Sam Harris (Daily Meditation 24. August 2022)
Look for what's looking. Very briefly, at the duration of a finger snap. [Sam Harris snaps finger, then pause for a few seconds ] [Snap, pause] [Snap, pause]
Sam Harris´ suggestion to do something "for the duration of a finger snap" has an old tradition. In this meditation,he suggests to do a very short search operation for the thinker of thoughts, the meditating subject.
The explanation for "search operation": is the attempt by the meditator to find something in their mind, e.g. the location of the Self. Or, the Self.
In Sam Harris´s meditation, this instruction goes along with the suggestion to repeatedly "punctuate the day" with these short moments of looking . Do it whenever there is a state change, eg when leaving a car, or entering a shop, or meeting a friend.
Better short than never, better short and good than long and bad
In general, it is better to do it short and precise. And this is also the advice for other areas of practice such as playing the piano.
One can also see the finger-snap as a moment of micro-awakening. (Gebel, 2022f), of awareness of itself.
Semdzins as means to momentarily stop consciousness
One could understand the finger-snap operation as a kind of "damming" as described by Keith Dowman.
Keith Dowman explains the practice of "damming" in the context of the Dzogchen "Semdzins":
Semdzins are explained like this:
The Dzogchen meditation practices include a series of exercises known as semdzin (sems 'dzin), which literally means "to hold the mind" or "to fix mind." They include a whole range of methods, including fixation, breathing, and different body postures, all aiming to calm the mind and bring one into the state of contemplation. (Wikipedia)
Here is the explanation by Dowman.
Nonmeditation is the essential unique Dzogchen meditation. For nonmeditation to kick in, the natural flow of consciousness can be dammed by what we call ‘semdzins’. Semdzins ‘hold’ the mind momentarily, during which time the window to the nature of mind is thrown open or enlarged and nonmeditation proceeds (Dowman 2020b, p 5)
An example is the Semdzin on hearing.
Other contexts of doing something at a finger-snap duration
The Royal Seal of Mahamudra, Vol One
The finger snap duration is mentioned in two contexts:
The superiority of meditation over the conceptual study: First, it is better to meditate (to sit in meditation, doing the actual practice) for a finger snap duration than doing other things for a long time, such as studying the theory.
In the Sutra of Entering the Sublime it is said: The merit of a bodhisattva practitioner of yoga who practiced samadhi for just the duration of a finger snap is greater than the merit accrued by providing the necessities of life to all the beings in the three worlds for as long as they live. (R. Khamtrul & Abboud, 2015, p. 13)
Quality over quantity: In Mahamudra, it´s not about the length of meditation. On the contrary: trying to go for long meditations can be a meditation fault.
To rest evenly in the presence of self-knowing awareness for one session, or even for the duration of a finger snap, has boundless, immeasurable merit. (R. Khamtrul & Abboud, 2015, p. 18)
Lord Takpo Rinpoche said: Do not chase after the past or anticipate the future. Rest persistently in the perfect original cognizance of nowness. Not to pursue the past means that our thoughts should not follow after what has passed. Not to anticipate the future means our thoughts should not encounter beforehand what is yet to come. To make sure to rest in natural cognizance of nowness means to not have any focus at all in the present moment. As it is said, “When the mind is not modified, it becomes clear. When water is not agitated, it becomes limpid.” Therefore, rest casually and persistently in the continuity of nonmodification. Resting thus, there will be a clarity without thoughts, immaculate and open, which may last for but the duration of a finger snap or for as long as it takes to milk a cow, etc. Meditate without regarding a long duration of that state as a virtue or a short duration as a fault. (R. Khamtrul & Abboud, 2015, p. 51)
Wangchuk Dorje, "Mahamudra - The Ocean of True Meaning"
The finger snap also occurs as time-frame in Wangchuk Dorje´s "Mahamudra - The Ocean of True Meaning"(Wangchug Dorje, 2017), quoting Gampopa:
Simply let the mind settle in its unaltered state. By staying like this, you experience a clarity without concepts, pure and limpid, which might last just for a finger´s snap, or the time of milking a cow. Meditate without considering it a quality if it lasts a long time, or a fault if it lasts a short time (Wangchug Dorje, 2017, p. 124)
The finger snap as measurement for elementary moments
There is another context in which the finger snap as time measurement is important. Buddhist ontology posits arising, abiding (staying) and disappearing for everything: objects, actions, self. In each moment, everything undergoes production, abiding, and disintegrating.
A similar concept is known in quantum physics, where a quantum element pops out of the quantum form and then disappears. This is wonderfully explained in the science film "Everything or Nothing" (Llayster, 2017)
Obviously, while 1/360 of a finger snap must have appeared to be short thousands of years ago, now it is a relatively long duration:
In the Middle Way, according to Geshe Thupten Kunkhen, a moment lasts for 1/360 of the time it takes to snap a finger. Such a time of approximately 10-4 seconds is very long by atomic standards, where typical time scales are more like 10-8 seconds, or even longer in comparison to nuclear time scales of 10-22 seconds. (Mansfield & Dalai Lama, 2008, p 101)
Anyway, that´s Buddhism and numbers for you! Thanks to god Sam Harris isn´t that number-oriented!
Dowman, K. (2020b). Dzogchen Semdzins (Dzogchen Teaching Series, Band 2). Independently published.
Gebel, T. (2022f, July 29). ‘Awakening’ in Buddhism, Cognitive Science and AI. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/on-awakening-experiences
Gebel, T. (2022b, May 24). Practicing meditation like the piano: Short, frequently, perfect. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/practice-short-frequent-perfect/
Gebel, T. (2022ad, December 7). Mirror-like listening - the Semdzin of Ear Consciousness - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.12.06. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/mirror-like-listening-the-semdzin-of-ear-concsiousnesssam-harris-daily-meditation-2022-12-06
Llayster. (2017, October 23). Everything and Nothing: Nothing [Video]. Dailymotion. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x65upo9
Khamtrul, R., & Abboud, G. (2015). The Royal Seal of Mahamudra, Volume One: A Guidebook for the Realization of Coemergence. Snow Lion.
Mansfield, V., & Dalai Lama. (2008). Tibetan Buddhism and Modern Physics: Toward a Union of Love and Knowledge (1st ed.). Templeton Press. https://www.amazon.de/Tibetan-Buddhism-Modern-Physics-Knowledge/dp/159947137X
Wangchug Dorje. (2017). Mahamudra - The Ocean of True Meaning (1st ed.). BoD – Books on Demand. https://www.amazon.com/Mahamudra-Meaning-Wangchug-Dorje-Karmapa/dp/3744889564