Why I Am Not a Buddhist

Evan Thompson. Yale Univ., $26 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-22655-3
Philosopher Thompson (Mind in Life) presents a convincing case against Buddhist exceptionalism and scientific defenses of the tradition. He opens by showing how the image of Buddhism as especially rational, wise, and empirical arose relatively recently and ignores the historical complexities of the tradition and its faith claims. He next critiques evolutionary psychology as an insufficient, flawed model for asserting the truth of Buddhism. “The self that the Buddha targets as the object of self-grasping—the self as a personal essence—isn’t the only way to understand the self, especially in the context of cognitive science and philosophy today.” He persuasively unpacks the mindfulness craze to show that research on the benefits of meditation (including brain scans of those meditating) is “tentative” and that “the experienced benefits of mindfulness practices... are inseparable from the social and communal settings.” Thompson challenges the aligning of “enlightenment” with scientific understanding by Buddhist modernists as inconsistent because nirvana has many meanings and is based on faith. In his conclusion, he calls for a robust cosmopolitanism that welcomes debate among divergent ideas. The clarity of Thompson’s arguments, including his explanations of models of consciousness, and his genuine regard for Buddhism (despite his skepticism toward claims of superiority) avoid the pitfalls of many similar critiques. This cogent argument will interest readers who are skeptical of Buddhism. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 10/15/2019
Release date: 01/01/2020
Genre: Religion
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