Title: Why Buddhism Is True
Author: Robert Wright
Printed Pages: 337
Publish Year: 2017 (Simon & Schuster)
Recommended For: Meditation skeptics, those that find psychology and neurology fascinating, and anyone that wants proof that Buddhism-cultivated mindfulness meditation actually works.
First Lines: “At the risk of overdramatizing the human condition: Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix?”
Much of my recent non-fiction reading has been focused on philosophy, particularly about mindfulness meditation and Buddhism. So naturally, a book with the curious title Why Buddhism Is True was going to pique my interest. Coupling that with the fact that the book was written by prize-winning author Robert Wright and came with a stunning list of rave reviews, this book became required reading.
I breezed through the pages, constantly highlighting passage after passage. Wright’s writing flows with conversational tone, and is sprinkled with his sardonic humor. Drawing from centuries worth of cognitive research, he sews together the science and philosophy of meditative practice. He highlights how our brains are built to deceive us and how now, more than ever, many of the things our brains evolved to do for us are no longer as useful as they might have once been, and, in some cases, do more harm than good. We evolved to survive in this world, not to see it as it actually is.
The thing surprised me the most about this book was how veiled the Buddhism aspect seemed to be. Sure, quotes from various Buddhist canon was used to introduce the topics and articles, but if you’re looking for a book that will convince you to become a Buddhist, this isn’t it. The book’s subtitle–The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment–offers a much greater clue of what the book is actually about. What many readers might not realize is how much of Buddhism is linked to mindfulness meditation, how the practice is essentially the essence of the religion. Mindfulness meditation is growing in popularity, especially from a secular standpoint. Many of today’s meditators would not consider their practice to be religious, but this book might make the reader realize that Buddhism can be stripped-down to certain truths which Wright aims to prove.
What this book also doesn’t do is teach you how to be a meditator. It provides you with plenty of evidence as to why you should start your own practice, but you’ll need to go elsewhere for actual instruction.
As someone that meditates regularly, I didn’t need this book to kickstart my practice; however, it did motivate me to become a little more enthused about what I was doing. It offers new insights into how our minds work–and more importantly, how they don’t. If nothing else, you should walk away from this book with an updated attitude and new perspective towards both your sense of self and others.
Our brains are designed to, among other things, delude us.
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.
Buddhism offers an explicit diagnosis of the problem and a cure. And the cure, when it works, brings not just happiness but clarity of vision: the actual truth about things, or at least something way, way closer to that than our everyday view of them.
Imagine if our negative feelings, or at least lots of them, turned out to be illusions, and we could dispel them by just contemplating them from a particular vantage point.
If you accept the idea that many of our most troublesome feelings are in one sense or another illusions, then meditation can be seen as, among other things, a process of dispelling illusions.
My Rating: 4/5 – For helping me realize that my consciousness is really only interested in marketing my thoughts and actions without a care about how much deception is involved in the process.