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  • Hi.

  • Welcome to my course on Buddhism and Modern Psychology.

  • I'm Robert Wright and I'm here at

  • Princeton University where, for the past couple

  • of years, I've been teaching the seminar that this course will be based on.

  • Now, I've never taught an online course before, so I'm very excited about this.

  • It's kind of an adventure for me.

  • And I want to thank you all for choosing to be part of it.

  • I want to spend the first segment of this

  • first lecture just giving you an overview of, of the main

  • themes of the course and then I'm going to talk a

  • little bit about myself and what got me interested in this.

  • Now one question you could ask about a course called

  • Buddhism and Modern Psychology is which Buddhism are we're talking about.

  • After all, as with other religions, there are varieties of Buddhism.

  • Just as there are different denominations of Christianity.

  • There are different versions of Buddhism in Asia, and in addition to that, in, in

  • recent decades, we've seen the emergence of something

  • that some people are calling a Western Buddhism.

  • In the United States, where I am, in Europe and so on.

  • Consisting of people who weren't born Buddhist

  • But have chosen to adopt Buddhist practice.

  • In particular, meditation practice.

  • Now, one distinctive feature of this

  • Western Buddhism is that these people don't

  • pay a lot of attention to what some people would call the supernatural Parts of Buddhism.

  • So, for example, if you took some of these Western Buddhists and showed them this.

  • They'd say, what is that?

  • Well the answer is, it's a hungry ghost.

  • And many Asian Buddhists believe that you might be reincarnated as a

  • hungry ghost in a kind of hell, if things don't go well.

  • Or, if things go better, you might wind up in

  • a heaven and spend years there before being reincarnated again.

  • But this Western Buddhism doesn't really

  • pay much attention to these kinds of ideas.

  • And in that sense, the focus of this course will have something in common with

  • the Western Buddhism, because we won't be talking

  • much about things like Buddhist deities or reincarnation.

  • And the reason is simple.

  • This course is about the scientific evaluation of Buddhist ideas.

  • And reincarnation is just not an

  • idea that's very susceptible to scientific evaluation.

  • I don't know how you'd set up an

  • experiment to, kind of, test the hypothesis of reincarnation.

  • Now there are lots of ideas in, in

  • Buddhism that are what you might call naturalistic..

  • That is to say, they are susceptible to scientific evaluation.

  • A lot of ideas about the human mind.

  • So for example, Buddhism addresses questions like, why do people suffer?

  • Why do we all feel anxiety?

  • And sadness, and so on.

  • Why do people behave unkindly sometimes?

  • Does the human mind deceive people about the nature of reality?

  • And can we change the way the mind works?

  • In particular, through meditation?

  • Now, I want to emphasize that this kind of naturalistic

  • part of Buddhism is an authentic part of Buddhist heritage.

  • It's found in the earliest writings.

  • And it is common to Asian Buddhism and, and Western Buddhism.

  • It's kind of a common denominator of Buddhisms.

  • Now some people refer to this as a

  • secular Buddhism, but that may be a little misleading.

  • because, I think it's possible to have a

  • wholly naturalistic world view that does address some of

  • the questions that religions address and does do for

  • people some of the things religion does for people.

  • So for example, I think a naturalistic world view, including this naturalistic

  • Buddhism, can in principle, give people a sense that their lives have meaning.

  • Give them moral orientation.

  • Give them consolation in times of sorrow.

  • Give them equinimity as they encounter the turbulence of life.

  • Now, whether that means that you could call this naturalistic version of Buddhism

  • religious depends ultimately on how you are going to define religion.

  • One of the, one of the broadest definitions I've

  • seen comes from William James, the great American psychologist

  • who said that the kind of animating essence of

  • religion is the belief that there is an unseen order.

  • And that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.

  • Now, Buddhism does in a sense, say that there

  • is an unseen order that we should adjust ourselves to.

  • Now it's not talking about a kind of cosmic plan.

  • The unseen order that is referred to, is the truth about the way things work.

  • The truth about the structure of reality, the

  • truth about human beings, even the truth about yourself.

  • According to Buddhism, these truths often go

  • unseen because the human mind contains certain built-in.

  • distortions, illusions.

  • We don't see the word clearly.

  • And Buddhism certainly does assert that our supreme good

  • lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves to this normally hidden truth.

  • And in fact Buddhism lays a path for the harmonious adjustment.

  • it, it, it, it lays out what it considers to be the truth about reality.

  • It tells us what we need to do to bring our lives in line with that reality.

  • and, the claim, the Buddhist claim is, that we

  • can thereby relieve our suffering even end our suffering.

  • And in the process, align ourselves with moral truth.

  • At least that's the claim.

  • That is the Buddhist claim.

  • Is it true?

  • Is the Buddhist diagnosis of the

  • human predicament, why they're are suffering through?

  • And the prescription for for, for the human predicament powerful and effective?

  • Well that's largely what this course is about.

  • And, I hope it's not too much of a plot spoiler to say that I do think that modern

  • psychology is in some respects lending support to Buddhist ideas.

  • For example, I think psychology does show

  • us that the, certain deceptions, distortions, are

  • built into the human mind, and actually that we do suffer as a result.

  • And I think even some of the more

  • radical sounding Buddhist doctrines are, are getting some support.

  • For example Buddhism says that there is a sense in which the self, that is the

  • thing that I think of as running the show, the thing inside me does not exist.

  • In a sense.

  • And I think psychology is also raising real questions about the actual nature.

  • Of what we think of as the self.

  • Now, when I talk about modern psychology,

  • I definitely mean to include evolutionary psychology.

  • And that is the study of how the human mind

  • was shaped by natural selection and I think there is evidence.

  • That some of these delusions that the mind is subject to

  • were actually built in by natural selection for reasons we'll come to.

  • The mind is kind of programmed that way.

  • But to say that something is natural, or was engineered

  • by natural selection, isn't to say that it's not changeable.

  • And in fact, part of the idea of Buddhism is to do

  • what you might call kind of counter programming of, of the brain.

  • In particular through such techniques as meditation.

  • And kind of neutralize some of these tendencies that I

  • would say were built into the brain By natural selection.

  • And in fact one thing I like about Buddhism is the sheer audacity of it.

  • You know, it's kind of like a rebellion against our creator.

  • Natural selection it, it very much wants to, wants to run in

  • opposition to some of the logic by which natural selection wired the brain.

  • Now.

  • Should emphasize that it's not a complete rebellion against natural selection.

  • Buddhism does make use of some things

  • natural selection engrained in us including, you know,

  • love, compassion, rational thought, but still it's

  • a pretty thorough going rebellion we're talking about.

  • [COUGH] Now can the, can the rebellion be successful?

  • I've already suggested that modern psychology lend support to,

  • to some of the Buddhist diagnosis of the human predicament.

  • But what about the prescription?

  • Can the prescription laid out by Buddism end or greatly alleviate human suffering.

  • By making us see the world more clearly?

  • Well, we're going to be hearing from some people who say that it's worked for them.

  • These are people I've talked to over the last few months.

  • But I want to emphasize that I'm not

  • just interested in the question of whether, whether

  • meditation has made them happier, made them

  • suffer less but whether it has done that.

  • By helping them see the world more clearly.

  • Whether dispelling these illusions that seem to be

  • built into us is the key to happiness.

  • Now in looking at this issue we

  • will also be hearing from some prominent psychologists.

  • That I've also been having conversations with other the last few months.

  • And we'll be looking at various kinds of evidence.

  • Brain scans, social psychology experiments.

  • And we'll also be hearing a little

  • bit from me about my experiences with meditation.

  • I'm not a hardcore meditator, I don't meditate hours a day.

  • But I do try to meditate everyday.

  • Perhaps more important, I have done some of these

  • one week silent meditation retreats, which are pretty, pretty intense.

  • And involve a whole lot of meditation and not

  • much else and they can have dramatic effects on your

  • consciousness, and I think these have given me a

  • glimpse of what some of these much more serious meditators.

  • Experience and the conclusions they reach about how their mind is working.

  • These retreats are really, probably the main thing that

  • got me interested in this whole area, and, and,

  • and they're the reason that I decided to research

  • it and write about it and teach about it.

  • At the same time, my interest also grows out of my.

  • Previous work in a kind of natural way.

  • About 20 years ago, I read a book called The Moral Animal,

  • about evolutionary psychology when that term,

  • evolutionary psychology, was just starting to circulate.

  • And then I went to teach in a psychology

  • department of Penn, the University of Pennsylvania, for a while.

  • Meanwhile, I was getting more interested in religion.

  • And I wrote a book called The Evolution

  • of God about the emergence of the Abrahamic God.

  • And in the last few chapters of that, I addressed

  • the question of whether there can be a religion that is

  • viable in the modern world, whether you could have something you

  • could call a religion that is fully compatible with modern science.

  • And now I'm kind of returning to that question here and I'm really looking

  • forward to to sharing what, my thinking with you and my findings with you.

  • So now let's dive into the course and move on to the second segment of lecture one.

Hi.

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1 - 1 Introduction: Religious Buddhism and 'Secular' Buddhism (sub: eng/rus)

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    Tony Yu posted on 2015/09/29
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