A notion of Non-Buddhism

Recently we have been writing here about “Non-Buddhism” as it would be a project we work on. That is a development which comes from the dynamics between Patrick and me outside the blog and from the dynamics on this blog.

No comes up the question (via e-mail):

Habe ich das richtig verstanden, das das non-buddhistische Projekt im Kern ein Soziales ist, welches in der Welt etwas verändern will, und sich eben nicht in theoretischen Wortschwurbeleien verlieren will?

Did I understand right, the Non-Buddhist project basically is a social one which wants to change something in the world, one which does not want to wear itself down doing theoretical drivel?

Well, is this a project?

If I remember right, the thing was started by a few sentences I wrote in an e-mail to Patrick in September:

“What electrifies me is the possibility of forming a theory/practice of Non-Buddhism and go ahead with it in a straight forward way. I mean to speak about „Non-Buddhism“ without recourse on any X-Buddhist parlance. Speaking about „Non-Buddhism“ and nobody understands what this would have to with Buddhism – with the Buddhism we know today. That would be, for example, dependent on a crossover of Yogacara, Madyamaka, Foucault, Agamben. Take this text from Jay Garfield:

Madhaymaka gives us an account of the ontology of phenomena – of their interdependence and the lack of any intrinsic nature. Yogacara then gives us an account […] of the nature of our subjectivity […].

That means Madhaymaka gets at it from the ‚outside‘, Yogacara from the ‚inside‘. Thereby the subject gets decentered in its world of objects and in its world of selfhood. That would be a reading of Vasubandhu and Chandrakirti. But this is only a general or perhaps even a generic decentering. Now comes Foucault as a very important supplement. He teaches how the specific objects and subject come into being by certain historical apriori or, as he put it later, by certain discourses and dispositives. That would give us a specific understanding of the genealogy of our being in our situation now. That means we do not have it to do only with a general decentering which is only an abstraction, but we have the material from which we are made and with which we in our situation have to work. The latter point being the important one I think. At last, so far, comes in Gorgio Agamben with his very strange little book The Coming Community. That one tries to give an impression how the essence-less beast, the human, can go on after it is made clear what already indian Philosophers looked at 1500 years ago – but without ever developing any social theory/praxis (?) in regard to this insight and also living probably in extremely different circumstances.

That is a rough outline and a very vague picture which hopefully gets clearer. I just wanted to jot down the general idea. The question is: Should we name the thing Non-Buddhism? It could be good to do so for polemical reasons. To point out that the idea which was laid out by Glenn is pursued further, and, on the outer side, to make clear that it really has to do with the essence-less, the antaman, of Buddhism as we can conceive it after having been decentered.”

I do not know if this makes it any clearer. To point to it from a more personal side perhaps would be of help. I was interested in Buddhism since when I was 15. But this was until 10 years ago only in a very superficial way. I just thought the notion of Buddhism with its world view without any god and its dependent origination should be very interesting. When I really looked into Buddhism I found out that in reality there are many gods, ghosts and other spectres and dependent origination was only an abstraction in the worst sense of the word. But there where some good books and a few good people. So I went from X-Buddhism to serious writers about Buddhism – like Herbert Guenther – and from there to european philosophy. The point is the following: I had an idea about dependent origination which mainly came from a reading of technical and theoretical texts by William Burroughs. Of course he never writes about “dependent origination” but the idea – the notion – was the important thing. When I found out that in popular Buddhism – what we call now X-Buddhism – is nothing to be found about that notion I went on. And viola, here I am now: Reading Agamben for example and being excited about how everything falls into place suddenly. In this regard about Buddhism there has to be made a clear distinction. Pop culture generates X-Buddhism, this is of no interest any more and I wouldn’t waste any time any more with it. But on the other side there is serious (academic) work which is of great help if one wants really delve into Asian Buddhist Philosophy.

In a nutshell. I got a certain notion by William Burroughs about the constructedness of the individual, the world, whatever. X-Buddhism as a product of popular culture does not provide any understanding about this notion. But our own philosophical culture since Marx and Nietzsche and especially since the french structuralists is superrich in this regard. That is my personal line of flight. From Bill Burroughs to Foucault and Agamben. And that then is Non-Buddhism as I want to conceive it: It is about a motivation to understand the constructedness, the origins, the genealogy, the discourses and dispositives of what is, whereby the subject I am is dependently originated.

Non-Buddhism then is the will to know that.

Of course this notion has to be developed further. Its components have to be developed. It is about that notion not about that name.

One of these components, just to name one, is experience. That is what in a very partial way X-Buddhism is about. That is also what lots of philosophers and wannabe revolutionaries are quick to dismiss.

Another component of that notion would be learning.

Another one would be ethical consequences.

But first and foremost, I think, the question of duality has to be treated. The dialectics of, for example, the individual and the collective are misleading…

And – to answer that question – it certainly is a social undertaking. Every person taking part here has this social thing already in his or her life. The touch stone is there not here. In regard of this “project” of Non-Buddhism – the notion – here on this blog, it is the question of every person taking part in the developing discourse. It is the question of participation. The “project” in this sense cannot be conceived beforehand.

The Resilient Subject of the Now.


The utopian is an imagined but not illusory future. A presupposition of the utopian is that the future can be made; that improvement can be factored into the political /economic/social structure – into the use of technologies, modes of social relation, organs of power. The utopian is a meeting of the zenith of the future /possible with the mundane of the present /actual, the fusion of the dream and practical thought. The utopian is an intensification of the political into the future. It presupposes that we can consciously fashion collective organs of social and political power.

A presupposition of such a stance is that, on a relative scale, there is a correlation between thinking and the real— we can trace fundamental patterns of change, linking cause and effect. We can predict the outcome of our actions. Such a lawful mind independent reality is, after all, the basis for science. The question is: how much predictability can we discern in human affairs as to make the conscious fashioning of the future possible? The Utopian thought insists on at least a minimal predictability.

We can imagine a future and bring it into being. We do not march into this future; we hobble into it like a wounded man. That is the condition of all but the newborn. Life wounds and withers us. The future doesn’t meet us half way. Like a virtual terrain it appears beneath our feet as we move, unstable and unsettling. We negotiate it on the move, bereft of a compass or a birds eye view. There is no vista laid out before us and no path. Our journey is improvisatory, our gait stunted. Nevertheless we can and do move forward. Continue reading

Art in lieu of truth


Picture from pinterest (abstract watercolor tattoos)

The longer I think about all the different philosophies, religions as well as science, what attracts my attention is that all those human ambitions in many cases have the aim to give safety. The safety of an eternal life, the safety of an ongoing progress towards the positive, the safety of a happy life in the here and now. And how do we create this safety? By being under the illusion that those views we created as anchor in our life are TRUE.

I don’t want to be a part of this game any longer. From our human perspective, there are no safeties, no truths. But it is dangerous to drop out of this game. Most people defend their beloved truths with tooth and nail. And it is obvious why they do this. They act out of the ingrained fear that their opinions, views and life plans could be dead ends, illusions, pipe dreams.

I also know this ingrained, existential fear. But I want to confront this fear face to face. I accept that my life is based on subjective opinions, views and wishes. I accept that all the things I create in my subjective snail shell could be illusions.

For me, this makes life easier. Life is becoming a game. Don’t take everything so fucking serious, at least if your little, nice-to-have-self is at stake.

In art, especially when it comes in its abstract forms, I see the opportunity to express subjective attitudes and keep them in their subjective form. Thoughts, especially in a structured form, for example in philosophical, religious and scientific tracts, often convey the impression of a transfer of truth.

Let’s make experiments: Experiments with words, with sounds, with pictures, with colors. Let’s have the guts to paint a colorful picture, not making the mistake to confuse the picture with the Real. We can enjoy to paint crazy, creative pictures from our subjective perspective without subjugate them to philosophical, religious or scientific conventions.

In the context above, I use abstract art as a possibility to visualize Laruelle’s non-philosophy. I know that art could be used to reproduce the capitalist subject. But that’s not my point. What I see in abstract art in relation to non-philosophy could be summarized in the following message:

We do not paint the Real, we do not think the Real – we paint and think alongside the Real. We do not express the Real – we express its inexpressibility.

Genealogy, Abstraction, Non-Buddhism.

Where the soul pretends unification or the self fabricates a coherent identity, the genealogist sets out to study the beginning-numberless beginnings, whose faint traces and hints of color are readily seen by a historical eye. The analysis of descent permits the dissociation of the self, its recognition and displacement as an empty synthesis, in liberating a profusion of lost events. (Foucault: Nietzsche, Genealogy , History, 81. All quotes from Foucault are from the online version for free download below )


 Foucault’s genealogical method offers a way of arriving at a thought of emptiness, anatman or non-self comparable with notions in contemporary and classical Buddhism. If one wanted to push thinking in the direction of a comprehension of what emptiness might mean, one already has to hand within western philosophy ideas equal in complexity and depth to anything found in Buddhism. Not that one should wilfully ignore “eastern” thought; we could, rather, bring Buddhist notions into proximity with comparable notions within the western tradition to test their viability, or to create out of the encounter a deeper, richer and more useful set of concepts. As Matthias has pointed out here, if European contemporary Buddhism is a thoroughly western invention, it would have become a different animal altogether if its progenitors had chosen to pursue the line of philosophical enquiry originating in Nietzsche and not in Karl Eugen Neumann.

 Genealogy as a practice offers a way of furthering Non-Buddhist enquiry. Foucault’s extension of Neitzsche’s genealogical method and his work on power relations and “technologies of the self” are particularly relevant. His thinking on power as permeating all forms of relation is an addition, if not a challenge, to the Marxist understanding of power conditioned on the relation between class and mode of production and the exercise of state power on behalf of the capitalist class. Taking into account the centrality of Marxist ideas for the evolution of Non-Buddhism any challenge to or extension of such notions is apt. Continue reading

R. K. Payne: About Hegelian Historiography

In a recent thread we had some scattered remarks about history as a backward projection of contemporary thought vs. genealogy.

Coincidentally  Richard K. Payne publishes a text titled gimme hammers tongs & wedges: Hegelian stranglehold on the historiography of Buddhist thought. This too is about the problems of circular reasoning in historiography. We have this in a naïve way in X-Buddhism but on a more developed level we find it too in academic writing. Payne gives an example how Buddhist thinking is ‘invented’ today by a certain kind of reasoning which is called Hegelian Historiography. Again we find a seemingly linear and homogeneous flow of historical events which unfold step by step in a logical manner – as if history finds itself on some mysterious rail system called teleology.

In regard of this over all topic one should also remember what Walter Benjamin thought about his take on historical materialism: Every kind of historiography which develops a kind of linear and homogeneous narrative is a narrative written by those victorious. It systematically annihilates the accidents, the disruptive moments, the cruelties, the exploitations and appropriations, the colonizations of the victims, the theft or systematic destruction of their cultures and so on. With this in mind we have to remember that the making of X-Buddhism is to vast extents still just a western colonial exploitation and those writing and thinking on in the naïve manner Payne describes are the scribes of suppression.


Part of our frustration with recent discussion was that, as usual, participants studiously ignored the essential point which Non-Buddhism, following Non-philosophy, tries to make—an essential without which this site becomes a space for just any old form of philosophical, ideological or political speculation; or worse simply a forum for the exchange of opinion.

So let me define again the axiom on which we base our activities:

The Human-in-person makes philosophy. Philosophy, on the other hand, insists on reducing the Human-in-person to its predicate. Philosophy turns reality on its head.

Continue reading