Sam Harris on Waking Up

by L. Ron Gardner

[This is a raw, unedited article that will be included in my forthcoming book on Zen, which, barring unforeseen circumstances, will be published in 2019.]

Sam “Hardly a Sage” Harris

Many people consider Sam Harris a paragon of rationality and gnosis, an exemplar of enlightened post-postmodern wisdom who marries science and spirit. I don’t. And in this article, I seek to expose Sam’s ignorance regarding religion and spirituality. I aim to “behead” him with my “Dharma Sword” and reveal him as an overrated thinker and a clueless mystic.

“Soapbox” Sam is a philosophic “bottom-feeder” who specializes in pontificating on exoteric subjects with mass appeal. His books--Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, Lying, and The End of Faith--are geared to the common man who rejects conventional religion and seeks answers through science and reason.

Sam “the Sham,” however, doesn’t just want to denigrate conventional religion—especially Islam and Christianity—he also wants to be the “guru,” or knowledgeable guide, who educates the common man about spiritual awakening. And his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion is the written vehicle, or “bible,” through which he seeks to accomplish his “mission.”

The common non-religious man who is ignorant of esoteric spirituality will likely be impressed with Sam’s discourse in Waking Up; but the Cognoscenti, experts in the Awakening project and the Great Spiritual Traditions (including, but not limited to, Pali, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism; Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, and Patanjali Hinduism; Kabbalah, Daism, and Christian Hermeticism) will not be. They will see Sam for what he is: a pretender outside his element who reduces “waking up” to his own level of understanding.

My guess is that Sam saw how successful Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, another deluded neuroscientist, was (see my one-star Amazon review), and he decided to pen his own text on “waking up” within an essentially Buddhist context. Money talks, and even though Buddhist baloney walks, it brings in mucho moolah for big-name scientists, such as Sam, who peddle it.

Pompous Pontifications of an Un-Initiated Mystic

In Waking Up, Sam criticizes Aldous Huxley’s and others’ vision of a Perennial Philosophy, arguing that it is essentially chimera, because the Abrahamic religions are “incorrigibly dualistic,” and thus cannot be equated with nondualistic Buddhism and Hindu Advaita Vedanta. I not only say that Harris is wrong, but in my writings I present an esoteric Trinitarian version of the Perennial Philosophy that exceeds Huxley’s (see my four-star Amazon review of The Perennial Philosophy), Frithjof Schuon’s (see my two-star review of The Essential Frithjof Schuon) and Rudolf Otto’s (see my two-star review of The Idea of the Holy). If Sam could look a little deeper, he’d realize that the putatively nondual Eastern traditions are only nominally nondual. In fact, unbeknownst to Sam, a remedial student of Tibetan Dzogchen, the Buddhist Trikaya (Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, Nirmanakaya) perfectly mirrors the Christian Trinity. Moreover, the practice of Dzogchen (which I elaborate in my forthcoming book Radical Dzogchen) perfectly mirrors the mystical, or esoteric, Eucharist.

In Waking Up, Harris is guilty of the common reductionism and Dharma distortion that plague modern Buddhism. For example, he writes: “The deepest goal of spirituality is freedom from the illusion of the self.” No, it’s not; it’s achieving Nirvana, or Bodhicitta, which is tantamount to Hindu Self-realization. The Buddha did not teach that there is no self; he taught that no self could be found in the five skandhas (grasping groups). Any bloke can observe that his bodymind is in constant flux, and hence cannot constitute a changeless self or entity—but such a realization is rudimentary, and far from the “deepest goal of spirituality,” which, unbeknownst to Sam, is union with the Spirit (or Sambhogakaya, or Stream), the Clear-Light Energy that “produces,” or unveils, permanent En-Light-enment, a.k.a. Nirvana.

But because Harris is an “un-Initiated,” or “un-Baptized,” spiritual practitioner, he has no experience or understanding of consciousness as Spirit, or Shakti—meaning the dynamic force-flow (termed Kundalini, which moves through the “coils,” or “nadis,” of one’s etheric body), and no comprehension of how this Shakti, or Light-Energy, divinizes, or en-Light-ens, a yogi, enabling him to Awaken. If Harris had an esoteric bone in his body and had been “Initiated” (what The Buddha termed becoming a “Stream-winner”), he’d realize that the Buddha was called “the Blessed One” because he was Blessed/Blissed by Light-Energy (the Stream, or Sambhogakaya or Dharmamegha), the Supernal Inflow that precipitates the Nirvanic “drying up of the outflows” and (what the Buddha called) the “Heart [or Consciousness] Release” (which I’ll elaborate when I discuss Ramana Maharshi, and Harris’s failure to grok him).

Harris deserves credit for at least being a serious spiritual seeker—but, unfortunately, he is not a finder. He describes his journey to the East and his encounters with his two “gurus” after he attempted to move beyond Burmese master U Pandita Sayadaw’s Vipassana meditation instructions. His first guru was H.W.L Poonja (1910-1997), commonly known as Papaji (see my two-star Amazon review of his book Truth Is). Because Harris lacks spiritual discrimination, he mistakenly considered Papaji to have been as Enlightened as his guru, Sri Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950). Unlike Papaji, Ramana Maharshi truly “cracked the spiritual code” (see my five-star reviews of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramana Gita, and Sat Darshana Bhashya).
If Sam had read and grokked Ramana Maharshi, he’d be a step ahead of his fellow brain scientists, because he’d realize that the root locus of consciousness (where it intersects a human being) before it “crystallizes” as thought-forms (or mind) in the brain is the spiritual Heart-center (Hridayam in Hinduism, Tathagatagarbha in Buddhism), located two digits to the right of the center of one’s chest. The human soul-matrix, one’s “storehouse consciousness” (alaya-vijnana in Yogacara), or complex of psychical seed tendencies, is located here relative to an incarnated human vehicle. But Sam has nothing to say about the Heart-center, the root-locus of citta, and its relation to the mind and brain.
If Harris understood the En-Light-enment project, he would also know that it is only through the descent of the Shakti, or Sambhogakaya (which is literally sucked into the Hridayam, along with the mind, the “crystallized” outflow of psychical seed tendencies), that one can Awaken. It is the Shakti, or Stream, that precipitates the “Heart-release,” which grants Nirvana. Nirvana, or Self-realization, is achieved when the Heart-knot is cut (which Ramana Maharshi describes in his esoteric teachings). When the Heart-knot is cut, universal (timeless, spaceless) Consciousness radiates ceaselessly through the “Heart-hole” to Infinity. This Consciousness, or Awareness, is the One Mind, described by the great Zen master Huang Po (see my five-star review of the The Zen Teaching of Huang Po); but Harris, a pompous and deluded pontificator, assures us that there is no such thing as the One Mind.

Harris talks about realizing that the self/individual “I” is an illusion, but he never mentions that when this “illusion” is transcended, one awakens to the true, or transcendental, “I,” the true Self, or Buddha-nature, which both Hindu and Buddhist masters describe. (For example, the iconic Dzogchen master Longchen Rabjam, in his A Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission, writes: “’I’ means the heart essence… ‘I’ refers to the awakened mind.”) But Harris, in line with most contemporary Buddhist teachers/writers, never moves beyond denying the reality of the self to asserting the Reality of the Self, the true ‘I,’ or Buddha-nature.

After Papaji failed to Enlighten Harris, he moved on from Advaita Vedanta to Dzogchen. Unfortunately, his choice of gurus was no better. He became a student of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920-1996), an overrated Dzogchen master (see my two-star review of his Rainbow Painting).
Harris, briefly, attempts to describe Dzogchen meditation (which consists of the two complementary practices of trekcho and togal), but he does a poor job explaining trekcho (cutting through spiritual materialism to get to Spirit, the Sambhogakaya), and doesn’t even mention togal (conducting the Spirit-current, or Clear-Light continuum), because, as an un-Initiated (by the Spirit) mystic, he has no experience or understanding of it.

The Skinny on Sam

Sam Harris is a Jew, an Aries (Sun sign), and a scientific materialist. Jews (and I am one) are usually outspoken with their opinions. Combine Jewishness with Aries (the most self-assertive sign in the zodiac) and you get a veritable big-mouth pontificator. A classic example of this combination is the late, renowned sports announcer Howard Cosell, who turned the broadcasting booth into his personal pulpit. Add scientific materialism to the Jewish-Aries mix, and you get an individual intent on spreading the gospel of atheism while demeaning religion. In short, you get Sam Harris.

Harris has opinions on most everything, and he’s never shy about expressing them, even though most of them are derided by the Cognoscenti, who turn their noses up at the drivel disseminated by the “Matrix-bound” Sam. For example, Sam’s political opinions are typically Statist “solutions” that “those in the know” (meaning Objectivists, libertarians, and trans-zeitgeistians) reject as liberal-fascist. The fact that Sam was delusional enough to support crooked Hillary over Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election exemplifies his political ignorance.

The foremost contemporary sociopolitical commentator is Stefan Molyneux (check out his YouTube videos, which boast mega-millions of views). But Sam, no doubt knowing that he’d get his clock cleaned, refuses (at the time I am writing this) to debate Stefan. Sam’s excuse for avoiding Stefan is that he has enabled racists by interviewing racialists who emphasize (IQ and other) distinctions among races. This, of course, is a cop-out, because Molyneux, in his quest for the truth (and unlike the zeitgeist-bound Sam), is not circumscribed regarding the subjects he will broach. Moreover, Molyneux, a secular philosopher par excellence, would decimate the philosophically challenged Harris on his pet topics, such as free will and morality.

It doesn’t, however, take a Molyneux-level brainiac to deconstruct Harris’s philosophic hokum. A read of the book The Sam Harris Delusion by Mike Hockney (available at Amazon Kindle) will convince most everyone of Sam’s philosophic deficiencies, and arm them with arguments that make a monkey of Sam.

Harris clearly uses just one side (or half) of his brain. If he had developed feeling-intuition, he wouldn’t mock astrology as he does (by putting down the Dalai Lama for consulting an astrologer); rather, he would realize that people, in general, fit their Sun signs. I’m a former professional astrologer, and I laugh at those such as Harris who put down astrology without having studied it. The great Issac Newton was once asked how he could believe in astrology. His response, which Harris should take to heart, was, “I have studied it, you haven’t.”

Harris, as one of the “Four Horsemen” (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett are the other three), is most renowned for his championing of atheism. (And more than coincidentally, all four of these men are Sun sign Aries). Yet, neither of the traditions of Sam’s two gurus (Advaita Vedanta for Papaji, and Dzogchen for Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche) are atheistic. But the acausal God, or Being, of these traditions, which is timeless Consciousness, or Awareness, itself, is apparently beyond the apprehension of the spiritually challenged Harris. In fact, the Kunjed Gyalpo (tr. “The All-Creating Monarch”), the fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde (one of the three Series that comprise Dzogchen teachings), is all about a Supreme Source, or Divine Being—Samanatabhadra—who is also a Creator God; but Harris, conveniently, never broaches this subject.

I could continue deconstructing the “half-brained” Harris, but since this is just an article and not a book (which I plan to eventually pen on Sam), I’ll close here by summarizing my view of his Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion: The title is a gross misnomer, because there isn’t a shred of spirituality in the text. Sam has nothing to say about the Spirit (Sambhogakaya, or Stream, in Buddhism) because he hasn’t experienced it and is clueless regarding its role in Awakening. While those new to Eastern philosophy may benefit from his book, why bother with it when far better texts on said subject are available? As for spiritual veterans, they will find Sam’s book good for one thing: fuel for the fireplace.

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