Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sam Harris - Waking Up

In his previous books, I had found Sam to be one of the better intellects out there, so I was particularly looking forward to reading Waking Up.  Sam is the kind of person that whether or not you agree with him on various issues, you'd be hard pressed to find fault with his reasoning.  And it was so fascinating that this guy that I had known in the context of being a very rational, atheistic author had actually gone down many of the same spiritual roads that I had.

Being mindful of true spirituality as well as the concerns of his atheistic base, he does sprinkle the text with rational criticisms of religion.  But the main point of this book lies elsewhere.

Here we have a reasonable guy with something of a triple threat: a background in neuroscience, a pretty decent spiritual resume (having sat a fair number of retreats with Sayadaw U Pandita (Mahasi's student), Papaji (Ramana's student), and Dzogchen master Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche), and some significant experiences with psychedelics.  I considered this a must-read.

Many mind-blowing topics are covered from a number of different angles based on this unique skill set.  For example, I found the information about the split brain experiments to be interesting.  If we want to cling to the self, then at minimum, we would have to think of ourselves as many selves.

Being a bit of a Mahasi fan and practitioner myself, I found it perplexing that Sam, while apparently following the Mahasi meditation instructions on retreat with great earnestness, never stumbled into a cessation.  I think he makes a decent case that the hardcore approach may contain a seed of failure, in that one is striving to become what one already is.

I will say that stumbling into a cessation is a bit of a paradox.  On the one hand, the mind must be trained to stay present and unattached in a way that seems unusual for normal modern humans.  And that seems to require effort, practice.  And yet to stumble into the actual cessation, one must let go, one must cease effort.

The cessation route seems to speed things up, if nothing else, and seems to make jhanas easier.  In some ways I think it would be a shame if someone became enlightened and yet hadn't experienced the jhanas.  It would be like never having relaxed in a comfortable chair.

In terms of talking about no-self, this can be a relatively weird topic and I believe Sam does about as good as can be done.  For a modern Western version along the lines of Dzogchen pointing instructions I might recommend something like Greg Goode's The Direct Path, along with other books on non-duality.

For Sam's target audience, his original fans, I suspect this will be a bit of a one-off that will be quietly dismissed (linking to a friend's podcast).  But yeah, there's something here.  Maybe a few more people will get it.

No comments:

Post a Comment