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Last Updated : Jan 22, 2019 03:06 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

How the ancient practice of Vipassana turned Yuval Noah Harari into the world's hottest thinker

Harari paints a fresh picture separating stories from reality as well as throws clear insights on what future we are building for ourselves and what we need to do to survive

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Source: Facebook.
Source: Facebook.

The author of bestsellers Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Yuval Noah Harari, has drawn the attention of many readers towards his new and unique view on the human race, Home Sapiens. 

The Israeli historian's view has found mentions by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, and former US President Barack Obama. The fact that Harari's books are recommended by thinkers and founders of top tech giants talks a lot about his dynamic writing and thinking.

Harari's works sheds light on every picture that humans have painted of our past, depicting what people know. He, through his works, paints a fresh picture, separating stories from reality, as well as, throws up clear insights on the future we are building for ourselves and what we need to do to survive.

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His works resonate with readers because it talks about issues faced by people. Harari explains how human narrative is shifting towards technology  with artificial intelligence (AI) gaining prominence, hinting at a drift in the nature of jobs in the future.

Harari's view on humans are quite unique as it provokes readers to question their understanding of human existence. The wide acceptance of his work has made several people wonder about how the 42-year-old medieval military historian turned into one of the hottest thinkers in the world?

In an interview with The Guardian, Harari said that without meditation, he would still be researching medieval military history, but not Neanderthals or cyborgs. "I would probably be far less satisfied and happy. And I would probably be a far worse historian. I suppose I would still be researching medieval military history, but not Neanderthals or cyborgs," he said.

While pursuing his PhD in Philosophy at Oxford, Harari visited Myanmar and met Satya Narayan Goenka, who became his meditation guru. Goenka taught Yuval Vipassana meditation, rooted in two simple tactics: 1) Spend two hours a day focusing only on your breath; and 2) Take a silent retreat once a year, where one refrains from talking, reading and all forms of technology for 30–60 days.


Harari dedicated his second book Homo Deus to Goenka for teaching him the ancient practice. "I could not have written this book without the focus, peace and insight gained from practising Vipassana for 15 years," Harari said referring to his guru.


Vipassana is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation that allows one to see things as they really are. The technique was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha over 2,500 years ago. Since the time of Buddha, it has been handed down to the present day by an unbroken chain of teachers.

The practice, which focuses on the deep interconnection between mind and body, is experienced directly by disciplined attention to the physical sensations of the body. One of the primary tenants of Vipassana is focusing on one's breath. While it sounds simple, Harari in an interview to Mission.org said focusing on his breath for more than 10 seconds is the most difficult thing he has ever worked on.

The skill, when honed in, allows one to get a clear understanding of what is happening at the current moment. And separate what is real and what are just stories that we invent in our own mind.

Harrier remarks that mediation allows him to observe the reality of the present moment exactly as it is. This reality is free of stories, insecurities, anxieties, and all the other distractions manifested in our brains. A focus on the reality is what allowed Harari to see new avenues in the same old stories and show the world the reality that was hidden below all the stories and myths.

While it may seem easy to just keep focusing on what is real and ignore the rest, it is not that easy, Harari said. The clear image of reality can be achieved only by focusing on what is real and ignoring the rest. "It's so difficult to keep reminding yourself what is really the most important thing that has happened in history or what is the most important thing that is happening now in the world. I really got the discipline to have this focus  from meditation," Harari said in an interview with Vox.

Having practiced this skill for over 18 years now, Harari's works seem to reflect his clear image of the truth, after distilling all the stories he has heard as a historian.

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First Published on Jan 22, 2019 03:06 pm
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