2 SourcesPart 1 Asian Philosophies, 6th Edition, John M. Koller (hereafter “Koller”) Part 2 The World’s Religions, 50th Anniversary Edition, Huston Smith (hereafter “Smith”)
3 Part 1Koller, p.2, provides a useful breakdown of dates from Hinduism’s beginnings with the Indus Valley civilization to the notable Hindu figures, like Gandhi, influenced by Western thought in recent times.His Five-Period breakdown of Hinduism’s history ...Vedic (1700 – 700 BCE )Epic (800 – 200 BCE)Philosophical Systems (400 BCE – now)Great Commentaries (300 BCE – 1700 CE)Modern (1800 – now)
4 Quick HistoryFrom 3300 – 1700 BCE the Indus Valley was home to the “Indus” people. The “Vedic” people, who spoke Sanskrit, began to dominate the valley in 1700 BCE. Presently, we don’t know whether these Vedic people, who called themselves Aryans, were invaders / conquerors, or just a subculture within Indus culture that began to dominate. The Vedas, wisdom literature, are the written expression of an oral tradition shared between Indus & Aryan people. The Rig Veda, the oldest of the 4 main Vedic writings (Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas), contains the oldest record of deep metaphysical speculation.
5 Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)Rig Veda …In the beginning there was neither existence nor non-existence. Neither the world nor sky beyond. What stirred? Where? Who protected it? Was there water, deep and unfathomable?Koller surmises that the sage or seer who wrote this was convinced neither existence nor non-existence can explain the beginning of all we see. Problems being …existence would require yet another explanation,non-existence can’t explain where existence comes from.What kind(s) of existence would provide a solution to problem 1?What famous principle supports problem 2?
6 Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)Rig Veda …Then there was neither death nor immortality, Nor any sign of night or day. THAT ONE breathed, without breath, by its own impulse; Other than that, there was nothing at all.Koller says the sage does not name this “primordial oneness” because only existing things can be named. So, ‘THAT ONE’ is all you get.What is this concern with naming similar to in Judaism (Christianity & Islam, too)?
7 Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)Rig Veda …Then there was darkness, concealed in darkness, All this was undifferentiated energy. THAT ONE, which had been concealed by the void, Through the power of heat energy was manifested.The sage tells us how the undifferentiated (neither existing nor non- existing) managed to create this universe … breathing without breath (previous verse), and through ‘heat energy’.What is this description of creation similar to in Platonism and Neo- Platonism?In Judaism (Christianity & Islam, too)?
8 Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)Rig Veda … (skip verses 4 and 5)Who really knows? Who here can say? When it was born and from whence it came – this creation? The Gods are later than this world’s creation; Therefore who knows from whence it came?That out of which creation came, Whether it held together or did not, He who sees in the highest heaven, Only He knows – or perhaps even He does not know!Verse 6 sides with _________ against __________ regarding the first cause.Verse 7 wonders whether the primordial oneness “held together” in the act of creation. Who’s claims about creation come to mind? ___________(to answer, choose among Plato, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Aquinas)
9 UpanishadsThe Upanishads take up this deep philosophizing from the Rig Veda and give it a serious investigation. Koller, pp17-18, tells us that seers or sages report their experiences and insights more than provide arguments for other sages to evaluate. Personal experience of the sage is taken as “sufficient evidence” for various claims that would otherwise require proof.Hinduism scholars such as Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad tell us Vedic authors were priests who provided a service to wealthy patrons in ancient India. They were not in the business of defending their ideas in a scholarly system.Still, what follows is serious thought and authors provide reasons for the views expressed.
10 UpanishadsEach of the four Vedas—the Rigveda, Yajurveda, Samaveda, and Atharvaveda—consists of a Samhita (a “collection” of hymns or sacred formulas); a liturgical prose exposition called a Brahmana; and two appendices to the Brahmana—an Aranyaka (“Book of the Wilderness”), which contains esoteric doctrines meant to be studied by the initiated in the forest or some other remote place, and an Upanishad, which speculates about the ontological connection between humanity and the cosmos. -Encyclopedia Britannica
11 UpanishadsWhile the previous slide would lead you to assume there are just 4 Upanishads, one for each Veda, there are 14 or so from the Epic Period, and many more written right up to the last century. Upanishads also go by the name Vedantas, as ‘Vedanta’ means ‘conclusion of the Veda’.
12 Upanishads Turn Inward Vedic WorldviewFocus on this worldPrimary values: virtue, success, enjoymentKey to perfection: ritualEmphasis on communityPrayer is importantSamsara not mentionedKarma not importantTexts: Vedas, with Brahmanas and AranyakasEmphasis on plurality of existenceSelf refers to body-mindSupported by Mimamsa philosophyUpanishadic WorldviewFocus on the spiritual worldPrimary value: liberationKey to perfection: knowledgeEmphasis on the individual seekerMeditation (yoga) is importantSamsara is fundamental problemKarma is all-importantTexts: UpanishadsEmphasis on unity of existenceSelf refers to the Atman that is BrahmanSupported by Vedanta philosophy*This chart is taken from p17, Koller
13 Upanishads“The Upanishads are much more philosophical and focused on knowledge than the Vedas” –Koller, p172 key questions of the Upanishads:What is the nature of ultimate reality?What am I in the deepest sense?The answer to question one is Brahman.The answer to question two is Atman.Somehow, deep reflection is going to lead to the conclusion that “Atman is Brahman.”Let’s see how Hindus get there …
14 Brahman‘Brahman’ is the name given to the object early Hindu sages sought under the description ‘ultimate reality’ … it is the something that is neither existence nor non-existence referenced back in Rig Veda , verse 1 (on slide 5)Koller tells us, p18, the word means ‘that which makes great’.Jessica Frazier tells us the Sanskrit word ‘Brh’ is similar to the English word ‘bear’, and means the same thing: to hold up or support.Early efforts of Hindu sages to say what everything ultimately is, or what the cause of everything ultimately is, found objects like the sun or the moon. Natural objects.Natural objects were abandoned under the principle that the source of the existence of natural objects cannot itself be a natural object (the sun appears to be one of the things to be explained, and so would have to explain itself).
15 BrahmanIf natural objects are not candidates for what Brahman is, then we cannot form a concept of Brahman based on sense-perception, which is how we form all our concepts of natural objects. The solution to this problem is to form an idea of Brahman based on negation, “the negative way.” In Medieval Philosophy, Thomas Aquinas employed the “via negativa” (last paragraph, section 10.1 in linked article) for the exact same purpose based on the same reasons. In the same way the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is not limited in knowledge, not limited in power, not limited in goodness, and so on, Brahman is: Invisible, incomprehensible, without genealogy, colorless, without eye or ear, without hands or feet, unending, pervading all and omnipresent, that is the unchangeable one whom the wise regard as the source of beings. (I.1.6) -Mundaka Upanishad
16 Atman Atman is the name given to the ultimate self or soul. We typically think we see ourselves when we look in a mirror, but what is it really that we’re seeing?Koller offers this rendering of the sage’s reasoning in the Taittiriya Upanishad, moving step by reasoned step:The true self cannot be the body because both dead and living things are bodies.The true self cannot be simply the life of the body, because we see, hear, feel, etc., which is more than just being alive.The true self cannot be simply seeing, hearing, feeling, etc., because thinking and understanding are more properly self than simply perception.The true self cannot be simply thinking and understanding because there must be something beyond thinking and understanding that gives them existence.
17 AtmanSubject / Object distinction A natural tendency for moderns like ourselves would be to answer step 4, The true self cannot be simply thinking and understanding because there must be something beyond thinking and understanding that gives them existence. by saying ‘the brain! The brain! That’s what gives existence to thinking and understanding!’ But that is perhaps a mistake. The brain is an object of consciousness, not itself consciousness. It may make consciousness possible for embodied souls, for animals generally, but that’s a mere causal requirement. Step 4, it appears, is asking for us to recognize or accept consciousness or subjectivity as the source, in some sense, of thinking and understanding.
18 AtmanSubject / Object distinction Think about consciousness as a flashlight. Can it ever be aware of itself?The job of consciousness is to make objects by a combination of awareness and negation…
19 Atman - The Source of Objects The awareness and negating acts of the ultimate self (subject) make objects for consciousness. Negate the black portion and you get ____? Negate the white portion and you get ____?
20 Illustration of Subjectivity When the reflection departs, then the reflecting glass, we’re left with bare awareness of the object represented by the arrow. The arrow indicates the directionality of the ultimate subject … just remember that the ultimate subject isn’t the arrow either.
21 AtmanKoller says, p20…If we were to say the ultimate Self is known, we would have to ask, Who knows it? Because the Self being sought is the ultimate knowing subject, the “Who” that is known cannot be the ultimate subject because it has become an “it,” an object of knowledge.Philosophers in the Western tradition call the self-as-object “the empirical self” … the self we are aware of by thinking about our feelings, thoughts, sensations, etc., … also through imagination and by the testimony of our neighbors (eg, you’re so sweet! … or, you are such a jerk!).
22 Knowledge of Atman Koller, p20, again… … [In] terms of the objects of knowledge, the ultimate self cannot be known, in another sense, in terms of immediate experience, it can be known intimately and completely in the experience of self-awareness. In self-awareness, the Self is known much more surely and completely than any object of knowledge.This claim, that immediate experience divulges an ultimate self, is highly disputed in the West, and, we shall see, in some parts of the East (see Buddhism).Descartes’ Cogito…?
23 Atman is Brahman Koller: Hinduism’s Greatest Discovery … Seeking ultimate external reality, sages found BrahmanSeeking ultimate internal reality, sages found AtmanKoller tells us, pp20-21,The exciting discovery they now made was that Atman was none other than Brahman. Only one ultimate reality exists, although it appears to be two because it can be approached by looking for the ground of things, or looking for the ground of the Self.Seeking to understand the ultimate nature of the world and the Self, it had been discovered that the same Self exists within all beings. Each person shares his or her deepest being (Atman) with all other beings. One need only know this Self to know all. And this self can be known in the surest way possible, for it is self-revealing in consciousness when the objects of consciousness that block out self-illumination are transcended.The discover that Atman is Brahman is the greatest discovery made in the Upanishads.
24 Tat Tvam Asi – That Art Thou Consider, from Chandogya Upanishad, Uddalaka teaching his son, Shvetaketu the lesson of ‘that art thou’ (Koller, p22). He says:Shvetaketu … did you ask for that instruction by which the unhearable becomes heard, the unperceivable becomes perceived, the unknowable becomes known?Then the “famous teaching”:That which is the subtle essence, this whole world has for its Self (Atman). That is the true. That is the Atman. That art thou (tat tvam asi), Shvetaketu.Then Koller says: “The ‘subtle essence’ referred to is Brahman, the source of all existence.
25 Tat Tvam Asi – That Art Thou Koller extends the point using a quotation from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, in a brief dialogue:Ushasta requests an explanation of “the Brahman that is immediately present and directly perceived, that is the Self in all things” …Yajnavalkya: This is your Self that is within all things.Ushasta: What is within all things?Yajnavalkya: You cannot see the seer of seeing, you cannot hear the hearer of hearing, you cannot think the thinker of thinking, you cannot understand the understander of understanding. He is your Self which is in all things.Reflecting on this puzzling grammar (eg, can you see the seer of seeing?) permits you to form a concept that is otherwise very hard to form. Does it help you?Consider Kant
26 Part 2The World’s Religions, 50th Anniversary Edition, Huston Smith (hereafter “Smith”)
27 What People WantSmith tells us Hindus hold that people want 4 main things … that there are 4 “legitimate ends” in life:PleasureSuccess‘To make a difference’Being, Knowledge, & JoyAlso, Hinduism tells us all 4 are good, and we can have them all.
28 What People Want – Pleasure (1) If you recall our discussion of the Hedonic Calculus, and ‘orgasmatron’ thought-experiment, Hinduism not only has considered such a life, but, according to Smith, claims we all will experience such life “in due course.” Smith, p14 The “worlds above this one, where pleasures increase by powers of a million at each rung,” however, are not ordered by superscientists employing an experience machine. Instead, wisdom in seeking pleasure, much like Bentham’s calculus, provide guidance to ensuring life saturated in “delights.”
29 What People Want – Pleasure (1) Smith tells us that Hindus believe such a life, while entirely permissible and good, will not satisfy us. (At least, it will not satisfy human nature … more on that later.)The argument from Smith, p14:Pleasure is too trivial to satisfy one’s total nature.Pleasure is essentially private, and the self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm. Therefore,Pleasure is not all that one wants.What should we make of this argument?
30 What People Want – Pleasure (1) Let’s consider reason #2 first:Pleasure is essentially private, and the self is too small an object for perpetual enthusiasm.Smith supports this reason by citing Soren Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death:In the bottomless ocean of pleasure … I have sounded in vain for a spot to cast anchor. I have felt the almost irresistible power with which one pleasure drags another after it, the kind of adulterated enthusiasm which it is capable of producing, the boredom, the torment which follow.Boohoo! lol! … Poor Soren, in the ocean of pleasure. Does our orgasmatron-life suffer from a lack of “perpetual enthusiasm”?More directly, does pleasure entail boredom? Pleasure Boredom?
31 What People Want – Pleasure (1) Consider reason #1, then… Pleasure is too trivial to satisfy one’s total nature. This claim Smith appears to think is either self-evident, or otherwise not in need of bolstering. What does it mean, “one’s total nature”? How strong a reason is this? (Would success, ‘making a difference’, or knowledge, existence, or joy be valued if they held no pleasure?) Smith is convinced pleasure is insufficient for a fully satisfying human life. (Consider John Stuart Mill and Aristotle here) With the comment “everyone wants to experience more than a kaleidoscope of momentary pleasures, however delectable,” Smith moves on. (What do you make of the word ‘experience’ above? Is life just experiences?
32 What People Want – Success (2) Smith calls this “the second major goal in life,” with 3 prongs: Wealth Fame Success Power Hinduism again fully endorses the value of these 3 kinds or components of success. They “confer dignity and self-respect,” as well as provide the basis for supporting a household and fulfilling civic duties (‘making a difference’ … the 3rd thing we want). Smith, p15
33 What People Want – Success (2) So, why isn’t the successful life fulfilling? (Well, it is … more on this later … but it isn’t fulfilling for human nature) Criticism #1: “Wealth, fame, & power are exclusive, hence competitive, hence precarious.” Smith, p15 Criticism #2: “The drive for success is insatiable.” Smith, p15 “Poverty consists, not in the decrease of one’s possessions, but in the increase of one’s greed.” –Plato “There are two ways to have enough: One is to acquire more, the other is to desire less.” –GK Chesterton
34 What People Want – Success (2) So, why isn’t the successful life fulfilling? (Well, it is … more on this later … but it isn’t fulfilling for human nature) Criticism #3: The same problem pleasure had: success centers on the self, and the self is too small for “perpetual enthusiasm.” (but, what if you don’t like other people, and don’t care about the universe or things outside your own life?) Criticism #4: Worldly success cannot satisfy because its achievements are ephemeral … Wealth, fame, & power do not survive bodily death. “You can’t take it with you.” (but, don’t Hollywood types seek fame just for its eternality? “Fame! I’m gonna live for ever! I’m gonna learn how to fly! La la la” ???)
35 Path of Desire / Path of Renunciation Smith notes that Hindus locate pleasure and success on “the path of desire,” and by desire they mean ‘personal desires’ … desires for our own satisfaction. A question arises here: we are looking at 4 things people want. We call people’s wants desires. What other kinds of desires are there? Aren’t they all personal desires? Smith gives no direct answer to that question that I can find. The Path of Renunciation seems to hold onto the notion of people pursuing what they want, and while the first stop on the path, “the community” or ‘making a difference’, has the focus now not on ourselves per se, but on the “greater,” “less trivial” desire to do one’s duty toward others (live for others! … there are songs about this!), when we get to the 4th thing people want, it looks like we come back to the self once again. (Recall, the 4th thing people want is existence, knowledge, & joy … those look like the self, right?)
36 What People Want – Making a Difference Smith calls this desire the desire for “the community.” Something greater than ourselves. I’ve been using ‘to make a difference’ as a name for this desire since it has been a motif in ad campaigns by do-gooders of all stripes. Much charity work is done employing the slogan ‘make a difference’, but charity isn’t the key idea. Duty, according to Smith, is the key Hindu concept regarding this 3rd thing people want. What is confusing here: no one want to do their duty. Duties are annoying. Throughout history, moral philosophers have titled their works “Of Duty and Interest,” contrasting what we owe others with what we can permit for ourselves. Smith’s point, p18-19, seems to be that after exhausting pleasure and selfish gain, maturing souls seek satisfaction from the “notable rewards” of doing their duty. There are no criticism at this point save one: after transforming from the “will-to-get” to the “will-to-give,” … from the “will-to-win” to the “will-to- serve,” people still aren’t fulfilled with this type of life. Because it ends.
37 What People Really Want – Being, Knowledge, & Joy Consider Paradoxes of PleasureClearly people want to exist, to know things, and to feel good. Those things are pleasant. How is it we are not just back to pleasure? Smith supports this Hindu idea with examples of people desiring Being, Knowledge, & Joy, but it makes little sense until he adds that we desire these things infinitely. Infinite being. Infinite knowledge. Infinite joy. The Hindu term for becoming liberated from the limitations on these three is Moksha. In understanding the sentence above, don’t think of your soul flying free of your body, living forever, learning everything, and feeling joy throughout eternity. The Hindu position is, you already have infinite being, infinite knowledge, and infinite joy, but they are being restrained or limited in this life.
38 What People Really Want – Being, Knowledge, & Joy How on earth do we already have infinite being, knowledge, and joy? That sounds crazy! Hindu investigations of the basic nature of the universe led them to conclude ultimate reality, Brahman, is beyond existence & non-existence, eternal, unchanging, etc. When investigating the basic nature of human beings, they came to see the ultimate self having the same features. The identification of Atman and Brahman followed naturally. Atman is Brahman!
39 Religious Life…From this point on, learning about Hinduism is learning about the practices implied by the vision of ultimate reality and the ultimate self.The remaining slides give a brief depiction of 2 things.How restrictions on Being, Knowledge, and Joy are removedHow reincarnation and personality types figure in Hindu religious life.
40 Removing Restrictions on Atman - Joy Joy is restricted by 3 thingsPhysical painSuffering cause by thwarted desiresBoredom with life in generalRegarding 1, Hinduism suggests a sort of mind- over-pain skill development, as we’ve all heard of yogis who demonstrate mastery over pain.Regarding 2, the desires of people are malleable, and so, we can ensure our desires are satisfied by simply taking pleasure in, desiring, the right things. Take pleasure in a good game rather than your team winning and you will be happier!Regarding 3 … boredom is alleviated when we don’t ruin our awareness of the awesomeness of reality with confusion and inaccurate perception.
41 Removing Restrictions on Atman - Knowledge Knowledge is restricted by ignorance, but what kind of ignorance is a problem?Smith is quite general here. His points:Science suggests the mind is like an “ice berg” with most of it invisible.Having a “summarizing insight” into everything may be all that is meant (infinite knowledge would then, perhaps be ‘knowledge of the infinite’).The mind is mysteriously deep … cites psychologist Carl Jung, who suggested we may have “racial memories” that “summarize the experience of the entire human species.”
42 Removing Restrictions on Atman - Being Smith’s points here are rich and interesting…Spatially: It is possible to “identify” self as many things. We normally do so with our bodies, until challenged to rein in such ideas (in the context of finding the “true self” or “ultimate self”). But we can expand our conception of self outwardly. Family, pro football team, etc., can become self: we take it personally when our team loses. “Why did WE lose today!” … we might say to other fans … knowing they was well identify with the team.Temporally: As children we seem to identify with minute time-slices of ourselves. When our ice cream cone goes plop, we lose our minds as though it was the meaning of our whole life. As we get older, we gain perspective … see ourselves as spread out in time. The sages see their present life as a day or hour of life, rather than the whole of it.So, in these two ways, at least psychologically, we can remove restrictions on being, or view the restrictions as illusions.
43 Four Paths to God…The practice of Hinduism depends on which of 4 personality types (with some mixture of types occurring) practitioners have. They are:ReflectiveEmotionalActiveExperimentalHindu practice in removing the clunky self of pre-enlightenment so that the divine self can dominate is guided by Yoga, disciplined training in how each type of person can reach enlightenment experientially, and not merely as abstract understanding.Read pp26-50 if you’d like to know the details. I will not test you on that material.
44 ReincarnationWarn out garmentsAre shed by the body;warn out bodiesAre shed by the dweller. Bhagavad-Gita (II:22)Finally, we get the answer to why we must say pleasure and success are fulfilling to some, but not to human nature (see slides 29 & 33).According to Hinduism, each jiva (soul) begins in primitive life forms and graduates steadily until reaching the level of human beings. There, souls no longer grow and improve automatically. Once clothed in a human body, the soul attains self-consciousness, and with it, “freedom, responsibility, and effort.” (Smith, p64)
45 KarmaOnce the soul achieves human status, its progress toward identification with Brahman is ruled by karma, the “moral law of cause and effect.” Smith mentions how Abrahamic religions also endorses the principle “As a man sows, so shall he reap.” But they also seem to endorse chance, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” In contrast, Hinduism’s karma is a tightly sealed system of desert. You get precisely what you pay for. No more. No less. Future incarnations are determined by our choices and can move down as well as up in maturity or insight. Selfish choices strengthen the ego and make the journey harder; “compassionate and disinterested” choices move us forward.Does this make sense? How does your or my freedom logically limit this law of karma?
46 KarmaFinally, the soul learns enough and leaves behind attachment to the empirical self. Smith, p67, says … What happens then? Some say the individual soul passes into complete identification with God an loses every trace of its former separateness. Others, wishing to taste sugar, not be sugar, cherish the hope that some slight differentiation between soul and God will still remain – a thin line upon the ocean that provides nevertheless a remnant of personal identity that some consider indispensible for the beatific vision.