Episode 40 :: Glenn Wallis :: The Problem With Beliefs

Glenn Wallis

Dr. Glenn Wallis speaks with us about beliefs, and how conflating them with knowledge can lead us down unhelpful paths in our practice.

What do you believe? Our children are above average. Our dog loves us. Our team is going to win the game. Most of the time, these beliefs don’t really cause any troubles. They are innocuous wishes and dreams that contribute to our having a positive outlook on life.

Where the problems come is when we attach to those beliefs, as if they were knowledge. When our fervent desire for a particular belief to be factually true, leads to delusion. How many times have you heard someone use the word “truth” in a religious context, and you could here the capital T? It would be more correct to call these views, not Truths.

Recently I read a wonderful blog post by Glenn Wallis called The Problem With Beliefs, in which he talks about this ongoing phenomenon of mixing up belief with knowledge. Glenn holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University’s Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. His academic work focuses on various aspects of Indian Buddhism. Recently, Wallis began writing and speaking to broader audiences on, more specifically, meditation theory and technique, Buddhist canonical literature, Buddhist psychology, and ritual studies.

Over the past decade, Wallis has taught in the religion departments of several universities, including the University of Georgia (where he received tenure), Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the Rhode Island School of Design. Wallis began formal Buddhist practice in 1975, and subsequently received training in several forms of Buddhist meditation, including Vipassana, Soto Zen, and traditional Theravada. Currently, Glenn is associate professor and chair of the Applied Meditation Studies program at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice cold-pressed iced coffee.

:: Discuss this episode ::



“… when it dawns on me that the person sharing his beliefs does not understand (or care about or respect or acknowledge or permit) the basic distinction between the two cognitive functions called believing and knowing, I become disheartened.” — Glenn Wallis

“Belief requires faith in something. It’s a certain sort of cognitive activity that requires holding to a script or story or some sort of a narrative or some sort of image or information about a non-existent state of affairs, as far as we can tell. If the state of affairs is present and real, there’s no need to believe it. That’s what we call knowledge, it’s this acceptance of what’s in front of us.” — Glenn Wallis

“Religion. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.” — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“Beliefs and faiths do not establish ‘truths’ or facts. It does not matter how many people believe or for how many centuries they have believed it. It does not matter how reverent or important people think of them, if it does not agree with evidence, then it simply cannot have any validity to the outside world. All things we know about the world, we can express without referring to a belief. Even at its most benign level, beliefs can act as barriers to further understanding.” — Jim Walker




Web Links


Music for This Episode

Hon Shirabe

Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Hon Shirabe