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The Happiness Delusion

December, 2017

Why Buddhism is True,

Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment,
by Robert Wright

We may think we see the world around us clearly, but our view is distorted by the powerfully magnetic influence of natural selection – our genes’ insistence for us to see everything in terms of passing themselves on to a new generation.

One thing is universally true of all delusions: it is the overestimation of how much happiness the anticipated pleasures will bring. We are powerfully drawn to sensory pleasure, even though the derived satisfaction ends up fleeting at best.

At the center of this self-deception is the “self.” The belief in a “self” is the root of all suffering. The less you judge things through the vantage point of the “self,” the more clearly you will see their true nature.

Think about your “self” for the moment. It certainly feels as if your “self” decides what to do, how to navigate through the day. Scientifically, the actions taken by the right hemisphere of the brain are justified, rationalized after the fact if you will, by the left hemisphere.

By default, we think mostly self-referential thoughts, and it is in this stream of consideration where we imprison ourselves. Wright describes the “self” not as one entity but as a series of emotions (“modes”), each dominating the psyche at any one given moment. In all this, “the conscious ‘you’ isn’t choosing feelings, as much as being commandeered by them.” The “self” in charge at the time is simply the feeling that won out over other, competing feelings.

Buddhism encourages a shift in perspective, to one where your "self" doesn’t exist, one where your thoughts are passing before you, rather than emanating from you.

Look at a person who is enflamed in a passionate activity. It is not reason alone that will talk them out of this fever, as David Hume observed. Rather it would take a contrary impulse of equal passion to retard the existing one. And it is this stream of considerations that engulfs the person.

Every thought is driven forward by a feeling. Those feelings are the doing work of natural selection, goading people into approaching, or avoiding, things that would be beneficial, or detrimental, all in the act of carrying forward the genes.

How does the drive of natural selection distort the truth? “This planet is full of people operating on the premise that their interests trump the interests of pretty everyone else on the planet. Yet it can’t be the case that everybody is more important than everybody else,” Write observes.

Buddha was not alone in observing all this self-foolery btw: Jesus also advised us that “our perception of the world is distorted, and that we should work on correcting our blind spots, rather than complaining about the blind spots of others."

Yet knowing all this doesn’t get you a get-out-of-jail-free card. This is why you the need the meditation. Escaping the prison of the self, however is no easy task. But you may find that the more you examine your own feelings, the more the energy drains away from them

Notes and Paraphrases

One thing common among all delusions: The overestimation of how much happiness they will bring

"Pleasure is designed ... to evaporate so that the ensuing dissatisfaction will get us to pursue more pleasure."

The human tendency of "being powerfully drawn to sensory pleasure that ends up being fleeting at best."

Evolutionary psychology: "The study of how the human brain was designed, by natural selection, to deceive us."

Don't learn Buddhism to be a better Buddhist

“Natural selection didn’t design your mind to see the world clearly. It designed your mind to have perceptions and beliefs that would help take care of your genes.”

"I saw more clearly than ever how various illusions imprisioned me. But this truth wasn’t amounting to a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card."

The people who are the least likely to meditate are usually the ones who need it the most.

“The belief in a ‘self’ is considered by all Buddhists as an indispensable condition to the emergence of suffering.”

“Ownership of even serious pain is, strictly speaking, optional.”

“The Buddha believed that the less you judge things, including the contents of your mind, the more clearly you’ll see them, and the less deluded you’ll be.” #buddha

“We feel that our conscious self is in charge of our behavior, deciding what to do and when. But a number of experiments over the past few decades have cast doubt on this intuition.” #quote

“When the left hemisphere is asked to explain behavior initiated by the right hemisphere, it tries to generate a plausible story.” #quote #Buddha

“When team efforts fail, [each participant’s] perceived contribution to the outcome shrinks.” #quote #teamwork

Psychology and Buddhism seem to agree that “In human life, as it is ordinarily lived, there is no one ‘self,’ no conscious CEO that runs the show. Rather, there seem to be a series of selves that take turns running the show.”

“This tendency to exaggerate the hostility of certain kinds of strangers could keep you from having a constructively friendly interaction with someone of a different ethnicity.”

“Men placed in the presence of women, it turned out, were more inclined to rate the accumulation of wealth as an important goal”

“Men who see women they consider attractive tend to discount the future more steeply than they did moments earlier.”

On average, people think they are morally above average, a self-flattery that helps start and sustain conflicts.

Many people claim their successes to be the result of positive personal qualities, such as from driving or personality, but attribute their failures to external conditions.

The conscious ‘You’ isn’t choosing feelings, as much as being commandeered by them, the ones that won out over other, competing, feelings...

“By default, we think mainly self-referential thoughts”

Zen Buddhism is for artists, Tibetan Buddhism is for poets, and Vipassanā Buddhism is for psychologists.

“Curiosity is a gift, a capacity of pleasure in knowing.” — John Ruskin

“Regardless of whether a ‘self’ exists, by jettisoning parts of what you think of as yourself, you clarify your view of the world, and become a better and happier person.”

“Seeing your thoughts as passing before you, rather than emanating from you, can carry you closer ... to the moment when you ‘see’ there is no ‘you’ in there doing the thinking.”

“Good and bad feelings are what natural selection used to goad animals into, respectively, approaching things, or avoiding things.”

“Feelings are, among other things, your brain’s way of labeling the importance of thoughts.”

“Thoughts that grab my mind, and carry it along with them, have feelings attached, however subtle those feelings may be."

“The more fine-grained your examination, the more complete your acceptance of the feeling, the more its negative energy drains away.”

“Perception is an active, not a passive process, a process of constantly building models of the world.”

“Reason alone, [David] Hume argued, can never oppose passion in the direction of the will. Nothing can oppose or retard the impulse of passion but a contrary impulse.”

“The stories we tell about things, and thus the beliefs we have about their history, and their nature, shape our experience of them.”

“The dampening of feelings leads to the clarity of vision.”

The psychologist Paul Bloom has written that “essentialism, the tendency to attribute inner-essences to things, is a ‘human universal’”

“So everything meaningful about the world is something we impose on it.”

“All things are without essence but with qualities that can be seen.” quoting the Samadhirija Sutra

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” — 13th century poet Rumi

“Fundamental Attribution Error”: our tendency to underestimate the role of situation and overestimate the role of disposition.

“Things come with stories. And the stories, whether true or false, shape how we feel about the things, and thus shape the things themselves.”

“There’s no such thing as a [simple] pleasure that is untainted by your beliefs about what you’re being pleasured by.”

“.... this selective engagement with feelings, this weakened obedience to them, can, in principle, include the feelings that can shape the essence we see in things and people.”

“...Obtaining our desires always leaves us unsatisfied, thirsting for more of the same, or thirsting for something new.”

“Nothing possesses inherent existence. Nothing contains all the ingredients of ongoing existence within itself. Nothing is self-sufficient. Hence the idea of ‘emptiness’.”

OTOH “Buddhist philosophy does not espouse ‘oneness’”

“The bad news is, you don’t exist. The good news is, that you’re everything.”

“Making real progress in mindfulness meditation almost inevitably means becoming by more aware of the mechanics by which your feelings, if left to their own devices, shape your perceptions, thoughts, and behavior.” #quote

“...Liberation from the persistent desire for things to be different than they are.”

“This planet is full of people operating on the premise that their interests trump the interests of pretty everyone else on the planet. Yet it can’t be the case that everybody is more important than everybody else.” on #NaturalSelection

“Our feelings are, in one sense or another, dubious guides to reality.”

“I don’t think it happens very often that the truth sets you free. Sometimes it’s the other way around: Freedom lets you see the truth.”

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