Clear all

Sam Harris on meditation

Joined: 17 years ago
Posts: 456
Topic starter  

One of the great contemporary public atheists, Sam Harris, is also known to favour meditation, which raises a few eyebrows in the rationalist community at times. Here's a videoof him debating with a religionist. Here's an interesting interviewwhere he discusses meditation.

Something he said that struck me, when his interviewer said he had tried meditation but hadn't gotten much out of it, was:

Meditation is definitely not a matter of thinking about experience in a new way; it is a matter of witnessing the flow of experience (including the flow of thought) from the perspective of consciousness itself. For most people, this is not easy to do. Serious training is usually in order.

A case in point: one of the easiest forms of meditation to learn entails nothing more than mere attention to the process of breathing. A person sits comfortably, closes his eyes, and simply attends to the sensations of the breath as it comes and goes at the tip of the nose. The moment a person attempts to do this, however, he begins to notice that he easily gets distracted by his thoughts. In the beginning, he will be a very poor judge of how distractible he is, in fact. While attempting to meditate on the breath, he will think thoughts like, "So I'm feeling the breath at the tip of the nose... so what? What's the big deal about the breath?", and he won't notice that each of these thoughts diverts his attention from the breath itself. He will, in other words, spend most of his time thinking without knowing that he is thinking.

Of course, this is precisely how most of us spend every waking moment of our lives. If a person really wants to get to the bottom things, he might go on a silent retreat and engage a practice like this, to the exclusion of all else, for 12 to 18 hours a day. In the beginning of such a retreat, many people feel that they can pay attention to the breath for several minutes at a time, before getting distracted. They are inevitably wrong about this. The truth is, they are so distracted by torrents of thought that they can't even begin to notice how distracted they are. After some days, or even weeks, they begin to report that they can only stay with the breath for a few seconds at a time before thoughts intervene. Eventually, however, there does come a point when a person gains extraordinary powers of concentration, and then he can actually see some things of real interest about the nature of his mind.

This is simply to say that the fact that you don't see anything of immediate interest when you look inside should not be taken as a sign that there is nothing of interest to see. Before a person learns how to read a CT-scan, all he sees is a gray mess. After a little training, anatomical details begin to emerge. The details were there all along, of course, they were just difficult to see. This is by no means a perfect analogy, but it works up to a point.

(My bold) Students of Crowley will instantly recognise a very Crowleyian argument here that AC used several times in his writings - usually referencing learning how to use a microscope.

Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 74

Hi gurugeorge.

This looks fun.
It's great to see this kind of dialog.
It makes good sense to me that someone could be an athiest(of some kind) and still practice meditation(and praise a type of mysticism).
Sam Haris seems a bit of a pragamtist/operationalist, in regards meditation. Which is quite a "chaos magic" aproach I have often thought.

Thanks for posting this.