Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, best selling author, and philosopher. He’s played a major role in spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society through his books: The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Harris rose to fame (or infamy, depending on your opinion) as an outspoken critic of religion, especially of Christianity and Islam, and is a leader of the New Atheist movement. Which is why his latest book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, is a provocative change for Harris and his rational allies.
Part memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality, Waking Up attempts to marry contemplative wisdom with modern science. Harris’ mission is to guide readers to meditate and to recognize the illusion of self. By sharing his personal encounters with gurus, psychedelics, and spiritual experiences, Harris escorts believers and skeptics on a rational, experiential journey of transcendence of self. To Harris, god is dead but spirituality lives.
Quotes from Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
I came to Tulku Urgyen yearning for the experience of self-transcendence, and in a few minutes he showed me that I had no self to transcend.
The sense that there is a thinker behind one’s thoughts, an experiencer amid the flow of experience is an illusion.
Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.
One must be able to pay attention closely enough to glimpse what consciousness is like between thoughts– that is prior to the arising of the next one.
It it important to realize that true meditation isn’t an effort to produce a certain state of mind–like bliss, or unusual visual images, or love for all sentient beings. The deeper purpose of meditation is to recognize that which is common to all states of experience, both pleasant and unpleasant.
One of the greatest obstacles I see to our fashioning a rational approach to spirituality is that religious superstition and self-deception masquerade as science.
The real distinction we should care about–the observation of which is the sine qua non of the scientific attitude–is between demanding good reasons for what one believes and being satisfied with bad ones. Spirituality requires the same commitment to intellectual honesty.
What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose on earth? These are some of the great, false questions of religion. We need not answer them, for they are badly posed, be we can live our answers all the same.
Spirituality remains the great hole in secularism, humanism, rationalism, atheism, and all the other defensive postures that reasonable men and women strike in the presence of unreasonable faith.
Until we can talk about spirituality in rational terms– acknowledging the validity of self-transcendence– our world will remain shattered by dogmatism.
The conventional self is an illusion.
Harris is applauded for his efforts to separate spirituality from superstition. No other book by a famous atheist tries to encourage contemplative experiences using reason and science. Waking Up does not answer the meaning of life or our purpose on earth– for Harris these are false questions of religion and are only to be answered by each individual. Our author guides readers on a personal journey of meditation without religion. Spirituality, redefined, in rational and experiential terms.
Read my book review and others on Amazon.
Questions for readers: What do you think of meditation without religious beliefs? Have you tried it?
Read my related post A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment