Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright
  • Title: Why Buddhism is True
  • Subtitle: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
  • Author(s): Robert Wright
  • Publisher: Simon and Schuster
  • Year: 2017-08-08
  • ISBN-10: 1439195471
  • ISBN-13: 9781439195475


In “Why Buddhism is True,” Robert Wright explores the intersection between ancient Buddhist teachings and modern science, delving into the ways in which Buddhism can help us achieve a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Drawing on insights from evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience, Wright presents a compelling argument for how Buddhism’s core concepts align with scientific findings and can provide practical solutions for living in the modern age.

Through a personal and thought-provoking narrative, Wright takes readers on a journey to uncover the truths behind human suffering and dissatisfaction, offering valuable tools to alleviate these universal experiences. He explores the concept of “not-self,” shedding light on the illusory nature of our sense of self and its implications for our perception of reality. Moreover, he introduces the powerful technique of mindfulness meditation, which invites readers to cultivate present-moment awareness and develop a more objective and compassionate relationship with their thoughts and emotions. By presenting Buddhism as a means to enhance well-being, build resilience, and foster empathy, Wright’s “Why Buddhism is True” provides a refreshing and accessible perspective on an ancient philosophy for those seeking a path towards greater understanding and contentment in the modern world.

Book Review

A Profound Exploration of Buddhist Philosophy and Modern Science

In his thought-provoking book “Why Buddhism is True,” Robert Wright offers a fascinating synthesis of ancient Buddhist teachings and modern scientific findings. By providing a thorough exploration of Buddhist philosophy and its intersection with evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience, Wright presents a compelling argument for how Buddhism can enhance our understanding of ourselves and our world, offering practical solutions for navigating the challenges of modern life.

Wright begins by challenging our perception of reality and selfhood. He draws upon scientific research to support the Buddhist concept of “not-self,” the idea that our sense of self is merely an illusion. Through personal anecdotes and scientific explanations, he demonstrates how our minds construct narratives about ourselves, forming attachments and aversions based on these illusory narratives. By exposing the impermanence and fluidity of our sense of self, Wright urges readers to question the validity of their own identities and to develop a more holistic view of reality.

A key concept explored in the book is mindfulness meditation, which Wright presents as a practical tool for cultivating a deeper understanding of one’s own mind and emotions. He explains how mindfulness can help individuals observe their own thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judgment or attachment. This practice allows us to become aware of the automatic and often harmful patterns of our minds, leading to greater self-awareness and emotional regulation. Wright shares enlightening research findings that suggest how regular mindfulness practice can lead to increased well-being, reduced stress, and improved cognitive function.

One of the book’s highlights is the incorporation of evolutionary psychology, as it helps to bridge the gap between ancient Buddhist teachings and the realities of our modern lives. Wright examines how evolutionary processes have shaped the human mind to be prone to certain biases and cravings that may not necessarily lead to long-term well-being. By linking these evolutionary tendencies to Buddhist ideas such as suffering and desire, he emphasizes the relevance of Buddhism in addressing the challenges of modern society, including materialism, consumerism, and the pursuit of happiness through external means.

Throughout the book, Wright balances scientific research with engaging storytelling. He shares personal anecdotes and experiences from his own meditation practice, making complex concepts accessible to readers from diverse backgrounds. By intertwining scientific evidence and personal reflections, he creates a compelling narrative that invites readers to embrace the transformative potential of Buddhism.

However, one potential criticism of the book lies in its heavy reliance on scientific evidence to validate Buddhist teachings. While the scientific approach enhances the book’s credibility and accessibility, it may also detract from the deeply spiritual and philosophical aspects of Buddhism that cannot be easily quantified or measured. Some might argue that the book risks reducing Buddhism to a mere lifestyle enhancement or self-help technique, rather than approaching it as a profound spiritual path towards liberation.

In conclusion, “Why Buddhism is True” offers an insightful and thought-provoking examination of the parallelism between Buddhist teachings and modern science. By brilliantly uniting ancient wisdom with contemporary scientific discoveries, Robert Wright provides a fresh perspective on the practical relevance of Buddhism in our modern lives. This book serves as a valuable resource for those seeking a holistic understanding of themselves and the world, and it offers practical tools for cultivating mindfulness, compassion, and inner peace.

Word Count: 574

Key Ideas

“Why Buddhism Is True” by Robert Wright explores the compatibility between Buddhist teachings and modern evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. The book delves into how Buddhist insights align with scientific understanding to provide a framework for understanding the human mind and the nature of reality. Here are the key ideas from the book:

  1. The Illusion of Self Wright introduces the concept of the “self illusion” — the idea that our sense of a fixed and separate self is a construct of the mind. Buddhist teachings on the emptiness of self align with scientific understanding that the brain constructs a narrative of selfhood.

  2. Meditation and Mindfulness The book emphasizes the value of meditation and mindfulness as practices that can reshape the mind and lead to greater awareness of thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. These practices help individuals gain insight into the workings of the mind.

  3. The Four Noble Truths Wright explains the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, which address the nature of suffering, its origin, the possibility of its cessation, and the path to achieve it. He interprets these truths through a modern lens, linking them to psychological well-being.

  4. Evolutionary Psychology The book explores how natural selection shaped the human mind, including its tendencies toward craving, attachment, and negative emotions. Buddhist practices provide tools to manage and transcend these evolutionary biases.

  5. The Benefits of Mindfulness Wright discusses scientific studies that highlight the benefits of mindfulness meditation, such as stress reduction, emotional regulation, improved focus, and increased overall well-being.

  6. Default Mode Network The book delves into the default mode network (DMN) — the brain network responsible for self-referential thinking and mind-wandering. Wright explores how meditation can alter the activity of the DMN, leading to a quieter mind and greater presence.

  7. The Science of Emotions Drawing from psychology and neuroscience, the book examines emotions and their evolutionary origins. Buddhist practices help individuals manage emotions and cultivate a more balanced and compassionate approach to them.

  8. The Role of Craving Wright explores how craving and desire contribute to suffering, as described in Buddhist teachings. He highlights how understanding the mechanisms of craving can lead to more skillful responses.

  9. The Path of Mindful Awareness The book discusses the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, which includes ethical conduct, meditation, and wisdom. Wright highlights how these practices align with modern understandings of human psychology and well-being.

  10. Altering Perceptions of Reality Wright explains how meditation and mindfulness can lead to a change in perception, allowing individuals to see reality more clearly and experience the world in a more direct and unfiltered way.

  11. Transcending Cognitive Biases The book explores how mindfulness can help individuals become aware of and overcome cognitive biases, leading to clearer thinking and more accurate understanding of reality.

  12. Neuroplasticity Wright discusses neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to change and adapt. He explains how meditation practices can rewire the brain, promoting positive mental states and reducing negative patterns.

  13. Ethical Implications The book addresses how Buddhist ethics, such as compassion and non-harm, align with a scientific understanding of well-being and social cooperation.

  14. The Mind's Tendency to Wander Wright explores the tendency of the mind to wander and ruminate. Mindfulness practices counteract this tendency, allowing individuals to focus more fully on the present moment.

“Why Buddhism Is True” provides a bridge between ancient Buddhist teachings and modern scientific insights, showing how mindfulness, meditation, and ethical principles can contribute to well-being, emotional balance, and a clearer understanding of reality. Robert Wright’s exploration invites readers to consider the transformative potential of these practices in light of contemporary scientific understanding.

Target Audience

The book “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright is targeted at a broad audience interested in exploring the intersection of Buddhism, philosophy, and modern science. It is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • Individuals Seeking Personal Growth The book offers practical insights and techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, that can help individuals cultivate self-awareness, emotional regulation, and well-being. It provides a roadmap for personal growth, guiding readers to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

  • Science Enthusiasts For those interested in the scientific underpinnings of human behavior and consciousness, “Why Buddhism is True” provides a captivating exploration of evolutionary psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. It highlights how these disciplines align with Buddhist teachings, offering a unique perspective on the human mind.

  • Spiritual Seekers Readers on a spiritual journey will find “Why Buddhism is True” thought-provoking as it delves into profound questions about the nature of reality, consciousness, and the self. It introduces Buddhist concepts such as impermanence, interdependence, and compassion, presenting them as tools for spiritual exploration and growth.

  • Skeptics and Atheists The book’s scientific approach and logical reasoning may resonate with those who are skeptical of religious dogma but open to exploring philosophical and psychological insights. Wright’s analytical style and emphasis on evidence-based reasoning allow readers from a more secular background to engage with Buddhist ideas without sacrificing their intellectual and logical integrity.

  • Psychologists and Therapists Mental health professionals will find “Why Buddhism is True” to be a valuable resource in understanding and applying Buddhist principles to psychotherapy and counseling. The book offers insights into practical techniques like mindfulness that can augment therapeutic practices and help clients address various psychological challenges.

In conclusion, “Why Buddhism is True” is recommended reading for a diverse range of audiences interested in exploring the intersection of Buddhism, philosophy, and modern science. Whether seeking personal growth, scientific insights, spiritual exploration, philosophical discussions, or therapeutic applications, readers will find this book engaging and thought-provoking. It presents Buddhism as a relevant and practical path for understanding ourselves and navigating the complexities of contemporary life.