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"We are often encouraged to believe that all religions are the same: All teach the same ethical principles; all urge their followers to contemplate the same divine reality; all are equally wise, compassionate, and true within their sphere—or equally divisive and false, depending on one’s view.
"No serious adherents of any faith can believe these things, because most religions make claims about reality that are mutually incompatible. ...
"...this notion of a “highest common factor” uniting all religions begins to break apart the moment one presses for details. For instance, the Abrahamic religions are incorrigibly dualistic and faith-based: In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the human soul is conceived as genuinely separate from the divine reality of God. The appropriate attitude for a creature that finds itself in this circumstance is some combination of terror, shame, and awe. In the best case, notions of God’s love and grace provide some relief—but the central message of these faiths is that each of us is separate from, and in relationship to, a divine authority who will punish anyone who harbors the slightest doubt about His supremacy.
"The Eastern tradition presents a very different picture of reality. And its highest teachings—found within the various schools of Buddhism and the nominally Hindu tradition of Advaita Vedanta—explicitly transcend dualism. By their lights, consciousness itself is identical to the very reality that one might otherwise mistake for God. While these teachings make metaphysical claims that any serious student of science should find incredible, they center on a range of experiences that the doctrines of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rule out-of-bounds.
"Of course, it is true that specific Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have had experiences similar to those that motivate Buddhism and Advaita, but these contemplative insights are not exemplary of their faith. Rather, they are anomalies that Western mystics have always struggled to understand and to honor, often at considerable personal risk. Given their proper weight, these experiences produce heterodoxies for which Jews, Christians, and Muslims have been regularly exiled or killed. ...
"If one should happen to discover that the sense of being an individual soul is an illusion, one will be guilty of blasphemy everywhere west of the Indus."
~ Sam Harris, "Waking Up". Chapter one is available at:
> Do you believe your essence is individual simply because of cultural pressure?
The meetings serve as forums for discussing issues related to self-inquiry and self-definition. This is a tricky proposition – using the mind to understand the mind. To expedite the process, a facilitator directs the discussion.
Typical meeting formats are round-robin style, where participants have an equal amount of time to air their views. The object of this airing is to help each person clarify contradictions, tracing them back to prides and fears that cloud our mental processes. One of the ways of doing this is a friendly mode of challenging, or confrontation, not of the person but of his or her assumptions, beliefs, values and ethics. The facilitator is not to be confronted, as this disrupts the flow of the meeting.
A successful interchange relies on the cooperation of all participants and their willingness to "play the game." No one should preach or be subject to preaching. As much as is humanly possible we should try to:
Listen actively, without interrupting, maintaining a felt connection with the speaker. Keep the focus on each participant in turn, avoiding the temptation to shift the attention to ourselves – either out of a desire to rescue the person from tension or a desire to be the center of attention ourselves. When such a shift occurs, the facilitator or other participant should point it out. Try to understand the speaker's point of view and challenge him to question his own thinking, not argue with him or try to sell our views.