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What is Sam Harris saying here? [chris .] [MIGRATE]

What is Sam Harris saying here? [chris .]


chris . - 2014-04-14 15:32:20 - What is Sam Harris saying here?

Quoted from article:  Taming the Mind


Dan: You know, Iíve read a little bit about non-duality, but I still donít fully understand the distinction youíre making. I know youíre supposed to be interviewing me, but I would love to hear more about this from you. Iíve wanted to ask you this question for a long time. What is the non-dual critique of gradual approaches like mindfulness?

Sam: I think the best way to communicate this is by analogy. Everyone has had the experience of looking through a window and suddenly catching sight of his own reflection staring back at him from the glass. At that point, he can use the glass as a window, to see the world outside, or as a mirror, but he canít do both at the same time.

Sometimes your reflection in the glass is pretty subtle, and you could easily stand there for ten minutes, looking outside while staring right through the image of your own face without seeing it.

For the purposes of this analogy, imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment. Most spiritual traditions donít realize that this can be done directly, and they articulate their paths of practice in ways that suggest that if you only paid more attention to everything beyond the glassótrees, sky, trafficóeventually your face would come into view. Looking out the window is arguably better than closing your eyes or leaving the room entirelyóat least you are facing in the right directionóbut the practice is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. You donít realize that you are looking through the very thing you are trying to find in every moment. Given better information, you could just walk up to the window and see your face in the first instant.

The same is true for the illusoriness of the self. Consciousness is already free of the feeling that we call ìI.î However, a person must change his plane of focus to realize this. Some practices can facilitate this shift in awareness, but there is no truly gradual path that leads there. Many longtime meditators seem completely unaware that these two planes of focus exist, and they spend their lives looking out the window, as it were. I used to be one of them. Iíd stay on retreat for a few weeks or months at a time, being mindful of the breath and other sense objects, thinking that if I just got closer to the raw data of experience, a breakthrough would occur. Occasionally, a breakthrough did occur: In a moment of seeing, for instance, there would be pure seeing, and consciousness would appear momentarily free of any feeling to which the notion of a ìselfî could be attached. But then the experience would fade, and I couldnít get back there at will. There was nothing to do but return to meditating dualistically on contents of consciousness, with self-transcendence as a distant goal.

However, from the non-dual side, ordinary consciousnessóthe very awareness that you and I are experiencing in this conversationóis already free of self. And this can be pointed out directly, and recognized again and again, as oneís only form of practice. So gradual approaches are, almost by definition, misleading. And yet this is where everyone starts.

In criticizing this kind of practice, someone like Eckhart Tolle is echoing the non-dualistic teachings one finds in traditions such as Advaita Vedanta, Zen (sometimes), and Dzogchen. Many of these teachings can sound paradoxical: You canít get there from here. The self that you think you are isnít going to meditate itself into a new condition. This is true, but as Sharon says, itís not always useful. The path is too steep.

Of course, this non-dual teaching, too, can be misleadingóbecause even after one recognizes the intrinsic selflessness of consciousness, one still has to practice that recognition. So there is a point to meditation after allóbut it isnít a goal-oriented one. In each moment of real meditation, the self is already transcended.

Dan: So should I stop doing my mindfulness meditation?

Sam: Not at all. Though I think you could be well served if you ever had the opportunity to study the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Dzogchen.





1.  
For the purposes of this analogy, imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment.


Is this the goal of practice?  If I practice noting and watch the three characteristics all the way up to Fruition, in that moment am I having knowledge of something similar to 'seeing my own reflection clearly'?    Are these two things (Fruition/Path and 'pure seeing' without self)  related at all?


2.  What do you think of Sam Harris' window analogy, does it fit or align with phenomenon that are encountered when doing noting practice as presented in MCTB?   (I've read MCTB twice, have a good handle on what Daniel Ingram is talking about, I'm not really sure what Sam Harris is talking about though, and how it fits in with what I'm already familiar with.)  


3.  Harris seems to be saying many forms of practice are a waste of time, watching the breath, noting etc.  what we should be doing is a practice that facilitates a breakthrough to pure consciousness.  Did you interpret his words in the same way that I did?


4.  Any comments on Dzogchen or vedanta direct path teachings?  If I went hardcore with vedanta and "got it" and continued practicing, am I in the same place that I would be in, if I had gained first path or something?


These are slippery things for me to try to ask, I appreciate any replies,  Thanks,

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Droll Dedekind - 2014-04-14 17:12:11 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

I often wonder the extent of Sam Harris' meditative experience and attainment, so thanks for posting this.

Disclaimer: I'm prepath going off limited experience and study

I believe this quote from MCTB sufficiently addresses the topic at hand 
Awakening involves clearly perceiving universal characteristics of phenomena. While one can attempt to rest comfortably in the intellectual notion that these universal characteristics are there anyway and be comforted by teachings such as easily misconstrued statements like, ìI have gained nothing by complete and un-excelled enlightenment,î the whole, core, essential, root point of all this is that there is something to be gained by becoming one of the people that can actually directly perceive the true nature of things clearly enough to change fundamentally the way reality is perceived in real-time. The straight truth is that the vast majority of people do not start out being able to do anything even close to this, and most are lucky to be able to stay with three breaths in sequence before wandering off into their neurotic crap, much less understand anything liberating about those breaths. The notion that everyone already is someone who can perceive reality the way the masters do without effort in real-time is a fantastic falsehood, lie, untruth, and in short, one great load of apathy-creating insanity.


I disagree with Sam at
The same is true for the illusoriness of the self. Consciousness is already free of the feeling that we call ìI.î However, a person must change his plane of focus to realize this.

As I understand it, the feeling of an "I" definitely persists in the unenlightened, but the "I" (as a separate, permanent entity) doesn't. Permanently ridding yourself of the feeling of the "I" is the goal.

To address your questions

1) As I understand it, the goal of practice is to perceive the 3Cs of every perceivable sensation. That would include 'your reflection'.  

2) I'm interpreting his reflection-in-window metaphor as Kenneth Folk's second gear practice. In that case, Sam's entire window metaphor is about shifting from second gear practice to third gear practice.

3) Yes, he seems to be implying that. I think he's understating the necessity of gaining momentum in first gear. 

4) I believe success with Vedanta or any other direct path method would bring about the same results. However, they're slippery practices, nowhere near as straightforward as noting/mindfulness. IMO, one would do well to gather momentum in first and second gear.

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tsetse fly - 2014-04-14 20:08:48 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Hello All:

You may not realize that Sam Harris has a book coming out in September on this very subject. I expect he'll describe these topics more fully and in his usual very concise way. It's called "Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion"

The link to pre-order from Amazon is here.

Mine's already ordered. BTW, if you're really into Sam Harris' work (like me), he'll be on tour for the book and you can participate via the web if you don't live near one of the cities. Info for that is on his website.

With Metta

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Droll Dedekind - 2014-04-14 21:16:48 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Sam Harris troubles me. I'm grateful that he will soon be a major advertisement for meditation, but I find myself disagreeing with too many of his positions. The thought of a Sam Harris cult is unsettling. 

Can you explain your Harris fanhood? In any case, I hope his spirituality book isn't disappointing.

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Daniel M. Ingram - 2014-04-14 22:00:44 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

First: Here is a guy who by his own admission did months of practice at least and may have been doing this for years. That is not a beginner. He had, through hard practice, seen something essential and lost it. This is not a beginner.

Second: The Dzogchen kids have been saying the same thing for centuries, as have the Advaita kids: it is nothing new.

Third: Essentially all of the Dzogchen and Advaita kids who say that same thing about looking directly as the true nature of mind also practiced for years.

Fourth: If you read the fine print on Dzogchen, they will say again and again that they will target various techniques and approaches to people's levels of ability and understanding, and the direct pointing is something they do all the time, but they will admit that the number of people who get it are very, very few, at least without years of practice.

Fifth: It is really easy, once one has grasped something difficult through years of hard effort, to then imagine that everyone should be able to see it and then teach from that place. This happens all the time. Adyashanti is a great case in point, as are Krishnamurti and lots of others. It is, in my view, a subtle (or not so subtle) arrogance, and I know a lot about arrogance, having lived with it in myself for years. (How funny, to arrogantly claim to be an expert on arrogance, as I have just done). The number to reject the tested path that got them their insights in favor of some untested "direct" path is large: it shows a lack of understanding even in understanding.

Sixth: I myself point directly at the true nature of the thing in MCTB, as does everyone who uses the term "no-self", or mentions the Three Characteristics, or talks about seeing all things just as they are naturally, or says anything like that. It is stock and standard in introductory classes.

Seventh: As anyone who has taught those introductory classes will tell you, the number who, having been presented with a direct teaching on the true nature of mind and exhorted to see it now, suddenly jump up with profound wisdom is essentially zero. The same is true in Advaita and Dzogchen circles. Otherwise, when Adyashanti or Tolle or the rest of them taught or when people read their books, wisdom would suddenly bloom forth all over the place. Clearly, this has not occurred, or Opra would be the Great Vehicle in a way the Mahayana never was or ever could be...

Eighth: It is still a very good and true point to make, so long as people keep practicing and don't, like countless zillions of slacker, arrogant Dzogchen and Advaita dabblers, rest in the comfortable notion that theirs is the highest teaching when they hardly know their ass from their elbow and couldn't see the true nature of those things for three breaths in a row.

I liked Christopher Titmuss' approach that I got to see day after day on the 4 retreats I sat with him: Point directly at it again and again and again, and then also give people the structure and practices that support and lay the conditions for making seeing it much more likely. This is the balanced view that embraces both the ideals and the realities in a practical, functional way. I found it effective, anyway, so that means that you should SEE THE TRUE NATURE OF MIND RIGHT NOW! ;)

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T DC - 2014-04-15 03:30:53 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

So my own experience: before I started mediating I had an experience of enlightenment, amazing, just being right here now, direct contact with the world with no conceptual filter.  I started meditating because I wanted to get back to this experience.  So my enlightenment experience sounds an awful lot like seeing your reflection clearly.  Did I find when meditating I could get back to this experience? No.  It was just a temporary meditative experience, can't reproduce those with any reliability.

Instead, I found I had to work along a path, experiencing gradual attainments which gradually moved me toward this state I so desired.

It sounds to me like Sam Harris has a quite good conceptual understanding of the path, and it also sounds like he has some attainment, maybe 4th path, which is the initial glimpse of emptiness attainment.  His talk about everything being enlightened already and just needing a perspective shift to see this is spot on.  However, all his talk about a path being incompatible with this everything already being enlightenment is bunk.  Sure, enlightenment may be the natural state of everything, but there is also a path that gets one there.

Pointing out, which Harris emphasizes, may be employed in traditions, but certainly in Dzogchen it is not the only way.  Dzogchen actually deals extensively with a path, or gradual series of attainments.  So he seems to be overlooking this.  I mean to be honest Dzogchen largely is an extremely advanced system of practice geared at practitioners who already have significant attainment.  So recommending it to a relative beginner is un-wise.  

Perhaps the fact Harris does so is a reflection on his confusion over a path.  In this I feel he is not alone, and that the majority of the western Dharma movement has only a vague idea of path and goal, and how the two are related.  Really we see this sort of problem allover the place; people attain something, they can't put it in context, and they make assumptions that are unjustified, such as: they are at the end of the road, other traditions lead different places, there is no final state..

Really the issue here as I see it is a solid practitioner who is not necessarily presenting the path in a way that is realistic or helpful from a pragmatic progress making standpoint.  A path is very important, and just trying for non-conceptuality seems like is would result in more of the pointless frustration Harris talked of wanting to avoid.  Isn't that what everyone's doing already, and where they go wrong?  Maybe I'm wrong, and if I read his book it would no doubt shed much light on this.

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Simon T. - 2014-04-15 12:32:04 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

I find statement like "consciousness is already free of the feeling of an I" puzzling. There a categories of thoughts that I expect to no longer arises after Enlightenment and the progression so far that I experienced support that view, as some type of thoughts arises to a lesser extend. So-called self-referencing thoughts, ruminating the past, worry about the future, guilty thoughts, resentment,  and so forth. Some reports no discursive thoughts arising at all anymore.

So, as those thoughts do arises in consciousness, as any other manifestation of the mind at the 5 senses base, what make those thoughts vanish so easily after Enlightenment?

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(D Z) Dhru Val - 2014-04-15 13:13:56 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

The practice that Sam harriss refers Vipassana / Mindfulness is  different from the approach popular on these forums.

It seems more similar to basic samatha, and unlikely to lead to insight.


For eg. this article...

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-meditate
The quality of mind cultivated in vipassana is generally referred to as ìmindfulnessî (the Pali word is sati), and there is a quickly growing literature on its psychological benefits. Mindfulness is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and nondiscursive attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant...

..Gradually become aware of the process of breathing. Pay attention to wherever you feel the breath most clearlyóeither at the nostrils, or in the rising and falling your abdomen.Allow your attention to rest in the mere sensation of breathing. (There is no need to control your breath. Just let it come and go naturally.)

Every time your mind wanders in thought, gently return it to the sensation of breathing...


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chris . - 2014-04-16 20:51:38 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Thanks for the replies,

After I read his article, I was worried that I was missing something that would lead to quicker results, I didn't want to 'spend my life looking out the window' or whatever..  I'm happy with my practice overall, but one is always interested in possible efficiencies. 

@ (D Z) Dhru Valz:

That is kind of strange, I respect Sam Harris as someone who does his research and chooses his words carefully, but that just seems incorrect or incomplete.


peace,

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Daniel M. Ingram - 2014-04-17 04:32:13 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

That form of mindfulness is pretty Dzogchen-style, and also very IMS-style, as well as very Thai Forest-style as vipassana goes. You find it widely in the vipassana-lite world also, such as MBSR, etc.

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John M. - 2014-04-17 04:48:12 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Mindfulness is simply a state of open, nonjudgmental, and nondiscursive attention to the contents of consciousness, whether pleasant or unpleasant...


Woops! Mass-market "mindfulness" strikes again.

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Droll Dedekind - 2014-04-18 17:27:02 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

I get the feeling that Harris attained to some state but never finished up a cycle and so he's stuck with an incomplete understanding of noself, and/or chronic DN. This is all just guesswork, but it's hard to imagine an accomplished yogi as humorless and condescending as Sam Harris.

Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense.


He seems like a reasonably principled person but you can't go around publishing dangerous statements like the above. The quote is indeed cherry-picked, although I included the qualifications after the first statement. I won't bother digging into his more Islamophobic quotes.

The moral of the story is: I wouldn't look up to Harris for contemplative advice, or much else for that matter

/slightly irrelevant Sam Harris rant

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sawfoot _ - 2014-04-19 12:21:57 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Sam Harris has a huge reach, and I expect the book will push the whole modern spirituality movement more to the mainstream (and particularly to the more skeptical/atheist types). That post of his with basic meditation instructions are...basic meditation instructions! So yes, it is not complete. I think it is too early to judge, and I am intrigued by his book. I am guessing spending 11 years spiritual bumming around the US, India and Nepal he probably made some progress:

"Harris found himself interested in spiritual and philosophical questions when he was at Stanford University and the notion that he might be able to achieve spiritual insights without the help of drugs.[16] After leaving Stanford in the course of his second year as an English major, he traveled to Asia, where he studied meditation with Hindu and Buddhist teachers,[16][17] including Dilgo Khyentse.[18] Eleven years later, in 1997, he returned to Stanford University, going on to complete a B.A. degree in philosophy in 2000."

"At age 19, he and a college friend tried MDMA, better known as ecstasy, and the experience altered his view of the role that love could play in the world. ("I realized that it was possible to be a human being who wished others well all the time, reflexively.") He dropped out of Stanford, where he was an English major, in his sophomore year and started to study Buddhism and meditation. He flew around the country and around the world, to places such as India and Nepal, often for silent retreats that went on for months. One of his teachers was Sharon Salzberg, a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass. Harris stood out, she recalls, not just because of his relative youth -- everyone else was a generation older -- but because of his intensity.

"His passion was for deep philosophical questions, and he could talk for hours and hours," Salzberg recalls. "Sometimes you'd want to say to him, 'What about the Yankees?' or 'Look at the leaves, they're changing color!' " At the time, he was supported financially by his mother, though he did work for one memorable three-week stint in the security detail assigned to the Dalai Lama"


Daniel points out the old trope of "you don't have to waste 10 years of your life meditating to see what is right in front of you, like I had too".. Just to add, though here he does sound a bit pop-dzogchen/vedanta, dzogchen shouldn't be given a bad rep. From what I know of dzogchen (though it would depend on the teacher) the system of meditation has a lot of analogues to, say, Therevadan approaches, with a similar progression of Samatha/Vipassana, though less goal orientated it can be just as pragmatic. 


Droll Dedekind:

it's hard to imagine an accomplished yogi as humorless and condescending as Sam Harris.


Perhaps he might be quite funny down the pub...though I would guess a little intense...And as far as I am aware, being an a-hole is not mutually exclusive to be being an accomplished yogi!



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Droll Dedekind - 2014-04-19 15:40:25 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Based on my limited Sam Harris knowledge it doesn't seem unlikely that he spent 11 years mostly philosophizing on the cushion. Sharon's statement corroborates that thought.

I saw him on Joe Rogan's podcast and he was rather humorless. Joe likes to have open discussions (stoner talk, essentially) about anything, whereas Harris turns everything into a formal debate and proceeds to use deceptive debate tactics to categorically dismiss ideas. When they start talking conspiracies, it gets amusing. To steal someone's quote here, "I wish I was as certain about anything as he seems to be about everything."

Maybe I ought to email him on behalf of pragmatic dharma and ask him about his practice. Inb4 jhanas are caused by oxygen deprivation, path isn't real, and the progress of insight is self-hypnotic scripting.

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Daniel M. Ingram - 2014-04-24 07:55:43 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

@Sawfoot: I am actually in general a Dzogchen fan, as well as a Thai Forest fan, so please don't missread my lumping of those together as a broad dismissal of them all. They do share some similar elements.

Re: jhana being about oxygen deprivation: after passing a kidney stone in the ED and being pretty tired and having nothing to do while waiting for an ultrasound in the ED to see if there were more and if the pain had just gone away due to the toradol or if I had actually passed all the stones I needed to, I started going into jhana and noticed that the O2 sat monitor would drop to about 84-86% and the alarms would go off and the nurses would scurry into the rooms and see what was going on. I was actually not even that far into jhana, mostly light third or so, nothing even that impressive, but the monitor thought it was.
 
However, it should be noted that I know of no ED patients who have every in my 11 years of working in hospitals and ES who have said they enjoyed their O2 sats being that low, whereas in jhana I clearly did. So, the question remains: is O2 sat related to jhana, a partial cause of jhana, an irrelevant side-effect of jhana, a relevant side-effect of jhana, or somehow the whole cause of jhana and all of the people in the ED who do have low O2s, such as the COPD/emphysema people, are all in jhana but somehow just don't notice how great it feels?

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sawfoot _ - 2014-04-24 09:37:32 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Daniel M. Ingram:


Re: jhana being about oxygen deprivation: after passing a kidney stone in the ED and being pretty tired and having nothing to do while waiting for an ultrasound in the ED to see if there were more and if the pain had just gone away due to the toradol or if I had actually passed all the stones I needed to, I started going into jhana and noticed that the O2 sat monitor would drop to about 84-86% and the alarms would go off and the nurses would scurry into the rooms and see what was going on. I was actually not even that far into jhana, mostly light third or so, nothing even that impressive, but the monitor thought it was.
 
However, it should be noted that I know of no ED patients who have every in my 11 years of working in hospitals and ES who have said they enjoyed their O2 sats being that low, whereas in jhana I clearly did. So, the question remains: is O2 sat related to jhana, a partial cause of jhana, an irrelevant side-effect of jhana, a relevant side-effect of jhana, or somehow the whole cause of jhana and all of the people in the ED who do have low O2s, such as the COPD/emphysema people, are all in jhana but somehow just don't notice how great it feels?


I was just reading about something related to this. Seems to me clearly a partial cause/relevant side effect (reciprocal reinforcing causality). Reduced/slowed breathing leading to Low O2 and high Co2, leading to muscle relaxation and changes in brain chemistry, release of "nice" neurotransmitters in cultivating positive mind states leading to further relaxation and slowed breathing and parasympathetic shift. I guess the toradol gives you a boostrap as well. 

And I would imagine when going through A&P/energetic states you would be more likely to have high O2 and low CO2.

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Daniel M. Ingram - 2014-04-28 04:39:57 - RE: What is Sam Harris saying here?

Toradol is just like fancy IV Motrin, and, as such, is a non-narcotic NSAID, with no high to it at all, but is really great for kidney stone pain for reasons I am not sure of, but the point is that it probably didn't contribute. It controls pain by blocking certain inflammatory pathways, not by any brain receptors.