Notes on Victoria
Harrison, Eastern
Philosophy: The Basics
What is “Eastern” Philosophy?
Harrison stresses the wide variety of philosophies in Asia and
that there is no clear geographical border dividing “West”
from “East.” Her emphasis is on the classical origins of
Indian and Chinese philosophies.
Philosophy as a Cross-Cultural Phenomenon
 Harrison argues that philosophies have “family
resemblances” just like religions or games.
 There are some basic philosophical questions that occur
across traditions:
What is the self?
What is the best way to live?
Where do we come from?
What happens when we die?
Two Categories of Indian Sacred Texts
 Sruti: “revealed truths”
 Vedas
 Upanishads
 Smrti = “memory”
 Mahabharata
 Bhagavad Gita
 Ramayana
Nine Indian Philosophical Perspectives (Darsanas)
Astika = “affirmers”
Nastika = “non-affirmers”
 Nyaya = the school of logic
 Carvaka = the school of
 Vaisesika = the school of
materialist and hedonist
 Jaina = the school originating
from the teachings of Mahavira
 Buddhist = the school
originating from the teachings
of the Buddha
Samkhya = the school of
dualistic discriminations
Yoga = the school of classical
Mimamsa = the school of Vedic
Vedanta = the school based on
the “end of the Vedas” or the
In Indian philosophy ignorance “is a principal source of
suffering because it gives rise to the attachments that lead to
rebirth” (p. 25)
Chapter Two: Reality
In the history of Indian Philosophy there have existed three broad
approaches to ontology (the philosophical study of what exists and
what is ultimately or fundamentally real):
Pluralism (Nyaya/Vaisesika) = “reality is composed of an irreducible
plurality of different kinds of object”
Dualism (Samkhya/Yoga) = “reality is composed of two
fundamentally different substances (matter and mind)”
Monism (Advaita Vedanta) = “despite appearances to the contrary, at
the most fundamental level only one thing is real”
Śankara on Three Levels of Reality
Śankara (788-820? CE) argued for nondualism =
Layer 1: Absolute reality.
Nirguna Brahman, Qualityless Brahman, Brahman/Ātman.
Layer 2: Absolute reality seen through categories imposed by human
Saguna Brahman, Brahman with qualities. Creator and governor
of the world and a personal god (Īśvara).
Layer 3: Conventional reality.
The material world, which includes “empirical selves.”
Objections to Śankara
By contrast, Rāmānuja (c. 1017-1137) defended only a qualified
nondualism. He denied that Brahman could exist without qualities and
argued that the qualities of Brahman are real in an absolute sense:
“According to Rāmānuja, the absolutely real is a trinity of Brahman )as a
personal God), a plurality of selves and the material world. These three
together form a unity in which selves and the material world are
portrayed as Brahman’s body. Brahman is the cause of the existence of
selves and the material world. However, in creating them Brahman has
transformed itself into these things in an absolute sense. Hence,
Brahman has become dependent upon them. Each of these items is
thought of as ultimately real in the sense that none can be reduced to the
others. Nor could any of them exist without each of the others” (p. 61).
Śankara vs. Rāmānuja on Liberation
 Liberation (moksa) for Śankara is achieved “when ātman
realized that it was already united with qualityless
Brahman” (pp. 61-62), whereas Rāmānuja argues that
liberation “is a state of freedom from ignorance in which
one is aware of one’s essential nature and of one’s
relationship to Brahman” (p. 62).
 An underlying question: “Would you rather taste sugar or
be sugar?”
Chapter Three: Persons
 Self and World
 Self in the Upanishads
 Rebirth
 Karma
 Freedom
 Individuals
 No Abiding Self
 Dependent Co-Arising
 Liberation
Krisha Teaches Arjuna about the Self (Ātman)
“The self is not born
nor does it ever die.
Once it has been, this self will
never cease to be born again.
Unborn, eternal,
continuing from the old,
the self is not killed
when the body is killed….
Just as one throws out old clothes
and then takes on
other, new ones;
so the embodied self
casts out old bodies
as it gets
other, new ones.
Weapons do not
cut the self,
nor does fire
burn it,
nor do waters
drench it,
nor does wind
dry it.
The self is not to be pierced,
nor burned,
nor drenched,
nor dried;
it is eternal,
all-pervading and fixed—
unmoving from the beginning.
The self
is not readily seen;
by sight or mind;
it is said to be formless
and unchanging;
so, when you
have known this,
you should not mourn.”
(Excerpted from The Bhagavad Gita 2.20, 22-25,
translated by Laurie L. Patton [New York:
Penguin Books, 2008, pp. 21-25.)
The Three Jewels of Buddhism
 Buddha = a title not a personal name (“Awakened One”)
especially Siddhartha Gautama (born c. 563 BCE in
Lumbini, modern Nepal; died c. 483 BCE [or 411-400 BCE]
in Kushinagar, modern Uttar Pradesh, India)
 Dharma = teaching about the way things are (from
linguistic root dhr = “to fasten, support, or hold”)
 Sangha = the community of Buddhists, especially monks
and nuns
 For an excellent overview of the Three Jewels (and the
historical development of Buddhism), watch the BBC
documentary Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World:
Buddhist Ontology: Three Signs/Marks of Existence
 Anitya/Anicca = “impermanence”
 Anatman/Anatta = “not-self”
 Dukkha = “suffering, unsatisfactoriness, distress”
The Four Noble Truths
 Dukkha
 The Cause of Dukkha (= “thirst,” craving, attachment,
excessive desire)
 The Cessation of Dukkha (= Nirvana/Nibbana, “blowing
 The Way leading to the Cessation of Dukkha (= The
Noble Eightfold Path)
The Noble Eightfold Path
 Wisdom
Right Understanding
Right Thought
Right Speech
 Virtue
Right Action
Right Livelihood
 Meditation
Right Effort
Right Mindfulness
Right Concentration
The Buddha’s Theory of Anātman or “Not-Self”
According to the Buddha, every human being is composed of
physical and non-physical components that can be
categorized as belonging to one of the following five
categories or “aggregates”:
• Body
• Feelings
• Perceptions
• Mental Formations/Dispositions/Tendencies
• Consciousness
Key Confucian Concepts
 Confucius (551-479 BCE) = Latinized form of Kongzi =
“Master Kong”
Dao = way, or the Way (to understand the world or to
lead a good life)
De = virtue or ethical power to follow dao, to “do the best
you can with what you have”—what you have is de
Li = everyday rites or rituals that embody and express
one’s virtue
Ren = benevolence, humaneness, or human-heartedness,
the chief Confucian virtue
Junzi = a gentleman , an “exemplary,” or “exceptional”
person—one who embodies and expresses ren to the
highest degree
Five Relationship and Virtues
Older/younger brother
Filial piety
Brotherly respect
NOTE: These relationships indicate an “expanding circle” of interactions
with others and form the basis of society: showing concern for inferiors
and respect for superiors. Moreover, the Confucian tradition considers
the self to consist precisely of the complex structure of these overlapping

similar documents