Interesting review..

Becoming Integral: Notes on Planetary Coexistence

“When someone tells me that they are not really religious, but that they are a very spiritual person, I want to punch their face. Hard.” (1)

I just finished reading David Webster’s short and fun book Dispirited: How Contemporary Spirituality Makes us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy (Zero Books, 2012).  I was happy to read a book that offers a critical analysis of contemporary spirituality, both because I teach theology and religious studies and because I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which contains a vast array of flavors of “spirituality.”

Before reading the book, I read an interview with Webster about the project.  The interview makes some interesting points, including Webster giving Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a response to the question of what book he wishes he’d written.  Along those lines, I would say that Webster’s critique of spirituality is good, but it’s not quite as…

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[Apologies for slow blogging / response of late. Those who know me will be aware of the reasons behind this. It may continue for some time, I fear. I will probably continue to tweet due twitter’s brevity, but blog posts – and certainly responses – will be fewer/slower.]

Below is a quote from the Pabbatopama Sutta, found in the Samyutta Nikaya (of the Buddhist Pali Canon). I omit the second part- which offers post-death rewards to those who follow the Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha, not because it’s irrelevant, but because it is not my primary concern here.

All religions (and quite a few things that claim not to be) seem to offer some rescue from death. I am tempted to see it as one of those features that distinguish religious phenomena from religion-like socio-political phenomena. What I do like, below, however, is the sense of inevitability- that it rolls over us all. It reminds me of Matthew 5.45 (For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. ESV, 2001), and reminds us that irrespective of post-mortem claims, this world is indifferent to us.

While others may choose to focus on the consolations that faith offers post-death, I am much more interested in this indifference. It seems instructive. Post-death threats and promises have not promoted ethics, and many religious thinkers have also taken this view. I am sure that there are those who believe (and claim evidence, but this is another matter), to an extent, that death is survivable: but I am not interested in that. The evidence is sketchy (at very best), and this world is without us once we die. It is this world that interests me. A mortal being is what we are to this world. Even if we look beyond death, this world is a place where we are mortal. It is only effected by what we do before death. What happens beyond is irrelevant.

Like massive boulders

mountains pressing against the sky

moving in from all sides

crushing the four directions,

so aging and death

come rolling over living beings:


noble warriors, brahmans, merchants

workers, outcastes, & scavengers

They spare nothing

They trample everything.


Here elephant troops can hold no ground

nor can chariots or infantry

nor can a battle of wit

or wealth win out

I am not convinced of all Chapman says, but this is an interesting review of what is an unquestionably important book..


David L. McMahan’s The Making of Buddhist Modernism has changed the way I think about Buddhism more than any book I’ve read in years. I think it’s destined to be an influential classic.

It’s a history of how and why “Western Buddhism” came to be what it is. That casts new light on what “Western Buddhism” is, and raises new questions about whether that’s what we want.

My understanding of this book is the main basis for this blog series. (Of course, I use other sources too, and of course McMahan might disagree with everything I say.) This is not a general review. Instead, I will explain some parts of the book that are relevant to my own project.

Traditional Buddhism is very unlike Western Buddhism

Most Western Buddhists don’t realize how different even the most traditional and “authentic” forms found in the West are from traditional Asian Buddhism. Once…

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