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Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, author, philosopher and public speaker who is probably most known for his outspoken criticisms of modern monotheistic religions, particularly Islam. His books on the topic, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation and Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, have gained widespread notice for both their thought-provoking concepts and the resulting backlash - from both religious communities and free-speech advocates (this guy knows how to hit the nail on the head!). As a young man, Sam studied meditative practices with teachers in India and Nepal and the spiritual insights he gained from these practices (and the occasional psychotropic) clearly inform his opinions on the many topics he discusses in his articles, podcasts, books and elsewhere.
“My mind begins to seem like a video game: I can either play it intelligently, learning more in each round, or I can be killed in the same spot by the same monster, again and again.” ― Sam Harris, 'Waking Up'What's been helpful: Until recently, most of what I knew about Sam Harris was through his appearances in various public debates with the late Christopher Hitchens. (I went on a 'Hitch' tear a few years ago after chancing upon a video in which Christopher expertly constructed and then eloquently delivered a fact-filled oration during a debate that subsequently left his opponent a quivering pile of shredded grey matter.) Prior to the awakening, I felt strongly that organized religion in all its forms was a major cause of our cultural divisions and Hitchens gave a clear and compelling voice to many of the rationales running around in my head. But while Hitchens always seemed skeptical about the existence of anything spiritual, Sam seemed more inclined to argue that humans can and must evolve to discover their spiritual nature without the religious doctrine that perpetuates the intolerance and violence we've been witnessing for millennia. Sam's continued advocacy for - and energetic practice of - critical public discussion on all religions has touched many a nerve in the collective consciousness.
Having recently recalled hearing about Sam's book Waking Up (now that I had managed to do just that) I've started picking up his work again, focusing this time on his spiritual insights instead of his religious critiques. Sam also hosts a podcast, Waking Up, which has archived a number of interesting interviews I'm looking to binging on in the future.
Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (2014)
“Until that moment, I had viewed organized religion as merely a monument to the ignorance and superstition of our ancestors. But I now knew that Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, and the other saints and sages of history had not all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. I still considered the world's religions to be mere intellectual ruins, maintained at enormous economic and social cost, but I now understood that important psychological truths could be found in the rubble.” --Sam Harris, 'Waking Up'I first encountered Sam Harris in his role as neuroscientist; he was being interviewed about an article he'd written on the topics of consciousness and free will. But it was his side comments on religion that caught my attention. As I mention in the "About" story, based on what I had experienced and observed of organized religions, I was no fan and Harris' well-researched and articulate critiques struck a chord. But as the quote above makes clear, an awakening brings a recognition that, at their heart, most wisdom traditions and religions have a truth to them. The same truth. This insight rang very loudly in my mind after the awakening.
Harris uses this book to tell the story of his own awakening and to share instructions for a attaining a direct spiritual experience through contemplation - and sharing interesting tidbits about the brain along the way. Even though I read this book after experiencing an awakening (spoilers!), I still found it helpful to hear his insightful interpretations of this experience.