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Attachment, Empathy and Human Agency- a response to Glenn Wallis’ The Empathic Dogma

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In two recent essays[1], Glenn Wallis, author of the controversial blog Speculative Non-Buddhism, takes issue with the notion of “empathic resonance”, particularly when the existence of “mirror neurons” is submitted as evidence for the ability to “feel another’s pain”.  Glenn criticizes this notion, especially as it has been co-opted by influential Buddhist figures, because he finds that it perpetuates human bondage in sad contradiction to Buddhism’s own “emancipatory teachings”.

Glenn claims that, to be more consistent with classical Buddhist teaching, the notion of "empathic resonance” needs to be replaced with a notion that is more interactive, one that would account for our responses to each other on the basis of reactions to gesture, facial expression and language, rather than on the basis of an inert “reactivity” that bypasses human agency.

The purpose of this response is not to deal with Glenn’s exploration of empathy as it pertains to what he calls x-Buddhism, but to ch…