Skill vs knowledge

A man is struck in the chest with a poison arrow. A surgeon rushes to his side to begin the work of saving his life, but the man resists these ministrations.

He first wants to know the name of the fletcher who fashioned the arrow’s shaft, the genus of the wood from which it was cut, the disposition of the man who shot it, the name of the horse upon which he rode, and a thousand other things that have no bearing upon his present suffering or his ultimate survival.

Personal suffering will not be solved by acquiring more conceptual knowledge.

Perceptual shift of awakening

We’ve all had the experience of looking through a window and suddenly noticing our own reflection in the glass. At that moment we have a choice: to use the window as a glass and see the world beyond, or to use it as a mirror. It is extraordinarily easy to shift back and forth between these two views but impossible to truly focus on both simultaneously.

– Sam Harris, ‘Waking Up’

Our own torturer

I did not need to describe to him my tortures. He knows only too well what goes on in the prisons of the Roof of the World. Without asking me any questions, he hugged me silently. Then he simply said, “Three months of prison and torture. It’s a terrible ordeal! But for others, it lasts 10 years, 20 years! It kills some!”

I understood then how important it is to put our sufferings into perspective, to not lock oneself in a painful past that indefinitely extends the ordeal. When that happens, we become our own torturer.

– lama Phakyab Rinpoche

Fabricating certainty

The very essence of the buddha’s way is to develop self-reliance, and to hone our own judgement. How can we be sure we’re right? We often can’t. But that’s no reason to fabricate certainty.

The pursuit of truth has more to do with letting go of certainty than finding it.

– Stephen Schettini

We get to carry each other as One

“God, you said that once I decided to follow You, You would walk with me

all the way but I noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life

there is only one set of footprints in the sand.

I don’t understand why in times I needed You most You would leave me.”

God replied, “My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you

during your times of trials and suffering. When you see only one set of

footprints in the sand it was then that I was carrying you.”

Ignorance of distraction

The principal enemy of mindfulness – or of any meditative practice – is our deeply conditioned habit of being distracted by thoughts.

The problem is not thoughts themselves but the state of thinking without knowing that we are thinking.

In the beginning of one’s meditation practice, the difference between ordinary experience and what one comes to consider ‘mindfulness’ is not very clear, and it takes some training to distinguish between being lost in thought and seeing thoughts for what they are.

– Sam Harris, ‘Waking Up’


No doubt there are many motives for retreating from the world, and some of them are psychologically unhealthy. In its wisest form, however, the exercise amounts to a very simple experiment. Here is its logic:

If there exists a source of psychological well-being that does not depend upon merely gratifying one’s desires, then it should be present even when all the usual sources of pleasure have been removed.

– Sam Harris