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Why I Am a Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey Hardcover – March 1, 2010
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
In my opinion, a very well structered and intelligent presentation .Published 6 months ago by JVBranco
What questions would I like to have addressed concerning Buddhism? What perspectives would I find most helpful in better understanding Buddhist tradition and practice? Read morePublished 22 months ago by Stephen N. Greenleaf
Finally, a book on the core principles of real, pragmatic Buddhism for people with real lives, pressures and responsibilities. Read morePublished on July 12, 2014 by Tim Wolf
Overall I found the book to be interesting, entertaining and it helped to winnow away the deification of the Buddha. Read morePublished on June 24, 2014 by Martin L. Jones
I've gifted my copy of this book many times. Being a western practitioner of buddhism, his clear voice and writing style is one that I can pass along because I certainly identify... Read morePublished on June 14, 2013 by S. Adams
So, even the title initially throws me. It's kind of ambiguous: "Why I am a Buddhist." It could be interpreted as "The reason I chose to become Buddhist" or "Why what I choose to... Read morePublished on November 16, 2012 by Michael Gmirkin
Stephen T. Asma PhD's book Why I Am A Buddhist is exactly that - Why HE is a Buddhist. With the Subtitle of "No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey" I was expecting more of... Read morePublished on August 19, 2012 by The Technologist
In a fresh and practical presentation of Buddhist practices for modern 20th century westerners Dr. Asma presents a collation of well articulated thoughts on "What it means to be a... Read morePublished on September 29, 2011 by Taiji Dreamer