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Harris on Mysticism
Posted: 05 March 2005 05:52 AM   [ Ignore ]  
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I enjoyed Mr. Harris's excellent and important book, especially the first 5 chapters.  Chapter 6 is on the right track, even if the discussion there has to be superficial.  But Chapter 7, in which he defends mysticism, puzzles me.  So much of Chapter 7 breaks from the tough-minded earlier chapters that I fear I'm missing something.  At the end of the discussion we get this exasperating admission "The recognition of the nonduality of consciousness is not susceptible to a linguistically oriented analysis" (pp. 288-289), which I translate as "Don't expect me to talk intelligibly about this stuff."  That's a dangerous line to take, since any religious zealot who wants to deflect criticism can use it "Words can't explain why I know there's a God, but if you're lucky enough to have the kind of experiences I've had, you'll know it too."

Mr. Harris also assumes that the mystic's altered state of consciousness reveals *truths* not available to non-mystics.  But most cases of altered consciousness, such as those caused by drunkenness or dehydration, we don’t regard as revealing otherwise hidden truths.  Why think mysticism is different?  Or is it impossible to answer my question "linguistically"?

I'll be grateful for clarification!

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Posted: 05 March 2005 11:49 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]  
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When you speak of drunkenness and dehydration as altered states of consciousness, that in my understanding and experience is artificial.  There are altered states caused by invasive intrusion of the body of the kind that doctors use to treat conditions such as drugs of all kinds from illegal to the legal prescriptions.  However, I know that Sam Harris has studied the neurosciences and is quite familiar with how our bodies and minds work together by creating natural drugs that heal through natural processes in the name of hundreds of different kinds of hormones now discovered by many scientists.  There are many books written on this subject that would give a much better linguistic explanation of this question you speak of. Two examples I can give is Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Molecules of Emotion.  The latter by Candace Pert is the easiest one to read as the former gets quite technical scientifically.  The natural altered state of consciousness Candace Pert speaks of is something I personally have been experiencing as something anyone is capable of doing simply by learning the simple procedure of meditation and focusing your mind.  It has nothing to do with mysticism.  It’s real!  Through the power of the mind we all are fully capable of creating “wonder drugs” that can heal.  I believe that.  I have actually felt a rise in my own body temperature after 45 minutes of meditating.  Another great book that explains this phenomenon is Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing and many other books which he has written.

It is time that people woke up to this and stop being ignorant just as Sam Harris talks.  :D

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Posted: 05 March 2005 01:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]  
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Thanks for the suggested reading.  Of course, dehydration is a perfectly natural process under certain conditions, but the (debatable) difference between “natural” and “artificial” isn’t my point.  (Why, after all, should we trust what comes to us when our consciousness is naturally altered but not when it’s artificially altered?)  More important is this The kind of insight that Harris says comes from mysticism (his word, not mine; see p. 221 and elsewhere) is not insight into how to heal myself; instead, it’s the “recognition” that my self does not even exist to be healed “the illusion of the self,” p. 215; “experience the world…perfectly shorn of self,” p. 212 (examples abound in Chapter 7).  He’s certainly right that this stuff is hard to talk about how could “I” genuinely come to realize that “I” don’t exist?  But prior to all that is the question I asked before Why should we regard what comes to us in a state of altered consciousness (whether altered “naturally” or “artificially”) as putting us in touch with deeper truths?  Why not regard it as an illusion caused by some cognitive malfunction?  Why not regard the development of a sense of self as an accomplishment (as child-psychologists do) and any state in which one somehow loses that sense as a step backward, a case of forgetting something important?

Harris doesn’t say, except to declare that the sense of self is to blame for the world’s troubles “Almost every problem we have can be ascribed to the fact that human beings are utterly beguiled by their [illusory] feelings of separateness” (p. 214), a sentence whose point is undermined by its very grammar.  Who are these human beings (plural) who labor under the illusion that they are many rather than one?  No wonder we get the line on pp. 288-289 about the impossibility of talking sensibly about this stuff.  In any case, it’s a crummy argument the bad consequences of holding a belief don’t imply that the belief is false.

Harris declares, “Mysticism is a rational enterprise.  Religion is not” (p. 221).  His case for that distinction isn’t helped by Chapter 7.  How hypocritical it must sound to the zealots he attacks as irrational when, in response to obvious questions about his mysticism, Harris replies that it can’t really be explained.  I admire Sam Harris’s courage and his skill as a communicator.  But I’m disappointed in Chapter 7 and troubled by what it suggests about his (otherwise tough-minded) thinking.  I wonder if other skeptics share my worry.

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Posted: 05 March 2005 01:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]  
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I think Harris treats mysticism as the personal exploration of the boundary in the human mind currently beyond scientific explanation.

He distinguishes that from religion which is the dogmatic belief structure built around a very questionable explanation of this same search.

I think I might be reaching here but to me that is what he was trying get at (maybe)?

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Posted: 05 March 2005 05:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]  
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I am sorry I did not understand what you were truly asking.  I have thought about this idea more.  It is true that this is something that is very hard to put into words. To me in my experience with meditating when I truly feel like I am in an altered state of consciousness, it is an experiential feeling that cannot be put into words, only a sense of knowing we are in touch with something great that causes many things to happen that would not ordinarily happen.  Somehow one just knows this experience that brings forth information that is so beneficial has to come from some source outside our physical selves from a higher self and is transmitted through our brains into the formation of physical phenomenon (neuropeptides) which is used to transmit the information to all parts of our bodies, particularly the ones most needing to be affected.  These I think Sam is possibly referring to as those “deeper truths” we get only from an altered state of consciousness.  These truths come through this process best when our brains and bodies are in a completely relaxed state of mind which is why it is important to learn the way to meditate. 

Maybe Sam called this “mystic” but I personally feel for myself that when one learns the true art of meditating, the process becomes easier to do through practice so much that it all feels so natural to you and so real.  As far as not comprehending what was said about the difficulty of understanding the illusion of non-existance of the self has much to do with the altered state of consciousness, when reached deep enough into the superconsciousness or unconscious state, you are actually so aware of being a part of “all there is” in the whole cosmic realm beyond the physical universe, that you have no sense of being that self as you are aware of in this present state of consciousness on Earth.  This actually does reach into something that is incomprehensible to our finite minds in the physical sense only, whereas only when you experience this part of the unconscious mind, you gain a higher and greater understanding and insight into a deep truth of who we really are with infinite possibilities available for us to tap into.  To truly understand this, one has to experience it.  You can’t put it into words.  Everybody will certainly have a unique and different experience that is not the same for someone else.
It helps you to see answers in solving any problem or dilemma.  This insight which is gained only through what I see as “real” and direct connection to our own higher self, a higher spiritual power, without which we would continue to struggle on the Earthplane again and again through wars and other atrocities that are so unnecessary.  It is only achieved through our own individual efforts to take the initiative to learn and grow, and to have an open-mind is the key. 

This is what Sam is getting at in comparison to the harm that is done by how organized religions are keeping the people ignorant of these deeper truths by continuing to believe in things full of superstitions and falsehoods.  I particularly like one thing I read in Rene Descartes’ essays of the 15th century, that it does one good to examine all things full of superstitions and falsehoods in order to know if it is deceiving you or not.  In examining things by reading, thinking, studying, analyzing, and discussing all aspects of something, it brings greater understanding and insight to make proper choices in all contingencies of life.  He also mentioned an interesting point that all sciences are conjoined and to separate one out of the others to study will not ever show the whole and complete truth.  The more we study and dig into all things, the more we will see that we fundamentally know intuitively what the deeper truths are.

It is not meant to be a great and hidden secret.  God, in whatever concept you believe that to be, does not want to keep it from us.  It is simple and easy to know once we learn the simple task of how we can tap into it by distancing ourselves from all the problems we seem to be entangled with in this physical world.  When we step back and look at something from a distance we often can see the answer much clearer than when we are so close and too involved with our problems.  That’s why I can see that the more we debate and argue back and forth all these things, the more fuel we are adding to it creating more adversity for ourselves to overcome. It is only our mortal minds that be made up of the physical properties or elements being in a denser phase of existence that does not comprehend there is a higher level of existence we eternally exist for all time.  Our mortal minds are the only enemies we each have which tends to confuse things because it does not want to believe and accept what is so simple and true.  Only through our learning from experiencing life on Earth, we will gradually awaken to these deeper truths when we are ready to let go of all our old beliefs that have a control of us like prisoners in our own thoughts.  We will not see this deep truth about life as long as we keep stewing in it with more battles of the will who is right and who is wrong.  Nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  We all must find the answers “within ourselves” as individuals in our own particular lives through our own experiences and the answer will come in time when you are ready to receive it.  Nobody how much we try to explain things to others the way we see it, we will always be in error somewhere in our transmission of our thoughts that will not be in total agreement with others/

All I can say is, lastly that we will know it when it comes.  There will be no doubt in anyone’s mind then as you have finally come to know the ultimate truth of reality.  This is what I am experiencing through my own meditations.  It is proof enough for me that I am on the right track as I enjoy more in my studying and examing my own life. 

I do believe we are now living in an unreal world through all these atrocities and sufferings mankind has created because of a lack of understanding which has, as Sam suggests, come through many misinterpretations of what the Bible has said and misinterpreted many things what Jesus said by the dictates of those in history who were in power. 

Meditation is the key element I can see towards helping ourselves to see these deeper truths Sam is referring to.  It takes practice in doing until we come to closer perfection of it. I do believe this is exactly how Jesus was able to reach such a high state of understanding of so many things.  We can do the same.  It is known that he stated that but I feel is another misinterpretation to keep the people at the mercy and control of the powers that be. 

This next paragraph I know is getting into another topic, but I think it has relevance to illustrate the point how important it is to learn to open your mind and examine things to avoid being deceived by religions.  There is another deception we are facing today in our country.  I do believe that   Jesus was so well aware of all the very same things happening in his day that are still happening today, i.e. how the moneychangers being the ones ultimately controlling and manipulating the economy in the same way that we now have privatized central banks like our Federal Reserve System which seems to have been secretly passed through our legislative branch when many were not present.  Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple because he knew the evils happening through them then that are again repeating now in our own day.  The Bible is a history book showing history repeats itself.  There are truths in the Bible but one has to sift through to weed out all the things that have been changed through translations and editing.  I heard two tv programs on this and right away investigated by going online to the website on Federal Reserve System History.  I also have ordered a book from the library on the history of this organization that started in 1913 going through the first fifty years of it.  I am curious to learn if all this is true and how our country is headed for ruin possibly if we the people don’t get wise to it. I am beginning to become more aware of Alan Greenspan possible being a part of this group of manipulators controlling our government through money when I read a current news article on his proposal to the President for a complete overhaul of our taxes and making it only a consumer tax rather than income tax.  I do not trust this and think it might be another scheme.  I wonder also what happened to a strange disappearance of our gold that was kept in safe vaults of the San Francisco Bank back in 1963?  Was it remove to the Federal Reserve Board?  I will learn more by reading that book I ordered. 

I am really gaining a lot of insight reading all the comments of people on Sam Harris’ book.  Thank you everyone for your inputs.

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Posted: 05 March 2005 06:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]  
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Lynne says:  I am sorry I did not understand what you were truly asking.  I have thought about this idea more.  It is true that this is something that is very hard to put into words. I think I can explain why.  To me in my experience with meditating when I truly feel like I am in an altered state of consciousness, it is only an experiential and transcendental feeling that cannot be put into words, only a sense of knowing we are in touch with something great that causes many things to happen that would not ordinarily happen.  Somehow one just knows this experience that brings forth information that is so beneficial has to come from some source outside our physical selves from a higher self and is transmitted through our brains into the formation of physical phenomenon (neuropeptides) which is used to transmit the information to all parts of our bodies, particularly the ones most needing to be affected.  These I think Sam is possibly referring to as those “deeper truths” we get only from an altered state of consciousness.  These truths come through this process best when our brains and bodies are in a completely relaxed state of mind which is why it is important to learn the way to meditate. 

Maybe Sam called this “mystic” but I personally feel for myself that when one learns the true art of meditating, the process becomes easier to do through practice so much that it all feels so natural to you and so real.  As far as not comprehending what was said about the difficulty of understanding the illusion of non-existance of the self has much to do with the altered state of consciousness, when reached deep enough into the superconsciousness or unconscious state, you are actually so aware of being a part of “all there is” in the whole cosmic realm beyond the physical universe, that you have no sense of being that self as you are aware of in this present state of consciousness on Earth.  This actually does reach into something that is incomprehensible to our finite minds in the physical sense only, whereas only when you experience this part of the unconscious mind, you gain a higher and greater understanding and insight into a deep truth of who we really are with infinite possibilities available for us to tap into.  To truly understand this, one has to experience it.  You can’t put it into words.  Everybody will certainly have a unique and different experience that is not the same for someone else.
It helps you to see answers in solving any problem or dilemma.  This insight which is gained only through what I see as “real” and a direct connection to our own higher self, a higher spiritual power, without which we would continue to struggle on the Earthplane again and again through wars and other atrocities that are so unnecessary.  It is only achieved through our own individual efforts to take the initiative to learn and grow, and to have an open-mind is the key. 

This is what Sam is getting at in comparison to the harm that is done by organized religions that keep the people ignorant of these deeper truths by getting them to continue believing in things full of superstitions and falsehoods.  I particularly like one thing I read in Rene Descartes’ essays of the 15th century, that it does everyone good to examine all things full of superstitions and falsehoods in order to know if it is deceiving you or not.  In examining things by reading, thinking, studying, analyzing, and discussing all aspects of something, it brings greater understanding and insight to make proper choices in all contingencies of life.  He also mentioned an interesting point that all sciences are conjoined and to separate one out of the others to study will not ever show the whole and complete truth.  The more we study and dig into all things, the more we will see that we fundamentally know intuitively what the deeper truths are.

It is not meant to be a great and hidden secret.  God, in whatever concept you believe that to be, does not want to keep it from us.  It is simple and easy to know once we learn the simple task of how we can tap into it by distancing ourselves from all the problems we seem to be entangled with in this physical world.  When we step back and look at something from a distance we often can see the answer much clearer than when we are so close and too involved with our problems.  That’s why I can see that the more we debate and argue back and forth all these things, the more fuel we are adding to it creating more adversity for ourselves to overcome. It is only our mortal minds that be made up of the physical properties or elements being in a denser phase of existence that does not comprehend there is a higher level of existence we eternally exist in for all time.  Our mortal minds are the only enemies we each have which tends to confuse things because it does not want to believe and accept what is so simple and true.  Only through our learning from experiencing life on Earth, we will gradually awaken to these deeper truths when we are ready to let go of all our old beliefs that have a control of us like prisoners in our own thoughts.  We will not see this deep truth about life as long as we keep stewing in it with more battles of the will who is right and who is wrong.  Nobody is right and nobody is wrong.  We all must find the answers “within ourselves” as individuals in our own particular lives through our own experiences and the answer will come in time when you are ready to receive it.  No matter how much we try to explain things to others the way we see it, we will always be in error somewhere in our transmission of our thoughts that will not be in total agreement with others.

All I can say is, lastly that we will know it when it comes.  There will be no doubt in anyone’s mind then as you have finally come to know the ultimate truth of reality.  This is what I am experiencing through my own meditations.  It is proof enough for me that I am on the right track as I enjoy more in my studying and examining my own life. 

I do believe we are now living in an unreal world through all these atrocities and sufferings mankind has created because of a lack of understanding which has, as Sam suggests, come through many misinterpretations of what the Bible has said and misinterpreted many things what Jesus said by the dictates of those in history who were in power. 

Meditation is the key element I can see towards helping ourselves to see these deeper truths Sam is referring to.  It takes practice in doing until we come to closer perfection of it. I do believe this is exactly how Jesus was able to reach such a high state of understanding of so many things.  We can do the same.  It is known that he stated that but I feel is another misinterpretation to keep the people at the mercy and control of the powers that be. 

This next paragraph I know is getting into another topic, but I think it has relevance to illustrate the point how important it is to learn to open your mind and examine things to avoid being deceived by religions.  There is another deception we are facing today in our country.  I do believe that   Jesus was so well aware of all the very same things happening in his day that are still happening today, i.e. how the moneychangers being the ones ultimately controlling and manipulating the economy in the same way that we now have privatized central banks like our Federal Reserve System which seems to have been secretly passed through our legislative branch when most of Congress was not present.  Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple because he knew the evils happening through them back then and it is now repeating in our own day.  The Bible is a history book showing history repeats itself.  There are truths in the Bible but one has to sift through to weed out all the things that have been changed through translations and editing.  I heard two tv programs on this and right away investigated by going online to the website on Federal Reserve System History.  I also have ordered a book from the library on the history of this organization that started in 1913 going through the first fifty years of it.  I am curious to learn if all this is true and how our country is headed for ruin possibly if we the people don’t get wise to it. I presently read a current news article on Alan Greenspan’s proposal to the President for a complete overhaul of our taxes to convert to a national sales or a consumer tax rather than income tax.  I do not trust this and think it might be another scheme.  I wonder also what happened to a strange disappearance of our gold that was kept in safe vaults of the San Francisco Bank back in 1963?  Was it removed to the Federal Reserve Board?  I will learn more by reading that book I ordered. 

I am really gaining a lot of insight reading all the comments of people on Sam Harris’ book.  Thank you everyone for your inputs.

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Posted: 05 March 2005 11:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]  
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[quote author=“Castaa”]I think Harris treats mysticism as the personal exploration of the boundary in the human mind currently beyond scientific explanation.

Regrettably, he says much more than that about mysticism.  It’s not just an exploration; he says it has delivered well-confirmed results.  Mysticism, he repeatedly says, has shown that the self is an illusion, that neither I nor we exist.  The belief that I exist, and that you and I are different, is not only false; it’s to blame for “almost every problem we have” (although, strictly speaking, we have no problems at all, since we don’t exist).  You see how hard it is to make sense of this stuff.  If it can’t be expressed in words, perhaps Harris shouldn’t have devoted most of the last full chapter of his book to it.  To repeat, I like the book.  But Chapter 7 is an embarrassment and weakens his credibility as a critic of the irrational.  Not only Harris but also religious zealots can fall back on the line “I can’t explain it and don’t ask me to; when you’ve had one of these life-changing experiences you’ll know it.”  Suppose my ineffable life-changing experience teaches me that unbelievers should be killed—but of course I can’t explain how it does or why it should be trusted.  The mystical attitude cuts both ways.

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Posted: 06 March 2005 02:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]  
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I’m not quite sure how to put what I’m going to say because I’m in the middle of putting together my own thoughts on this topic, but I think I have some points that need to be made on this topic that might be helpful.

There is the EXPERIENCE and then there is the INTERPRETATION of that experience. The EXPERIENCE is both valid and subjective. It’s the INTERPRETATION of that experience that can go wildly wrong. This is true for any kind of experience that seems to be mysterious, highly unusual, rare, or unexpected.

Kinds of experience that appear to be highly unusual, totally unexpected, or considered totally impossible and thus delusional in one time, place, or culture can be totally normal, expected and ordinary in another time, place or culture. My favorite modern example is the establishment of the Cargo Cults in the South Pacific during World War II. The inhabitants of very isolated islands had never seen or heard of airplanes. In preparation for an invasion that didn’t happen, planes flew over these islands dropping cargo. The inhabitants interpreted this as their ancestors bringing them gifts. They built icons of airplanes and prayed to them for more gifts. The experience was real and valid. The interpretation was incorrect. This kind of thing undoubtedly happens all the time.

The results of meditation are real and valid. Meditation has been around for thousands of years—because it works. Why does it work, and what’s going on? We don’t know yet. This is an interesting case of knowledge gained by experience subjected to every possible interpretation because we don’t understand it yet. Anything we say about it at this point is speculation.

It’s important to avoid one-dimensional thinking about this topic. There are many forms of meditation. If you’re going to try it, it might be a good idea to find an experienced teacher to guide you. You need to find a kind of meditation that suits you. Nobody’s pointing out that meditation can sometimes have very debilitating results for some people. Should that happen, you’ll need help with this. ALL mystical knowledge and experience used to be considered secret and dangerous, only for the initiated, to be entered into guided by the experienced, taking small steps towards understanding. They were very careful about the types of people who were allowed to continue. This wasn’t simply brainwashing or a desire for power. It was based on hard-earned knowledge that there are dangers involved. I’m becoming more and more convinced that there may be something involved that we simply don’t understand yet. To put it in the terms of the ancients, that which can bless can also curse.

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Posted: 06 March 2005 06:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]  
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The mysticism chapter was the most disappointing one in the book for me.

He basically started out by asserting the Eastern philosophers had studied mysticism at a level the West had not, and had created a rigorous scientific understanding of it, including precise language.  He never backs that assertion up, and really appears just to have been convinced that this is another of those fields of endeavor, like maybe kung fu, where anything Eastern is assumed superior. 

One of the main points of the book is that we have failed to point a skeptical rational mind at Western religion, and this makes sense.  But it seems to me that Eastern philosophies are still geting that free pass, in this treatment. 

Some of the posts above illustrate the difficulties of dealing with an experiential or mystical religion.  Perceived certainty goes up - but that does not mean there is any ultimate truth involved.

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Posted: 07 March 2005 02:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]  
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I’m not disappointed by chapter 7, which is in many ways the most important chapter in the book. But I do think it goes too far in its presentation: Western religion—BAD, Eastern religion GOOD. The solution to the problems the book raises is by no means simply to switch from one form of religion to another, insisting that meditation is not religion.

For one thing, Harris discounts the mysticism which has always been part of Christianity, often to the discomfort and displeasure of the official church. It’s impossible, for example, to be acknowledged as a saint in one’s lifetime. And the Eastern Orthodox churches have always been more inclined towards mysticism than the Roman Catholic church.

For a very long time there has been speculation about how much Christianity was influenced by Buddhism, but it’s only recently that it has become possible to accurately research what that influence was. It was always assumed that distances were too great for Buddhism to have had any real influence. We now know that Indian Buddhism sent missionaries to at least Egypt and Syria at least as early as the 3rd century BC, and are uncovering evidence that there were Buddhist colonies in Alexandria, Egypt during the period when the philosophical aspects of Christianity were developing there. It makes sense that if Buddhism was spreading towards the East, it would have spread West as well. Part of the reason for the lack of understanding has been difficulties in translation, and there is plenty of ongoing study about this, all of it very new. But both Neoplatonism and Buddhism played important roles in the development of early Christianity, there ARE forms of Christian meditation which are very close to Buddhist meditation and this has been important, and they probably developed from Buddhist influence. This influence was probably very early, at least as early as the Desert Saints.

One of the more delightful aspects of this is that the Buddha is actually a Roman Catholic saint! It’s not clear exactly when the life of the Buddha first got to the West, at least by the 6th cent. AD, but a rather heavily Christianized early version still exists in which it’s perfectly clear that this is the life of the Buddha, the Indian prince who became enlightened, in as vivid detail as in most Buddhist versions.<g> Mistranslating Boddhisattva as Josephat, this story, called Barlaam and Josephat, (Barlaam was the mentor of Josephat), accepted as history, was so popular and so universally accepted that he was finally sainted in the 16th century. Many churches were named after him, and still are.<g>

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Posted: 07 March 2005 10:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]  
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Please read my second posting as Guest and ignore the first one under my pseudonym: Donnalyn, Thank-you

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Posted: 10 March 2005 10:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]  
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You say:

“I enjoyed Mr. Harris’s excellent and important book,  But Chapter 7, in which he defends mysticism, puzzles me.  So much of Chapter 7 breaks from the tough-minded earlier chapters that I fear I’m missing something.

At the end of the discussion we get this exasperating admission: “The recognition of the non-duality of consciousness is not susceptible to a linguistically oriented analysis” (pp. 288-289), which I translate as “Don’t expect me to talk intelligibly about this stuff.”

I’ll be grateful for clarification!

Jonkay Response:

It would not suffice to limit this response to:  “Those who know don’t say, those who say don’t know.” 

I personally appreciated the last chapter most.  My take on it was that while “non-duality of consciousness is not susceptible to a linguistically oriented analysis” , that does not mean it couldn’t be explored objectively and empirically. 

Suppose we find neurological correlates for a particular, rather enchoate, phenomenological experience; and these correlates are verifiably and reliably repeatable?  Our research, then, may shed some light on the character of consciousness.  As we study ourselves or others being conscious, we may come to realize more about this self-referenced schema that we call “I”.

“Mr. Harris also assumes that the mystic’s altered state of consciousness reveals *truths* not available to non-mystics. “

Also, if I remember correctly, Sam describes ordinary conscious experience as both available to anyone who cares to consider it and as a rather extraordinary mystery. 

Other scientific concepts, such as light, time, space, gravitation and the interaction thereof are also ultimately mysterious in terms of defying exact description, yet we do make progress.

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Posted: 10 March 2005 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]  
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At the end of the discussion we get this exasperating admission: “The recognition of the nonduality of consciousness is not susceptible to a linguistically oriented analysis” (pp. 288-289), which I translate as “Don’t expect me to talk intelligibly about this stuff.”  That’s a dangerous line to take, since any religious zealot who wants to deflect criticism can use it: “Words can’t explain why I know there’s a God, but if you’re lucky enough to have the kind of experiences I’ve had, you’ll know it too.”

I’m reasonably confident that what Harris meant is not that we cannot speak intelligibly about mystical experience, but that the truths that the mystic realizes through meditation are not reducible merely to language.  The phrase, “linguistically oriented analysis” refers to any philosophical view that claims that all human subjectivity is the product of linguistic thought.  The mystic learns to experience a nonconceptual awareness that is prior to thought.  This can certainly be talked about, and understood conceptually, but talking and conceptual understanding are not an adequate surrogate for the experience itself.  This, it seems to me, was Harris’ point in that section.

David O

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Posted: 11 March 2005 02:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]  
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I took it this way, Eastern religions emphasize “self-improvement” by transcending the ego to the point that awareness of self and OTHERS is enhanced.  What they practice should be the subject of scientific inquiry, as all mind functions should be.  Control your mind yourself.

I also feel from personal experience that this is the more mature way to the goal of understanding and developing what I consider the pinnacle of human achievement, compassion.

Compassion isnt love, love as expressed most often in our culture by movies, books and commercials is survival instincts.  Compassion knows no borders, no countries, no beliefs, and it is VERY hard to achieve and maintain.  Compassion means treating the stranger as well as you would treat anyone you have instinctive bonds with, or “love”.  As a whole, humanity has always stood in awe of the truly selfless and compassionate we meet.

Dogmatic religions with their sin and mercy, crime and punishment approach try to enforce morality with a fear or reward mechanism, which is basically infantile, and instead of most followers developing compassion, they only further develop their own ego to satisfy their own neurotic needs, thus leading to more divisiness in society.

Transcendant religions try to develop compassion and thus morality with the realization that all humans, indeed all life, is of equal value.  You, specifically, are only of value in the context of all other life.  This method would lead to a morality based on life, not reward and punishment of the self after death.

Anyway, that is the difference and the way I see it.

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Posted: 11 March 2005 05:08 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]  
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[quote author=“Iisbliss”]I took it this way, Eastern religions emphasize “self-improvement” by transcending the ego to the point that awareness of self and OTHERS is enhanced.

Thanks for the interpretation.  I like the idea of enhanced awareness of others, but I’m pretty sure that enhanced “awareness of self” is just not consistent with Chapter 7’s contentions that the self is an illusion (“the illusion of the self,” p. 215; “experience the world…perfectly shorn of self,” p. 212).

[quote author=“Iisbliss”]the realization that all humans, indeed all life, is of equal value.


Let me make sure I understand the realization that “all life…is of equal value.”  If I get a bacterial infection, are the lives of the bacteria equal in value to my own life?  If they are, how do we justify using antiobiotics against them?

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Posted: 11 March 2005 06:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]  
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I think we have a semantics issue here.

When the word self is used I think it should be interpreted by us today as ego, or self-interest.  That is what is annihilated, your “self-interest” allowing you to become aware of others interests and your place in the world.

Here try this, the seed in the ground is aware only of its self, and its self motivation to break out of the dark, once it has transformed to a plant, and emerged from the soil, it is now exposed to the world and no longer a seperate self only but a part of field of corn.

Or try this, animals have instincts, so do we.  The most pernacious instinct is the “self-survival” instinct.  Humans consistantly override this instinct which is a “self” for a “greater good” type of sacrafice, which we consider as “heroism”.  So you could say that obliterating your self is to purge yourself of all self interest and instincts and act based on the best interest of all life and not only of your own.

While I used the term self-aware, I mean that you must become aware of WHY you act the way you do, what is instinct, what is thought, and how your actions affect the world.  I dont go all the way to obliteration of all ego, because I dont believe in Nirvana.  BUT I feel you must UNDERSTAND when there is conflict between your self-interest and others and WHY that conflict exists in order to resolve it in the most Compassionate way possible.  Blindly running through life with yourself as the center of the universe would be the opposite of this.

Now to bacteria.  Of course all life is of equal value.  Disease organisms must be very careful not to kill their hosts too fast, or they will go extinct.
It is your Self interest that causes you to take antibiotics, and how many times have you gotten dirarhea from doing this because you killed your beneficial bacteria with the disease producing ones?  In this situation you weigh your self interest against the bacteria, and determine your suffering is greater factor than the life of the bacteria, in a way this is a moral decision.  Even disease organisms can do what we think of as “good” ecologically by limiting populations and causeing evolutionary stress that improves the species.  Did we not all start from bacteria anyway? 

Do I think humans should suffer just to protect the life of bacteria or viruses? Of course not.  Do I think that all wolves should be shot to protect the lives of livestock? No.  Do I think we should stop breeding pesticide resistant bugs and look for disease producing bacteria to control insects?  Dangerous but possibly the better overall solution. The point is to look for the most compassionate life affirming solution to the moral dilema, and YOU can NOT do this if your only focus is on YOUR interests ONLY.

Its about how you make moral decisions concerning yourself and the enviroment and the life around you.

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