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Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey Hardcover – March 1, 2010

4.0 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Stephen T. Asma, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy and interdisciplinary humanities at Columbia College in Chicago. He is also a jazz musician and a popular guest on Chicago area NPR programs.Visit him at www.stephenasma.com.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (March 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 157174617X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571746177
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,314,730 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The reasons for a person's religious belief, or lack of belief, are highly personal, especially for individuals who adopt a religion other than their birth religion. Much can be learned too from a religion without becoming a formal adherent. Thus, I was eager to read Stephen Asma's new book "Why I am a Buddhist". I have been studying Buddhism for many years, mostly in adult life, and was eager to compare my experiences with Asma's. In addition, I am aware of the diverse nature of the appeal Buddhism presents to many Americans, as this diversity is suggested in the subtitle of Asma's book, "No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey."

Asma is professor of philosophy and interdisciplinary humanities at Columbia College in Chicago. He has written extensively on Buddhism and taught it at the university level. Asma makes a great deal of the difference between what he terms "Chicago" Buddhism and what he sees as a more New Agey form of California Buddhism. Asma also is a musician who has played jazz and blues on the guitar for many years. My background in philosophy and in music (playing classical music on the piano) further attracted me to this book.

Asma writes in a colloquial, punchy style that will probably be of greatest appeal to young people. The book wears its learning lightly with many references to popular American culture as well as to scientific literature and to Buddhist texts. The books' style results in a mixed feel. Portions of it didn't seem especially useful to me, but much of the book spoke with insight. I attend a Buddhist Sutta studies course, and found Asma useful to our ongoing discussion of detachment and sexuality as it related to a specific Buddhist text.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There are a lot of good things about this book. The author, Stephen Asma, does a great job laying out the basics of Buddhism, providing just enough technical language to educate the reader without getting bogged down in Sanskrit terms or doctrinal details. He provides an important framework for thinking about Buddhism in terms of a "first language" (cultural Buddhism) and a "second language" (learned Buddhism).

But parts of the book are quite disappointing. The author teaches philosophy at a Chicago college and I suspect that he wrote parts of this book to serve as a textbook in his classes. Some of the chapters seem very much directed at an adolescent population. His discussion of cravings, for example, is all about romantic love. Then he has a chapter about being a parent that has only a rather tenuous connection with the concept of "no-self" that is the purported subject of the chapter. It does include some very entertaining anecdotes that I'm sure work well in the classroom.

His chapters on Buddhism and science and Buddhism and the arts are much better. He demolishes the quantum mechanics mysticism that seems very popular in New Age thought and demonstrates nicely the connection between Zen and the arts.

"Chicago Buddhism" is his term for a Buddhism that is separated from what he calls "hippie" values and is more based in the gritty details of everyday life. I liked his ideas about Buddhism being a force that can help neutralize our Western consumerism. But his ending chapter, which discusses a more "muscular" Buddhism with examples of violence in Buddhist countries, ends with an odd essay on the struggle between Buddhism and Christianity in modern China that seems to have little to do with the rest of the book. It's a final example of the uneven quality of the sections in the book - some are very good and others are not.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I started this book really enthused and excited. The early parts are interesting and full of life and an interesting point of view. Toward the middle of the book, that began to change and went downhill quite rapidly.

It began to fall apart in the section on relationships. The author's inability to see how his own attachments to ideas and rules about relationships cloud his attempts to rationalize problems in this area as a part of some great spiritual quest. The fact that he quotes Freud, Plato, and Darwin in his discussion of relationships pretty sums up the whole problem with how he views this area. He also begins to reveal his reductionist materialist views by treating human consciousness as just chemical fluctuations, but more about his mistaken scientific interpretations later.

In the section on parenting, he reveals his lack of understanding of his own behavior and the inability of his Buddhist leanings to combat his dangerously aggressive reactions to perceived threats to his child. Punching cars which get too close and nearly wrecking his car while trying to keep a mosquito off his child (to whom wrecking the car would have caused FAR more harm) shows an incredible immaturity and irrationality, born at least in part from an amplified case of "first time parent" syndrome. His romanticizing of parenthood clearly reinforces that assessment.

He really lost me when he attacked "mystical" views of spirituality and several important schools of Buddhism - for example, characterizing Tibetan Buddhism as a "distortion" and dismissing it. His attempts to use science as a method to "disprove" mysticism was humorous at best. Like most pathological skeptics, he mistakes a clever use of poorly understood models for reality.
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