I recommend this book to put Sam Harris in some perspective:http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Believe-Athe ... culturf-20
Someone told me to watch a video of his, so I obliged. He began by apologizing for being frank about religion, then went on to say that at most public forums in America it is taboo to criticize religion and this needed to change. "Well," I thought, "there's a reason for that... just like how you don't want to bring up politics when you visit your friends on the other side of the country. Ideologies can be firmly held and prone to heated emotion, and that's just human nature." I consider it both acceptable and useful to hear criticisms of what Buddhists do, but if someone just says "the dharma is shit and anyone who tries to follow it is wasting their time," which is basically what Christopher Hitchens does in his book, I think that is offensive; he has the freedom to say it, but it's not helpful and doesn't belong in a public forum. So, Sam Harris started out on a bad foot.
He went on to talk about absurd claims people make about specific cults. And his argument struck me as little more than pure smugness. He was describing a Hindu guru movement, which is something that is quite common in India, but I highly
doubt he had actually met with any of the members of this cult, lived with their families, or asked them to describe the influence it had on their lives. He most likely just read something in a book or on the Internet and brought that to his talk. He said, "this cult has 1 million followers, and they're all deluded". Who exactly is supposed to benefit from that statement? I think the purpose of saying that is to make atheists feel better about themselves, and nothing else. If it gets religious people angry the atheists will only feel even better.
People should be free to live their lives according to whatever ideology they think suitable, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Marxism, or humanism. And people should be allowed to criticize freely the fruits of these ideologies. But there is absolutely nothing helpful to claim that "if it's not atheist, it can't be good". There are many things atheists have done that are not good, and there are many things done in the name of religion that are good. So, I would disagree strongly that the qualifier "Buddhist" should be dropped from meditation. If you lose the Buddhist ideology, it simply becomes something that you are being told to do without any reason why. We know what "just sit" means in the context of Zen, but if that context is discarded we might as well be saying "just pray", or "just daydream", or "just sleep", and calling that a mental practice. That is scarcely beneficial to anyone.