After recommending a conversation between Sam Harris and André Duqum after listening to only ten minutes of it, now I can really recommend the conversation after listening to two hours of the 2:20 talk between them.
Harris is in fine form here. Having been an avid user of his Waking Up app, I've heard quite a few talks between Harris and some other spiritually inclined person. He tells some of the same stories in the Duqum conversation but much of what Harris says is new to me.
I haven't been taking any notes, so will simply relate what I remember most about what I've heard in the two hours, figuring that since it stuck in my mind, that's what appealed to me, and maybe the same is true of others.
When Harris talks about finding happiness, I was blown away by how clear and eloquent he is. My description of what he said won't do justice to his words, but this is the best I can do.
Harris is right on when he observes that for most of us -- certainly true of me -- life is a never-ending battle between problems that arise for us and our desire to make those problems go away. We feel satisfied when something is checked off our to-do list. That gives us a happiness boost.
Briefly. Until the next problem comes along. Now, "problem" doesn't quite capture what we're dealing with. Sometimes it's a gap between what we want and what is present now. Some sticky spots on my car's windshield have been bugging me (they might even be squished bugs).
When I notice them, right in my field of vision, I'm driving along and can't clean the windshield. When I get home, I forget to clean it. Today I did. That felt good. I'll feel even better next time I drive my car. Until new spots appear.
Harris' point is that if our happiness depends on having every problem or unmet goal dealt with successfully, we're never going to be able to experience lasting happiness, or satisfaction. Somehow we have to find a way to to be happy even though there's a gap between what we'd like to have happen, and what is actually happening.
This is fairly easy to do with minor gaps. It's much tougher when the gap is larger, as when we're having to deal with a serious illness or the death of a loved one. In these cases basic Buddhist precepts can be of some help.con
We can embrace the notion of emptiness -- that all things are marked by interdependency, change, lack of inherent existence. We can feel whatever pain, distress, and suffering is present in our consciousness while recognizing that it will arise and pass away as all things do.
Well, unless death comes upon us before the passing away does, in which case the passing away will be complete, since almost certainly we won't exist anymore.
Harris stresses that our thinking plays a large role in our unhappiness. Much of the time, if not most of the time, the problems we're worried about don't exist in the present moment. They're anticipated problems, potential problems, concerns about events that we imagine happening, yet haven't yet.
So even when things are going well for us, our mind is prone to envision things going badly in the future. Or we remember past problems and worry that they'll pop up again.
Mindfulness of what's occurring in the present moment helps to tone down thoughts of past and future. Sure, thinking is a great tool. However, it needs to be used appropriately, not indiscriminately. Too much or too little thinking can both be unproductive, which is why the Middle Way of Buddhism makes a lot of sense.
I also liked what Harris had to say about Advaita Vedanta. Nonduality, which is what Advaita is all about, is a wonderful perspective on reality. Who isn't attracted to oneness?
But Harris cogently criticizes teachers, or preachers, of Advaita who irritatingly blab on about how there is no one to be enlightened, since the Self doesn't exist, so every spiritual effort is misguided, because there's nothing to attain. Just be what you already are, blah, blah, blah.
The Advaita Trap makes this annoyingly clear.
Regarding consciousness, I like how Harris discusses the Hard Problem, which basically is why there is something to be like a conscious being. Me, I'm more open to the notion that the Hard Problem will disappear when the nature of consciousness is better understood, while Harris seems to believe that it will always be with us.
His discussion of Artificial Intelligence was well-informed and thoughtful. I think he's right that soon we will be able to recognize an AI not because it lacks human mental capabilities, but because it surpasses them.
Anyway, I look forward to hearing the last twenty minutes of the Harris-Duqum conversation. Harris does most of the talking in it, which is as it should be, since while Duqum asks good questions, Harris is an exceptional explainer of meditation and spirituality from his rational mystic perspective.