My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Wrong from the title on
Ignore the blurbs, it’s still a bad book
There are several reasons for that.
First, IMO, Wright is overrated. I rated “The Evolution of God” as a one-star. This one had a chance to get lucky, even though it was starting minus 1 star due to the title alone. That title, and ding, along with puffery from too many others, though, cost it that chance to do better.
First, ev psych isn’t nearly as true as Wright claims. And, as I said in the review of “The Evolution of God” if you want to apply something like that to religion, try the evolutionary anthropology of Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer.
Second, the Stephen Batchelor denatured, demetaphyticized “Buddhism” that Wright presents isn’t Buddhism. (Wright even backhandedly, and out of the side of his mouth, admits this in the first chapter.
Third — or, if it is, then Unitarianism is just as much Christianity as is what Wright et al call “Buddhism.” And, it’s not.
Fourth — If Unitarianism WERE that, yet, nobody writes a book called “Christianity is true” unless they’re a fundamentalist.
That alone should show what’s wrong with the book.
But BuJews like Sam Harris on one said, and BuGoys like Wright et al on the other, find millions of people who can still be conned this way.
Fifth, it is possible, indeed, that Buddhist secularism has special mediation insights derived from its religious roots. It’s also possible Christianist secularism does, too. It’s also possible neo-Stoicism does, and derived from its original philosophical roots. Maybe self-hypnosis does, derived from original empirical results followed by trial-and-error fine tuning. Or that modern science does, and influenced by a Buddhist-derived general idea of mediation, but NOT by anything specific.
(From what I know, there is indeed at least some degree of truth to all of the above. That’s from reading a new bio of Rorschach, on precursors to modern science; from some experience with self-hypnosis; from a philosopher friend who teaches neo-Stoicism counseling; and more. And, much of these things started happening before Batchelor, or precursors, started popularizing Buddhist-derived meditation ideas in the west.)
Sixth, note my adjectives two paragraphs above. Non-metaphysicians within Unitarianism would practice Christianist secularism, not Christianity. (Not all Unitarians are non-metaphysical.)
Wright seems to make the assumption that only Buddhism, among world religions, has unique insights that can be secularly distilled. Tosh. I haven’t even mentioned Taoist secularism. (Confucianism? I agree with many philosophers of religion that it’s a philosophy, not a religion.)
None of this is to say that meditation is bad. I think it can be good, indeed, for reasons in the book and beyond. So, don’t feel discouraged if the meditation Wright derives from Buddhist secularism doesn’t float your boat.
Seventh, Wright ignores the irony of people — selves — reporting on the idea that there is no self. This is part of a larger issue that certain Buddhist principles should be ineffable. Wright also ignores this connection to karma, vis-à-vis what is, and is not, reincarnated, and why the whole idea of karma is senseless at best and repulsive at worst if there is no “self” yet we have punishing karmic reincarnations based on actions of past selves.
Of course, he ignores it in part by presenting Buddhist secularism as “true,” and as true without having to look at its religious and metaphysical background.
In fairness, he does note that issues related to this are raised by “maverick” Buddhists.
Eighth, Wright, like other BuJews and BuGoys ignores that real, actual Buddhism has its own version of fundamentalism, violence against other religions, etc. Take the 969 Movement, leading the attack against Muslim Rohingya in Burma.
And, no, please no “no true Scotsman” claims that this is modern, and just one small offshoot. Before Buddhism in its Indian homeland went over the mountain to China and then was pushed out of India by a new, reformed Hinduism (Vedism or Brahamnism or similar are better terms for the main religion of India at the time of Siddhartha Gautama), Buddhists are documented as persecuting Jains.
Beyond Buddhism, he gets things wrong elsewhere. That includes muddling emotions and instincts, which he does so baldly and badly.
Finally, the title.
Often, it may be an editor at a publishing house that chooses a title. In this case, I highly doubt it; I’m sure that’s Wright’s baby. It is provocative and smug as well as wrong.
If Wright were just offering up a book called “Buddhist-based meditation tools and ideas,” he might get another star. But, he earned the low rating.
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