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Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion Paperback – June 16, 2015
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“The fact is that Waking Up lends a different picture of Harris (at least to me): an intelligent and sensitive person who is willing to undergo the discomfort involved in proposing alternatives to the religions he’s spent years degrading. His new book, whether discussing the poverty of spiritual language, the neurophysiology of consciousness, psychedelic experience, or the quandaries of the self, at the very least acknowledges the potency and importance of the religious impulse—though Harris might name it differently—that fundamental and common instinct to seek not just an answer to life, but a way to live that answer.” (Trevor Quirk, The New Republic)
"[A]n extraordinary and ambitious masterwork. . . . altogether spectacular." (Maria Popova, Brainpickings)
“Uber-atheist Sam Harris is getting all spiritual. In his new book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, the usually outspoken critic of religion describes how spirituality can and must be divorced from religion if the human mind is to reach its full potential. . . . But there is plenty in Waking Up that will delight Harris’ most militant atheist readers.” (Religion News Service)
“The great value and novelty of this book is that Harris, in a simple but rigorous style, takes the middle way between these pseudoscientific and pseudo-spiritual assertions . . . [leading] to a profoundly more salubrious life.” (Publishers Weekly)
"A demanding, illusion-shattering book.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“Don’t read Waking Up . . . if you want to be told that heaven is real. Do read it if you want to explore the nature of consciousness, to learn how just trying to be mindful can free you from anxiety and self-blame.” (MORE Magazine)
“Waking Up is an eye opening, mind expanding book.” (AA Agnostica)
“A seeker’s memoir, a scientific and philosophical exploration of the self, and a how-to guide for transcendence, Waking Up explores the nature of consciousness, explains how to meditate, tells you the best drugs to take, and warns you about lecherous gurus. It will shake up your most fundamental beliefs about everyday experience, and it just might change your life.” -- Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science, Yale University and author of "Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil"
“Waking Up is a rigorous, kind, clear, and witty book that will point you toward the selflessness that is our original nature.” -- Stephen Mitchell
“Sam Harris points out the rational methodology for exploring the nature of consciousness and for experiencing a transformative understanding of possibilities. Waking Up really does help us wake up.” -- Joseph Goldstein, author of "Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening" and "One Dharma"
“As a neuroscientist, Sam Harris shows how our egos are illusions, diffuse products of brain activity, and as a long-term practitioner of meditation, he shows how abandoning this illusion can wake us up to a richer life, more connected to everything around us.” -- Jerry Coyne, Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago and author of "Why Evolution is True"
"Sam Harris ranks as my favorite skeptic, bar none. In Waking Up he gives us a clear-headed, no-holds-barred look at the spiritual supermarket, calling out what amounts to junk food and showing us where real nutrition can be found. Anyone who realizes the value of a spiritual life will find much to savor here – and those who see no value in it will find much to reflect on." -- Daniel Goleman, author Emotional Intelligence and Focus
"Sam Harris has written a beautifully rational book about spiritually, consciousness and transcendence. He is the high priest of spirituality without religion. I recommend this book regardless of your belief system. As befits a book called Waking Up, it’s an eye opener." -- A.J. Jacobs, bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically
Praise for Free Will:
Publishers Weekly Top 10 Science Book of Spring 2012
“A nimble book, amiably and conversationally jumping from point to point. The book’s length is one of its charms: He never belabors any one topic or idea, sticking around exactly as long as he needs to in order to lay out his argument (and tackle the rebuttals that it will inevitably provoke) and not a page longer.” —Washington Post
“A brief and forceful broadside at the conundrum that has nagged at every major thinker from Plato to Slavoj Zizek. Self-avowedly secular, [Harris is] addressing the need for individual growth and social betterment, and [is] doing so with compelling argument and style.” —Los Angeles Times
“Harris skewers the concept of free will — that mainstay of law, policy and politics — in fewer than 100 pages.” —Nature
"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000." —Oliver Sacks
Praise for The Moral Landscape:
“The most compelling strand in The Moral Landscape is its unspooling diatribe against relativism.” —New York Times
“This is an inspiring book, holding out as it does the possibility of a rational understanding of how to construct the good life with the aid of science, free from the accretions of religious superstition and cultural coercion.” —Financial Times
“Harris’s is a first-principle argument, backed by copious empirical evidence woven through a tightly reasoned narrative… Harris’s program of a science-based morality is a courageous one that I wholeheartedly endorse.” —Scientific American
“Sam Harris breathes intellectual fire into an ancient debate. Reading this thrilling, audacious book, you feel the ground shifting beneath your feet. Reason has never had a more passionate advocate.”—Ian McEwan
“I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. To my surprise, The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. It should change it for philosophers too. Philosophers of mind have already discovered that they can't duck the study of neuroscience, and the best of them have raised their game as a result. Sam Harris shows that the same should be true of moral philosophers, and it will turn their world exhilaratingly upside down. As for religion, and the preposterous idea that we need God to be good, nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris.”—Richard Dawkins
“Reading Sam Harris is like drinking water from a cool stream on a hot day. He has the rare ability to frame arguments that are not only stimulating, they are downright nourishing… His discussions will provoke secular liberals and religious conservatives alike, who jointly argue from different perspectives that there always will be an unbridgeable chasm between merely knowing what is and discerning what should be. As was the case with Harris’ previous books, readers are bound to come away with previously firm convictions about the world challenged, and a vital new awareness about the nature and value of science and reason in our lives.” —Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University, author of The Physics of Star Trek, and, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science
“A lively, provocative, and timely new look at one of the deepest problems in the world of ideas. Harris makes a powerful case for a morality that is based on human flourishing and thoroughly enmeshed with science and rationality. It is a tremendously appealing vision, and one that no thinking person can afford to ignore.” —Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate
“Expanding upon concepts posited in the End of Faith and Free Will, neuroscientist Harris draws from personal contemplative practice and a growing body of scientific research to argue that the self, the feeling that there is an “I” residing in one’s head, is both an illusion and the primary cause of human suffering…. The great value and novelty of this book is that Harris, in a simple but rigorous style, takes the middle way between… pseudoscientific and pseudospiritual assertions, cogently maintaining that while such contemplative insights provide no evidence for metaphysical claims, they are available, and seeing them for ourselves leads to a profoundly more salubrious life.”, Publishers Weekly
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Especially when as a young Buddhist one of the first things I remember learning is Buddha's admonishment to "Never believe in Dogma. But to sift all teachings(including his) through your own experiential filter. Then if it it still seems valid to try it on". When you just take that teaching into heart and try on the concepts Karma & Reincarnation; it makes the 8 fold noble path a moot point.
But Sam Harris brings a new perspective. Damn You Sam Harris! your arguments takes away my excuses for staying away from the meditation cushion.
It is a pretty dense subject matter. With a chapter on Consciousness and another one on Self. While some of it was new and interesting, other ideas might take 2nd or 3rd reading to get through my thick skull.
I think every Buddhist should read and consider what is laid out here. I highly recommend to anyone who has a intellectual curiosity about spirituality. Yet from my experience I know that only few of the most ardently spiritual would dare to tackle it. Between Sam Harris and Stephen Batchelor's writing they extend the Buddhas admonishment for experiential learning by applying 21st century rationality to the inquiry. These two writers and their writing gives a good intellectual foundation to wade into spirituality with healthy dose of 21st century agnosticism.
All these questions and more are posed to the reader, than Sam Harris explains his views on it via science and logic. I found his arguments sound and in my opinion hard to argue against. Sam Harris is a neurosurgeon and a non-religious spiritual teacher, so he has plenty of experiences to answer these deep questions.
I cannot recommend this book enough. I also suggest listening to his podcast "Waking Up".
According to the author, this book is “an introduction to the brain, a manual of contemplative instruction, and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives: the feeling of self we call “I.” There is a deeper principle at work – that the feeling of “I” or “self” is an illusion. The author uses his personal experience to help readers see the nature of their own minds in a new light. We are shown that a rational approach to spirituality seems to be what’s missing from secularism and the lives of most people. The author has spent considerable time seeking experiences of the kind that gave rise to the world’s religions. For example, he notes that he spent two years on a silent retreat in increments of one week to two months practicing different types of meditation for up to eighteen hours per day. That’s determination!
We are introduced to a concept called mindfulness. Facilitating this state may involve a technique called vipassana (meaning insight), or consolation of the Satipatthana Sutta (an empirical guide to freeing the mind from suffering). No worry, we are provided with some instructions from the author on how to meditate properly. In life, we grasp at transitory pleasures, we worry about the future – life is stressful. The “spiritual life” promoted by the author is a solution to bringing this stress to an end. He starts by investigating the nature of consciousness and shows us that by transforming its contents through deliberate training we can achieve the basis of spiritual life.
We our next introduced to a more detailed discussion of “self.” He tries to convince us that this sense of self is just an illusion and that spirituality consists of realizing this moment to moment. He supports this notion by showing that nothing a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu can experience constitutes evidence in support of their belief whether it be ecstasy, bliss, inner-light, or whatever. It is because their beliefs are logically incompatible with one another. In the book, we see that the illusion of the self can be investigated and dispelled. Harris shows how he reached his conclusion through much meditative practice with various “gurus,” and Dzogchen masters. More support for his views comes from a discussion of near-death experiences and drug use.
The author concludes: “Until we can talk about spirituality in rational terms – acknowledging the validity of self-transcendence – our world will remain shattered by dogmatism. This book has been my attempt to begin such a conversation.”
Top international reviews
I've been exposed to mediation and mindfullness based therapies for years professionally within psychology and always thought that they were both ineffective (despite a lot of research into mindfullness in particular) and horribly applied in clinical settings.
I still feel that mindfullness is applied incorrectly in a clinical setting for the most part.
But I feel that this is largely due to a failure to recognise the "end goal" of mediation practices.
This was the book that FINALLY allowed me to understand the goal of mediation in a more practical sense (particular the section "on having no head").
I'd strongly recommend checking out Sam's longer presentation on Free Will first as a bit of a primer too. It will definitely improve your understanding of this book.
The only reason for the 4 stars and not 5 is that I think Sam gets caught too often and for too long on explaining the faults with the more religious and spiritual applications of meditation. Not because I think he is wrong in his characterisations but because I felt it was unnecessary in this book and ultimately detracts from the content rather than adds to it.
Highly recommended. Particularly if you never really felt like you understood the point of meditation even if the practice was still appealing.
I found the writing style rather dull and it often caused me to lose interest (maybe that’s just me).
It is really good to see a secular stance taken on the matters that are the topic of this book, but I was hoping to find by the end of the book some better direction than typically found in texts of meditation and consciousness. Nothing really shined here.
Overall I was rather disappointed, and having then turned to the internet to see the the mountain of material that Sam Harris has produced and the way it is done, ( with high monthly subscription fees for the meditation app) it just seems to me like just yet another money spinning American ‘guru’ franchise
So, go ahead and read as there is some interesting perspectives but be prepared to have to persevere and don’t expect too much in the end!
Before there were easy answers to the big questions - what does life mean? is there more to existence than our day to day life?
If, like me, you decided that it was better to confront the truth than to live in the comfort of fairy tales, you may find that this leaves behind a gap. To some extent this can be filled by philosophy of humanism, but that doesn't always offer the support in difficult times that an organised religion might for its believers.
In this book, Sam Harris proposes that a kind of spirituality is possible for people who don't believe things that aren't proven by science. Its based in the bundle theory of psychology and suggests that meditation may have more profound benefits than currently accepted by scientists. He suggests that it may offer deeper possibilities for general contentment in life and stress relief, beyond the simple act of setting aside time to relax.
It is definitely a concept worth exploring.
There's little in the way of instruction on meditative techniques or practical guidance on how one might attain these deeper spiritual insights oneself.
My only reservation is that - even after reading it - I still can't quite grasp the point Harris was making about the vanishing Self and the difference between it and 'consciousness'. This may be where actual practice and experience is necessary for understanding.
I also think he should have been more wary in his discussion of psychedelic drugs. Too many have been damaged by them.
How can you tell if someone is fully realised or mad?
Transcending the self completely might just be a liability to yourself and other people. The ego with its fear is necessary for survival.
I didn’t know OSHO was that dysfunctional.
Thank you, Sam, for providing the world with a framework upon which to build a rational debate on these experiences.
The way you have conveyed the essence of these spiritual practices without allowing any wo-wo through your filter is truly inspirational!