I just read what I thought was an interesting book called The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life, by Donald Lopez. In it, Lopez details the European colonial invention/imagination of a scientific Buddha that was utterly unlike the Buddha in context in Asia, and critiques (if not outright dismantles) the connections made between science and Buddhism in the past century and a half.  But this post is not about the book so much as the response, which (as you might guess) has been pretty strong on all sides.

Poking around for some reviews I've come across this avowedly provocative site from Glenn Wallis, which is worth reading if you are in a strident frame of mind at the moment: Speculative Non-Buddhism.  Also its related publication "Non + x," which bills itself as "an experimental e-journal dedicated to the critique of Buddhist and other contemporary cultural materials."  The review of Lopez's book is here, (coupled with a review of Buddha’s Brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love & wisdom, by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius). The review (by Tom Pepper) is worth reading.  Here is a sample of its approach

"What this book [Buddha’s Brain], and the current interest in Buddhism and neuroscience, offers us is the greatest illusion of the dominant ideology of global capitalism: the belief that we can achieve the state of infantile imaginary plentitude, and stay there for eternity. ...
Given the prevalence of this core fantasy at the heart of our global-capitalist ideology, how can Buddhist practice possibly be of any real use at all? This is where I want to return to the one point on which I absolutely disagree with Lopez....

It is, then, exactly because of this dependence on causes and conditions that we can reduce human suffering. And we can do so not by a "mindful" retreat into bodily comfort, but by understanding the social, rather than neurological, causes and conditions which produce the self, and which produce it in such a way as to cause suffering. As with so many empiricist theories, Hanson and Mendius offer us only idealism in the guise of materialist science. A true, non-dualistic materialism would recognize the real causes of suffering, not in a world-transcendent mind temporarily trapped in a poorly adapted brain, but in the real, concrete social formations which are the causes and condition of the subject’s existence."

The way that Glenn Wallis defines "Non-Buddhism" this way:

"The work of François Laruelle has given impetus to my specific formulation of “non-buddhism.” Think of my notion of “non-buddhism” (and of Laruelle’s “non-philosophy”) as somewhat akin to non-Euclidean geometry. The difference between Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry lies, of course, in the behavior of a line. Euclid’s fifth postulate assumes parallelism. In upholding this postulate, along with the other four, Euclideans radically limit the field of possible forms. Rejecting this postulate (though preserving the other four), non-Euclidean geometry envisions, so to speak, radical new possibilities; namely, it permits elliptical and hyperbolic curvature.
This image is instructive. “Non-buddhism,” as I conceive it, 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.
Non-buddhism stands outside of the fold, but not as a violent revolutionary storming the gates of venerable tradition. Accepting the postulate of requisite “disenchantment,” non-buddhism is too disinterested in “Buddhism” for such a destructive stand. This disinterest, however, does not manifest in rejection. Non-buddhism is acutely interested in the uses of Buddhist teaching, but in a way that remains unbeholden to—and hence, unbound by and unaccountable to—the norms that govern those teachings. As Laruelle claims for non-philosophy, I claim for non-buddhism: once we have suspended the structures that constitute Buddhism, once we have muted what to the believer is Buddhism’s very vibrato, we are free to hear fresh resonances."
Hard to read that and not at least want to read more, is it not?


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