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February 07, 2022


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Great post, thanks very much Brian. I've saved this article of yours, bookmarked it I mean to say, to follow on with more reading around it (as one often means to, and as one occasionally actually does end up doing!), but also to simply dip into again, at leisure, later on. After a long time I've come across an article on things spiritual that I've found truly inspirational. The kind that one used to find, in younger more innocent times, many times and at many places (and eagerly follow up on, the reading part at any rate, and sometimes all the way, practice and all), but that one had given up hope of ever encountering again. This, I have every intention of informing myself more on, and perhaps, God willing, actually following up on.

Agreed, this seems the best of both worlds. On one hand, a sane rational approach entirely shorn of woo; and on the other, the very real possibility of encountering/experiencing something beyond the ordinary (without, that is, frying one's brains out with dodgy drugs that may or may not take one to the pot of understanding at the end of the rainbow, but will likely impair what little wits providence has seen fit to provide one with!).


Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the actual eating. There is promise here, sure. Whether the practice actually delivers on the promise is the all important question. Naturally, that answer can only be had first-hand, and only after putting in the work, I don't suppose there's any other way. Let's see.


If this turns out to be all it promises, this article, and Sam Harris's views as discussed here, and this practice, then that of course raises the question, What exactly is this consciousness, then, within which thoughts arise? Of course, that is a question very many cultures have asked, and answered --- most prolifically, and most impressively, to my knowledge, by the Upanshads (the Buddha himself chose to stay zippered, for reasons best known to him) --- but of course, merely letting oneself go building up sand castles is less than what I'd find acceptable as answer, even if their architects had taken care to make said castles (more or less) internally consistent.

Should the pudding, if and when tasted, actually provide the (subjective, first-hand) proof one is looking for, then, as far as building up a whole worldview around this, that is just the beginning. There's still a long long way to go from that point, when it comes to building up a worldview that is built on a firm foundation of evidence, as opposed to unsupported speculations and ipse dixitisms. (For instance, and as the very first question to be tackled would be this: Sam Harris sees our everyday submersion in thoughts as "psychosis", while the freeing up from compulsive thought is akin to awakening. That's just his unsupported speculation, after all, probably reflecting Dzogchen dogma. Is that actually the case? Might it perhaps not be the other way around, that that apparent thoughtlessness is what is the psychotic part, pleasant though it is? The mind after all is given to all manner of outlandish hallucinations, who is to say this isn't one such, that sometimes crops up simultaneously, and that the use of certain drugs and/or certain practices sometimes precipitates? I'm not saying that's so, but I'm saying I'm not buying Harris' s opinion simply on his say-so. Not unless that is backed up by evidence and science.)

But of course, all of that, as far as I myself am concerned, comes after. Before that one would need to get through the actual personal verification part. And before that a more thorough grounding on all that one can read up on, and lectures one can listen to. A long journey, naturally, should one have the tenacity to follow up on it, in the midst of the hundred and one distractions that keep one bogged down to the everyday. But a lovely journey to look forward to, regardless of whether one does undertake it in person.

Thanks, Brian, for lighting the spark again --- I'd forgotten what it feels like, this once very familiar feeling!

Harris writes:
"I might believe that I had glimpsed the oneness of God or been touched by the Holy Spirit. If I were a Hindu, I might think in terms of Brahman, the eternal Self, of which the world and all individual minds are thought to be a mere modification. If I were a Buddhist, I might talk about the "dharmakaya of emptiness," in which all apparent things manifest as in a dream.

"But I am simply someone who is making his best effort to be a rational human being. Consequently, I am very slow to draw metaphysical conclusions from experiences of this sort."

Why is he trying to guess what others wrote, and worse, accepting his own conjectures about this?

A more scientific approach would not be to try to use science to suggest claims around experiences that are ill researched, when he has no intention of conducting proper research.

Harris could more readily look to existing research with long term meditators, and like a good cultural anthropologist, interview a range of current teachers for their experiences, then, like a good physiological psychologist, conduct his own measurements in a lab on some of these; then conduct practice with a team of Dzogchen student volunteers, until he was able, in the determination of their teachers who reported "spiritual experience", and by all scientific measures, including biometric ones, replicated the experiences reliably and repeatedly.

It's not Harris' place to pretend he has any connection to those experiences. That is the role of a peer review team of scientists versed precisely in this field of enquiry and research.

But rather than do that work on such a vague subject (why even go there?) he simply coopts the experience and puts himself as the white western male representation of other people in other culture's sacred traditions.

It's lazy thinking, unscientific, and ethnocentric. The kind of thing white males do all the time in projecting their interpretation on other, different, people's different experience. Ethnocentric and maybe even xenophobic.

Harris isn't representing mystics. He is only representing and promoting himself. And in coopting their experience, mis-representing them.

If you really don't believe in spiritual experience, why the need to re-package it into Atheist terms?

What is this need to claim to know everything? It's intellectually dishonest. It will only appeal to other Atheists who refuse to believe that they don't really know.

It dishonors other people and cultures' sacred traditions, when, conversely, conducting legitimate scientific study would honor these.

Harris' dualistic thinking is simply not Dzogchen.

As for Consciousness, the belief that it is entirely produced by the brain is not the only theory under serious consideration. Alternate theories, including Filter theory, are on the rise:




Sam Harris points out that: - “Thoughts themselves are not a problem, but being identified with thought is.” And: - “The practice of meditation is a method of breaking the spell of thought.”

Quite so, getting carried away by thoughts is a bane for meditators. One teacher I knew suggested seeing the train of thoughts literally as a train. As you watch the train (of thoughts) speed by, try not to get carried away by it, and if you do, get off as soon as you notice you are caught!

On consciousness Nisargadatta remarked that: - Awareness is primordial; it is the original state. Consciousness is on contact, requiring a subject (a ‘self’?) to perceive an object - a state of duality. There can be no consciousness without awareness, but there can be awareness without consciousness, as in deep sleep. Awareness is absolute, consciousness is relative to its content; consciousness is always of something.

The Buddha said the same of consciousness and also described it as the sixth sense. But generally, the Buddha stayed mostly silent about this subject? Perhaps because his main teaching was ‘freedom from suffering, the cause and path etc.’ A practical undertaking; delving into abstract ideas, he left to “The wise of the world”.

Religion is cultural and, therefore, man-made. Harris is pointing out that CONSCIOUSNESS just IS and transcends culture. If you catch a glimpse of CONSCIOUSNESS and interpret it as proof of this or that religion, you miss the boat because then you reabsorb to a man-made construct. Worse, you could go berserk, convinced your religion is better than the other guy's and needs to be forced on him for his own good. Religion has a way of stripping rationality. Keep your head, the better to remain in CONSCIOUSNESS. That must be what Harris means by the rational approach.

"The nere to the churche, the ferther from God.“ —John Heywood
(The nearer to the church, the further from God.)

We know that subatomic particles flicker in and out. Does this mean that the material world doesn't exist? Nope, and so, meditation may show the ephemeral flow of thoughts in our mind, but this ephemerality isn't evidence of non-existence, or that our sense of self is an illusion. It's simply a study of how our minds work.

None of the sages of the East, not Ramana Maharshi, and not even the Buddha ever said "the self doesn't exist." "Anatta," while often interpreted as a doctrine denying the existence of a self, anatman is more accurately described as a strategy to attain non-attachment by recognizing anything as impermanent, while staying silent on the ultimate existence of an unchanging essence.

As for Harris and Dzogchen, he said himself that a fully realized Dzogchen guru is the necessary "skilled teacher" to get the Dzogchen goods. That is, Harris says that Dzogchen is only accessible through a guru. But before that, according to actual Dzogchen gurus, one has to prepare for years wtih preliminary practices. In other words, Dzogchen is a religion. In fact, it's an advanced form of Tibetan Buddhism. Always running from the God concept, but for some reason unable to break from the search for a supposedly Godless reliigion.

Why then suggest that this form of meditation can be reduced to a few lines of instruction that anyone can read off the internet and practice on one's own to any great effect?

What is this Wattsian obsession with the I, for the supposed purpose of transcending the I? Self-wrapped up in self. Better to feed the poor.


You mentioned,
"But before that, according to actual Dzogchen gurus, one has to prepare for years with preliminary practices." ----- What is one preparing for??

I guess the idea is that no self means no desire, no desire means no suffering, and no suffering means Nirvana.

People too full of self can be terribly unreasonable, so why not turn it around? Eliminate self through reason. Reason your way to Nirvana.

Easier said than done, and are you really done?

@ Ron E. [Quite so, getting carried away by thoughts is a bane for meditators. One teacher I knew suggested seeing the train of thoughts literally as a train. As you watch the train (of thoughts) speed by, try not to get carried away by it, and if you do, get off as soon as you notice you are caught!]

RSSB mystic Ishwar Puri suggests not engaging with the train
of thought at all. Simply re-immerse the attention devotedly in
repetition of a mantra as a way to channel that attention and
let it flow away from thought. Other types of engagement, even
trying to observe neutrally or any kind of suppressive actions,
strengthen its power or at best spur it into a momentary tactical
retreat only to renew its attack when you're distracted again.

In other words, a proactive withdrawal of attention is more
effective than simply focusing the attention 24x7 on battlefield
skirmishes with thought.

Dungeness. The problem is, most, if not all people are 'lost in thought' most of our waking moments and cannot help engaging with thought. A mantra may be fine although that in itself can simply put the brain/mind into illusion.

Best I think to engage in a more practical 'method' such as many good teachers suggest which are more suitable for novices like me. It need not be a battlefield, just gentle observation.

@ Ron E. [ Best I think to engage in a more practical 'method' such as many good teachers suggest which are more suitable for novices like me. It need not be a battlefield, just gentle observation. ]

Good point. I think I can confidently say 'we are all novices' too.

Hey Brian

When I first read of Harris’ desert experience I couldn’t help but compare it to my own many moons ago. High places in deserts are particularly conducive to loss of self type experiences imo. These days when I recall mine I consider it more about an expansion into/as Self rather than a loss of self. Of course one could look at both the set and setting of such experiences - mine was in Australia and I was really enthralled with nearby Aboriginal rock art and the ancientness of where i was - maybe I hooked into the Dreamtime? And although Harris was familiar with various meditational/religious approaches at the time perhaps his experience was conditioned by the history of the place where he was - i.e. it was a Christian history flavoured no-self experience? Just saying.
As I’ve said before nothing has ‘surpassed’ my original experience over the years.
It seems what’s involved is the right set up to allow for this expansion to occur. I would also say from a meditational viewpoint the less identified with thought the greater the potential for expansion. It’s good to see Spencer talking about the filter theory and consciousness (I’m really enjoying reading one of Marshall’s books atm). This is a great way to describe things, because I can make sense of it, and it gives support to the role various psychedelics can play and how this can be backed up by neuroscience. For example how the DMN ‘default mode network’ in the brain acts as a kind of centre for the self as well as a kind of consciousness valve - well that’s my current limited understanding.
Best wishes to all.

Stands to reason, Tim, that his was a dissolution thing, and yours was the opposite, an expansion. What else do you expect when you're upside down, down under?


(Cool comment, and cool experience, that. Not that I know anything really about Dzogchen, beyond this recent set of posts that Brian's been writing, and the discussion around it --- but what Sam Harris says is that the experience is, to begin with, a once in a while thing, perhaps even a once in a lifetime thing. But it needn't remain that. Dzogchen practice is designed to make that experience available, "on demand", as he puts it. The point is apparently to internalize that experience. Or so he says.)


Try to translate this page from dutch.

If you manage to do so you will come across things that I have tried to convey. I do not Agree with everything he writes. He describes as outcome many things that are only half way but nevertheless he points at an attitude.

Hey, um. I'll check it out. Somehow the firewall on my computer doesn't let that link through, and I don't want to go fiddling with my AV settings. I'll read it on my phone later on.

@ AR

I hope you will succeed. He touches at something that I have tried to say when speaking of looking for answers inside the house and not outside.

I do experience his words as a liitle bit defensive towards other people, what I do not consider necessary. but I can be wrong.

Acting in Rome as the romans do, in order to be free to do what one wants does not mean one has to protect oneself against the romans. The prove og what has been discovered in thhe cave in te mountain, is the ability to live among the people in the city.

Hello AR ... yesterday I could not mange it but here is the computer translation
The Loner – by Thije Twijnstra

Why do you live in the forest, Frederike asked, why don't you live with us in the village?
Because I am a loner, said the strange man. Loners live on their own.

What is a loner, Frederike asked?
Everyone is a loner, said the strange man, but almost no one knows.
Frederike looked at him seriously. Why not?
Because most people are afraid of themselves. They prefer to be lonely together.

Am I also a loner? Frederike asked.
Yes, you too, said the strange man.
Will I also be a loner later on? Frederike asked.

It depends on you. Keep in mind that it is very difficult to be a loner. Every person wants to influence you. Everyone wants to interfere with you so that you become just like them. Because if you want to be a loner, you always remain another for the other and the same for yourself. Then you remain free. Make sure you stay free!

How should I do that? Frederike asked softly, I am often very afraid of people, especially at school. They scold me because I can learn so well.

That doesn't matter, it's about not being afraid of yourself. Loners always react to themselves and never to the other. So if the other person scolds you, you don't scold back. You just wonder: why does that hurt me so much? Is that my pride, is that my insecurity, is that my fear? And why do I want to swear back so badly now? Is that because of the other person or is it because I love name-calling? Because I still have so much name-calling in me? Always ask yourself and never the other person because otherwise someone else will come to live in you and you will no longer know who you are.

The strange man took a beech nut from the ground and said: every human being is like this seed. The other is only the water or the sunlight, but never the seed itself. That seed is in you. Always connect with your own cause and not with the motives of the other person. This way you free yourself from the motives of the other person. The other person only touches you, just as the rain or the sun only touches the seed, but does not know whether a beech tree or a pine tree grows from it.

Or a rose..., Frederike said.
Exactly, or a rose. No one knows what you have in you. You have to find out for yourself. The other person can't touch you if you don't have it in you. So every time you are touched by the other person, whether it is with swearing or with a compliment, with hitting or with a caress, every time you can find out something about yourself. That's the beauty of the other. That's the beauty of being a loner.

Thanks to the other, a loner always makes new discoveries about himself. In fact, the other person can do very little to you. Do not be afraid that you could hurt the other person because that is not possible. You can only touch the other person in the place where he was already hurt. But that is not your 'fault', he has done that himself. And it is also up to him whether he increases this hurt or wants to learn to understand it better. Do not interfere with the other person but release him. Don't feel hindered to bless everything you want to say, that's how you stay balanced. This way you remain free from each other and you do not give the other person power over you.

From the chapter: the secret of the other, page 544, from the book: a happy man and other secrets of Theije Twijnstra

Good stuff. It's like interpersonal Taoism.

Thanks, um.

Yes, it's a lovely passage. I enjoyed reading it, and empathize with the message. He speaks of a certain self-centeredness --- using that word to mean not what it generally connotes but simply a focus on one's self --- that resonates with me.

Yes, I think I do get where you're coming from, now.

It must have been me reading into your words what you may not have meant, in past conversations, but I don't think, to use your restaurant analogy, that he's suggesting we ignore what other people are saying or recommending. It seems to me what he's recommending is that who we are and what we do, that should stay rooted within us. Whether we keep our eyes open for what others might have to say and perhaps instruct, that is something he doesn't touch on here, but I suggest that doing that is good because it broadens the repertoire that is available to us. However, which option to choose within that repertoire, that is our decision, ours alone ---- and yes, I agree, it is good that we always keep that in mind, and never allow someone else to prevail on us as far as which option we end up choosing. It is we who must consciously decide our own next steps, and which option we actually choose.

Easier said than done, of course; but absolutely, priceless message.

@ Ar

We live a life in which it seems that whatever we do, think and feel is rooted in the outside world.

No crow needs a Sam Harris or anybody else to know how it is to live a life as an crow.

@ Ar

Something inside me protested against what he wrote although he is pointing in the correct direction.

Now I think to know what it is .... he speaks of the outside world in terms of a power one has to defend oneself to. and in my book that too is an preoccupation with that outside world.

Whether one leans against a wall or whether one pushes against that wall, in both instances on is preoccupied with that wall.

In daily life we often make others responsible for how we feel, react etc ... YOU make me happy, You make me sad.


One can focus on the sameness or the uniqueness
One can focus upon the allergens or the sensitivity

What I have tried to write about is a shift of focus ...
From the light in the street to the [darkness] in the house

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