Sometime in 1989 the Native American artist Frank Howell, who commissioned the album that later became Nouveau Flamenco, said this to me:
When you stop to learn you begin to die.
It was very good advice and I thought about it quite often in the past thirty years. I would add that to learn could be replaced with to change or to adapt and the value of the advice would be undiminished.
Last year I joined Coursera, which is an online education platform featuring courses from many great universities, and other institutions, worldwide. The first course I took was about Modern Art, a course created by MoMA. It was enjoyable and I learned a lot. This year I took another course, presented by Princeton University, called Buddhism and Modern Psychology. The instructor was Robert Wright, somebody I was not familiar with. The course description does not do the content justice. I am interested in neuroscience, because I find it interesting how the view of the meditator, which is the view from the inside, is analyzed by the scientist, which is the view from the outside. The course covers more than the basic science that involves brain scans, it introduced me to Evolutionary Psychology (link to Wikipedia… not sure how useful that is), which turned out to be quite the exciting rabbit hole to dive into. I learned that Robert Wright wrote a book entitled The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Every Day Life, published in 1994, which was one of three books the Wachowski siblings gave Keanu Reeves to read to prepare for his role as Neo in the movie The Matrix. By now I am thoroughly fascinated. How did an author of a book on Evolutionary Psychology (Science, view from the outside) come to lecture about meditation and Buddhism (Meditation, view from the inside)?
I bought Robert Wright’s newest book, Why Buddhism is True – The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment and read it slowly over the last two months, savoring some of the pages and letting passages rest in my mind, like dough that needs to rest before baking… For me this book ranks up there with Ken Wilber’s A Brief History of Everything, which I read in the Nineties and which connected a lot of dots for me.
Meditation is a revolutionary act, indeed the most revolutionary act we are capable of, because it is, perhaps, the only method we have to reject our programming. When the house is on fire (Climate Change) you don’t argue whether the house was created by a God or by evolution, you try to extinguish the fire. Similarly I would argue that it doesn’t matter whether our DNA was created by a God or by Natural Selection, the fact is that this programming is killing us as a species. Like Neo in the Matrix we are captives who do what our programming tells us to do and our programming does not want us to be happy and peaceful…
Buy the book… I have seen the paperback for as little as six dollars and change, and I myself have (so far) bought six copies that I have given to friends. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.