Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Someone wrote a book...

I'm a little taken aback when I see stuff in the marketplace like books entitled "Why Buddhism Is True."  It's written by a guy named Robert Wright.

It seems to be a philosophy/science book.  From the link above (NY Times Book review) it seems to say that dissatisfaction - dukkha is programmed into us via natural selection.  Moreover,

Wright’s book is provocative, informative and, in many respects, deeply rewarding. A good example is Wright’s description of his first full entry into the realm of mindfulness. Arriving at this new mental state generated in him an intense emotive response and a memorable feeling that Wright evokes with suggestive but spare prose. It rings true. This scene lets the reader glimpse the power of mindful meditation and be intrigued, even seduced, by the transformative potential of the practice.

 I haven't read the book, I don't know the reviewer, but when I see things like "new mental states" "generated" etc. I am concerned as I say in my day job. 

Again, I'm not sure about the whole thing; if this was in my library I might take it out.  I must admit that 30 years ago Thich Nhat Hanh's "Miracle of Mindfulness" was very helpful to me.  So (obviously) the mindfulness stuff is important - and indeed, I would venture a necessary preceding stop to effecting meaningful change in one's life. 

 But there's something off here; it's not that I don't think Buddhism "is true," although I'm not sure what that means in a sense. There's a lot to Buddhism, and among those things I would posit, especially after spending some time on Twitter, that there's not only chiliocosms full of Buddhas, but also vastly ignorant, hurting people.  Buddhism is a hell of a lot more than meditation, and it sure as hell is not a commodity.

I think, if the NY Times reviewer captured it correctly, the last paragraph of his review damns the book:

I would venture that in most meditative states some subjectivity remains, as representative of the biological interests of the individual. As far as I can imagine, the complete disappearance of a subjective view would result in a “view from nowhere.” But whose view would that be, then? And if not ours, how would we come to know let alone seek such a view, such an emptiness? Mindful meditation is no stranger to the world of paradox. Is there anything stranger than discovering the pleasures of not feeling?

To steal from Richard Feynman, if you can't write an introductory book on Buddhism without a proper and readily grasped notion of emptiness, you have failed at the task of writing an introductory book on Buddhism.  So it's either Mr. Wright or the author of the review.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should read the book before passing judgment. The section on emptiness is my favorite part.

I think what the author means when he says Buddhism is "true" is that, if one can apprehend Buddhist concepts like not-self and emptiness (via understanding Buddhist philosophy and meditating), one will be able to experience the world more truly. The book explains why.