Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

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Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Sat Jun 30, 2012 11:31 pm

The following short piece by Sam Harris may come as a surprise to some who feel that Harris and the other proponents of "New Atheism" are all anti-transcendentalists.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/a-pl ... irituality

Anyway, I would like to know your thoughts on Harris's writings with regard to meditation and "the spiritual". And what are your thoughts on "the spiritual"?
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby befriend » Sun Jul 01, 2012 12:36 am

peoples egos are too big to accept there karma isnt good enough to humble themselves to the buddha. if kamma and other realms are real wouldnt having some faith in them be a by product of kusala deeds?
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 01, 2012 4:25 am

I don't think I understand what you are trying to say, befriend.
kind regards,

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby manas » Sun Jul 01, 2012 4:57 am

Sam Harris wrote:Of course, “spiritual” and its cognates have some unfortunate associations unrelated to their etymology—and I will do my best to cut those ties as well. But there seems to be no other term (apart from the even more problematic “mystical” or the more restrictive “contemplative”) with which to discuss the deliberate efforts some people make to overcome their feeling of separateness—through meditation, psychedelics, or other means of inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness.


Hi Ben,

I would also add to that, 'to overcome the feeling of pointlessness and meaninglessness' that living in our corporate controlled, consumerist society can sometimes bring on.

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Viscid » Sun Jul 01, 2012 5:14 am

Ah, I'm a big fan of Sam Harris. It's been interesting to watch the development of his thought. He seems to be getting more 'spiritual' himself all the time. I'd be very keen to see him come to the defence of religious practice.
"What holds attention determines action." - William James
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Jul 01, 2012 10:14 am

I agree with the whole of that post apart from ...
Sam Harris wrote:Hitch[ens] believed that “spiritual” was a term we could not do without, and he repeatedly plucked it from the mire of supernaturalism in which it has languished for nearly a thousand years.

"Mire of supernaturalism" and "languished" are unnecessarily and unfairly negative, especially when he does actually want to oppose the "spiritual" to the natural/mundane/temporal. If he doesn't want to take the next step and call it "supernatural", what is it to be? "Unnatural"? I don't think so.

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby daverupa » Sun Jul 01, 2012 2:34 pm

Interesting, since his earlier pieces have seen him taking care to carve out a place for the rational exercise of contemplative practice - in his case, vipassana.

Kim O'Hara wrote:especially when he does actually want to oppose the "spiritual" to the natural/mundane/temporal.


I did not get this impression, as he did not define the word in that piece and the relevant book is not out.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Sam Vara » Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:34 pm

Well, Harris is using the term to refer to deliberate attempts which people make to overcome their feelings of separation. This is becoming a fairly common usage in the west, which does have a big problem with alienation. Ajahn Thanissaro refers to this as one of the components of "Buddhist romanticism".

Personally, I don't use the "S word" when talking about Dhamma for two reasons. The first is that it is so vague that when people talk about "spirituality", it is often very far from clear what they are referring to. Sometimes they just want to make a quick contrast with the "material", or the "mundane", which is fine. Sometimes, however, there has to be a lot of clarification and analysis before the conversation can proceed. The second reason is the fact that the Buddha was speaking from an entirely different culture and tradition. I'm not sure if the Buddha directly addressed Harris' issue of separation - I've not seen any convincing references to this, and suspect that attempts to frame the Dhamma in these terms requires seeing it refracted through western concepts and preoccupations. The Buddha taught how to reach the end of suffering, not the end of alienation or separation, so I find it easier to think in these terms.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby kirk5a » Mon Jul 02, 2012 3:44 am

I think "spiritual" points to actual qualities which are indeed present within us (but perhaps under-developed). Confining our view to the domain of reasoning and the physical feels quite unfulfilling.
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby befriend » Mon Jul 02, 2012 12:51 pm

:goodpost:
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby sunyavadin » Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:12 am

I noticed that there was a long chapter in one of Harris' anti-Christian polemical books - I think it was 'The End of Faith' - extolling the virtues of Eastern spirituality generally and Buddhism in particular. At the time I read it - several years ago - I agreed with most of what he said in it. But from what I have read since, I think his understanding is skewed by his intense antagonism to anything religious. Granted, he has more insight into Buddhism than the other 'new atheists', but he is very hostile to anything that sounds like 'faith' - he wants to retrieve 'the real Buddhism' from 'the superstitions that the tradition has imposed on it', but where to make the distinction is highly problematical, in my view.

Good critical review of his overall approach here.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Kim OHara » Tue Jul 03, 2012 4:28 am

sunyavadin wrote:Good critical review of his overall approach here.

If that isn't being grossly unfair to him (which I can't judge because I've read none of his books), I don't think I like Sam Harris very much.

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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby Ben » Tue Jul 03, 2012 4:56 am

Kim O'Hara wrote:which I can't judge because I've read none of his books

Well, you should Kim. "End of Faith" or "Letter to a Christian Nation" are both good places to start.
kind regards,

Ben
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby rowboat » Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:58 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:
sunyavadin wrote:Good critical review of his overall approach here.

If that isn't being grossly unfair to him (which I can't judge because I've read none of his books), I don't think I like Sam Harris very much.

:namaste:
Kim


Kim, I think you are quite right to be repelled by someone of Harris's ilk.

Sam Harris is an Islamophobe and a bigot who harbours some appalling violent ideation towards Muslims.

See Chris Hedges's I Don't Believe In Atheists:
http://www.amazon.ca/Dont-Believe-Athei ... 141656795X

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Therefore uncover what is covered
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby poto » Wed Jul 04, 2012 6:46 pm

I find the approach Sam Harris takes to be shallow and lacking substance. He makes a few good points, but seems to stop short of any real depth.

Perhaps some day he will follow the rabbit hole of spirituality a bit deeper, but until then I can not see the benefit of spending my time on his writings. Especially when there are so many other writers and wise teachings available.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby alan » Fri Jul 06, 2012 1:31 pm

poto: "Shallow"? ....Are you joking?
What could you possibly dislike about the intelligent, thoughtful, rational Sam Harris?
Sorry, but you'll have to show me something before I respect you as his critic.

Sam Harris is a brilliant guy and one of the world's top intellectuals. Read and understand before speaking, please.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby poto » Fri Jul 06, 2012 3:27 pm

alan wrote:poto: "Shallow"? ....Are you joking?
What could you possibly dislike about the intelligent, thoughtful, rational Sam Harris?
Sorry, but you'll have to show me something before I respect you as his critic.

Sam Harris is a brilliant guy and one of the world's top intellectuals. Read and understand before speaking, please.


He denounces faith, yet seems to have faith in his atheism. So, I must assume it is only people who have faith in something different from what he believes that he has a problem with.

He rails against 'mythic' stories, but some of those stories contain truths in them. Only a fool would blindly dismiss all that he has not seen or witnessed for himself.

After all that I have seen and experienced, I have a hard time taking any die-hard atheist seriously on spiritual matters. It seems to me like a blind man trying to write a book about photography. And there are many blind men these days.

That said, his points about reigning in extremists are valid. I also think that secular humanism might be a good choice for a method of governance that was fair to all peoples. Still, I can not agree that faith is bad... blind faith perhaps, but not faith itself. Though I am but a wretched waste of flesh I have faith in the Buddha's teachings and it has seen me through some dark days.
"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." -- C. S. Lewis
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:10 pm

alan wrote:poto: "Shallow"? ....Are you joking?
What could you possibly dislike about the intelligent, thoughtful, rational Sam Harris?
Sorry, but you'll have to show me something before I respect you as his critic.

Sam Harris is a brilliant guy and one of the world's top intellectuals. Read and understand before speaking, please.

He's a bigoted neoconservative who supports torture and seethes with xenophobic, Euro-centric cultural imperialism?

He's obviously a smart guy but some of the things he's said when it comes to women, war, Muslims, sexuality, science, and belief are absurd and downright hateful.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby daverupa » Fri Jul 06, 2012 8:30 pm

Casting aspersions is useless without contextual quotes.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Sam Harris's "In Defense of “Spiritual”"

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jul 06, 2012 9:10 pm

LonesomeYogurt wrote:
alan wrote:poto: "Shallow"? ....Are you joking?
What could you possibly dislike about the intelligent, thoughtful, rational Sam Harris?
Sorry, but you'll have to show me something before I respect you as his critic.

Sam Harris is a brilliant guy and one of the world's top intellectuals. Read and understand before speaking, please.

He's a bigoted neoconservative who supports torture and seethes with xenophobic, Euro-centric cultural imperialism?

He's obviously a smart guy but some of the things he's said when it comes to women, war, Muslims, sexuality, science, and belief are absurd and downright hateful.
If you are going to say this, you really need to use Harris' word, in context, to show that what you say is true, otherwise this is exactly what you are acciusing Harris of being.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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