Why Buddhism is True
The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
Simon and Schuster 2017
New Books in Big IdeasNew Books in Buddhist StudiesNew Books in PsychologyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in ScienceNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network August 25, 2017 Marshall Poe
All “true believers” believe their beliefs are true. This is particularly true of true religious believers: for Christians, Christianity is the true religion, for Jews, Judaism is the true religion, for for Muslims, Islam is the true religion. Few true believer, however, would make the claim that their religion is “scientifically true”; religion, after all, is a matter of faith, and faith and science are somewhat different things.
But that’s the claim Robert Wright is making in his thought-provoking, well-reasoned, and thoroughly-researched book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment (Simon and Schuster, 2017). Well, sort of. Wright makes clear that he’s talking about Buddhism as a spiritual practice, not a religious dogma. He purposefully leaves aside the supernatural aspects of Buddhist belief–gods, devils, miracles, unseen realms and such–and focuses on what Buddhist meditators believe and do to reach “enlightenment.” And what he proposes is that Buddhism as practiced by these Buddhists is well suited to ease the pain caused by evolved human psychology.
Wright’s book is heavily informed by his reading of evolutionary psychology, and particularly the notion that natural selection “designed” (a metaphor, to be sure) the human mind to work in ways that are not always to our hedonic benefit. Natural selections, he says, “designed” our minds to make our bodies reproduce, not to make us “happy,” “content,” or “satisfied.” If making us unhappy gets us to reproduce more often, then unhappy it’s going to be. And often is.
Wright–to my mind, convincingly–argues that a Buddhist worldview and practice allows us to see the evolved nature of our minds as they really are, to see through (if not control) the often harmful impulses produced by those minds, and to make us and those around us better people. Essentially he says ‘Given the particular way our minds evolved, Buddhism is ‘true’ in that it is a balm for human suffering.’