CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Not long ago I was accused of something I hadn’t realized was a bad thing: clarity. Adam Gopnik, reviewing my book “Why Buddhism Is True,” in The New Yorker in August, wrote: “He makes Buddhist ideas and their history clear. Perhaps he makes the ideas too clear.”
Underlying this allegation (which I vigorously deny!) is a common view: that Buddhist ideas defy clear articulation — and that in a sense the point of Buddhist ideas is to defy clear articulation. After all, aren’t those Zen koans — “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” and so on — supposed to suggest that language, and the linear thought it embodies, can’t capture the truth about reality?
Gopnik seems to think that this drift of Buddhist thought — its apparent emphasis on the inscrutability of things — largely insulates it from scrutiny. Buddhist discourse that acknowledges, even embraces, paradox may “hold profound existential truths,” Gopnik says, but by the same token it has, as a kind of built-in property, an “all-purpose evasion of analysis.” So apparently people like me, who would like to evaluate Buddhist ideas in the light of modern science and philosophy, should save our breath.