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Illuminations

by Michael Brendan Dougherty

Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment, by Robert Wright (Simon & Schuster, 336 pp., $27)

The last time Bob Wright and I discussed religion was almost two years ago, on an episode of his video podcast on MeaningOfLife.tv. Wright is a perceptive journalist but seems to have moved beyond the typical world-weariness of that type to something else, something wiser and more alive. It feels woo-woo to say it, but the short conversation we had after the recording stopped left me feeling as if the world temperature had cooled by three to five degrees and I had lit one of those scented candles that wives like to buy, eucalyptus or persimmon. He was solicitous, generous, and, in his lapidary way, compassionate. We got off the phone, and suddenly the world seemed fresh again. I made a firm purpose to amend a particular wrong in my life.

And so, I read Wright’s new book, Why Buddhism Is True, with trepidation, fearing another round of unwanted edification — or possibly even conversion. I’m a Catholic and often rather snippy about it. But as I’ve embarked on parenthood, I’ve felt the consolations of my religion less often. The profound fervor of youth has long since given way to the quotidian onset of midlife. Long devotions are replaced with logistical overmanagement of small children. With the addition of midlife sins such as greed and pride to the usual lusts and gluttony, no one would describe me as having overflowing reserves of inner peace or tranquility. I’m a setup either for the devil or for conversion. And if anyone could persuade me to get into a lotus position and focus on my breath for half an hour every day, I think it would be Bob Wright.

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