Waking Up

A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Sam Harris

September, 2014

Cover of the book showing a face melting into the clouds in the sky

Dear Reader—

I have been waiting for more than a decade to write Waking Up. Long before I saw any reason to criticize religion (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation), or to connect moral and scientific truths (The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying), I was interested in the nature of human consciousness and the possibility of “spiritual” experience. In Waking Up, I do my best to show that a certain form of spirituality is integral to understanding the nature of our minds.

There is no discrete self or ego living like a minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from yourself—can be altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of “self-transcendence” are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are.

My hope is that Waking Up will help readers see the nature of their own minds in a new light. A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism and from the lives of most of the people I meet. The purpose of this book is to offer readers a clear view of the problem, along with some tools to help them solve it for themselves.

I sincerely hope you find it useful.

Sam Harris

Maria Popova


An extraordinary and ambitious masterwork… altogether spectacular… a superb read in its entirety, quite possibly the best thing written on this ecosystem of spiritual subjects since Alan Watts’s The Book of Taboo.

Frank Bruni

The New York Times

Harris’s book . . . caught my eye because it’s so entirely of this moment, so keenly in touch with the growing number of Americans who are willing to say that they do not find the succor they crave, or a truth that makes sense to them, in organized religion.

Paul Bloom

Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University and author of Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil

I used to roll my eyes when people described themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” Not anymore. With his usual sharp and elegant prose, Sam Harris—one of the great skeptics of our time—shows how spiritual traditions provide important truths that have largely been missed by the scientific and secular communities. Waking Up is an extraordinary book: It is a seeker’s memoir, a scientific and philosophical exploration of the self, and a how-to guide for transcendence. It explores the nature of consciousness, explains how to meditate, tells you the best drugs to take, and warns you about lecherous gurus. It will shake up your most fundamental beliefs about everyday experience, and it just might change your life.

Stephen Mitchell

Waking Up is a rigorous, kind, clear, and witty book that will point you toward the selflessness that is our original nature.

Joseph Goldstein

Author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening and One Dharma

In his provocative new book, Sam Harris reminds us that awakening does not depend on religious belief. With his usual probing clarity, Sam points out the rational methodology for exploring the nature of consciousness. Waking Up really does help us wake up.

Jerry Coyne

Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago and author of Why Evolution is True

In this important and wide-ranging book, Sam Harris demonstrates that the practice of “rational spirituality” is not an oxymoron. As a neuroscientist, Harris shows how our egos are illusions, diffuse products of brain activity, and as a long-term practitioner of meditation, he shows how abandoning this illusion can wake us up to a richer life, more connected to everything around us.

Daniel Goleman

Author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus

Sam Harris ranks as my favorite skeptic, bar none. In Waking Up he gives us a clear-headed, no-holds-barred look at the spiritual supermarket, calling out what amounts to junk food and showing us where real nutrition can be found. Anyone who realizes the value of a spiritual life will find much to savor here—and those who see no value in it will find much to reflect on.

A.J. Jacobs

Author of The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All

Sam Harris has written a beautifully rational book about spiritually, consciousness and transcendence. He is the high priest of spirituality without religion. I recommend this book regardless of your belief system. As befits a book called Waking Up, it’s an eye opener.

Publishers Weekly

The great value and novelty of this book is that Harris, in a simple but rigorous style, takes the middle way between these pseudoscientific and pseudo-spiritual assertions . . . [leading] to a profoundly more salubrious life.

Kirkus Reviews

A demanding, illusion-shattering book…