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Archive for July 1st, 2018

I’ve just completed Robert Wright‘s latest book, Why Buddhism Is True. For me, the attraction was the subtitle: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.

Reviewing a book on philosophy is like trying to explain your existential motivations to a dolphin. You know that they’re really smart, but you’re never really sure that they get anything out of the discourse. That being said, I present my attempt. Hopefully, it will be minimally head-tilt inducing.

By way of background, I count myself among the Buddhist community. This to me provides about as much information as if I’d said that I work with computers. Yup, me and a hundred of million others work with computers. It tells you nothing about the form, function, depth of involvement, etc. Hence my choice of the word community. There is no single locus within Buddhism. Even whether it is a religion, a philosophy, or both is a point of discussion. On this, I point back to the sub-title’s attraction to me.

The reason I can even attempt a review is that the book takes a practical (as in practice) view of the topic. As an engineer, I appreciate the quantifiable. On this point, the book does not disappoint.

If I had to re-title the book I would name it Meditation: What’s in it for Me? Why? Because in a world where people barely make it past headlines, it pretty much covers the core of the discussion. The problem with this title is that it leaves out all the interesting bits that get you from introduction to summary. Sort of like renaming Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure to “be excellent to each other.”

The author is journalist, professor of Philosophy, and is of the Theravāda (specifically Vipassanā) school of Buddhism. I follow the Mahayana (specifically Zen) school. For the requisite pun, you could say that the distinction between the two is all or nothing.

Let me say up front that I am not a Buddhist scholar. I can’t read Sanskrit, Pali, or even Kanji to save my life. As such, many of the names and terms-of-art within the Buddhist world make my brain hurt. I can’t pronounce them. I can’t remember them. But I’ve gotten to the point where I recognize them in context. As an experiential gestaltist, I strive to integrate everything. In the process, the source wrapper is often discarded. This book accomplishes that unwrapping and, although it does use the terms from the source languages (mercifully translated), presented in approachable language.

Using this approach of going from the known to the unknown, Wright covers the methodological process of meditation and its effects as he has experienced them. He also relates the Buddhist underpinnings of the whys and wherefores of meditation as seen by various schools.

Next, he explores the various working models of consciousness used within the psychological community. From there he harmonizes the two.

In the final chapters, he brings us back to the big question areas of universality and enlightenment. He finishes by answering the question as to the tangible worth of meditation and will being at one leads to a grey existence.

I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who like to see endings for themselves. If you have an interest in the interplay between meditation, psychology and Buddhist thought, you will find this to be an interesting read.

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