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Meditation goals: individual or relational - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.10.05

Is meditation for Self or for Other?

Sam Harris

And take a moment to clarify your intentions here. You're doing this for a reason. You actually want to have a healthier, more flexible, more open, more joyful, less encumbered mind.

Sam Harris: Goals for "me"

The goal for today's meditation is to increase flexibility, openness, and health.

This goal expressed at the level of the individual ("I want to be/have more X").

In a way, these are Western wellness goals. They may well go along with being more productive, and less prone to stress.

There is no mention of doing good, relating better etc. Sam Harris may imply it (and he expresses it in other posts), but here, it is about the individual mind.

Daniel P Brown: Relational goals for all beings

Daniel P Brown´s goal setting (which is a standard part of all his retreat meditations) squarely puts meditation into a social, relational context.

The following is a standard instruction given at the beginning of each meditation:

Set your intention to awaken for the benefit of all beings.

Here, the goal is more ambitious: it is "awakening". But awakening, through following the Mahamudra path, is not something one "does" for oneself. It is encompassing others.

In Mahamudra, the last stage of the "path" is a combination of wisdom and compassion. There is no awakening without compassion. Compassion is the true measure for awakening/realization etc.

Brown goes so far as to call this last stage "awareness-love".

Meditation and relationships in Daniel P Brown´s setting

Dan Brown was deeply immersed in Tibetan Buddhism, but also in Western development theory, adult attachment theory, trauma etc. In that sense, his method was a "next stage" Tibetan Buddhism, integrating East and West-.

His view was that the old yogis in their caves and monasteries weren't very relational, in particular not as couples. They were all "avoidant", all of them, in a way. Here is Tilopa:

Cut all attachment and aversion relationships with your country and people. Meditate alone in forests, mountain retreats and in solitary places (quoted in Wangchug Dorje (2017))

When starting in the sixties, some of them came to the West, he said, they had to learn relationships from scratch.

In contrast, he would say, for us Westeners intimate relationships ARE the practice ("taking relationships as the path"). Relationships are the biggest challenge to staying conscious. They are so much more challenging than meditating in the middle of a night on a graveyard (a typical exercise for Tibetan monks).

Here is the challenge: staying aware of one's mental events as the partner does this truly annoying thing again, and as one watches one's trigger go off. Not being reactive. And here, meditation helps. Daniel P Brown, as translator from Tibetan, always preferred the term "reactivity" to "suffering" as translation from "dukkha".


Brown, D. P. (2019). Sacred Sundays with Daniel P Brown. Sacred Sundays.

A very wide and deep overview of the tradition and background of Daniel P Brown´s teachings

Carse, D. (2017, July 31). Perfect Brilliant Stillness. . Retrieved 6 October 2022, from

Gebel, T. (2022ab, October 2). Witnessing and non-reactivity - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.08. Till Gebel.

Wangchug Dorje. (2017). Mahamudra - The Ocean of True Meaning (1st ed.). BoD – Books on Demand.


I want to stress, that this post looks only at a particular formulation of Sam Harris´ goals in this specific meditation. In other meditations, he reminds to become a better parent or partner, less reactive and more compassionate. To be fair to Sam - he also points out reduced reactivity as a target for meditation (see Gebel 2022ab)


A thought on...

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