Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact lincoln@newbuddhist.com if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

Sam Harris discusses meditation forms based on the significance of cessation versus not cessation

This comes up a LOT here where people are asking advice about meditation and view. Some people believe mindfulness can produce a kind of breakthrough of insight known as cessation where others see (believe) the mind has qualities of insight all of the time. So I have been interested in Sam Harris or at least I have noticed some interesting articles recently of Sam Harris method or whatever.

Sam Harris on Gradual versus Sudden Realization

"Those who begin to practice in the spirit of gradualism often assume that the goal of self-transcendence is far away, and they may spend years overlooking the very freedom that they yearn to realize. The liability of this approach became clear to me when I studied under the Burmese meditation master Sayadaw U Pandita. I sat through several retreats with U Pandita, each a month or two in length . These retreats were based on the monastic discipline of Theravadan Buddhism: We did not eat after noon and were encouraged to sleep no more than four hours each night. Outwardly , the goal was to engage in eighteen hours of formal meditation each day. Inwardly, it was to follow the stages of insight as laid out in Buddhaghosa’s fifth-century treatise, the Visuddhimagga, and elaborated in the writings of U Pandita’s own legendary teacher, Mahasi Sayadaw.

The logic of this practice is explicitly goal-oriented: According to this view, one practices mindfulness not because the intrinsic freedom of consciousness can be fully realized in the present but because being mindful is a means of attaining an experience often described as “cessation,” which is thought to decisively uproot the illusion of the self (along with other mental afflictions, depending on one’s stage of practice).

Cessation is believed to be a direct insight into an unconditioned reality (Pali: Nibbāna; Sanskrit: Nirvana) that lies behind all manifest phenomena. This conception of the path to enlightenment is open to several criticisms. The first is that it is misleading with respect to what can be realized in the present moment in a state of ordinary awareness . Thus, it encourages confusion at the outset regarding the nature of the problem one is trying to solve. It is true, however, that striving toward the distant goal of enlightenment (as well as the nearer goal of cessation ) can lead one to practice with an intensity that might otherwise be difficult to achieve. I never made more effort than I did when practicing under U Pandita.

But most of this effort arose from the very illusion of bondage to the self that I was seeking to overcome. The model of this practice is that one must climb the mountain so that freedom can be found at the top. But the self is already an illusion, and that truth can be glimpsed directly, at the mountain’s base or anywhere else along the path. One can then return to this insight, again and again, as one’s sole method of meditation— thereby arriving at the goal in each moment of actual practice.

This isn’t merely a matter of choosing to think differently about the significance of mindfulness. It is a difference in what one is able to be mindful of. Dualistic mindfulness— paying attention to the breath, for instance— generally proceeds on the basis of an illusion: One feels that one is a subject, a locus of consciousness inside the head , that can strategically pay attention to the breath or some other object of awareness because of all the good it will do. This is gradualism in action.

And yet, from a nondualistic point of view, one could just as well be mindful of selflessness directly. To do this, however, one must recognize that this is how consciousness is—and such an insight can be difficult to achieve. However , it does not require the meditative attainment of cessation. Another problem with the goal of cessation is that most traditions of Buddhism do not share it, and yet they produce long lineages of contemplative masters, many of whom have spent decades doing nothing but meditating on the nature of consciousness . If freedom is possible, there must be some mode of ordinary consciousness in which it can be expressed. Why not realize this frame of mind directly?"

Harris, Sam (2014-09-09). Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Kindle Locations 1727-1732). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

ShoshinlobsterToraldrispegembara

Comments

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran
    edited September 2014

    "Slap of hand"

    . :coffee: ..

    I also enjoy Sam's no non sense approach @Jeffrey, and in the past have often watched him in action on youtube ie when he talks about consciousness & meditation...

    . :) ..

  • Sam Harris offers a 'nothing funky' direct to the route of the situation. Reminds me of the Buddha.

    :bowdown: .

    Hamsaka
  • @Jeffrey said:
    This comes up a LOT here where people are asking advice about meditation and view. Some people believe mindfulness can produce a kind of breakthrough of insight known as cessation where others see (believe) the mind has qualities of insight all of the time. So I have been interested in Sam Harris or at least I have noticed some interesting articles recently of Sam Harris method or whatever.

    I wonder if this is a false dichotomy though. I've always understood Buddhism to be a gradual path, a progressive refinement of consciousness.

    mmo
  • @SpinyNorman said:
    I've always understood Buddhism to be a gradual path, a progressive refinement of consciousness.

    It is.
    That refinement can come before or after enlightenment. :orange: .

    ToraldrisHamsaka
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    No, a progressive refinement up to and including enlightenment. It doesn't happen all at once. A gradual path. I think Sam is straw-manning here. Like he's discovered Dzogchen and got all excited, he's bought into the idea that it's superior and sophisticated compared to vipassana and mindfulness, superior to the 8-fold path which is a gradual path anyway, etc. Hmmm!

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran

    I don't think enlightenment is all-or-nothing. It seems more reasonable to suppose that it happens gradually (as the gradualists say) but can also be experienced, the "state of mind of enlightenment", as the sudden enlightenment camp says.

    Hamsaka
  • ..the sudden enlightenment camp says.

    But who exactly is in this sudden enlightenment camp?

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Double post.
    PLEASE can we have a delete button, it's silly not having one, every other forum does.

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Zen people seem to be. That's why there's no goal, nothing to be attained in meditation. Bringing about that meditative state is the state of enlightenment. Of course it would be argued that it's also a case of "practice makes perfect", and it helps to gain insight and dispel delusions if someone is going to make that state last. In fact Dzogchen, from my limited understanding, is quite the same about reaching a state that rewires the mind to maintain it permanently.

    Just not an either/or thing. Does the question "is he enlightened?" make any sense if we can't say "somewhat"? There are "degrees of enlightenment" and we know this. Degrees of seeing things as they really are... and that degree of clarity correlates with the degree of enlightenment.

    lobster
  • There are "degrees of enlightenment" and we know this.

    Yes, that's why I think Sam has created a straw-man here.

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Funny he's created one and I haven't then, because I'm just echoing him. :) Maybe you misunderstand his position? Either that or I do, but he's remarkably reasonable.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @AldrisTorvalds said:
    Funny he's created one and I haven't then, because I'm just echoing him. :) Maybe you misunderstand his position? Either that or I do, but he's remarkably reasonable.

    The more I read it the less I think he's explained anything. I'm not even sure he's understood the approach that he's critiquing. For example he talks about "dualistic mindfulness" in a way that suggests he hasn't really understood what mindfulness is. It isn't mindfulness of breathing, it's mindfulness with breathing. Mindfulness correctly applied isn't dualistic, it includes both subject and object.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    another double post

    lobster
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I listened to the whole audiobook. Maybe it would help if it were in the context he's given it. I only understand the bits because I've heard the whole.

    I think there are two types of sudden enlightenment to speak of:
    1) Cases like Eckhart Tolle, where extreme stress led to deep insight. I'm not sure about Ram Dass, but I've recently come across him and his "Be Here Now", and his speaking with Tolle in videos. He may be another. There are probably plenty that have "jumped", probably without intending to.
    2) "Sudden Awakening" schools that teach forms of meditation that are meant to bring about an enlightened state of mind. This isn't what most people mean by enlightenment, because it's not a carry-over.

    For most of us, it's a long gradual path to "permanent" enlightenment, and that's whether we take the path of gradualism or sudden awakening. There are surely pros and cons of every system of practice. Sam Harris likes Dzogchen and disparages Zen. Personally I like aspects of both! I can see both practices being useful.

    Jeffrey
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I also don't believe there's any school or practice that takes people from unenlightened to fully enlightened instantly. I think that's a myth and a misconception. Enlightenment in "one lifetime" is already enough of a claim for some schools to make! :D  

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Sam Harris likes Dzogchen and disparages Zen.

    As I may have mentioned before, some Dzogchen types really get into this idea that theirs is the superior path, and the other schools are for dunces who don't get the point. It's a bit infectious, so I wonder if Sam has got caught up in it somewhat. What Sam doesn't mention is all the other stuff that comes with the traditional Dzogchen package, for example doing 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 recitations of various mantras, that's all preliminary practice before you even get near to the main sadhana practice. And the approach to meditation he raves about is also a preliminary practice, not the main practice. Presumably he thinks all the other stuff is irrelevant, I don't know.
    :rolleyes: .

  • @SpinyNorman said:
    another double post

    Well said. Keep up the good work.
    :crazy: .

  • @lobster said:
    :crazy: .

    Nice to be appreciated, my snappy crustacean friend. :p .

  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @SpinyNorman said:
    What Sam doesn't mention is all the other stuff that comes with the traditional Dzogchen package, for example doing 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 recitations of various mantras, that's all preliminary practice before you even get near to the main sadhana practice.

    That's called Ngondro and there been something of a trend to forego the practice with Dzogchen. I believe Harris got his empowerment, sans Ngondro, through Namkai Norbu.

  • @Jeffery, thanks, I just downloaded the book from Amazon. I look forward to reading it.

  • @Chaz said:
    That's called Ngondro and there been something of a trend to forego the practice with Dzogchen. I believe Harris got his empowerment, sans Ngondro, through Namkai Norbu.

    They have it easy these days! ;)

  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    They have it easy these days! ;)

    Ain't that the truth.

    I suspect SH went to ChNN for that very reason.

    Ngondro is pretty religious.

    Can't have that.

  • @Chaz said:

    So do you think he's just doing the meditation?

  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    So do you think he's just doing the meditation?

    Maybe.

    Just because someone recieves instruction/empowerment for a practice, doesn't mean they actually do it.

    I'm curious, though just how far he'll go into Dzogchen in that book. SH doesn't really have the credentials to teach Dzogchen to anyone. That usually takes more than even a 4-year retreat.

    I'm with you in that Dzogchenpas expressing a feeling that they're all that - or at least their practice is. I find it to be a bit of a buzzkill.

    I don't car about Dzogchen so much, even though my guru is a Dzogchen lineage holder. He has has me on a track for Mahamudra, but that's years away and I'd prefer to save my energy, so to speak, for other things.

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @AldrisTorvalds said:
    Zen people seem to be. That's why there's no goal, nothing to be attained in meditation. Bringing about that meditative state is the state of enlightenment. Of course it would be argued that it's also a case of "practice makes perfect", and it helps to gain insight and dispel delusions if someone is going to make that state last. In fact Dzogchen, from my limited understanding, is quite the same about reaching a state that rewires the mind to maintain it permanently.

    Just not an either/or thing. Does the question "is he enlightened?" make any sense if we can't say "somewhat"? There are "degrees of enlightenment" and we know this. Degrees of seeing things as they really are... and that degree of clarity correlates with the degree of enlightenment.

    and @SpinyNorman‌

    The heart sutra says: no path no cessation and no attainment. Thus having no attainment the bodhisattva dwells without fear.

  • There is upaya (skillful means) and prajna (wisdom). We are unique beings and some gravitate more, but it is still a great contribution each of us can make of spreading Buddhas dharma as we understand it. What could be more wonderful than each of us sharing the teachings that have helped us as unique beings?

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @spinynorman said:

    As I may have mentioned before, some Dzogchen types really get into this idea that theirs is the superior path, and the other schools are for dunces who don't get the point. It's a bit infectious, so I wonder if Sam has got caught up in it somewhat. What Sam doesn't mention is all the other stuff that comes with the traditional Dzogchen package, for example doing 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 recitations of various mantras, that's all preliminary practice before you even get near to the main sadhana practice. And the approach to meditation he raves about is also a preliminary practice, not the main practice. Presumably he thinks all the other stuff is irrelevant, I don't know.

    I have Waking Up and read and reread it. I know you are speculating in your post above, and like most of us who say we are Buddhists, biased toward gradualism.

    To assert that another way than gradualism must be based on 'infectious sense of superiority' obtained from your interpretation of what Sam must have experienced and unpacked, in error is ignoring a nice pile of assumptions of your own you don't appear to be questioning. At least give yourself the same dignity of the question you give this small slice of Sam Harris.

  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @Hamsaka said:
    spinynorman said:
    To assert that another way than gradualism must be based on 'infectious sense of superiority' obtained from your interpretation of what Sam must have experienced and unpacked, in error is ignoring a nice pile of assumptions of your own you don't appear to be questioning.

    First I'd say that @SpinyNorman‌ offers a sentiment that's not at all uncommon amongst Mahayanists and Vajrayanists with respect to the attitude we often percieve amongst online Dzogchenpas. In "real life" Dzogchenpas seldom disscuss the practice outside their Dzogchen sangha.

    And there's nothing wrong with questioning SH's qualifications to write a book on meditation practice.

    Personally, I'm not sure SH has actually "experienced" anything.

    At least give yourself the same dignity of the question you give this small slice of Sam Harris.

    Maybe you should consider not being so presumptuous?

    Just sayin'......

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @Hamsaka said:
    spinynorman said:
    To assert that another way than gradualism must be based on 'infectious sense of superiority' obtained from your interpretation of what Sam must have experienced and unpacked, in error is ignoring a nice pile of assumptions of your own you don't appear to be questioning. At least give yourself the same dignity of the question you give this small slice of Sam Harris.

    I didn't assert anything, I was speculating that Sam has been caught up in some Dzogchen superiority. I practised in a Dzogchen tradition for many years, so I am talking from personal experience here.
    But like I said, I don't think Sam is explaining himself very well here, and IMO he is straw-manning in an attempt to show that his approach is superior. It seems like he wants to replace one gradual path with another gradual path, and he seems to have some rather odd ideas about the application of mindfulness.

    Hamsaka
  • I think Sam has some interesting things to say, but I don't think it's particularly profound or ground-breaking. And the debate about which method of Buddhist practice is most "efficient" has been going on for a couple of thousand years!

  • SH hasn't discovered anything new here. He's saying what J Krishnamurti has been saying in the past. Whether or not one agrees is a diff. matter. But if one is interested in the 'sudden path', I feel that JK's explanations/methods are more detailed, more comprehensive....

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    I think Sam has some interesting things to say, but I don't think it's particularly profound or ground-breaking. And the debate about which method of Buddhist practice is most "efficient" has been going on for a couple of thousand years!

    No, probably not (being ground-breaking). From an individual's point of view, what is superior versus inferior may be distinct, and the rest of us individual POVs are running around being informed or impressed by other individual POVs may get the impression there really ARE 'superior' and 'inferior' methods. That is an easy rut to get into, and as ubiquitous as this method squabble is, I doubt people realize or would admit they are engaged in a pointless debate.

    There is no POV without assumption that 'you' (generic) are 'right' about it. That's what I sense people being unaware of, they cherish their assumptions like they'd cherish their child. It's just an effing assumption, as lame and limp as the next one. Debate starts sounding stupid, at least to me.

  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    Rather than edit, an amendment :P : I can hear all the brains finding fault with my argument against superior versus inferior and I agree. Mainly to avoid the attempts to side track and throw up more straw men. CLEARLY there are better ways than others, good lord.

    My beef vegetable protein with this is the insertion of ego wherever you go, how it gets itself bound up with ideas, identifies with them and then goes on the defense as if the idea has a THING to do with it.

  • @Hamsaka said:

    From an individual's point of view, what is superior versus inferior may be distinct, and the rest of us individual POVs are running around being informed or impressed by other individual POVs may get the impression there really ARE 'superior' and 'inferior' methods. That is an easy rut to get into, and as ubiquitous as this method squabble is, I doubt people realize or would admit they are engaged in a pointless debate.

    Yes, and usually "superior" means what works for us. So Sam has found something that works for him and he wants to tell us all about it. Fair enough I suppose.

    Chaz
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    So Sam has found something that works for him and he wants to tell us all about it. Fair enough I suppose.

    It could also be that he wants us to think he's found something and he wants us to buy his book on that basis.

    He does have to make a living ....... ;)

    DairyLama
  • HamsakaHamsaka goosewhisperer Polishing the 'just so' Veteran

    @SpinyNorman said:
    Yes, and usually "superior" means what works for us. So Sam has found something that works for him and he wants to tell us all about it. Fair enough I suppose.

    Yes! What gets lost in the translation is that 'ownership'. Instead of 'owning' the superior 'what works for me', the responsibility is projected onto others, which results in pointless debates that devolve into 'I'm right/no I'm right'.

Sign In or Register to comment.