Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

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

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
November 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Robert Wright
Total Pages: 
Simon & Schuster

In this book Robert Wright states that Buddhist meditative practice is a radical promise: We can learn to see the world, including ourselves, more clearly, and so gain a deep and morally valid happiness. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

I was given the paperback edition but I give here Amazon’s website for the Kindle edition because it includes, using Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option, the author’s 2-pp A Note to Readers, all of his 14-pp Ch. 1: Taking the Red Pill, and the interesting first two pages of his Ch. 2: Paradoxes of Meditation:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The top of the home page has a very good summary. This summary and the 2-pp A Note to Readers are must reads – they clearly tell the reader just what this book covers and what it does not cover. As for other reviews, I recommend the reader scroll further down the home page to read Amazon’s ‘Top customer reviews’ – first the short one by ‘Anne Mills’ (it best represents my take on this book) and next the review by ‘Bhagwan Chowdhry.’ I suggest you then read the very thorough review by ‘Flatiron John’ (you need to click on ‘Read more’ to get all of this review) in which he refers to two books by Robert Wright that I’ve reviewed: The Moral Animal (Book 782) and The Evolution of God (Book 327, which I read in 2009). ‘Flatiron John’ is a critical multiple reviewer of Robert Wright. ‘Flatiron John’ also brings up the author Stephen Batchelor who has written two books (735 and 736) about secular Buddhism that I’ve reviewed.

This book by Robert Wright has an Appendix that can be accessed for the paperback edition. When you click on 'Look inside’ for this edition, you will get a window for a ‘Search Inside This Book’ at the lower left into which you can insert Appendix in the window and click on ‘Go.’ This will give you two useful topics: a 7-pp List of Buddhist Truths (pages 269-275) followed by a 2-pp (pages 277-278) Note on Terminology. However Amazon did not include page 274.

Since I found the author’s List of Buddhist Truths to be an important summary of his discussion of Buddhism meditation and enlightenment, I give page 274 here:

“a person closer to moral truth? I argue that considerations from evolutionary biology support an affirmative answer to that question. (See chapter 15.)

“10. The intuition that objects and beings we perceive have ‘essences’ is, as the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness holds, an illusion. Specifically, it is an illusion engineered by natural selection to identify the significance of things with respect to the Darwinian interests of the organism doing the perceiving. (See chapters 10 and 11. This Darwinian defense of the idea of emptiness is quite different from the traditional Buddhist defense of the idea, but it’s compatible with them.) Seeing essences in things doesn’t always lead us to suffer or to inflict sufferings on others, but it can. In particular, as ‘essentialist’ view of other people and groups of people can lead us to countenance or intentionally cause their suffering. (See chapter 12.) So awareness that essence is a perceptual construct, not a reality, can be valuable, especially if paired with meditative practice that dampens the sense of essence or permits selective engagement with it. Advanced meditators who support having lost a sense of essence fairly broadly – that is, who report apprehending emptiness or formlessness is a fairly thoroughgoing way – seem to be very happy and, in my (limited) experience, are benevolent people. (See chapter 13.)

“11. The preceding point about essence and essentialism is one illustration of the broader proposition that not seeing the world clearly can lead not just to our own suffering but to bad conduct in the sense of making others suffer needlessly. Or, to put a more positive spin on it: Seeing the world more clearly can make you not just happier but more moral. This isn’t a guaranteed outcome. There have been very good meditators who were (apparently) very happy and (manifestly) very bad people. Still, there is a close enough association between the psychological dynamics that make us suffer and the psychological dynamics that make [end of page 274].

I enjoyed reading this book but I was aware of the topics avoided by Robert Wright that are spelled out in the review by ‘Flatiron John’: “This would be more convincing if the studies were cited as a way of evaluating Buddhism against competing theories of well-being, such as modern positive psychology, but the book generally avoids this type of direct comparison. This is reflective of the basic approach of secular-Buddhism: the concepts which don't find support in scientific studies, such as reincarnation, or lasting enlightenment, are abandoned or de-emphasized. Secular-Buddhism is reformulating Buddhism to be more consistent with modern psychology, a dynamic which complicates the question of whether science can be used to show that 'Buddhism is True'.” For this reason I rate this book at four stars.