Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion

But only insofar as it aligns with one or another religious doctrine It seems to me that both these attitudes present impressive obstacles to understanding spirituality in the way that I intend I can only hope that whatever your background you will approach the exercises presented in this book with an open mind RELIGION EAST AND WEST We are often encouraged to believe that all religions are the same All teach the same ethical principles all urge their followers to contemplate the same divine reality all are eually wise compassionate and true within their sphereor eually divisive and false depending on ones view No serious adherents of any faith can believe these things because most religions make claims about reality that are mutually incompatible Exceptions to this rule exist but they provide little relief from what is essentially a zero sum contest of all against all The polytheism of Hinduism allows it to digest parts of many other faiths If Christians insist that Jesus Christ is the son of God for instance Hindus can make him yet another avatar of Vishnu without losing any sleep But this spirit of inclusiveness points in one direction only and even it has its limits Hindus are committed to specific metaphysical ideasthe law of karma and rebirth a multiplicity of godsthat almost every other major religion decries It is impossible for any faith no matter how elastic to fully honor the truth claims of another Devout Jews Christians and Muslims believe that theirs is the one true and complete revelationbecause that is what their holy books say of themselves Only secularists and New Age dabblers can mistake the modern tactic of interfaith dialogue for an underlying unity of all religions I have long argued that confusion about the unity of religions is an artifact of language Religion is a term like sports Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous free solo rock climbing some are safer but synonymous with violence mixed martial arts and some entail littlerisk of injury than standing in the shower bowling To speak of sports as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do or the physical attributes reuired to do it What do all sports have in common apart from breathing Not much The term religion is hardlyuseful The same could be said of spirituality The esoteric doctrines found within every religious tradition are not all derived from the same insights Nor are they eually empirical logical parsimonious or wise They dont always point to the same underlying realityand when they do they dont do it eually well Nor are all these teachings eually suited for export beyond the cultures that first conceived them Making distinctions of this kind however is deeply unfashionable in intellectual circles In my experience people do not want to hear that Islam supports violence in a way that Jainism doesnt or that Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated empirical approach to understanding the human mind whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding In many circles to make invidious comparisons of this kind is to stand convicted of bigotry In one sense all religions and spiritual practices must address the same realitybecause people of all faiths have glimpsed many of the same truths Any view of consciousness and the cosmos that is available to the human mind can in principle be appreciated by anyone It is not surprising therefore that individual Jews Christians Muslims and Buddhists have given voice to some of the same insights and intuitions This merely indicates that human cognition and emotion run deeper than religion But we knew that didnt we It does not suggest that all religions understand our spiritual possibilities eually well One way of missing this point is to declare that all spiritual teachings are inflections of the same Perennial Philosophy The writer Aldous Huxley brought this idea into prominence by publishing an anthology by that title Here is how he justified the idea Philosophia perennisthe phrase was coined by Leibniz but the thingthe metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to or even identical with divine Reality the ethic that places mans final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all beingthe thing is immemorial and universal Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subseuent theologies was first committed to writingthan twenty five centuries ago and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe Although Huxley was being reasonably cautious in his wording this notion of a highest common factor uniting all religions begins to break apart the moment one presses for details For instance the Abrahamic religions are incorrigibly dualistic and faith based In Judaism Christianity and Islam the human soul is conceived as genuinely separate from the divine reality of God The appropriate attitude for a creature that finds itself in this circumstance is some combination of terror shame and awe In the best case notions of Gods love and grace provide some reliefbut the central message of these faiths is that each of us is separate from and in relationship to a divine authority who will punish anyone who harbors the slightest doubt about His supremacy The Eastern tradition presents a very different picture of reality And its highest teachingsfound within the various schools of Buddhism and the nominally Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedantaexplicitly transcend dualism By their lights consciousness itself is identical to the very reality that one might otherwise mistake for God While these teachings make metaphysical claims that any serious student of science should find incredible they center on a range of experiences that the doctrines of Judaism Christianity and Islam rule out of bounds Of course it is true that specific Jewish Christian and Muslim mystics have had experiences similar to those that motivate Buddhism and Advaita but these contemplative insights are not exemplary of their faith Rather they are anomalies that Western mystics have always struggled to understand and to honor often at considerable personal risk Given their proper weight these experiences produce heterodoxies for which Jews Christians and Muslims have been regularly exiled or killed Like Huxley anyone determined to find a happy synthesis among spiritual traditions will notice that the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart ca ca often sounded very much like a Buddhist The knower and the known are one Simple people imagine that they should see God as if He stood there and they here This is not so God and I we are one in knowledge But he also sounded like a man bound to be excommunicated by his churchas he was Had Eckhart lived a little longer it seems certain that he would have been dragged into the street and burned alive for these expansive ideas That is a telling difference between Christianity and Buddhism In the same vein it is misleading to hold up the Sufi mystic Al Hallaj as a representative of Islam He was a Muslim yes but he suffered the most grisly death imaginable at the hands of his coreligionists for presuming to be one with God Both Eckhart and Al Hallaj gave voice to an experience of self transcendence that any human being can in principle enjoy However their views were not consistent with the central teachings of their faiths The Indian tradition is comparatively free of problems of this kind Although the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are embedded inor less conventional religions they contain empirical insights about the nature of consciousness that do not depend upon faith One can practice most techniues of Buddhist meditation or the method of self inuiry of Advaita and experience the advertised changes in ones consciousness without ever believing in the law of karma or in the miracles attributed to Indian mystics To get started as a Christian however one must first accept a dozen implausible things about the life of Jesus and the origins of the Bibleand the same can be said minus a few unimportant details about Judaism and Islam If one should happen to discover that the sense of being an individual soul is an illusion one will be guilty of blasphemy everywhere west of the Indus There is no uestion that many religious disciplines can produce interesting experiences in suitable minds It should be clear however that engaging a faith based and probably delusional practice whatever its effects isnt the same as investigating the nature of ones mind absent any doctrinal assumptions Statements of this kind may seem starkly antagonistic toward Abrahamic religions but they are nonetheless true One can speak about Buddhism shorn of its miracles and irrational assumptions The same cannot be said of Christianity or Islam Western engagement with Eastern spirituality dates back at least as far as Alexanders campaign in India where the young conueror and his pet philosophers encountered naked ascetics whom they called gymnosophists It is often said that the thinking of these yogis greatly influenced the philosopher Pyrrho the father of Greek skepticism This seems a credible claim because Pyrrhos teachings had much in common with Buddhism But his contemplative insights and methods never became part of any system of thought in the West Serious study of Eastern thought by outsiders did not begin until the late eighteenth century The first translation of a Sanskrit text into a Western language appears to have been Sir Charles Wilkinss rendering of the Bhagavad Gita a cornerstone text of Hinduism in The Buddhist canon would not attract the attention of Western scholars for another hundred years The conversation between East and West started in earnest albeit inauspiciously with the birth of the Theosophical Society that golem of spiritual hunger and self deception brought into this world almost single handedly by the incomparable Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in Everything about Blavatsky seemed to defy earthly logic She was an enormously fat woman who was said to have wandered alone and undetected for seven years in the mountains of Tibet She was also thought to have survived shipwrecks gunshot wounds and sword fights Even less persuasively she claimed to be in psychic contact with members of the Great White Brotherhood of ascended mastersa collection of immortals responsible for the evolution and maintenance of the entire cosmos Their leader hailed from the planet Venus but lived in the mythical kingdom of Shambhala which Blavatsky placed somewhere in the vicinity of the Gobi Desert With the suspiciously bureaucratic name the Lord of the World he supervised the work of other adepts including the Buddha Maitreya Maha Chohan and one Koot Hoomi who appears to have had nothing better to do on behalf of the cosmos than to impart its secrets to Blavatsky It is always surprising when a person attracts legions of followers and builds a large organization on their largesse while peddling penny arcade mythology of this kind But perhaps this was less remarkable in a time when even the best educated people were still struggling to come to terms with electricity evolution and the existence of other planets We can easily forget how suddenly the world had shrunk and the cosmos expanded as the nineteenth century came to a close The geographical barriers between distant cultures had been stripped away by trade and conuest one could now order a gin and tonic almost everywhere on earth and yet the reality of unseen forces and alien worlds was a daily focus of the most careful scientific research Inevitably cross cultural and scientific discoveries were mingled in the popular imagination with religious dogma and traditional occultism In fact this had been happening at the highest level of human thought forthan a century It is always instructive to recall that the father of modern physics Isaac Newton suandered a considerable portion of his genius on the study of theology biblical prophecy and alchemy The inability to distinguish the strange but true from the merely strange was common enough in Blavatskys timeas it is in our own Blavatskys contemporary Joseph Smith a libidinous con man and crackpot was able to found a new religion on the claim that he had unearthed the final revelations of God in the hallowed precincts of Manchester New York written in reformed Egyptian on golden plates He decoded this text with the aid of magical seer stones which whether by magic or not allowed Smith to produce an English version of Gods Word that was an embarrassing pastiche of plagiarisms from the Bible and silly lies about Jesuss life in America And yet the resulting edifice of nonsense and taboo survives to this day Amodern cult Scientology leverages human credulity to an even greater degree Adherents believe that human beings are possessed by the souls of extraterrestrials who were condemned to planet Earth million years ago by the galactic overlord Xenu How was their exile accomplished The old fashioned way These aliens were shuttled by the billions to our humble planet aboard a spacecraft that resembled a DC They were then imprisoned in a volcano and blasted to bits with hydrogen bombs Their souls survived however and disentangling them from our own can be the work of a lifetime It is also expensive Despite the imponderables in her philosophy Blavatsky was among the first people to announce in Western circles that there was such a thing as the wisdom of the East This wisdom began to trickle westward once Swami Vivekananda introduced the teachings of Vedanta at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in Again Buddhism lagged behind A few Western monks living on the island of Sri Lanka were beginning to translate the Pali Canon which remains the most authoritative record of the teachings of the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama However the practice of Buddhist meditation wouldnt actually be taught in the West for another half century It is easy enough to find fault with romantic ideas about Eastern wisdom and a tradition of such criticism sprang up almost the instant the first Western seeker sat cross legged and attempted to meditate In the late s the author and journalist Arthur Koestler traveled to India and Japan in search of wisdom and summarized his pilgrimage thus I started my journey in sackcloth and ashes and came back rather proud of being a European In The Lotus and the Robot Koestler gives some of his reasons for being less than awed by his journey to the East Consider for example the ancient discipline of hatha yoga While now generally viewed as a system of physical exercises designed to increase a persons strength and flexibility in its traditional context hatha yoga is part of a larger effort to manipulate subtle features of the body unknown to anatomists No doubt much of this subtlety corresponds to experiences that yogis actually havebut many of the beliefs formed on the basis of these experiences are patently absurd and certain of the associated practices are both silly and injurious Koestler reports that the aspiring yogi is traditionally encouraged to lengthen his tongueeven going so far as to cut the frenulum the membrane that anchors the tongue to the floor of the mouth and stretch the soft palate What is the purpose of these modifications They enable our hero to insert his tongue into his nasopharynx thereby blocking the flow of air through the nostrils His anatomy thus improved a yogi can then imbibe subtle liuors believed to emanate directly from his brain These substancesimagined by recourse to further subtleties to be connected to the retention of semenare said to confer not only spiritual wisdom but immortality This techniue of drinking mucus is known as khechari mudra and it is thought to be one of the crowning achievements of yoga Imthan happy to score a point for Koestler here Needless to say no defense of such practices will be found in this book Criticism of Eastern wisdom can seem especially pertinent when coming from Easterners themselves There is indeed something preposterous about well educated Westerners racing East in search of spiritual enlightenment while Easterners make the opposite pilgrimage seeking education and economic opportunities I have a friend whose own adventures may have marked a high point in this global comedy He made his first trip to India immediately after graduating from college having already acuired several yogic affectations He had the reuisite beads and long hair but he was also in the habit of writing the name of the Hindu god Ram in Devanagari script over and over in a journal On the flight to the motherland he had the good fortune to be seated next to an Indian businessman This weary traveler thought he had witnessed every species of human follyuntil he caught sight of my friends scribbling The spectacle of a Western born Stanford graduate of working age holding degrees in both economics and history devoting himself to the graphomaniacal worship of an imaginary deity in a language he could neither read nor understand wasthan this man could abide in a confined space at feet After a testy exchange the two travelers could only stare at each other in mutual incomprehension and pityand they had ten hours yet to fly There really are two sides to such a conversation but I concede that only one of them can be made to look ridiculous We can also grant that Eastern wisdom has not produced societies or political institutions that are any better than their Western counterparts in fact one could argue that India has survived as the worlds largest democracy only because of institutions that were built under British rule Nor has the East led the world in scientific discovery Nevertheless there is something to the notion of uniuely Eastern wisdom and most of it has been concentrated in or derived from the tradition of Buddhism Buddhism has been of special interest to Western scientists for reasons already hinted at It isnt primarily a faith based religion and its central teachings are entirely empirical Despite the superstitions that many Buddhists cherish the doctrine has a practical and logical core that does not reuire any unwarranted assumptions Many Westerners have recognized this and have been relieved to find a spiritual alternative to faith based worship It is no accident that most of the scientific research now done on meditation focuses primarily on Buddhist techniues Another reason for Buddhisms prominence among scientists has been the intellectual engagement of one of its most visible representatives Tenzin Gyatso the fourteenth Dalai Lama Of course the Dalai Lama is not without his critics My late friend Christopher Hitchens meted out justice to his holiness on several occasions He also castigated Western students of Buddhism for the widely and lazily held belief that Oriental religion is different from other faiths less dogmaticcontemplativeTranscendental and for the blissful thoughtless exceptionalism with which Buddhism is regarded by many Hitch did have a point In his capacity as the head of one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism and as the former leader of the Tibetan government in exile the Dalai Lama has made some uestionable claims and formed some embarrassing alliances Although his engagement with science is far reaching and surely sincere the man is not above consulting an astrologer or oracle when making important decisions I will have something to say in this book about many of the things that might have justified Hitchs opprobrium but the general thrust of his commentary here was all wrong Several Eastern traditions are exceptionally empirical and exceptionally wise and therefore merit the exceptionalism claimed by their adherents Buddhism in particular possesses a literature on the nature of the mind that has no peer in Western religion or Western science Some of these teachings are cluttered with metaphysical assumptions that should provoke our doubts but many arent And when engaged as a set of hypotheses by which to investigate the mind and deepen ones ethical life Buddhism can be an entirely rational enterprise 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 awakened oneand 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 The teachings of Buddhism and of Eastern spirituality generally focus on the primacy of the mind There are dangers in this way of viewing the world to be sure Focusing on training the mind to the exclusion of all else can lead to political uietism and hive like conformity The fact that your mind is all you have and that it is possible to be at peace even in difficult circumstances can become an argument for ignoring obvious societal problems But it is not a compelling one The world is in desperate need of improvementin global terms freedom and prosperity remain the exceptionand yet this doesnt mean we need to be miserable while we work for the common good In fact the teachings of Buddhism emphasize a connection between ethical and spiritual life Making progress in one domain lays a foundation for progress in the other One can for instance spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the worldhaving better relationships beinghonest and compassionate and thereforehelpful to ones fellow human beings Being wisely selfish and being selfless can amount to very much the same thing There are centuries of anecdotal testimony on this pointand as we will see the scientific study of the mind has begun to bear it out There is now little uestion that how one uses ones attention moment to moment largely determines what kind of person one becomes Our mindsand livesare largely shaped by how we use them 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 As I wrote in my first book The End of Faith the disparity between Eastern and Western spirituality resembles that found between Eastern and Western medicinewith the arrow of embarrassment pointing in the opposite direction Humanity did not understand the biology of cancer develop antibiotics and vaccines or seuence the human genome under an Eastern sun Conseuently real medicine is almost entirely a product of Western science Insofar as specific techniues of Eastern medicine actually work they must conform whether by design or by happenstance to the principles of biology as we have come to know them in the West This is not to say that Western medicine is complete In a few decades many of our current practices will seem barbaric One need only ponder the list of side effects that accompany most medications to appreciate that these are terribly blunt instruments Nevertheless most of our knowledge about the human bodyand about the physical universe generallyemerged in the West The rest is instinct folklore bewilderment and untimely death An honest comparison of spiritual traditions Eastern and Western proves eually invidious As manuals for contemplative understanding the Bible and the Koran are worse than useless Whatever wisdom can be found in their pages is never best found there and it is subverted time and again by ancient savagery and superstition Again one must deploy the necessary caveats I am not saying that most Buddhists or Hindus have been sophisticated contemplatives Their traditions have spawned many of the same pathologies we see elsewhere among the faithful dogmatism anti intellectualism tribalism otherworldliness However the empirical difference between the central teachings of Buddhism and Advaita and those of Western monotheism is difficult to overstate One can traverse the Eastern paths simply by becoming interested in the nature of ones own mindespecially in the immediate causes of psychological sufferingand by paying closer attention to ones experience in every present moment There is in truth nothing one need believe The teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are best viewed as lab manuals and explorers logs detailing the results of empirical research on the nature of human consciousness Nearly every geographical or linguistic barrier to the free exchange of ideas has now fallen away It seems to me therefore that educated people no longer have a right to any form of spiritual provincialism The truths of Eastern spirituality are now noEastern than the truths of Western science are Western We are merely talking about human consciousness and its possible states My purpose in writing this book is to encourage you to investigate certain contemplative insights for yourself without accepting the metaphysical ideas that they inspired in ignorant and isolated peoples of the past A final word of caution Nothing I say here is intended as a denial of the fact that psychological well being reuires a healthy sense of selfwith all the capacities that this vague phrase implies Children need to become autonomous confident and self aware in order to form healthy relationships And they must acuire a host of other cognitive emotional and interpersonal skills in the process of becoming sane and productive adults Which is to say that there is a time and a place for everythingunless of course there isnt No doubt there are psychological conditions such as schizophrenia for which practices of the sort I recommend in this book might be inappropriate Some people find the experience of an extended silent retreat psychologically destabilizing Again an analogy to physical training seems apropos Not everyone is suited to running a six minute mile or bench pressing his own body weight But many uite ordinary people are capable of these feats and there are better and worse ways to accomplish them What is the same principles of fitness generally apply even to people whose abilities are limited by illness or injury So I want to make it clear that the instructions in this book are intended for readers who are adultsor less and free from any psychological or medical conditions that could be exacerbated by meditation or other techniues of sustained introspection If paying attention to your breath to bodily sensations to the flow of thoughts or to the nature of consciousness itself seems likely to cause you clinically significant anguish please check with a psychologist or a psychiatrist before engaging in the practices I describe MINDFULNESS It is always now This might sound trite but it is the truth Its not uite true as a matter of neurology because our minds are built upon layers of inputs whose timing we know must be different But it is true as a matter of conscious experience The reality of your life is always now And to realize this we will see is liberating In fact I think there is nothingimportant to understand if you want to be happy in this world But we spend most of our lives forgetting this truthoverlooking it fleeing it repudiating it And the horror is that we succeed We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy fulfilling one desire after the next banishing our fears grasping at pleasure recoiling from painand thinking interminably about how best to keep the whole works up and running As a conseuence we spend our lives being far less content than we might otherwise be We often fail to appreciate what we have until we have lost it We crave experiences objects relationships only to grow bored with them And yet the craving persists I speak from experience of course As a remedy for this predicament many spiritual teachings ask us to entertain unfounded ideas about the nature of realityor at the very least to develop a fondness for the iconography and rituals of one or another religion But not all paths traverse the same rough ground There are methods of meditation that do not reuire any artifice or unwarranted assumptions at all For beginners I usually recommend a techniue called vipassana Pali for insight which comes from the oldest tradition of Buddhism the Theravada One of the advantages of vipassana is that it can be taught in an entirely secular way Experts in this practice generally acuire their training in a Buddhist context and most retreat centers in the United States and Europe teach its associated Buddhist philosophy Nevertheless this method of introspection can be brought into any secular or scientific context without embarrassment The same cannot be said for the practice of chanting to Lord Krishna while banging a drum That is why vipassana is now being widely studied and adopted by psychologists and neuroscientists The uality of mind cultivated in vipassana is almost always referred to as mindfulness and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial There is nothing spooky about mindfulness It is simply a state of clear nonjudgmental and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness whether pleasant or unpleasant Cultivating this uality of mind has been shown to reduce pain anxiety and depression improve cognitive function and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory emotional regulation and self awareness We will lookclosely at the neurophysiology of mindfulness in a later chapter Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word sati The term has several meanings in the Buddhist literature but for our purposes the most important is clear awareness The practice was first described in the Satipatthana Sutta which is part of the Pali Canon Like many Buddhist texts the Satipatthana Sutta is highly repetitive and for anything but an avid student of Buddhism exceptionally boring to read However when one compares texts of this kind with the Bible or the Koran the difference is unmistakable The Satipatthana Sutta is not a collection of ancient myths superstitions and taboos it is a rigorously empirical guide to freeing the mind from suffering The Buddha described four foundations of mindfulness which he taught as the direct path for the purification of beings for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation for the disappearance of pain and grief for the attainment of the true way for the realization of Nibbana Sanskrit Nirvana The four foundations of mindfulness are the body breathing changes in posture activities feelings the senses of pleasantness unpleasantness and neutrality the mind in particular its moods and attitudes and the objects of mind which include the.

waking download searching book spirituality kindle without epub religion kindle Waking Up free Searching for pdf Searching for Spirituality Without mobile Up Searching for book Up Searching for Spirituality Without download Waking Up Searching for Spirituality Without Religion EpubBut only insofar as it aligns with one or another religious doctrine It seems to me that both these attitudes present impressive obstacles to understanding spirituality in the way that I intend I can only hope that whatever your background you will approach the exercises presented in this book with an open mind RELIGION EAST AND WEST We are often encouraged to believe that all religions are the same All teach the same ethical principles all urge their followers to contemplate the same divine reality all are eually wise compassionate and true within their sphereor eually divisive and false depending on ones view No serious adherents of any faith can believe these things because most religions make claims about reality that are mutually incompatible Exceptions to this rule exist but they provide little relief from what is essentially a zero sum contest of all against all The polytheism of Hinduism allows it to digest parts of many other faiths If Christians insist that Jesus Christ is the son of God for instance Hindus can make him yet another avatar of Vishnu without losing any sleep But this spirit of inclusiveness points in one direction only and even it has its limits Hindus are committed to specific metaphysical ideasthe law of karma and rebirth a multiplicity of godsthat almost every other major religion decries It is impossible for any faith no matter how elastic to fully honor the truth claims of another Devout Jews Christians and Muslims believe that theirs is the one true and complete revelationbecause that is what their holy books say of themselves Only secularists and New Age dabblers can mistake the modern tactic of interfaith dialogue for an underlying unity of all religions I have long argued that confusion about the unity of religions is an artifact of language Religion is a term like sports Some sports are peaceful but spectacularly dangerous free solo rock climbing some are safer but synonymous with violence mixed martial arts and some entail littlerisk of injury than standing in the shower bowling To speak of sports as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do or the physical attributes reuired to do it What do all sports have in common apart from breathing Not much The term religion is hardlyuseful The same could be said of spirituality The esoteric doctrines found within every religious tradition are not all derived from the same insights Nor are they eually empirical logical parsimonious or wise They dont always point to the same underlying realityand when they do they dont do it eually well Nor are all these teachings eually suited for export beyond the cultures that first conceived them Making distinctions of this kind however is deeply unfashionable in intellectual circles In my experience people do not want to hear that Islam supports violence in a way that Jainism doesnt or that Buddhism offers a truly sophisticated empirical approach to understanding the human mind whereas Christianity presents an almost perfect impediment to such understanding In many circles to make invidious comparisons of this kind is to stand convicted of bigotry In one sense all religions and spiritual practices must address the same realitybecause people of all faiths have glimpsed many of the same truths Any view of consciousness and the cosmos that is available to the human mind can in principle be appreciated by anyone It is not surprising therefore that individual Jews Christians Muslims and Buddhists have given voice to some of the same insights and intuitions This merely indicates that human cognition and emotion run deeper than religion But we knew that didnt we It does not suggest that all religions understand our spiritual possibilities eually well One way of missing this point is to declare that all spiritual teachings are inflections of the same Perennial Philosophy The writer Aldous Huxley brought this idea into prominence by publishing an anthology by that title Here is how he justified the idea Philosophia perennisthe phrase was coined by Leibniz but the thingthe metaphysic that recognizes a divine Reality substantial to the world of things and lives and minds the psychology that finds in the soul something similar to or even identical with divine Reality the ethic that places mans final end in the knowledge of the immanent and transcendent Ground of all beingthe thing is immemorial and universal Rudiments of the Perennial Philosophy may be found among the traditionary lore of primitive peoples in every region of the world and in its fully developed forms it has a place in every one of the higher religions A version of this Highest Common Factor in all preceding and subseuent theologies was first committed to writingthan twenty five centuries ago and since that time the inexhaustible theme has been treated again and again from the standpoint of every religious tradition and in all the principal languages of Asia and Europe Although Huxley was being reasonably cautious in his wording this notion of a highest common factor uniting all religions begins to break apart the moment one presses for details For instance the Abrahamic religions are incorrigibly dualistic and faith based In Judaism Christianity and Islam the human soul is conceived as genuinely separate from the divine reality of God The appropriate attitude for a creature that finds itself in this circumstance is some combination of terror shame and awe In the best case notions of Gods love and grace provide some reliefbut the central message of these faiths is that each of us is separate from and in relationship to a divine authority who will punish anyone who harbors the slightest doubt about His supremacy The Eastern tradition presents a very different picture of reality And its highest teachingsfound within the various schools of Buddhism and the nominally Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedantaexplicitly transcend dualism By their lights consciousness itself is identical to the very reality that one might otherwise mistake for God While these teachings make metaphysical claims that any serious student of science should find incredible they center on a range of experiences that the doctrines of Judaism Christianity and Islam rule out of bounds Of course it is true that specific Jewish Christian and Muslim mystics have had experiences similar to those that motivate Buddhism and Advaita but these contemplative insights are not exemplary of their faith Rather they are anomalies that Western mystics have always struggled to understand and to honor often at considerable personal risk Given their proper weight these experiences produce heterodoxies for which Jews Christians and Muslims have been regularly exiled or killed Like Huxley anyone determined to find a happy synthesis among spiritual traditions will notice that the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart ca ca often sounded very much like a Buddhist The knower and the known are one Simple people imagine that they should see God as if He stood there and they here This is not so God and I we are one in knowledge But he also sounded like a man bound to be excommunicated by his churchas he was Had Eckhart lived a little longer it seems certain that he would have been dragged into the street and burned alive for these expansive ideas That is a telling difference between Christianity and Buddhism In the same vein it is misleading to hold up the Sufi mystic Al Hallaj as a representative of Islam He was a Muslim yes but he suffered the most grisly death imaginable at the hands of his coreligionists for presuming to be one with God Both Eckhart and Al Hallaj gave voice to an experience of self transcendence that any human being can in principle enjoy However their views were not consistent with the central teachings of their faiths The Indian tradition is comparatively free of problems of this kind Although the teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are embedded inor less conventional religions they contain empirical insights about the nature of consciousness that do not depend upon faith One can practice most techniues of Buddhist meditation or the method of self inuiry of Advaita and experience the advertised changes in ones consciousness without ever believing in the law of karma or in the miracles attributed to Indian mystics To get started as a Christian however one must first accept a dozen implausible things about the life of Jesus and the origins of the Bibleand the same can be said minus a few unimportant details about Judaism and Islam If one should happen to discover that the sense of being an individual soul is an illusion one will be guilty of blasphemy everywhere west of the Indus There is no uestion that many religious disciplines can produce interesting experiences in suitable minds It should be clear however that engaging a faith based and probably delusional practice whatever its effects isnt the same as investigating the nature of ones mind absent any doctrinal assumptions Statements of this kind may seem starkly antagonistic toward Abrahamic religions but they are nonetheless true One can speak about Buddhism shorn of its miracles and irrational assumptions The same cannot be said of Christianity or Islam Western engagement with Eastern spirituality dates back at least as far as Alexanders campaign in India where the young conueror and his pet philosophers encountered naked ascetics whom they called gymnosophists It is often said that the thinking of these yogis greatly influenced the philosopher Pyrrho the father of Greek skepticism This seems a credible claim because Pyrrhos teachings had much in common with Buddhism But his contemplative insights and methods never became part of any system of thought in the West Serious study of Eastern thought by outsiders did not begin until the late eighteenth century The first translation of a Sanskrit text into a Western language appears to have been Sir Charles Wilkinss rendering of the Bhagavad Gita a cornerstone text of Hinduism in The Buddhist canon would not attract the attention of Western scholars for another hundred years The conversation between East and West started in earnest albeit inauspiciously with the birth of the Theosophical Society that golem of spiritual hunger and self deception brought into this world almost single handedly by the incomparable Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky in Everything about Blavatsky seemed to defy earthly logic She was an enormously fat woman who was said to have wandered alone and undetected for seven years in the mountains of Tibet She was also thought to have survived shipwrecks gunshot wounds and sword fights Even less persuasively she claimed to be in psychic contact with members of the Great White Brotherhood of ascended mastersa collection of immortals responsible for the evolution and maintenance of the entire cosmos Their leader hailed from the planet Venus but lived in the mythical kingdom of Shambhala which Blavatsky placed somewhere in the vicinity of the Gobi Desert With the suspiciously bureaucratic name the Lord of the World he supervised the work of other adepts including the Buddha Maitreya Maha Chohan and one Koot Hoomi who appears to have had nothing better to do on behalf of the cosmos than to impart its secrets to Blavatsky It is always surprising when a person attracts legions of followers and builds a large organization on their largesse while peddling penny arcade mythology of this kind But perhaps this was less remarkable in a time when even the best educated people were still struggling to come to terms with electricity evolution and the existence of other planets We can easily forget how suddenly the world had shrunk and the cosmos expanded as the nineteenth century came to a close The geographical barriers between distant cultures had been stripped away by trade and conuest one could now order a gin and tonic almost everywhere on earth and yet the reality of unseen forces and alien worlds was a daily focus of the most careful scientific research Inevitably cross cultural and scientific discoveries were mingled in the popular imagination with religious dogma and traditional occultism In fact this had been happening at the highest level of human thought forthan a century It is always instructive to recall that the father of modern physics Isaac Newton suandered a considerable portion of his genius on the study of theology biblical prophecy and alchemy The inability to distinguish the strange but true from the merely strange was common enough in Blavatskys timeas it is in our own Blavatskys contemporary Joseph Smith a libidinous con man and crackpot was able to found a new religion on the claim that he had unearthed the final revelations of God in the hallowed precincts of Manchester New York written in reformed Egyptian on golden plates He decoded this text with the aid of magical seer stones which whether by magic or not allowed Smith to produce an English version of Gods Word that was an embarrassing pastiche of plagiarisms from the Bible and silly lies about Jesuss life in America And yet the resulting edifice of nonsense and taboo survives to this day Amodern cult Scientology leverages human credulity to an even greater degree Adherents believe that human beings are possessed by the souls of extraterrestrials who were condemned to planet Earth million years ago by the galactic overlord Xenu How was their exile accomplished The old fashioned way These aliens were shuttled by the billions to our humble planet aboard a spacecraft that resembled a DC They were then imprisoned in a volcano and blasted to bits with hydrogen bombs Their souls survived however and disentangling them from our own can be the work of a lifetime It is also expensive Despite the imponderables in her philosophy Blavatsky was among the first people to announce in Western circles that there was such a thing as the wisdom of the East This wisdom began to trickle westward once Swami Vivekananda introduced the teachings of Vedanta at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in Again Buddhism lagged behind A few Western monks living on the island of Sri Lanka were beginning to translate the Pali Canon which remains the most authoritative record of the teachings of the historical Buddha Siddhartha Gautama However the practice of Buddhist meditation wouldnt actually be taught in the West for another half century It is easy enough to find fault with romantic ideas about Eastern wisdom and a tradition of such criticism sprang up almost the instant the first Western seeker sat cross legged and attempted to meditate In the late s the author and journalist Arthur Koestler traveled to India and Japan in search of wisdom and summarized his pilgrimage thus I started my journey in sackcloth and ashes and came back rather proud of being a European In The Lotus and the Robot Koestler gives some of his reasons for being less than awed by his journey to the East Consider for example the ancient discipline of hatha yoga While now generally viewed as a system of physical exercises designed to increase a persons strength and flexibility in its traditional context hatha yoga is part of a larger effort to manipulate subtle features of the body unknown to anatomists No doubt much of this subtlety corresponds to experiences that yogis actually havebut many of the beliefs formed on the basis of these experiences are patently absurd and certain of the associated practices are both silly and injurious Koestler reports that the aspiring yogi is traditionally encouraged to lengthen his tongueeven going so far as to cut the frenulum the membrane that anchors the tongue to the floor of the mouth and stretch the soft palate What is the purpose of these modifications They enable our hero to insert his tongue into his nasopharynx thereby blocking the flow of air through the nostrils His anatomy thus improved a yogi can then imbibe subtle liuors believed to emanate directly from his brain These substancesimagined by recourse to further subtleties to be connected to the retention of semenare said to confer not only spiritual wisdom but immortality This techniue of drinking mucus is known as khechari mudra and it is thought to be one of the crowning achievements of yoga Imthan happy to score a point for Koestler here Needless to say no defense of such practices will be found in this book Criticism of Eastern wisdom can seem especially pertinent when coming from Easterners themselves There is indeed something preposterous about well educated Westerners racing East in search of spiritual enlightenment while Easterners make the opposite pilgrimage seeking education and economic opportunities I have a friend whose own adventures may have marked a high point in this global comedy He made his first trip to India immediately after graduating from college having already acuired several yogic affectations He had the reuisite beads and long hair but he was also in the habit of writing the name of the Hindu god Ram in Devanagari script over and over in a journal On the flight to the motherland he had the good fortune to be seated next to an Indian businessman This weary traveler thought he had witnessed every species of human follyuntil he caught sight of my friends scribbling The spectacle of a Western born Stanford graduate of working age holding degrees in both economics and history devoting himself to the graphomaniacal worship of an imaginary deity in a language he could neither read nor understand wasthan this man could abide in a confined space at feet After a testy exchange the two travelers could only stare at each other in mutual incomprehension and pityand they had ten hours yet to fly There really are two sides to such a conversation but I concede that only one of them can be made to look ridiculous We can also grant that Eastern wisdom has not produced societies or political institutions that are any better than their Western counterparts in fact one could argue that India has survived as the worlds largest democracy only because of institutions that were built under British rule Nor has the East led the world in scientific discovery Nevertheless there is something to the notion of uniuely Eastern wisdom and most of it has been concentrated in or derived from the tradition of Buddhism Buddhism has been of special interest to Western scientists for reasons already hinted at It isnt primarily a faith based religion and its central teachings are entirely empirical Despite the superstitions that many Buddhists cherish the doctrine has a practical and logical core that does not reuire any unwarranted assumptions Many Westerners have recognized this and have been relieved to find a spiritual alternative to faith based worship It is no accident that most of the scientific research now done on meditation focuses primarily on Buddhist techniues Another reason for Buddhisms prominence among scientists has been the intellectual engagement of one of its most visible representatives Tenzin Gyatso the fourteenth Dalai Lama Of course the Dalai Lama is not without his critics My late friend Christopher Hitchens meted out justice to his holiness on several occasions He also castigated Western students of Buddhism for the widely and lazily held belief that Oriental religion is different from other faiths less dogmaticcontemplativeTranscendental and for the blissful thoughtless exceptionalism with which Buddhism is regarded by many Hitch did have a point In his capacity as the head of one of the four branches of Tibetan Buddhism and as the former leader of the Tibetan government in exile the Dalai Lama has made some uestionable claims and formed some embarrassing alliances Although his engagement with science is far reaching and surely sincere the man is not above consulting an astrologer or oracle when making important decisions I will have something to say in this book about many of the things that might have justified Hitchs opprobrium but the general thrust of his commentary here was all wrong Several Eastern traditions are exceptionally empirical and exceptionally wise and therefore merit the exceptionalism claimed by their adherents Buddhism in particular possesses a literature on the nature of the mind that has no peer in Western religion or Western science Some of these teachings are cluttered with metaphysical assumptions that should provoke our doubts but many arent And when engaged as a set of hypotheses by which to investigate the mind and deepen ones ethical life Buddhism can be an entirely rational enterprise 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 awakened oneand 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 The teachings of Buddhism and of Eastern spirituality generally focus on the primacy of the mind There are dangers in this way of viewing the world to be sure Focusing on training the mind to the exclusion of all else can lead to political uietism and hive like conformity The fact that your mind is all you have and that it is possible to be at peace even in difficult circumstances can become an argument for ignoring obvious societal problems But it is not a compelling one The world is in desperate need of improvementin global terms freedom and prosperity remain the exceptionand yet this doesnt mean we need to be miserable while we work for the common good In fact the teachings of Buddhism emphasize a connection between ethical and spiritual life Making progress in one domain lays a foundation for progress in the other One can for instance spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the worldhaving better relationships beinghonest and compassionate and thereforehelpful to ones fellow human beings Being wisely selfish and being selfless can amount to very much the same thing There are centuries of anecdotal testimony on this pointand as we will see the scientific study of the mind has begun to bear it out There is now little uestion that how one uses ones attention moment to moment largely determines what kind of person one becomes Our mindsand livesare largely shaped by how we use them 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 As I wrote in my first book The End of Faith the disparity between Eastern and Western spirituality resembles that found between Eastern and Western medicinewith the arrow of embarrassment pointing in the opposite direction Humanity did not understand the biology of cancer develop antibiotics and vaccines or seuence the human genome under an Eastern sun Conseuently real medicine is almost entirely a product of Western science Insofar as specific techniues of Eastern medicine actually work they must conform whether by design or by happenstance to the principles of biology as we have come to know them in the West This is not to say that Western medicine is complete In a few decades many of our current practices will seem barbaric One need only ponder the list of side effects that accompany most medications to appreciate that these are terribly blunt instruments Nevertheless most of our knowledge about the human bodyand about the physical universe generallyemerged in the West The rest is instinct folklore bewilderment and untimely death An honest comparison of spiritual traditions Eastern and Western proves eually invidious As manuals for contemplative understanding the Bible and the Koran are worse than useless Whatever wisdom can be found in their pages is never best found there and it is subverted time and again by ancient savagery and superstition Again one must deploy the necessary caveats I am not saying that most Buddhists or Hindus have been sophisticated contemplatives Their traditions have spawned many of the same pathologies we see elsewhere among the faithful dogmatism anti intellectualism tribalism otherworldliness However the empirical difference between the central teachings of Buddhism and Advaita and those of Western monotheism is difficult to overstate One can traverse the Eastern paths simply by becoming interested in the nature of ones own mindespecially in the immediate causes of psychological sufferingand by paying closer attention to ones experience in every present moment There is in truth nothing one need believe The teachings of Buddhism and Advaita are best viewed as lab manuals and explorers logs detailing the results of empirical research on the nature of human consciousness Nearly every geographical or linguistic barrier to the free exchange of ideas has now fallen away It seems to me therefore that educated people no longer have a right to any form of spiritual provincialism The truths of Eastern spirituality are now noEastern than the truths of Western science are Western We are merely talking about human consciousness and its possible states My purpose in writing this book is to encourage you to investigate certain contemplative insights for yourself without accepting the metaphysical ideas that they inspired in ignorant and isolated peoples of the past A final word of caution Nothing I say here is intended as a denial of the fact that psychological well being reuires a healthy sense of selfwith all the capacities that this vague phrase implies Children need to become autonomous confident and self aware in order to form healthy relationships And they must acuire a host of other cognitive emotional and interpersonal skills in the process of becoming sane and productive adults Which is to say that there is a time and a place for everythingunless of course there isnt No doubt there are psychological conditions such as schizophrenia for which practices of the sort I recommend in this book might be inappropriate Some people find the experience of an extended silent retreat psychologically destabilizing Again an analogy to physical training seems apropos Not everyone is suited to running a six minute mile or bench pressing his own body weight But many uite ordinary people are capable of these feats and there are better and worse ways to accomplish them What is the same principles of fitness generally apply even to people whose abilities are limited by illness or injury So I want to make it clear that the instructions in this book are intended for readers who are adultsor less and free from any psychological or medical conditions that could be exacerbated by meditation or other techniues of sustained introspection If paying attention to your breath to bodily sensations to the flow of thoughts or to the nature of consciousness itself seems likely to cause you clinically significant anguish please check with a psychologist or a psychiatrist before engaging in the practices I describe MINDFULNESS It is always now This might sound trite but it is the truth Its not uite true as a matter of neurology because our minds are built upon layers of inputs whose timing we know must be different But it is true as a matter of conscious experience The reality of your life is always now And to realize this we will see is liberating In fact I think there is nothingimportant to understand if you want to be happy in this world But we spend most of our lives forgetting this truthoverlooking it fleeing it repudiating it And the horror is that we succeed We manage to avoid being happy while struggling to become happy fulfilling one desire after the next banishing our fears grasping at pleasure recoiling from painand thinking interminably about how best to keep the whole works up and running As a conseuence we spend our lives being far less content than we might otherwise be We often fail to appreciate what we have until we have lost it We crave experiences objects relationships only to grow bored with them And yet the craving persists I speak from experience of course As a remedy for this predicament many spiritual teachings ask us to entertain unfounded ideas about the nature of realityor at the very least to develop a fondness for the iconography and rituals of one or another religion But not all paths traverse the same rough ground There are methods of meditation that do not reuire any artifice or unwarranted assumptions at all For beginners I usually recommend a techniue called vipassana Pali for insight which comes from the oldest tradition of Buddhism the Theravada One of the advantages of vipassana is that it can be taught in an entirely secular way Experts in this practice generally acuire their training in a Buddhist context and most retreat centers in the United States and Europe teach its associated Buddhist philosophy Nevertheless this method of introspection can be brought into any secular or scientific context without embarrassment The same cannot be said for the practice of chanting to Lord Krishna while banging a drum That is why vipassana is now being widely studied and adopted by psychologists and neuroscientists The uality of mind cultivated in vipassana is almost always referred to as mindfulness and the literature on its psychological benefits is now substantial There is nothing spooky about mindfulness It is simply a state of clear nonjudgmental and undistracted attention to the contents of consciousness whether pleasant or unpleasant Cultivating this uality of mind has been shown to reduce pain anxiety and depression improve cognitive function and even produce changes in gray matter density in regions of the brain related to learning and memory emotional regulation and self awareness We will lookclosely at the neurophysiology of mindfulness in a later chapter Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali word sati The term has several meanings in the Buddhist literature but for our purposes the most important is clear awareness The practice was first described in the Satipatthana Sutta which is part of the Pali Canon Like many Buddhist texts the Satipatthana Sutta is highly repetitive and for anything but an avid student of Buddhism exceptionally boring to read However when one compares texts of this kind with the Bible or the Koran the difference is unmistakable The Satipatthana Sutta is not a collection of ancient myths superstitions and taboos it is a rigorously empirical guide to freeing the mind from suffering The Buddha described four foundations of mindfulness which he taught as the direct path for the purification of beings for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation for the disappearance of pain and grief for the attainment of the true way for the realization of Nibbana Sanskrit Nirvana The four foundations of mindfulness are the body breathing changes in posture activities feelings the senses of pleasantness unpleasantness and neutrality the mind in particular its moods and attitudes and the objects of mind which include the.

[BOOKS] ✬ Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion By Sam Harris – Teachenglishthailand.co.uk Waking Up Chapter Spirituality I once participated in a twenty three day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and[BOOKS] Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion By Sam Harris Teachenglishthailand.co.uk Waking Up Chapter Spirituality I once participated in a twenty three day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and Waking Up Chapter Searching for PDF Spirituality I once participated in a twenty three day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the worlds mosuitoes it was fulfilled on the first day What was Waking Up: PDF/EPUB ² in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as the solo where we were finally permitted to restalone on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lakefor three days of fasting and contemplation I had just turned sixteen and this Up: Searching for Epub was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mothers womb It proved a sufficient provocation After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake the promising young man I imagined myself to be was uickly cut down by loneliness and Up: Searching for Spirituality Without MOBI : boredom I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist philosopher or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothingtranscendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake I found the experience of sitting undisturbed for three days amid pristine breezes and starlight with nothing to do but contemplate the mystery of my existence to be a source of perfect miseryfor which I could see not so much as a glimmer of my own contribution My letters home in their plaintiveness and self pity rivaled any written at Shiloh or Gallipoli So I wasthan a little surprised when several members of our party most of whom were a decade older than I described their days and nights of solitude in positive even transformational terms I simply didnt know what to make of their claims to happiness How could someones happiness increase when all the material sources of pleasure and distraction had been removed At that age the nature of my own mind did not interest meonly my life did And I was utterly oblivious to how different life would be if the uality of my mind were to change Our minds are all we have They are all we have ever had And they are all we can offer others This might not be obvious especially when there are aspects of your life that seem in need of improvementwhen your goals are unrealized or you are struggling to find a career or you have relationships that need repairing But its the truth Every experience you have ever had has been shaped by your mind Every relationship is as good or as bad as it is because of the minds involved If you are perpetually angry depressed confused and unloving or your attention is elsewhere it wont matter how successful you become or who is in your lifeyou wont enjoy any of it Most of us could easily compile a list of goals we want to achieve or personal problems that need to be solved But what is the real significance of every item on such a list Everything we want to accomplishto paint the house learn a new language find a better jobis something that promises that if done it would allow us to finally relax and enjoy our lives in the present Generally speaking this is a false hope Im not denying the importance of achieving ones goals maintaining ones health or keeping ones children clothed and fedbut most of us spend our time seeking happiness and security without acknowledging the underlying purpose of our search Each of us is looking for a path back to the present We are trying to find good enough reasons to be satisfied now Acknowledging that this is the structure of the game we are playing allows us to play it differently How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and therefore the uality of our lives Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for agesbut a growing body of scientific research now bears it out A few years after my first painful encounter with solitude in the winter of I took the drug methylenedioxy N methylamphetamine MDMA commonly known as Ecstasy and my sense of the human minds potential shifted profoundly Although MDMA would become ubiuitous at dance clubs and raves in the s at that time I didnt know anyone of my generation who had tried it One evening a few months before my twentieth birthday a close friend and I decided to take the drug The setting of our experiment bore little resemblance to the conditions of Dionysian abandon under which MDMA is now often consumed We were alone in a house seated across from each other on opposite ends of a couch and engaged in uiet conversation as the chemical worked its way into our heads Unlike other drugs with which we were by then familiar marijuana and alcohol MDMA produced no feeling of distortion in our senses Our minds seemed completely clear In the midst of this ordinariness however I was suddenly struck by the knowledge that I loved my friend This shouldnt have surprised mehe was after all one of my best friends However at that age I was not in the habit of dwelling on how much I loved the men in my life Now I could feel that I loved him and this feeling had ethical implications that suddenly seemed as profound as they now sound pedestrian on the page I wanted him to be happy That conviction came crashing down with such force that something seemed to give way inside me In fact the insight appeared to restructure my mind My capacity for envy for instancethe sense of being diminished by the happiness or success of another personseemed like a symptom of mental illness that had vanished without a trace I could nohave felt envy at that moment than I could have wanted to poke out my own eyes What did I care if my friend was better looking or a better athlete than I was If I could have bestowed those gifts on him I would have Truly wanting him to be happy made his happiness my own A certain euphoria was creeping into these reflections perhaps but the general feeling remained one of absolute sobrietyand of moral and emotional clarity unlike any I had ever known It would not be too strong to say that I felt sane for the first time in my life And yet the change in my consciousness seemed entirely straightforward I was simply talking to my friendabout what I dont recalland realized that I had ceased to be concerned about myself I was no longer anxious self critical guarded by irony in competition avoiding embarrassment ruminating about the past and future or making any other gesture of thought or attention that separated me from him I was no longer watching myself through another persons eyes And then came the insight that irrevocably transformed my sense of how good human life could be I was feeling boundless love for one of my best friends and I suddenly realized that if a stranger had walked through the door at that moment he or she would have been fully included in this love Love was at bottom impersonaland deeper than any personal history could justify Indeed a transactional form of loveI love you because now made no sense at all The interesting thing about this final shift in perspective was that it was not driven by any change in the way I felt I was not overwhelmed by a new feeling of love The insight hadthe character of a geometric proof It was as if having glimpsed the properties of one set of parallel lines I suddenly understood what must be common to them all The moment I could find a voice with which to speak I discovered that this epiphany about the universality of love could be readily communicated My friend got the point at once All I had to do was ask him how he would feel in the presence of a total stranger at that moment and the same door opened in his mind It was simply obvious that love compassion and joy in the joy of others extended without limit The experience was not of love growing but of its being no longer obscured Love wasas advertised by mystics and crackpots through the agesa state of being How had we not seen this before And how could we overlook it ever again It would take me many years to put this experience into context 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 worlds 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 Twenty percent of Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists eually separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do It is to assert two important truths simultaneously Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn and yet there isto understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit One purpose of this book is to give both these convictions intellectual and empirical support Before going any further I should address the animosity that many readers feel toward the term spiritual Whenever I use the word as in referring to meditation as a spiritual practice I hear from fellow skeptics and atheists who think that I have committed a grievous error The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus which is a translation of the Greek pneuma meaning breath Around the thirteenth century the term became entangled with beliefs about immaterial souls supernatural beings ghosts and so forth It acuired other meanings as well We speak of the spirit of a thing as its most essential principle or of certain volatile substances and liuors as spirits Nevertheless many nonbelievers now consider all things spiritual to be contaminated by medieval superstition I do not share their semantic concerns Yes to walk the aisles of any spiritual bookstore is to confront the yearning and credulity of our species by the yard but there is no other termapart from the evenproblematic mystical or therestrictive contemplativewith which to discuss the efforts people make through meditation psychedelics or other means to fully bring their minds into the present or to induce nonordinary states of consciousness And no other word links this spectrum of experience to our ethical lives Throughout this book I discuss certain classically spiritual phenomena concepts and practices in the context of our modern understanding of the human mindand I cannot do this while restricting myself to the terminology of ordinary experience So I will use spiritual mystical contemplative and transcendent without further apology However I will be precise in describing the experiences and methods that merit these terms For many years I have been a vocal critic of religion and I wont ride the same hobbyhorse here I hope that I have been sufficiently energetic on this front that even my most skeptical readers will trust that my bullshit detector remains well calibrated as we advance over this new terrain Perhaps the following assurance can suffice for the moment Nothing in this book needs to be accepted on faith Although my focus is on human subjectivityI am after all talking about the nature of experience itselfall my assertions can be tested in the laboratory of your own life In fact my goal is to encourage you to do just that Authors who attempt to build a bridge between science and spirituality tend to make one of two mistakes Scientists generally start with an impoverished view of spiritual experience assuming that it must be a grandiose way of describing ordinary states of mindparental love artistic inspiration awe at the beauty of the night sky In this vein one finds Einsteins amazement at the intelligibility of Natures laws described as though it were a kind of mystical insight New Age thinkers usually enter the ditch on the other side of the road They idealize altered states of consciousness and draw specious connections between subjective experience and the spookier theories at the frontiers of physics Here we are told that the Buddha and other contemplatives anticipated modern cosmology or uantum mechanics and that by transcending the sense of self a person can realize his identity with the One Mind that gave birth to the cosmos In the end we are left to choose between pseudo spirituality and pseudo science Few scientists and philosophers have developed strong skills of introspectionin fact most doubt that such abilities even exist Conversely many of the greatest contemplatives know nothing about science But there is a connection between scientific fact and spiritual wisdom and it isdirect than most people suppose Although the insights we can have in meditation tell us nothing about the origins of the universe they do confirm some well established truths about the human mind Our conventional sense of self is an illusion positive emotions such as compassion and patience are teachable skills and the way we think directly influences our experience of the world There is now a large literature on the psychological benefits of meditation Different techniues produce long lasting changes in attention emotion cognition and pain perception and these correlate with both structural and functional changes in the brain This field of research is uickly growing as is our understanding of self awareness and related mental phenomena Given recent advances in neuroimaging technology we no longer face a practical impediment to investigating spiritual insights in the context of science Spirituality must be distinguished from religionbecause people of every faith and of none have had the same sorts of spiritual experiences While these states of mind are usually interpreted through the lens of one or another religious doctrine we know that this is a mistake Nothing that a Christian a Muslim and a Hindu can experienceself transcending love ecstasy bliss inner lightconstitutes evidence in support of their traditional beliefs because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another A deeper principle must be at work That principle is the subject of this book The feeling that we call I is an illusion There is no discrete self or ego living like a Minotaur in the labyrinth of the brain And the feeling that there isthe sense of being perched somewhere behind your eyes looking out at a world that is separate from yourselfcan be altered or entirely extinguished Although such experiences of self transcendence are generally thought about in religious terms there is nothing in principle irrational about them From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are Deepening that understanding and repeatedly cutting through the illusion of the self is what is meant by spirituality in the context of this book Confusion and suffering may be our birthright but wisdom and happiness are available The landscape of human experience includes deeply transformative insights about the nature of ones own consciousness and yet it is obvious that these psychological states must be understood in the context of neuroscience psychology and related fields I am often asked what will replace organized religion The answer I believe is nothing and everything Nothing need replace its ludicrous and divisive doctrinessuch as the idea that Jesus will return to earth and hurl unbelievers into a lake of fire or that death in defense of Islam is the highest good These are terrifying and debasing fictions But what about love compassion moral goodness and self transcendence Many people still imagine that religion is the true repository of these virtues To change this we must talk about the full range of human experience in a way that is as free of dogma as the best science already is This book is by turns a seekers memoir an introduction to the brain a manual of contemplative instruction and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives the feeling of self we call I I have not set out to describe all the traditional approaches to spirituality and to weigh their strengths and weaknesses Rather my goal is to pluck the diamond from the dunghill of esoteric religion There is a diamond there and I have devoted a fair amount of my life to contemplating it but getting it in hand reuires that we remain true to the deepest principles of scientific skepticism and make no obeisance to tradition Where I do discuss specific teachings such as those of Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta it isnt my purpose to provide anything like a comprehensive account Readers who are loyal to any one spiritual tradition or who specialize in the academic study of religion may view my approach as the uintessence of arrogance I consider it rather a symptom of impatience There is barely time enough in a bookor in a lifeto get to the point Just as a modern treatise on weaponry would omit the casting of spells and would very likely ignore the slingshot and the boomerang I will focus on what I consider the most promising lines of spiritual inuiry My hope is that my personal experience will help readers to see the nature of their own minds in a new light A rational approach to spirituality seems to be what is missing from secularism and from the lives of most of the people I meet The purpose of this book is to offer readers a clear view of the problem along with some tools to help them solve it for themselves THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS One day you will find yourself outside this world which is like a mothers womb You will leave this earth to enter while you are yet in the body a vast expanse and know that the words Gods earth is vast name this region from which the saints have come Jalal ud Din Rumi I share the concern expressed by many atheists that the terms spiritual and mystical are often used to make claims not merely about the uality of certain experiences but about reality at large Far too often these words are invoked in support of religious beliefs that are morally and intellectually grotesue Conseuently many of my fellow atheists consider all talk of spirituality to be a sign of mental illness conscious imposture or self deception This is a problem because millions of people have had experiences for which spiritual and mystical seem the only terms available Many of the beliefs people form on the basis of these experiences are false But the fact that most atheists will view a statement like Rumis above as a symptom of the mans derangement grants a kernel of truth to the rantings of even our least rational opponents The human mind does in fact contain vast expanses that few of us ever discover And there is something degraded and degrading about many of our habits of attention as we shop gossip argue and ruminate our way to the grave Perhaps I should speak only for myself here It seems to me that I spend much of my waking life in a neurotic trance My experiences in meditation suggest however that an alternative exists It is possible to stand free of the juggernaut of self if only for moments at a time Most cultures have produced men and women who have found that certain deliberate uses of attentionmeditation yoga prayercan transform their perception of the world Their efforts generally begin with the realization that even in the best of circumstances happiness is elusive We seek pleasant sights sounds tastes sensations and moods We satisfy our intellectual curiosity We surround ourselves with friends and loved ones We become connoisseurs of art music or food But our pleasures are by their very nature fleeting If we enjoy some great professional success our feelings of accomplishment remain vivid and intoxicating for an hour or perhaps a day but then they subside And the search goes on The effort reuired to keep boredom and other unpleasantness at bay must continue moment to moment Ceaseless change is an unreliable basis for lasting fulfillment Realizing this many people begin to wonder whether a deeper source of well being exists Is there a form of happiness beyond the mere repetition of pleasure and avoidance of pain Is there a happiness that does not depend upon having ones favorite foods available or friends and loved ones within arms reach or good books to read or something to look forward to on the weekend Is it possible to be happy before anything happens before ones desires are gratified in spite of lifes difficulties in the very midst of physical pain old age disease and death We are all in some sense living our answer to this uestionand most of us are living as though the answer were no No nothing isprofound than repeating ones pleasures and avoiding ones pains nothing isprofound than seeking satisfactionsensory emotional and intellectualmoment after moment Just keep your foot on the gas until you run out of road Certain people however come to suspect that human existence might encompassthan this Many of them are led to suspect this by religionby the claims of the Buddha or Jesus or some other celebrated figure And such people often begin to practice various disciplines of attention as a means of examining their experience closely enough to see whether a deeper source of well being exists They may even seuester themselves in caves or monasteries for months or years at a time to facilitate this process Why would a person do this No doubt there are many motives for retreating from the world and some of them are psychologically unhealthy In its wisest form however the exercise amounts to a very simple experiment Here is its logic If there exists a source of psychological well being that does not depend upon merely gratifying ones desires then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure have been removed Such happiness should be available to a person who has declined to marry her high school sweetheart renounced her career and material possessions and gone off to a cave or some other spot that is inhospitable to ordinary aspirations One clue to how daunting most people would find such a project is the fact that solitary confinementwhich is essentially what we are talking aboutis considered a punishment inside a maximum security prison Even when forced to live among murderers and rapists most people still prefer the company of others to spending any significant amount of time alone in a room And yet contemplatives in many traditions claim to experience extraordinary depths of psychological well being while living in isolation for vast stretches of time How should we interpret this Either the contemplative literature is a catalogue of religious delusion psychopathology and deliberate fraud or people have been having liberating insights under the name of spirituality and mysticism for millennia Unlike many atheists I have spent much of my life seeking experiences of the kind that gave rise to the worlds religions Despite the painful results of my first few days alone in the mountains of Colorado I later studied with a wide range of monks lamas yogis and other contemplatives some of whom had lived for decades in seclusion doing nothing but meditating In the process I spent two years on silent retreat myself in increments of one week to three months practicing various techniues of meditation for twelve to eighteen hours a day I can attest that when one goes into silence and meditates for weeks or months at a time doing nothing elsenot speaking reading or writing just making a moment to moment effort to observe the contents of consciousnessone has experiences that are generally unavailable to people who have not undertaken a similar practice I believe that such states of mind have a lot to say about the nature of consciousness and the possibilities of human well being Leaving aside the metaphysics mythology and sectarian dogma what contemplatives throughout history have discovered is that there is an alternative to being continuously spellbound by the conversation we are having with ourselves there is an alternative to simply identifying with the next thought that pops into consciousness And glimpsing this alternative dispels the conventional illusion of the self Most traditions of spirituality also suggest a connection between self transcendence and living ethically Not all good feelings have an ethical valence and pathological forms of ecstasy surely exist I have no doubt for instance that many suicide bombers feel extraordinarily good just before they detonate themselves in a crowd But there are also forms of mental pleasure that are intrinsically ethical As I indicated earlier for some states of consciousness a phrase like boundless love does not seem overblown It is decidedly inconvenient for the forces of reason and secularism that if someone wakes up tomorrow feeling boundless love for all sentient beings the only people likely to acknowledge the legitimacy of his experience will be representatives of one or another Iron Age religion or New Age cult Most of us are far wiser than we may appear to be We know how to keep our relationships in order to use our time well to improve our health to lose weight to learn valuable skills and to solve many other riddles of existence But following even the straight and open path to happiness is hard If your best friend were to ask how she could live a better life you would probably find many useful things to say and yet you might not live that way yourself On one level wisdom is nothingprofound than an ability to follow ones own advice However there are deeper insights to be had about the nature of our minds Unfortunately they have been discussed entirely in the context of religion and therefore have been shrouded in fallacy and superstition for all of human history The problem of finding happiness in this world arrives with our first breathand our needs and desires seem to multiply by the hour To spend any time in the presence of a young child is to witness a mind ceaselessly buffeted by joy and sorrow As we grow older our laughter and tears become less gratuitous perhaps but the same process of change continues One roiling complex of thought and emotion is followed by the next like waves in the ocean Seeking finding maintaining and safeguarding our well being is the great project to which we all are devoted whether or not we choose to think in these terms This is not to say that we want mere pleasure or the easiest possible life Many things reuire extraordinary effort to accomplish and some of us learn to enjoy the struggle Any athlete knows that certain kinds of pain can be exuisitely pleasurable The burn of lifting weights for instance would be excruciating if it were a symptom of terminal illness But because it is associated with health and fitness most people find it enjoyable Here we see that cognition and emotion are not separate The way we think about experience can completely determine how we feel about it And we always face tensions and trade offs In some moments we crave excitement and in others rest We might love the taste of wine and chocolate but rarely for breakfast Whatever the context our minds are perpetually movinggenerally toward pleasure or its imagined source and away from pain I am not the first person to have noticed this Our struggle to navigate the space of possible pains and pleasures produces most of human culture Medical science attempts to prolong our health and to reduce the suffering associated with illness aging and death All forms of media cater to our thirst for information and entertainment Political and economic institutions seek to ensure our peaceful collaboration with one anotherand the police or the military is summoned when they fail Beyond ensuring our survival civilization is a vast machine invented by the human mind to regulate its states We are ever in the process of creating and repairing a world that our minds want to be in And wherever we look we see the evidence of our successes and our failures Unfortunately failure enjoys a natural advantage Wrong answers to any problem outnumber right ones by a wide margin and it seems that it will always be easier to break things than to fix them Despite the beauty of our world and the scope of human accomplishment it is hard not to worry that the forces of chaos will triumphnot merely in the end but in every moment Our pleasures however refined or easily acuired are by their very nature fleeting They begin to subside the instant they arise only to be replaced by fresh desires or feelings of discomfort You cant get enough of your favorite meal until in the next moment you find you are so stuffed as to nearly reuire the attention of a surgeonand yet by some uirk of physics you still have room for dessert The pleasure of dessert lasts a few seconds and then the lingering taste in your mouth must be banished by a drink of water The warmth of the sun feels wonderful on your skin but soon it becomes too much of a good thing A move to the shade brings immediate relief but after a minute or two the breeze is just a little too cold Do you have a sweater in the car Lets take a look Yes there it is Youre warm now but you notice that your sweater has seen better days Does it make you look carefree or disheveled Perhaps it is time to go shopping for something new And so it goes We seem to do littlethan lurch between wanting and not wanting Thus the uestion naturally arises Is thereto life than this Might it be possible to feel much better in every sense of better than one tends to feel Is it possible to find lasting fulfillment despite the inevitability of change Spiritual life begins with a suspicion that the answer to such uestions could well be yes And a true spiritual practitioner is someone who has discovered that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason if only for a few moments at a time and that such ease is synonymous with transcending the apparent boundaries of the self Those who have never tasted such peace of mind might view these assertions as highly suspect Nevertheless it is a fact that a condition of selfless well being is there to be glimpsed in each moment Of course Im not claiming to have experienced all such states but I meet many people who appear to have experienced none of themand these people often profess to have no interest in spiritual life This is not surprising The phenomenon of self transcendence is generally sought and interpreted in a religious context and it is precisely the sort of experience that tends to increase a persons faith How many Christians having once felt their hearts grow as wide as the world will decide to ditch Christianity and proclaim their atheism Not many I suspect How many people who have never felt anything of the kind become atheists I dont know but there is little doubt that these mental states act as a kind of filter The faithful count them in support of ancient dogma and their absence gives nonbelievers further reason to reject religion This is a difficult problem for me to address in the context of a book because many readers will have no idea what Im talking about when I describe certain spiritual experiences and might assume that the assertions Im making must be accepted on faith Religious readers present a different challenge They may think they know exactly what Im describing.

Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion

Waking Up: Searching for Spirituality Without Religion En tant u’auteur Searching for PDF ☆ connu certains de ses livres fascinent les lecteurs comme dans le livre Waking Up Searching for Spirituality Without Religion ui est l’un des lecteurs les plus recherchés Sam Harris auteurs dans le monde.

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