A Case Study on How to Reach Enlightenment

The following story is from a man named Franko, who details his journey to Stream-Entry (The first of four stages of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism).


SE = Stream-Entry

MTCB =  Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, a classic book in the field of hardcore meditation written by Daniel Ingram.

A&P = The Arising and Passing Away, a stage of meditation  where strong rapture,energy or even hallucinations can occur.  The ingestion of psychedelic drugs often brings about the A & P as well.

DN = the  Dark Night, the period after the Arising and Passing away where after having seen the wonderous rapture of the A & P, one falls into an existential angst and dissatisfaction with normal life.

Arhat = A person who has mastered the fourth and final stage of enlightenment in Theravada Buddhism.

Noting= A meditation technique popularized by the famous Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw.  One notes every moment of experience. Ex: ..”Thinking, thinking, feeling,feeling, anger, itching, lifting, hearing”.

Fruition = A significant moment in meditation where the mind becomes so equanimous that the subconscious mind projects nothing into conscious experience. From a subjective standpoint consciousness turns off and then reboots like a computer. This experience has profound effects on the meditator’s mind.

Enter Franko:

Hello my dear brothers and sisters in Dharma.

I would like to  humbly share with you the story of my spiritual search which eventually and fortunately culminated in stream entry this spring at Wat Rampoeng, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

All my life I’ve been a passionate lover of all things extreme, and as soon as my legal age allowed I’ve jumped head first into skydiving, bungee jumping, kite surfing, snowboarding, skiing, motorcycles, intrepid world travelling, and anything else you might imagine that gets the good old adrenaline flowing. You can guess then how excited and euphoric I was when I first stumbled upon Foods of Gods, a.k.a. psychedelics! That was a truly a changing point in my life, akin to falling into Alladin’s cave of insight, euphoria, bliss and otherworldly pleasures that were until then unimaginable to me. I soon proceeded to ingest vast quantities of any psychedelic that I could get my hands on(and I could get my hands on a lot of them), and took as much as possible in a single session. Usually If I wasn’t at some point thinking “omg I took too much”, then I knew I didn’t take enough. As it usually goes with high-dose psychedelic experiences, you break the fabric of time-space, tear down your reality and you cross the A&P many times over with no hope of ever coming back the same person. And we all know that after the A&P the dark night follows as day follows night, in all its suckyness, crappiness, existential angst tinged with good old misery and fundamental dissatisfaction with all worldly things. What initially seemed like Alladin’s cave now turned out to be Pandora’s Box instead.

At this time my interest in meditation grew rapidly, and soon I did a Goenka retreat, and then another. Although very valuable and inspiring, I soon realized that 10 days is not nearly enough for serious progress, as the course ends just exactly when my concentration and insight actually start working.

Along  with my newfound interest in meditation, I’ve started reading truckloads of non-dual literature day and night, mostly Advaita, Buddhism, and assorted mysticism. After a while I’ve learned to separate the wheat from the chaff, so I focused on techniques that were more scientific, repeatable and pragmatic, with main emphasis on Theravada, and then I stumbled across MCBT. Some Daniel dude claiming Arhatship on the cover was something completely different, I though who does this deluded and preposterous ignorant think he is? Arhat? Yeah right. But I always had a thing for iconoclasts and straight-up raging lunatics, so I decided to give MCTB a try and only then I realized I’ve struck gold!

At that point in my life I felt like being lost in a dark forest and then coming across very kind, warm and fuzzy teachers like Dalai Lama and Thitch nhat Hahn speaking about the good stuff, compassion etc, feeling nice and glowy for a while but then realizing I’m still lost. And then comes this Dan Ingram, a neurotic attack-on-the-senses kind of guy and actually shows me the map and the way out of the forest, complete with a lamp and a small survival kit! Whoah. Thank you would be a huge understatement for saving anyone from a dark night territory like that.

In any way, soon after reading and then re-reading MCTB I’ve realized that embarking on a spiritual quest and undergoing rigorous and grueling intensive vipassana meditation retreats for as long as necessary is the only way out of the miserably devastating dark night, so embark on the Pan Asian meditation trip I did.

During my flight to Asia I’ve wisely engaged in reading a particularly hardcore dharma book by Bodhidharma, along the lines of “vast emptiness – nothing holy”, which as you can imagine plunged me ever deeper into the abyss of the dark night and reobservation stage. Word of advice – don’t read bodhidarma book if darknighting, unless you’re a masochist – then please go ahead.

First stop then was MBMC in Penang, Malaysia as recommended by Daniel in his book – my first crash course on mahasi noting technique. MBMC is actually amazingly good place to practice, the food is incredibly good and plentiful (almost to a point of sensory pleasures kind of hindrance), the instructions I received from Venerable Sayadaw Pannathami during the 21 day retreat were very compassionate, useful and valuable, and the meditators, mostly women, were serious and dedicated to the practice, so excellent environment all in all. My practice improved, and soon I felt dark night lifting with equanimity prevailing my waking hours, and the light at the end of the tunnel started to shine, however dimly.

However, the retreat ended, the sayadaw left and I was on my own again, back on the chase. The wise Sayadaw estimated my situation very accurately, so on a couple of last interviews he mentioned “go to Burma” hinting I can and should get this over with on a longer retreat. And me being a wise student, I listened to my teacher and to Burma I went.

Next stop Burma. I’ve been to Burma already and I knew what to expect, so straight from the airport I went to panditarama forest refuge with strong determination to meditate as if my life depended on it. Because it did. Once there, I realized I was in heaven. The forest refuge is every serious meditators wet dream. A huge forest sprinkled with little wooden huts-kutis, with nothing but crickets, birds chirping and hardcore dharma to boot.  The place is incredibly conducive to meditation, the food is tasty, and the other meditators were all serious practitioners, no jokers, whiners, socializers and other retreat pests that we all know. No wonder my practice started reaching orbital heights, and soon after few days I’ve found myself in wonderful equanimity, sitting for 2+ hours straight, sometimes running into incredible bliss, raptures, smiling like a chesire cat from the sheer unbounded joy and happiness. I’ve found meditators Vallhalla at last!

Alas, nothing is permanent. One morning a strange and impossibly loud Burmese folk musical assault started coming from the nearby village. I thought it would stop, but it didn’t stop the whole day, and the following night, and then tomorrow the same thing. The meditation hall was shaking with vibration, and there was no sign of this horrible 200Db Burmese music noise stopping any time soon. Even my high quality silicone earplugs were completely useless here, the noise was literally skull-penetrating. Later in the evening, the village chiefs, likely encouraged by alcohol, would take over the microphone and literally scream and wail for hours on end. And as the noise torture reached an all time high my concentration crashed and burned, I plunged back into the dark night. By the 2nd day of this 24 hour noise torture incredible irritation arose, and I realized that I have to get out of here asap and find a quiet place to meditate, somewhere, anywhere. Sleepless, reluctant and again darknightishly depressive I’ve packed my bags and left this incredibly noisy hellhole that just until couple of days ago I thought was heaven on earth. Later after googling I found out that this is the norm in Burma, blaring super-loud music everywhere and anywhere is just a Burmese way of being, this is a way they celebrate festivals, birth of a baby or just a good old happy Tuesdays. Quickly and most desperately I went to Thai embassy in (again very noisy) Yangon, got myself a visa and hurriedly left Burma, never to look back.

After landing in Chiang Mai, the desperate search for a monastery continued, but fortunately I was at the right place. After reading favorable reviews on Wat Rampoeng here and on the web, the next day I crossed my fingers, called them and fortunately the next group was starting tomorrow so I jumped at this and soon I was in Wat Rampoeng, hoping that there I could finally meditate in peace.

After registration the course started with a couple of hours of group demo practice of mindful prostration, sitting and walking meditation, after which it was every person for him or herself. The schedule is 4 am wake up call, then 1hr walking meditation, followed by 1hr sitting and so on until the end of the day, with breakfast and lunch breaks, and the daily interview with the instructor. There is also a lot of bowing to do– 3 times to the Buddha image, and then 3 times to the teacher at the start of the interview and the same at the end of the interview. A bit peculiar but not a big deal, one gets used to it in a day or two.

The temple grounds are beautiful and most importantly silent, again very much conducive to serious and dedicated practice. One can meditate everywhere on the temple grounds, in a meditation hall/library or in your own little apartment. There are fortunately no dorms, and the private apartment accommodation is spacious, clean and very suitable for meditation, so for the next month I almost didn’t leave my apartment except for food and daily interviews. I cannot describe the peace, contentment and happiness when I finally started to seriously practice again, but this time with no added Burmese discofolk music background. What happiness, what bliss!

The technique is an adapted mahasi style with added touching points all over the body to focus upon after the out breath. E.g. note rising, note falling, note the sitting posture of the body and then note the touch point 1 which is left side of your lower back. Then again rising, falling, sitting, touching pt 2., etc. Every day you get assigned a new touching point, of which there are 24 or 26, can’t remember exactly, they cover all parts of the body, and you incorporate them into your practice. Walking meditation starts with 1 step – noting left and noting right step, then in the next days progresses to 2 step – note lifting and stepping, then to 3 step, lifting, moving stepping, then 4 step, heel up, lifting, moving, stepping, then 5 step, heel up, lifting, moving lowering, stepping, and finally 6 step heel-up, lifting, moving, lowering, touching the ground, and stepping.

As the days flew, my concentration grew exponentially and I have reached the heights of equanimity again. Oh my happiness!

What also helped is that after a while I just accepted the fact that I was a meditation basket-case and it will take me many months to reach SE. fine. Making peace with that just ended my endless frustration about almost everyone else seeming to get SE easy (some even on 10 day goenka retreats!) while I was still struggling in DN for what seemed like ages, and meditating to no avail. Very well, let it be. I am a vipassana dumb-arse and not ashamed to admit it. Lets carry on now, note, note, note.

Another very helpful thing was being strictly silent, introverted and keeping to myself almost pathologically. Unlike mahasi centers, Wat Rampoeng is unfortunately not a strictly silent retreat center, so in every batch of new meditators there will inevitably be a couple of loudmouth socializers who just seem unable to keep their mouth shut. I have found that even the smallest, most innocent chit-chat can reverbate in your head for hours, and is thus deadly for mindfulness. Therefore it is best to keep to yourself, not even establishing eye contact with anyone, especially the loudmouths, sit away from the crowds and groups that inevitably form in the dining hall, keep the silicone earplugs in your ears at all times (an international sign for keep away, I don’t want to talk to you), and basically just focus on noting the hell out of your every day sensate experience at all times. No worries, after the retreat you will have all the time in the world to go to bars, socialize, chit chat about the finer points of dharma, geopolitics, technology and the future of the human race, but leave that for until after the retreat. The best thing on the retreat is to be at the retreat and note like crazy every waking second. It’s totally worth it.

Due to all this soon I was again sitting for hours on end with very good concentration, noting every second, practicing diligently from the time I woke up, until bedtime, noting every second of my waking experience, trying to catch every little mundane event, until now completely overlooked. It soon paid off, and my concentration grew more and more, along with equanimity and weird energetic phenomena started happening. The trigger points in my back started vibrating wildly every time I would focus my concentration on the touching points on my upper back. New trigger points on my left upper back also got activated, vibrating wildly and causing pain and discomfort, sometimes even feeling like I have a bunch of tense and strongly vibrating spaghetti in my trigger point infested back.

As the concentration deepened, weird and bizarre unconscious material started coming up, early childhood memories long ago forgotten, strange feelings, visions and emotions emanating from the deepest layers of unconscious started surfacing. I also started again hearing very loud pitching noises in my left ear, same as I had in A&P phase when I started embarking on a spiritual path. Couple of days before stream entry I had an unusually long and loud pitching sound session in my left ear again, this one lasting for more than a minute and being all in all very unusual. I knew something big is going down. After 20ish days of my retreat, having implemented all the touching points and 6step walking meditation, the instructor just looked at me and said – time for strong determination. for the next 3 days no sleeping – meditation for 24 hours straight, no leaving your room except for the daily interview, food will be delivered to your doorstep. I was also handed a leaf of paper with the instructions for the following 24 hours. I was to begin the first day with a mindful prostration, then wishing and chanting metta for all sentient beings in pali and then firmly resolve:

“may the gross perceptions of the three characteristics of phenomena cease, and may more subtle characteristics of these realizations be attained within 24 hours”

I’ve heard about the resolutions and setting intentions like this before, but being a sceptic I dismissed them as new-agey kind of fairytale, because it can’t possibly be that easy. Yet I obediently followed the instructions, resolved to attain stream entry in the next 24 hours, and the first day of strong determination began. I’ve stocked up on coffee and very strong green tea offered to me by a very helpful and angelic older lady in charge of the foreign students, and successfully meditated through the first night, thinking it wasn’t that bad, and even feeling a little pride for my successful all-night meditation vigil. I continued meditating throughout the morning, concentration got decidedly stronger, with me entering ever more bizarre and interesting head-spaces, had breakfast after which I had a sudden and very strong attack of re-observation, meaningless, lust and bunch of other accumulated stuff, akin to Buddha being attacked by Mara on the night of his enlightenment. It was pretty nasty, so had to lay down for a while, then just kept noting throughout it all, and after it subsided I reluctantly got back to practice. “Let’s just get this 3 day determination over with” I thought to myself and just kept practicing amidst all these weird states of mind when suddenly my whole body involuntarily kind of nodded/jolted in the direction of my right knee. This was a bit disconcerting as I never before had any kind of involuntary shaking, jolting or movement of this type. I forgot all about it, and then around noon similar thing happened, the body nodding away involuntarily, then a moment of no-experience, sort of like falling unconscious, accompanied by a loud banging noise, like doors being shut. Boom!

WTF. All of a sudden, peace almost impossible to describe flooded over my whole being, I couldn’t help but to smile and asked could that be it? It can’t possibly be it! Too good to be true! Whatever this is, it’s awesome! I hope it sticks and doesn’t leave. Then I realized I can voluntarily stop the flow of my thoughts on demand. Look ma, look what I can do! No thoughts! This must be it! I was exhilarated and out of my mind with happiness, contentment, peace, joy. Never felt this good in my whole life! This is it, yesss! I tried to continue my meditation, just in case I am deluding myself, but couldn’t find the motivation. Why meditate, what’s the point? Just being with my breath, doing nothing, felt amazingly blissful and perfect. No more chasing, nothing to attain, nowhere to go, nothing to do. I finally got it. In a couple of hours I’ve reported to my instructor what happened, he gave me a long inquiring look and then gave me the instruction  leaflet for the next day of meditation, along with a rosary type of thing for keeping track of the “nodding off”, or arising and ceasing phenomena as they call it.

For the day two, before meditation I was to resolve

during X minutes of my meditation session may the phenomena of arising and ceasing appear as often as possible

then I was to meditate, and using the rosary keep count and write down the number of times I have nodded off, and experienced the phenomena of arising and ceasing during each meditation session, with each session lasting progressively shorter amount of time.

As I have just entered the stream, my mind was amazingly and exceedingly strong, so much so that in my first session after SE the mind stayed one-pointed and glued to the meditation object with no interfering thoughts and distractions whatsoever. The only few thoughts that appeared occasionally were “wow” or “this cannot be possible”. For a short while after SE, I had the concentration of a meditation master, and I still cannot believe to this day that that such a thing was possible. Just wow.

The third day of strong determination was intended for practicing fruitions, whereby I was instructed to perform the mindful prostration as usual, then practice 6-step walking meditation for an hour, after which I would resolve:

“May I find bliss. May all sentient beings find bliss. If any sentient beings have thoughts of revenge on me I forgive them. If I have thoughts of revenge on any sentient beings may they forgive me”.

Then resolve:

“Within this hour may I experience the fruit of meditative attainment (phalasamapatti) for 5 minutes”

Progressively increasing the duration of fruitions each following session, until reaching an hour. My first few attempts at fruitions were wobbly at best, but once concentrated enough, suddenly I felt as if in an elevator heading in an unknown, undefined direction, with reality slowly and gracefully fading out in a most spectacular and blissful fashion, and then a complete release, a fade out of existence. Wow, what a blessing, what a privilege to experience this kind of true relief from suffering. Nibbanic bliss at last! My euphoria was impossible to contain, and because of all this excitement, I couldn’t muster up enough concentration to consistently repeat or significantly lengthen the fruition experience. Spontaneous fruitions would appear throughout the day though, when I kind of dozed off after a meal or practice, quite normal as this was a 3rd day with almost no sleep. Sometimes I would just collapse while meditating and wake up in the middle of the night not knowing what happened, who or where I am, what’s happening, but then I would diligently continue the practice once I remembered where I am and what am I to do.

After the 3 day strong determination was over, I just chilled out blissfully for a day or two, meditating and enjoying the amazing beauty of the monastery, the trees, flowers and the whole wonder of this existence we are in.
Stream entry is truly and completely worth it.

After that I decided to stick around for another 10 day retreat to do a proper review, with each day resolving to experience a particular stage of insight. This was a great chance to familiarize myself more intimately with each nana and the specific feel each one has to it. I am still amazed at the fact that firmly resolving to enter a particular nana or some kind of meditative state oftentimes really works, as if by magic.

After the retreat was over, I proceeded to travel around Thailand and enjoy the full extent of my stream entry honeymoon, which lasted for a couple of months and was such a relief from the previous years of angst and misery. During this period I almost completely lost the urge and desire to meditate, to read dharma/nondual books, but just chilled out and enjoyed the moment, as is, whatever it is. Also the desire and urge for psychedelics was significantly attenuated as stream entry is that good.

The mind now is much more stable, lot less negativity, reactivity and much more resistant to negative states of mind which no longer stick much, and if they do are quickly seen through and so they leave on their own accord. In a way I have effectively “teflonized” my mind, so my “stuff” sticks less, and I am very happy that this is just a first stage, with much more progress and good stuff ahead of me!

Interest in the affairs, passions and ambitions of this world has also dropped significantly, as I realize that oftentimes just Being is perfectly spontaneously complete and sufficient in and of itself.
Some days I just take peaceful walks in the forest all day long, just admiring the trees, autumn colors, and leaves falling to the ground. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. This is it, right now, this moment. It’s that simple.

Now the honeymoon period is over, the amount of leftover suffering in me is starting to contrast and stand out against the peaceful background of SE, so I see more work ahead of me. Stream entry brought a huge relief from DN and fundamental suffering, now I am a much more chilled out and life is much better, yet there is still more work to be done, I am definitely not off the ride.

Nowadays I am focusing on improving my concentration and soft Jhanas, reading books again, and planning for my next Pan Asian retreat in a month or so, hopefully starting in Lumbini or MBMC again.

I will satisfy with nothing less than 2nd path.
Now I know how this works, there is no doubt about the technique and the teachings anymore, and I am aiming for the stars.

I have all of you to thank for my progress, especially Dan for his book that has saved me and I believe many others from debilitating DN by expounding a clear, pragmatic path with attainable goals. And I am immensely grateful for that, and looking forward to MCTB2 for even more wisdom.

In conclusion, my Pan Asian meditation adventure was by far the best, most useful and sane thing that I ever did in my life, and to anyone still in doubt, long retreats and breaking through to SE I cannot recommend strongly enough!

The taste of dharma truly excels all the other tastes, May all beings well and reach liberation in this lifetime!

With metta,


Magic Mushrooms Cure Major-Depression in Study

In my book The Awakened Ape I described my life-changing encounter with magic mushrooms as a teenager in college.  Now scientists have begun looking at the therapeutic effects of taking mushrooms.

In a fascinating new study, 19 patients with treatment-resistant major depression were given a dose of 25mg of psilocybin, which is approximately the equivalent amount of psilocybin that you would find in 2.5 grams of dried shrooms, or 25 grams of wet shrooms.  This amount is in between the range that previous research has found for a positive fun experience (20mg) and the dose that study participants will claim as the most profound spiritual experience of their lives (30mg).

The shrooms had a profound effect. All of the patients had a positive response. A follow up study five weeks later showed that half the patients were no longer depressed. Incredible. These were people for whom all other treatments from therapy to anti-depressant medication hadn’t worked. Give them one dose of psilocybin and boom, depression is gone.









Simple Meditation Instructions For People with ADHD

“I can’t meditate! I have ADHD! I tried! It’s too hard and I suck at it!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this excuse from people with ADHD as to why they can’t meditate. But this is just an excuse, I know because I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD myself, so I know what’s like not have an ounce of concentration. But through meditation, your concentration can be vastly improved. I did it, and so can you. Anyone can meditate, no matter how bad your concentration is.

How Long?

The key in the beginning is to just do short periods, many times. Try 5 minutes. But commit to those 5 minutes. Do no get up before those 5 minutes, no matter what. Aim for 20 minutes a day (eventually longer), and do 4 sessions of 5 minutes. Then when you get better , 2 sessions of 10 minutes, and then finally one session of 20 minutes. When you can do a 20 minute session, that is when you will really notice the benefit to your day.

How To Meditate?

Now sit down in a chair, keep your back straight and just watch your breath. If thoughts come in, that’s ok. Thoughts are always going to be there unless you are an expert meditator. The goal is to just keep focusing on your breath and let your thoughts do whatever they do. Thinking is not a problem, it’s only a problem if you forget to follow the breath as you think. Of course..in the beginning this will happen quickly and often..

Maybe even after one or two breaths, your thoughts will carry you away and you will forget that you are supposed to following the breath. You will be lost in a daydream. That’s fine. When you ‘wake up’ and notice that you were lost in thought, go “aha”, congratulate yourself for noticing that you have forgotten the breath and go back to following the breath. Always positively reinforce that ‘wake up’ from daydreaming. That way your brain will want to ‘wake up’ and will do it on it’s own. Your goal in the beginning is to have as many “aha” moments as you can. To simply reduce the time you spend daydreaming and not following the breath at all.

You can also try counting the breath. Breathe in, breathe out (never forcing the breath, just letting the breath be) “1”, breathe in, breathe out “2”. Go up to 10. Can you make it to ten? Start back at one. Got to ten again. Forget what number you are on? Lost in a daydream? Start back at 1.

Over time you will get better, enjoy it, and can’t believe you spent so much of your life not meditating.

Stop Trying to Find Happiness..

People often tell me that they are trying to find happiness. As if happiness were some lost treasure. If only it could be found, maybe in another country, another relationship, another job, then they might have it.

Happiness is not something that can be found. It is not something you need to search for, it’s not under your mattress. Thomas Jefferson was wrong too, happiness is not something to be pursued. Happiness is having a fit and healthy brain. It’s similar to having a healthy, fit body.

Would you ever say, I’m trying to find a fit body? I’m searching for a healthy body? Of course not, those statements are ridiculous.

Saying that you are trying to find happiness is just as preposterous. The key to happiness is proper diet, exercise, quality sleep, sunlight, nature, friendship, meditation. Happiness is not something you find, it is something you do.

What is Biohacking?

How does one become happier? How does one become healthier? How can I function at my best? How can I be more focused, calm, and productive?

Biohacking takes the mystery out of human well-being. At it’s core, the philosophy of biohacking is that human beings are biological machines, and that human well-being is not an insolvable enigma. Instead by taking a systems-thinking approach, we can break down the causes and conditions of how humans operate, what causes us to be stressed out and unhealthy, and what causes us to feel vitality.

For a concise definition, I like this one from Dave Asprey:

Biohacking (verb): To use science, biology, and self experimentation to take control of, and upgrade your mind, your body, and your life

Biohacking (noun): The art and science of becoming superhuman.

His noun version of biohacking gets into a bit of hyperbole, but you get the idea. Biohacking is about making yourself better.

Common topics that biohacker’s are interested in include: What is the optimal diet? How can I maximize efficiency in my workouts so that I don’t have to spend two hours in the gym every night? How can I get better sleep? How can I raise my IQ? How can I slow down the rate at which I age?

Biohacker’s are fond of self-experimentation and with tracking results. They’ll use sleep apps that measure how long they were asleep and how much REM they got. They’ll look for variables that could have caused a poor night’s sleep — Did I drink coffee this afternoon? Have I been more stressed out lately? In order to test for stress, they will use heart rate variability monitors and check their resting heart rate upon waking. They’ll look for correlations between mood and the amount of sunlight they got.  Do I feel happier when I get sunlight first thing in the morning? How does my diet affect my mental performance? Is eating too much sugar causing me brain fog?

Biohacking is about becoming your optimal self so that you can enjoy life to the fullest. It’s hard for me to think of a more rewarding hobby to take up.




The Awakened Ape: The First Chapter

Here is the opening chapter to my book, The Awakened Ape: A Biohacker’s Guide to Evolutionary Fitness, Natural Ecstasy, and Stress-Free Living. Available on Amazon


The happiest people in the world don’t wear underwear. If they have clothes at all, it is either a simple sheath that covers their genitals or a cloth they wrap around their body in colder climates. They have almost no possessions. They don’t eat at restaurants, they don’t use smartphones, and they don’t watch television. They don’t have money. They don’t even know what money is. What they have is more valuable — a sense of serenity and self-confidence that would astound the average person. A joie-de-vivre, an easy laugh, and an absence of stress and worry. They love freely and have a deep sense of oneness with the earth.

They are also the healthiest people in the world. They know little, perhaps nothing, of cancer, heart disease, obesity, depression, Alzheimer’s, allergies, diabetes or even poor eyesight. They have never been to a doctor. They are athletic, strong and muscular. They do not gain weight as they age or show signs of dementia. Most remarkable of all — for 95% of human history, this described the life of nearly every single human being on earth. Skeptical? It’s ok, if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I might not have believed any of this either.

How can we most enjoy the brief moment of time we have to be alive? This question first struck me sometime during my formative years when the finiteness of life and certitude of death became palpable and utterly undeniable. A period of existential crisis took hold, and I became obsessed with finding a solution. I consulted everyone from the ancient Greeks to the most cutting-edge science in search of an answer, mixing and matching like an alchemist working on the philosopher’s stone. Take two parts psychology and anthropology, add a hefty portion of evolutionary biology and sprinkle with a dash of Eastern mysticism. Wash, rinse, repeat, until a dozen years later I have emerged with the concoction you now hold in your hands. This final elixir is not at all what I expected to find when I first set out on this journey. Many of the recommendations to follow will seem at best odd, and at worse sacrilegious, to ears molded in the technology driven consumerist milieu that is the modern world. But it is in embracing our primordial nature that the highest happiness is found.

Since the dawn of our existence up until the advent of agriculture, we scoured the earth from Africa to the Arctic in search of wild game and fresh fruits and vegetables. Along the way, the forces of natural selection attuned us to our environment in such a magnificent way that our hunter-gatherer ancestors felt a natural unity with their surroundings, leading to a life of robust health and merriment. There are tribes of people alive today, hidden in remote jungles of the Amazon and the sprawling Kalahari desert who still live in this ancient way and enjoy the fruits of life matched to its genetic potential. Most people in modern society look down upon these tribes as relics of the stone age. How unfortunate that they don’t have access to the wonders of technology! Yet the scientists who have lived among these ‘primitives’ describe them as the happiest and healthiest people they have ever seen.

The claims I have just made fly in the face of everything that we have been taught to believe and what is considered common sense. I majored in philosophy in college and much to the chagrin of the people unfortunate enough to sit across from me at dinner, I questioned and analyzed everything — from the color of the apples on the table to the most arcane theories in quantum physics. But it never dawned on me that things like stress, worry, and heart disease are modern illnesses. I took it as a given that as I grew older I would slowly lose my mind, my stressful life would cause my nervous system to degenerate, and I would eventually succumb to cancer. Then, while in graduate school and writing my master thesis on the evolutionary psychology of health and happiness, I began poring over the anthropological literature on hunter-gatherers. What I read blew my mind. I didn’t understand how this wasn’t public knowledge. I wanted to run out on the street and grab people by the collar, yelling what I was learning to their faces, “Did you know that hunter-gatherers don’t get cavities? Did you know this? They don’t even brush their teeth!” It is partly in the interests of not looking like a madman, and saving your nicely pressed Banana Republic button-down shirt that I have written this book instead.

Luckily in the last few years, the ancestral health movement, popularly depicted as “the paleo diet” has become hugely successful, and people around the world are thinner, stronger and suffer from fewer illnesses and chronic conditions as a result. A smashing success, and for those unfamiliar with the basics of paleo eating I have devoted a chapter to it. But in this craze to get healthier, thinner bodies, people consistently left out what I consider to be the far more interesting question. Why is it that hunter-gatherers were so happy? Why did they have such great mental health?

It may surprise you to know that psychologists began seriously studying happiness — the most important question in all of human existence — only at the turn of the new millennium. Before that psychologists were focused mainly on treating mental illness, taking a person from being sick to functioning normally. That is where all the money was; people don’t pay for a psychologist when they are simply feeling what Freud called “ordinary human unhappiness”. Since the question of how to make the most of this one and only existence we have on earth has been my driving motivation throughout my entire life and was the reason I studied existential philosophy as an undergrad, I was naturally intrigued by this new development in the field of psychology. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I decided to work in a positive psychology laboratory while pursuing my graduate degree in Mind, Brain, and Behavior Research. In the last decade, the field of positive psychology has blossomed with thousands of journal articles and seemingly as many books published on the subject. The modus operandi for studying happiness has been to take a sample from our modern society and figure out the personality, social, and economic correlations to well-being. Does money buy happiness? Yes, but only to the extent that one isn’t poor. After that it doesn’t matter much. People with lots of close friends tend to be pretty happy and those who are neurotic are not. A lot of this research has been insightful and overall a great boon to our understanding of the human condition. But when asking the question, “What is it that makes a person as happy as possible?” the field of positive psychology has come up short in six key areas. These are the issues I seek to address and clarify. They correspond to the six sections of this book. Let us begin.

The Meaning of Life

How strange a thing it is to be alive! This maelstrom of conscious experience, with its sensations of pleasure, pain, thought, and vision. How different it is to be human beings, rather than the rocks and oceans we share the planet with. How did it come to be so? Why do we feel what we feel? Why do we have the desires, likes and dislikes that we do? The average man is too busy, lost in a world of click-bait ads and Walmart aisles, ever to ponder such questions. The smarter, hard-working, type A’s among us, are too focused on achieving their dreams to question why they have those dreams in the first place. Only in the aftermath of heartache do we even pay lip service to these most important ideas.

That people can live their entire lives without knowing what it means to be a human being is a great misfortune. For without this philosophical foundation, we are liable to flitter away our short lives mired in needless dramas and pursuits. This section is about steering you on course, setting you in the direction of what is truly essential. Lest you worry that I am advocating for a life of pure asceticism or self-flagellation, or that one must devote oneself to some serious cause, I can assure you I am not. This is a book about pleasure and fun, about health and happiness. Through a series of thought experiments, I will argue the attainment of such well-being is the highest purpose to which one can aspire.

Unfortunately, there exists a cabal of contemporary psychologists who believe that any deliberate attempt to improve our happiness will only backfire. Trying to be happy they say, will only remind us of our unhappiness. Even such historical luminaries as John Stuart Mill, the philosopher most famous for espousing the view that pleasure was the greatest moral good, once said, “those are only happy who have their minds fixed on something other than their own happiness.”

As a biohacker, I never understood the affinity for these mysterian views of well-being. Biohacking is the principle that the human body is like a machine, and if we can figure out how it works, we can improve the way it functions. Happiness is not some nebulous ether, but a biophysical state that functions on the principle of cause and effect. In this way, it is similar to having a healthy heart. No doctor would advise his patient to “Stop trying to have a healthy heart if you want to have a healthy heart!”. And no psychologist should be telling anyone that happiness cannot be improved directly. If your attempts to improve your happiness are failing, it is not because it is impossible. It is because you are doing it wrong.

Happy Tribes

The majority of the research conducted on the happiest people on the planet has not been done by psychologists but by anthropologists. This happened completely by accident. When the field of anthropology exploded in the beginning of the 20th century, scientists had no idea that while traveling to the ends of the earth in search of lost tribes they would inadvertently be discovering the happiest people alive. They went out to study their social customs, their ways of gathering food, the tools they use and their sex habits. The study of their well-being was only ancillary, yet anthropologist after anthropologist would come out of the jungle remarking time and again how fit, confident, and relaxed their subjects were. The public found this hard to accept as the reigning belief was that history was a progressive march towards a better culture and way of life culminating in the apex of human existence that was modern European and American society. It doesn’t matter where you are, people around the world have an innate bias to assume that their culture is the best culture, and that everyone else in the world are poor saps who had the misfortune to be born in the wrong time and place. Unlike you.
Enamored with the stories of hunter-gatherers, I traveled deep within the Amazon rainforest to see these happy tribes with my own eyes. After two days of canoeing up the river and hiking through a dense thicket of vegetation, stepping over poisonous snakes and hearing the sounds of growling jaguars, I reached a community of hunter-gatherer’s called the Waorani. I found the women and children to laugh and giggle constantly. The men were stoic, self-confident and stress-free. The anthropologists had been telling the truth all along. I have sprinkled tales from my time with the Waorani throughout this book.

The Why of Happiness

From an evolutionary perspective, it is pretty easy to understand why nature makes an orgasm so pleasurable. For our genes to live on in their quest for immortality, they must make copies of themselves. To do this, the genes of the male must escape from the body they currently inhabit and find their way into the body of the female, at which point they will bond to form a new person programmed to carry their genes further on to the next generation. This bodily exchange of seminal fluid, the crux of what carries us forwards as a species, would seem an odd and perhaps repulsive pastime that no one would indulge in if Mother Nature hadn’t designed our brains to release pleasure-inducing hormones in the process. Our genes reward us for doing their bidding by making the behaviors that propagate our genes pleasurable. Sex is easy to understand. But why do we feel love, joy, enthusiasm, and serenity? Not all animal species feel these emotions. So why do humans? What evolutionary purpose do these emotions serve? And what kind of activities and what kind of society would allow us to feel these emotions more frequently?

The flip side of happiness is unhappiness, which results from negative emotions. The evolutionary purpose of fear and anxiety is pretty simple. It’s not a good thing for our genes to wind up in the belly of a ravenous beast. So we evolved a defense mechanism against large carnivorous predators that might want to eat us. See tiger. Feel fear. Run away. But for the vast majority of us today the most fearful predator we will ever come across is our neighbor’s fenced in German shepherd. So why is it that so many of us suffer from chronic stress, anxiety, and depression? Why is our stress response on constant alert when we have relatively little to be genuinely worried about? The answer to this will be found in the dramatic mismatch between our current lifestyle and the one in which our genes originally evolved.

Training the Mind

The benefits of mind training are so extraordinary that if I were to just come right out and tell you about them, you might think I had gone off the deep end, was a gullible fool, or worse, declare me a charlatan. To win you over to my way of thinking let me first present an analogy, a fictional scenario that has a moral you are already aware of: the benefit of exercise to one’s physique and health. What would it be like if someone from a society of people who had never exercised a day in their lives were to meet someone from a society where exercise was built into the very ethos of their community? A society in which, from a very young age, all of its members engaged in physical activities like running, jumping, throwing, wrestling and lifting weights. As adults, they would resemble our Olympic athletes. Now let’s say a member of this society — we will call him Achilles— is an adventurous type and travels across the ocean to a distant land where he meets the people who are unfamiliar with the concept of exercise. All the people in this society live a desk-bound existence, and suffer the resultant maladies caused by obesity. How would a conversation between Achilles and a man from this society go? I’d imagine that their exchange would be filled with puzzlement and wonder and unintentionally offensive statements, as meetings between people from distant cultures often are.

Upon pulling his boat up on the shore, Achilles is met by a dignitary from this foreign land of roly-poly’s named Mr. Rotund.

Mr. Rotund: Well hello there! …garbled chewing noises …Sorry, sorry, excuse me, I was just eating. tosses candy wrapper to the ground… How do you do? I am Mr. Rotund.

Achilles: Hi, my name is Achilles, and I have come all the way from across the sea to observe what kind of people there are in this part of the world.

Mr. Rotund: Achilles! Ah, well that explains it.

Achilles: Explains what?

Mr. Rotund: You are Achilles! You have the muscular body of the Greek Gods we have statues of in our museums. You are only half human, your mother was a Goddess, which is where you must get that incredible physique from!

Achilles: Why thank you, but that is a silly legend. I assure you that I have two fully human parents, and there is nothing spectacular about my physique as this is what all humans look like. What I have never seen is a creature like you before. In our culture it is only the women that have protruding mammaries.

Mr. Rotund: Do you mean to tell me that you have no obesity in your society? Huffing and puffing as he waddles through the sand. That people from your society do not get diabetes and die early from heart attacks? Hold on..let us slow down the pace. I am getting winded. That they don’t have hypertension, strokes or keep their shirts on while swimming in the pool?

Achilles: Obesity? Diabetes, stroke? I have never heard of these things. Are these diseases you get due to your immense lardness?

Mr. Rotund: Yes! They are terrible conditions.

Achilles: Mr. Rotund, my friend, I do not understand. Why would you ever let your body get like this?

Returning from our imaginary meeting let me propose the following: Achilles, as depicted in our story, could very well have been one of our paleolithic ancestors. Anthropologist Jared Diamond has remarked that the hunter-gatherers he has visited have physiques that resemble miniature bodybuilders. And they don’t go to the gym! Their low fat, muscular physiques are the result of living and eating the way a wild human animal is supposed to. They move frequently, walk long distances daily, often while lugging heavy buckets of water or a large antelope leg on their shoulders. Do this every day of your life and you are going to look like an underwear model.
Contemporary life is spent sitting in chairs. As a the result of this sedentary lifestyle, we watch our bodies generate excess blubber around our midsections until the once beautiful, strong and powerful apes that we started out as, are hardly recognizable. For those of us less inclined to develop a pear-shaped corpulence, we use a technique to stimulate muscle growth and improve our cardiovascular system. We call this exercise. Modern life is so far removed from the way our natural bodies are supposed to move that without the intervention of regular exercise our physical health will rapidly deteriorate.

Now here is the important point — just as our physical health will decline from the sedentary lifestyle we have adopted in the modern world, our mental health is in equal peril from this unnatural environment we find ourselves in. The inability to pay attention, stress, worry, depression and anxiety are the mental equivalents of diabetes, stroke, and hypertension. Hunter-gatherers do not get any of these modern diseases, mental or physical.

Unlike Mr. Rotund, those of us in the modern world are lucky enough to live in a society where the benefits of physical exercise and sport were discovered long before the computer and car, and so along with a good diet we have ways to combat our poor physical health. But what about our mental health? Are there exercises to combat everyday stress and worry? If so, how often do we perform them? Are we mental Mr. Rotund’s, unaware that there is a treatment that would prevent us from getting these common maladies of the mind? Are we resigned to the idea that stress, worry, and low self-esteem are inevitable features of the human condition for which we can do little about? What would happen if we were to meet a society of people trained from a young age in the art of mental exercise, who grew to possess such great mental strength that some of us might be fooled into thinking they were divine? And what if I were to tell you that this has already happened?

One of the many hippies to travel to Tibet in the 70’s was a young Californian by the name of Alan Wallace. He had become fed up with western culture, but fascinated by Buddhism. He wanted to learn how to meditate at the feet of the greatest masters in the world and became a monk in a Himalayan monastery. It was there that his ideas of mental health were completely turned upside down.

The abbot of the monastery was giving a talk to the monks about a common psychological problem amongst Tibetans. He lamented that people have a tendency to think very highly of themselves while putting others down. At the end of the talk, Alan stood up and said, “My problem is not that I have too much pride, but that I often think negatively of myself. I often don’t like myself and don’t think I am very good.” The abbot glanced up at Alan with a sweet expression, smiled and said, “No you don’t.” The abbot didn’t believe him. He had never heard of the concept of someone not liking themselves before.

Similarly in a meeting between the Dalai Lama and American psychologists in 1990, one of the psychologists brought up the concept of negative self-talk. Since there are no words in Tibetan that translate into low self-esteem and self-contempt, it took quite a long time for the psychologists to convey what they meant. But this wasn’t a translation problem. It was a problem of conceptualization. Self-loathing? People do that? The Dalai Lama was incredulous. Once the Dalai Lama understood what they were saying, he turned to the Tibetan monks in the room, and after explaining what the psychologists were talking about, he asked, “How many of you have experienced this low-self esteem, self-contempt or self-loathing?”

Complete silence.

Here was a psychological state of mind so ubiquitous in our culture, that everyone experiences it from time to time, if not every single day. Yet these Tibetans, trained since childhood in the art of a mental exercise they call meditation, acted like they were being told about some alien life form. The Dalai Lama turned back to the psychologists and asked, “Why would you ever let your mind get like this?”

The Nature of Reality

The final and most esoteric aspect of happiness that is left out of all those positive psychology books is talk about a deeper nature of reality. Philosophers on the other hand, have opined on this subject since the very beginning. The man who coined the term philosopher, meaning “lover of wisdom” was Pythagoras, who intertwined his philosophy into a worldview and way of life that only members of his secret sect were privy to. Concrete facts about Pythagoras’ life are few, as there are no surviving biographical sources from his contemporaries. What information we do have was written down many years later and presents Pythagoras as a nearly divine figure, saying he emanated a supernatural glow. Did he know secrets of the cosmos that have been lost to us today? Unfortunately, we will never know as Pythagoras beliefs died with him and his followers millennia ago. What we do know is that his society practiced communalism, had no personal possessions, followed a strict diet, adhered to an ethical code of honesty, selflessness, and mutual friendship. Advice very similar to what you will find in this book. While the wisdom of the Pythagoras has been buried by the sands of time, the teachings of an even more luminous figure from the ancient world remain. The teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, more commonly known as the Buddha, which means “the awakened one.”

What is it that he woke up to? Buddhist philosophy states that in our everyday lives we are overcome by delusion, which creates attachment and aversion and traps us in a cycle of suffering. By waking up from this delusion, we attain nirvana. Nirvana literally means ‘blowing out,’ as in a candle flame. It is by blowing out the flames of attachment, aversion, and ignorance that suffering is extinguished. The result is a mind that experiences sublime peace.

Does this sound too good to be true? As scientists we will examine Buddhism from a secular perspective, focusing on the pragmatic teachings related to ending suffering and increasing happiness while ignoring the dubious religious elements like reincarnation. How does this secular Buddhism stack up to the demands of modern science? Is there truly a reality hidden beneath our eyes that would lead us to extraordinary well-being if we could only see? Is nirvana the highest happiness a human  could possibly experience? Do people actually attain it? Or at the very least, do they get close? How far along the path can we reasonably expect to get? These questions will be the focus of the second half of this book.


The Buddhist term ‘bodhi’ is often translated in English as enlightenment or awakening. Bodhi refers to a special kind of knowledge, that of the causal mechanisms that lead to human suffering. Our aim here is the same, to fully understand the causes and conditions that lead to suffering and happiness bolstered by the latest revelations in contemporary science. This book seeks to integrate two separate traditions of ancient wisdom with modern science so that we can live the happiest and healthiest lives possible. By learning about the environment in which our Paleolithic ancestors evolved and how our genetics are still wired to that way of life, we can begin to organize the outer conditions (the diet we need to eat, the exercise we need to do, the sunlight we need to get and the social relationships we need to build and maintain, etc) that will give us the best chance to flourish both physically and mentally. From there we will add the most successful techniques ever developed by humans to work on the inner conditions (our ability to relax, focus, and experience states of ecstasy and compassion, etc) of our mental lives — that of Buddhist soteriology.

This book is also about integrating what we learn into our daily existence in a modern world. Obviously we can’t all live like hunter-gatherers in the Amazon or Buddhist monks in the Himalayas; We have jobs, families and responsibilities. Within the pages of this book, you will find tips on how to live in a more natural way while still waking up every weekday morning to brave the congested commute on your way to the office. As you make changes to your diet, begin a meditation practice and stop using shampoo (read on), you will gradually notice a sense of calm and mental balance replacing the stressed out habitual thought patterns that previously occupied your mind. Your waist will narrow, your sense of vitality will increase, and even things like the common cold will be a rare occurrence.

I assume most people will take their practice only this far. That is fine. There’s a lot to be said for being happy, calm and healthy. But for those who feel the calling to make the best of their time on earth and reach the highest peaks possible, this book is also a guide that will point you in the right direction. Follow this path and you may find that one day the world around you has become a dancing, playful thing, filled with a previously unimaginable serenity and bliss.

Review: Sam Harris “Waking Up”

If there is an intellectual out there who I connect with more than Sam Harris, I haven’t met him. From his books decrying the evil of religion such as in his best-selling The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason to his attempt to place morality in the hands of science with The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, I have cheered him on, nodding in agreement with the vast majority of his claims and laughing at his stinging barbs. With his clear voice, mighty intellect and quick wit, he went from being a neuroscience graduate student that nobody had ever heard of to one of the Four Horseman of the new atheists along with Christopher Hitchens, Dan Dennett, and Richard Dawkins, all seemingly overnight.

But unlike those other three intellectual titans, Harris has always struck me as the least ivory tower of the bunch. Like me he has a passion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a follower of MMA, and as we find out in the very first chapter of his book Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion he spent much of his 20’s high on LSD and MDMA. It was these drug experiences that helped send him on search for that ever elusive state of mind called enlightenment.

During his undergraduate years at Stanford, Harris and a friend ingested the drug MDMA, commonly known by its street name Ecstasy. This was in 1987, before the rave scene was popular, so Sam and his friend merely hung out inside a house and sat across from each other on two couches and chatted.  As their conversation went on and the chemicals of the drug began to take hold Sam came to the sudden realization that he loved his friend. A completely selfless love that all Sam could want was for his friend to be happy. The idea of being jealous or envious of his friend’s or anyone else’s success in life seemed like a mental illness. Nor did this love just extend to his friend, but if any complete stranger had walked into the room at the moment, Sam’s love would have extended to that person too. Love he realized, was a state of being, not something we are only supposed to feel towards someone if they had a certain relationship with you. Under the spell of ecstasy he felt sane for the first time in his life.

There was far more happiness available to be experienced in this life than what is commonly known and Sam went in search of how to get it. His travels took him all across Asia to study at the feet of some of world’s best known meditation masters. He would spend two years in retreat, meditating 18 hours a day, before finally, under the guise of the legendary Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, did Sam find what he was after. The direct experience of what we consider the self as an illusion.

“Waking Up” is divided into five chapters, the first chapter deals with the nature of spirituality, how it is conceived differently in the east and west, how a secular person can glean the fruits of spiritual wisdom without having to buy into the dogma of religion. This is an important point that needs to be made to the secular community, just because the Abrahamic religions you have been surrounded by growing up are ridiculous, doesn’t mean that there isn’t some wisdom to be learned from the east. And sure some of the claims of the east are laughable too, but as Harris points out, there is a diamond in the rough, and it is possible to have it in the palm of your hand.

In the next few chapters Sam Harris put on his neuroscientist hat to wonder about some of the mysteries of consciousness. He goes over what is known as the “hard problem of consciousness”, why it is that this hunk of atoms and molecules that is us experiences the world at all in a way that a rock surely doesn’t. He sees this as an enigma that we just can’t solve at the moment. And then moves on to the nature of the self. Through some clever thought experiments Harris wants us to see how our commonplace sense of self doesn’t stand up to closer scrutiny. The main illusion here is that we tend to think of ourselves as “possessing (rather than of merely being) a continuum of experience.”

This an empirical claim says Harris, look closely at your own mind and you will never find a sense of self. And when this absence of self is found, the feeling of being a self a vanishes. The problem is we are too distracted by the noise going on in our minds that we don’t have the contemplative tools to be able to see this clearly. In a very clever analogy he relates this to Galileo having to build his own telescope to look at the stars. If every single one of us had to be able to build our own telescopes, how much would the average person know about astronomy?

But that is exactly what has to happen in order to successfully navigate the mind. We have to build our own tools, the first of which being the ability to concentrate and not get swept away by the tornado of thoughts. For this we need to learn how to meditate. The subject of his next chapter.

Where “Waking Up” may spark the most controversy is not between Christians and atheists, between the religious and the secular, but between the Dharma practitioners themselves. In his chapter “Sudden vs Gradual realization” Harris tackles the age old question of just how to become enlightened. There are two types of paths, one gradual and one sudden. Those who follow the gradual path, such as is outlined in Theravadan buddhism assume that enlightenment is something to be attained, and that to get it you first have to pass by all these intermediate steps and do all sorts of practices. By adopting certain practices, the sense of self slowly diminishes over time. The sudden school of thought is that we are already enlightened, we already don’t have a sense of self and we can have happiness right now, we just need to have it pointed it out to us. The sudden school criticize’s the gradual school by saying the gradual school only reinforces the nature of self by implicitly believing that there is an “I” who is working towards enlightenment. While the gradual school shoots back and says  ‘you dummies don’t you realize your path actually is gradual, you didn’t suddenly become enlightened all at once, you had to train your concentration first and then once you had the no-self pointed out you have to keep training in reinforcing it over and over.’

Harris first outlines his attempts in the tradition of Theravadan buddhism, studying under one of the foremost living masters in the discipline Sayadaw U Pandita. While on retreat  he had many amazing experiences and all together grew happier and more concentrated but the breakthrough to realizing no-self never happened.

Harris would then give the tradition of Avaita Vedanta a chance, where he began to believe that realizing the illusory nature of self was possible in this moment right now. But it wasn’t until he met with the legendary Tibetan Buddhist master Tulku Urgyen Rinpochewhere Sam learned the practice of Dzogchen and finally had his breakthrough. It was with the absolute clarity of Tulku Urgyen’s advice that Harris finally learnt how to cut through the illusion of self…if only for an instance…

Harris has clearly thrown his hat into the sudden awakening school and he has been criticized for this by some of the gradual school folks like Daniel Ingram who point out that Harris had been training for years before receiving Tulku Urgyen’s teaching, and that the amount of ordinary people who ‘pop’ (suddenly become awake) when hearing a Dzogchen master point out the nature of the mind is very small, and those who do usually have had years of meditation training like Harris had. So not sudden at all, but gradual. Harris does admit this, as he knows that even the Tibetan Buddhists go through years of preliminary practices before receiving Dzgochen instruction. Also Harris’s awakening only lasts for a few moments, before he gets caught up in the illusion of self again. Although he says that with more practice, those moments would extend in duration and intensity. One wonders why if as Harris says, who readily admits that he often gets lost in neurotic thought doesn’t practice more if his awakening moments are so blissful? (To watch him in debate though, is to watch someone who appears amazingly focused and phlegmatic)

According to Harris the best way to learn to become enlightened is to learn at the foot of a dzogchen master. Unfortunately his teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche is no longer around, but his sons are. And I can attest they are very good teachers. Long before I had even heard of the father, I picked up his youngest sons book, The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness and have found it one of if not the clearest guide on meditation anywhere. In the end, Harris wants you to give meditation a try and run the experiment in your own mind. Will you find the same fruits he did?




Ben Franklin on the Superior Quality of Life of the Indians

Here are some more quotes from Ben Franklin in the happiness, ease and tranquility of Indian life.



” To those who remained behind, it was often rumored that those who had gone over to the Indians had been “captured.” While some captives were taken, more often the whites took up Indian life without compulsion. As Franklin wrote to Peter Collinson May 9, 1753:

The proneness of human Nature to a life of ease, of freedom from care and labour appear strongly in the heretofore little success that has attended every attempt to civilize our American Indians. . . . They visit us frequently and see the advantages that Arts, Science and compact Society procure us; they are not deficient in natural understanding and yet they have never strewn any inclination to change their manner of life for ours, or to learn any of our Arts.
While Indians did not seem to have much inclination to exchange their culture for the Euro-American, many Euro-Americans appeared more than willing to become Indians at this time:

When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. And that this is not natural [only to Indians], but as men, is plain from this, that when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived awhile among them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet within a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of Life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.
Franklin followed with an example. He had heard of a person who had been “reclaimed” from the Indians and returned to a sizable estate. Tired of the care needed to maintain such a style of life, he had turned it over to his younger brother and, taking only a rifle and a matchcoat, “took his way again to the Wilderness.” Franklin used this story to illustrate his point that “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.” Such societies, wrote Franklin, provided their members with greater opportunities for happiness than European cultures. Continuing, he said:

The Care and Labour of providing for Artificial and fashionable Wants, the sight of so many Rich wallowing in superfluous plenty, whereby so many are kept poor and distress’d for Want, the Insolence of Office . . . the restraints of Custom, all contrive to disgust them with what we call civil Society.”—-http://www.ratical.org/many_worlds/6Nations/FFchp5.html

Benjamin Franklin on the nobility and manners of the so called ‘savage’ Indians.

Benjamin Franklin
Remarks concerning the Savages of North America

Savages we call them, because their Manners differ from ours, which we think the Perfection of Civility. They think the same of theirs.

Perhaps if we could examine the Manners of different Nations with Impartiality, we should find no People so rude as to be without Rules of Politeness, nor any so polite as not to have some Remains of Rudeness

The Indian Men when young are Hunters and Warriors; when old, Counsellors; for all their Government is by Counsel of the Sages; there is no Force there are no Prisons, no Officers to compel Obedience, or inflict Punishment.—Hence they generally study Oratory; the best Speaker having the most Influence. The Indian Women till the Ground, dress the Food, nurse and bring up the Children, & preserve & hand down to Posterity the Memory of public Transactions. These Employments of Men and Women are accounted natural & honorable, Having few artificial Wants, they have abundance of Leisure for Improvement by Conversation. Our laborious Manner of Life compar’d with theirs, they esteem slavish & base; and the Learning on which we value ourselves, they regard as frivolous & useless. An Instance of this occurr’d at the Treaty of Lancaster in Pensilvania, anno 1744, between the Government of Virginia and the Six Nations. After the principal Business was settled, the Commissioners from Virginia acquainted the Indians by a Speech, that there was at Williamsburg a College, with a Fund for Educating Indian youth; and that if the Six Nations would send down half a dozen of their young Lads to that College, the Government would take Care that they should be well provided for, and instructed in all the Learning of the White People. It is one of the Indian Rules of Politeness not to answer a public Proposition the same day that it is made; they think it would be treating it as a light matter, and that they show it Respect by taking time to consider it, as of a Matter important. They therefore deferr’d their Answer till the Day following; when their Speaker began by expressing their deep Sense of the Kindness of the Virginia Government in making them that Offer, for we know, says he, that you highly esteem the kind of Learning taught in those Colleges, and that the Maintenance of our young Men while with you, would be very expensive to you. We are convinc’d therefore that you mean to do us Good by your Proposal, and we thank you heartily. But you who are wise must know, that different Nations have different Conceptions of Things, and you will therefore not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same with yours. We have had some Experience of it: Several of our young People were formerly brought up at the Colleges of the Northern Provinces; they were instructed in all your Sciences; but when they came back to us they were bad Runners ignorant of every means of living in the Woods, unable to bear either Cold or Hunger, knew neither how to build a Cabin, take a Deer or kill an Enemy, spoke our Language imperfectly, were therefore neither fit for Hunters Warriors, or Counsellors, they were totally good for nothing. We are however not the less oblig’d by your kind Offer tho’ we decline accepting it; and to show our grateful Sense of it, if the Gentlemen of Virginia will send us a Dozen of their Sons, we will take great Care of their Education, instruct them in all we know, and make Men of them.—

Having frequent Occasions to hold public Councils, they have acquired great Order and Decency in conducting them. The old Men sit in the foremost Ranks, the Warriors in the next, and the Women & Children in the hindmost. The Business of the Women is to take exact Notice of what passes, imprint it in their Memories, for they have no Writing, and communicate it to their Children. They are the Records of the Councils, and they preserve Traditions of the Stipulations in Treaties 100 Years back, which when we compare with our Writings we always find exact. He that would speak rises. The rest observe a profound Silence. When he has finish’d and sits down; they leave him 5 or 6 Minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted any thing he intended to say, or has any thing to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common Conversation, is reckon’d highly indecent. How different this is, from the Conduct of a polite British House of Commons where scarce every person without some confusion, that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to Order and how different from the Mode of Conversation in many polite Companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your Sentence with great Rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the Impatients Loquacity of those you converse with, and never suffer’d to finish it—

The Politeness of the Savages in Conversation is indeed carried to Excess, since it does not permit them to contradict or deny the Truth of what is asserted in their Presence; By this means they indeed avoid Disputes, but then it becomes difficult to know their Minds, or what Impression you make upon them. The Missionaries who have attempted to convert them to Christianity, all complain of this as one of the great difficulties of their Mission: The Indians hear with Patience the Truths of the Gospel explain’d to them, and give their usual Tokens of Assent & Approbation: You would think they were convinc’d. No such Matter. It is mere Civility. A Suedish Minister, having assembled the Chiefs of the Saquehanah Indians, made a Sermon to them, acquainting them with the principal historical Facts on which our Religion is founded, such as the Fall of our first Parents by eating an Apple; the Coming of Christ, to repair the Mischief; his Miracles & Suffering, &c. When he had finished, an Indian Orator stood up to thank him. What you have told us, says he, is all very good. It is indeed a bad Thing to eat Apples. It is better to make them all into Cyder. We are much oblig’d by your Kindness in coming so far to tell us these Things which you have heard from your Mothers; in return I will tell you some of those we have heard from ours. In the Beginning our Fathers had only the Flesh of Animals to subsist on, and if their Hunting was unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young Hunters having kill’d a Deer, made a Fire in the Woods to broil some Part of it. When they were about to satisfy their Hunger, they beheld a beautiful young Woman descend from the Clouds, and seat herself on that Hill which you see yonder among the blue Mountains. They said to each other, It is a Spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling Venison & wishes to eat of it: Let us offer some to her. They presented her with the Tongue, She was pleas’d with the Taste of it, and said, Your Kindness shall be rewarded: Come to this Place after thirteen Moons, and you shall find something that will be of great Benefit in nourishing you and your Children to the latest Generations. They did so, and to their Surprise found Plants they had never seen before, but which from that antique time have been instantly cultivated among us to our great Advantage. Where her right Hand had touch’d the Ground they found Maize; Where her left hand had touch’d it, they found Kidney Beans, and where her Backside had rested on it, they found Tobacco.—The good Missionary disgusted with this idle Tale, said, What I delivered to you were sacred Truths, but what you tell me is mere Fable, Fiction and Falshood. The Indian offended, reply’d, My Brother, it seems your Friends have not done you Justice in your Education, they have not well instructed you in the Rules of common Civility. You saw that we who understand and practise those Rules, believ’d all your Stories: Why do you refuse to believe ours?— [interleaved is a sheet with no writing, but a sketch of what appears to be a hot air balloon]

When any of them come into our Towns, our People are apt to croud round them, gaze upon them, & incommode them where they desire to be private; this they esteem great Rudeness, the Effect of & Want of Instruction in the Rules of Civility & good Manners. We have, say they, as much Curiosity as you, and when you come into our Towns, we wish for Opportunities of looking at you; but for this purpose we hide our Selves behind Bushes where you are to pass, and never intrude ourselves into your Company.—

Their Manner of entring one anothers villages has likewise its Rules. It is reckon’d uncivil in travelling Strangers to enter a Village abruptly, without giving Notice of their Approach. Therefore as soon as they arrive within Hearing, they stop & hollow, remaining there till invited to enter. Two old Men usually come out to them, and lead them in. There is in every Village a vacant Dwelling called the Strangers House. Here they are plac’d, while the old Men go round from Hut to Hut, acquainting the Inhabitants that Strangers are arriv’d who are probably hungry & weary; and every one sends them what he can spare of Victuals & Skins to repose on. When the Strangers are refresh’d, Pipes & Tobacco are brought, and then, but not before, Conversation begins, with Enquiries who they are, whither bound, what News, &c. and it usually ends with Offers of Service if the Strangers have occasion of Guides or any Necessaries for continuing their Journey, and nothing is exacted for the Entertainment.

The same Hospitality esteem’d among them as a principal Virtue, is practic’d by private Persons, of which Conrad Weiser, our Interpreter gave me the following Instance. He had been naturaliz’d among the Six Nations, & spoke well the Mohock Language. In going thro’ the Indian Country to carry a Message from our Governor to the Council at Onondaga, he call’d at the Habitation of Canasetego an old Acquaintance, who embrac’d him, spread Furs for him to sit on, plaid before him some boil’d Beans & Venison, and mix’d some Rum & Water for his Drink. When he was well refresh’d, and had lit his Pipe, Canassetego began to converse with him, ask’d how he had fard the many Years since they had seen each other, whence he then came, what occasion’d the Journey, &c. &c. Conrad answer’d all his Questions, & when the Discourse began to flag, the Indian to continue it, said, Conrad, you have lived long among the white People and know something of their Customs. I have been sometimes at Albany, and have observed that once in Seven Days they shut up their Shops, and assemble all in the great House; tell me, what is it for? what do they do there?—They meet there, says Conrad, to hear and learn good Things. I do not doubt says the Indian, that they tell you so: They have told me the same; But I doubt the Truth of what they say, and I will tell you my Reasons. I was lately to Albany to sell my Skins, & buy Blankets, Knives, Powder &c Rum &c You know I us’d generally to deal with Hans Hanson, but I was a little inclin’d this time to try some other Merchant; however, I call’d first upon Hans, & ask’d him what he would give for Beaver. He said he could not give more than four Shillings a Pound; but says he I cannot talk on Business now; this is the Day when we meet together to learn good Things, and I am going to the Meeting. So I thought to my self, since we cannot do any Business to day, I may as well go to the Meeting too; and I went with him. There stood up a Man in Black, and began to talk to the People very angrily. I did not understand what he said; but perceiving that he look’d much at me, and at Hanson, I imagin’d he was angry at seeing me there, so I went out, sat down near the House, struck Fire and lit my Pipe, waiting till the Meeting should break up. I thought too that the Man had mention’d something of Beaver, & I suspected it might be the Subject of their Making. so when they came out, I accosted my Merchant, Well, Hans, says I, I hope you have agreed to give more than four Shillings a Pound. No, says he, I cannot give so much; I cannot give more than three shillings & sixpence. I then spoke to several other Dealers, but they all sung the same Song. Three & sixpence, Three & sixpence. This made it clear to me that my Suspicion was right; and that whatever they pretended of meeting to learn Good Things, the real purpose was to consult how to cheat Indians on the Price of Beaver. Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be of my Opinion. If they met so often to learn Good Things, they would certainly have learnt some before this time. But they are still ignorant. You know our Practice. If a white Man in travelling thro’ our Country, enters one of our Cabins, we all treat him as I treat you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, we give him Meat & Drinks that he may allay his Thirst and Hunger, and spread soft Furs for him to rest & sleep on: We demand nothing in return. But if I go into a white Man’s House at Albany, and ask for Victuals & Drink, they say, where is your Money? and if I have none; they say, Get out you Indian Dog. You see they have not yet learnt those little Good Things, that we need no Meetings to be instructed in, because our Mothers taught them to us when we were Children: And therefore, it is impossible their Meeting, Should be as they say, for any such purpose, or have any such Effect. They are only to contrive the Cheating of Indians in the Price of Beaver.—