Sam Harris is a Religious Man

New Atheists like to sell themselves as people who are critical of religion, but in reality, they are better described as anti-Christian and anti-Muslim.  A nice illustration of this is Sam Harris.  As we know, Harris is a Buddhist who preaches about meditation, psychedelic drug use, and even floated the plausibility of reincarnation in his first book.

Thus, it’s not all that surprising that Harris is the secretary/treasurer of the the Hanuman Foundation.  This foundation is essentially a New Age religious organization:

The Hanuman Foundation was established in 1974 as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit educational and service organization in order to “promulgate spiritual well-being among members of society through: a) education and media including events, trainings, publications and recordings, and b) community service programs that support practical applications of benevolent knowledge and ongoing spiritual wisdom traditions in the areas of health, education, the arts, social responsibility, civil society, water and environmental sustainability.”

Jonas Spooner & JB Stubbings note the Foundation is a “Non-Profit whose tax documents list it’s purpose as “Religious publishing activities; Other religious activities”.

The Foundation’s web page states:

From 1974-1997 the Foundation served as a primary vehicle for producing and facilitating educational workshops, retreats, lectures, and gatherings led by Ram Dass (a.k.a., Richard Alpert, Ph.D., see: ), as well a host other well-known teachers from diverse Eastern and Western contemplative spiritual traditions and practices.

Ram Dass’s web page describes himself as follows:

Ram Dass first went to India in 1967. He was still Dr. Richard Alpert, a prominent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr. Timothy Leary. He continued his psychedelic research until that fateful Eastern trip in 1967, when he traveled to India. In India, he met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, affectionately known as Maharajji, who gave Ram Dass his name, which means “servant of God.” Everything changed then – his intense dharmic life started, and he became a pivotal influence on a culture that has reverberated with the words “Be Here Now” ever since. Ram Dass’ spirit has been a guiding light for three generations, carrying along millions on the journey, helping to free them from their bonds as he works through his own.

According to Wiki:

Richard Alpert was born to a Jewish family in Newton, Massachusetts. His father, George Alpert, was a lawyer in Boston, president of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, one of the founders of Brandeis University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as well as a major fundraiser for Jewish causes. While Richard did have a bar mitzvah, he was “disappointed by its essential hollowness”.[4] He considered himself an atheist[5] and did not profess any religion during his early life, describing himself as “inured to religion. I didn’t have one whiff of God until I took psychedelics.”[6]

It sure looks like Sam Harris was influenced by Ram Dass (servant of God).

BTW, the president of the Hanuman Foundation is Jai Lakshman.  He was associated with Project Reason when Project Reason still existed.


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8 Responses to Sam Harris is a Religious Man

  1. mechanar says:

    Called it last year

  2. FZM says:

    New Atheists like to sell themselves as people who are critical of religion, but in reality, they are better described as anti-Christian and anti-Muslim.

    I guess it would require too much reading on their part to try to come to grips with what ‘religion’ as a generic phenomena would be and a lot of it would go over the heads of their target audience, hence the concentration on basically Western Christianity with some bits and pieces of Islam.

    Then, while Harris has had his Buddhism, Dawkins seems to have had some kind of ‘cult of reason’ because he also liked making a lot of moral and philosophical claims in his writing, most of which fall outside the scope of the natural sciences.

  3. Regual llegna says:

    That explains why he has never been a true critical of the concept of spirituality, he is an activist that want a social change in christian mayority countries that are wealthy in international level (can have control over other countries economies). Both hardcore anti-theism and islam (protectect status as race? thing give by others activism like him) will, In the end, put his ideas against him. He

  4. Dhay says:

    The ending – ie the bottom line, the executive summary, the especially important message to go away with – of Sam Harris’ Waking Up includes:

    Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experiences that are anything but ordinary. And the conventional opposition between humility and hubris has no place here. Yes, the cosmos is vast and appears indifferent to our mortal schemes, but every present moment of consciousness is profound. In subjective terms, each of us is identical to the very principle that brings value to the universe. Experiencing this directly — not merely thinking about it — is the true beginning of spiritual life.

    Is that religious, or what? Especially when you look at the acknowledgements to those who have directly or indirectly helped him write his book, which include a succession of Theravada Buddhist, Vedanta Hindu and Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist teachers.

    Harris says “the conventional opposition between humility and hubris has no place here”; for Harris it’s not one or the other of “humility” (“the cosmos is vast and appears indifferent to our mortal schemes” [**]) versus “hubris” (“every present moment of consciousness is profound”), Harris claims both apply.

    [** A viewpoint strongly promoted by Richard Dawkins:

    Having given a nod to vast and indifferent mechanistic materialism of the type espoused by Dawkins, Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett, his friends, Harris then turns his and our focus on that contrasting or opposite – Harris claims it’s not opposite – second viewpoint, that “every present moment of consciousness is profound”; and that’s where it gets rather strange, because according to Harris, “each of us is identical to the very principle that brings value to the universe.”

    O… K… – so what’s a principle, here? Google and online dictionaries don’t help much, giving answers such as:

    1. a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.
    2. a general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field.
    3. a fundamental source or basis of something.

    And similar; but there’s nothing listed that makes sense as something you and I can be identical with; Harris seems to be using “principle” with a novel, undefined, merely implicit-in-context meaning – probably because any explicit meaning would be ridiculed if he didn’t hid it in a cloud of seeming profundity.

    What can we discern from context? Harris’ “principle” is the same one each of us – each of us – is identical to, he says; which by the law of identities (if A=B and B=C then A=C, now extrapolate) means we are each and all of us identical to each other; and “each of us is identical to the very principle that brings value to the universe.”

    This sounds very like a “Deepity”: “Deepities” are so named after the profound-looking nonsense so often spouted by Deepak Chopra; and I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this paragraph of Harris’s and one of Chopra’s about Cosmic Consciousness, or God (for Hindus like Chopra, that’s Brahman.) Can anyone reveal why it is not a Deepity?

    If I had to guess at what Harris’ “very principle that brings value to the universe”, that mysterious and unexplained and undefined principle which is or can be experienced directly by us all and which reveals that we are all of us somehow identical (despite my thoughts, home and actions being very different from Harris, indeed from everyone’s – hence surely not identical to theirs or them) to each other – if I had to guess, I’d have to best-guess he’s echoing Chopra’s teachings on Cosmic Consciousness, another characterisation for the Hindu god, Brahman. How profound.

    And if so – do tell me if you disagree, and why – Harris has emphatically denied the Abrahamic God, the creator and source of values … only to smuggle Brahman in instead as your own consciousness, using the back door of obscurity and mystification.

    To echo the thread title, I’d say: Sam Harris is a definitely a religious man.

  5. Dhay says:

    Here’s a couple of paragraphs from the last chapter of Sam Harris’ The End of Faith (P.206):

    In the last chapter we saw that our beliefs about consciousness are intimately linked to our ethics. They also happen to have a direct bearing upon our view of death. Most scientists consider themselves physicalists; this means, among other things, that they believe that our mental and spiritual lives are wholly dependent upon the workings of our brains. On this account, when the brain dies, the stream of our being must come to an end. Once the lamps of neural activity have been extinguished, there will be nothing left to survive. Indeed, many scientists purvey this conviction as though it were itself a special sacrament, conferring intellectual integrity upon any man, woman, or child who is man enough to swallow it.

    Is it me, or is Harris saying that “most scientists … believe that … when the brain dies, the stream of our being must come to an end … there will be nothing left to survive.” And is Harris disparaging what “most scientists” know, namely that “there will be nothing left to survive.”

    He does it in typical Harris fashion, by insinuation and suggestion (with “believe that” contrasting later with “the truth is that”, and the disparaging “purvey”, “conviction”, “sacrament” and “man enough to swallow it”) — by insinuation and suggestion rather than coming right out with it, but that’s how I read it.

    I’ll swear Harris has learned and is practicing NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming, perhaps more understandable as psychology for salesmen) suggestion-by-word-association techniques. Or perhaps he is a natural adept.

    Harris tells us what “most scientists” would have us swallow (extinction, nothing left to survive); and then there’s that contradicting “but”:

    But the truth is that we simply do not know what happens after death. While there is much to be said against a naive conception of a soul that is independent of the brain, the place of consciousness in the natural world is very much an open question. The idea that brains produce consciousness is little more than an article of faith among scientists at present, and there are many reasons to believe that the methods of science will be insufficient to either prove or disprove it.

    What have we here? Further undermining as a mere “article of faith” of what those “most scientists” believe and the assertion there are an unspecified “many reasons” to doubt what “most scientists” believe about consciousness’ dependence on the brain (hence ability to survive after death), an “open question”.

    Harris denies the “naive conception of a soul that is independent of the brain” hence which can survive death … only to smuggle in consciousness — or is it Cosmic Consciousness, see my last response above — in its place.

    Harris doesn’t like Abrahamic religions … but is happy to supply a non-Abrahamic religious look-alike.

    To echo the thread title, I’d say: Sam Harris is a definitely a religious man.

  6. Dhay says:

    Sam Harris claims he is not a Buddhist, and that what he’s promoting is a Westernised, superstition-free, meditation-only version. He’s not the only person doing so, Robert Wright is also. This passage is from a review entitled “What Meditation Can Do for Us, and What It Can’t: Examining the science and supernaturalism of Buddhism” by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik of Wright’s new book:

    A faith practice with an authoritarian structure sooner or later becomes a horror; a faith practice without an authoritarian structure sooner or later becomes a hobby. The dwindling down of Buddhism into another life-style choice will doubtless irritate many, and [Robert] Wright [the book author] will likely be sneered at for reducing Buddhism to another bourgeois amenity, like yoga or green juice.

    Yet what Wright is doing seems an honorable, even a sublime, achievement. Basically, he says that meditation has made him somewhat less irritable. Being somewhat less irritable is not the kind of achievement that people usually look to religion for, but it may be as good an achievement as we ought to expect.

    Ah, the crowning achievement of a Westernised superstition-free meditation-only version such as Wright and Harris are promoting is … is … meditation makes you somewhat less irritable.

    Harris says meditation makes you become more spiritual, whereas Wright, teaching the same practices as Harris (albeit minus recommending LSD as a starter course), says you just become somewhat less irritable.

  7. Dhay says:

    Later on in that same review Adam Gopnik tells us

    A deeper objection to the attempted reconciliation of contemporary science and Buddhist practice flows from the nature of scientific storytelling. The practice of telling stories—imagined tales of cause and effect that fixate on the past and the future while escaping the present, sending us back and forth without being here now—is something that both Wright and Batchelor see as one of the worst delusions the mind imprints on the world. And yet it is inseparable from the Enlightenment science that makes psychology and biology possible. The contemporary generation of American Buddhists draws again and again on scientific evidence for the power of meditation—EEGs and MRIs and so on—without ever wondering why a scientific explanation of that kind has seldom arisen in Buddhist cultures. (Science has latterly been practiced by Buddhists, of course.)

    What Wright correctly sees as the heart of meditation practice—the draining away of the stories we tell compulsively about each moment in favor of simply having the moment—is antithetical to the kind of evidentiary argument he admires. Science is competitive storytelling. If a Buddhist Newton had been sitting under that tree, he would have seen the apple falling and, reaching for Enlightenment, experienced each moment of its descent as a thing pure in itself. Only a restless Western Newton would say, “Now, what story can tell us best what connects those apple-moments from branch to ground? Sprites? Magnets? The mysterious force of the mass of the earth beneath it? What made the damn thing fall?” That’s a story we tell, not a moment we experience.

    The Buddhist Newton might have been happier than ours—ours was plenty unhappy—but he would never have found the equation. Science is putting names on things and telling stories about them, the very habits that Buddhists urge us to transcend. … the meditator’s project of being here now will never be the same as the scientist’s project of connecting the past to the future, of telling how and knowing why.

    That is, whatever Harris may claim about his recommended Buddhism-lite meditation-only practices being compatible with science — he seems at times to claim it is some sort of First-Person Science — those practices are profoundly unscientific.

    I didn’t need Egnor to point that out, I’ve said it myself already [I’ve made small amendments for clarity]:

    Harris as Buddhist mystic, who has famously claimed that “Consciousness is the one thing in this universe that cannot be an illusion” — presumably the universe and his own head and brain can be illusions, illusions presumably akin to his ‘disappearing white square’ illusion …
    … for Harris there is no free will because in meditation he finds that the contents of consciousness simply appear and disappear without visible cause. So ‘obviously’ there is no free will; and he doesn’t allow himself (or us) to deduce rationally that there is or can be. On this view — and mere sight it is, though sounds, tastes, touch, smells, thoughts and sounds also make their appearance — there is no free will because I cannot bother (or disallow) to use my intelligence to deduce that these things of consciousness have causes.

    Babies presumably have such a naive view — but not for long, because it looks like babies are programmed to look for causes from an early age, possibly from or before birth — but such a naive view seems quite inappropriate, and profoundly irrational, in an adult.

    Or as Jerry Coyne would put it, science and being in meditation are incompatible, they are mutually exclusive.

    Do bear in mind that Harris is trying to extend his current short “moments” of thoughtlessness into longer “moments”, and eventually to achieve that state of permanent thoughtlessness which he takes enlightenment to be. How can Harris — or anyone — do science when like that.

  8. Dhay says:

    I see that the introduction to a 2006 interview with Sam Harris claims:

    Harris sees value in what he calls the “contemplative experience” and views his own Buddhist-inspired meditation practice as an evidence-based, rational enterprise.

    My response above points out that meditation (the “contemplative experience”) is anti-science; it is inherently irrational, anti-reason, anti-thinking. This should be no surprise: Harris’ own Meme #2 tells us that “Most people who believe they are meditating are merely thinking with their eyes closed”; or in other words, if you are thinking, you are not meditating, if meditating, you are not thinking.

    Harris claims that from the “contemplative experience” evidence and reason leads him and Buddhists worldwide to firm conclusions such as there is a) no self, b) no free will.

    Not only do I not see how lack of reasoning can lead one to either conclusion, I note that when Hindus engage in the same “contemplative experience” they arrive at a different result: not no self, but (capitalised) Self.

    The Self is nicely pictured in this poem:

    If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
    Or if the batsman thinks he’s bowled,
    They know not, poor misguided souls,
    They too shall perish unconsoled.
    I am the batsman and the bat,
    I am the bowler and the ball,
    The umpire, the pavilion cat,
    The roller, pitch, and stumps, and all.

    If meditation practice is an evidence-based, rational enterprise, why ever do Buddhists and Hindus not reach the same evidence-based, rational conclusion? The choices are that one is evidence-based and rational, the other not; that both are evidence-based and rational but reach very different conclusions; or that neither is evidence-based and rational.

    Are there other conclusions than these two? Or did the Buddhist and Hindu evidence-based, rational enterprises, their contemplative sciences, peter out a thousand years and more ago.

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