Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Author: Robert Wright
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by [deleted]   2019-08-24

First let me say that Hinduism is by no means a single religion, in fact it contains within it a variety of beliefs more numerous than the entirety of the Abrahamic religions, so my answers will ultimately not capture the entire corpus of Hindu beliefs.

  1. There are broadly speaking three views about God in Hinduism

A) Polytheism: Hindu polytheism constitutes a belief in, and worship of the many deities of the Hindu pantheon. I would say most Hindus who are not interested in learning about Hindus philosophy fall into this category by default, not that it is a bad thing by any means. These deities include many beings, examples of some are: Vishnu, Shiva, Devi, Ganesha, Surya, and many others. India is a very big place and there are even deities that are only worshiped in a certain part of the country.

B) Monotheism: Under this view there is only one God, who has a personality, and has created the universe. There are three main branches of Hindu monotheism, Vaishnavism (Worship of Vishnu), Shaivism (Worship of Shiva), and Shaktism (Worship of the Goddess). Each of these branches believes that their deity is the supreme, and had religious texts supporting their belief. The Puranas are a group of texts which illustrate this mode of thinking the most. If you follow Vishnavism, then the Bhagavad Purana tells of Vishnu being the supreme, or if you follow Shaivism the Shiva Purana would be a go to text.

C) Monism: Under this view God is not a person but is rather the entirety of the universe. God in this view is called Brahman, a concept that is outlined in the most important texts in Hinduism called the Upanishads. The Hindu pantheon in this view are parts of Brahman, as are we. The Upanishads describe how, after intense spiritual practice in the form of Yogic meditation, we come to the realization that the universe is one interconnected being. This philosophy is called Advaita Vedanta, one of the most influential systems of Indian thought.

To qualify this even further is the fact that these views are not rigid as people can freely take ideas that makes sense to them from these categories, for example a Hindu might be monistic and believe that the true nature of the universe is Brahman, but will worship the Gods in a polytheistic manner, with the belief that these deities are manifestations of Brahman.

  1. Depends on who you ask, some will say Shiva created the world because he is the supreme God, some say Vishnu did because he is the supreme. Others will say the universe created itself. The most prominent creation stories are outlined in the Puranas, texts which deal with stories.

  2. Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology all agree that there are infinite universes. However there are many other aspects of Indian cosmology that are very foreign to modern science, as one would expect.

  3. I'm not sure what you mean by this.

  4. To be free from suffering. I don't think you have to be a pessimist to understand that the natural inclination of human existence is toward pain and misery. Spiritual practice can help us, even in this life, live in a state of happiness and bliss. How is it achieved? Yoga and meditation.

  5. This is my own understanding. The modern studies around meditation and their implications in western psychology have significant parallels with Indian philosophy, most considerably in the realms of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Thought it isn't strictly about Hinduism, this book does an excellent job illustrating how Indian philosophy is very closely related to a modern understanding of the human experience.

  6. The oldest texts in Hinduism are the four Vedas, very ancient scriptures that sing about the glories of the Hindu pantheon, although many of the Gods in the Vedas aren't even worshiped anymore, and the ones that are, are only mentioned briefly in the Vedas. For example, even thought Shiva is one of the most widely worshiped deities today, there are very few mentions of him in the Vedas, whereas the most significant deities in the Vedas such as Indra, Varuna, Agni, Mitra and others, have almost no worship today.

The Upanishads are texts which constitute the last part of the Veda, and are probably the most significant when it comes to Hindu philosophy. These texts deal with the nature of the self and with Brahman. It is in the Upanishads that the basis of Hindu philosophy is expounded, there are about 13 primary Upanishads and they mostly deal with the meditative revelation that the self is no different from the universe.

Texts that deal with the epic stories of Hinduism include the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas. The Dharma texts are books that deal primarily with morality and ethical codes.

There are thousands of books from hundreds of traditions, these are just the major categories.

  1. Most Hindus believe in free will.

  2. Some Hindus are very superstitious and believe in all sorts of magic, and some, not so much.

  3. There are Christian zealots who would point out that the Dharma texts have passages saying a woman can never divorce a man, but Hindus do not have the same relationship with religious texts that the Abrahamic religions have. If a text does not meet the mark of our knowledge and understanding Hindus are free to use their discretion when ascertaining whether it should be taken seriously or not.

  4. Details depend on who you are, but generally most Hindus believe they have duties to support their family, to uphold justice and social wellbeing, and to avoid harming another living being.

  5. Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism are all Indian religions and consequently are have many similarities. If you want to know exactly when and how these religions formed I recommend Indian Philosophy by S. Radhakrishnan, probably the best text on Indian religion.

  6. Ignorance, there is no such thing as evil.

  7. Depends on who you talk to, to some people the world is filled with spirits and elementals, and to others not so much. Some believe the stories in Hindu texts are symbolic and some believe them literally.

  8. Anything

  9. Similar answer to 10, you can find some dusty old book saying "men are superior to women" but most modern Hindus would agree then men and women should both be treated with respect, and that a man should treat his partner with the utmost respect and devotion.

  10. Depends on who you ask, although it might be killing a monk or Brahmin.

  11. Absolutely. Even those who commit the worst kinds of acts can eventually find redemption.

  12. Read immensely and practice, and don't stop exploring.

  13. By questioning everything and listening to all kinds of teachers with an open mind. and the moment you think you definitely, certainly, 100% have the truth, look up the counterarguments and read those too.

by SurrealSage   2019-08-24

Others have mentioned Thich Quang Duc, but I figured I'd give a recounting of one of the most famous self-immolations in recent history.

In South Vietnam, the US backed government lead by Ngo Dinh Diem started to institute a number of rules to prevent Buddhists from practicing and expressing their faith. He and some of his friends pulled up to a busy intersection, set down a cushion, sat on it and was doused in gasoline. He said:

"Before closing my eyes and moving toward the vision of the Buddha, I respectfully plead to President Ngo Dinh Diem to take a mind of compassion toward the people of the nation and implement religious equality to maintain the strength of the homeland eternally. I call the venerables, reverends, members of the sangha and the lay Buddhists to organize in solidary to make sacrifices to protect Buddhism."

He then lit a match and immolated himself. (Fair warning, this is the picture!) It was said by reporters that "As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him."

Interestingly, it seemed like the pain had no real hold over him or his actions. What it did do was shock the rest of the world. John F. Kennedy remarked on the image, put pressure on South Vietnam, and before the end of the year the immolation occurred, Diem was deposed.

As for the pain side of it, an interesting thing can happen for those who meditate and train their minds: Pain can be dampened by a great degree. A book I have been reading recently talked about this. The author had a friend who wanted to test the extents of the dampening of pain while holding himself in a meditative state. So this friend had a cavity filling procedure done with no anesthetic. It is described that the pain was there, but it wasn't painful. It was like recognizing without reacting, and in doing so, the pain didn't "hurt" in the same way it would if one identified with it. The person judged afterward that the feeling of it was still better than being stuck with anesthetic in his face for the few hours following. It's a good book, I recommending giving it a read: Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright (also the author of The Moral Animal, might have heard of that). He talks about how this stuff works in terms of evolutionary psychology. It's pretty neat.

by rufmirza   2019-07-25
As a science oriented person I reach spirituality only through secularism. I can recommend this book: "Why Buddhism is True - The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment" https://www.amazon.com/Why-Buddhism-True-Philosophy-Enlighte...

In essence this book tells why secular Buddhism (secular, western meditation) is actually a very reasonable way of spirituality.

by prepping4zombies   2019-07-21

You are actually right - that is one of the reasons. Although I wouldn't say they "seek enlightenment" - rather, I would say they seek an end to suffering.

Having said that, it's not a necessary condition. What you are saying about both Stoicism and Buddhism are the most common misconceptions about each. And, honestly, trying to reconcile those misconceptions by debating people on reddit won't get you close to understanding or answers. Actually studying Stoicism and Buddhism (from reputable sources*, with a reputable teacher) will.

If you're interested, that is.

It is possible to have goals, to raise a family, to have a career, to be "successful," etc. and still implement and follow Stoic and Buddhist philosophy and concepts.

edit - *sources I would recommend: "Why Buddhsim Is True" by Robert Wright, "An owner's guide to the mind" from meditationSHIFT, and "Mindfulness in Plain English" by Henepola Gunaratana. The first two explicitly discuss Stoicism as well. After those three, I'd read "Waking Up" from Sam Harris. If you study those, you'll have the equivalent to a PhD in the subjects. Of course, you also have to practice/implement, or you're just gaining knowledge without using it.

by mrjbk1   2019-07-21

I found the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying interesting but only so far as a description of what the soul experiences as it leaves the body at death, travels through various bardos (otherworldly realms) and takes birth in the next body. Little explicit Buddhist philosophy as such.

If you are of a scientific bent you might consider Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

Not strictly a Buddhist text but gives a very readable and I think beautifully written fictionalised account of the life of the Buddha Siddharta. I think a good introduction into where Buddha landed philosophically and where he fit into the eastern practices and beliefs of his time

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by mrjbk1   2019-07-21

Wow. It's possible you have had a spontaneous awakening. Extremely rare but can happen, I understand a similar thing happened to Eckhart Tolle.

I don't know where you live but you might be interested in trying out a Goenka Vipassana retreat. Over 10 days of a silent retreat they teach you three meditation techniques step by step to help increase your powers of concentration, focus that concentration to objectively observe the transient, impersonal and unsatisfactoriness of phenomena within the body with a calm mind, and to increase your capacity for unconditional loving-kindness towards yourself and all living beings. The course is by donation only and all proceeds go to the running of the retreat and to enable future meditation students to continue to take courses at no cost to themselves.

You can find a retreat near you here: https://www.dhamma.org/en-US/index

If you just want a good book recommendation this is great if you have an interest in the philosophy and practice of Buddhism. It compares what Buddha taught thousands of years ago about the mind and body with contemporary insights into evolutionary biology and neuroscience https://www.amazon.com.au/Why-Buddhism-True-Philosophy-Enlightenment/dp/1439195455

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by drzaiusapelord   2018-11-10
Counterpoint: No. I feel like you just trade one set of delusions for another with psychedelics. Talking to plants or rocks isn't real, its just another way the ego and the imaginative part of the mind plays with itself.

If you're looking for consciousness expanding activities, I found my meditation practice and buddhist readings were 1000x more powerful than my drug attempts. For an HN'er I'd recommend starting with this:

https://www.amazon.com/Why-Buddhism-True-Philosophy-Enlighte...

as its more sciency/modern than diving into the Pali Canon or popular but dated 1960s attempts to westernize Buddhism.