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Sunday
Oct012017

RS 194 - Robert Wright on "Why Buddhism is True"

Release date: October 1st, 2017

Robert Wright

This episode features bestselling author Robert Wright making the case for why Buddhism was right about human nature: its diagnosis that our suffering is mainly due to a failure to see reality clearly, and its prescription that meditation can help us see more clearly. Robert and Julia discuss whether it's suspicious that a religion turned out to be "right" about human nature, what it means for emotions to be true or false, and whether there are downsides to enlightenment.

Robert's Pick: "Beyond Freedom and Dignity" by B.F. Skinner

Robert's Book: "Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment"

Edited by Brent Silk

Music by Miracles of Modern Science

 Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (17)

I don't get why Mr Wright so casually dismisses the utility of public speaking anxiety. It can be a very low-input, high-output deal. Even if you're speaking at a Tuesday morning meeting, your colleagues may give you a hard time if you come off as pompous or say something preposterous. Better mind your p's and q's.
October 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTony
I think this was a good discussion of the benefits of meditation, without outrageous claims of personal attainments on the part of Mr. Wright. Indeed, the opposite was true. When saw the title I shuddered, since there are as many spiritual grifters in Buddhism as in any other religion, but the discussion was mainly about our dawning scientific recognition of this ancient technique.

I've found meditation to be quite rewarding, but it is a practice that has to be developed. I heard a quip in a recorded talk by a Buddhist monk once that helped me tremendously: "that space between words, just keep increasing that space". That may not help others but the unique thing about Buddhism among the religions is that it tends to be non-dogmatic. If a meditation technique isn't working for you, abandon it and try another. Something that didn't come across in this discussion is the tremendous number of meditation themes and techniques that have been developed over the past 2,500 years that have helped millions of people reap the benefits of meditation. (Once you get past the "count to ten" phase.)

I think the Buddha had an intensely scientific outlook, as Mr. Wright alluded to. We don't think of that time as being "scientific" at all because they had no instruments to measure the world with, but that really highlights the accomplishments of the man who correctly reasoned that things have causes, therefore happiness has a cause, and then proceeded to dedicate himself to finding it, which he apparently did, but without claiming to "own" happiness in any way and freely gave others advice on how to do the same.
October 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMBenson
Do Buddhists consider optimism an illusion?
I think in a previous episode someone said that it's normal to have an inflated view of oneself, and depressed people have a more realistic view of themselves.
October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Who'll make the world a better place, Buddhists who believe that suffering is a state of mind, or Jews who believe in tikkun olam, perfecting the world?
October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
What does meditation like focusing on one's breath do to somebody who has chronic cough, heart palpitations, pain, cramps, tinnitus, etc.? The more you focus on it, the worse it gets. If I think about saliva, I salivate more. Bodily functions work best when you don't think about them.
October 3, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
I guess a Buddhist would look at optimism and pessimism as "twin imposters." They are, after all, narratives. However the Buddhist I have met seem to have sunny dispositions. Many of them have the development of loving kindness (metta ) as a goal.
October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNJH
If Buddhists are so enlightened, shouldn't Cambodia and Burma have like the happiest most enlightened people on Earth? Shouldn't they be free of tribalism, racism, and wars? Ask the Burmese Indians, Muslims and Christians about that.
October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
If Buddhists are so enlightened, shouldn't Cambodia and Burma have like the happiest most enlightened people on Earth? Shouldn't they be free of tribalism, racism, and wars? Ask the Burmese Indians, Muslims and Christians about that.
October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
Max - you could say the same thing about many countries with various dominate religions. I think you're missing the point here. Of course there are zealots, that's what happens when you have dogma involved.
October 4, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRamsey
"There's a whole philosophical tradition called pragmatism that asserts that you can think of what's true as being what's useful."
That's some postmodern gobbledygook, but it's good that Julia didn't get stuck on this the way Sam Harris did with Jordan Peterson, who apparently uses this definition of truth to argue that Christianity is true.
October 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
"They have crap societies/people therefore XYZ system is crap" is a kind of Ad Hominem attack.

Since no religion/society escapes - why attack Buddhism in particular? Unless you are exercising your biases.
And it maybe be that some "crap" societies/people generate interesting ideas: See Ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, Plato Schopenhauer etc. And the converse might be true as well. Interesting ideas might lead to greater happiness and it is possible - I don't know, - that some people are happier than others.. Should mindfulness or the kind of practical cognitive therapy insights - that Robert Wright is talking about with his secular Buddhism - be a factor we could explore them.

We need good ideas.
October 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNJH
Why attack Buddhism in particular? Because the guest said, "One reason I wrote the book ["Why Buddhism is True"] is because of all the tribalism in the world including political polarization in America and wars and so on."
Yeah OK, and Burma doesn't have any of that.
Had he said it about other religions, I would've brought up other countries.
October 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMax
"all the tribalism in the world" kind of covers that.
October 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNJH
It's perfectly clear that "all the tribalism in the world" is counterpoised against Buddhism; Buddhism is presented as a corrective to tribalism. Did you even listen to the episode? It's all about the merits of Buddhism; responding to that is hardly "biased" against Buddhism.
November 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJD
Julia makes a good point about how a few people, or even a single person, could actually skew the mean average such that MOST people actually are better than average morally. Take a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 as extremely moral. People might see themselves on this scale. Then consider someone so awful that you could assign them NEGATIVE 1,000,000,000. Consider several such persons. History is full of them.
November 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson
Julia needs to improve her speaking. How many "um" and "you know" do I need to hear? Plus her vocal fry is annoying.
November 27, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNicholas

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