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  • Why Buddhism Is True

  • The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment
  • Written by: Robert Wright
  • Narrated by: Fred Sanders
  • Length: 10 hrs and 29 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (256 ratings)

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Why Buddhism Is True

Written by: Robert Wright
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
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Publisher's Summary

From one of America's greatest minds, a journey through psychology, philosophy, and lots of meditation to show how Buddhism holds the key to moral clarity and enduring happiness.

Robert Wright famously explained in The Moral Animal how evolution shaped the human brain. The mind is designed to often delude us, he argued, about ourselves and about the world. And it is designed to make happiness hard to sustain.

But if we know our minds are rigged for anxiety, depression, anger, and greed, what do we do? Wright locates the answer in Buddhism, which figured out thousands of years ago what scientists are discovering only now. Buddhism holds that human suffering is a result of not seeing the world clearly - and proposes that seeing the world more clearly, through meditation, will make us better, happier people.

In Why Buddhism Is True, Wright leads listeners on a journey through psychology, philosophy, and a great many silent retreats to show how and why meditation can serve as the foundation for a spiritual life in a secular age. At once excitingly ambitious and wittily accessible, this is the first book to combine evolutionary psychology with cutting-edge neuroscience to defend the radical claims at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. With bracing honesty and fierce wisdom, it will persuade you not just that Buddhism is true - which is to say, a way out of our delusion - but that it can ultimately save us from ourselves, as individuals and as a species.

©2017 Robert Wright. All rights reserved. (P)2017 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

What the critics say

"I have been waiting all my life for a readable, lucid explanation of Buddhism by a tough-minded, skeptical intellect. Here it is. This is a scientific and spiritual voyage unlike any I have taken before." (Martin Seligman, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and best-selling author of Authentic Happiness)
"This is exactly the book that so many of us are looking for. Writing with his characteristic wit, brilliance, and tenderhearted skepticism, Robert Wright tells us everything we need to know about the science, practice, and power of Buddhism." (Susan Cain, best-selling author of Quiet)
"Robert Wright brings his sharp wit and love of analysis to good purpose, making a compelling case for the nuts and bolts of how meditation actually works. This book will be useful for all of us, from experienced meditators to hardened skeptics who are wondering what all the fuss is about." (Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society and best-selling author of Real Happiness)

What listeners say about Why Buddhism Is True

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Less about Buddhism, more about meditation.

I learned very little about Buddhism and most, if not all, of the logic is faulty.

2 people found this helpful

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A very understandable explanation of Buddhist philosophy

This book provides the clearest explanation of, often difficult to understand, Buddhist concepts that I have encountered to date. Wright’s evolutionary psychology perspective is very convincing and “enlightening”. The excellent quality of the narrator’s voice makes for the perfect audio version of a can’t-put-downable book.

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Intriguing and Relatable

For someone who has long been interested in Western Buddhism but who has never has a easy introduction to integrating it into my life, this book was exactly what I needed.

It makes no claims about the purely hypothetical metaphysics of traditional Buddhism, but digs deeply into the practical application of meditation practice that have been recognized by academics, medical professionals, and regular introspective folks, alike. It uses modern psychological and clinical evidence to show how many of the core tenants of ancient Buddhism represented a better understanding of the mind than had been available in the West until recently.

The author frames the book around his own experience, handicapped by his own lack of aptitude for it. The shortcoming of the book is that his own somewhat-limited success was a result of a lengthy meditation retreat which might not be realistic for all readers to replicate. It is never implied that the book is a substitute for this practice and it should not be expected as a textbook on medication practice.

It is well read by a narrator who is very believable as first-person of the narrative. The summary chapter at the end is very valuable and is something I will referencing frequently in the future.

I was turned on to the book by it's discussion with the author on the "Partially Examined Life" podcast and would recommend this if you are not quite sold.

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Informative book but the narration

Excellent book, best in hardcover. There are great points that I'm sure you'll want to refer back to. But, oi, the narrator! It's difficult to stay tuned when the presentation is so monotone. Save your credit here and go buy the book:)

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great book for anyone interested in mediation.

it's a must read. I was hesitant when I picked this book due to the mixed reviews but I'm glad I ignored the bad reviews and read it.

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Just finished the second time, looking to start the third time!

Great book!
But could you leave Einstein and relativity theory alone. It’s not about how everything is relative... it’s sort of the contrary.

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Not really about Buddhism.

the biggest mistake the author makes and in turn the new age of westerners trying to understand old philosophies, is that consciousness is important. Buddha was correct in his first sermon and consciousness is not self.

also the author is so interested in secularising the Buddhist texts, that he misses the main concepts of the ideology.

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For anyone wanting to understand the benefits of

My partner and I enjoyed this book so much we have been recommending it to all the seekers we know. The ease with which the author states his case and the relevance to today’s world is laid out beautifully. The narrator is so authentic you will swear it is the author himself speaking.

We highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to better understand the human condition, Buddhism’s core values and how mindfulness meditation can bring us closer to serenity.

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Very informative

Not sure if i reviewed this already but it was a great book and I learned a lot.

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Please read

Enlightning 😉 I wish more people would read it. It could change your way of thinking.

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  • George
  • 2017-08-10

Clear Explanation of How the Mind Works

Most books on Buddhism teach you how to drive; this book is like having Click and Clack lift the hood of the car and explain very clearly why the engine works. I think it may be one of the most helpful books I've ever read. The clarity with which emotions are explained is amazing. The author convinced me of the effectiveness of mindfulness. He is always careful to say where the science is uncertain or where the Buddhism is not grounded in science. I think I can now read other Buddhism texts, like the Suttas, with a framework for understanding that I did not have before. The author has a conversational, self-depreciating, and personal style of writing that I like. Narration is good.

101 people found this helpful

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  • rugger
  • 2017-09-12

More than a beginner's guide...

Would you consider the audio edition of Why Buddhism Is True to be better than the print version?

Having purchased and read/listened to both, consider them equal. One caveat: it's not a beginner's guide to Buddhism. Therefore, would suggest others choose the medium best suited for taking in information. In either instance, however, the text flows easily as if having a conversation with a knowledgeable friend about a topic of mutual interest.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Why Buddhism Is True?

Wright's explanation of subjects typically glossed over such as emptiness and non-self stood out for their clarity. Most books on Buddhism cover the basics such as the branches of Buddhism, an explanation of the four noble truths, and the virtues of the eight-fold path. Instead of a general overview, Wright writes about some of the more compelling/provocative areas of secular Buddhism. He does this while integrating both personal experience as well as helpful examples. He then pulls the threads together to demonstrate the importance of understanding these topics and why they are relevant to how we relate to our selves and the world around us.

Have you listened to any of Fred Sanders’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes. Sanders strikes a good tone in conveying the material, though sometimes the emphasis of a line or two may have been different than the author's internal voice while writing.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

If you will give two hours of time for your entertainment, why not invest 20 minutes to an hour a day in meditation to (re)claim your life?

Any additional comments?

Wright commented in the book that one his teachers suggested that writing the book may impede his progress toward enlightenment. Hopefully, this is not so. Ideally, the book, instead, provided reason for him to explore further and record his discoveries along the way, Regardless, he left firm footing for others following a similar path.

Thus, it's easy to recommend this book for someone with a basic to intermediate understanding of Buddhism looking for further reading on the topic from a contemporary, secular point of view. While this sounds like a relatively small group, perhaps so—for now. Just maybe this book will continue to bring this valuable wisdom to a wider audience.

65 people found this helpful

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  • Roger
  • 2017-09-18

Weak on Science; Okay on Philosophy

I really wanted to like this book but it was not a book I would recommend to people who are looking for a book on Buddhism and Science. I agree with many of the authors' conclusions but is was not compelling and little of what was said was new or interesting. If you are considering a book on the subject of Science and Buddhism, then please consider "The Science of Enlightenment" by Shinzen Young. Shinzen is far more accomplished as a meditator and he is truly gifted in terms of articulation. I also found "Buddha's Brain" by Rick Hanson to be far more interesting in terms of Neuroscience and the benefits of Insight Meditation. The reader was really bland and did not do the book any favors.

51 people found this helpful

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  • feeble
  • 2017-09-09

So hard to listen to.

Fred Sanders makes it hard to listen to this book. He sounds like a computer program. You could get the same mundane tone from a text-to-speech app. Because of this, I found it hard to concentrate on the books material. Truthfully, this should be reread by another narrator and republished. I am not joking.

38 people found this helpful

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  • Metta Bhavana
  • 2017-08-19

Worth some of your time...

Worth some of your time...
The author makes a number of important observations. However, there is also quite a bit of filler to work through.
For example, there are numerous personal anecdotes many of which are rather banal.
So, I think your time would be better spent with essential Buddhist texts. Plus, it seems to me that the more analytical parts of the book are at least partly based on speculation; precisely what the Buddha advised us not to spend time on.
As you can see, the author's argument and presentation left me with mixed feelings.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • 2017-08-15

The problem w/ introspection is that it has no End

“The problem with introspection is that it has no end.”
― Philip K. Dick

For years I've told people I was a Zen Mormon. More as a way to squirm into the edges of LDS cosmology, and less because I was practicing anything really approaching a hybrid of Buddhism and Mormonism. But I've always been attracted to Buddhism, like many Westerners before me. I'm thinking of Herman Hesse, W. Somerset Maugham, Jack Kerouac, and Peter Matthiessen. I've always been attracted to the intersection of cultures, philosophies, etc. So, I guess it is natural for me to be attracted (if somewhat lazily) to Western Buddhism.

I'm also a fan of Robert Wright. I've read most of his books. It is probably easier to just post the one book of his I haven't read, rather than list the ones I have.* I enjoy Wright's evolution from Evolutionary Psychology to Buddhist writings. I think the premise of this book is mostly correct. There is something that evolution has burdened us with, that meditation (specifically Mindfulness Meditation) and Buddhism can help us with.

The books title, I should note here, IS a little off putting. I think Wright almost meant it as a joke (with a hook of truth). It comes across like some Mormon, Southern Baptist or Jehovah's Witness tract; a bit evangelical. But Wright is not just trying to convert the reader (and he's not exactly NOT trying to convert the reader either). He lays out pretty good arguments about how Evolutionary Psychology and behavioral psychology show (lots of caveats, obviously the mind is complex and not everyone agrees with everything) that a lot of our feelings, motives, choices are built on genetic coding which might actually make us unhappy, unhealthy, etc. The Buddhists seemed to have climbed that mountain before us. Wright seems less of a philosophical or religious Buddhist and more of a pragmatic Buddhist. I think his time studying how religion, the mind, behaviors, etc., have evolved over time has also provided him with ample evidence about how these traits that were evolved to help our more primitive selves reproduce, survive, etc., don't always help us in a modern age that includes HR departments, Facebook, politics, etc. Buddhism, Wright would argue, can help untangle some of these evolutionary knots.

So? What does this book mean for me? Someone who calls himself (mostly in jest) a Zen Mormon who has spent exactly 10 minutes mediating in a half-assed way? Well, I'm thinking of hooking up with a local Buddhist/Meditation group and giving Mindful Mediation a try. I'm pretty chill, but I think mindfulness can only help. I'm also not above exploring truth beyond my own familiar cosmology. When I told my wife and kids of my plan, they did laugh however. My wife suggested meditation might not be easy for me, given my competitive nature.

Wife: "You can't win at meditation."
D8u: "Sure you can, isn't enlightenment basically winning?"
Daughter: "Yeah Mom, the Buddha definitely won."
D8U: "See?"

My daughter, laughing, said the closest I've come to meditating was my nightly scalding bath, with headphones in my ears, a cold diet Dr. Pepper, and candy. She thinks anything that would help me unplug one or two of my sensory addictions might not be a bad thing. I agree. It is worth a shot.

* I haven't read Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Jeffrey D
  • 2020-01-10

Buddhism lite meets evolutionary biology lite

I am an evolutionary biologist. I am interested in Buddhism. You can certainly make a story about their intersection. But would you use a title like Why Buddhism is True? I understand that it is something of a provocation, but the title recalls the author's childhood as a Southern Baptist, which I am afraid he has in no way transcended. In fact, in various instances when his Christian morality is threatened by his quasi-Buddhism, he picks the former, no reasons given, no questions asked, no insight evident, no self-awareness displayed. His view of human evolution is very simplistic. Although I am no expert, my impression is that the treatment of Buddhism is the same. Interesting as a memoir of what he happens to believe and his struggles to reconcile his varied beliefs.

25 people found this helpful

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  • Tom
  • 2017-09-11

I do not recommend this book

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

Nothing really. This author's perspective and story telling style simply does not resonate with my own life experience and preferences. Other readers/listeners may appreciate this book.

What could Robert Wright have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The author could have interviewed other people and presented a broader range of perspectives on Buddhism than just his own.

What does Fred Sanders bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He was a neutral reader, and he did not add or subtract from the content.

What character would you cut from Why Buddhism Is True?

N/A.

Any additional comments?

It seems the author is an intellectual, possibly somewhat neurotic (no offense, some people are just that way), city-dwelling American whose internally focused mind is preventing him from understanding the subject of this book. He struggles with the most basic questions and never seems to satisfactorily answer them for himself, and certainly not for the reader. Ask anyone who has been through hard core physical/mental training for sports or military purposes, and they will provide a much better explanation of what it means for the self not to exist. As other reviewers have noted, his personal anecdotes are beyond mundane. In some ways it is cool that a feeling of detachment from a tingling sensation in his toe rocked his world, but it's not great fodder for storytelling. That said, I am sure there are many readers who will relate to the author's perspective on Buddhism, so if you are more on the cerebral end of the spectrum, definitely give it a try. Hearing this while driving through Montana dodging cows and whitetail deer on my way to the field for work was rough going for me, though. One final point; as I understand it, compassion is a central theme of Buddhism and he barely mentions it.

19 people found this helpful

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  • JRod
  • 2017-08-08

Listen with your mind...

I don't usually write reviews, unless the material in the book really 'hits home' and this book did. I just purchased this audio book today, already listened for an hour and im 'hooked!' the material in this book plays right along the principles of the Law of Attraction, in the way that we can get, do or be anything we want. All we have to do is meditate, Ask, Believe and Receive. Listen not with your ears, but with your mind.

19 people found this helpful

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  • B. Margerum
  • 2017-09-22

Best book on Buddhism and Mediation ever written

Would you listen to Why Buddhism Is True again? Why?

I have already listened to it 3 times. Even though the explanations are clear and logical, the book is filled with rich information and paradoxes that you can't just listen to it once and get the full meaning. Just an outstanding book! Kudos to Robert Wright!

What was one of the most memorable moments of Why Buddhism Is True?

Understanding essence and how you need to look at it from a more universal view, i.e. as Einstein did for his Theory of Relativity

16 people found this helpful

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  • Blanche Elisabeth Cornuau
  • 2020-06-01

I couldn't finish the book.. I was too bored.

I didn't learn anything new. I guess I would of done better to meditate than to read a book about why I should meditate!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Primumveritas
  • 2021-05-05

Buddhism through the prism of Darwinism

I thought I would be listening to book about Buddhism. Instead I kept hearing the hackneyed phrases of Darwinism.