We've all heard about Harris' scathing criticisms of religions of all flavor, including Buddhism. In this 2-part talk at You Tube he defends meditation and contemplation and criticizes the atheist community for throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In my atheistic mind this is indeed a step towards re-visioning the great traditions by nourishing the baby while also pulling the plug on the dirty bathwater.

Also of note is that he echoes kennilingus in claiming one must take up the injunction of meditation before one can criticize its phenomenal experience. He does qualify that one can certainly criticize based on reason alone the metaphysical accoutrements of those who have such experiences. Yet the experiences themselves cannot be refuted by reason alone. And that such experience must be translated into postmetaphysical terms shorn of religious dogma to be of pertinent use in today's world.

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Although these views can be expanded to encompass some pretty complex positions, they are "at least Modern" in the sense of the Modern God.  

Chapter one of Waking Up here.

Therein he describes the spiritual as "to fully bring their minds into the present or to induce nonordinary states of consciousness [...which] links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives." He later notes that spirituality is not about ordinary states of mind, even artistic inspiration of awe of mystery. Or about trying to connect nonordinary states with metaphysical theories on the origins of the universe. It's about the illusion of self, which can be "altered or entirely extinguished."

This is interesting, from the section "religion east and west." It reminds me of the FB discussion on Ferrer and religious pluralism.

"Only secularists and New Age dabblers can mistake the modern tactic of 'interfaith dialogue' for an underlying unity of all religions. [...] I have long argued that confusion about the unity of religions is an artifact of language. [...] They don’t always point to the same underlying reality—and when they do, they don’t do it equally well. Nor are all these teachings equally suited for export beyond the cultures that first conceived them. [...] One way of missing this point is to declare that all spiritual teachings are inflections of the same 'Perennial Philosophy.'"

This one is interesting, apparently differentiating a healthy 'self' from the illusory self:

"A final word of caution: Nothing I say here is intended as a denial of the fact that psychological well-being requires a healthy 'sense of self'—with all the capacities that this vague phrase implies. Children need to become autonomous, confident, and self-aware in order to form healthy relationships. And they must acquire a host of other cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal skills in the process of becoming sane and productive adults. Which is to say that there is a time and a place for everything—unless, of course, there isn’t. No doubt there are psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia, for which practices of the sort I recommend in this book might be inappropriate. Some people find the experience of an extended, silent retreat psychologically destabilizing."

Mr. Harris is swimming into shark laden waters here! I can hear the quarrels over his misunderstanding of the nature of the ego now! Hmmm, spiritual pundit? A job I personally wouldn't want! But, I don't want to be the prez or boss, either. But I am down for pragmatic, secular attempts towards spirituality. Just remember Sam: the catholic church had the last laugh on Rosseau; turning his house into a catholic shrine!

Hi t - I find that I resonate strongly with Sam's writing here. His description in this passage, when I read it, made me in these early morning hours wonder fleetingly if I hadn't written it myself. I haven't read enough or heard enough of him in the past to know how much I resonate with closer to the totality of his thinking/feeling/knowing,  nor do I know how, where, and if I would differentiate myself from him, though it seems obvious that I would.

I am glad the link to his site with chapter one of waking up was posted here. Reading through a number of early paragraphs, I find my resonance with his descriptions of his experience and his generalizings continue. I feel his clarity and appreciate his succinct languaging. I may read or listen to him more in the near future. Good, t. ambo

theurj said:

This one is interesting, apparently differentiating a healthy 'self' from the illusory self:

"A final word of caution: Nothing I say here is intended as a denial of the fact that psychological well-being requires a healthy 'sense of self'—with all the capacities that this vague phrase implies. Children need to become autonomous, confident, and self-aware in order to form healthy relationships. And they must acquire a host of other cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal skills in the process of becoming sane and productive adults. Which is to say that there is a time and a place for everything—unless, of course, there isn’t. No doubt there are psychological conditions, such as schizophrenia, for which practices of the sort I recommend in this book might be inappropriate. Some people find the experience of an extended, silent retreat psychologically destabilizing."

In the section on mindfulness he acknowledges that neurologically we aren't 'present.' Yet phenomenologically being present is the bomb. Again it's about a state experience of subject/object dissolution that is the crux of his spirituality. (And not just his but some sects of his favored Buddhism.) Which state of course is healthy if kept in context, the latter being that it helps us overcome constantly living in anticipation of the future or remembering the past. It is the meditative state of "clear awareness" where we dispassionately observe the contents of our experience, which can lead to subject/object dissolution in consciousness without an object. That is how he, and many others, define spirituality, this state experience.

He also thinks this state is "nonconceptual," a claim we've examined at length in various threads. A claim that is in no way accurate neurophysiologically according to Lakoff and Thompson. It's one of those metaphysical accoutrements that Harris thinks he's free from. It's the same mystical empiricism kela criticized earlier in the thread, i.e., the same metaphysics of presence. For by attending to our contents one can arrive at "consciousness itself." At least the Lingam realizes this is an UL state and uses other quadrants/zones to contextualize it, calling it the philosophy of consciousness.

Granted this is an important and healthy state to pursue, but by itself it's 'spirituality?' Early on he does make the connection of this state to ethics, but as yet has failed to describe how this is so. I've done so in many past threads, but again not as a metaphysical system, at least in the traditional sense. For me spirituality is in how we behave toward others after learning the lessons of such state experiences, how a 'nondual' state allows for compassion and public actions that benefit the well-being of others. And I don't mean just teaching them how to achieve such states too, but giving them a hand up through public policy, through active engagement in social action. Having state experiences without that is just so much narcissistic and masturbatory fluff.

In the east/west section:

"We can also grant that Eastern wisdom has not produced societies or political institutions that are any better than their Western counterparts; in fact, one could argue that India has survived as the world’s largest democracy only because of institutions that were built under British rule. [...] The teachings of Buddhism, and of Eastern spirituality generally, focus on the primacy of the mind. There are dangers in this way of viewing the world, to be sure. Focusing on training the mind to the exclusion of all else can lead to political quietism and hive-like conformity. The fact that your mind is all you have and that it is possible to be at peace even in difficult circumstances can become an argument for ignoring obvious societal problems."

"The teachings of Buddhism emphasize a connection between ethical and spiritual life. Making progress in one domain lays a foundation for progress in the other. One can, for instance, spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the world—having better relationships, being more honest and compassionate and, therefore, more helpful to one’s fellow human beings. Being wisely selfish and being selfless can amount to very much the same thing."

He acknowledges that spiritual practice, i.e., the meditative state of subject-object dissolution, is connected with ethics. And yet he also notes that such eastern wisdom did not lead to even the remotest inkling of democracy, that if it weren't for British rule in India the caste system would still prevail under such 'enlightenment.' Buddhism's history is one of "political quietism and hive-like conformity" to such enlightened states of consciousness. Yes, they did extend compassion to those they could help within their immediate grasp. But they did not extend it into the political sphere into more comprehensive programs of compassion like democracy for all. Or the sort of public policy programs that had a much wider and deeper effect on the lives of many more people than those within one's immediate reach.

As to relating meditation to the Buddhist aggregates and a sense of self, following are a few posts from the 'fold' thread using a Thompson article:

We've seen some of this earlier in this thread and elsewhere, the aggregates being, body, emotion, base mind or core attention, volition and consciousness. He relates the 3rd and 5th to open monitoring and concentration meditative techniques. Granted both have a focused attention and monitoring function and activate both aggregates. The latter monitors wandering away from and return to a selected object of focus. The former monitors wandering away and a return to focus on whatever is present. It activates more the base level and inhibits selective attention.

Further reflection on the last post relates to earlier posts in the thread. And themes I've been harping on for some time. One being it takes an egoic-rational operation with the capacity of deliberative and selective attention to 'meditate.' Aka, the fifth aggregate of 'consciousness.' Or in Damasio's terms, the narrative self. Now the monitoring comes from the 3rd aggregate, this base or core awareness but one with ipseity, unlike gross body awareness or slightly more subtle emotional feeling tone. To put it in Damasian, the body and emotions obviously have attention but lack human ipseity. And after it emerges it translates body and emotions in particularly human ways distinct from the animal world, with which we share these aggregated 'levels.'

Going back to forms of meditation, we need the selective attention to choose a focus. We need the base core awareness to monitor the basal attention of the body and emotions. And we need the volitional will to hold the selected object in awareness, be it a particular object or whatever object arises. The process activates all the aggregates and aims at their integration, which integration never gets off the ground without the synthetic ego. Which recall earlier is much more than the 'I,' or the increasing degree of ipseity of the last 3 aggregates, as it has gone back to bring forward the body and emotions in balance and equilibrium. Again, the fold which doesn't necessarily get more complex and higher but more integrated and deeper.

Now to complicate this further, as if that isn't enough, if Luhmann is right the aggregates are not transcended and included levels but are separate systems altogether that nonetheless interact via structural coupling. And as suggested earlier, perhaps individually they continue to undergo development on their own given their continual coupling as a more complex assemblage. It's not so much that the higher integrates the lower but that equivalent and separate systems synergize in a more integrative coupling in a strange, democratic mereology.

To summarize, spirituality then is not so much about the base mind state but about integration of the various aggregates. Same with it being more about an integration of the different levels and lines of socio-cultural engagement. Spirituality then is more about an integration of in-out, self-other discussed earlier in the thread. Hence integral postmetaphysical spirituality.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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