In this episode of the Making Sense podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Robert Wright about his book Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Today, I am speaking with Robert Right. Robert is an author most famously of the book, the moral animal which is one of the first books
that many of us read on evolution
or has written many other books, and for me
they journals is written for them
Yorker, the Atlantic time slate, the new republic.
The recipient of the National Magazine award for essay and criticism, and has been a fine
as for the National Democratic Circle award his taught in the site
how'd, you department, the University of Pennsylvania,
and in any religion department at Princeton and he's currently have
in professor of science and religion at union, theological seminary in New York and Roberts. New book is
why Buddhism is true
the science and philosophy of meditation enlightenment, and we
hark almost entirely about the book. We, we start the conversation putting some of our chequered history to rest so that we can move on, and those of you who know the history will know that it has been known, as I often say, of these kinds of things
fairly prickly, but we have a very collegial conversation on the topic at hand. We talk about the
connection between meditation and morality, fair amount about the
harmony between evolutionary psychology and the buddhist view of the mind, also a lot about the,
illusory none of the self and how to make sense of that claim any case I now bring you rob
I'm here with Robert right robber thanks for coming back ass. Well, thanks for having mission,
so you ve written a fascinating new book, which I am very eager to talk about, but before we dive into that
I need to say a word or two, or we should say a word or two about our history, because some
listeners will be aware of it and they, as result, will be waiting for this conversation to run.
Completely off the rails, I'm sure were capable of that. If we put our mind, do it I
The countess out. There was a passage in your book on page seventeen which
made me smile, I'm going to I'm going to read that it's okay to give us the right context. I think you right, I don't have a hostile disposition towards humankind per se.
I feel quite warmly towards humankind is intervene
Humans have trouble with I'm prone to a certain scepticism,
About people's motives in character and this critical appraisal can hard
into enduringly harsh judgment on particularly tough on people who d
agree with me on moral or political issues that I consider important once I placed these people on the other side,
a critical ideological boundary. I can have troubles thinking generous sympathetic thought about
I must say, that's a vibe. I've been getting from you low these many years. What do you think accounts for that will, first of all to keep
In my book, fascinating or whatever you called it, I will be able to think generous and sympathetic thought store. You funny how that works
I don't know, I'm I'm I'm uh
I'm I'm I'm I'm not. I am, I am somewhat temperamental person in general and the boys had a temper and you know issues matter to me. I mean it's funny because the book is about.
Some of the cognitive biases that led us to behave this
I mean that led us to think the worst of people under some circumstances, some away
I don't know I'm it's interesting use your kind of wholly free of this,
not that I'm interviewing you, you don't have to answer that question. Do you should feel free,
interview may I make a definite conversation more than an interview, always fire away, but I feel like the day
hammock has been fairly one sided between us. I sought to say that I can't be a jerk in other circumstances, but I feel like
I've been noticing. I'm not a ton of it is really not a ton of it of late, but actually went back and looked at the history just to make sure I wasn't,
calling in a way that was starkly self serving. But I think the only two times we ve met are both on videotape. You
on this interview. You did with me more than ten years ago and released it. I think only like a year ago, since this time, capsule interview, which is kind of hilarious because it play is like a deposition and it's kind of funny in
relation to your current book, because I now realise that your interest in things like metal
Asian and Buddhism, and the notion that the self might be an illusion and that it would be possible to be recognised as such all of those interests pre date.
Conversation we had a
some time ago, where to my eye, I was getting a fairly incessant attitude of scepticism.
from you toward me on those topics me out,
mutation arranged over other topics as well. I think that the main issue-
you ideologically between us has been, you have failed,
that my linkage between the specific idea,
within Islam and jihadism, and therefore terrorism has been
inaccurately or unnecessarily direct, and you think that
if our entanglement with the muslim world has v
little to do with religion per se. It has much more to do with politics and tribalism and other more terrestrial issues, and so have disagreed about that. But I feel like that gave have everything.
Ass, you were hearing from me kind of lack of
Lester, which made you deeply sceptical on points which now I see,
book now you and I basically agree
I mean for you right, there's a big there
the genuine ideological and slashed philosophical tension between
Lina said one level I mean. I think you
some of the other new atheists
a wrong about the relationship between religious doctrine in behavior. Generally
and that in the contemporary context, that leads to unfortunate policies that debt have exacerbated the situation so yeah I and I continue to care deeply
about that now it that's led meet him to be unfair to you in the past then dynamic
want to do that. I actually have a review. The record that much I thought I was thinking that review from their data.
From mom that I did it
ten years ago was I was recently civil I mean I'm sure was critical because I think you're wrong, but
but but in
you're right. There is this rod area of agreement as well. I hesitate to say that
Fourth watching but its birth, watching just for her
one we're both more than tat,
years younger witches.
Unnerving in and yet will
twenty years younger. You look five years younger, that's what's unnerving it's quite there
picture of Dorin Gray. I wish I had somewhere, but the way film too, is kind of hilarious. It really does look like a deposition like a two shot,
in what looked like a wood panel being illegal office, look in space and everything conspires to make it seem uncomfortable, and then we had a debate.
Actually on the issue that we disagree about with him?
Islam, and that was
very, very weird for real
since I have nothing to do with you. In fact they made
reasons that you don't know anything about that now
the one time. I ever
walked out on stage having just received a seemingly credible death threat. For that event,
self. That event was streamed, live on the internet and someone called
then you saying that they were going to shoot me at exactly seven o clock at that event, and
If you recall any this, but the event started little late and the half hour
proceeding my walk out on stage. I had been standing in the company of three office.
there from the LAPD and venue security and other security all trying to assess whether this was a credible threat.
and then I remember, leaving their company feeling no total assurance was interesting. I videos you, can you can actually see it on my face, but without
degree to which I'm scanning the audience, while I'm talking, is absent
Lee bizarre, so they did
prove our vibes at night, but I remember the security detail in thinking. You must be very important. Person also went to issue
you that I have nothing to do with the death threats and is a good method.
If you want to win a debate, you can call in death threats on you,
on woodwork everything I'll. Keep it in mind for future debate
it's. I remember wildly supportive audience for you, like rockstar level, wildly
support him in and being envious back, but it was kind of an ethical, an atheist. I was some kind of gathering of like minded folk yeah. Ok was up.
now to the matter at hand, will put all of that behind us and
all is forgiven because you ve written, as I said, a very interesting book on a topic that is dear to my heart. So was just get into that and will act as before. We get into the book itself, just
How would you summarize your interests and background?
and as a writer and a journalist, this book is not obvious
sleep in your we'll house, given everything else, you ve done. How do you describe yourself as a thinker? I think it kind of fits in broadly speed,
can I mean I think I've always been interested in kind of cosmic philosophical, slash, spiritual? Maybe issues in
and that's evident in really probably
all my books on the most obvious and a precursor. I guess
This is my book and evolutionary psychology, the moral animal
Where are you know? I I
noted in that I wasn't well versed in Buddhism at the time, just to be clear that the issue
the Buddhism part that seemed new,
Lay the evolutionary psychology is has been you're through line for many years right. I didn't,
in that book and even emphasize two things, one natural selection did not necessarily design us to see things clearly in our natural selections bottom line. Is it a change in the next
having an illusion or miss, perceiving something or having a tendency towards that, will help get genes in the next generation. The natural selection will favour will favour misperception.
I even talked a little about
de on, for example, the split brain experiments suggesting that we overestimate the extent to which we advocate that are conscious. Self is kind of a sea of self this. This second
The second thing I mentioned is that we are not designed to be happy and that in particular gratification
is designed to evaporate, because that's what keeps us motivated dino to see you no more food, more sex, more status, whatever it is, that has been conducive to genetic proliferation. I
didn't. I dont think I understood at the time. I did quote the Buddha saying something in that book, but it was kind of off topic. I mean I, I
I dont think I understood it the time that these two things
having illusions about the world and being prone to suffering
are not only why new that at least I kept, maybe I knew there.
emphasising Buddhism. I didn't understand the way Buddhism links them up. In any event, I certainly did not understand
the extent to which, as I now believe, an evolutionary psychology provides a kind of a back story for Buddhism and helps corroborate even some Buddhism most
radical assertions, and also I mean, I think, modern psychology more broadly does their experimental findings that have nothing to do necessarily with evolution, psychology that also back a Buddhist him. So I see I feel that the clearest connection with that book
but I could probably find some little linkage with with other books out as a whole. Not a part of me that is written operates about foreign power,
I and so on. That's only connected to this book, in the sense that I think, if we, if
when world did see things more clearly in a way that I think meditation facilitates.
We would have you were wars in foreign policy problems in general. Without I should mention the title of the book. The book is why Buddhism is true
The science and philosophy of meditation and enlightenment- and we will get into the significant of all those words, but I guess lesters linger on the title for a second, because this,
only imagine as an author who has tried to dust off the term spirituality and put it in scare quotes with really never
a feeling of comfort you don't have to imagine that right I mean you know me. I did that in waken up. In fact, we have the same publisher, signage user rights out. I can imagine this title. Why
dismiss true- gave you a little trepidation
EL from more than one reason I mean first of all it it just sounds kind of unbearably over
hearing or something I mean I mean you know it's not it's not a humble title. There's that does like who the hell. Are you too to say that after you know twenty five hundred years, you ve come up with some some fresh insight into the question of the foundation.
of Buddhism strewed. Secondly, what are you doing using a word like true
when there are even parts of buddhist philosophical tradition that cast doubt on whether that word has ultimate meaning
I heard what you mean by Buddhism. You know there are lots of different. You know, Buddhism like, like all spiritual and in a way philosophical traditions has evolved over time and develop these different branches. In some cases the different branches have different ideas. So isn't it a Centralists act as if there is a single Buddhism? Ah M, all those questions naturally get asked. I actually dress those inner in a quick note to readers at the very beginning, or at least acknowledge my awareness of them
You know I joke to friends and publishing before the book came out, that that title maybe a little hyperbolic, but I dont think it exceeds industry standards. But I I you know
honestly I'm willing to stand by. I mean I also have an appendix, where I
elaborate on the specific buddhist ideas that
our corroborated and the extent of their corroboration. I'm claiming
and I ll Aboriginal Morn. What by true but but
you know with all that is qualification. I'm I'm sorry
about the title, and I don't it's not that I've had some special inside sir
As you know, if you ve read the book, I dont claimed to be some kind of great Meditate Amin SAM. You have much more meditative depth and meditative here
breathing- I haven't you ve- had deeper experiences. Ah, I just think that.
until the advent of modern evolutionary psychology and some findings from experimental psychology in general. It was. It was not possible to nail some of this stuff down the way you can.
Now. So it's just it's like former for almost all of twenty five hundred years, it hasn't been possible to make the kind of argument I'm making
there's one thing you bring- that is
pretty novel, maybe entirely nowhere at another,
counter it anywhere, which is that the peace that will talk about the way in which
evolutionary psychology, really dovetails nice
lay with the truth as they can be gleaned from Buddhism or our specifically the practice of meditation. I guess the other
caveat here is that you are not endorsing any form of Buddhism. You're, not arguing that rebirth is true or like
to be true, and I dont think you talk about it,
But I I would imagine you're not anymore
a fan of Buddhism.
as a reservoir of political inside,
Then I am and look at societies that have been Buddhist historically, they have fairly unimpressive political fortunes and
People have argued that Cambodia under the committee, a ruse, was made possible in large part because of a buddhist spirit of quiet ism that intubated that kind of
extremism. I have a strong opinion about that, but does not obvious that Buddhism is the perfect operating system for a society to thrive. Politically,
scientifically or in any other way. My guess people would want to remind us
Myanmar right now and very strange career arc of on Sangsue Chee. Who was everyone's favorite.
saint when she was under house arrest and now she's not far from some
are angel of tribal vengeance in her, not dealing responsibly
Would they ruhinga muslim ethnic cleansing crisis? So
it's not Buddhism, you're really pushing for as any kind of ideology it
Certain things in Buddhism, specifically mindful
meditation and the truth about human experience that can be gleaned from it that you think give us
I am an unusually good look at what it's like to be ice and what the prospect
are for better in our lives by aid,
deliberate use of attention which it would you agree with that Summary Angela
I go a little further, I mean I'd, say first of all
you're right, I'm not defending things commonly considered supernatural or or exotics metaphysical like rebirth, and I make that clear to beginning to I'm talking about the naturalistic part of Buddhism, ah,
sometimes call secular Buddhism, I'm a little ambivalent about that phrase, but I would say I am defending well, not just radical claims of offers. Me say I think at the heart of Buddhism. Pretty broadly lies what I consider a kind of a man.
incline, which is that the reason we suffer and the reason we make other people suffer, is that we don't see the world clearly and that's,
Satan, amazing gliding, because it suggested even kill three bird
but once down. If you can learn to see the world more clearly than you will suffer less, you will be a better person toward other people. That's that's the idea, and I think that's it
found pretty broadly across the buddhist traditions? I certainly think you can locate dad in both
Marianna and if you ask what they
and by sea the world. Clearly again about her
actions. There are some pretty radical claims about the extent to which were deluded. I mean the idea that the self
can exist or even that our conception of the self is is way way off base? That's a radical claim, the doctrine of so called emptiness that
that our perception of the world out there is deeply misleading in ways we could get into later. If you want
that's a radical playing when you look at what the claim is and I'm actually defend
in those propositions to a pretty considerable extent- and I am certainly willing,
but that the first thing that that arm, you know the reason we suffer. You know that
suffering and are bad behaviour are related to not seeing the world clearly right biogas.
It says something about me that the truths of selflessness, an emptiness and the connection between
suffering and seeing the world. Clearly those
weren't among the radical claims that I was thinking about, one when I was differentiating,
you from the rest of the world Buddhist. All that seems
to me straightforwardly true, and I were and we'll talk about all that lets. Based on your experience, I mean to do
reading public out. That's all rights and work into even get them to take it seriously, and that's what I tried to do. I'm allowed quickly say on the political
will you yeah you're right, I mean that's a whole subject we could get into, but I think the first thing people have done
stand when they asked: will wait a second? What about Myanmar is you know?
in Asia lay Buddhist by and large, dont meditate many months summit
it's him right away, if, if you know of my book, is talking to a considerable extent about how meditation,
can clarify both our literal Cantwell are our vision of reality and our moral vision. That's what
happening the horrible things that are happening right now in that part of the world are not you know all that closely connected to that claim.
Yeah? I know that that is something it is not often appreciated that met
Education is a very esoteric endeavour within the context of an
buddhist society, really, I would think of his bright or even of tibetan society such as it still exists, but it's definitely true a place like Thailand or Burma, so several doors open here I want to rush through each. At the same time, I guess I'll just a summarize, basically what you said.
about the point of contact between meditation or or Buddhism and science. There
this alignment between what we can understand about ourselves
largely through evolution and descended returned,
science and how Buddhism describes the human condition and the understanding this both can give ape and impetus to a practice. I manage
asian, and they can also both reduce our suffering and reduce the kind of suffering we produce for others. I think that second peace, that yet
speaks to goodness and morality. I feel like that connection I feel, like you also acknowledges somewhere in the book. That connection is less clear, which is to say there are people who seem.
At least, to be very good meditated, who aren't necessarily good people or I haven't been good people inside the connection between
competence in meditation and being a good per
and is less direct. Then we might hope- and at least some evidence
for that is certainly not automatic again- and I use I do say that in a book and of course you know historically, if you know the dharmu boost,
teachings have included a lot of ethical instruction that the assumption seems not to have been that if you just meditate
automatically become a better person? That said, I think, there's a correlation, some kind of probabilistic correlation. I mean, I think you see this even at the beginning of a meditative practice
if meditation, you know, if you just doing what you don't even think of his buddhist meditation and you call it mind from space stress reduction,
cause you down a little you'll, probably be an easier person to get along with I mean you're probably become. What are you
proletarian would cut, would call a better person just because your costs less suffering. You know in, and I think that that correlation tens,
to be there but you're right. There are a number of famous very adept meditated. Is you know sexually exploited their students and things like that
So it's not it's not automatic and in principle, meditation is a tool. You know a deafness, aunt meditation could, in principle be
used to make you a more effectively bad person as a general matter, I think
you're absolutely right when you look at the motives in yourself for being a jerk
they are fairly reliably undercut.
By your pain, more and more attention to the dynamic
of your own suffering and well being and questioning rather skeptically, why you should follow each thought to its behavioral terminus and I do think there is a. As you said, a probabilistic correlation between time spent pray
in something like mindfulness and being more ethically sensitive before we actually get into mindfulness and disconnection too, but we nor about ourselves scientifically. How did you get into any of this? When was your interest in something as necessary, as mindfulness
it was nice pretty current now, but you have fourteen or so years ago. It was not nearly enjoying the public moment and is now. How did you get it interested and what form as your interest taken? Yet I guess you know, probably ever since college I ate a key
we can only try to meditate. It was one of the things you know you're supposed to dabble in eastern philosophy and so on. So I tried it a few times. It had never clicked for me
I'm not a natural meditated. All I have a very limited attention span for wanting, so I
Finally, on the advice of a friend tried,
actual one week, meditation retreat in two thousand three silent meditation tree in the universe, the parsonage slash, mindfulness tradition. You might save a pass the partner and my
on exactly the same thing, but there are related- and you know it was just
A few days were hell. I couldn't focus on my breath. Hated myself for failing most of our losers will be familiar. I think, with this topic, because I'm a had Joseph costing on the palm cast, although it's been
a couple years, but you want to describe what a meditation retreat is like and how startlingly
different days from ordinary life. For someone who hasn't done, it sure in fact the first thing this friend
what say you should go. You're Joseph Goldstein Talk in New York, and this was two thousand one.
Cuz. I remember it was right after nine slash eleven and then it's you know it's his retreat center. The insight meditation society that I went to an in two thousand and three and
now these things very from a treat centre to retreat centre, how their structured and
go on at- I am ass. It's like by my count, I think, was five and a half hours total of sitting meditation
day five and a half hours and walking meditation you do
job in the morning, the keeps the costs down for everyone at night,
here and dogma talk by one of the teachers
You know them the meditation sessions or forty five minutes. There's no talking except like a couple times a week. You can check in with a teacher either in group or individual setting.
but you're not talking, there's no news from the outside world and if anybody goes to retreat, my advice is: do not bring your smartphone tone whether and how to retreat centre emphasizes, is get off the grid set your email on auto reply, that's important
part of the experience, so you there you're not talking of citizens.
Couple of days I'm like you know everyone. Their looks like they're doing better than I am
in most of them were I'm sure they lie and they were mostly veterans. Probably I couldn't focus on ten consecutive breast I mean like all day the first day
and, like I said finally, it click you had your meditated for some concern.
Appeared before you sat your first retreat, or did you just jump right into how I had not? I had not I'd. Try
a few times, and I went to a couple of meetings at a place for
did Van in DC, like twenty five years ago, I had
gone out a unitarian church to Unitarian church here,
I mean two sessions after the church service a few times, but now
just ass. It had never. I never understood why anyone would meditate hadn't gotten inkling like zero, positive,
enforcing a thinker that not many people jump into a retreat without having experienced enough
if it were seeming benefit from meditation to feel like they want the full immersion experience yeah. I don't I don't. I honestly don't know why I mean, as you probably know, I was brought up religiously. So I don't know. Maybe there is you know, and then I lost my christian faith may be. There is some kind of void
also, I mean is acknowledging the book. I'm not a person wholly without improvements could be made to my psyche. You might say
and that brings a lot of people in meditation. You know just ranging from
mild anxiety to severe self loathing. Whatever the issue may be, you know it. It often begins as therapeutic thing. I think in my case it was,
more than therapeutic. I dont think that was the bulk of it. I think I was you know
I probably in some sense, wanted salvation. You know I mean that's, I was I was brought up to want salvation and I don't know, but
I recommend meditation retreats, are not guaranteed to work out wonderfully, but they
you know, I I call them extreme sport for the mind I mean there can be harrowing times and deep
gratifying and on inspiring times
profoundly illuminating times. But it said
serious thing that I encourage people to do if there at all inclined near
I guess, I'd enough, he would agree with this, but when I recommend that someone said a retreat or if someone come
to me, we are wondering whether or not they should set a retreat. I tend to say that they shouldn't Sidra
treat shorter than five to seven days. I feel like the first two or three days of
any retreat of a really any length, and they can be two or three days,
can be. Three months are the hardest, and if you own,
he said for a weekend. You basically have had the full experience of
You're hitting the wall of your own restlessness and and disinclination to be there without giving yours
any time to settle in four in what it's like to actually be there, does that resonate with your response. Absolutely
silently, I say like when they say when it went about a weekend retreat. I say
it's a good way to scout out a teacher to see if you want to spend a whole week with them
yeah. Otherwise I would not expect very dramatic results
I would not have gotten anything out of a weakened retreat,
and yet by the end of a week in own, I describe some of them
the programme by the end of the week and it felt transformative- I mean there had been both individual experiences while meditating that were
well, in one case, mine blowing in one case really arresting, but but beyond that. There's just this. This tree
information beer consciousness. I mean I mean not just win your meditating, but you're like walking around in the woods,
seeing beauty in places you ve never seen it, and I remember in this first retreat. I came up
on a weed called a plantation we'd that I had actually spent
of time trying to kill usually by pulling up cause. It's kind of we did it afflicted a couple of front law.
As I had had in dumb, and I just
I I just suddenly thought why I've been trying to kill this weekend.
Now that's going to sound like a touchy feely, oh you know, but but there's theirs. It there's a significant point. I was experience, surely apprehending here, which is that?
and the sounds trivial, when you say it is a point. Ok, what you just said.
We need is a human imposed category. We d,
say we'd on the dna of of of weeds. It's it's a cultural saying inside their plants, it in some cultures, people into
I did they dont want underlines the flower beds and that's what we call a weed, but that doesn't mean that there is any kind of objective, rigorous rule that separate
from non weeds, and it doesn't mean that we are actually unattractive in some objective sense, an end again that sounds kind of like a trivial point,
that that humans categorize things obviously to human, even category but
you probably know what I mean when you feel it as a perceptual shift.
You know you realize that cow. Suddenly, these human conceptions and unlike stories, we tell infiltrate your perception
normally so, like I've been going around apprehending essence of we'd in this
subtle way that I didn't even understand. You know I was
we're doing it, but when it's gone and you're just it's just a plant that some that's really dramatic, perceptual shift.
I personally think I mean it depends on what you mean by the buddhist concept of emptiness and their different interpretations of this within Buddhism. But I think-
perception I had is related to one
common interpretation of the idea of emptiness, which is which is just that the things we see in the world actually dont have essences. We impose those on them in and to see. The way no to see emptiness is to truly experience. Chile appreciate that that things don't have essences and that the essence is we perceive reflect kind of human imposed categories, so that was my first retreat and an end again
It would be hard to appreciate and what I said how powerful it felt like looking at we'd that I had always hated and go that's as beautiful as the other stuff in the forest, but I think it was
like a non a highly nontrivial apprehension Europa.
we get into the topic of emptiness, which I definitely want to touch that it wished to just
remind people what the practice of mine from his is, so that they can understand
What it is you were doing, there could have produced an epiphany like that, and others will talk about, and this is also speaks to. Why there's nothing unscientific about this enterprise
a lot that can go by the name of meditation or spiritual practice that can seem starkly on scientific because it
comes freighted with specifically religious concepts.
I cannot graffiti and things that are being added to your experience here, ritualistically or in by virtue of we what your views
realising in Austria. The mantra your chanting and all of that can seem like a departure from empirical rigour and sought to say that all of those practices knee
be a departure from empirical rigour, there's awaited stand with the party Christian, isn't shan't without being a religious lunatic. I would argue
with something like mindfulness. The connection to science release potentially is very direct,
all mindfulness is, is paying very close attention to experience without adding
anything to it, there's no mantra. There's no visualization, there's no necessary belief. Framework has just in each moment.
you are making an effort to
clearly notice what ever you in fact notice in whether it
sensation in the body or recite or a sounder,
thought or a mood arising in the mind you're. No
the same these phenomenon, the contents of consciousness as clearly as possible
and a clear noticing is different from the way you are tending to live in at least two respects mood. The one is
tending to live your life, and this is something very few people notice about themselves until they try to manage
Your tending to live lost in thought. Your thinking,
every moment of the day without noticing that you're thinking and the or experience of the present moment.
Experience of anything you can notice is coming to you.
Through this veil of discourse activity. That is, in fact not noticed by EU, so that the first thing is just hard to pay attention, because Europe
thinking every single moment of the day and you're not aware of it, and so I will try to follow the breath as a an initial exercise in mindfulness, and this is a very common experiences
but will pay attention to the breath and then feel that their doing it for even minutes at a time
and then say while your aid, when it when you ask them what that was like what they are eating, I did it for like five minutes, but then I got distracted and then I came back, whereas
no and, as everyone discovers on their first retreat, you know if their life depended on it. They couldn't stay on the breath for anything like five minutes. It's hard enough to follow five breaths in succession without getting carried away by
he had an actual was once on a retreat with them. The burmese meditation master hoop. Indeed, aside our, whose name, I think is familiar to you- it was like a two month retreat and it was set up in such a way that you could hear
DE as you said that you would have a daily or, in every other day,
in our view, for ten minutes would the teacher and this retreat was set up so that you can. Actually you can
hear the interview that was happening before you on the retreat. So you can wait in line or in the vestibule waiting for your chance to talk to open data, and so I can hear the person in front of me every time I went for an interview, so I was hearing this person say
in the beginning in the first few days of the retreat that he could. As I just said, he could stay with the breath for maybe five minutes and then get lost in them. He would come back to the breath, and here I just recognised at once how absurd that was because it was not my first retreat, but then over the course of maybe six weeks I could hear
experience getting more honest where he would say that you know need now. Maybe can get ten breasts in succession and then he's off. That's not a description of a person,
debility degrading that as a description of what it's like to actually equip yourself with the tools to notice how powerfully distracted you are in each
moment, and so just to bring one other element in here. So once you can pay attention to experience closely
again, without adding anything to it. You, then,
begin to notice the difference between.
merely being aware of phenomenon and reacting habitually to phenomenon as described in the Buddhist lexicon,
hey, you know with desire and aversion, and so your
Nancy to grasp it what's pleasant and push away was unpleasant. That begins to seem, as in fact, it is a powerful source of disturbance in your mind, and as you know, the Buddhists link that to basically all forms of cycle
or suffering, but at minimum this is an autistic. You can relax by merely paying more careful attention to the raw qualities of experience
on Judge mentally non, not grasping, it was pleasant and pushing away with unpleasant and when
do that a door into view
a different kind of experience of the sort that you just described earlier with the hated we'd opens and again
at no point have you stepped away,
from the Spirit of scientific impaired.
ism you're, not believing anything on insufficient evidence, you're, not pretending to know
something you don't know, you're, actually just paying more careful attention to what it's like to be you and each moment right now, I can see
boy doubting as people have done, it doubting us in saying. Well, so you say you went off and meditated in your claiming that the view of reality you had after that is truer than the ordinary view. Why should I privilege you're claim? I think you and I both feel on the basis of the actual experience that the reasons to believe
It is a more objective view. You're. Getting when your mind calms down, you can kind of feel the layers of story.
Fading away and and and and so on,
when I try to do in the book is, is to provide actual me no arguments to the effect that
it's a clear vision. I mean to take what you mentioned. The emphasis in
it is I'm on both of them
version on the one hand, and a particular kind of
traction on the other, a kind of a clinging. You use the term desire a kind about, be now a craving
something. What what, however, you want to put it. I think that that is just a very deep insight into
the way human psychology works and how
it blurs our vision,
and you know that if you, if you, if you pay attention
and again at its heart. As you say, you know it's easy to think. Well, if I want to see things clearly I'll, just look at these curtains and stare at them
and not look at anything else in there's some sense in which your seeing the more clearly than you were five minutes ago. But but I think
meditate. You realize how subtle
the things that are keeping you from true clarity and and
they tend to boil down to very subtle manifesto,
genes of aversion and kind of clinging,
or or desire right I mean it's like it's like that. We'd there was that there was an element
of aversion in my perception of that we'd that was colouring that per,
corruption in very
subtle ways and that you know when I argue that bet
version is coloring your view of something that is inherently suspect,
you really want to talk about what is an objective view.
Of the world. You have to remember that,
The aversions we have are their products of a particular evolutionary process, natural selection as men
first in a particular lineage, namely human evolution
and then you know. On top of that particular experience
we have in our lifetimes and so on, but the point is of
Zaire does not missing
anything wrong with. Even those, in fact, both of them can be very valuable survival MAC the mechanisms and can be a great pragmatic value and can also bring you pleasure. That is not to be denied. That's that's all fine it it's when you start when they color your view of the actual truce of things
that I think they are just that they are philosophically suspect. So I think- and I think this this- the this Buddhist just cutting through the coroner
like a more than a couple of millennia. Go that that this emphasis on aversion-
and you know, Canna clinging attraction or attraction. It's it's astute
its profound me when you think about it since the very
regions of life to approach to have
this is the fundamental behavioral decision. If you look at a bacterium, that's what
its behaviour logarithm all about. So since we were
I mean who knows when sentence subjective experience as we think of it dawned, but but in some sense, at its very core, are these two experiences and day they infiltrate our emotions, the infiltrated perceptions more subtly, and I and I think one, that's why I think that one perspective from which to appreciate buddhist philosophy is the evolutionary
perspective. If that makes sense, yellow limit its flag, a possible point of confusion here, so it would be easy to respond based on what you just said, that of course,
desire and aversion have been hammered into us by evolution
and there absolutely necessary for our survival. You're, just gonna wander off a cliff if you have
no desire to stay alive or not suffer some horrible injury. So there is. This, I think, is understandable since that
a life without desire and diversion would be a bad thing or in fact, just starkly untenable. He just wouldn't survive a day of it. There's something I guess we could call it kind of status quo bias here,
not well understood that the mind in terms of its raw attention, the powers of attention can be trained.
A person can be more or less talented in paying attention
obviously, in any kind of a physical domain, it's obvious. You know that there is a difference between it and the limp, Dick sprinter and someone who can't even get off the count
right, I'm, this range of athletic abilities is undeniable.
And there's a range of intellectual abilities, we also recognize but
please run more in the direction of knowledge, acquisition and an aptitude for it. So it's it is not really well understood that, just by you know, looking at the drapes, as you say, most people aren't in a good position even to begin to pay attention
There really is a scope for real training here, even to get to the starting line in terms of understanding what there is to pay attention to and what the consequences of noticing it
might be, and so this is a real barrier that a lot of people never surmount, which is there
here that meditation is a good
idea has all these health benefits or psychological benefits,
and they want to look into it, and so they try it for five minutes or an hour, and
look inside, and they just see nothing of interest really cause they're they're really just sitting there thinking whether the legs
astronaut and they're not actually able to do the practice to a degree.
to reveal anything at all, the fact of that failure isn't obvious to them, and this is why taking psychedelic tax has been. The doorway to a real commitment to something like meditation for
many people in the West, because you know many of us wouldn't have
convinced that their
for having are normal levels of psychological unhappiness over
And for a time by one or another, drug is not to say that drug experiences are always a perfect surrogate for what there is to be
through meditation, but at a minimum, if you take a hundred miles,
grams of lsd, something is going to happen.
may be very unpleasant could be pleasant or unpleasant, but very
you people walk away from that experience, thinking that is impossible to change human experience, and they may think that it was just a drug experience has no implication for the rest of was possible,
human life, but with meditation you really do have the problem where you can
recommend it to a sceptical person. They can think they ve tried it, and we have come away thinking that it
it doesn't work for them, or this is just a totally fraudulent enterprise. People are practising some elaborate form of self deception by meditating yet, and I personally think that the fact that I've gotten something out of it means in just about anybody, can
can I tried, tried various ways to do it. It never worked, but there was a way I finally found to try. It did make
work even if it took like one week, silent meditation retreat. But I think there are very few people who can't
To see that, oh, yes, this is giving you a different view of the world. We, let me give you a trivial sounding example, but, but I think a signal
no one so where I do my morning, meditation there's like one of these little of the kind of many refrigerators, and sometimes it starts humming and one thing I've discovered while meditating and listening to it is that actually, this refrigerators home at least definitely consists of at least three different sounds that are coming from Dick
parts of the refrigerators mechanism, and they are in a varying apparently into
in have one another for the kind of weaving this little symphony. But
anyway, I maintained it that it is an objective fact that if I consulted with the makers refrigerators somebody they would, they could confirm the yeah
Actually, the hum is these three different things now I am sure
if I had never saw meditating
I would have gone my whole life thinking that a refrigerators hum is a you know. It is just one thing
right and annoying, in the same way that that we'd of yours is annoying alright. Just the other thing is when you, when you're listening to a junior meditation, it's beautiful that that
amazing in itself, but but but but that port, you might say a subjective was not subjective. Is that I think you know, I think you could confirm. Actually I was getting
closer to the truth. When I said now, there's at least three to four things going on in the in the machinery here now.
on the kind of related early on the on the thing you mentioned first about well
a version and end in desire or attraction are pragmatic
ethically useful. That's true
But even then I think it's him
or it could be useful to anyone and end, including someone who does mine,
meditation to get clear
on when feelings are actually useful to you. The person as apply
so when they were useful merely from natural selections, point of view and then third,
is opposed to win in
a modern environment. You have your have,
a feeling like anxiety that that
I have been more useful in the environment we evolved in, but is not so
useful now, because your reacting to a novel environment that were not designed to to react to sew and- and this gets back to that, the fact that were not designed to see the world clearly right, like if you look at something like fear,
now, if you taking a walk- and you ve been told that their rattlesnakes around in somebody died of a rattlesnake by while hiking every time you
here. The grass rustling you're gonna think there's a rattle
they're right, you're, gonna, entertainer hypothesis, very seriously, even believe it. If, if a lizard darts out you may briefly literally see a snake
you can be wrong. Ninety nine times out of a hundred and you're also going
suffered by the way fears unpleasant.
So those are designed in features from by natural selection, apparently, and the logic is clear that it's better to be safe than sorry bettered. Have all these false positives of fear.
then they wanted to be insufficiently vigilant and dive around snake right now, that's a case for your interest and natural selection interests coincide. You look at something else, like our drive for status. Wells
that is during evolution, seems have been Coralie genetic proliferation, so we tend to seek it
on the other hand, the seeking of it seems to be subject to that general tendency gratification to evaporate, so we get
The promotion or we do whatever we rise in people's esteem and
and before we enjoyed for a little while and then we want more so there. I would say look here if you love me
fort, but but if it's, if, if if the status game is causing you suffering on balance,
I remind yourself that was just designed to get
genes in the next generation and a different environment is probably not in doing that, may or may not do that now. Actually, so did he give you anything but socio economic status, that's inversely correlated with genetic proliferation.
This all kinds of absurdities that amount-
Environment creates and finally view
it's something like anxiety, natural emotion, but first, while there is the false positive issue, so like yes match,
to think or where's. My toddler, something horrible must have happened. That's a natural, false, positive fine.
And maybe it's good you- you know you want to be vigilant about you toddler, but then you look at something like public speaking anxiety or
anxiety that apparent feels upon dropping their child off at a day care centres. On the first day where they're gonna be tended by somebody,
you know the parents don't know. Will these are? These are unnatural things. I mean it's a bit. You know
and I M in the environment of evolution in the kind of Hunter gatherer time environment they didn't do public speaking and address a bunch of people.
we're really mattered and they never met any the people they didn't. They didn't leave the children in the care people they had never met, and then so. These are case,
where, if you're lying awake at night, before a big talk
you're sitting a worrying about your kid, a day care when, when it's like an emotive it you'd do anything. That's gonna help. These are unproductive anxieties that their causing you suffering
there there they are in many of these cases. They lead to actual allusions like like catastrophe scenarios. So I think it's your right back
our feelings were designed to be pragmatically useful, but sometimes that
and they were used for from the organisms point of view, and sometimes just from the point of view of genetic proliferation and some
in the modern environment, veered they're not useful from anyone's point of view, and so I think
You know I I try to provide. This is back story in the book because I think it is. It is useful for some
people in in when they're doing something that, as you know, mindfulness meditated, encourage you to do, which is just observe your feelings as they kind of appear and disappear, and see
them as these transient phenomena and as
nothing more another words don't invested with the meaning, there were naturally inclined to invest them with Europe.
and I think the evolutionary story can help a meditative appreciate that
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Transcript generated on 2020-10-08.