“American Nirvana,” by Adam Gopnik. The New Yorker, August 7 & 14, 2017.
I don’t recommend this article to everyone. Adam Gopnik is a prolific staff writer for The New Yorker, and has a great mind, but a mind often too great for most of us. When I saw he wrote this article, I knew I had to read it, but also that I had much work ahead.
The article is a book review of Why Buddhism Is True, by Robert Wright, but he mentions several other books on Buddhism for comparison and additional insight. I understand Buddhism is of limited interest, so I will only mention two gems that got my attention.
He admits he is not flexible enough to meditate in the lotus position, but:
Meditation, even the half-assed kind, does remind us of how little time we typically spend in the moment. Simply to sit and breathe for twenty-five minutes, if only to hear cars and buses go by on a city avenue—listening to the world rather than to the frantic non sequitur of one’s “monkey mind,” fragmented thoughts and querulous moods racing each other around—can imitate the possibility of a quiet grace in the midst of noise. . . . (Yet many sounds of seeming serenity–birds singing, leaves rustling—are actually the sounds of ceaseless striving. The birds are shrieking for mates; even the trees are reaching insistently toward the sun that sustains them. These are the songs of wanting, the sounds of life.)
And another gem. To the common challenge that science, too, is ultimately based on faith:
Is it fair to object that most of us take quantum physics on faith, too? Well, we don’t take it on faith. We take it on trust, a very different thing. We have confidence—amply evidenced by the technological transformation of the world since the scientific revolution, and by the cash value of validated predictions based on esoteric mathematical abstraction—that the world picture it conveys is true, or more nearly true than anything else on offer. Batchelor [author of another book Gopnik scrutinizes] tap-dances perilously close to the often repeated absurdity that a highly credulous belief about supernatural claims and an extremely skeptical belief about supernatural claims are really the same because they are both beliefs.