Sam Harris on Buddhism

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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sariputta » Sat Oct 26, 2013 3:56 am

plwk wrote:Well, I don't see any problem in quoting Sam as long as it accords with the truth and relevance of a topic but yes, I can understand about it becoming a fetish of some sort, and if he teaches secular mindfulness, so what? Was it done as part of IMS' core activity or as a side dish?
[b]Some churches for instance feature Eastern religious practices like meditation or talks or even yoga as part of their weekday event but it's oft regarded as an external event, sometimes as a revenue generating activity, to rent out space for willing renters?[/b]


This is not a Hindu forum so I won't discuss the metaphysics but Yoga is was and will remain Hindu! What the Christians do by this bs "Christian Yoga" is a process of inculturation/digestion that they have been doing ever since they ripped off their faith from Buddha Dhamma some 2000 years ago. They want to do with Yoga so it goes the path of Christmas, ie "assimilated" into Christianity with the intent of destroying the original culture. Same thing is being done by "secular" rationalists like Sam Harris who decontexualize vipassana from its tradition source, remove the parts they don't like thereby diluting it to a point of no recognition, and finally mapping it onto a western/Christian framework. This is how I fear Buddhism is going in the West, note the scorn "ethnic Buddhists" (I find the very term offensive) receive from Western Buddhists. Buddhism will just be a thirty minute inane discussion/rambling between "intellectuals" on why "karma is a bitch" in between hashish tokes while Yoga will become a few stretches to get a better sex life.

BTW this practice of "Buddha is Jesus","Christian Yoga", "Christian Bharatanatyam (S. Indian Hindu dance)", etc is being used by the Church in a program of inculturation (where the convert feels less uneasy about converting) with gradually leading to mainstream Christianity. Here are a few insidious examples of this from south India.

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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Oct 26, 2013 6:08 am

Sam Harris is teaching Vipassana now..man.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby shel » Sat Oct 26, 2013 6:20 am

jeeprs wrote:... It's not even a really scientific attitude.

Indeed, and it's heartening to see that you know what science is.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sariputta » Sat Oct 26, 2013 7:42 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Sam Harris is teaching Vipassana now..man.


He teaches a Vipassana that is completely decontextualized from its Buddhist source. And he regards the Buddhist elements in it as absolute hogwash hence Buddhism itself in the long run becomes redundant and unneccessary....same pattern that Christianity has been doing to other religions and civilizations since its inception. The Hindu author Rajiv Malhotra has written a book on it called "Being Different", worth checking out.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sherab » Sat Oct 26, 2013 11:41 am

I have just read the article "Killing the Buddha" by Sam Harris and came away as being quite sympathetic to his views.

My main takeaway is that he felt that unlike other religions, Buddhism in fact has quite a bit to offer, and that it would be a pity if useful stuff of Buddhism are rejected simply because of it been seen as a religious practice when it need not be seen as such.

Sam Harris: "The wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism. ..... a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence. The same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion. In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity."

Another problem Sam Harris has with placing the label of religion on Buddhism is this:
Sam Harris: "Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of bloodshed. ....Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us–them thinking achieves a transcendent significance."

So not only would those that are averse to anything associated with religion give Buddhism a pass, those who are tied to other religions will also give Buddhism a pass. (Not to mention adherents to more aggressive religions would be motivated by their beliefs to annihilate other religions such as Buddhism.)

Not mentioned in the article is Sam's preference for not having the label "atheist". I think the reason for his aversion to the labels "Buddhist" and "Buddhism", and his aversion to the label "atheist" is probably the same. Once a person accepts a label, say, "atheist", it automatically sets up a position that he has to defend or to justify. Yet to argue against, say, a theist, there is really no need for such a label. All one has to do is to show up the unreasonableness of the positions held by the theist. This is similar to the strategy of a Madhyamika who does not hold a position when he or she debates with someone who holds a position.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby invisiblediamond » Sat Oct 26, 2013 4:51 pm

Buddhism is more a technology for ascertaining a particular function of mind, much like brain waves can be isolated. Whether this tech points to something particularly useful to modern society remains to be seen. It boils down to a religious topic, divinity. Buddhism gets here through an inner aesthetics, which is actually where ethics comes from. So the form of the Buddhas is like a secret transmitter, transmitting socially transformative signals. So if you understand how Buddhism transmits its message, though 3-D mental images, then you can use that to design any society you like, divine or devilish. This is the deepest knowledge of aesthetics and poetics on earth. It's in the field of symbology and mass propaganda the advertisers also use to some degree, for ill.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sariputta » Sat Oct 26, 2013 5:15 pm

Sherab wrote:I have just read the article "Killing the Buddha" by Sam Harris and came away as being quite sympathetic to his views.

My main takeaway is that he felt that unlike other religions, Buddhism in fact has quite a bit to offer, and that it would be a pity if useful stuff of Buddhism are rejected simply because of it been seen as a religious practice when it need not be seen as such.

Sam Harris: "The wisdom of the Buddha is currently trapped within the religion of Buddhism. ..... a person can embrace the Buddha’s teaching, and even become a genuine Buddhist contemplative (and, one must presume, a buddha) without believing anything on insufficient evidence. The same cannot be said of the teachings for faith-based religion. In many respects, Buddhism is very much like science. One starts with the hypothesis that using attention in the prescribed way (meditation), and engaging in or avoiding certain behaviors (ethics), will bear the promised result (wisdom and psychological well-being). This spirit of empiricism animates Buddhism to a unique degree. For this reason, the methodology of Buddhism, if shorn of its religious encumbrances, could be one of our greatest resources as we struggle to develop our scientific understanding of human subjectivity."

Another problem Sam Harris has with placing the label of religion on Buddhism is this:
Sam Harris: "Incompatible religious doctrines have balkanized our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continuous source of bloodshed. ....Why is religion such a potent source of violence? There is no other sphere of discourse in which human beings so fully articulate their differences from one another, or cast these differences in terms of everlasting rewards and punishments. Religion is the one endeavor in which us–them thinking achieves a transcendent significance."

So not only would those that are averse to anything associated with religion give Buddhism a pass, those who are tied to other religions will also give Buddhism a pass. (Not to mention adherents to more aggressive religions would be motivated by their beliefs to annihilate other religions such as Buddhism.)

Not mentioned in the article is Sam's preference for not having the label "atheist". I think the reason for his aversion to the labels "Buddhist" and "Buddhism", and his aversion to the label "atheist" is probably the same. Once a person accepts a label, say, "atheist", it automatically sets up a position that he has to defend or to justify. Yet to argue against, say, a theist, there is really no need for such a label. All one has to do is to show up the unreasonableness of the positions held by the theist. This is similar to the strategy of a Madhyamika who does not hold a position when he or she debates with someone who holds a position.


These religious encumberances are central to Buddha Dharma ie karma/reincarnation, existence of different realms, etc. What Sam Harris proposes we do is dilute Buddhism until its unrecognizable which in the process gives control of Buddhism to the West, similar to how the West now controls the "grand narrative" so to speak on "yoga" and "tantra". Not to mention Sam Harris is being dishonest as reincarnation is very much part of the wisdom of the Buddha and not some later religious superstition.

Then your remarks that I highlighted really surprised me as what you are basically saying is that we demolish traditional Buddha Dharma so that westerners like you who are "secular" and traumatized by your desert religions take some interest in "mindfulness" and other neat little tricks in relieving stress all and call it "Booddaa's teachings" or some other rubbish like that.

You have proved my point.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sherab » Sat Oct 26, 2013 5:30 pm

Sariputta wrote:These religious encumberances are central to Buddha Dharma ie karma/reincarnation, existence of different realms, etc. What Sam Harris proposes we do is dilute Buddhism until its unrecognizable which in the process gives control of Buddhism to the West, similar to how the West now controls the "grand narrative" so to speak on "yoga" and "tantra". Not to mention Sam Harris is being dishonest as reincarnation is very much part of the wisdom of the Buddha and not some later religious superstition.


I based my comments only on the article that I read. I thought that should have been quite clear from my post.

Anyway, out of curiosity, I googled for Sam Harris on reincarnation and found that there were people who took issues with him for suggesting that there may be some credible evidence for reincarnation. That makes me wonder what was your source for your suggestion that he did not believe in reincarnation, and by implication, karma.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Knotty Veneer » Sat Oct 26, 2013 5:57 pm

What is Harris is doing is essentially the same as Stephen Batchelor. He is trying to interpret Buddhism through the lens of scientific materialism. And like Batchelor he is cutting out anything that can be measured empirically and emphasising those things like mindfulness that can.

Problem is - like Batchelor's Buddhism without belief - what he comes up with is somehow less useful than what he started with.

Sariputta's point about Western thinkers attempt at controlling the 'grand narrative' of Buddhism is interesting. I have always seen explicit attempts at formulating a Western Buddhism - i.e. that doesn't upset the scientific materialists - as basically a colonialist enterprise aimed at asserting the dominance of Western thought over everything else.

That's not to say that we should uncritically accept everything that comes to us from the Eastern traditions. However, the likes of Harris and Batchelor seem to have set themselves up as arbiters of the Buddhas teaching when both - and particularly Harris - have relatively little experience. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that both probably never attempted to engage the Eastern traditions they encountered on their own terms from the very start.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sherab » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:32 am

Knotty Veneer wrote:What is Harris is doing is essentially the same as Stephen Batchelor. He is trying to interpret Buddhism through the lens of scientific materialism.

Buddha Sakyamuni told the Kalamas to be skeptics when assessing any teachings. I don't think he would mind if skeptics like Sam Harris apply the same principle to Buddhism. For example, would you mind if Sam Harris says he does not accept the existence of Mt Meru?

I have not read Batchelor's work so I can't comment on him directly, but from Wallace's criticism of Batchelor, I am not sure if you could honestly say that Harris' take on Buddhism is essentially the same as Batchelor's.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Oct 27, 2013 12:39 am

The problem is that people like Harris are skeptical about every ideology but their own, which they believe in with the fervor of a convert, and refuse to look critically at. I love the kalama sutta, but serious one would think the first place to apply it should be one's own biases.

Sariputta is 100% right IMO to link Harris and his ideology with a kind of cultural imperialism and an attempt to have Buddhism "owned" by a western intellectual- new atheist set. Almost everything Harris writes on social issues is the same, "The West" has the superior set of values that deserve to win out over the deluded, superstitious masses. It's White Man's burden dressed up in secular humanist clothes, IMO.

On an external level, there is merit to his criticisms of the downsides of organized religion to be sure, but his overall message is IMO completely one that deserves a lot more criticism than it normally gets, he knows his audience though.

On batchelor, i thought he was a Gelugpa monk for some time, i don't agree with his views and find these claims of "The Buddha didn't teach rebirth and Karma" crazily dishonest, but iirc at least Batchelor has some experience, Harris I think has no qualifications whatsoever from a Buddhist standpoint.

In the end i'm glad that some people can at least get a small exposure to "mindfulness" or whatever, it's better than nothing. I still think their arguments are terrible though, and VERY dishonest. I still see people every now and then that parrot the stuff about Buddha not teaching Karma etc., such a ridiculous claim that can be corrected in a couple minutes of quick reading.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sherab » Sun Oct 27, 2013 1:35 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Harris I think has no qualifications whatsoever from a Buddhist standpoint.
I am not too sure about that. Harris claimed that he had spent time in India with Buddhist contemplatives and practising their method of contemplation.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Oct 27, 2013 1:45 am

Sherab wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Harris I think has no qualifications whatsoever from a Buddhist standpoint.
I am not too sure about that. Harris claimed that he had spent time in India with Buddhist contemplatives and practising their method of contemplation.



I find that really hard to swallow, unless it was prior to his time as a hard-line polemicist against all things "magical-thinking" related. Or maybe he was sitting with Goenkas group or something else more suitable to his mindset, not to discount them of course. Just saying, whoever he sat with i'd find it hard to believe his revulsion with anything 'mystical' wouldn't heavily get in the way. Of course it's possible i'm misjudging him, all i've read are his internet polemics and articles.

I'll take your word for it, I just find it hard to believe.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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