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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I'm with you on the critique of Harris' metaphysics. I was merely stating that a phenomenological report of a state where a sense of self seems to dissolve does not necessarily need to entail the kind of metaphysical commitment Harris appears to make in the broader context.

kelamuni said:

theurg: "I don't think a phenomenological account of nondual experience is metaphysical in itself, especially when described as a loss of the separate sense of self."

I'm afraid I'll have to chime in here and say I couldn't disagree more. Harris is here clearly being influenced by some sort of (neo) Advaita/Yogachara doctrine, which certainly implies some sort of metaphysical premise about the nature of reality. I'm not sure if whether it's pre or post matters, does it? Harris' view that it is "phenomenological" is either naive or some kind of smokescreen akin to those used by other "mystical empircists."

 

kela: At the same time, I think there might be some value in using certain techniques as a means to exploring the "nature" of consciousness, though I think that the "results" of such experimentation would need to be tempered by a rigourous third person account, and by that I don't mean the "intersubjective consensus of like minded practioners".

Further expanding on my last statement, I've spend considerable wind (i.e., massive verbiage) doing this with 3rd person cognitive science, not only its neurological basis but in its wider 2nd person application of environmental and cultural interaction. There are far too many threads to cite as examples but it is a recurrent theme in a lot of my posts.

Ed: Kennillingus Prime, like Kornfield, also dealt with the topic of psychodynamics in relation to meditation. For example, as far back as BHOE, the section "Buddha and Freud" starting on p. 230. Like Kornfield he acknowledges that psychodynamic insights are not contained in the eastern meditative traditions: "The whole notion of a psychodynamic unconscious, which is really found nowhere else" (232). And without these "western" insights meditation cannot of itself provide an integral enaction.


One of the purposes of Buddhist meditation is to make known and eradicate what was previously unconscious (specifically see the anusayas - latent tendencies that even babies had but lay dormant). Ignorance by definition is not-knowing e.g. unconscious. You just won't see early Buddhism reifying minds functioning in terms of entities e.g. a tripartite self (id/ego/super). Even development along the path is talked about in terms of cultivating wholesome intentions, mind states, etc and letting go of unwholesome ones. Meditation is just one fold of an "integrated" 8 fold path.

 

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All of which supports Harris' theme of the metaphysical interpretations of said traditions, including (and especially) Theravada.


The culture in which Buddhism arose (and finds itself today) is steeped in metaphysics. But where is the metaphysics in the 4 Noble Truths? (See Batchelor's Confession's of a Buddhist Atheist). Now he feels the metaphysics was added post hoc (I think he has an allergy to mythology). I see Buddha talking within the metaphysic of his time to try and establish people on the 8-fold path. That the path leads out of metaphysics is undeniable e.g. the culmination of the path is the ending of rebirth in any (meta)physical realm. That's all Batchelor needed to say to his buddy Alan Wallace about rebirth. :-) An essay from Wei Wu Wei comes to mind...
...
ONE: Those who were qualified to teach, those few, like the Maharshi, said that silence was more efficacious, but in early stages teaching can only be given via a series of untruths diminishing in inveracity in ratio to the pupil's apprehension of the falsity of what he is being taught.
TWO: That is devastating!
ONE: Not at all: it is just education. Truth cannot be communicated: it can only be laid bare.


I've extensively argued in favor of Madhyamaka as a postmeta advance over Theravada (at least partially, in some ways) in numerous threads in the forum. (Well at least one branch of Madhyamaka, anyway.)


Postameta (and Integral) are just views based on values encased in emotions (just look how people defend them). You can practice any yana postmeta. IMHO most people with any view would benefit more from associating with a Sangha then sitting on a therapist’s couch. The wonderful thing is, they are not mutually exclusive (if you need the talk time on the couch). Postmeta needs to address metaphysics beyond looking down its nose and deconstructive preaching to the choir. I see Buddha compassionately and skillfully doing this within his culture (Batchelor goes so far he sees Buddha trying to create a new civilization). Ironically culture has not changed much since i.e. he also spoke to and tried to instruct metaphysical eternalists and material annihilationists…the same two poles our culture is bound too.

 

Harris' last couple of blog posts deal with (un)consciousness and free will. He, like L & J, recognize that most of what we do and think is not conscious. And that any system that posits full, awake consciousness of everything is indeed metaphysical.



theurj said: And that any system that posits full, awake consciousness of everything is indeed metaphysical.

 

Buddhadasa (who singlehandedly reformed Thai Buddhism in the last century) felt the Buddha spoke in 2 languages: a people language and a dharma language. If you can't tease out which language the Buddha is speaking in then you will make the claim that he was omniscient and Theravada metaphysical. If you can tease out what language the Buddha spoke in then you will see that “his metaphysics” was strictly the context of the culture in which he lived. Now I have been an atheist since I can remember but I will have conversations with Christians, Muslims, and Hindus and talk about God. Does that make me a metaphysical monotheist?

Here is how the Buddha addressed his own omniscience. In this sutra he is talking to a wanderer i.e. a seeker who was not familiar with his teaching, he is talking to him in people language…within the metaphysic of his time that Vacchagotta was caught in. (You can see this in the following paragraph where he talks of the 3-fold knowledge. This 3-fold knowledge is part of the awakening account that Batchelor discounts as mythological in Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.) You will often see this in the canon, the Buddha will talk within the context of the listener and see if he can understand his take on what is being asked. If the person understands and questions deeper, the Buddha will then shift to dharma language and instruct and talk within the 4 noble truths, etc.

… "Vaccha, those who say, the recluse Gotama is all knowing and all seeing and acknowledges remainderless knowledge and vision, while walking, standing, lying or awake, constantly and continually. They, do not say my words, they blame me falsely".

So the specific unconscious thing that Buddha wanted to make conscious was dependent origination i.e. the conditions for the arising of suffering. If you see how suffering arises, you are in a better position to do something about it. What does discerning the conditions for suffering have to do with metaphysics?

Julian Walker recently shared this video on Youtube.  I'm sharing it here because Harris spends some time in it talking about meditation.

 

Sam Harris' recent blog: In Defense of "Spiritual"

Harris: "And I find neologisms pretentious and annoying."

I would be most irritating then. Perhaps he needs a spy-ritual?

I like Sam, almost as much as I find him limited by his presumed audience.  But is there any kind of response that's valid from those of us who literally can find no contradiction between atheistic rationality and religion?  

And how much more obscure does it become for those us who cannot tell the difference between neologisms and conventional speech?  Does Sam's affirmation of "spiritual" count as a neo-paleo-gism?  Or simply jism of some kind?  

But, again, I have no purchase on this slope.  I write "hindoo" and "mohammedan" whenever I can.  The 21st century is the new 19th.  What do our neologisms mean now... when every tomorrow includes more yesterdays than the day before?

Perhaps the word spiretual? That way there is no 'spirit' in terms of metaphysics. It includes the word spire, that pointed structure most churches have to act as a receiver from the heavens above like an antenna. Instead though here spire could be more akin to aspire, that impulse to be a better human being in our relations. Spire is also the root of the words in/expire as well as spirit, Harris pointed out that it means 'breath.' So here we return our focus to the body and breath as that which connects us to the inhabited world, not some space God divorced from us. Though of course it includes space 'out there' as well as space-time right here. And it removes all the metaphysical baggage of spirit that Harris so decries. And perhaps most of all, spiretual when spoken has that accent of a southern, back-woods hillbilly, again grounding in the common instead of the privileged. Actually most of all it would piss off Harris, being not only a neologism but a theurjianism, full of spunky jism.

Hmm, that sounds like the name of an adult alternative band, Spunky Jism, which could also be their break-out hit single. And the line dance named after the song and band. Do the spunky jism, a very sexual dance no doubt, leaving a wet spot on the floor after performance.

On meditation and perception shifts:

Also see this Harris video and ensuing discussion.

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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?

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