On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, 1972

113 …the gaining of our separate and personal goals yields only the briefest satisfaction, and after that disillusion and boredom, if not disgust: whereas, whenever we have the grace to say YES! To our circumstances and actively to will (rather than passively to acquiesce in) whatever happens, why then there springs up that real and lasting joy which Eastern tradition calls ananda.

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Harding discusses a moment of awakening in the Himalayas, when he realized that he had—given the sensory information available to him at that point—no reason to believe that he had a head.  He couldn’t see, feel, or experience his head directly, and realized that over the course of his lifetime he had only had thoughts about having a head, instead of sensations confirming its existence.

He noticed that what he saw when peering out from his head actually seemed to be part of him.  He couldn’t even identify his head—where it existed and where its boundaries lay—so how could he separate the things he was seeing from his head?  And how could he separate the things that occurred “in his head” from what he saw that seemed far away?

Harding’s descriptions of this experience or state are intriguing and thought-provoking.  But reading about such an experience and “awakening” yourself are not the same.  Regardless, reading about it is useful, and I thought that his description was more comprehensible and useful than other descriptions of similar realizations I’ve read about or heard described in interviews.  The rest of the book isn’t as interesting as the first chapters.

Ideas per Page:1 3/10 (low)

Related Books: Waking Up by Sam Harris

Recommend to Others:  not really

Reread Personally:   No

1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.





4 thoughts on “On Having No Head by Douglas Harding, 1972

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