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May 03, 2016

Comments

While may be only lightly relevant to this post, I have posted many years ago about my RSSB experiences and why I stopped following their path. I had many issues that just did not add up to the teachings
In the intervening time, I have been using my professional scientific skills (I have published papers at University of Cambridge, and so have some idea about scientific process) to make thorough investigation of the teachings of Sant Mat. This has taken some years and been quite challenging, however, I have reached a conclusion that consists of two parts:
1. I fully agree with your choice of your wording in this article, when you write "I can't grasp . . . . " This is absolutely valid statement and reflects back on the investigator, not what is being investigated
2. I have accumulated enough scientifically sound evidence that demonstrates without any doubt that the teachings of RSSB are correct and accurate.
I have had the impression that your blog is absolutely not intended to be biased in any way, but open for intelligent dialogue.
It is for this reason that I would appreciate this post being published to put into balance the words I had written and that you also published when I was very much in the state of "I can't grasp".
Kindly yours
Phil

Yes, Paul Singh does make a good point regarding the suffix ‘ness’. Adding ‘ness’ to being conscious does create a quality that most likely does not exist. We can know we are conscious but need not add the extra dimension of conscious’ness’ giving the impression of it being an entity in its own right.

Regarding Sam Harris’s ‘pure consciousness’ experience, I understand that through the practice of meditation it can happen that the poor old overworked brain processes that bombard us with information (mind activity) and maintaining a sense of self may involuntary relax. Temporarily freed from frantic ‘self’ conscious promotional thinking may be responsible for ‘blissful peace’.

Meditation (the practice or training to be aware of the processes that form the mind and self structure – a non-religious definition) is said to help identify habitual thought patterns allowing one to think and act differently and perhaps experience peace or bliss – but it is still brain activity. No separate entities as mind, self, free will or consciousness need be evoked.

I like Singh’s summing up at the end of his book. “Our brains do in fact give us free will, the experience of consciousness and the sense of self. These are simple facts. But we must never forget that it is the brain that does all this.”

“Our brains do in fact give us free will, the experience of consciousness and the sense of self. These are simple facts. But we must never forget that it is the brain that does all this.”

----How is free will being defined in this passage? Likewise, we can have experiences through our brain activity consciousness. A sense of self comes from such brain consciousness too.

" Meditation (the practice or training to be aware of the processes that form the mind and self structure – a non-religious definition) is said to help identify habitual thought patterns allowing one to think and act differently and perhaps experience peace or bliss -----------"

----During a meditation event, one gets training to be aware of processes? Where in the brain does this identity of habitual thought patterns occur? Could we engage in another activity to obtain the same results?

My understanding and fluctuating opinions of free will (that change as and when new facts emerge) are :- Who we are, or turn out to be - is formed in early years through genetics and environment. These factors produce the structure and connections that are our brains - us. From here choices and decisions arise - but there is no separate controlling entity involved such as a conscious self or mind.

Are such choices free in the light of there being no separate, immaterial chooser - or is the material, programmed brain - the whole body/brain organism the authentic me? It certainly chooses, but is it free? Perhaps not in the pedantic sense that we would want.

The self, mind, free will exist in that I can say "I am me", "I have free will", "I use my mind" and "I am conscious". But like a dog chasing its own tail so the foregoing concepts go around and around - as there is also apparently no "I" to own these things.

And meditation, perhaps its just being aware, just watching or observing thoughts, actions or even being aware of the watching. And who knows? where or how it occurs in the brain (although interesting) is in the realm of the brain sciences.

Thanks Turan,

"The self, mind, free will exist in that I can say "I am me", "I have free will", "I use my mind" and "I am conscious."

---Yes, you can say, "I am me, I use my mind, etc." And, I have the freedom to choose and make choices. However, how do you have free will? How are you defining free will in the above statement?

I think the important thing here is that the free will inquiry should lay to rest the assumption that there exists a separate, non-physical entity (self, soul, mind, conscious subject and so on) that chooses and makes decisions.
This may generally be difficult as I understand that a characteristic of our brains is to believe - apparently to do with being part of the group and various cognitive biases. So there will still be magical and fundamentalist thinking for quite a while yet!

Personally, I take the view that there is no absolute free will - only a will that is determined by our particular brains. So how free is that? Not absolute I guess.

Interestingly, what may be the best we can do with our programmed brains is to train ourselves to be aware. At the minimum this could allow us to question the beliefs and stories that are fed to us and the assumptions we make.

Hello,

I think you are mistaken :) . I'm with Harris on that one. One has to have the experience he is referring to in order to understand his claim. But I'll try to explain the misunderstanding as best as I can.

The "blissful expanse of conscious peace" is not a content of consciousness. It is not something to be conscious of. It is not an object of consciousness.
Your objection sounds good: if it is not something he is aware of, then how can he claim that it was an experience of bliss and not an experience of supreme horror? How can he say that it is a positive experience and not a negative experience? How can it be a goal, something to aim for, if it is not distinct from bad experiences? It seems that one cannot claim that it is not an "object of consciousness", and also claim that it is the nirvana you're looking for.
Well... Your objection is based on a misunderstanding, I think. The experience he is referring to is not "peaceful" in the ordinary sense of the word, not "bliss" in the ordinary sense of the word. It might as well be called "a supreme sense of horror", if anything ! When he says "bliss", you are probably trying to simulate that feeling with empathy in order to understand what he is talking about, and what you come up with is a content of consciousness. Sam Harris is indicating something different : it is not an emotion, not a sensation, not a thought pattern... Objection: What else is there ? Why can he say that it is the best thing there is ? "Best" as opposed to what ?

Well...What Sam Harris is getting at, I think, is that, in one way or another, this experience is what you're looking for. When your ego is acting up it produces a distinction between "good" and "bad" based on what it wants. When this distinction, among other things, subside, you land somewhere where there is no "good" or "bad". The "guru" is going to name that "good" or "peace" because that is what you are, in fact, looking for, when you think you want a "thing". It is a "relief" which is nothing like ordinary relief. Again, it might as well be called "horror". But the meditation students will run away, not knowing that it is what they want when they say "i want to be happy (= pleasant feelings, sensations, thoughts)". No word can describe it, therefore: it is best to use the word which indicates its functional use. It is the end-goal, let's call it happiness then.

I think consciousness is not necessarily "being conscious of something". If it were, then "being conscious of something" would be impossible! The light of consciousness cannot be intrinsic to mental processes, otherwise there would be no light. I wish I was articulate enough to express how the intuition Sam Harris talks about indicates it clearly. Words fail me. Phenomenology is difficult :) !
Basically, the idea is that consciousness is fundamentally non-intentional, and that it is only that property of consciousness which allows intentionality to happen.

You write "Harris' attachment to "consciousness" being something distinct from what the brain does appears to be a holdover from those earlier Buddhist days." ! In fact, you are the one who claims that what the brain does is intrinsically conscious, "auto-luminous" the Buddhists would say. You are closer to Buddhists ideas than him. He studied Dzogchen, a Buddhist doctrine which is much more like Advaita-Vedanta.

Thanks for the article ;) ! Keep up the good work.

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