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Ocean and Wave - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2023.01.08

Before reading this, you may want to read an original rendering of the Ocean and Wave metaphor in the Lankavataara Sutra.

Sam Harris

Today´s quote is a bit longer than normal. I select it because it leads to a rare occurence of a traditional pointing out metaphor in Sam Harris´s Daily Meditations. He uses the famous Ocean and Wave metaphor, the effects of which have even been studied by Judson Brewer and Daniel P Brown through brain scanning techniques.

He even explicitly gives a meta-comment on his use of a traditional metaphor for the mind:

It's not often that I ask you to invoke a concept in this way, but it can be helpful. And then let go of it.

Sam Harris equates the metaphor with a concept. To imagine an ocean and waves requires to form the concepts of water, ocean etc. That's why some meditation teachers, when using the metaphor, also say that one should NOT visualize that ocean. I find that quite difficult!

Sam Harris' general approach is therefore to avoid colorful metaphors from nature, of which the traditional literature is full. Instead, he uses a highly abstract vocabulary.

An example is "condition". Sam Harris uses "condition" to replace the traditional "space" metaphor.

His choice of traditional metaphors where he uses one is limited. For example, "sky" is used by him quite frequently to open up inner sering with closed eyes.

So here is the Ocean and Wave metaphor in Sam Harris´s rendering. I will quote it with its larger textual context.

And as you notice each next appearance in consciousness, whether there is a sensation in the body, or a sound, or a thought, I want you to view each appearance as a modification of consciousness. Everything in some sense is made of consciousness.
As a matter of experience, everything you notice is like a wave in the ocean, inseparable from water.To speak of water without waves, or waves without water, is to ignore the actual character of what's happening. Everything that appears by virtue of it appearing, is a kind of wave upon the surface of consciousness.

The Ocean and Wave metaphor and non-duality

This metaphor is of utter importance to teach non-duality. Eventually, it requires from the meditator one of the "dissolution" or "mixing" operations, where the experienced Self "dissolves" its substantiality and merges with something else (although this formulation is still too dualistic).

When one follows the Ocean and Wave metaphor, one has to "become" the ocean and its waves. Additionally, this requires to drop the sense of localisation; the sense of being a point of observation.

Thus, in Daniel P Brown´s teaching in the "Pointing Out the Great Way" foundation, the Ocean and Wave metaphor stands at the centre of teaching. Once the student "has become" ocean and wave, the preconditions for One-Taste (see also here) and Equanimity have been laid.

In fact, in the "Pointing Out the Great Way" methodology, the Ocean and Wave metaphor is the first level of One-Taste.

For the curious: the following levels are "automatic emptiness" and "non-meditation".


Brewer, J., & Brown, D. P. (1999). Mapping complex mind states: EEG neural substrates of meditative unified compassionate awarenes. Scribd.


Gebel, T. (2022ad, December 12). Non-meditation - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.12.12. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022ac, December 26). One Taste: From rock-consciousness to non-meditation. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022x, October 18). One Taste - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.10.17. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022d, May 29). Be ocean 1: meditation and contemplative neuroscience.

Gebel, T. (2021g, May 26). Sex & sheep: metaphors as poetic pointing out instructions. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022x, October 22). Mixing space with awareness: experience of non-duality. Till Gebel.

Gebel, T. (2022o, September 26). Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2022.09.26 - Non-localisation as condition to attain freedom. Till Gebel. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from