Patton's Picks from the PMA Library: Why Buddhism is True

September 2021


If you're looking for book recommendations to enhance your nonprofit leadership, Patton McDowell offers a weekly summary of some of the essential and emerging titles from the PMA Nonprofit Leadership Library.

Some of the central tenets of practicing Buddhism - mindfulness and meditation - have become self-care staples in an era of isolation and heightened stress. Have you considered meditation but are not sure how to start, or maybe doubtful of the benefits? Wright's entry-level text offers an accessible explanation of the ancient Buddhist doctrines, and illustrates how its tenets are now being validated through neuroscience and psychology. Despite the images of our genetic progress through natural selection and evolution, the author feels meditative practices and a Buddhist mindset would do the world good and diminish the tribal intensity that fosters hate and ill-will. 


1. Your satisfaction is right here: not at some unreachable horizon. Oftentimes, we assume lasting satisfaction will come from goal attainment more than it actually happens. By deferring your state of satisfaction into the future, it will always stay distant and unreachable. Dukkha is the term that describes "unsatisfactoriness"; we are never satisfied and always looking for more.  This might be good from a Darwinian standpoint, but a recipe for constant disappointment. 

2. Consider the mechanisms of natural selection, and how they can often insist on unpleasant mental states. Much of our conscious mind is actually shaped by genetic traits to seek pleasure and avoid pain, which can result in high stress even when in a state of rest or in times of peace. Tanha is the term that describes a constant thirst or craving for good things and avoidance of bad things. Meditation weakens the grip of tanha, of this yearning and unrest, but does not dull the sensations of wonder, compassion, or beauty. 

3. Think of the "self" through neuroscience. We think our sense of self is in change, but not-self is really in change. Psychology confirms there is a modular design to our brains - different parts are competing for your attention.  As much as we think there is a singular "leadership section" controlling our thoughts, the reality is that different parts of your brain are constantly competing for your attention. However, that doesn't mean you have to get swept away by all of the noise. Thoughts "think" themselves, you must step back and reflect without getting absorbed by stress and distraction. 

Getting outside of yourself via these practices can inspire a greater understanding of others as well as a greater sense of empathy. Understand everything is colored by emotions + feelings, and the flurry of activity in your brain is not objective.  Mindfulness and meditation will help you understand the causes behind everything,

Robert Wright is an American journalist and author who writes about science, history, politics, and religion. He has written five books: Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information, The Moral Animal, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, The Evolution of God, and Why Buddhism is True.