Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

I know, the title is a bit provocative. However, from the start of the book Robert makes it clear that he won’t be going into reincarnation (he stays true to his word), and keeps the conversation pretty secular. He has a dry sense of humor and uses his love of powered sugar donuts and his cute dog as primary examples to articulate some of his points on traditions that are over 2500 years old — so it makes for both an educational and entertaining read.

Specifically, he touches on happiness in our modern world, how to foster “beginner’s mind,” and what evolutionary psychology has to teach us about the ancient practice of meditation. I’d recommend this to you if you’re already a meditator, but it’s also a good primer for those interested in learning more about the scientific basis for meditation.

Also, for those who aren’t familiar with the author Robert Wright, he’s an evolutionary psychologist that’s published several pretty widely read books. His book “The Moral Animal” was given to Keanu Reeves by the directors of The Matrix to read before he started filming as Neo as they thought it would serve as a good, philosophical guide to get him adapted into the role!

Some quotes and concepts from the book to mull over: 

  1. Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.
  2. This is something that can happen again and again via meditation: accepting, even embracing, an unpleasant feeling can give you a critical distance from it that winds up diminishing the unpleasantness.
  3. Taking the red pill means asking basic questions about the relationship of the perceiver to the perceived and examining the underpinnings of our normal view of reality.
  4. “Thought’s as an object” : In a famous sutra called The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving, the Buddha says that a “mind object”—a category that includes thoughts—is just like a taste or a smell: whether a person is “tasting a flavor with the tongue” or “smelling an odor with the nose” or “cognizing a mind object with the mind,” the person “lusts after it if it is pleasing” and “dislikes it if it is unpleasing.”
  5. The thirteenth-century Sufi poet Rumi is said to have written, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

A quote from the book:

“Imagine a world in which affluent American parents showered slightly less devotion and concern on their children. And imagine they spent the time saved thinking about children who don’t have parents at all and asking what they could do to help them. Would that be so bad? It’s great that natural selection gave us the capacity for love and compassion and altruism, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept natural selection’s guidance on how to allocate these precious resources.”

 

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