Participatory Spirituality for the 21st Century
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.
Harris interviews Phil Zuckerman, author of Living the Secular Life. They start by differentiating the terms secular, secularization, secularism and atheism. Then this:
Harris: "Many of us have acknowledged that although 'replacing religion' may not be an appropriate goal, religion does offer people many things they want in life—and these are things that most atheists also want. We want nice buildings that function as dedicated spaces for reflection and celebration. We want strong communities. We want rituals and rites of passage with which to mark important transitions in life—births, marriages, deaths. We just don’t want to lie to ourselves about the nature of reality to have these things. This poses a real challenge, because once we get rid of religion, we are left without an established tradition for meeting these needs, and the alternative is often piecemeal, halfhearted, and unsatisfying."
Zuckerman: "So here are the options, as far as I can tell: First, secularize religion. By that I mean keep the rituals, the holidays, the buildings, the gatherings, the knickknacks, but let the supernatural beliefs wither and fade. The example of this that first comes to mind is Reform Judaism. Most American Jews get what they like out of Judaism—the ceremonies, the holidays, the sense of belonging, multi-generational connections, opportunities for charity—and yet they have jettisoned the supernatural beliefs. Many liberal Episcopalian congregations, too, are in this vein. Also Quaker meetings. And most Scandinavians, with their modern form of Nordic Lutheranism, are as well. They observe traditional religious holidays and they participate in various life-cycle rituals and they congregate now and then in church and they even 'feel' Christian—and yet they do all these ostensibly religious things without a scintilla of actual faith in the supernatural."
Barclay Powers, "The nondual realization of Sam Harris":
"The central issue here is that the actual completion stage of Dzogchen and Mahamudra completely conflict with science. [...] You cannot separate Dzogchen and the concept of living Buddhahood from the phenomenon of the Rainbow Body, which has always been proof of the real Dzogchen yogi that has fully united the three bodies. [...] The corpse of the adept is said to shrink away to nothing within a week or two after death, sometimes leaving some hair and nails. This is the real Dzogchen view of the living reality of enlightenment. [...] All of the Rinpoches that Harris paid to receive the secret pointing out instructions about the secret enlightenment of the present moment, literally believe human beings can turn into light (the Great Transfer) the highest level of meditation/yoga according to Dzogchen."
I'm going to stick with Harris on this one.
Two posts up Harris and Zuckerman discussed rational religion. It supported LP's view of religion as a cultural format for organizing society. I see their discussion in this article* on humanism, with its own debates between its secular and religious branches. But even the secular branch falls within LP's broader definition of religion, and it is a fine example of the kind of rational religion to which we must move on a societal scale to redress socio-economic inequality and a host of other ills, in part propagated by 'lesser gods.'
* E.g.: "To serve social needs humanist religious communities (such as Ethical Culture societies and many Unitarian Universalist churches) offer a sense of belonging, an institutional setting for the moral education of children, special holidays shared with like-minded people, a unique ceremonial life, the performance of ideologically consistent rites of passage (weddings, child welcomings, coming-of-age celebrations, memorials, and so forth), an opportunity for affirmation of one's philosophy of life, and a historical context for one's ideas."
Even us secular humanists see the value in the above in this expanded definition of religion.
From this recent Harris article:
"Cessation is believed to be a direct insight into an unconditioned reality that lies behind all manifest phenomena. I spent several years deeply preoccupied with reaching the goal of cessation, and at least one year of that time was spent on silent retreat. Although I had many interesting experiences, none seemed to fit the specific requirements of this path. There were periods during which all thought subsided, and any sense of having a body disappeared. What remained was a blissful expanse of conscious peace that had no reference point in any of the usual sensory channels. Many scientists and philosophers believe that consciousness is always tied to one of the five senses—and that the idea of a 'pure consciousness' apart from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching is a category error and a spiritual fantasy. I am confident that they are mistaken. But cessation never arrived."
From Integral Spirituality, Chapter 5, section "emptiness and view are not two":
"When one is in deep meditation or contemplation, touching even that which is formless and unmanifest—the purest emptiness of cessation—there are of course no conceptual forms arising. This pure 'nonconceptual' mind—a causal state of formlessness—is an essential part of our liberation, realization, and enlightenment.... When it comes to the nature of enlightenment or realization, this means that a complete, full, or nondual realization has two components, absolute (emptiness) and relative (form). The 'nonconceptual mind' gives us the former, and the 'conceptual mind' gives us the latter."
Appendix II, "the sliding scale of enlightenment":
“Enlightenment is a union of both Emptiness and Form, or a union of Freedom and Fullness. To realize infinite Emptiness is to be free from all finite things, free from all pain, all suffering, all limitation, all qualities—the via negativa that soars to a transcendental freedom from the known, a nirvikalpa samadhi beyond desire and death, beyond pain and time, longing and remorse, fear and hope, a timeless Dharmakaya of the Unborn, the great Ayin or Abyss that is free from all finite qualities whatsoever (including that one).”
Or hell. :) I haven't looked at the exchange, but doesn't it often seem to be the case that mental giants often seem to be mental pygmies when it comes to listening and being good conversation partners?
Here's Wm. Harryman's FB post on the exchange.
I tried to read the Sam Harris - Noam Chomsky email exchange that Sam Harris posted on his blog, but I find Harris to be woefully blind to the ways in which the United States government has acted as a terrorist state over the last 50+ years. Said blindness precludes any kind of productive conversation, especially with a scholar whose understanding of the subtleties of international issues dwarfs Harris's.
While I don't agree with everything Chomsky writes or presents in the media, when it comes to international politics I agree with little of what Harris says. His neo-conservatism fails to distinguish between radical jihadism and mainstream Islam, fails to grasp the significance of Western control and oppression of Islamic countries (and the resultant rage), and fails to account for the historical and complex issues of Middle Eastern politics (both religious and territorial).
Harris said on his Twitter feed:
"Please, people -- neither Chomsky nor I "won" that debate. The horror was that it couldn't even begin."
He's certainly wrong there. He lost in breathtaking style. And Chomsky did little but allow Harris to speak.
Chomsky clearly saw no point in the debate from the very beginning, and after Harris produced his text on Chomsky from The End of Faith, it was clear that Harris was WAY out of his league when it comes to debating international politics, terrorist activities, and their execution by the U.S. or the radicals of the Middle East.
For a man who is considered by many to be an important "public intellectual," Harris is often neither important nor intellectual.
I read the debate too. I have problems with both Chomsky and Harris. To me Chomsky has failed to make the necessary conceptual leap from a narrow anti-US view of imperialism to a global view that sees imperialism as a universal. This is especially remiss in light of Chinese imperialism.
I agree with Mark that Harris, despite your characterisation William Harryman, is actually very knowledgeable about the differences between the various radical and moderate factions. I find Chomsky downplays the serious problem of a resurgent Islamic imperialism - and fails to acknowledge that Islam attempted an imperialist conquest of Europe before 'The West' ever attempted an imperialist conquest of the ME.
Also, given Harris's clear identification with liberal causes, it is inaccurate and slanderous to call him a Neocon.
politically, Harris fits the neocon definition in this country - if he is associated with liberal causes (other than taking hallucinogens) I guess I am not aware of them, mostly because I tune him out as a rule - although I did like Waking Up.
He has addressed the neocon slander - but then, as you say, you tune out...
Over a decade ago I did a serious study of terrorism and Islamism, long before I encountered Sam's writing. We have generally come to the same conclusions. I too, bemoan the 'allegedly' progressive voices who fail to see that Islam is a threat to progressive values.
We are moving towards marriage equality in Australia, yet every single imam and Muslim community leader in Australia has opposed this progressive reform.
You have a massive problem with the religious right in the US - and most Muslims sit in that same camp on most issues.
I don't disagree with that last statement, Ray - Islam like Christianity tends to be a conservative faith on social issues - but I have very liberal Muslim friends who are not part of the right, just as I have liberal Christian friends, and these people support marriage equality (a BIG issue in the states right now), as well as supporting fair wages and wage equality between the sexes when people like Harris claim that Islam is an inherently violent religion, I disagree, just as I disagree that Judeo-Christianity is an inherently violent religion - it certainly has been, and even today I heard about a Christian pastor telling a woman who was raped that she should be stoned to death for allowing that to happen to her - not that much different from the horror stories that come out of the Middle East the Muslims I know are peaceful progressive people - living in a nice house in Tucson might lead one to different beliefs than living in a mud-walled shack in Iraq - there is a POWERFUL correlation between worldviews/beliefs and socio-economic status - it's easy to be liberal with a good job and nice quality of life, much less so in poverty, with intermittent electricity, lack of clean water, unreal gas lines, and on and on - if we want to make the Middle East more peaceful, then we need to help them build lives that are worth protecting, worth living for quality of life matters - in the eyes of many radical Jihadis, their poor quality of life is our fault - we bombed them into the dark ages - this is some of what Harris misses in my opinion.
You find the same spectrum of progressive to fundamentalist in all religions and ideologies, so I'm not at all surprised you know (as I do) progressives who identify as Muslim. Many may do so simply because they were born Muslim, just as many people born into a faith identify as being of that faith. And there will also be more devout members of that faith who will argue that these progressives are not really living by the principles of that faith.
As for violence. Two points. Islam became dominant on the Arabian peninsula because Mohammed declared war on Jews and Infidels, eventually cleansing it of both. No one disputes this. It was not done 'peacefully'.
In Australia Muslims represent just under 2% of the population, Buddhists just over 2%. Both communities consist of refugees and face similar patterns of discrimination and dislocation, both as the result of US imperialism (there is a large Vietnamese Buddhist population in Australia). Yet it is only the Muslim population that has generated home grown acts of terrorism against Australians. There have been at least 7 domestic terrorist plots uncovered - around 150 Australian Muslims have gone to fight with ISIS. No other ethnic/religious group has given rise to this level of violence. It is an extraordinarily disproportionate amount.
But you sum up the key mistake of many progressives (of which I am one - progressive that is) when you say "we bombed them into the dark ages". 'We' didn't. Large sections of the ME are STILL in the Dark Ages - they never left it. The whole of the Arabian peninsula is still feudal, run by tribal elites. The reason the ME is in such a socio-economic mess is because the Muslim elites failed to embrace secular reform in deference to Islamic idealism - the idea that Islam is the perfect system and doesn't need reform. And because they consider it the perfect system, they believe the solution to the world's problems is Islam. The word Islam is derived from the Arabic 'aslama', which means submission - all anyone need do is submit to Islam.
The problem is this: a significant minority of any Muslim population identifies as Salafist (fundamentalist) and a proportion of those will attempt to wage jihad in their host country. They will also condemn moderate Muslims as apostates and traitors.
At an individual level you will always find peaceful and gentle Muslims. But we are not talking about individual Muslims, rather about Islam as an ideology. The statistics tell a different story. Currently Islamic nations persecute far more non-Muslims than non-Muslims persecute Muslims - by a wide margin. And around 80% of all terrorism is committed in the name of Islam. There is simply no current equivalent to Boko Haram, Al Shabab, Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Taliban and multiple smaller Jihadist groups. Yes, you can always find exceptions, but Islam far out numbers them.
I don't know why people play the 'I know peaceful Muslims' card. A percentage of any population is always peaceful and anti-violence. Only about 10% of Germans were card carrying Nazis. Still didn't stop Germany unleashing WW2 did it? Most Germans were peaceful. So? It wasn't the average German that was the problem. Similarly not all Russians or Chinese belong to the Communist Party. That didn't stop the fanatics wreaking havoc.
Harris has jumped the shark with this one. See this article where Harris said: "I’d vote for ‘dangerously deluded religious imbecile’ Ben Carson over Noam Chomsky." He's lost sanity if this is the case.
Hmm, weird, that's a rather narrow way to decide on a suitable candidate... maybe he's letting his personal differences with Chomsky cloud his judgment.