Sam Harris on Buddhism

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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby lobster » Thu Aug 01, 2013 2:37 am

There are so much to Buddhism that doesn't have to involve metaphysics or supernatural.


I enjoyed your comments. We could do with more able to maintain Noble Silence when confronted with the, 'this is the true Dharma' inclination and expression. I find a great value in alternative approaches, whether from the atheistic, supernatural, historic or histrionic approach. Many thanks for your considered responses . . . :namaste:
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:35 am

Was gonna let this go, but I've seen alot of threads go this direction on DW, so i'm gonna attempt to sum up my point of view, and hopefully explain why it irks me a teeny bit that simply being willing to debate what is or isn't an expression of valid Buddhism gets equated with having a notion of "this is the true Dharma", or some notion of Zealotry.

It's almost as if people enter discussion like this with only two assumed settings, either that people can do whatever they want and call it Buddhism, or that Buddhism is this narrowly defined thing that those with institutional connections, or orthodox philosophical leanings are trying to monopolize.

Even when you do not think in one these two categories (I sure don't, I think there are plenty of unofficial, unorthodox positions that are valid expressions of Buddhism), people seem to believe that you do, or to put you in one the second you are willing to take a position. There is this underlying assumption that if one sets valid philosophical standards (layed down by The Buddha himself as far as we can know incidentally) for what constitutes Buddhism, that somehow this is the same as supporting institutionalized Buddhism in it's entirety, assuming that Buddhism shouldn't change, or putting down other philosophies.

This is not the case at all, I simply think that if something wants to call itself Dharma, it should be subject to some scrutiny based on already-existing philosophical criteria (again, at least some of which come from the historical Buddha himself near as we can know) for doing so. In the case of this discussion, as I pointed out numerous times..there were people a long time ago who broadly believed what Sam Harris believes in terms of the relationship between consciousness and the material world, the philosophy of these people was considered to be in conflict with the Buddhadharma based on it's content..not based on the existence of ritual, folk belief, or whatever red herrings have been brought up here as regards Buddhism.

I understand that feathers can get ruffled, but assuming that people are being close minded or espousing to 'have the true Dharma' simply for talking about things on a Buddhist board made for discussion of such topics strikes me as ridiculous.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:26 am

:good:

I was also going to agree with a part of what 'Bodhi' said, specifically:

I still find that practice Buddhism such as contemplating on what cause my suffering, such as my arrogance and desire, I can still lead a happy life that I think is worth living. I still find meditation helpful with my anxiety and decision making which lead to positive consequences.


There are passages in the Nikayas under the general heading of 'in this very life', which say something very similar and often make the point that 'the benefits of meditation' are something that can be realized without any commitment to 'a life beyond'. And I think that is quite true and perfectly laudable. if that is what a 'secular approach' to buddhism means, then I would have no issue with it whatever.

However there is also an undercurrent in the debate, which I think you're picking up on, which is part of the big debate between 'religion' and 'science' in the modern world.

I myself am quite a 'secular Buddhist' - I live and work in a typically modern western lifestyle and culture. But I have realized that commitment to Buddhist meditation is in some way 'religious' insofar as it requires you to accept certain principles which really have no counterpart in secular philosophies. It is what Indian philosophy would call a sadhana or a spiritual discipline, even if one is far from a perfect exempar or practitioner of it. And that brings with it certain ways-of-understanding, which, I think, are not really part of western secular-scientific thinking or part of our modern cultural milieu.

Where I part company with the secularists such as Harris (and Bachelor and many of the other 'secular buddhist intellectuals') is that they have a strong commitment to 'scientific method' in areas where i really don't think it has any applicabillity. This leads them to particular ways of thinking about the meaning of such ideas as karma and rebirth which I don't think are even really justified by science, as such. After all, as we have discussed, the scientist Ian Stevenson gathered quite a lot of empirical evidence concerning children who recall previous lives. I find that many of the so-called 'secular buddhists' are not really prepared to even consider such evidence, because they have already decided that belief in rebirth is a 'cultural accretion' or 'not really part of buddhism'. And that, I think, is not so much a 'scientific' attitude, as 'the scientific worldview' speaking, and they're different things. It's not even a really scientific attitude.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 02, 2013 4:17 pm

I get where you are coming from, my objection is pretty similar, they are basically trying to apply the scientific method in an area where science thus far has been completely unable to provide answers, value, nature of consciousness etc. I also agree it is not a scientific attitude, but just adherence to the orthodox belief of the times, which of course a huge number of Buddhists (and many others) I grant you are just as guilty of on the other side.

There are passages in the Nikayas under the general heading of 'in this very life', which say something very similar and often make the point that 'the benefits of meditation' are something that can be realized without any commitment to 'a life beyond'. And I think that is quite true and perfectly laudable. if that is what a 'secular approach' to buddhism means, then I would have no issue with it whatever.


Yeah..I remember the bits about the "mundane vs. supramundane" Dharma, the former grants benefits in this life etc. No question that practice brings benefits regardless of beliefs on karma, rebirth..etc, but it is always presented as a much lesser path as well. I guess the question is whether this form of Dharma has right to assert that it is the "more correct" form of Buddhism (as Sam Harris clearly does in his article, and Bodhi did before he quit the thread) than a previous historical form, or is even a form of Buddhism at all when standing by itself. To me the arguments put forth for that are so far really weak.

In practice I am great with groups like IMS etc. that do something seemingly very similar to "secular Dharma" and have recommended them many times to people, I think it's a great expression of Dharma for people that are unwilling or unable to practice or explore "Buddhism with a capital B" for whatever reason. My issue is when these practitioners completely devalue the various Buddhist traditions that exist historically. Inevitably the arguments are always the same, folk ritual, "worshipping Buddha like a god" etc. While there might be a kernel of truth in those criticisms regarding some Buddhist practices, there is also a great deal of misunderstanding, not to mention the fact that historical Buddhism is also the Pali canon, Nagarjuna, many other well known thinkers and last but not least, 2600 years of meditation experience, logic, study etc. in addition to the things they deride as "superstitious".

I guess it seems a bit questionable to me that some people (many of whom likely think of themselves as intellectually open in some way) are willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater like this, simply based on the fact that Buddhist tradition has a few things they don't like. It seems just as ideological a position as the cultural Buddhism they are criticizing to me.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sherab Dorje » Fri Aug 02, 2013 5:51 pm

It is a matter of being blind to the fact that what they are trying to engage in is a form of cultural Buddhism too: Modern Western Cultural Buddhism.
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Fri Aug 02, 2013 6:00 pm

gregkavarnos wrote:It is a matter of being blind to the fact that what they are trying to engage in is a form of cultural Buddhism too: Modern Western Cultural Buddhism.



Yes, exactly,a kind of ideological allegiance to "scientism" (which like it was said, is paradoxically un-scientific as an ideology) is also a cultural artifact, but often from the point of view of the Secular Dharma folks i've met there is this confusion; The idea that science has conclusively "disproved" ideas about continuity of consciousness etc., there is no such proof of anything like this in science. Ironically, they are using inference combined with cultural bias to deduce from neurobiology etc. that there have somehow been conclusive proofs of things like lack of consciousness after death, lack of a greater casual force int he universe like Karma (i.e. causality outside the merely physical) etc. Not only has science not been able to answer these sorts of questions though, it appears that physical reductionism, which today's science necessarily is for the most part, cannot really answer such questions.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby undefineable » Fri Aug 02, 2013 8:39 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:The idea that science has conclusively "disproved" ideas about continuity of consciousness etc., there is no such proof of anything like this in science. Ironically, they are using inference combined with cultural bias to deduce from neurobiology etc. that there have somehow been conclusive proofs of things like lack of consciousness after death, lack of a greater casual force int he universe like Karma (i.e. causality outside the merely physical) etc. Not only has science not been able to answer these sorts of questions though, it appears that physical reductionism, which today's science necessarily is for the most part, cannot really answer such questions.

The point is not whether science can disprove the existence of mental phenomena - after death or otherwise. The point is that the human need for certainty about such emotionally-loaded matters twists 'scientific findings suggest' (which is in any case a mere interpretation not necessarily in line with an underlying truth) into 'scientific findings prove' in the minds of 'believers in science'. {The belief that particular forms of information-gathering can be applied across the board to the exclusion of all other sources of understanding is already evidence enough of this human tendency to take knowledge out of context - even when it lacks relevance to one's life.} It's hard -as well as rewarding- to admit that we just don't know either way, and that the evidence suggesting the nonexistence of mental phenomena is more than matched by the absurdity of this scenario.
"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 Wayfarer » Fri Aug 02, 2013 11:38 pm

This might be a good place to mention Thomas Nagel's book of October 2012, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. This book is aimed squarely at 'scientism' and is by a hitherto well-respected and decidely non-religious philosopher. Part of the book description says that:

The modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology.


It has been greeted by extremely hostile reviews by the academic mainstream. For an excellent overview, see The Heretic, by Andrew Ferguson.

The establishment today, [Nagel] says, is devoted beyond all reason to a “dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to the teeth against attacks from religion.” I’m sure Nagel would recoil at the phrase, but Mind and Cosmos is a work of philosophical populism, defending our everyday understanding from the highly implausible worldview of a secular clerisy. His working assumption is, in today’s intellectual climate, radical: If the materialist, neo-Darwinian orthodoxy contradicts common sense, then this is a mark against the orthodoxy, not against common sense. When a chain of reasoning leads us to deny the obvious, we should double-check the chain of reasoning before we give up on the obvious.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Aug 03, 2013 12:29 am

I read about half of it and had to return it, stupidly let it go for a week and it was due! Planning on checking it out again, I loved what I read. I hope more books like this will come in the future in academia..long overdue it seems like. the vitriolic reaction from some of his detractors is pretty amusing.

My one criticism was the fact that in the half of the book I read, I kept thinking "it would be nice if this guy said omething of non-western philosophy". There were a number of places where he basically points to an empty space that could be filled by some notion of Karma, as if it is some novel thing to even contemplate larger models of causality than either physical reductionism, or a creator god, where Eastern philosophy has been talking about that kind of causality for a long time, it seems.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Aug 03, 2013 12:46 am

I agree that his book has shortcomings. I like Nagel, but he is, as he admits, a very non-spiritual kind of person - lacks what he refers to as 'the sensus divinatus'. But the point about this book is that it is written from 'inside the tent'. He is a tenured Professor in the Western academy, so what he says has credibility for the mainstream audience. But I agree there's definitely a big gap in his thinking. Hopefully one day he will see that himself - I think he's heading in the direction of having some kind of major 'conversion experience'.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Wayfarer » Sat Aug 03, 2013 12:53 am

Actually there's a marvellous quote from an earlier Nagel essay that I often used to deploy on the Philosophy Forum, where he discusses 'fear of religion':

I believe that this is one manifestation of a fear of religion which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and wellinformed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.


From his essay Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion in his book The Last Word.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sat Aug 03, 2013 1:08 am

jeeprs wrote:Actually there's a marvellous quote from an earlier Nagel essay that I often used to deploy on the Philosophy Forum, where he discusses 'fear of religion':

I believe that this is one manifestation of a fear of religion which has large and often pernicious consequences for modern intellectual life.

In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper—namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and wellinformed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief, by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning, and design as fundamental features of the world.


From his essay Evolutionary Naturalism and the Fear of Religion in his book The Last Word.



That quote is a keeper!!!
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby WuMing » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:09 am

here is quite a good talk by Sam Harris. Worth to listen to.

Death and the Present Moment

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITTxTCz4Ums
今以佛眼觀之佛與眾生同住解脫之床。無此無彼無二平等。
Now, observing with the eye of the Buddha, both the Buddha and ordinary beings are in the same liberated state. There is neither this nor that: there is only non-duality and identity.
- 空海 Kūkai 弘法大師 in Unjigi 吽字義 The Meaning of the Letter Hūṃ
new translation: Kūkai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi Shingen and Dreitlein Eijō
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby WuMing » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:12 am

lobster wrote: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:


good point!!
今以佛眼觀之佛與眾生同住解脫之床。無此無彼無二平等。
Now, observing with the eye of the Buddha, both the Buddha and ordinary beings are in the same liberated state. There is neither this nor that: there is only non-duality and identity.
- 空海 Kūkai 弘法大師 in Unjigi 吽字義 The Meaning of the Letter Hūṃ
new translation: Kūkai on the Philosophy of Language by Takagi Shingen and Dreitlein Eijō
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Our life is very simple, very direct, very beautiful, very vast and very terrifying, but it is not at all convenient.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby LastLegend » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:15 am

Those who want to challenge Buddhist philosophy, be prepared to discuss:

If there is no rebirth, then why were you born?

If there is no cause-and-effect (falsely understood as karma), then why do you suffer by your very own thoughts? How do things come to be if there is no cause and effect?

:namaste:

Take care
NAMO AMITABHA
NAM MO A DI DA PHAT (VIETNAMESE)
NAMO AMITUOFO (CHINESE)

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―Listen! Those of you who devote yourselves to the Dharma
must not be afraid of losing your bodies and your lives―
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby wisdom » Sat Aug 03, 2013 8:40 am

These same people turn around and blindly believe whatever scientists tell them without verifying it for themselves or understanding the research behind whatever statement they read in a newspaper. People tout the big bang as universal truth when there are many theories out there and none of them are proven yet.

If there is no such thing as a mind science, what have all these yogis and yoginis been doing and teaching for thousands of years? Teaching so far back that it is lost beyond the veils of known history. We don't even actually know who historically the first enlightened being was, where all these teachings came from originally. But they have been effective for thousands of years. That sounds like a science to me.

Oh, but we can't see it with our eye or touch it with our flesh, it must be false! Thats how we are conditioned to think in the west.

Generally though nobody ever really agrees with me. They all say there is no such thing as a mind science and that it cannot ever be proven empirically. Maybe they are right, but even if they are they shouldn't discard it because although it cannot be empirically proven, isn't a 95% provability rate good enough when the reward is something as great as enlightenment? Cause basically we can see the books, we can read the history, we can read the accounts of numerous masters of numerous traditions, we can see the similarities, we can understand the methods, we can calculate the results (within a reasonable degree at least), we can study these books for ourselves, obtain a guru for ourselves, we can adhere to the practices for ourselves, experience the transformation for ourselves, and come to know it as truth with conviction based on our own experience. That seems to me like even if its not empirical, its PRETTY DAMN CLOSE.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Martin007 » Sat Aug 03, 2013 9:51 am

gregkavarnos wrote:It is a matter of being blind to the fact that what they are trying to engage in is a form of cultural Buddhism too: Modern Western Cultural Buddhism.


Absolutely. Western society is increasingly secular, so it's no surprise that secular Buddhism has emerged. But secular Buddhism is still very much a product of place, time and culture.
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Monsoon » Sat Aug 03, 2013 10:54 am

If something has not or cannot be measured it doesn't meant that it does not exist - which seems to be the default position of a lot of science-oriented people - but could equally mean that we don't yet have the tools to do the measuring... yet!

Brain neuron activity can be measured, but how this activity relates to 'thinking' is a bit of a mystery... and it clearly is related (as far as current understanding has it).

Don't know why I posted this, but there it is...
Let peace reign!

Metta,

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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby Sariputta » Sat Oct 26, 2013 3:12 am

Its very sad, I went to IMS retreat in September and the people there during the question/answer session were quoting Sam Harris! Later I found out this Harris guy is a regular at IMS. He attracts many "rationalists" by bashing Buddhism but at the same time has no problem profiting from it. Now he and his wife are teaching secular "mindfulness" meditation:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/mind ... meditation
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Re: Sam Harris on Buddhism

Postby plwk » Sat Oct 26, 2013 3:26 am

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?
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?
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