Sam Harris on Buddhism

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Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:06 am

The other thread with Dawkins got me thinking about my dislike Harris' ideas on Buddhism..among other things.

http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text ... he-buddha/

So basically, he wants Buddhism to be divorced from its 'religious trappings' to benefit humanity..as if it does not benefit humanity now. You can just feel the vitriol oozing off the words here. I love all the talk from the New Athiests about the "balkanizing" influences of religion, talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

Aside from the fact that I think much of his polemics fly in the face of anything approaching Buddhist ethics, I also find it weird that people who are strict materialist are interested in Buddhism, why do he or his ilk care at all?

Seriously, if you belief that consciousness permanently ceases at death, and there is no karma, that we are basically insane apes with heads full of stuff that is actually just electrical signals in a brain, with no other from of existence, then what is Buddhism? I guess just a good form of liberal self-help for an existence that will cease regardless, and is not effected by any of what you do.

For the life of me I do not understand why someone with such an entrenched materialist view would even give Buddhism a glance, I mean it's one thing to reserve judgement on things like karma, rebirth, odd cosmologies etc. It's quite another to emphatically state they have no possibility of existence at all..if one believes that, why bother with Buddhism? Just hump, drink, sleep, eat avoid pain and seek pleasure.
"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 tomamundsen » Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:30 am

I actually agree with a lot of what he is saying here. Does he kind of consider himself as a Buddhist? He says stuff like this "As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism."

The main sticking point I see here is that he describes the problem with religion, but it doesn't really apply to Buddhism. "If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly." Buddhism, fortunately, doesn't have this problem.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby greentara » Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:43 am

Where there's no yearning, there can be no seeking. This form of Buddhism is half baked, devoid of all juice!
I find alot of new age practitioners, life coachers, therapists have jumped on the Buddhist bandwagon on 'You Tube' flogging their books, their watered down concepts . Very similar scene in Advaita.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Dec 01, 2012 5:57 am

tomamundsen wrote:I actually agree with a lot of what he is saying here. Does he kind of consider himself as a Buddhist? He says stuff like this "As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism."

The main sticking point I see here is that he describes the problem with religion, but it doesn't really apply to Buddhism. "If you really believe that calling God by the right name can spell the difference between eternal happiness and eternal suffering, then it becomes quite reasonable to treat heretics and unbelievers rather badly." Buddhism, fortunately, doesn't have this problem.


Yes, but he is not just talking about the "bad parts" of religion, but religion period - to him it is all the same, and pretty much only can have negative historical interpretations. Among other things, you find the New Atheists seemingly asserting that religion plays an almost exclusively negative role in human history, such a simplistic, reductionist interpretation of something so interwoven into human history. You wouldn't think such educated minds would even pay it any heed. I get the impression that for Harris "religion" includes belief, or even tolerance of belief in anything whatsoever which has no empirical proof by the standards of science, generally him, Dawkins, Hitchens etc. will say it is all superstitious nonsense..like most materialists he thinks that you either have to fully accept or reject a thing literally, only two modes, true and false.

So again I ask, why would someone like this be interested in Buddhism? Doesn't science, and philosophies derivative of western science provide all the answers needed for the naive realists worldview? I really question the usefulness of Buddhism to someone who thinks that thought is a mere byproduct of physical existence.

I believe he practices Buddhist meditation, but is probably a good example of someone who wants to have their cake and eat it too, denying any of the icky 'supernatural' stuff but liking all the basic grounded ethics, mindfulness and such. I'm glad that Buddhism appeals to the 'non religious' - that certainly would've included me at one time, but eventually anyone interested in it has to either decide to "be ok" on some level with the stuff that he wishes could just be yanked out, or decided to reject it entirely, which i'm sure is the case for him simply because his worldview prohibits it. So basically Buddhism here is just self help. You can see he repeatedly mentions taking Buddhism out it's "religious context" and making it some kind of subordinate philosophy to secular humanism, sounds awful to me...for both philosophies.

It's funny, in my late teens/early 20s (before any of the New Atheists were so publicly prominent) I was a rabid atheist/naive realist, but now that I get to see the arguments actually put out there in the public sphere..either i've changed beyond recognition, or the arguments are simply a lot more pedestrian than I thought, and not worthy of the attention they receive.

Of course in a general sense it's easy to agree with his criticisms of religious violence, but when you look under the hood of this request for "non Buddhist Buddhism", there doesn't seem to be much there but a guy with a materialist worldview (which incidentally helps drive a machine IMO every bit as violent as those he talks about driving religious wars) who wants a "better" ethics for his chosen outlook without having to look at the worldview itself.
"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 lobster » Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:15 am

I think Sam Harris wants to overcome suffering and be happy. :smile:
He does not require an alien culture, primitive supernatural beliefs, cosmology or Buddhist orthodoxy (whatever that might be deemed to be).
Might he become enlightened, whilst others doze through Buddhist attachments?
Might be :twothumbsup:
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Jnana » Sat Dec 01, 2012 9:04 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Yes, but he is not just talking about the "bad parts" of religion, but religion period - to him it is all the same, and pretty much only can have negative historical interpretations. Among other things, you find the New Atheists seemingly asserting that religion plays an almost exclusively negative role in human history, such a simplistic, reductionist interpretation of something so interwoven into human history. You wouldn't think such educated minds would even pay it any heed. I get the impression that for Harris "religion" includes belief, or even tolerance of belief in anything whatsoever which has no empirical proof by the standards of science, generally him, Dawkins, Hitchens etc. will say it is all superstitious nonsense..like most materialists he thinks that you either have to fully accept or reject a thing literally, only two modes, true and false.

Yeah, from what I've seen and read Harris has a penchant for drawing a lame caricature of religion and then attacking this caricature of his own making ad nauseum. Chris Hedges' opening statement in his debate with Harris:

    Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism. His book is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society. He attacks superstition, a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe, of the closed society. He calls this religion. I do not.

Throughout the debate Harris wasn't willing (or able?) to step out of his narrow little worldview and acknowledge other ways of understanding. Boring stuff really.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby floating_abu » Sat Dec 01, 2012 8:25 pm

I haven't read him but based on some of the comments, it's OK, there will always be these people and there will be many who follow (seemingly) easier messages. But don't worry, don't let them (it) distract you from your own practice which really does require periods of solitude and silence also. FWIW.

Well wishes,
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:00 am

I am listening to a podcast by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and interestingly enough he recommended his students doing ngondro to read The End of Faith by Sam Harris.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:24 am

tomamundsen wrote:I am listening to a podcast by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and interestingly enough he recommended his students doing ngondro to read The End of Faith by Sam Harris.


Wow interesting, can you give more detail, what was it that he liked about The End of Faith, what is seen as the message pertinent to Buddhists?

All my friends love Sam Harris..I confess that all i've read by him is articles, perhaps I should try the book.
"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 songhill » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:31 am

I mean who cares about this Sam Harris dude? Okay, he is a neuroscientist and religious critic who tells Buddhists, basically, to get rid of Buddhism. I assume he is doing this because he believes Buddhism offers less hope than Big Pharma's antidepressants.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:36 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:I am listening to a podcast by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and interestingly enough he recommended his students doing ngondro to read The End of Faith by Sam Harris.


Wow interesting, can you give more detail, what was it that he liked about The End of Faith, what is seen as the message pertinent to Buddhists?

All my friends love Sam Harris..I confess that all i've read by him is articles, perhaps I should try the book.

He doesn't say anything in particular about the book, unfortunately. He is describing a 6 month ngondro program for his students and rattles off a handful of books he wants them to read during this 6 months. He recommended End of Faith by Sam Harris and Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr "to develop a critical mind." The other books were more like what you'd expect: What the Buddha Taught by Wahola Rapula and Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hahn.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Dec 21, 2012 4:57 am

songhill wrote:I mean who cares about this Sam Harris dude?

Seriously.

Image

This is the creed of materialism:

I believe in a single substance, the mother of all forces, which engenders bodies and the consciousness of everything, visible and invisible.

I believe in a single Lord, the Human Mind, the unique son of the substance of the world, born from the substance of the world after centuries of evolution: the encapsulated reflection of the great world, the epiphenomenal light of primordial darkness, the real reflection of the real world - evolved through trial and error, not engendered or created, consubstantial with the mother-substance —and through whom the whole world can be reflected. It is he who —for we human beings, and for our use —has ascended from the shadows of the mother-substance.

He has taken on flesh from matter through the work of evolution, and he has become the Human Brain.

Although he is destroyed with each generation that passes, he is formed anew in each generation following, according to Heredity. He is summoned to ascend to comprehensive knowledge of the whole world and to be seated at the right of the mother-substance, which will serve him in his mission as judge and legislator, and his reign will never end.

I believe in Evolution, which directs all, which gives life to the inorganic and consciousness to the organic, which proceeds from the mother-substance and fashions the thinking mind. With the mother-substance and the human mind, evolution receives equal authority and importance. It has spoken through universal progress.

I believe in one diligent, universal, civilising Science. I acknowledge a single discipline for the elimination of errors and I await the future fruits of collective efforts of the past for the life of civilisation to come. So be it.

Anonymous

Sound vaguely familiar?
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby tomamundsen » Fri Dec 21, 2012 5:17 am

tomamundsen wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
tomamundsen wrote:I am listening to a podcast by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, and interestingly enough he recommended his students doing ngondro to read The End of Faith by Sam Harris.


Wow interesting, can you give more detail, what was it that he liked about The End of Faith, what is seen as the message pertinent to Buddhists?

All my friends love Sam Harris..I confess that all i've read by him is articles, perhaps I should try the book.

He doesn't say anything in particular about the book, unfortunately. He is describing a 6 month ngondro program for his students and rattles off a handful of books he wants them to read during this 6 months. He recommended End of Faith by Sam Harris and Feet of Clay by Anthony Storr "to develop a critical mind." The other books were more like what you'd expect: What the Buddha Taught by Wahola Rapula and Old Path, White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hahn.

The audio clip is here at 33:31.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Karma Dondrup Tashi » Fri Dec 21, 2012 5:19 am

I'm surprised Rinpoche would recommend a book like that. Sam Harris is a lightweight.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby plwk » Fri Dec 21, 2012 6:58 am

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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby undefineable » Sat Dec 22, 2012 2:20 am

Karma Dondrup Tashi wrote:This is the creed of materialism: _ _ I believe in a single Lord, the Human Mind, the unique son of the substance of the world, born from the substance of the world after centuries of evolution _ _


Hardcore materialists like Dan Dennett deny the existence of the human mind as anything but a perverse twist within your 'single substance' whose nature is incomprehensibly alien to us and our concerns, which -being immaterial- simply don't exist. Materialist philosophy can end up sounding Buddhist, except that our non-existence in this picture is absolute rather than relative.

Sam Harris, as memory serves, is a bit more nuanced, but appears to work from the same belief system, and -as in the quoted 'satire'- is incoherent to the point of self-contradiction - If there's just matter and no humanity etc., then who cares when it re-arranges itself with the aid of the incendiary devices of islamist terrorists? - Better in that case to see it as a positive, creative event :twisted: :rolleye: :rolling:
"Removing the barrier between this and that is the only solution" {Chogyam Trungpa - "The Lion's Roar"}
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby wayland » Sat Dec 22, 2012 2:37 pm

In evaluating Sam's stance it helps if we take note of what he considers to be the final result:

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).


No enlightenment here, let alone liberation. He is part of a trend which looks at how Dharma can help us within this lifetime, without reference to any "speculation" as he would see it.

Nothing wrong in that but it leaves us feeling that the dharma is being short-changed.

Frankly, citing karma and rebirth as a counter argument is a dead end in my opinion. They offer us nothing in addition. Since there is no soul to migrate and karma is just an exotic way of describing a process, no ardent materialist is going to buy it.

Viewing the issue from their POV may also force us to question just what it is we are clinging on to. Let's face it, is there is anything that 'we' are now that is not a result of the life we now have? Why then should that not all drop away at death?

Which bit of us do we own? What exactly do we expect will survive?

Where the materialists fall short and the Mahayana carry the day, is in the deeper teachings on dependent origination and non-duality. These lie well beyond the scope of a materialist but are crucial 'experiential' components of advanced meditative training.

Disregarded as mere dry philosophy or a later contrivance, they have no place in a materialist view of Dharma.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby songhill » Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:10 pm

wayland wrote:Since there is no soul to migrate and karma is just an exotic way of describing a process, no ardent materialist is going to buy it.



Some helpful background. The Buddha does not deny the self (which in Pali is natthatta). He denies that the five grasping aggregates are the self, e.g., material shape, the first aggregate, is not the self. In fact, the Buddha teaches to abandon all desire for what is not the self. Next, it is not the self that transmigrates in hindu religions including Buddhism. It is usually the jiva. In Buddhism, consciousness or vijñâna transmigrates, not the jiva or the self (âtma).

When the sentient being’s life comes to an end and his body dies, the consciousness will leave his body to take birth again together with his karmas. ~ Maharatnakuta Sutra
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby futerko » Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:29 pm

songhill wrote:
wayland wrote:Since there is no soul to migrate and karma is just an exotic way of describing a process, no ardent materialist is going to buy it.



Some helpful background. The Buddha does not deny the self (which in Pali is natthatta). He denies that the five grasping aggregates are the self, e.g., material shape, the first aggregate, is not the self. In fact, the Buddha teaches to abandon all desire for what is not the self. Next, it is not the self that transmigrates in hindu religions including Buddhism. It is usually the jiva. In Buddhism, consciousness or vijñâna transmigrates, not the jiva or the self (âtma).

When the sentient being’s life comes to an end and his body dies, the consciousness will leave his body to take birth again together with his karmas. ~ Maharatnakuta Sutra


But isn't vijñāna the fifth aggregate?
we cannot get rid of God because we still believe in grammar - Nietzsche
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby songhill » Sat Dec 22, 2012 7:47 pm

futerko wrote:
songhill wrote:
wayland wrote:Since there is no soul to migrate and karma is just an exotic way of describing a process, no ardent materialist is going to buy it.



Some helpful background. The Buddha does not deny the self (which in Pali is natthatta). He denies that the five grasping aggregates are the self, e.g., material shape, the first aggregate, is not the self. In fact, the Buddha teaches to abandon all desire for what is not the self. Next, it is not the self that transmigrates in hindu religions including Buddhism. It is usually the jiva. In Buddhism, consciousness or vijñâna transmigrates, not the jiva or the self (âtma).

When the sentient being’s life comes to an end and his body dies, the consciousness will leave his body to take birth again together with his karmas. ~ Maharatnakuta Sutra


But isn't vijñāna the fifth aggregate?


Yes it is. Here is some interesting stuff.

Man, according to the Buddha, is a psycophysical unit (nâmarûpa). This is made up of three components - the sperm and the ovum which go to make up the fertilised ovum or zygote along with the impact of the stream of consciousness of a discarnate spirit (gandhabba) or what is called the re-linking consciousness (patisandhi-viññâna). - The Message of the Buddha by K.N. Jayatilleke page 82
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