A review of A critique of Western Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real


Glenn Wallis should need no introduction to those who visit this site regularly and engage with the podcast, but just in case it’s your first time here, I’ll provide you with the essentials. Wallis holds a Ph.D from Harvard in Buddhist Studies and has authored several books on Buddhism including The Dhammapada: Verses on the Way, Mediating the Power of the Buddhas, Basic Teachings of the Buddha, and the one most closely linked to this review, Cruel Theory, Sublime Practice. He’s even written articles for Lion’s Roar. Oh, the shame of it! Wallis has taught in a number of universities including Georgia, where he received tenure, and later went on to work in other educational institutes, among which the Won Institute. He was also a founding member of the Philadelphia punk band Ruin.

“Western Buddhism… Serves as a fetish, an object that effectively holds some unbearable truth at Bay.”

My first encounter with Wallis was through the Speculative non-buddhism (SNB) site and his experimental writing on contemporary western Buddhism. That site brought him to the attention of many folks at the fringes of the western Buddhist world and has been a cauldron of creative, intellectual activity since its inception, amassing long, complex exchanges with readers in its comments sections, exploring all manner of topic from neuro-science to Marxism with some highly intelligent contributors getting into lengthy debate. It was also a site of conflict, argumentation and the wrath of its chief antagonist Tom Pepper whose rants against capitalism, anti-intellectualism, and the ignorance of those who could not grasp his insights, which were more or less legendary. Whatever the controversy, many exciting approaches to Buddhist materials were cooked up at the site and those dogged enough to stick with Buddhism in spite of its many faults found much succulence there and, dare I say, meaning. The site was a sort of explosion of western Buddhism’s dark unconscious; it’s anti-intellectual turn, its closeness to New Age idealism, its comfortable affinity for Hindu beliefs, its strong adoption by middle-class America as a coping mechanism, and its comfortable alignment with Capitalism. These facets were all uncovered, critiqued and abused. Those whose intellectual cowardice was on display would leave with a bloody nose, but those who were aware of their ignorance or came specifically to challenge their views would often find great generosity and sharp, bracing insight. It was a break from the often dull norms of western Buddhist niceness and its main participants would argue that such fierce critique was the only thing that would disrupt the intellectual complacency of so many western Buddhists. Wallis was certainly the ideal person to carry out such a disruption and for many it was the most exciting thing to happen in Western Buddhism for decades. The SNB was the charnel ground of Wallis’s most recent book, A critique of Western Buddhism: ruins of the Buddhist real.


Brand new episode of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast with William Edelglass


Our year long jaunt through the world of academic engagement with Buddhism continues and in this episode of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast, we talk to William Edelglass, professor of Philosophy, Environmental Studies, and Buddhist Studies at Marlboro College. William has been a teacher in a variety of settings, including a federal prison in New York, a Tibetan refugee settlement in Nepal, and for many years as a wilderness guide at Outward Bound. Before going to Marlboro, William taught Western philosophy at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Dharamsala, India, to Tibetan monks, and Buddhist philosophy to American college students on a Tibetan studies program. William also teaches a range of fascinating courses at Barre Centre for Buddhist Studies.

William and I cover quite a bit of ground in our 2-hour long conversation spanning Buddhism, Philosophy, and our current political climate. Here are just some of the questions we tackled;

What stand out lessons have each phase of your professional life taught you? Which lessons continue to influence the way you work and think about what drives you? What philosophical challenges do the different Buddhisms present to Western Philosophical thought? What philosophical challenges does Western Philosophy present to Buddhist thought? How do you think Western practitioners might take a more critical and explorative approach to Buddhist thought? What are we to do with the challenges of nihilism as practitioners? What are we to make of mysticism? How can we renew philosophical thought for practitioners? Why is Shantideva such an important figure for you and what challenges do his work and thought raise? Why is Levinas an important figure for you what challenges do his work and thought raise for Buddhism?


You can find out more about William’s work at the following site:

Music for this episode comes from George Glew and is called Higher. Listen to more of his music at

O’Connell Coaching:  Post-Traditional Buddhism:

IBP: Yves Citton on The Ecology of Attention


What is attention? Where are the boundaries between ‘my’ individual attention and that of those around me? Whose paying attention to what? And, what are the consequences of how attention is manipulated and manufactured by the media and by ideology?

Yves Citton explores these questions and many more on the podcast today with special attention paid to his fantastic book “The Ecology of Attention” which analyses attention-related phenomena emergent at a number of levels from the individual to the social arguing throughout that there are high stakes for how we understand and work with these phenomena: for teaching, performance, the environment, and freedom itself.


Yves Citton is professor of Literature and Media at the Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint Denis and executive director of the Ecole Universitaire de Recheche ArTeC. He taught for 13 years at the Université Grenoble Alpes and for 12 years in the department of French and Italian of the University of Pittsburgh, PA. He got his PhD from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and has been invited Professor at New York University, Harvard and Sciences-Po Paris.

Music for these episodes is provided by the Bristol-based artist Something Anorak. Check out his work at the Bandcamp site.

O’Connell Coaching:
Post-Traditional Buddhism:

Yves Citton Personal Website in English

Verso Books article on Yves’ book

Double Trouble: two brand new episodes!

merge 1

What follows is the spoken introduction for two new episodes of the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. I’m including it here so you can orientate to the material being posted and decide which one you would liek to listen to first. Each has its own merits and for the more astute listener, it will be worth comparing the content, contours and questions being explored by each guest. Age and generation wise, I am pretty much in the middle, and for me the two episodes have different historical and anthropological tones in terms of language, concerns and answers given. Each guest was generous with their time and we at the Imperfect Buddhas Podcast are grateful to them for coming on and discussing topics that will surely be among your own concerns. Full bios and links for each guest can be found below the spoken intro.

This week, you lucky listeners get two episodes for the price of one! Unusually for the podcast, we recorded two episodes back-to-back in just two days and for this reason they are kin, intimately connected, and shall go forth into the world as such. Each one shares the same intro, but don’t panic, it’s relatively short. Both conversations were less structured than usual. I did have questions, but allowed both conversations more space to evolve and flow, and there may even be a bit of rambling on both sides from time to time, but never enough to bore: We are exploring new creative spaces after all!

Our two guests are at opposite ends of the career spectrum and their interests and concerns mirror generational shifts towards contemplative practices. Zachery Walsh is finishing up a Ph.D. programme, while Robert Forman P.hD has retired from teaching Religious Studies at University.


Modernity, Identity, and Contemporary (Non-) Buddhism


I recently had a piece I wrote for the Asian Medicine Journal published at their Asian Medicine Zone. It’s open access so you may like to take a look: It’s kind of personal & summarizes a lot of what I’ve done, am doing, and the work of the site & the podcast. It’s called “Modernity, Identity, and Contemporary (Non-) Buddhism.” If you manage to read it all, let me know what you think.

The imperfect Buddha podcast takes a new turn


The imperfect Buddha podcast is starting a new year of podcasting and it will have a characteristic uniting almost all of the episodes over the next 12 months. We are taking an academic turn and this is in part being done to counter the anti-intellectualism that continues to linger around the Western Buddhist scene, but also to bring in some experienced, intelligent minds to comment on a wide range of topics that are relevant to practitioners on the front line of meditation and compassionate action. There has been an interesting relationship between the academic field of Buddhist studies and the Dharma hall for quite some time, but perhaps one that has not been fully utilised. We hope to remedy this by bringing in a thorough exploration of current issues in the field, and emerging developments that may be of use to practitioners, some more radical than others. My main interest is to expand the conversation about Western Buddhism beyond Buddhism. Some of our guests are philosophy professors or historians, or have a connection to Buddhism, but practice in other academic fields, and we hope this will enrich the discussions that are to follow.

We hope you will all find these conversations and discussions stimulating and educational, but also entertaining!

This week regular listeners to the podcast will be fortunate enough to get two episodes in a single week. The first will be with Charles S. Prebish, a figure well known in Buddhist studies. Charles has written classic volumes in Buddhist studies such as Luminous Passage: the practice and study of Buddhism in America and masses of articles. He was also a pioneer in the establishment of the study of Western Buddhism. He co-founded the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Routledge, Critical Studies in Buddhism Series, and he is emeritus professor at both Utah State University and Pennsylvania State University.

In the podcast Charles talks about his own personal relationship with Buddhist practice and the field of Buddhist studies, how it has developed since its inception to today, the current scandals in Buddhist communities, his experience with a number of prominent Buddhist teachers including Chogyam Trungpa, and some potentially controversial thoughts about the future of this academic field. It seemed appropriate to have Charles on as the first guest as his view of the field is very long and very wide and this serves as a great introduction for what is to come.

Our second podcast episode for the week will be for Incite Seminars with regular guest Glenn Wallis. As per usual, our conversation takes many creative turns, and is longer than the usual Incite seminar podcasts. We discuss the topic of Unlearning, education versus learning, and introducing radical ideas into Dharma halls, and much more. As indicated in the introduction to this podcast, Glenn will be returning soon for a regular podcast discussion of his brand-new book A Critique of Western Buddhism, out now for Bloomsbury. I also intend to write a review of that book here when I find a spare moment.

For those interested in engaging with Glenn directly, his Unlearning Seminar takes place in Philadelphia September 29th and is a must for educators looking to think about educating differently. Click on the link to find out more: Incite Seminars: Unlearning & Radical Education

Here is the Charles S. Prebish episode for all you lovely listeners.

32. IBP [Incite] John Paetsch on Deleuze & the Larval subject (+extended intro)


John Paetsch joins us for a short chat about his upcoming seminar for Incite. We discuss Deleuze, philosophy, freedom and what you might expect from the event. I also add an extended introduction for listeners so that that they can contextualize the topic and understand better why we are promoting Incite.

The event page:

O’Connell Coaching:
Post-Traditional Buddhism: