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via Adam Gopnik

Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker:

Buddhism in America is simultaneously exotic and familiar — it has lots of Eastern trappings and ceremonies that set it off from the materialism of American life, but it also speaks to an especially American longing for a publicly productive spiritual practice. American Buddhism spins off museum collections and Noh-play translations and vegetarian restaurants and philosophical books and, in the hands of the occasional Buddhist Phil Jackson, the triangle offense in basketball.

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via Adam Gopnik

Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 Issue of The New Yorker:

Sometime around 400 B.C.E.—the arguments over what’s historically authentic and what isn’t make the corresponding arguments in Jesus studies look transparent—a wealthy Indian princeling named Gotama (as the Pali version of his name is rendered) came to realize, after a long and moving spiritual struggle, that people suffer because the things we cherish inevitably change and rot, and desires are inevitably disappointed. But he also realized that, simply by sitting and breathing, people can begin to disengage from the normal run of desires and disappointments, and come to grasp that the self whom the sitter has been serving so frantically, and who is suffering from all these needs, is an illusion. Set free from the self’s anxieties and appetites and constant, petulant demands, the meditator can see and share the actualities of existence with others.

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Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker:

Whether or not evolutionary psychology is a real or a pseudoscience—opinions vary—one can believe that human beings are afflicted with too much wanting without thinking that we are that way because once upon a time those cravings helped us have more kids than our neighbors. Even if our desires were implanted by evolution rather than inculcated by culture, they’re still always helplessly double: altruistic impulses encourage us to look after our tribe; genocidal ones encourage us to get rid of the neighboring tribe. Pair bonding is adaptive, but so is adultery: fathers want to care for their offspring and see them thrive; they also want to have sex with the woman in the next cave in order to cover all genetic bets. Desires may arise from natural selection or from cultural tradition or from random walks or from a combination of them all—but Buddhist doctrine would be unaffected by any of these “whys.” If every doctrine of evo-psych turns out to be false—if it’s somehow all culture and inculcation—it wouldn’t affect the Buddhist view about our need to get out of it.

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Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker:

Having gone the full Buddha route, Wright gives us accounts of meditation retreats, and interviews with enlightened meditators; he explores sutras and explains dharma. Given that he’s more product-oriented than process-oriented, Wright tends to reflect on the advantages of meditation rather than reproduce their pleasures. Meditation, even the half-assed kind, does remind us of how little time we typically spend in the moment. Simply to sit and breathe for twenty-five minutes, if only to hear cars and buses go by on a city avenue—listening to the world rather than to the frantic non sequiturs of one’s “monkey mind,” fragmented thoughts and querulous moods racing each other around—can intimate the possibility of a quiet grace in the midst of noise.

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Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker:

Nearly all popular books about Buddhism are rich in poetic quotation and arresting aphorisms, those ironic koans that are part of the (Zen) Buddhist décor—tales of monks deciding that it isn’t the wind or the flag that’s waving in the breeze but only their minds. Wright’s book has no poetry or paradox anywhere in it. Since the poetic-comic side of Buddhism is one of its most appealing features, this leaves the book a little short on charm. Yet, if you never feel that Wright is telling you something profound or beautiful, you also never feel that he is telling you something untrue. Direct and unambiguous, tracing his own history in meditation practice—which eventually led him to a series of weeklong retreats and to the intense study of Buddhist doctrine—he makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear.

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Via What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t by Adam Gopnik published in the August 7 & 14, 2017 issue of The New Yorker:

Can we really tiptoe past the elaborate supernaturalism of historical Buddhism? Secular Buddhists try to, just as people who are sympathetic to the ethical basis of Christianity try to tiptoe past the doctrines of Heaven and Hell, so that Hell becomes “the experience of being unable to love,” or Heaven a state of “being one with God”—not actual places with brimstone pits or massed harps.

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