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Child in the temple - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.10.17

Sam Harris

At some point, open your eyes and see the color and light that comes rushing in as though for the first time

"For the first time.."

In the Tibetan literature, there is one traditional very famous metaphor: a child viewing a temple. Imagine a little child that never saw a temple with any of the objects before. Now it enters the temple for the first and has no concept for anything it sees. It is just an expanse of light, color, shadow.

This pointing out instruction aims at reducing the habitual conceptuality of our minds, and our tendency to pick out objects from the environment ("particularising/partialising") and to conceptualise them as separate objects.

All of this aims at allowing us to see "the true nature of our mind" at a level before thought and concept set in.

For example, the child in the temple might not recognise that strange pattern of colors and shapes as the statue of a goddess.

It is a kind of de-constructionist approach. Or, "pattern recognition in reverse", as Daniel P Brown characterised meditation in his 1981 dissertation.

The child viewing a temple metaphor

Here you find the metaphor in two original forms, both quoted by Daniel P Brown:

You walk along the path described above that is known as the path of equanimity. Because you walk along that path in such a way that you have no intention to hold on to or let go of the aforementioned joy, this is like a child viewing a temple. A small child brought into the temple does not pick out perceptual events. Even when shown many different and specific works of art and icons, the child neither thinks about them nor desires them. This is an example of bliss. (JP, f. 56a) (D.P. Brown & Thurman, 2006, p. 319)

And here, a bit more complex, using more of the specific Tibetan meditation concepts (e.g. energy currents):

Set up [the mind] like a small child viewing a temple. Because the elephant of the mind has been tied to the stake of mindfulness and knowledge, the energy currents have been done-with and stay in their own place. Whatever [still] arises is neither to be grasped if liked nor obstructed if disliked. Because of the influence of [holding the energy currents], the experiences in a nonconceptual still state are such that empty forms arise like smoke, and a bliss arises that almost makes you faint and in which you don’t feel like you have a body or mind, as if you were floating in space. Not grasping and not obstructing these kinds of perceptions is called “setting up like a small child viewing a temple.” (PK, f. 7b–8a). (D.P. Brown & Thurman, 2006, p. 315)


Brown, Daniel P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation).

This dissertation is a free download. It is a massive, highly technical volume that nevertheless gives an unparallelled insight into the education of a yogi.It draws on the knowledge of cognitive science as of the late 1970s, so it is not the newest in this regard.As compensation, Daniel P Brown gives some insight into the experiments with tachiscopy. to which he still referred in his retreats in 2021.The Universits of Chicago library entry:

Brown, D.P., & Thurman, R. (2006). Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition (Annotated). Wisdom Publications.

Gebel, Till. (2021h, September 5). Pattern recognition in reverse: Emptiness through drawing, meditation, psychedelics. Till Gebel.


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