returns to the ruins of past discussions and collects pieces of Buddhism’s DNA scattered there. That all of those x-buddhist communities, past and present, have struggled over the issues that you mention is precisely valuable evidence for determining the very identity of the cultural matrix—the form of thought and practice, the discourse, and ideology, etc.—indexed by “Buddhism.” It is also for this reason that it is not quite correct to claim that “There are many disagreements between the Speculative Non-Buddhists, Post-traditional Buddhists, contemporary teachers such as Daniel Ingram.” Or, again, it is correct, but not for the reasons that I suspect you say this. This statement from our website might be helpful: Non-buddhism makes no decision about (1) what postulates properly constitute “Buddhism,” or (2) the value, truth, or relevance of any of the claims made in the name of “Buddhism.” Such non-decision enables a speculative, and perhaps even applied, curving toward or away from the ostensible teachings of Buddhism, as the case may be. Crucially, though, the criteria for any given move lie wholly outside of “Buddhism’s” value system. From within the fold, such a move is unpalatable, even heretical; for, the integrity of the system—its premises, authorities, and institutions—must, axiomatically, remain inviolate.

    So, our disagreement with the old Zen masters and contemporary teachers alike revolve around the issue of identity. The crafty Zen fox points a path toward radical immanence. We labor to show that he is really taking us down the tired old path of transcendence, this time a zen-transcendence. Zen-buddhism, secular-buddhism, naturalist-buddhism, whatever-buddhism, is beholden, qua “buddhism,” to operate in this particular mode. That is, for “buddhism” to prevail over other forms of thought, for it to have the goods concerning “the way things are, etc., it must maintain a sufficiency that, in the end, serves to disqualify it as rigorous thought. Where x-buddhism claims for itself a kind of science or organon of the Real, it turns out to be but a visionary form of knowledge. Therein lies the disagreement.

    So, if anything is “disheartening” to the non-buddhist way of thought, it is that x-buddhism is intractably, perhaps even constitutionally, incapable of disabling the principle of sufficient buddhism. This means, among other disheartening things, that that history you refer to will swirl perpetually unresolved. That is one reason that non-buddhism refuses to engage in the x-buddhist mode. Namely, it wants to put Buddhist materials to use, but in non-sufficient, non-specular, ways. Forms of thought that are supplemental to Buddhism, like critical theory and French philosophy (but much more, too) are very helpful in this regard. (Your question, “isn’t it appropriate to mine the Buddhist materials first?” is valid, but only, I believe, within the circuit of buddhist sufficiency.)

    I agree with your last paragraph. Non-buddhism is, in fact, a theory-practice. Thank you, again.

    Liked by 2 people

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