Book Review: "Why Buddhism is True" by Robert Wright

The Buddhist Channel, 28 August 2023

New York, USA -- In the midst of the rapid incorporation of Buddhism into Western culture over the last decade, Robert Wright presents a compelling exploration of its practical applications in his book "Why Buddhism is True". With a focus on mindfulness meditation and a secularized perspective, Wright delves into how Buddhist practices can enhance individuals' perspectives on life and potentially transform society.

The book immediately establishes its intent: Wright's objective is not to validate Buddhism's religious assertions, but rather to extract practical wisdom from its teachings. Throughout the narrative, Wright steers clear of advocating any particular "right" or "wrong" way to engage with mindfulness, emphasizing its personal nature.

A self-proclaimed practitioner of the Theravada School of Buddhism, particularly Vipassana, Wright aligns his approach with the concepts of "not-self" and "emptiness". He elucidates that these notions challenge our perceptions of both internal and external worlds, paving the way for a more insightful understanding of reality. This leads to a central question: How can these abstract principles be empirically supported and integrated into everyday life, especially for those unfamiliar with Buddhism?

Wright posits that meditation offers the key to clarity. By acknowledging that our default perspectives are misleading and often result in suffering, he asserts that meditation is a powerful tool for unveiling a truer reality. This notion sets the groundwork for the rest of the book.

Wright astutely connects Buddhist concepts such as "not-self" and "emptiness" to our lived experiences. He contends that these ideas provide a lens through which to view the world unencumbered by delusions and misconceptions. In this context, the book embarks on a journey of identifying the intricacies of mental phenomena that lead us astray. It highlights how emotions often perpetuate illusions and amplify stress.

The author argues that our minds, shaped by evolution, are not inherently geared towards perceiving reality accurately. Instead, they prioritize the preservation of our genes. This primitive mindset struggles to cope with the complexities of modern life, leading to mental health issues. Wright asserts that cultivating mindfulness and living in the present moment offer a path to clarity and tranquility.

"Why Buddhism is True" has garnered commendation from various sources. Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, writing in The New York Times, praises the book as thought-provoking and enlightening. Kirkus Reviews lauds it for presenting a coherent argument for a secular meditation practice rooted in Buddhist principles. NPR's Adam Frank hails the book as both personal and universally relevant.

However, not all reviews are unequivocal in their acclaim. Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker appreciates Wright's transparency and the benefits of meditation but remains skeptical about the long-term viability of secularized religious systems. The Washington Post finds merit in Wright's ideas but questions the extent of his claims about truth and freedom.

Evan Thompson's critique raises broader questions. He challenges the notion of Buddhist exceptionalism and questions Wright's portrayal of both secularized Buddhism and its purported uniqueness in addressing evolutionary psychology.

In "Why Buddhism is True," Robert Wright offers a compelling exploration of mindfulness meditation's potential to enhance human understanding and alleviate suffering. The book's nuanced perspective on Buddhism's practical applications, coupled with its willingness to engage with skepticism, makes it a thought-provoking read for anyone interested in the intersection of spirituality, psychology, and personal growth.


Author: Robert Wright
Language: English
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: August 8, 2017
Media type: Print (hardcover and paperback)
Pages: 336 (hardcover)

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