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Buddhadharma : Spring 2019
112 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY it is necessary to bring in outside reinforce- ments. These must be of a type that Western Buddhist philosophy cannot domesticate. Wallis chooses the “non-philosophy” of Laruelle for this purpose. Laruelle’s work is little known in the US, and a review of this length cannot fully engage its idiosyncratic vocabulary and conceptual approach. In brief, though, we might say that Laruelle attempts to undo what he sees as the violence, denial, and conceptual dominations baked into the systematic structures of European phi- losophy. Laruelle offers the possibility of what he calls “non-philosophy,” a term that implies both a freedom from and an ongoing alternative to essentializing and totalizing philosophical systems. Wallis takes up Laruelle’s work in this regard as a powerful tool for rethinking Buddhism. One might wonder as well, of course, if Wallis has tilted too far to the extreme of emptiness/nihilism in his presentation of Buddhism’s core liberatory potential. Wallis himself confronts this possibility—indeed, he addresses it head-on and attempts to disarm it by refusing to accept nihilism as a term of critique. He suggests several times that perhaps the problem for the character of the Buddha in Buddhist sutra literature, and for Buddhists more generally, is that they don’t have the courage of their own insight into emptiness. Instead of the lib- erating critique that dissolves all transcen- dental constructions, they circle back to reaffirmations that set up an ideological or theological “World of Buddhism,” to use Wallis’ terms. Yet for some readers, Nagar- juna’s famous remarks about the dangers of misgrasping both emptiness and snakes may come to mind. To the extent that this book seals itself hermetically within a cer- tain philosophical range, it may be Wallis’ insistence on the emptiness side of the Two Truths (in Nagarjuna’s terms) that is to blame. Although Wallis explicitly reminds readers about the central place of ethics and compassionate action, in particular at the end of the book, compassion and ethics are often eclipsed in the emphasis on emptiness. Curiously, an enthusiastic embrace of emptiness as the most interesting thing Buddhists have on offer is not unique to Wallis. This move is intimately connected to the historically situated Western Bud- dhist (Protestant, modernist) embrace of meditation as the best thing Buddhists do. To be sure, Wallis himself addresses such modernist presentations of Buddhism and meditation directly, in a sophisticated way. And yet repeatedly in this work, one has a sense that other things many Buddhists do have fallen by the wayside. Wearing amulets, reciting mantras, seeking out divinations, prostrating, making offer- ings, praying—these Buddhist repertoires and the people who participate in them disappear or appear beside the point (or worse) in Wallis’ critique. These Buddhist repertoires are trumped by meditation, ideally on emptiness, as the “real” sine qua non of true Buddhism. In that sense, Wallis’ critique here, as well as this book, themselves constitute a deeply Western Buddhist project. Taken as a whole, the book is trenchant, confounding, and often exasperating. Wal- lis presents what is clearly the result of years of sustained reflection and philosophical struggle. In many ways, the book registers as a labor of love—a love of words, a love of the Buddhist vocabulary of emptiness and selflessness, and perhaps also a love of philosophical battle. At points this book also reads as a record of love dismayed, by the failures and inadequacies of what Wallis terms “Western Buddhism.” Readers will be challenged by it, on many levels.