Very interesting discussion, although I was frustrated at times, primarily with Horgan’s skepticism and sympathized with Wright’s tenseness at certain points in the video.
Gurus and pandits might abuse the spiritual teachings, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t valid. If you’re unfamiliar with Horgan’s view, he sees himself as a skeptic of sorts, questioning both science and spirituality. He sees Buddhism as, like other religions, human inventions, and any real insights don’t have to do with the religions themselves. I could agree with this–we invent systems, we create religions. They have limitations for sure. Horgan, however, goes another step and confuses a lot of the practices without understanding what and why they are.
For instance, the discussion gets into a debate about what meditation actually does. Horgan appeared to dislike meditation and saw it as a way to escape reality, and enlightenment claims to be too detached, missing the direct, personal life experiences and reaching for some heavenly “other.” At one point, he asserted that Robert Wright simply had gotten “nicer” after his Vipassana retreat, and that was not the result of Buddhism.
I find myself a bit perplexed by Horgan’s understanding, just as I was when I read his book, Rational Mysticism.
If I can throw in two cents here, isn’t meditation about becoming more familiar with ourselves, our habits, our emotions? A way to quiet the mind and learn to listen, instead of fill the world with sound? There are spiritual teachings too, such as satori or kensho. This is also taught, that we perceive deeper layers to the mind and reality, and help us live more presently, personal and collectively.
By diving into the Whole, we can appreciate each moment and relationship, and learn to accept ourselves too. A lot of emotional and psychological baggage can drop that way. True meditation isn’t an escape from ourselves or the world, it’s confronting, diving deep, introspection. That being said, it seems like Horgan is confusing spiritual practices with the more negative forms of gnosticism, which found the physical world repugnant and sought something greater. But it’s pretty basic in all the world’s major religions that divinity is immanent as well as transcendent. “The Kingdom of Heaven” is here, as Jesus said.
At any rate, I’m glad Wright is getting the lime light and presenting these ideas and possibilities to the public. It seems like it’s a wonderful catalyst for exploring spiritual questions.