Harris (2014). Chapter 1: Spirituality. (Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion).

Harris, S. (2014). Chapter 1: Spirituality. In Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (EPUB). New York: Simon & Schuster.

“Our minds are all we have. They are all we have ever had. And they are all we can offer others. … 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.” (¶5)

“… 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_.” (¶6)

“How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience and, therefore, the quality of our lives. Mystics and contemplatives have made this claim for ages — but a growing body of scientific research now bears it out.” (¶7)

“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.” (¶22)

“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.” (¶26)

“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 experience — self-transcending love, ecstasy, bliss, inner light — constitutes evidence in support of their traditional beliefs, because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another. A deeper principle must be at work.” (¶28)

“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. ” (¶29)

[Along with Buddhism, Harris references the teachings of Advaita Vedanta. (See ¶32.) –oki]

“Readers who are loyal to any one spiritual tradition or who specialize in the academic study of religion, may view my approach as the quintessence of arrogance. I consider it, rather, a symptom of impatience. There is barely time enough in a book — or in a life — to get to the point.” (¶32)

“We are ever in the process of creating and repairing a world that our minds want to be in.” (¶49)

“No serious adherents of any faith can believe these things, because most religions make claims about reality that are mutually incompatible. … It is impossible for any faith, no matter how elastic, to fully honor the truth claims of another.” (¶56)

“To speak of sports as a generic activity makes it impossible to discuss what athletes actually do or the physical attributes required to do it. What do all sports have in common apart from breathing? Not much. The term _religion_ is hardly more useful.” (¶58)

“One can, for instance, spend long periods of time in contemplative solitude for the purpose of becoming a better person in the world — having better relationships, being more honest and compassionate and, therefore, more helpful to one’s fellow human beings. Being wisely selfish and being selfless can amount to very much the same thing.” (¶90)

“Humanity did not understand the biology of cancer, develop antibiotics and vaccines, or sequence the human genome under an Eastern sun. Consequently, real medicine is almost entirely a product of Western science. Insofar as specific techniques 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 body — and about the physical universe generally — emerged in the West. The rest is instinct, folklore, bewilderment, and untimely death.” (¶92)

“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 no more Eastern than the truths of Western science are Western. We are merely talking about human consciousness and its possible states.” (¶95)

“_It is always now_. This might sound trite, but it is the truth. It’s not quite true as a matter of neurology, because our minds are built upon layers of inputs whose timing we know must be different.” (¶98)

“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 quality 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.” (¶102)

“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 five senses but also other mental states, such as volition, tranquility, rapture, equanimity, and even mindfulness itself).” (¶104)

“Being mindful is not a matter of _thinking_ more clearly about experience; it is the act of _experiencing_ more clearly, including the arising of thoughts themselves.” (¶105)

“It is quite possible to lose one’s sense of being a separate self and to experience a kind of boundless, open awareness — to feel, in other words, at one with the cosmos. This says a lot about the possibilities of human consciousness, but it says nothing about the universe at large.” (¶129)

“So what would a spiritual master be a master _of_? At a minimum, she will no longer suffer certain cognitive and emotional illusions — above all, she will no longer feel identical to her thoughts. Once again, this is not to say that such a person will no longer think, but she would no longer succumb to the primary confusion that thoughts produce in most of us: She would no longer feel that there is an inner self who is a thinker of these thoughts.” (¶133)

“Every mental state you have ever had has arisen and then passed away. This is a first-person fact — but it is, nonetheless, a fact that any human being can readily confirm.” (¶134)

“An ability to examine the contents of one’s own consciousness clearly, dispassionately, and nondiscursively, with sufficient attention to realize that no inner self exists, is a very sophisticated skill.” (¶136)

“… it is your mind, rather than circumstances themselves, that determines the quality of your life. Your mind is the basis of everything you experience and of every contribution you make to the lives of others.” (¶138)

“In my view, the realistic goal to be attained through spiritual practice is not some permanent state of enlightenment that admits of no further efforts but a capacity to be free in this moment, in the midst of whatever is happening. If you can do that, you have already solved most of the problems you will encounter in life.” (¶143)

Selected Notes

  • 1. … “I have no quarrel with Hitch and Sagan’s general use of spiritual to mean something like ‘beauty or significance that provokes awe,’ but I believe that we can also use it in a narrower and, indeed, more personally transformative sense.”
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