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Mastery of Destiny Paperback – April 1, 1996
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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I especially resonate with his view that meditation, even in small doses, has great benefits. Yes, meditation is more than "whiling away the time in idle dreaming" (and requires some effort lest it lapse into a relaxing reverie), but too much effort can be equally counterproductive. Not everyone needs to meditate with the goal of "divine enlightenment" and "the attainment of Truth". Simpler intentions are fine too.
What I found quite interesting was the distinction between concentration and meditation. Perhaps it's all semantics, but certain Buddhist circles treat concentration as a type of meditation (the other type being mindfulness). In that light, I'm not entirely convinced that practices involving mantras should be completely disregarded or why Allen is convinced they lead towards "weakness and imbecility". No, you shouldn't use them exclusively, but there's no harm in spending a few minutes getting centred before you begin a task.
This book, while not getting caught up in the "infinite and eternal" law of attraction, raises some interesting philosophical questions about how much of our lives we control. According to Allen, whose opinions are always forcefully expressed, we're responsible for it all: "Nothing comes unbidden; where the shadow is, there also is the substance." Even though cheaters may (temporarily) prosper while good guys (temporarily) finish last, everyone will get what they deserve in the end. Does this mean children dying of starvation are getting what they deserve too? Allen seems to be saying yes.
His reasoning is as follows: Because "the present is the synthesis of the entire past" and "the net result of all that a man has ever thought and done is contained within him", experiences in this lifetime may be due to what happened in previous ones: "It should be remembered that man is a changing, evolving being... [The] good man who is overtaken with calamity today is reaping the result of his former evil sowing; later he will reap the happy result of his present good sowing; while the bad man is now reaping the result of his former good sowing; later he will reap the result of his present sowing of bad."
Another interpretation is that the suffering we experience in this lifetime is in order to experience peace in the next. Or perhaps the pain we go through now is so others don't have to go through it too. This is probably one of those imponderable questions we'll never be able to answer, but I find it hard to believe that we suffer for no reason at all. Life can't be that unkind.