Academic Buddhists

I like reading Donald Lopez– he’s lucid, clear, well researched. I am bemused at what he’s trying to prove. I keep getting the feeling that he feels that someone has serious misunderstood something about Buddhism, which is and was something and has been documented as such and voila, here his the evidence to set the world straight.

Was medieval tibet a nice place? I think Lopez thinks not. But modern Tibet isn’t all that nice of a place either. Before communism, one man exploited another. Now it is the reverse. Actually not entirely. The people that were in tibet, there are a lot fewer of them and they are being replaced with immigrants. I need to read this book, so I may be commenting prematurely.

Does Buddhism have a core that is essentially compatible with secular application, life and science, or is it more like Carol Lewis’s observation about Christ– (he’s a madman & fraud or the son of God– i.e. without the magic, there isn’t much to hold one’s interest). I think Lopez thinks Buddhism is at a core all the magic stuff that a secular Buddhist would like to remove and that the potentially secular stuff is the Asiatic accretions or wholesale imported ideas from the post-Enlightenment west. I could be wrong.

Non-Buddhism and X-Buddhism.
This website is a companion to a book written by a guy, Glenn Wallis, whose hammer is non-philosophy and Buddhism is his nail. With philosophy be written in an obscurantist style, I can never tell if it’s fraud, bullshit or just a hard to read style. I get glimpses of insight from time to time, but I can’t tell if it is just thoughts that occur to me while listening to irreducibly unintelligible words, or if it is actual communication. I got a C in philosophy, I may not be smart enough to read this. That said, I got these interesting insights:

Non-philosophy seems to suggest that all the schools of philosophies are discussing the shadows cast by a pole, and the non-philosopher’s job is to figure out what that pole is. So Plato and Wittgenstein are talking about the same one thing.

As applied to Buddhism, we get a list of varieties of Buddhisms (x-buddhism). I like the list. I recognize what he’s saying there. I’m a comparativist. How about you?

What I don’t understand is that like Lopez, he’s trying to prove that someone, somewhere is wrong and needs to be set straight. I actually can’t tell who the audience is. If it’s Buddhist writing popular texts (say Lama Surya Das)– I don’t think he’ll read it. Is the audience people like me? Again, this would have to be dumbed down a bit for me to be the audience. Is the audience other academic writers? Could be. But unlike Lopez, who seems like he’s not a Buddhist in real life (I can’t tell), Glenn Wallis strikes me as someone who is some sort of Buddhist in real life.

In the Academic books I’ve read so far, I get the impression that the author really doesn’t want you to know if he’s a believer, or Buddhist leaning, or flat out anti-Buddhist. I think everyone worries that it hurts credibility.

Buddhist Criticism.
These are academics that really want to disabuse the world of the idea that there is anything *good* in Buddhism. You say Buddhism is a religion of peace, they say, “What about Burma, Japanese warrior monks and fortified temples, WW2 Zen ultranationalist chaplains, lay Buddhist Thai soldiers” You say meditation is efficacious, they say “No Buddhism is about myth, magic and superstition and always was, or it attract madmen, it drives you mad” And so on. I really don’t understand this line of reasoning. It smacks of anti-semitism, but with Buddhist in place of the Jew. I think Glenn Wallis was right when he said of Buddhist Critics “They offer insightful queries, which, given the nature of criticism, often threaten fissure. They are not concerned with ameliorating this fissure.”

I think Justin Whitaker (a Buddhist-Kantian) falls into this category, who contributed to an article in the Washington Post that initially slammed Buddhism as a dangerous cult thanks to Whitaker deciding it was a good time to be a Buddhist Critic. Thanks dude, you knew everyone in DC is well versed in the Suttras (and the Tibetan commentaries in the original) and wouldn’t take you the wrong way about how Buddhism, madness and the murder of random people just go together, maybe like the associations that happened after 9-11 and a certain major world religion.

Medieval Surgery and Contemporary Buddhist Scholarship
Today I would go to a surgeon, not a faith healer. The faith healer would just distract me, although he wouldn’t out and out kill me. In medieval times, it was far safer to go to the faith healer. The surgeons at that time would do fun things like craniotomy (cutting off the skull of a still living woman) and salting the brain. It seemed like a good idea at the time and was based on the best science had to offer.

For modern Buddhism, I’d go to the equivalent of a faith healer [oddly this covers secular authors like Batchelor], which is a biased author of some book on Buddhism that draws on tradition and lived experience.

In this environment, with this treatment, science will kill the patient before it has a chance to live. Science has no obligation to promote religion, but it sure would be nice if it weren’t laying the foundation for repression, slaughter and the relocating of hell to earth.

Laying the Intellectual Foundation for the Next Holocaust
Not withstanding the academics “your/their shit stinks too” points, (Buddhist are mass murdering, genocidal, what-have-yous) which maybe true, but aren’t relevant here… strident Buddhist criticism is laying the foundation, not necessarily for a reform of Buddhism, nor necessarily for the birth of something wonderful to replace it, but it is laying the foundation for the persecution of Buddhists. Like that will every happen, right? Well, let’s see, institutions may corrupt religion & people, but boy do they have memories. Wikipedia lists persecutions of Buddhist starting a few hundred years after his death and leading up to now, the most breathtaking coming from the communists.


And that is real persecution, not the general lack of respect that Nichiren Buddhist complain about. The force of persecution came from the intelligentsia of their time– not because smart people are bad, but because smart people are the brains of these bureaucracies. A mindless mob can only kill a few thousands in a spasm, to real wipe a toxic ideology off the face of the earth, you need trained, smart people. These smart people sometimes they unleash monsters that maybe they didn’t intend– how can anyone hold Marx, a harmless intellectual responsible for no one understanding what he really meant? Or more likely, they unleashed the monster that they wanted to. Sometimes it was Hindu bureaucrats, sometimes Muslim, sometimes Christian, sometimes ex-Buddhists (ex as in, not subscribing to Buddhism).

If this could never happen with modern Buddhist criticisms, them maybe modern academia is inert & unable to influence anyone. But if that is true, then the academic Buddhist criticism project is doomed to fail for being inert. If it succeeds, with a reform-it-or-burn-it-all attitude, we’re literally playing with fire.

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