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Sam Harris on spirituality without religion

JeroenJeroen Do it with a smileNetherlands Veteran

Sams book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion basically positions buddhism as the only religion which from a rational point of view has something real to offer, in its focus on meditation and the mind. The book focuses on consciousness, no-self and meditation as the path. In my view, he is not entirely wrong, but he is not entirely right either.

He thanks his meditation teachers as Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, H.W.L. Poonja, and Sayadaw U Pandita. He also credits Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzburg as people he has meditated a lot with. That gives you some idea of where he is coming from, it’s a mixture of classically eastern techniques, what has come out of western Buddhism, and some Advaita Vedanta. He even says in the book that he groups Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism together because he ‘doesn’t see much difference between them.’

Basically his view of spirituality is quite logically deconstructive, he considers effects and gains and losses and from that perspective he is right. But there is not a lot of love in his approach, and it seems to me that without that you are missing one of the essential pillars.

BunkslobsterpersonShoshin1

Comments

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Basically his view of spirituality is quite logically deconstructive, he considers effects and gains and losses and from that perspective he is right. But there is not a lot of love in his approach, and it seems to me that without that you are missing one of the essential pillars.

    Sam certainly is relentlessly rational. I'd recommend looking for his podcasts with Will MacAskill, where they talk about ethics and morality. It is more of a rational look at the realm of the heart, but they do come to some loving conclusions.

    I'd also say, I think the role of love and compassion and the degree to which he expresses them has increased over the years. So if you're mainly digesting his older stuff it probably doesn't fully reflect his current mindset.

    JeroenBunkslobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited July 26

    I agree that some things are missing from his approach. Not everything has to be relentlessly rational, and I think there's certainly a place for things like love, metta, and even social activism based on spiritual ideals. His love and compassion seem more incidentally than central to his spiritually. And I also think other religions have many skillful things to offer, not just Buddhism. But it's often easier to find the good in things exotic and outside of what you were born into, because that usually tends to be complacent and from tradition rather than from a place of inspiration and active practice. As brilliant of a mind as he may have, I find him spiritually immature. Even rationalism and Buddhism can be put towards unskillful ends and lead us astray when grasped inappropriately. And while Buddhism is what helped me become the person I am, it has also led me to see the skilfullness and wisdom in other traditions, from Plato to Christianity and Islam, something that has still eluded Sam.

    lobsterJeroen
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    I find him spiritually immature

    Tee hee
    #meToo

    In fact this is the meaning of ignorant, a state we are always in (even Buddhas and other divas). Still I like Sam Harris, Sufi Islam, Kabbalah without Madonna, Yoga beyond asana addiction and Buddhism without strings, science with humanity and the spiritually mellow …

    Bunks
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator
    edited July 26

    I once liked him too. But when he turned his rationality and anti-religiousness towards singling out Muslims and defending the use of torture, I began to lose my admiration and respect for him. I still find his research into meditation and neuroscience interesting, and appreciate how he has made contemplativism more well-known and widespread among non-religious people, as well as how he takes a scientific approach to it all. But I find myself taking him less and less seriously in other ways. And I definitely don't look towards him as a spiritual guide.

    Jeroenlobster
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran
    edited July 26

    @Jason said:
    And while Buddhism is what helped me become the person I am, it has also led me to see the skilfullness and wisdom in other traditions, from Plato to Christianity and Islam, something that has still eluded Sam.

    I must admit, I can see the reasoning in his approach to Islam. I’ve read some sections of the Qur’an, and a lot of things it says about unbelievers aren’t conducive to tolerance and getting along. I can see how it can lead to very militant behaviour. I also don’t have a lot of respect for any religion which attempts to fear it’s followers into becoming locked into the religion, which Islam does by setting out penalties for those who leave the faith, that’s a strict no-no from my point of view.

    That said, I know a number of Muslims who are very tolerant, nice people. Just as a lot of Christians don’t necessarily follow the Bible in everything they do, so it seems a lot of Muslims have a similar view on the Qur’an. As long as we can rely on people’s good sense to prevail over religious instruction it seems we will be allright.

    Still, if you think about it, the core of Islam is a live-by-the-sword philosophy. It’s pretty primitive and a long way short of Buddhist ideals. I think the world would be a lot happier if all those Muslims were Buddhists instead.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    I found this a useful resource when looking at the Qur’an.

    http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/Quran/

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    I always get a bit annoyed in this country when they write articles about faith and religion and Buddhism never gets a mention.....Christianity, Islam and Judaism get a fair run but nothing about Buddhism.

    2.4% of this country claim Buddhism as a religion while 0.3% claim Judaism but it gets more mileage.....

    Hmmmph..... :(

    Jeroenlobster
  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran
    edited July 26

    @Jason said:
    As brilliant of a mind as he may have, I find him spiritually immature. Even rationalism and Buddhism can be put towards unskillful ends and lead us astray when grasped inappropriately.

    I do find it interesting, because in the book he details a (drug-assisted) experience of complete love, which he didn’t previously know could exist. And he listed Papaji as one of his teachers, who also had a strong take on lovingness as an important spiritual connection.

    Sam is I think too rational to be truly a man of spirituality. He doesn’t get swept up in spiritual ecstasy, at the thought of meeting God or of finding ultimate truth. He doesn’t have the soul of a poet, which I think is essential for understanding people like Osho, or Kabir, or the Bauls. So I think you’re probably correct, although I would label his view as incomplete rather than immature.

    Immature implies that you’re going to supersede his viewpoint, while I feel it is valid as far as it goes. The part of the spiritual whole that he covers he doesn’t do badly with. But I feel he undervalues the role of emotion, which is a key lens through which we experience the world.

    From his rational-scientific world view, he has done the best he can with spirituality, and I think it is a good addition to the field of western thinking. He has focused on meditation, and in the Waking Up app he even has a section on metta.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @Jason said:
    And I definitely don't look towards him as a spiritual guide.

    I don’t want to run ahead on conclusions from the rest of the book, but from what I have seen so far from the book and the app he is essentially a collector of different pieces of mainly Buddhist lore. He puts a western, secular spin on what he has collected and backs it with a little science.

    Now this is not bad. He puts forward a valid direction which will benefit many people. But it is unoriginal, derivative. Would these people have been better off studying Buddhism? I think it would have had different downsides, the various flavours of Buddhism almost all have problems as well.

    Whether that qualifies him as a spiritual guide, I don’t think so. He doesn’t present a complete philosophy, and he doesn’t have the aura of a spiritual teacher. He has a keen intelligence, but I am not sure if he has a deeper wisdom.

    Bunks
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    No, immature means not mature, incomplete, not fully developed. That's exactly what I mean. His approach to Buddhism and mediation is incomplete, in my opinion, and his understanding of others religions is immature. Many of the things he finds useful in Buddhism and praises can be found in other spiritual traditions, but he's too busy trying to get people to think Christians are stupid and Muslims inherently violent purely because of their ideas and beliefs to see that.

    This may be an unpopular opinion here, but pretty much every scientist that I fell in love with 15 years ago has turned out to be exceedingly problematic. From Lawrence Krauss to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, they're full of white male privilege, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, you name it.

    I'll just go ahead and say it: almost all the New Atheist gang are giant a-holes who couch their privileged, problematic bullshit behind the "objectivity" of science. Which hurts because I learned a lot about physics, evolution, and the science of the brain from these educated idiots and then have to watch them talk shit about equality in all its forms. Sam himself likes to talk about mindfulness and reducing suffering (with more mentions of things like empathy and compassion than in the past), which is great. But he also defends torture, has what I'd argue are extreme views of Islam as being inherently violent and dangerous, criticizes BLM and downplays of the existence of racism, and has dialogues with and defends people who advocate for "scientific" forms of racism and sexism utilizing IQ such as Charles Murray.

    Don't get me wrong, I think there's much to admire about Sam. He's a smart guy, and he takes mediation and its effects on consciousness seriously. I still check in on what he's saying and working on. But I think there's much that's blameworthy as well, and one of the reasons I'm so hard on him is that he had a big influence on me for many, many years. And where I stand now, if your science and spiritual can support torture, even if in a very rational and utilitarian way, it's an immature science and spirituality.

    lobsterShoshin1David
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    As for this view of Islam, which is quite prevalent in the West these days, I disagree that it's any more inherently violent than other religions such as Christianity and Judaism. I don't have time to write in detail about it right now, but if people haven't read it yet, I suggest starting with Karen Armstrong's short history of Islam to get some context to its origins and now it's not as violent or oppressive as it's made out to be (I also recommend her History if God and the Great Transformation for more of Islam's unique contributions to religion, philosophy, and science). In addition, I recommend actually reading the Quran and other Islamic texts, as well as talk to Muslims. Sometimes doing so helps to temper the western tendency to single Islam out as something especially nefarious, irrational, violent, etc.

    lobsterfedericaFosdickShoshin1
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran Veteran

    @Bunks said:
    I always get a bit annoyed in this country when they write articles about faith and religion and Buddhism never gets a mention.....Christianity, Islam and Judaism get a fair run but nothing about Buddhism.

    2.4% of this country claim Buddhism as a religion while 0.3% claim Judaism but it gets more mileage.....

    Hmmmph..... :(

    I think Dharmic traditions like Buddhusm and Hinduism are still regarded as quite "weird" in western countries. And the Abrahamics really don't know how to relate to them.

    lobsterShoshin1
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