August 6, 2017

"Wright’s is a Buddhism almost completely cleansed of supernaturalism. His Buddha is conceived as a wise man and self-help psychologist..."

"... not as a divine being—no miraculous birth, no thirty-two distinguishing marks of the godhead (one being a penis sheath), no reincarnation. This is a pragmatic Buddhism, and Wright’s pragmatism, as in his previous books, can touch the edge of philistinism. Nearly all popular books about Buddhism are rich in poetic quotation and arresting aphorisms, those ironic koans that are part of the (Zen) Buddhist décor—tales of monks deciding that it isn’t the wind or the flag that’s waving in the breeze but only their minds. Wright’s book has no poetry or paradox anywhere in it. Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features, this leaves the book a little short on charm. Yet, if you never feel that Wright is telling you something profound or beautiful, you also never feel that he is telling you something untrue. Direct and unambiguous, tracing his own history in meditation practice—which eventually led him to a series of weeklong retreats and to the intense study of Buddhist doctrine—he makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear. Buddhist thinkers tend to bridge contradictions with a smile and a paradox and a wave of the hand. 'Things exist but they are not real' is a typical dictum from the guru Mu Soeng, in his book on the Heart Sutra. 'You don’t have to believe it, but it’s true' is another famous guru’s smiling advice about the reincarnation doctrine. This nimble-footed doubleness may indeed hold profound existential truths; it also provides an all-purpose evasion of analysis...."

From "What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t/Examining the science and supernaturalism of Buddhism," by Adam Gopnick in The New Yorker. He's reviewing "Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment," by Robert Wright (AKA Bob Wright of Bloggingheads).

Here's Bob talking to Mickey Kaus (about 10 days ago) about "mindful resistance," and Mickey says he doesn't even know what mindfulness but people tell him "it's Buddhism stripped of its religious aspects so it can be sold to the masses":

30 comments:

gbarto said...

Buddhism without the supernatural is like Christianity without miracles.

And why does Kaus always look happier than Wright?
Why does everybody always look happier than Wright?

Wright may have the truth, but if so I'm looking for something else.

LarsPorsena said...

"Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features..."
Buddhism is like Seinfeld? A comedy about nothingness.

Ralph L said...

85 minutes of Wright blathering and Kaus's chin in your face. Someone hand them figurative and actual mirrors.

bgates said...

I truly despise the phrase "the masses". As though the most important aspect of many human beings were their combined weight.

chuck said...

Before enlightenment, Bob would join the resistance. After enlightenment, Bob still joins the resistance. Someone give Bob a flashlight.

Fernandinande said...

A Buddhist walks up to a hotdog stand, and the hotdog guy asks him what he wants.

The Buddhist says, "I'd like a hotdog with all your ingredients on it", and the hotdog guy says "OK, comin' right up!"

Fernandinande said...

A completely different Buddhist walks up to a completely different hotdog stand, gets "one with everything" and pays with a $20 bill.

The hotdog guy takes his money and then does nothing. The Buddhist says "Hey, where's my change?" and the hotdog guy says "My partner had to run to the bank, he'll be here with your change in a minute."

tcrosse said...

So Wright favors sober reflection on Trump's policies and actions rather than emotional overreaction to Trump's person, even though there are many incentives for the latter. Am I getting this ?

Bay Area Guy said...

Bob Wright is a Beta Male.

Fernandinande said...

A Buddhist gets mugged and calls 911, and the operator says he has to wait because the police are busy arresting aphorisms.

Fernandinande said...

A Buddhist walks into a bar and the bartender says "A few drinks will do wonders for making connections with customers, helping break down the walls people put up living in the biggest city in the world."

Amadeus 48 said...

Robert Wright doesn't know what he thinks, which makes him an odd advocate for mindfulness. He is a visceral lefty, and he can't leave that behind.

Achilles said...

Blogger gbarto said...
"Buddhism without the supernatural is like Christianity without miracles."

Or God.

chickelit said...

Brow-beaten Wright looks heavenward.

tcrosse said...

Brow-beaten Wright looks heavenward.

What's there for him ? Sometimes an eyeroll is just an eyeroll.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Has Wright revisited his arguments (conclusions, really) from NonZero?
I read that one summer w/Kaus' End of Equality.
Both are a little dated now, but Kaus' ideas seem like they've held up a lot better.
Like...a lot better.

But in all honesty I haven't paid any attention to Wright since around the time Obama got elected. He got nasty and more-typically ideological (in a Leftist manner) and frankly there are better thinkers I can get that from any time.

But good for him, selling books.

Roger Sweeny said...

A while ago, I read David Barash's Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science. The same sort of thing: an American atheist wants to be part of a spiritual tradition and takes up a Buddhism striped of the supernatural.

And it's hardly recent. H.G. Wells, in An Outline of History, published soon after the end of World War I, says that Buddha got it right but his followers screwed it up and added all sorts of supernatural nonsense.

rhhardin said...

Levinas's chapter "A Religion for Adults" in _Difficult Freedom_ isn't bad.

Meditation doesn't come in. Thinking does.

YoungHegelian said...

What I always find missing from these western "appropriations" of Buddhism is that a central tenet of Buddhism is the renunciation of desire. Not just desire in the sense of "sinful" desires like one find in Christianity, but desire even to the point of desirous of continued existence. Nirvana is the attainment of a trans-personal existence. I mean, hells-bells, it's probably the transcendence of any sort of existence at all. I just don't see that sort of profound renunciation of desire. That sort of other-worldliness just doesn't fit in with the modern left-liberal idea of the world as the stage for social justice.

I also don't see an idea of social justice as being consonant with a Buddhist/Hindu idea of Kharma. Kharma is not like the idea of righteous punishment, e.g. the Christian divine judgement against evil-doers. Kharma is like spiritual physics -- for every moral/immoral action there is an equal reaction on your soul. You do good or you do evil & it affects the status of re-incarnation because that's the law of the universe. Societal, systemic evil just doesn't seem to be on the menu. I know Gandhi struggled with this in Hinduism as it involved his social thought, but I cannot speak to how he squared this circle.

Char Char Binks said...

Empty-headed cultural appropriation.

William said...

Towards the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin claimed that happiness resulted from the cumulative effect of small comforts and conveniences. There's lot more comforts and conveniences to be enjoyed nowadays. Nothing against meditation, but don't let it interfere with watching GOT or your afternoon nap.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Does Wright have AIDS? He looks ghastly!

Bob said...

Wright always looks tired of defending his beliefs.

Rae said...

How is this not Cultural Appropriation, and thus Anathema?

Henry said...

How is this not Cultural Appropriation, and thus Anathema?

Because Buddhists are missionaries.

Henry said...

It's more like reverse colonization.

Lyle said...

Bob Wright is amazingly hotheaded for a Buddhist. He's like an angry priest or minister who turns you off from going to church.

Jupiter said...

Wright is Wrong.

Ray said...

I prefer the book by Ming of Google, Search Inside Yourself. He also founded an institute that has free videos with the google training, and you can pay for seminars in person. He also wrote a 2nd book. There is a youtube video of his talk.

Basically meditation from an Engineering viewpoint, and I highly recommend it. Very useful.

With Metta,

Ray

mockturtle said...

"...cleansed of supernaturalism"

In other words, 'cleansed' of natural phenomena that are currently outside the bounds of man's comprehension?