Kenneth Folk vs the Speculative Non-Buddhists

Tutteji Dai Osho

Tutteji Dai Osho, via his twitter feed (featuring London Mayor Boris Johnson as Tutteji and Margaret Thatcher as…

As Western Buddhism has grown in the last 50 years, and especially with the proliferation of discussion on the internet in the last 5-10 years, there has been a growing niche of satire and criticism of its dominant modes of discourse.

Today two prominent sources of criticism are Glenn Wallis’s Speculative Non-Buddhism and Tutteji Wachtmeister’s (aka Tutteji Dai Osho) The former focuses on serious, Western philosophical criticisms of major trends and individuals in Western Buddhism while the latter uses parody with posts featuring such things as “The Tibetan Book of Wining and Dining” and “The Tibetan Book of Fitness and Health” as well as the “108 Shades of Maroon” trilogy. (I am on an academic discussion list where at least one member initially thought all of the posts were real.)

Part of the rationale for critique is, of course, dialogue. And indeed, most of the posts at Speculative Non-Buddhism have long discussions of the material presented, often featuring very different viewpoints. And, according to the thread of discussion that forms the topic of this post, Tutteji himself set up “a trolling-free zone [in the hopes of seeing] some meaningful dialog taking place here.”

The discussion there, which began in late August and ran up to earlier today (and of course could continue indefinitely) is noteworthy as it seems to be the first engagement of a major Western Buddhist figure with either of these critical sites. That teacher is Kenneth Folk, who has his own website and has been featured on Buddhist Geeks and Pragmatic Dharma.

I’ll note some of the flow of the conversation here. This is edited drastically on the basis of my own subjective takes, of course. I have tried to just copy the ‘heart’ of the various comments and ignore those that are ignored by others on the post; there is a lot of interesting discussion that doesn’t fall in with the main Kenneth Folk-centered conversation. I have condensed over 16000 words into around 2000, so I would encourage you to read it all if you’d like.

  • What do you think? Are such discussions helpful to Western Buddhists, to thinking individuals, to anyone?
  • Are the Speculative Non-Buddhists and other critical groups worthy of more attention or less? 
  • Did Kenneth Folk do anyone a service by entering into the conversation? Was he embarrassed? Did he point out flaws in the SNB method or ideology?

The quotes will be from Matthias Steingass (MS), Kenneth Folk (KF), Tutte (T), Glenn Wallis (GW), and Tom Pepper (TP):

(warning, some potentially offensive language follows)

(MS) Kenneth Folk: I request you to step forward to acknowledge the superiority of Grandmaster Wachtmeister by decommissioning all your businesses which try to teach people something other than humbleness towards Grandmaster Wachtmeister Tutte the One and Only. Go ahead and be a true role model. Demolish your fake talk about being something other than just another idiot of esotericism. Shut up and succumb. Bow before the true insight – the only one you’re able to have: That you are nothing but a liar and that the only road to salvation for someone like you is to shut the fuck up!

(KF) Mathias, can you reframe your criticism in more structured way? In other words, what specifically would you have me do or not do with regard to my meditation teaching? And why is it important to you? Clarifying this might form the basis for a useful discussion.

(MS) I am skimming through this wired article this morning. It’s all about what has been repeated a thousand times on the SNB-blog: Mindfulness is used to enhance an unjust and absolutely self-embracing autistic capitalistic system which lives separated from the majority of the world population on exactly the resources this majority has to provide.

What you and others do is absolute nothing new…

You, you buddhist geeks, all you oh so smart cute awareness holders, you are absolutely politically unaware. And you are only able to do as you do because you (as me) life in gated communities.

(KF) Skimming a WIRED article is not likely to give you any deep insight into my views, political or otherwise. In fact, I share some of your concerns. I worry that “mindfulness” is being co-opted by corporate power as yet another tool to squeeze profit from the common folk. Meditation is not, in my opinion, best understood as a productivity tool. I wrote about it here:

I’d like to see something emergent in this discussion. Let’s begin by listening to each other rather than downloading.

After a fair amount of discussion by the non-KF contributors, KF returns with:

(KF) Thinking aloud:

- I find the NSB critique valuable. I have been influenced by some of the ideas I’ve heard/read from Glenn and Matthias.

- Glenn and Matthias, you often seem bewildered by the fact that no one wants to “engage” you in discussion. It is not a mystery; ad hominem attacks, boorish condescension, and an unwillingness to consider other points of view are not traits highly valued in discussion partners. Your opinions about how the world “ought to be” don’t matter here; it is a purely pragmatic issue. If you want people to engage you, don’t alienate them.

- Matthias, your repeated insistence that you find “x-Buddhists” [sic] uninteresting is not consistent with the observable fact that you follow us around the internet trying to get our attention. It reminds me of a little kid throwing rocks at the big kids in the schoolyard, all the while telling everyone that he wouldn’t play with the big kids even if they were willing. I am holding up the mirror for you. Are you a big enough kid to take it in? If you and I compete for who can be less interested in the other, I will win. Let’s not go there.

- Glenn, Matthias: You have something valuable to say. I am glad you are saying it. But you seem to believe that the lens you are looking through is the only valid lens. This displays a lack of sophistication. Check out Robert Kegan or Suzanne Cook-Greuter for an understanding of how the ability to embrace multiple points of view is the leading metric on a continuum of psychological/emotional development. The level of group think and confirmation bias within your group is high. I haven’t seen much evidence that you are individually or collectively aware of this. Your critique will be more effective if you are also able to turn the mirror back on yourselves. People I have spoken to, almost without exception, find you easy to dismiss, largely due to their perception that you are lacking in self-awareness. Can you prove them wrong? Tutte, this goes for you, too. When you pretend to know how this emergent discussion should be, you appear naive and brittle to the people you wish to influence. Drop the arrogance and condescension, and show some vulnerability. (I’m talking not about your parody, which is well-done, but about your conversational tone in the comments sections here and on Facebook.)

- Here then, is the mirror, in all its bright harshness. How honest should I be? The Speculative Non-Buddhists are generally perceived as angry, bitter, socially inept, mean-spirited, and frankly irrelevant. Is this how you want to be perceived? Think about it carefully, because no matter how important your message, no one will hear it if they have already dismissed you as unworthy of their attention. There is a way for you to become relevant to the culture you so wish to influence, and it is much more challenging than anything you’ve done so far. You are going to have to turn the light back on yourselves. Whatcha gonna do, little brothers? Level up or step off.

Skipping quite a bit: Wallis responds

(GW) Kenneth. Do you really want to argue that a person who has been engaged in the study and practice of Buddhism since 1975, without pause, even getting a Ph.D. in a Harvard Buddhist studies program, who learned Sanskrit, Pali, Tibetan, as well as the Burmese, Lao, Singhalese and Thai scripts in the philological mecca of Germany in order to read the primary Buddhist literature first-hand, who has read widely in western, Indian, and Chinese philosophy with world-renowned philosophers in India and Germany, who has–should I go on, big brother?–IS NOT WILLING TO LEARN? You are convinced that you have something to teach me and, indeed, all of humanity. The visible evidence suggest otherwise. I will repeat: you and all the other x-buddhist teachers on the scene today are no different from your facile, ineffectual, platitudinous Self-Help forebears. Like Matthias says, know your history, know where you stand in relation to what has come before. You will not be able to keep up the ruse of “enlightenment” for much longer. Until then: All hail Tutteji!

Give it a rest? You wish, big brother.


..I should probably add, to satisfy what I suspect satisfies more fully your epistemological requirements, studied with Zen, Dzogchen, and Vipassana teachers, blah, blah, blah whose names just might give you a dharmic hard-on.

Tom Pepper jumps in, with a couple paragraphs of criticism of Kenneth Folk concluding:

And like you, Tutte, I do get some enjoyment, sometimes, from how easy it is to get an x-buddhist teacher who makes claims about his level of attainment to resort to name-calling and pathetically listing his credentials or naming his teachers, with just a few questions about anatman. Maybe this proves I’m an ass, but I like to think that although those observing may hate me, I’m fine with that as long as some of them will realize what a jerk the teacher in question really is. I don’t need to attract a following of deluded fools, and I would never charge anybody to teach what I know about Buddhism, online or in person. But my kind of teaching would require hard work, a lot of studying, and wouldn’t produce states of “mindful” bliss or make anyone a more efficient capitalist cubicle dweller, so I don’t expect my schedule to ever get too crowded.

To which KF responds:

“I do get some enjoyment, sometimes, from how easy it is to get an x-buddhist teacher who makes claims about his level of attainment to resort to name-calling and pathetically listing his credentials or naming his teachers, with just a few questions about anatman.” -wtpepper

You seem to have me confused with someone else. I haven’t said anything about my teachers or resume. Your associate Glenn, on the other hand…

Sober up, Pepper, and give it another go in the morning.

(TP) Yes, that last bit wasn’t addressed to you, and didn’t refer to you. To my memory, Ken, I’ve never engaged you on any issue anywhere. I was only speaking about a thing I do sometimes.  But thanks for the great advice about sobering up. You really are a complete fucking idiot. I notice you can adress anything I actually said about you or your assinine teachings. It is sad that even a con artst as stupid as you can get money from people when they are in enough distress.

Go get an education, Ken, and try again in about four years.

(KF) Nice try, Pepper. I will not let you off so easily. It is not a coincidence that you reference me by name in two paragraphs, quote me in a third (“purely subjective”), and then make the mistake of responding to Glenn’s resume-pounding from just a few posts up-thread as though it were from me. I believe you misread the post and responded to it as though it were mine. Having now embarrassed yourself and Glenn, you are lying to save face.

I have been repeatedly asked by Glenn and Matthias to engage them (and you by extension) in discussion, and to respond to their critique. I am here, and willing. I’d like to see something from you other than self-destructive nonsense and pointless venom.

Kenneth Folk then gives in square brackets:

Note to folks who wonder if I’ve lost my mind as I bicker with these fellows. In reading the comments and essays on the Speculative Non-Buddhist blog, I have watched this gang of mean-spirited individuals run roughshod over one commentator after another. Glenn, Matthias, and Tom are almost always given a free reign because most people are shocked by their behavior and in any case unwilling get into the gutter with them. I have come to the conclusion that Do Not Feed The Trolls is not always the best course of action, as it leaves the entire field open to the pathology of a few bullies. Although it tips my hand to say so, I am deliberately giving it back to them to see what happens. Tom Pepper’s behavior is particularly noxious, although Glenn Wallis and Matthias Steingass are not far behind. The name-calling and venom you see from these gents is not unusual, it is simply what they do when people disagree with them. I’ve been curious to see how they would respond if they were met on their own terms. So far, I have seen Matthias stammer in bewilderment, Glenn melt down, and Tom babble foolishly and embarrass himself in response to my admittedly cynical baiting. The fact that I am also embarrassing myself is not entirely lost on me… Yikes.

The conversation goes on for a while until Kenneth Folk bows out with:

To those who care about me or are interested in developmental awakening,

One of my intentions in participating here was to out-bully the bullies. It didn’t work. Although I was able to revel in my own nastiness for awhile, I could not sustain it. The SNB fellows are masters of the medium, and I was outmatched. On hindsight, I regret having taken that approach, and I don’t think anything good came of it. The main lesson for me is that it’s better to model the behavior you’d like to see than to try to bludgeon others into submission. You may not change anyone else’s behavior, but neither will you have to regret your own. I do regret my behavior in this case, and I hope to do better in the future.

As for the content of the discussion, even assuming one is willing to wade through the insults and posturing, I don’t see that anything new or interesting emerged. If you wan’t to learn more about what Glenn, Matthias, and Tom are saying, I recommend that you go to their blog(s). If you want to learn more about what I am saying, go to mine.

All best,


The others respond, with Tutteji rounding out the conversation (for now) with:

… I can tell you why I host the terrifying triumvirate (and Kenneth Folk) here. I’ve long since given up the hope of seeing x-buddhists engage in serious dialogue. Saying that is bordering on tautology, of course, and there is (theoretically, at least) the chance that the x-buddhist starts to respond to (non-buddhist) critique in a serious way. But then s/he is no longer an x-buddhist. But, as was said earlier in this thread, the purpose of the Tutteji project has never been to convert the true believers, and even less having them admit their delusion in public. Rather, it is about exposing their ideology and rhetorical tricks. And this can be done in several ways: parody and satire is one, less oblique and more direct critique is another, insulting them until that facade of passive-aggressiveness masquerading as ”right speech” comes down, is a third. Having x-buddhist teachers participate in this forced strip show makes it more effective, of course. But the ideal audience is not the faithful x-buddhist, but, as Tom Pepper said earlier, ”the person who has begun to be dissatisfied with the x-buddhist crap, and isn’t yet aware that there is more to Buddhist thought than mindless bliss and fortune-cookie platitudes.”

That’s all for now. Comments are welcome.

(EDIT: because my goal is to foster a somewhat removed discussion of the above I will be blocking/removing comments from those involved -KF, GW, MS, TP and Tutte- and I myself will try not to steer opinion in any one direction. To join the discussion itself please visit Tutteji’s page.)

  • justinwhitaker

    Hi Tutte, from my experience I think it might be best to take a step back and let others speak here. Those interested in engaging with the discussion/discussants directly should do so at your site. So I will be removing any comments by KF, GW, etc and yourself. I appreciate the conversation going on there and I do not want to merely duplicate it here. Cheers, jw

  • justinwhitaker

    Hi Glenn, (copied from my comment to Tutte – I’ll remove these and your comments (sorry for the inconvenience, if you’d like you can copy them to Tutte’s site) this afternoon (GMT)… from my experience I think it might be best to take a step back and let others speak here. Those interested in engaging with the discussion/discussants directly should do so at your site. So I will be removing any comments by KF, GW, etc and yourself. I appreciate the conversation going on there and I do not want to merely duplicate it here. Cheers, jw

  • Robert Michael Ellis

    The point where the speculative non-Buddhists start responding to a balanced, thoughtful and compassionate engagement by calling the person doing this “a complete fucking idiot” is the point where I stop reading.

    • justinwhitaker

      Thanks for commenting, Robert. Yes, that does seem to be a kicker for a certain percentage of the audience. On the other hand I wonder if it is that kind of (can I call it ‘edginess’?) that drives the discussion amongst another portion of their readers. And speaking of someone who is putting forward a path forward through this muck of modern life, congratulations on the latest developments in your Middle Way Society:

      • Robert Michael Ellis

        Thanks, Justin. Any chance of a blog post about MWS, then?

        The positive side of ‘edginess’ (sounds like a euphemism for ‘abuse’) is that it brings energy to a discussion, but I’d suggest this is enormously outweighed by its negative psychological impact on everyone who reads it, let alone the target. Even for those who don’t, like me, just stop reading, it’s likely to add greatly to emotional polarisation and just entrench people in fixed positions. The prospect of anyone learning from the discussion is greatly reduced.
        Personally I wouldn’t tolerate language like that on any site where I had moderating powers. Anyone who used it persistently would quickly get banned.

        • justinwhitaker

          Yep – perhaps an email-interview on MWS in the next week or so?

          • Robert Michael Ellis

            That would be great, Justin. Let’s be in touch by email.

  • Justin Farquhar

    I’ve been watching these guys with interest for a few months, but haven’t yet responded in any depth. I have some points of agreement with their assessment of Western Buddhism and some points of disagreement. For the record I’m not a Buddhist, although for a period I somewhat hesitantly accepted that descriptor.


    In my experience, an aggressive, offensive tone tends to make people
    polarised, and defensive and thus closed-minded – it’s an obstruction to approaching the truth rather than an aid. However, it’s not clear that the SNBs are interested in investigating truth with these online activities. Rather they seem to be engaged in a form of propagandistic rhetoric that aims to disrupt and ‘expose’.

    As Tutteji said:
    “Rather, it is about exposing their ideology and rhetorical tricks. And this can be done in several ways: parody and satire is one, less oblique and more direct critique is another, insulting them until that facade of passive-aggressiveness masquerading as ”right speech” comes down, is a third. ”

    Without wishing to exaggerated by implication, this justification reminds me of
    what members of the Baader-Meinhoff group said to justify acts of
    violent crime and terrorism – that such acts forced the authorities to
    ‘reveal their true colours’ in their response – to act violently in order to provoke a violent response and thus demonstrate that behind the ‘facade’ Capitalism is ‘really’ inherently violent.

    Why would Right Speech need to be aggressively torn down? Online debate can be precarious enough without people being deliberately offensive right? Isn’t Right Speech taught as being about responsible speech acts that foster clear communication, provoking as little strong reactivity as possible?

    I have no doubt whatsoever that Right Speech is sometimes used as part of an image – either as perceived by the audience or in the speakers own self-image or both. Authority, power structures and false infallibility are targets for SNB. And rightly so. I remember being a little bit testy with the first Buddhist teacher I came across as an undergrad student. She came across as a very calm, patient, kind person who never got angry. I wanted to investigate the extent to which this was true and the extent to which this was just outward behaviour. I confirmed that she experienced irritation. The difference here with the SNBs is that the SNBs seem to believe that they already know the truth and are merely attempting to expose it to a section of the audience. Do they have the truth? And all of it? The presumption seems rather arrogant.

    I don’t really have time to comment on content much here. And it may not be the right place. Very broadly, it’s clear that there is a Marxist or quasi-Marxist agenda at play. Western Buddhism and related secular practices are ‘bad’ because they they do not oppose Capitalism. Who said that it did? Is collectivist social reform what Buddhism or Mindfulness should really be about? Which proven alternative is being proposed instead?

    I agree that Buddhism is (or at least, almost always significantly includes) an ideology (I mean this in the sense of a construct of values and doctrines that individuals subscribe and adhere to) and that this tends to go unexamined. I could go into my personal experiences of this, but again probably not the place.

    • justinwhitaker

      Thanks for commenting, Justin. I think all points are well-stated, and they dovetail well with Matthew’s above, his seeming slightly more appreciative overall of the SNB project and less put off by the tone. It seems that somewhere between your two comments, or in combining them and going forward, some interesting discussion could be had.

  • Seth Zuiho Segall

    Justin, I have tussled with the Speculative-Non Buddhists before (, but I’ve continued to read their website out of sheer curiosity, and the belief that one ought to read what one’s critics are saying. Sometimes you can learn something when you least expect it. While my initial objection to their website was mostly one of tone, it’s come to be more about my disappointment with their content, or lack thereof. Simply put, there’s no “there” there. They are mostly Johnny-One-Notes. What’s useful about their critique has been said before and better by others. What’s unique is mostly sarcasm, spite, and ill-humor along with some warmed-over Marxism and obscure Deleuzeanism. I don’t find any of it enlightening.

    • justinwhitaker

      Hi Seth – thank you too for the comments. And wow – yes, I see you and others did have a long tussle with the SNB crowd a while back. Thanks for the link.

  • Matthew O’Connell

    I have participated on and off in the Speculative Non-Buddhism project for
    quite a while, ever since I first came across Tom Pepper’s excellent piece on
    Buddhist Anti-Intellectualism. It was an immensely refreshing critique of
    aspects of organised Buddhism that I had long become allergic too. I went on to
    read large amounts of the material that emerged over the years and months and
    chipped in on occasion, and was certainly forced to read a lot of supplementary
    material to contextualise points being made, so it was also an educational
    experience. The site constituted a genuinely creative cauldron: intense, confusing at times, overwhelming at others, but potentially, and often so, filling and deeply rewarding. There was a lot of bickering, but I tended to skip those bits which dragged on into insults and so forth. The benefits of engagement there were greater than the hurt feelings amongst visitors and the often critiqued delivery issues of the three authors, which to me at least were simply a distraction from the uncovering taking place. The blog briefly stopped a while back and that really signalled for me the end of my active participation, although I still read most, if not all, the posts that come out. Personally, I am not interested in critiquing organised Buddhism, but in using some of the critical tools created by Glenn to examine my own relationship with a range of assumptions, beliefs and internal allegiances that concern Buddhism and themes that run through a typical Westerner’s relationship with Buddhism, and also spiritual paths and their organisations in general.

    There were two questions that emerged for me though, particularly towards
    the end of my engagement that I think must also emerge in the minds of those
    committed Buddhists who engage with the SNB project, who are perhaps hidden,
    perhaps unsure how to proceed. The first was, ‘What’s next?’ ‘Where do Buddhists, ex-Buddhists, who’ve become disillusioned with the whole thing, go?’ Especially if they recognise that meditation practice in various forms is actually personally useful and has many positive effects, and that Buddhist ideals can offer a workable set of values for handling the vicissitudes of life. Turning to Western philosophers is eye-opening to say the least and helps in dismantling an overly dependent and romanticised view of Buddhist ‘wisdom’ and contextualising ideas about the nature of the self, emptiness, the mind, etc, as well as often explaining them more cleanly, but active instruction for developing empathy, equanimity, objectivity in perception and, perhaps more mundane, but not necessarily less important, calm, composure and distance from the stifling nature of the suffering-self, is not really so easily found amongst the works of the West’s finest minds. Buddhism has tools for such training and they’re pretty accessible and contrary to the SNB authors’ claims, not everyone who dabbles in Buddhism is so absorbed into its ideological structure that they cannot engage with such tools without being absorbed into a new form of ignorance and allegiance with the confused. Does that happen? Of course, but it’s not ALL that happens.

    The next question that emerged for me is perhaps obvious: what do Glenn, Tom
    and Matthias want? What would they have Western Buddhists do? Okay, you’re
    dismantling their illusions, but what are they to do next? This is where we find the rub and where part of the strategy of Kenneth is lost. To me this question is primary and really the often critiqued style, tone, discourse and delivery issue is simply a surface issue in my opinion, however offensive it might be. Kenneth, or other well meaning Buddhist comes along, Ted Meissner and Steven Schettini have had their moment at the Speculative Buddhist table too, get incensed with the delivery and eventually leave. To me this is a great shame, because what I see in the rubble of Buddhism at the SNB blog is gold and a lot of it. Glenn’s Heuristic for dismantling the obfuscating characteristics of Buddhism is a work of art and of immense value to any intelligent self-questioning and doubting individual dedicated to exploring our shared human condition. It deserves to be read by more Buddhists. On one level I understand their stance in regards to delivery and tone, on another I still ask what they hope to obtain with it because I am still unsure what they want. I don’t consider their tone and delivery method to be inherently wrong, but I do consider it to be ineffective at initiating the type of exchange with established Buddhist figures that could shift people’s perceptions and open up new directions in debate and interaction with the more established members of the Western Buddhist communities, a desire which has been alluded to by all three SNB musketeers. Whether Buddhists are genuinely interested of course in taking a trip with SNBs is another matter, Folk did have a sort of a go, but as we can see from the exchange it was not exactly fruitful and it yet again showed that expletives and insults don’t tend to initiate exchange in any arena, apart from professional wrestling perhaps. Their style of rhetoric is often presented as a stand against the mind numbing affect of blind allegiance to right-speech, but
    it is more importantly ineffective at starting the conversations that might be
    most interesting; at least to me.

    Finally, a central theme at the SNB blog is ideology. Tom and Glenn’s
    expectation that committed Buddhists and Buddhist teachers would happily engage with their style of delivery is of course optimistic. In spite of its
    expletives and direct insults, many folks may actually forget that both Glenn
    and Tom claim to be practitioners of Buddhism with Glenn teaching applied
    meditation at the Won Institute and Tom being involved with Shin Buddhism. Their
    work, rather than emerging as a consistent critique of Buddhism, is more and more geared at dismantling the social and political edifices that prop it up here in
    the West. That’s fine, but if that is the project, rather than educating the
    unwise, then it’s hardly a surprise that their message ultimately falls on deaf
    ears in the Buddhist community where teachers often have their livelihoods at
    stake, and usually their whole belief system, value system and network of
    relationships embedded therein. The desire for mutual respect, comprehension
    and so on asked for by the braver visitors to the SNB and Associates projects
    is a regular requirement for most successful relationships yet visitors to the word
    blood banquet are more likely to find themselves amongst the company of wolves. Selfishly, I would love to hear a less heated exchange with the better educated of the Buddhist in-crowd with the SNB posse, but I don’t see it happening.

    • justinwhitaker

      Thanks for the comments, Matthew. So would it be fair to say that the benefit of the SNB site for you was the ‘tools’ developed there that can be used in one’s relationship with organized Buddhism or other aspects of life?

      Your second paragraph will sit with me for a while I think because it is a large part of my own work over the last decade. I began as an avid atheist studying Western Philosophy, then began practicing and eventually studying Buddhism, and then went back, briefly, for grad studies in W.Phil before returning to a middle ground: a history department where I do comparative religious ethics. The upside of all of this is, as you put it, ‘eye-opening to say the least and helps in dismantling an overly dependent and romanticised view of Buddhist ‘wisdom’ and contextualising ideas..’ The downside is that I find myself living ‘between camps’ and often have to deal with bizarre critiques of each from the other.

      Perhaps we could encourage the SNB folks to write more about what they want – what positive vision for the future they propose and how it might be enacted.

      • Matthew O’Connell

        Yes, that is certainly the case. But I really enjoyed having my boundaries tested by the material too, which was a highly personal process. I find the destabilising effect of some of their arguments deeply refreshing and somehow resonant with own suspicions about Buddhism, and in particular Buddhist culture, which I’ve written about at my own site: Such well-articulated critique is sparse in the Buddhasphere even from academics. That is what made the material there worth engaging with. Usually if I feel challenged or uncomfortable, there is something worth looking at. rather than the tone there, which I experienced as a distraction, their ideas were often deeply uncomfortable to consider.

        I have also found some of the perspectives provided by Tom’s writings, in particular his discussions of the collective self and symbolic reality, as in resonance with my own experiences and view. He articulates these ideas better in some of his texts than others, where, as you well know, he often obsesses over capitalism. For those interested, Tom’s ‘Taking Anatman Full Strength’ is excellent.

        By the way, I grew up with a hardcore intellectual Marxist as a father, so the style of rhetoric is pretty familiar and the rants.

        As for encouraging the SNB posse to do anything, I don’t see that as fruitful. I had thought that engagement with them from Buddhist teachers would be worthwhile, but perhaps it’s gone too far for that to be a possibility. The most measured voice of the three was always Glenn, who seems to be more interested in critiquing Buddhist figures directly these days. I frankly find such a project a distraction. Perhaps Tutteji’s humour is a better way to go.

      • Vacant Horizon

        The majority of responses here are predictable. The content of SNB is dismissed because of tone, big words and perceived name calling. There’s never any examples given and there is never any attempt at engaging the content of their critique. Ironically, the critics who dismiss SNB on said basis fulfill much of the SNB critique. It’s quite an amazing phenomenon.

  • justinwhitaker

    My pleasure, Mumon. I’ll add your further response here:

  • Al Billings

    I find the Speculative Buddhist site just kind of obtuse and sad. Highly educated individuals so focused on their rightness, education, and jargon that what they say is largely impenetrable to others, if not outright hostile. Any attempt to discuss anything with them must be on their terms using their terminology or be dismissed. They are self-defeating if they want to have any impact on large culture of “x-Buddhists.”

  • Vacant Horizon

    I really wish you’d have just posted a link to the discussion. The snippets you posted are taken way out of context and could be misleading.

  • jay roche

    I sometimes wonder if Glen is possibly one of the most important voices in Buddhism (non-buddhism) at the moment, a sort of Johnny Rotten in the Dharma. I don’t make the latter comparison flippantly either as I think he’s calling out the phonies in the way that the punk movement tried break down some of the pomposities developing within the world of popular culture. From what I can gather from his Bio – once a punk, always a punk…

    I also don’t get the idea that he should be offering some sort of ‘solution’ to the problems within Western Buddhism – I think his critiques are shock-tactics to wake up those that are commodifying the dharma. A close reading of the ABOUT section of the SNB blog makes it clear he is only offering tools that could/should be used to look at our own rationalisations of buddhist practise as ways to numb ourselves rather than Wake Up.. The SNB blog and approach seems to me to be a catalyst to ‘up-set’ – it’s a tool to dis-mantle the raft of buddhism. If we view Glen et al as possible co-horts in making buddhism ‘better’ I think we are falling into a trap of sorts and we will – I think deservedly – be called ‘fucking idiots’. How much of this is an act or facade is a matter for speculation – (the more thoughtful and inspiring essays by Tom Pepper and Glen make me think there is more than a bit of acting going on in their SNB contributions). Kenneth jumped in and tried it and I think more of him for it – but he got what one would have expected.

    However, I do feel that a stand out fault of Glenn’s approach is to tar all with the same brush – it really does seem at times that there is no-one out there offering similar critiques. I think in particular he has been un-fair to Stephen Batchelor and Stephen Schettini (among others) both who have in their own ways tried to offer an alternative approach to the practice of Buddhism in the west. I might add that Batchelor has also gone one further and offered what might be a solution to how we can practise in a secular world. But I sense Glenn is not about to cherry-pick anyone out for praise – that might complicate the message…

    All I say is…Gabba Gabba Hey!

  • Frank Jude Boccio


    You write below:

    “Perhaps we could encourage the SNB folks to write more about what they want – what positive vision for the future they propose and how it might be enacted.”

    as if their site and their recently published book isn’t replete with positive LIBERATING vision!!! Such blindness — and you are not unique in this — must either be willful or feigned because I have found so much of value (even when — and perhaps most when I’ve felt ‘stung’) in what they’ve exposed throughout their writings.

    Tom Pepper, in particular, though on the site seemingly the most ‘belligerent,’ again and again tells us that he does indeed identify as a ‘buddhist,’ and has written a powerfully moving piece about his practice of ‘pure land buddhism’ as a truly radical social/cultural/political engagement. His essay in their book (which I highly recommend) “Cruel Theory/Sublime Practice” is also wonderful in both critique and positive offering — again NOT that critique and the positive offering are different or in any way distinct if one reads deeply.

    • Al Billings

      Please post a url to the ebook of their book. I don’t buy paper books anymore unless they are art books or the like.

      As to your either/or decision about critics and their book, there are more than those two choices (willful or feigned). Maybe it just isn’t worth the effort of most folks to try to decode what they’re really trying to say since they purposefully don’t seem interested in making it accessible (and I say this as someone with a graduate degree in philosophy).

      • Frank Jude Boccio

        Hmmm… I only have a BA in literature (of all things!) and have no problem in understanding Pepper’s writing. Wallis, yeah… I’ve had to have a dictionary available and I do think (like the French post-moderns) obfuscate with jargon and “75 cent words) when a nickel one would do. BUT, after reading his essay in the book, I have a much greater understanding and appreciation of his project.

        Unfortunately, I do not see any mention of ebook available. It’s a small publisher though I don’t know if that’s why… Only available in paperback. Perhaps you can have your library get a copy if they don’t already have one….

        • Al Billings

          This becomes one of those things that I don’t think will be worth the effort to pursue. Will I suddenly gain something of special value in wading through their writings and text (whether blog or book) or is it simply another way to waste time to no fruitful end. I have little patience for deciphering jargon and people going out of their way to be less than clear unless I’m working on a thesis or some other paper. Life is just too short and my caring is just too little. As I said before, none of this really affects my practice (and I got called “intelligence phobic” for saying that elsewhere at

          • fuho

            Al – you have a graduate degree in philosophy and you are averse to working at uncovering meaning unless you are writing a paper? That’s a little sad, and contrary to the spirit of philosophy besides. You think the truth comes easily? Maybe you should read Thich Nhat Hahn or Pema Chodron…I don’t think Tom or Glenn is too difficult to follow anyhow – true, it takes some effort (dear me!) at points, but I don’t believe that either of them “go out of their way” to be less than clear. In fact, I think that Glenn has a very keen appreciation for language (he has studied many of them intensively) and he works hard to select exactly the right word for what he has to say, which is not necessarily an “accessible” word, but I appreciate it; it’s hard to communicate, even with language, and it helps to be precise. Glenn also has a real feeling for music and poetry, and his writing – including his academic writing – has musical and poetic qualities that are part and parcel of his meaning. It is an exuberant – but carefully thoughtful and thoroughly researched – rebellion. It’s kind of funny too that you want it to be “accessible” and yet you practice Buddhism (I think just because you mention your ‘practice’?) Does Buddhism make “enlightenment” very accessible to you, even as it claims that it is always and forever available to you / your nature already / etc.? Or do you have to work very, very hard for it?

            • Al Billings

              I think you miss the fundamental point that I’ve found nothing in Tom or Glenn’s material making it worth the effort (and I’ve actually read both Thich Nhat Hahn and Pema Chodron, among others).

              A bunch of academics circle jerking on the Internet while declaring themselves edgy isn’t that interesting. You seem to be confusing “unwilling to bother decoding these folks” with “unwilling to do work in general.”

              • fuho

                Ok, Al, but you contradict yourself in saying that you haven’t read / decoded much of the material and yet you know that there is nothing of value there / that it is a “circle-jerk.”

                • Al Billings

                  You’re overreading and I don’t really care.

  • Patricia Ivan


    I am not sure the guys at SNB or Tutteji are interested in “dialogue” or spreading a “positive vision”. Both blogs are primarily deconstructivist critiques of contemporary Buddhist culture.

    While some readers, like Frank Jude Boccio, find this project “liberating”, others feel oppressed by it. I understand that. A sharp blow to the head is not my personal favorite either, even when delivered by a Zen master, so why would I subject myself to this from a disgruntled middle class English professor?

  • BuddhiHermit Hermit

    A little late to the party, but this was so wonderfully obvious, I simply had to comment.

    I have noticed that Kenneth likes social engagement, so I can see the attraction some of the ideas may have had for him. I respected his approach, even though I prefer the approach “I came, I saw, I walked away.”

    Thanks to Matteo O for the reference to Tom’s “Taking Anatman full strength”. I found a copy online, and loved reading it – mainly because it was both so close, and yet so far away from actually understanding Full Strength Anatman.

    As others have noticed, there seemed to be a real desperation involved in splicing Lacanian discourse into Buddhist thought. When an idea matches our predilections, it’s very tempting to reinterpret everything through that lens, and feel we have the final answer that truly makes sense to us. Unfortunately, other people have other predilections, and trying to shoehorn them into a one size fits all proposition, is bound to meet resistance.

    More work aimed at uncovering first principles would help no end.

  • Ananda Ji

    expects the intellectual inquisition. Are chief weapons are critique, critique
    and rationalism, rationalism and critique. Are two weapons are critique and
    rationalism and ruthless efficiency! Er, among
    our chief weapons are: rationalism, critique, ruthless efficiency, and near
    fanatical devotion to conceptual formation! Um, I’ll come in again…”