I’m not a Buddhist. Still. And in fact, you could argue that Robert Wright, who wrote “Why Buddhism Is True” is also not really a Buddhist in any traditional sense. What he’s done is cherry pick an array of foundational Buddhist ideas, none of them touching the 3rd rail of metaphysics, and cobbled them into a working system for personal growth, founded in meditation, and tested against the curious filter of evolutionary biology.
Like me, Robert Wright is impatient, skeptical, and disinterested in the supernatural. And what this book is really about is employing some Buddhist concepts to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the reality you live in. For every facile description you’ve heard of mindfulness meditation, this book hangs more details on the idea that you should devote a bunch of time to sitting on the floor trying to focus on nothing other than your breath, ideas more compelling than “because you should really live in the present.”
Wright brings in evolutionary biology to backstop a lot of Buddhism’s core tenets, and I found myself less compelled by these sections. The problem I have with evolutionary biology is that it’s a blunt tool. It’s a backwards looking mechanism, an ex post facto justification for our modern neuroses in this case. That’s ok, because Wright’s relation of his personal experiences are pretty compelling and relatable.
The point of it all is to back gently away from our fraught thoughts and feelings and consider the world in its larger context. There is theoretical goodness here and practical guidance, and the limited hope that if we can only gain a little measure of the equanimity that comes from living life this way, well wouldn’t the world be a better place overall.
I think this book is worth reading because it’ll help you understand yourself better whether you sit on the floor and think real hard or not at all. The key takeaways, if not simple reminders, are that you are not your thoughts, your feelings are not facts, and you are connected to everything around you, so probably better to act like it.