Philosopher Sam Harris Leads You Through a 26-Minute Guided Meditation

We’ve post­ed on med­i­ta­tion research late­ly because it’s so com­pelling, and med­i­ta­tion music and instruc­tions because so many cre­ative peo­ple have found it lib­er­at­ing. But it’s always worth not­ing that a few med­i­ta­tion skep­tics have weighed in with point­ed objec­tions to the large claims med­i­ta­tion teach­ers often make. And yet even after one of the most unspar­ing cri­tiques of med­i­ta­tion research and teach­ing, sci­ence writer John Hor­gan still admits that “it might make you feel bet­ter, nicer, wis­er” and plans to con­tin­ue med­i­tat­ing in the face of his “per­fect con­tempt for it.”

Anoth­er pro­fes­sion­al skep­tic has gone even fur­ther along this road. Once spo­ken of as one of the dread­ed “Four Horse­men” of New Athe­ism, Sam Har­ris has also long called him­self a sec­u­lar Bud­dhist, and has writ­ten “a guide to spir­i­tu­al­i­ty with­out reli­gion.”

Wad­ing into the pol­i­tics of med­i­ta­tion means deal­ing with skep­tics like Har­ris who treat Bud­dhism as quaint and archa­ic fool­ish­ness that just hap­pened to pre­serve the sci­en­tif­ic tech­nol­o­gy of mind­ful­ness, and it means sort­ing through a lot of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies, many of which—as is always the case—have a num­ber fatal flaws in their method. Har­ris’ sci­en­tif­ic claims about mind­ful­ness have come in for their own cri­tiques, from both mys­tics and sec­u­lar­ists.

All of this said, the fact is that, like yoga and many oth­er prac­tices designed to har­mo­nize mind and body, the ben­e­fits of med­i­ta­tion, place­bo-induced or oth­er­wise, are observ­able, and the risks entire­ly neg­li­gi­ble. Many skep­ti­cal researchers have decid­ed to dive in and try med­i­ta­tion before ful­ly cred­it­ing their doubts. And that, sup­pos­ed­ly, is the very instruc­tion we find in what is often called the Bud­dhist “char­ter for free inquiry,” which tells prac­ti­tion­ers to inves­ti­gate for them­selves and take no one’s word for any­thing, a few hun­dred years in advance of the British Roy­al Soci­ety’s mot­to, nul­lius in ver­ba.

In this spir­it, skep­tics like Har­ris have inves­ti­gat­ed med­i­ta­tion and report­ed their find­ings. Many also, like Har­ris and aca­d­e­m­ic researchers like Oxford psy­chi­a­trist Mark Williams, have record­ed their own guid­ed mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tions that cor­re­spond in many respects to the orig­i­nal ancient instruc­tions. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured guid­ed med­i­ta­tions from UCLA and a com­pi­la­tion of record­ed instruc­tions from new agers and sci­en­tists. At the top of the post, you can hear Har­ris’ very straight­for­ward guid­ed med­i­ta­tion, and fur­ther down a short­er ver­sion of the same.

In the video above, Har­ris employs just a lit­tle hyper­bole in com­par­ing mind­ful­ness to the Large Hadron Col­lid­er. His claim that only through this prac­tice can we dis­cov­er “the self is an illu­sion” rings false when we think of the many oth­er philoso­phers who have inde­pen­dent­ly come to the same con­clu­sion, whether as Taoists or Empiri­cists. But Har­ris isn’t only mak­ing the case for mind­ful­ness meditation’s true cor­re­spon­dence to some fun­da­men­tal nature of real­i­ty, but for its prag­mat­ic use­ful­ness in help­ing us move through the world with greater skill and peace of mind—reliable out­comes from reg­u­lar med­i­ta­tion that no one has yet cred­i­bly denied.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lena Dun­ham Shows Why It’s So Damn Hard to Med­i­tate: A Four-Minute Com­e­dy

Allen Gins­berg Teach­es You How to Med­i­tate with a Rock Song Fea­tur­ing Bob Dylan on Bass

Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions From UCLA: Boost Your Aware­ness & Ease Your Stress

Stream 18 Hours of Free Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tions

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • Frank Manella says:

    Sec­u­lar Buddhism?Sam give me a break! He calls him­self a philoso­pher? Wow I sug­gest a 101 course in world religions,comparative or oth­er­wise

  • JV says:

    It’s a thing. Check out the book, Bud­dhism With­out Belief. Pret­ty much changed my life. That said, I’m not a fan of Har­ris at all.

  • Josh Jones says:

    I would also check out Owen Flana­gan’s book on “Bud­dhism Nat­u­ral­ized”:

  • Professor @ X says:

    Call­ing Mr. Har­ris a (pro­fes­sion­al) philoso­pher is like call­ing Mr. Shaquille O’Neal a (pro­fes­sion­al) poet.

  • Malu Ribeiro says:

    He’s not a philoso­pher, he’s a sci­en­tist, he actu­al­ly repu­di­ates phi­los­o­phy!!! He thinks it’s dead »> that shows how short sight­ed he is, he’s not stu­pid, but lit­tle does he know that you need a philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion to ini­ti­ate any research #1, #2 he invad­ed the world of phi­los­o­phy with­out the cre­den­tials, the nec­es­sary read­ings and socrat­ic dis­cus­sions to devel­op in that are­na. He’s a pro-Zion­ist islam­o­phobe who spreads big­otry with mis­use of data, his­to­ry, cher­ry pick­ing his­to­ry etc.

    Yeah, he must be good on med­i­ta­tion based on his back­ground, but he influ­ences too many peo­ple into a line of think­ing that id dog­mat­ic and dan­ger­ous!! You’re not auto­mat­i­cal­ly a good ques­tion­ing per­son just because you’re an athe­ist. Being an athe­ist myself, I repu­di­ate the neo-atheits asser­tions on reli­gion, though some I admire as sci­en­tists etc. But Sam is the most dan­ger­ous one!!

  • Zach says:

    Do you not know that you’re dumb?

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