Sam Harris and Buddhism

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Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby clw_uk » Tue Mar 10, 2009 6:31 pm

I recently seen a programme with Sam Harris where he stated that Buddhist meditation should be brought into study and no longer be called Buddhist meditation on the grounds that we dont call physics that came from Christians as "Christian Physics" or algebra as "Muslim Algebra".


While meditation can certainly be scientific i dont think you can seperate buddhist meditation from the buddhism (if that makes sense), what do you all think?
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Tex » Tue Mar 10, 2009 7:45 pm

Physics did not have Christian salvation as its aim, and algebra did not have Muslim salvation as its aim.

The aim of Buddhist meditation is to further one's Buddhist practice toward Buddhist goals; it's not a mundane field of study like physics or algebra that might be of interest to persons of any faith.

It's a pretty terrible analogy, in my opinion.
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"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby clw_uk » Tue Mar 10, 2009 8:13 pm

I think he said it because he sees the teachings of the Buddha being trapped in the religion of Buddhism
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Snowmelt » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:07 pm

How useful is the feverish Western pursuit of truth - and feverish promotion of the importance of truth - above all else? Does it result in happiness? Does it produce truth? Does it reduce the amount of lies in the world? I would appreciate any comments on this.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:32 pm

Sam Harris is brilliant and his writings will have a profound impact on the world as we know it.

It is better to try and understand his ideas through some of his work, such as 'the end of faith'. There you will find an implicit acknowledgement of the value of Buddhist spirituality. Taking one of his ideas out of context fails to represent him or his ideas well.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby pink_trike » Tue Mar 10, 2009 9:50 pm

Ben wrote:Sam Harris is brilliant and his writings will have a profound impact on the world as we know it.

It is better to try and understand his ideas through some of his work, such as 'the end of faith'. There you will find an implicit acknowledgement of the value of Buddhist spirituality. Taking one of his ideas out of context fails to represent him or his ideas well.
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Well said. Sam is brilliant, and hopefully his writing will have a profound positive impact on "Buddhism" also.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby clw_uk » Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:15 pm

Sam Harris is brilliant and his writings will have a profound impact on the world as we know it.

It is better to try and understand his ideas through some of his work, such as 'the end of faith'. There you will find an implicit acknowledgement of the value of Buddhist spirituality. Taking one of his ideas out of context fails to represent him or his ideas well.
Kind regards

Ben



This is my fault as I failed to mention his respect for Buddhism in that book (i acctually just got it today) i was going to write it but deleted it in one of my posts. He does show a lot of respect by stating how insightful Lord Buddha was and how buddhist and hindu mysticism in general is based on empiricism and not blind acceptence, in the video im refering to he does state how Buddhists will willingly accept Scientific discoveries/understandings

Reguardless of his respect he shows however, he still stated that he would like to see meditation no longer refered to as buddhist meditation which i found odd

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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Mawkish1983 » Tue Mar 10, 2009 10:30 pm

As I see it, meditation is a tool. We are using computers to learn about the Dhamma in this very forum... but I don't think we'd ever seriously call them 'Buddhist computers'. Computers are a tool. Meditation is a tool. Christians also meditate, as do many other religions I can think of. The difference I suppose is the intention.

Maybe I've missed the point here, but I sort-of agree: the term 'Buddhist meditation' is as absract to me as the term 'Buddhist computer'.

Am I missing something? :s

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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby pink_trike » Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:22 pm

Mawkish1983 wrote:As I see it, meditation is a tool. We are using computers to learn about the Dhamma in this very forum... but I don't think we'd ever seriously call them 'Buddhist computers'. Computers are a tool. Meditation is a tool. Christians also meditate, as do many other religions I can think of. The difference I suppose is the intention.

Maybe I've missed the point here, but I sort-of agree: the term 'Buddhist meditation' is as absract to me as the term 'Buddhist computer'.

Am I missing something? :s

:anjali:

There are many different types of meditation that have originated outside of Buddhism. The term "Buddhist meditation" is useful to distinguish it from other forms of meditation that may have very different intent and effect.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby nathan » Tue Mar 10, 2009 11:59 pm

He writes that it is "merely an accident of history that it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your thoughts while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window."[7]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Harris_(author)

Suggesting this is merely an accident of history is over reaching if such a sense is characteristic of various mental states and it clearly is in many forms. More like a variegated human psychophysical impact on human history.

I would say his approach doesn't present many new challenges that many practicing buddhists today aren't willing to take on and some are taking on very consciously. This presents more of a challenge to some forms of traditional thinking and certainly confronts much dogma. Sound doctrine will, of course, remain just as sound. Doctrines which are less approachable from this pov will be more in conflict with it.

Traditionalists will not be easily moved in any case. Secular and scientific schools of thought are ripe for a sustained period of reconsideration and revision anyways so the effect of this kind of agitation on those realms of thought is more necessary. I like some of his mindedness suggestions in those contexts.

At points what he loosely calls 'spirituality' escapes the limitations of rationality and 'awakening' overtakes and transcends them. Although the numerous trajectories can be rationally plotted to various extents they do not convey the non-rational experiential truths. It will all depend on how he meets the challenges of the limits of rationality and reason. There has to be an acknowledgement of that from his perspective to give his critiques appropriate balance. Otherwise holding exclusively to these views progressively becomes more cold, harsh and restrictive than it need be. Up to a point, the reason and rationality is great, beyond that it becomes destructive. It's a fine line he is maintaining reasonably well but not perfectly. He makes many helpful suggestions. I don't like the support of violence and torture on his basis. Clearly his reasoning has failed him here.

The Mystical Ethics of the New Atheists by Alan Germani
http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/iss ... heists.asp
Eschewing relativism and pragmatism, Harris subscribes to “ethical realism,” the view that

our statements about the world will be “true” or “false” not merely in virtue of how they function amid the welter of our other beliefs, or with reference to any culture-bound criteria, but because reality simply is a certain way, independent of our thoughts. . . . To be an ethical realist is to believe that in ethics, as in physics, there are truths waiting to be discovered—and thus we can be right or wrong in our beliefs about them.14

Such passages in Harris’s works raise hope that he will identify and advocate a reality-based alternative to the ethics of religion and relativism. Unfortunately, however, Harris, like Hitchens, “grounds” his ethics in innate knowledge, which he labels “intuition.”15

According to Harris, there is a point at which “we can break our knowledge of a thing down no further,” a point at which we must anchor our ethical and other ideas to reality by taking “irreducible leaps” via “intuition,” which he says is the “most basic constituent of our faculty of understanding.”16

Why does an “ethical realist,” who claims to believe that ethical truths are waiting in reality to be discovered, insist that ethics must be grounded “intuitively,” via “irreducible leaps,” rather than rationally, via direct observations of reality? Because, Harris’s paean to a discoverable ethics notwithstanding, he subscribes to the neo-Kantian view that our sense perceptions are “structured, edited, or amplified by the nervous system” to the point that “[n]o human being has ever experienced an objective world, or even a world at all.”17

Although there is a long philosophical tradition that denies the validity of the senses, and although such skepticism remains fashionable to this day, the validity of the senses is self-evident: We rely on our senses all day, every day to ascertain the facts of reality. If our senses were invalid, we would have no means by which to determine whether it is safe to cross the street, whether our food is sufficiently cooked, or whether the phone is ringing. If our senses were invalid, we would have no means of identifying any such facts, and we could not function or live.

The fact is that the “most basic constituent of our faculty of understanding” is not “intuition,” but sense perception—our mind’s basic contact with reality. And those who try to deny the validity of the senses must rely on that very validity in the process of doing so. In order to put his denial in print, for instance, a skeptic author must rely on his sense of touch to convey his thoughts through his keyboard; he must rely on his vision to see his monitor and confirm that his keystrokes have correctly formed his intended words and sentences; he must rely on the vision of an editor to read his manuscript and on his own sense of hearing to field the editor’s phone calls; he must rely on the sensory perception of thousands of people involved in the printing, marketing, and distribution of his tract; and he must rely on the vision of his readers if they are to gain knowledge of his remarkable assertion that “[n]o human being has ever experienced an objective world, or even a world at all.”18

Fashionable though it may be to deny the validity of the senses, doing so makes no sense. Nor is it a sound strategy for persuading people, as Harris hopes to do, that ethical truths, like physical truths, are “waiting to be discovered.”

Because Harris denies the possibility of knowing reality, it should come as no surprise that he, like Hitchens, defaults to the “just knowing” view of ethics. Unlike Hitchens, however, Harris specifies a moral standard.

Our “intuitions,” he says, tell us that the standard of the good is “happiness” and that the standard of the evil is “suffering.” Does this mean that one should promote one’s own life by pursuing happiness and by avoiding suffering? No, says Harris, such pursuits and avoidances do not qualify as moral; an act “becomes a matter of ethics only when the happiness of others is also at stake”—at which point we have “ethical responsibilities” toward them.19 Does this mean that we should reward those who bring value to our lives? No, says Harris, to “treat others ethically” is to set aside one’s own selfish interests and to “act out of concern for their happiness and suffering. It is, as Kant observed, to treat them as ends in themselves rather than as a means to some further end.”20

On Harris’s account, we are morally obliged to promote the happiness and reduce the suffering of others, whatever the consequence to our own lives may be.

[I]t is one thing to think it “wrong” that people are starving elsewhere in the world; it is another to find this as intolerable as one would if these people were one’s friends. There may, in fact, be no ethical justification for all of us fortunate people to carry on with our business while other people starve. . . . It may be that a clear view of the matter . . . would oblige us to work tirelessly to alleviate the hunger of every last stranger as though it were our own. On this account, how could one go to the movies and remain ethical? One couldn’t. One would simply be taking a vacation from one’s ethics.21

Like Hitchens, Harris advocates altruism, the notion that being moral consists in living for the sake of others, or, more precisely, in self-sacrificially serving others. And although Harris acknowledges that “there are millions of people whose faith moves them to perform extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others,” he claims that “there are far better reasons for self-sacrifice than those that religion provides.”22

The best “reason” for self-sacrifice, says Harris, is that “the social feeling of love is one of our greatest sources of happiness; and love entails that we be concerned for the happiness of others.” This, he says, “suggests a clear link between ethics [by which Harris means altruism] and positive human emotions. The fact that we want the people we love to be happy, and are made happy by love in turn, is an empirical observation.”23

The happiness that Harris advocates is not the happiness that comes from the achievement of one’s own self-interested, life-promoting values. Rather, it is a “higher happiness,” which allegedly comes from sacrificing one’s own interests for the sake of others.24

What if someone, in his self-sacrificial service to others, fails to achieve this “higher happiness”? Harris says that he should rectify the situation by meditating and liberating himself from the “illusion of the self” that is the “string upon which all [his] states of suffering and dissatisfaction are strung.”25 And what if this person still fails to intuitively grasp the sacrificial essence of ethics? Then, says Harris, he may be precluded from “taking part in any serious discussion” of morality.26

Far from demonstrating how ethical truths might be discovered by reference to the facts of reality, Harris severs moral inquiry from reality by denying the validity of the senses, embraces self-sacrifice as the essence of morality, “grounds” this principle in “intuition,” and then attempts to intimidate those who challenge the propriety of that code or method. Further, like Hitchens, he maintains that man is both impaired by immoral intuitions that “lurk inside every human mind” and predisposed to religious belief.27 And, lest he leave open the possibility that man can choose to act contrary to his intuitions and predispositions, Harris explicitly denies the existence of free will.28 Without choice, it is worth reiterating, morality has no meaning, and books such as Harris’s are an exercise in futility. Again, if this is the best the New Atheists have to offer in the realm of morality, they should not be surprised when their bestsellers fail to change many minds.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Prasadachitta » Wed Mar 11, 2009 1:47 am

Mawkish1983 wrote:As I see it, meditation is a tool. We are using computers to learn about the Dhamma in this very forum... but I don't think we'd ever seriously call them 'Buddhist computers'. Computers are a tool. Meditation is a tool. Christians also meditate, as do many other religions I can think of. The difference I suppose is the intention.

Maybe I've missed the point here, but I sort-of agree: the term 'Buddhist meditation' is as absract to me as the term 'Buddhist computer'.

Am I missing something? :s

:anjali:


My computer is a Buddhist computer :lol:.

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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Tex » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:42 am

Okay, so I read the wiki entry for Sam Harris and was intrigued enough to look up some other links and some of his youtube videos, and I really like what he has to say, I'll definitely be buying his books.

I still don't agree with the intial quote/paraphrase, but I'm quite intrigued by just about everything else I've read and listened to in the last hour or so, and I'd previously only heard of him in passing, so thanks for this thread.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby jcsuperstar » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:50 am

the other day at school another student told my girlfriend that meditation came from the devil and can make you crazy and all sorts of stuff.
my girlfriend (whos thai and been buddhist all her life ) came to me to ask me about this.
i told her if you want to know about buddhism ask a buddhist, and even better ask a buddhist who's actually studied buddhism.

i believe this attitude works well whether the person is praising buddhism or condemming it.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 11, 2009 2:53 am

Hi Tex

I recommend you go for 'End of Faith'. "Letter to a Christian Nation" is brilliant as well but it is 'End of Faith' distilled to 90 pages.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Tex » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:05 am

Ben wrote:Hi Tex

I recommend you go for 'End of Faith'. "Letter to a Christian Nation" is brilliant as well but it is 'End of Faith' distilled to 90 pages.
Metta

Ben


Ben, thanks, I definitely will, I was actually just listening to his synopsis of the ideas he presents in that book, I think he's saying what a lot of people think and are scared to say, and it's about time.

It's here if anyone else is curious and has 23 minutes (it was linked to youtube from his own site so I trust copyright isn't an issue):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3YOIImOoYM
"The serene and peaceful mind is the true epitome of human achievement."-- Ajahn Chah, Living Dhamma

"To reach beyond fear and danger we must sharpen and widen our vision. We have to pierce through the deceptions that lull us into a comfortable complacency, to take a straight look down into the depths of our existence, without turning away uneasily or running after distractions." -- Bhikkhu Bodhi
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby nathan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:16 am

There is what is easy to like. Apart from that I have serious concerns and I am not in agreement with him on key points. I think it is reasonable for us to challenge Harris' thinking particularly on violence and torture as long as his ethics are presented as in any way representative or reflective of buddhist doctrines. I think he is grasping at forms of potential legitimacy to underpin some of his irrationality. I looks like his cake needs longer to bake in regards to the natures of both kusala and akusala cetasikas. Maybe someone can quote him at greater length. I'm sure we can provide a well reasoned buddhist critique of where his reasoning falls short of right view and right action and this is likely one reason why he lacks various forms of linearly progressive experiential awareness of the real nature of various active processes and their progressive resultant kammas or the resulting insights and right understandings.

Sam Harris's Faith in Eastern Spirituality and Muslim Torture By John Gorenfeld, AlterNet. Posted January 5, 2007.
http://www.alternet.org/story/46196
But we spend much of our time discussing his call for torture and his Buddhist perspectives on "compassionately killing the bad guy."


...in chapter 6, "A Science of Good & Evil [The End of Faith]," he devotes several pages to upholding the "judicial torture" of Muslims, a practice for which "reasonable men and women" have come out.


While our soldiers are waging war on Islam in our detention centers, according to Harris, our civilians must evolve past churchgoing to "modern spiritual practice," he writes. "[M]ysticism is a rational enterprise," he writes in his book, arguing it lets spiritualists "uncover genuine facts about the world." And he tells AlterNet there are "social pressures" against research into ESP.

Society is remarkably free, however, in airing justifications for putting Muslims to the thumbscrews. Harris's case for torture is this: since "we" are OK with horrific collateral damage, "we" should have no qualms against waterboarding, the lesser evil. "It's better than death." Better, in other words, than bombing innocents.


Legendary for his role in the Scopes Monkey Trial, American attorney Clarence Darrow wrote of his admiration for his forbearer Voltaire, the original 18th-century renegade against the church. He thanked Voltaire for dealing superstition a "mortal wound" -- and for an end to torture. "Among the illustrious heroes who have banished this sort of cruelty from the Western world, no other name will stand so high and shine so bright."

And then among those who want to bring it back, there stands Sam Harris.

"They're not talking," Harris is telling me, imagining a torture scenario where the captives clam up, "quite amused at our unwillingness to make them uncomfortable."

No, it's not the sticky (and real) case of Jose Padilla, the detainee who may have been reduced by his treatment to mind mush, possibly ruining his trial. Instead he's sketching out a kind of Steven Seagal action movie scenario in which we lasso Osama or his gang, maybe on the eve of a terror plot. What to do?

"We should say we don't do it," Harris says of torture. "We should say it's reprehensible." And then do it anyway, he says.

So there it is. In Harris's vision of future America, we will pursue "personal transformation" and gaze into our personal "I-we" riddles, while the distant gurgles of Arabs, terrified by the threat of drowning, will drift into our Eastern-influenced sacred space, the government's press releases no more than soothing Zen koans.
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:32 am

Hi Nathan

I agree, there is some of Harris' arguments that I find very difficult and deeply challenging, in particular his arguments for pre-emptive strike against militant muslim nations and the use of torture. Having said that, I still think we should listen to those voices who present views divergent to our own which are challenging. What Harris portrays in presenting such an argument is the seriousness, complexity and intractability of the geo-political situation we now find ourselves in.

And I don;t mean to quarantine his views regarding meditation, the transcendent experience and the dominant christian culture of the west but they are also worthy of attention. I should make it clear that Sam Harris isn't a Buddhist, or using Mawkish's nomenclature, an 'invisible Buddhist'. So i think it is potentially unwise to judge him assuming he is Buddhist.
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby pink_trike » Wed Mar 11, 2009 3:47 am



Thanks for posting this. :thumbsup:
Vision is Mind
Mind is Empty
Emptiness is Clear Light
Clear Light is Union
Union is Great Bliss

- Dawa Gyaltsen

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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby nathan » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:36 am

I'm not making any judgements Ben. These are concerns raised by what little I have seen of the critique. Based on what little I have read I do think his ethics are rationally flawed and that I can demonstrate that either with or without resort to buddhist doctrine in a rational way. That is why his advocacy of violence is flawed and his views on meritorious kamma are skewed. I suspect his understanding of buddhism and his ethics would be better represented by his writing so if someone can post something more definitive it would help. I don't have adequate network access for video bitstreams and only very very low bandwidth audio. I'm not inclined to buy his books but I am not passing any judgments. Within his cultural context his voice is reflective of a real if somewhat varied constituency I am sure. There were similar intellectual movements under past conditions similar to those in play today. They can go either way.

A serious military analyst would find his thinking laughable. Here is one I have found who's analysis is astute.
http://www.gwynnedyer.com/
But whoever walking, standing, sitting, or lying down overcomes thought, delighting in the stilling of thought: he's capable, a monk like this, of touching superlative self-awakening. § 110. {Iti 4.11; Iti 115}
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Re: Sam Harris and Buddhism

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:59 am

Thanks Nathan

I appreciate your point of view. I'm not familiar with Gwynne Dyer - did he respond to Harris?
Metta

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