Arts and Culture

In his latest book, author Robert Wright dissects the idea that Buddhism connects closely with science and philosophy. Wright is appearing tonight at the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum to discuss the idea. He sat down to talk about his book “Why Buddhism is True” with me; you can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

Wright on the idea behind the book:

“I’m not looking at the part of Buddhism that’s about reincarnation and so on. I’m looking at the part that is sometimes called ‘naturalistic’ or ‘secular’ or whatever, but it boils down to the claim that the reason we suffer and the reason we make other people suffer is because we don’t see the world clearly.

“That is a claim central to the various forms of Buddhism you see around the world. One thing I argue in the book is that if you look at modern psychology and especially evolutionary psychology, which is to say the study of how natural selection shaped the human mind, you come to the conclusion that, basically, this diagnosis of the problem is correct.

“And one thing Buddhism provides that psychology doesn’t provide is is an actual prescription, not just a diagnosis, but it tells us what we can do about the problem. One big part of that is mediation and I talk a lot about it in the book.”

Wright on meditation:

“The kind of meditation I focus on in the book mainly is what’s called ‘mindfulness meditation,’ and a lot of people in America are doing that now. It basically boils down to sitting down and first of all getting your focus, trying to get your mind to quiet down, quit wandering from thing to thing. A typical way to focus is to focus on your breath, then after a while, after you establish this kind of focus and calm your mind down, you just start observing things going on. Including things going on in your mind like emotions, maybe thoughts, but it can also be sounds that you can hear outside but you find when you observe these things with a calm mind, it’s significantly different from the way you commonly encounter them. That’s especially important when we’re talking about observing your own mind.”

Wright will be interviewed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, on Monday at 6pm.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for WFPL News.