Thanks for the article! I think this is a confusing topic and I appreciate you peeling away at the onion.

I agree that it’s wrong to say that Buddhism is asking us not to care about the world and what’s happening to us. The importance of compassion in this philosophy is evidence of this.

I think a major confusion lies in our language. We don’t have the words to describe what’s going on in our minds.

Where I think language can fail us is that “self” does not equal “ego”. If you’re familiar with Joseph Goldstein or Sam Harris, they often talk about how when we look for an unchanging, persistent ‘self’ we can’t find one.

But, this has nothing to do with abandoning anything — this is simply recognizing a truth about existence (or at least what Buddhists would call a truth), which is that there is nothing to which experiences are happening (i.e., no self), there is only experience.

On the other hand, the ‘ego’ might be described as our personality — those patterns of thinking and behaving that are somewhat consistent over a period of time. The ‘ego’ arises out of the physical arrangement of neurons in our brains (and may also create the concept of ‘self’).

Considering the central tenets of Buddhism (Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path) suggest that certain patterns of thoughts and behaviors are better than others, Buddhism is not asking us to reject our ego. Buddhism is suggesting we follow a specific path (one that requires us to change our thoughts and behaviors) to achieve greater well being.

However, as you say, Buddhist philosophy might also claim that this path, taken to its end, leads to the end of the ‘ego’. But again that’s the ending point, not the starting point.

And even still, it’s not clear (at least to me) that events in the world would no longer matter once someone has achieved ‘enlightenment’ or ‘Nirvana’, although the concept of equanimity might suggest otherwise…

Anyway, just thought I’d add my two cents :)

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Following my curiosity and hoping it will lead me to wisdom. I write about science, meditation, and spirituality.

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