On Tuesday, Sept. 19, New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize finalist Robert Wright delivered a presentation about his newest book, “Why Buddhism is True.” Drawing a crowd of students, faculty, and community members alike, Wright’s discourse was followed by a Q&A session. Originally planned to be given at Claremont McKenna College’s Athenaeum after the dinner discussion, the presentation was moved to Pickford Auditorium.
Wright’s speech focused mostly on the concepts in his book, including meditation, natural selection, and evolutionary psychology. At the beginning of his presentation, Wright clarified that his view of Buddhism does not include the ‘supernatural’ or ‘mystical’ parts of the practice, such as reincarnation and rebirth. However, his conception of Buddhism is a ‘naturalistic’ perspective, meaning that he supports the secular and philosophical aspects of the doctrine.
Much of the presentation concentrated on the complementary nature of Buddhist philosophy and evolutionary psychology. Wright said that this form of psychology can diagnose various medical conditions, but does not offer tangible solutions. However, he attested that Buddhism offers relief from illness, namely in the form of meditation such as therapy. Furthermore, Wright argued that evolutionary psychology supports ‘emotional skepticism,’ which is a key facet to Buddhist teaching.
Wright also spoke about his experiences with meditation. He explained that the practice of meditation allows people to become increasingly “indifferen” to emotion, enabling people to observe their feelings without being blindly affected. This transformation, Wright said, eventually permits people to realize that “the essence in which we see things is illusionary.”
Wright concluded his presentation by mentioning global politicalization and shared his belief that the ‘psychology of tribalism’ is the most pressing issue facing the world. He believes that mindfulness meditation can erode the cognitive biases inherent to society’s increasingly divisive nature.
Not all in attendance were familiar with Wright’s work. Klaudia Dziewulski CMC ’18 was introduced to Wright’s arguments during this event and shared that while she had hoped the talk focused more on “specifically Buddhism,” his lecture was “more about incorporating Buddhism into the modern world.” Nonetheless, Dziewulski said that she found the lecture “interesting.”
Claremont Graduate University alumna Vanessa Kettering and CGU student Rhonda Rodgers had previously taken Wright’s online course, Buddhism and Modern Psychology, a few years ago. They both continue to follow his work and shared their fondness for Wright’s presentation.
“I really liked the political message that he had,” Rodgers said. “I thought that was a great way to tie in the book, his understanding of Buddhism, and its social relevance to what’s going on around the world.”
Director of Land of Enlightened Wisdom Geshe Tenzin Sherap agreed with Kettering's and Rodgers’ analyses, by stating his admiration for Wright’s “clean” and “easy-to-understand” explanation of Buddhism.
For more information about Wright or “Why Buddhism is True”, visit whybuddhismistrue.net.