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Buddhism and Science on Choice

Compare this excerpt from Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen:

Our problem comes from what the Buddha described as "inclination of mind." The mind tends to lean in one direction or another because, out of ignorance, it sees something "out there" which it then craves. "I want that back," "I want that now," or "I don't want that anymore. Push it away, get rid of it." Either way, we define what we want or don't want as something separate from us.

In the enlightened mind, the mind of a buddha, there's no such inclination, no such leaning. On the other hand, our ordinary mind -- our conceptual mind -- does lean. It's full of picking and choosing, of wanting and craving. Seng-ts'an, one of the founders of Zen Buddhism in China, wrote in "Trusting the Heartmind" that picking and choosing is the mind's worst disease. The Germans have an expression, "Whoever has choice, has torment." It's true. Wherever choice appears, the mind is immediately put ill at ease.

Duhkha -- suffering, pain -- is associated with choice. The more we fail to understand this, the more we'll be caught up in duhkha. And the more we'll not *see* the subtlety of it.

We live in a culture where we're taught to see freedom as the maximization of choice. But this is not true freedom at all. In fact, it's a form of bondage. True freedom doesn't lie in the maximization of choice, but, ironically, is most easily found in a life where there is little choice.

...with this excerpt from "The Tyranny of Choice", an article by Barry Schwartz in the April 2004 issue of Scientific American:

Americans today choose among more options in more parts of life than has ever been possible before. To an extent, the opportunity to choose enhances our lives. It is only logical to think that if some choice is good, more is better; people who care about having infinite options will benefit from them, and those who do not can always just ignore the 273 versions of cereal they have never tried. Yet recent research strongly suggests that, psychologically, this assumption is wrong. Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more is not always better than less.

This evidence is consistent with large-scale social trends. Assessments of well-being by various social scientists -- among them, David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University -- reveal that increased choice and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being in the U.S. and most other affluent societies. As the gross domestic product more than doubled in the past 30 years, the proportion of the population describing itself as "very happy" declined by about 5 percent, or by some 14 million people. In addition, more of us than ever are clinically depressed. Of course, no one believes that a single factor explains decreased well-being, but a number of findings indicate that the explosion of choice plays an important role.

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