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Mind only - Sam Harris Daily Meditations 2022.11.01


Sam Harris outs himself as a proponent of the "mind only" direction in Buddhism and modern cognitive science and philosophy.


Sam Harris

And now open your eyes and as the world comes rushing in notice that it too as experienced is a modification of consciousness. It's appearing in the same space. All of this colour and shadow is made of consciousness.

Sam Harris formulates the last sentence of the above quote ("all...is made of consciousness") in various ways throughout his daily meditations:

  • Everything is made of consciousness

  • Everything is an elaboration of consciousness

  • Everything is a modification of consciousness

  • Everything is a play of consciousness

  • Everything is an articulation of consciousness

  • Everything is a perturbation of consciousness

It is another perspective on the statement that consciousness is in everything:

  • Consciousness permeates everything

  • Consciousness saturates everything.

And as such it is a different formulation of the "inseparable pair" of mind and events (Gebel, T. (2022b)), and a basic formulation of non-duality.


Mind-only

The statement "all is made of consciousness" represents in principle the "Mind Only" theory of Buddhism (translated from "Cittamatra" or "Yogacara").


There is a distinct sequence of phases of increasing abstraction and sophistication in Buddhism (references: here, here and here).


​Stage-Name

Key Postulate

​Shravaka

​There is no autonomous Self

​Cittamatra

There is mind only


tbd


Tor example in this statement a Yogacara theory in Buddhism:

We are only ever aware of mental images or impressions which manifest themselves as external objects, but "there is actually no such thing outside the mind." (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yogachara)

I am not qualified (yet) to discuss it in detail, so please use the references in Daniel P Brown, and Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso and Hookham 2017


Three contemporary representatives of "Mind Only": Donald Hoffman, Culadasa, Bernardo Castrup

It also reflects an important position in the contemporary discourse on the fundamental question "what is reality".


Donald Hoffman (The Case Against Reality")

With his statement, Sam Harris sounds very much like Donald Hoffman´s thesis in "The Case Against Reality", where everything literally is "made of" consciousness, including each atom and the entire universe.


Culadasa (The Mind Illuminated)

It is also similar to Culadasa´s concept of "shared receptivity and information exchange" in the famous meditation handbook "The Mind Illuminated" which constitutes the unity of the universe as consciousness:

Every structure we have identified—from atoms to persons to the universe as a whole—constitutes a natural individual by virtue of shared receptivity and information exchange. From this perspective, what we call consciousness is just a single, limited example of something that pervades the entire universe at every level (Yates (Culadasa) & Immergut, 2017, p 298)

Bernardo Kastrup

It also sounds very much like Bernardo Kastrup´s statement that consciousness is "like space" ,space being the preferred Buddhism metaphor / analogous to consciousness, even if they concede that consciousness has a knowing quality, space has not (Gebel, T. (2022v, October 22).




Is Sam Harris really a "Mind Only" representative?

However, its not clear how Sam Harris means that. Sam Harris usually refuses to make ontological, or metaphysical statements or claims. He normally prefixes such statements with "..as a matter of experience..".

On the most basic level, everything has the same status as a modification of consciousness. Again, I'm speaking as a matter of experience. This is not a metaphysical claim (Daily Meditation 2022.11.04)

or

As a matter of experience, there is just consciousness.

Which means that all one can speak about is experience. But, therefore, making statements about what reality "is", is impossible. Thus, color and shape are representations of "something unknowable out there" in consciousness. Whether color and shape "are" consciousness, may then also be a matter of debate. But who I am to meddle in this discussion that involves some really big minds!


Well, these questions easily lead one into Bill Clinton´s famous discussion of "what "is" is" ...


Yes, he is (November 2022)


Having just fully heard Annaka Harris´ podcast with Lex Fridman, I have to revise that Harris does not mean the "everything is made of consciousness" as a metaphysical - or physical, ontological - statement. Annaka reveals that at her and Sam´s home (they are married) they had many private conversations with Donald Hoffman (Harris 2022, October 5) and have adopted Hoffman's position. Here she goes into some detail.



Resources

Bill Clinton and the Meaning of “Is”. (1998, September 14). Slate Magazine. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/1998/09/bill-clinton-and-the-meaning-of-is.html


Brown, D. P. (1981). Mahamudra Meditation-Stages and Contemporary Cognitive Psychology (Dissertation). http://abhidharma.ru/A/Tantra/Content/Raznoe/0028.pdf

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.

https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Daniel-P-Brown/dp/0861713044/


Gebel, T. (2022v, October 22). Mixing space with awareness: experience of non-duality. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/space-meditation-tilopa-sam-harris-dissolving-the-mind


Gebel, T. (2022b). The inseparable pair (2). Till Gebel. Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.till-gebel.com/post/sam-harris-daily-meditation-2022-09-27-the-inseparable-pair-2-simultaneity


Harris, A. (2022, October 5). Annika Harris: Free Will, Consciousness, and the Nature of Reality | Lex Fridman Podcast #326 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6zEzZCtkXw&feature=youtu.be


Hoffman, D. (2020). The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Penguin. https://www.amazon.de/-/en/Donald-Hoffman/dp/0393254690/


Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.


Khenpo Tsultrim Gymatso, & Hookham. (2016). Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness (3rd ed.). Van Haren Publishing. https://www.amazon.com/Progressive-Meditation-Emptiness-Tsultrim-Rinpoche/dp/153740900X


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