History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Chopra on Harris, II

September 29th, 2014 · 14 Comments


This is the second part of Chopra’s take on Harris’ Waking Up: we linked to the first with a lot of commentary here.

It is a useful take on Harris peculiar ‘brand’ of the ‘mindfulness’ meme. I think that we should feel less than fully convinced about the ‘illusion of self’: it is at this point the counterpoint to the even more ancient memes of atman/brahman, and I think we can see at once that both perspectives are really variants of each other.
One way to suspect the ‘illusion of self’ is via the ‘transcendental idealism’ of Kant, and, better, Schopenhauer: we can see at once that there is going to be a confusion of self in the question of the phenomenal and the noumenal, or as Schopenhauer put it, the ‘thing in itself’. The deduction is instant…

I think that the Buddhist position was always confusing, and I think a new era of neo-buddhism will withdraw this dogma of the ‘anatta’ and let it stand in reserve as better an insight than a dogmatic tenet of organized buddhism. This special insight of Gautama should never have come to dominate the thinking of beginners who the record shows can’t handle it. You can do better with schlock ‘atman/brahman’ thinking to start.

I think that Harris is suspect as a packager of ideology: how on earth can anyone propose to eliminate the question of ‘enlightenment’ from the whole question of ‘waking up’? Harris’ whole game smacks of an attempt to try and control a New Age circuit fundamental with a ‘secular atheist’ leveraging of concepts armed with the dogmatic authority of science, no scientism.

Tags: General

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 NK // Oct 10, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    “…it is at this point the counterpoint to the even more ancient memes of atman/brahman, and I think we can see at once that both perspectives are really variants of each other.”

    I seem to make this point over and over again and nobody seems to get it. The Upanishads and early Buddhism do not teach the same goal. The “Anatta” doctrine doesn’t make sense until you’ve gotten to very high stages of meditation. Namely, advanced meditators have a strong tendency to confuse what are called the “arupa jhanas” in Buddhism with a Cosmic Self or Ground of Being.

    One can see this in contemporary figures such as Ramana Maharshi. Notice how he defined “Enlightenment: (There is a subtle sense of “I am)”

    2. Sat-chit-ananda This is a Sanskrit term which translates as
    being-consciousness-bliss. Sri Ramana taught that the Self is pure
    being, a subjective awareness of `I am’ which is completely devoid of
    the feeling `I am this’ or `I am that’. There are no subjects or objects in
    the Self, there is only an awareness of being.


  • 2 NK // Oct 10, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    The Theravada critique would be that Ramana doesn’t understand that there is a subtle level of fabrication at work and he hasn’t reached the goal:

    “Although at present we rarely think in the same terms as the Samkhya philosophers, there has long been — and still is — a common tendency to create a “Buddhist” metaphysics in which the experience of emptiness, the Unconditioned, the Dharma-body, Buddha-nature, rigpa, etc., is said to function as the ground of being from which the “All” — the entirety of our sensory & mental experience — is said to spring and to which we return when we meditate. Some people think that these theories are the inventions of scholars without any direct meditative experience, but actually they have most often originated among meditators, who label (or in the words of the discourse, “perceive”) a particular meditative experience as the ultimate goal, identify with it in a subtle way (as when we are told that “we are the knowing”), and then view that level of experience as the ground of being out of which all other experience comes.

    Any teaching that follows these lines would be subject to the same criticism that the Buddha directed against the monks who first heard this discourse.”


  • 3 NK // Oct 10, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    And, one should also note that the Buddha never took a metaphysical position on issues of self:


  • 4 NK // Oct 10, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Quote from Chopra:

    “If “no self” is only a stepping stone on the way to the “higher self,” these issues can be resolved to the benefit of everyone.”

    Ugh…Both Chopra and Harris are amateurs.

  • 5 NK // Oct 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    By the way, the “anatta” doctrine itself can lead to further becoming and isn’t really the core teaching of Buddhism (i.e. craving for non-becoming is still craving). The experience of the arupa jhanas seem to be a cross-cultural phenomenon. Look at how one can induce the “Sphere of Nothingness:”

    “The third kind of emptiness taught by the Buddha — as a state of concentration — is essentially another way of using insight into emptiness as an attribute of the senses and their objects as a means to attain release. One discourse (MN 43) describes it as follows: A monk goes to sit in a quiet place and intentionally perceives the six senses and their objects as empty of self or anything pertaining to self. As he pursues this perception, it brings his mind not directly to release, but to the formless jhana of nothingness, which is accompanied by strong equanimity.

    Another discourse (MN 106) pursues this topic further, noting that the monk relishes the equanimity. If he simply keeps on relishing it, his meditation goes no further than that. But if he learns to see that equanimity as an action — fabricated, willed — he can look for the subtle stress it engenders. If he can observe this stress as it arises and passes away simply on its own terms, neither adding any other perceptions to it nor taking anything away, he’s again adopting emptiness as an approach to his meditation. By dropping the causes of stress wherever he finds them in his concentration, he ultimately reaches the highest form of emptiness, free from all mental fabrication.”

    Bernadette Roberts, a contemporary Catholic mystic who says her experience is like a “nothingness” beyond the Unitary Self experience(she says the Upanishads do not go far enough), seems to be inducing this very same state. She is holding onto a sense of equanimity in the “now moment:”

    “By the time the journey is over, the only possible way of living is in the now-moment, wherein the mind moves neither backward nor forward but remains fixed and fully concentrated in the present. Because of this, the mind is so open and clear than no preconceived notions can get a foothold; no idea can be carried over from one moment to another; much less, could any notion demand conformity from others. There are no more head-trips — no clinging to a frame of reference, even if it is only the reference of tomorrow’s expectations. In a word, what is to be done or thought is always underfoot, with no need to step aside in order to find out what is to be thought, believed, or enacted….”


  • 6 nemo // Oct 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    We can examine these comments as we go, but keep in mind that a person who is in meditation doesn’t think about the self and its mysteries.
    It seems that we have no easy way to determine the nature of self, but we can reach enlightenment

    Buddhists are forced to repeat the annatta doctrine but don’t usually understand it.

  • 7 nemo // Oct 11, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    I requested at the other blog some clarification of your connection to accesstoinsight.com: that site has shown a series of anonymous commenters often trying to promote that site.

  • 8 NK // Oct 16, 2014 at 10:20 am

    ‘…but keep in mind that a person who is in meditation doesn’t think about the self and its mysteries.”

    That is the whole point. The metaphysical nature of “self” is irrelevant to the issue of meditation. It is an inappropriate way to frame things.

    As for trying to “promote” Accesstoinsight, I think that is a mischaracterization. If you want to understand the Indian tradition and early Buddhism, you’re going to have to study the early sources. Nobody is qualified to speak about this issue unless they’ve done that.

  • 9 NK // Oct 16, 2014 at 10:21 am

    And I’ve studied just about every contemplative tradition and know the issues inside and out.

  • 10 nemo // Oct 16, 2014 at 11:25 am

    This is not a buddhist blog and I don’t have to distract myself with your propaganda. I have never commented for that matter on any of it.
    Starting with “James” in about 2007 I had an accesstoinsight commenter who always attended to the content of this blog, with an occassional links to accesstoinsight. James was a genuinely warm and insightful commenter who often set up a discussion on evolution that could lead to posts in the main blog. He never tried to use this blog for buddhist propaganda. He had to move on finally. Later a second such commenter appeared. An obnoxious and manipulative asshole constantly linking to accesstoinsight and claiming to be James. I had to ban him because he to my stunned surprise was an outright racist, and started aggressive commenting with some really odious stuff. So forgive me if I don’t trust another anonymous ‘buddhist’.

    Commenting anonymously is a luxury you may not deserve. I live in a world of jewish/sufi and Crowleyan black magicians who still attack me on a regular basis. And I suspect the same from Tibetans. The world of new age buddhism is under suspicion of fascist/nazi operators, now mostly defunct, but the appearance of hostility from an anonymous buddhist is grounds for selfdefense. In fact I can see you are harmless, but in the end the dark zone at accesstoinsight will end up being still another set of enemies. Fuck off all of you. I can and will reach enlightenment alone on a stealth path. You don’t have rights here if you are anonymous. And the people you stand in for are not to be trusted. They couldn’t even discipline a southern racist and let him associate their site with that, no comment, always anonymous.

    You don’t worry me though, so what’s the difference.But I think it is time you moved on. We don’t need more accesstoinginsight links. Check the archives: there must be twenty megabytes of comment with those links. Enough’s enough.

  • 11 NK // Oct 16, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    I guess my cover is finally blown. You’re too perceptive to fool. You’re right: I’m an undercover Nazi/Buddhist, CIA stooge who is out to spread disinformation and cover up the truth about 9/11 being a government job.

    You’re totally right. Why would I be crazy enough to link to accesstoinsight when we’re talking about Buddhism and meditation. Any fool knows that Rajneesh/Osho knew the answers to all of these questions and he was poisoned by my agency (the CIA) for that reason.

  • 12 nemo // Oct 16, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    You have exposed your anger: 9/11 and the Osho poison question. You know, after your comments (at The Gurdjieff Con), I restudied these questions and remain confident of my views,although the poison question is more equivocal. Where have you been? The 9/11 question is almost impossible to refute. I am surprised you are so convinced.
    The poison question I have changed my mind twice, and now tentatively consider the poison hypothesis as still viable. Something strange happened after Osho left the Commune in Oregon. The question is still debated.

  • 13 nemo // Oct 16, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    The 9/11 research is pretty clear at this point: the only problem is why people like Chomsky still peddle the same old same old of 2001-2/3.
    As I said before check the literature very carefully.

  • 14 nemo // Oct 16, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    anyway i dont mind if you continue to comment// I have had this nonsense before with accesstoinsight stealth commenters, and with a wave of the hand don’t mind dissent (your peevishness resulted in two posts), except on 9/11: it is a disservice to a confused public to suggest in great contempt that critics of 9/11 propaganda are somehow indulging in wild conspiracy theories. A debate here can’t be done with comment-format slambang. I will accept a guest post if you wish challenge 9/11 expose literature. But the issue is pretty clear cut to me.
    Anyway the connection to Hinayana is of value: it is just that I don’t wont anymore fronts for occult mischief from buddhists. Wake up if you are a drone here. Screaming in the comments about the early buddhist texts is, well, amusingly weird.

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