In my latest video I summarized the top 5 points in the Waking Up by Sam Harris. The author brings up many interests points about the nature of spirituality and the contemplative insights that we can gain through eastern practices, some of which are explained in the following animated book summary.
1. All our Efforts for Happiness boil down to living in the Present Moment.
In our culture, we’re programmed to delay our happiness until sometime in the near future, but this future never arrives. Sam Harris puts it this way “The reality of your life is always now. And to realize this is liberating. In fact, I think there is nothing more important to understand if you want to be happy in this world.” Overall, it all boils down to us wanting a good enough reason to be satisfied now. In turn, we end up striving for immediate pleasure and avoiding pain at the thought of being fulfilled now, but the pleasure always wears off. We should realize that to attain true happiness we must practice and hone our ability to live in the present moment. This practice is called mindfulness.
2. We can Free Ourselves from our Inner Dialogue
To all of us, the voice within our head seems like a fundamental aspect of human life, but what if we could free ourselves from this constant inner conversation with ourselves, if only for moments at a time. Being lost in thought is deeply conditioned within us, and it’s also the basis of most human suffering. The problem is not the thoughts themselves, but the state of thinking without knowing that we’re thinking, also known as being lost in thought. It seems as if we’re always in conflict about the recent past or envisioning a better future without ever living fully in the here and the now.
The alternative to be lost in our inner dialogue is to practice a state of clear, non-judgemental awareness of the present moment, or to practice mindfulness. Sam Harris states that “With practice, mindfulness becomes a well-formed habit of attention, and the difference between it and ordinary thinking will become increasingly clear. Eventually, it begins to seems as if you are repeatedly awakening from a dream…and yet it is difficult to stay awake for more than a few seconds.”
3. Our entire Sense of Self is an Illusion
This may seem like a bold claim at first, but it’s actually the foundation of many spiritual discoveries throughout the world. Harris Claims that “there is no stable self that is carried along from one moment to the next.” and he proposes that we can discover this truth for ourselves through introspection.
He argues that western culture, or even civilization is a vast machine to prop up an individuals self-image or ego that doesn’t exist. The proposed techniques to realize within our own experience are Buddhist Meditation(lots of it), and Self Inquiry from Advaita Vedanta, both of which we’ll talk about in a later episode. These practices can help us examine the content of our consciousness with such clarity that we realize that no inner self exists.That nowhere within the brain is consciousness housed, and no matter how hard you look within your own mind, you will not find a self. I also think that it’s important to note that realizing the true nature of self, that it doesn’t exist, is also called enlightenment. And the title of the book waking up refers to waking up from the illusion of that we’re a separate self living within our skull, but this is a entirely deep rabbit hole that I will not go down in this video.
4. Spirituality is Different from Religion
This is definitely an important one for anyone that seem themselves as a scientifically minded person. Only once you realize that spirituality and religion are two separate domains, you can then convince yourself that these practices are worth your time.
The spirituality that Sam Harris talks about is much different than merely having faith in something. Almost every book about spirituality and enlightenment that I’ve ever read has said not to take these ideas on faith and to be skeptical of these ideas, but not too skeptical that you never implement these practices, because the techniques allow you to have these insights for yourself
All of the techniques that Harris suggests you perform originate in Eastern Religions, yet he says that you don’t have to believe any of the associated religious dogma, but instead you can perform their practices to allow yourself to explore the nature of your own mind in a secular, scientific manner.
5. The Brain doesn’t Harbor Consciousness
Now you might be asking, how does Harris know this, hasn’t science already figured out that consciousness is housed in the brain?, and it would seem this way at first glance, but when you delve a little deeper into the issue you start to realize that the answer isn’t so black and white. And this claim has at least some level of credibility because Sam Harris has a P.h.d in Neuroscience from UCLA. In his book, harris states “there is nothing about the brain, studied at any scale, that even suggests that it might harbor consciousness.”
What most people don’t realize is that when science locates consciousness in the brain, it generally fails to distinguish between consciousness itself, and the contents of consciousness. Consciousness in the new oxford’s American dictionary is defined as: the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings. Objects such as sight, sound, taste, touch, language, thought and much more can be pinpointed to certain areas of the brain, but the one who is aware of these objects is still unknown.