Sam Harris on meditation

Amidst the ongoing shrieking of atheist banshees, it’s a relief to see Sam Harris address the question of the human search for happiness in a recent lecture:

…such a person may begin to practice various disciplines of attention—often called “meditation” or “contemplation”—as a means of examining his moment to moment experience closely enough to see if a deeper basis of well-being is there to be found.

He then challenges the Dennetts and Hitchens and Dawkins of the world to confront this phenomenon:

…we have a choice to make in how we view this whole enterprise. Either the contemplative literature is a mere catalogue of religious delusion, deliberate fraud, and psychopathology, or people have been having interesting and even normative experiences under the name of “spirituality” and “mysticism” for millennia.

He goes on to identify certain kinds of thought behaviors as a primary source of human suffering and talks about the availability of an extraordinary kind of relief. He discusses the mistakes garden-variety atheism is likely to make when looking at meditative experience, such as imagining that it’s like watching a sunset. Atheists ignore contemplative practice because of religious associations:

and yet these experiences often constitute the most important and transformative moments in a person’s life. Not recognizing that such experiences are possible or important can make us appear less wise even than our craziest religious opponents.

Atheists, he says, may try but will ultimately fail to purge the univese of mystery or the unknown or the unfolding, and this “does not rob our lives of meaning. And it is not a barrier to human happiness.” The world’s obsession with Gods and religions cannot be beaten down with the stick of scientific objectivism , but only with a worldview which accounts for the full spectrum of human experience and its possibilities.

Thanks Sam. We really need a better book on this whole topic. And I think I know who should write it.

Art by Marcio Melo .

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