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Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment Paperback – 9 Aug 2018
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“A sublime achievement.”
—Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“Provocative, informative and... deeply rewarding.... I found myself not just agreeing [with] but applauding the author.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“This is exactly the book that so many of us are looking for. Writing with his characteristic wit, brilliance, and tenderhearted skepticism, Robert Wright tells us everything we need to know about the science, practice, and power of Buddhism.”
—Susan Cain, bestselling author of Quiet
“I have been waiting all my life for a readable, lucid explanation of Buddhism by a tough-minded, skeptical intellect. Here it is. This is a scientific and spiritual voyage unlike any I have taken before.”
—Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of Authentic Happiness
“A fantastically rational introduction to meditation…. It constantly made me smile a little, and occasionally chuckle…. A wry, self-deprecating, and brutally empirical guide to the avoidance of suffering.”
—Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine
“[A] superb, level-headed new book.”
—Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian
“Robert Wright brings his sharp wit and love of analysis to good purpose, making a compelling case for the nuts and bolts of how meditation actually works. This book will be useful for all of us, from experienced meditators to hardened skeptics who are wondering what all the fuss is about.”
—Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and bestselling author of Real Happiness
“What happens when someone steeped in evolutionary psychology takes a cool look at Buddhism? If that person is, like Robert Wright, a gifted writer, the answer is this surprising, enjoyable, challenging, and potentially life-changing book.”
—Peter Singer, professor of philosophy at Princeton University and author of Ethics in the Real World
“Delightfully personal, yet broadly important.”
“Rendered in a down-to-earth and highly readable style, with witty quips and self-effacing humility that give the book its distinctive appeal and persuasive power.”
About the Author
Robert Wright is the New York Times bestselling author of The Evolution of God (a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), Nonzero, The Moral Animal, Three Scientists and their Gods (a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Why Buddhism Is True. He is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the widely respected Bloggingheads.tv and MeaningofLife.tv. He has written for The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Time, Slate, and The New Republic. He has taught at the University of Pennsylvania and at Princeton University, where he also created the popular online course “Buddhism and Modern Psychology.” He is currently Visiting Professor of Science and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in New York.
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In particular, he is interested in two Buddhist concepts: not self and emptiness. Incidentally, these are two ideas I have long struggled with... Let's start with emptiness because Wright helped me finally nail this idea. Although we see, for example, our home as the source of security, continuity and lots of warm feelings associated with family, it is really just a pile of bricks and mortar. In the Buddhist sense it is an empty concept onto which we have projected all these emotions. Sure, our home evokes lots of strong reaction but a passing stranger would just see a house and react to the architecture or the location - which once again carries various cultural projections about whether a detached house is better than a semi-detached and how close it is to shops or how remote (which are all equally arbitrary criteria). As a therapist, I'm used to the concept that nothing is inherently good or bad but coloured by how we marshal our experiences, our prejudices and our expectations.
So good so far... but not-self is a much tougher idea. What I did find interesting is that Wright scuppers the idea of self as CEO which sits somewhere inside us and decides rationally what actions to take. Instead he uses neuroscience to explain that we have various modules that take charge. Rather than fighting temptation - for example to eat high sugar and fat foods - he suggests using the acronym: RAIN. Recognise the feeling, Accept it, Investigate the feeling and finally - the hard bit but meditation apparently helps - to Non-identify with the feeling and have Non-attachment to it. In this way the urge is allowed to form but does not get constantly re-inforced by the short term pleasure of, for example, eating the cake. Thus the link to the reward is broken and although the urge might still blossom without gratification it reduces and ultimately subsides.
The downside to this book is that Wright - like the majority of us - is a relative beginner to meditation and when it comes to seeking clarifications about Buddhism and enlightenment, he has to interview people further along the road. My suspicion is he often hears what he wants to hear, simplifying the arguments and glossing over the complexities of his case. Having said that I am convinced that I need to meditate more and take on board the concept of emptiness - because it is my attachment to particular things and outcomes which is often the source of so my unhappiness.
A useful book that I will stay with me for a long time and I recommend to others who want to take the red pill and see the 'truth'.
While my Favourite Book on Eastern Philosophy / Religion remains Freedom From the Know (by that acknowledge Master Krishnamurti) the Book under review is now firmly in my Top 3 Sharing a shelf with the aforesaid, and with Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now.
To share bookshelf space with Krishnamurti and Eckhart Tolle, you’ve really got to deliver something special - this book most definitely does! Think you’ll love it.
I also agree with the title of the book (Though it does come across as arrogant). If any spiritual movement has got it right, Buddhism has got the closest in my honest opinion. The book describes a grown up version of spirituality thats not stuck in the middle ages and actually encourages you to use and master your mind (rather than shutting it down and believing what you are told to believe).
Most recommended from me!