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

1163 Folder Collection
Tony Yu published on September 29, 2015
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