Craig Bergland's Reviews > Why I Am a Buddhist

Why I Am a Buddhist by Stephen T. Asma
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Jul 30, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: buddhism
Read in July, 2012

I had high hopes early on - the author writes engagingly and with great humor about his experiences as the parent of a young child and its impact on his self-understanding and spirituality. Toward the middle of the book it became clear that, for him, the valid parts of Buddhism are those that are empirically provable by science. He dismisses mysticism and metaphysics as irrelevant and misleading, the stuff of superstition. The fact is, however, that there is much of life that isn't empirically verifiable - we cannot, for example, scientifically measure love or determine its causes. The author has a great love for art and music, which aren't scientific endeavors at all but in reality are much closer to the mystical, which seemed to me to be a direct contradiction in his beliefs. He also misunderstands other religious traditions such as Islam and Christianity, tending to take the actions of fundamentalists in both traditions as reflecting the totality of the teaching of those traditions.
He redeemed himself somewhat in the last section of the book when he looked at the relationship between Buddhism and current events, international conflict, politics, and the unfortunate tendency of Protestant Fundamentalist Christianity to attempt to convert the world - especially Southeast Asia.

In the end, it was his steadfast rejection of mysticism - which is the heart of every spiritual tradition - that most reflected a rather glaring blind spot in his assessment of Buddhism. Surely it is religious experience that transmits truth in a way that transcends the limitations of language and under-girds spirituality. If we hold that the only real things are those that can be measured, we voluntarily absent ourselves from the beauty of life.
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