There's many forms of meditation. They all have strengths and weaknesses, pluses and minuses. But only a few forms of meditation lead to an increased knowledge of reality, since most are based on unfounded religious dogma.
I'm confident that the meditation I've been practicing for about fifteen years -- after I wisely gave up a religiously-based form of meditation -- has me on the right spiritual track.
I explained why in "Real spirituality is realizing you aren't a soul, or self." Here's how that 2014 post starts out.
I'm about a third of the way through. Which is far enough to have discovered the central theme. Harris writes:
My goal in this chapter and the next is to convince you that the conventional sense of self is an illusion -- and that spirituality largely consists in realizing this, moment to moment.
...Most of us feel that our experience of the world refers back to a self -- not to our bodies precisely but to a center of consciousness that exists somehow interior to the body behind the eyes, inside the head.
The feeling that we call "I" seems to define our point of view in every moment, and it also provides an anchor for popular beliefs about souls and freedom of will.
And yet this feeling, however imperturbable it may appear at present, can be altered, interrupted, or entirely abolished.
...Subjectively speaking, the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents.
Now, I realize that some people would say "Yeah, makes sense, no big surprise" to the above scientifically- and experientially-persuasive truths.
But I spent decades as a devotee of a mystical philosophy that, like many others, taught that we humans have, or are, an eternal soul. The soul supposedly could return to God through meditation at the "eye center" -- that place behind the eyes and inside the head Harris, a neuroscientist and Buddhist practitioner, says doesn't house a self or soul.
So it sure seems like those who claim that this world is an illusion, with soul-realms being true reality, are the ones who have gotten it wrong.
There is no enduring soul or self to be liberated. As Harris says in his book, genuine spirituality is realizing this. Thus a belief in the existence of soul leads one farther away from the truth, not closer. This is basic Buddhism, yet even many Buddhists still harbor fantasies of living on after death as... something or other.
Other posts I wrote about my first reading of Harris' "Waking Up" are here, here, and here. I re-read the book in 2016 and wrote another post about it. I had some quibbles about how Harris views consciousness, but upon a closer reading of certain sections I was able to better grasp his viewpoint.
The past few days I've been reading "Waking Up" a third time. I switch highlighter colors with every reading. By now some pages are almost completely highlighted.
This book is my favorite in the spiritual but not religious genre. Harris is famously down on religion, yet decidedly up on understanding the nature of ourselves through Buddhist Vipassana (mindfulness) meditation that's aimed at dissolving the illusion that we are, or have, a self/soul.
Unlike the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the teachings of Buddhism are not considered by their adherents to be the product of infallible revelation. They are, rather, empirical instructions: If you do X, you will experience Y.
Although many Buddhists have a superstitious and cultic attachment to the historical Buddha, the teachings of Buddhism present him as an ordinary human being who succeeded in understanding the nature of his own mind.
Buddha means "swakened one" -- and Siddhartha Gautama was merely a man who woke up from the dream of being a separate self.
Compare this with the Christian view of Jesus, who is imagined to be the son of the creator of the universe. This is a very different proposition, and it renders Christianity, no matter how fully divested of metaphysical baggage, all but irrelevant to a scientific discussion about the human condition.
...Although the experience of self-transcendence is, in principle, available to everyone, this possibility is only weakly attested to in the religious and philosophical literature of the West.
Only Buddhists and students of Advaita Vedanta (which appears to have been heavily influenced by Buddhism) have been absolutely clear in asserting that spiritual life consists in overcoming the illusion of the self by paying close attention to our experience in the present moment.
What I love about this approach to spirituality is that it's solidly founded in modern neuroscience, which also says that our sense of being a "self" is almost certainly an illusion, so meditation needs to be aimed at realizing what we are not by paying close attention to what we actually are.
Namely, thoughts without a thinker; perceptions without a perceiver; emotions without an emoter; and so on.
Sam Harris writes:
The claim that we can experience consciousness without a conventional sense of self -- that there is no rider on the horse -- seems to be on firm ground neurologically. Whatever causes the brain to produce the false notion that there is a thinker living somewhere inside the head, it makes sense that it could stop doing this. And once it does, our inner lives become more faithful to the facts.
How can we know that the conventional sense of self is an illusion? When we look closely, it vanishes. This is compelling in the same way that the disappearance of any illusion is: You thought something was there, but upon closer inspection, you see that it isn't. What doesn't survive scrutiny cannot be real.
Harris uses this visual illusion as an analogy.
There appears to be a white box in the center of the figure. But, Harris says, "when we study the image, it becomes clear that there are only four partial circles. The square has been imposed by our visual system, whose edge detectors have been fooled."
Try blanking out all but one of the black figures with your hand. That makes it easier to see that what appears to be a white square actually is an absence, not a presence.
Just like the self, or soul. It appears to be there, but this is an illusion. Look for it, and it's nowhere to be found. If that feeling of nowhere'ness persists, congratulations. You're enlightened! Or, awake.