Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stressing out

This is a fun book! It takes apart the idea that "Buddhism" is a science rather than a religion, that, indeed, the Buddha anticipated all the latest scientific discoveries. Lopez has a great sense of the historical contingencies of the western discovery (invention) of Buddhism, and offers compelling reasons why westerners would be drawn to a tradition that apparently didn't force a choice between religion and science, and why Asian Buddhists would seek to present their tradition as philosophy, psychology, science - anything but "religion." These together led to the construction of a "Scientific Buddha," whose connection to actual Asian traditions is limited at best. Lopez comes not to praise but to bury him.

The heart of the argument is a take-down of the late 19th-century idea that Buddhist karma is like evolution, and the late 20th-century idea that Buddhist meditation is about stress-reduction. In fact, Buddhism seeks to lead people to extinction and its meditation traditions are about "stress induction" - making us see the world as a prison, a nightmare, to be escaped at all costs. (Lopez is rather Theravada-focused in this part of the discussion...) What drives evolution, Lopez suggests, is precisely what Buddhist practice tries to wean us from!

Far better, Lopez concludes, to let Buddhism be what it is, instead of reducing it to a mere confirmation of something else. If the past has a future, it is in its description of an alternative world, one that calls into question so many of the fundamental assumptions of our scientific world. (123)

No comments: