Part 1
Asian Philosophies, 6th Edition, John M. Koller
(hereafter “Koller”)
Part 2
The World’s Religions, 50th Anniversary Edition,
Huston Smith (hereafter “Smith”)
Part 1
Koller, 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
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)
Quick History
From 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.
Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda
Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)
Rig Veda 10.129…
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?
Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda
Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)
Rig Veda 10.129…
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)?
Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda
Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)
Rig Veda 10.129…
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 nonexisting) 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 NeoPlatonism?
In Judaism (Christianity & Islam, too)?
Deep Philosophy from the Rig Veda
Origins of Existence (pp15-17, Koller)
Rig Veda 10.129… (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)
The 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
Each 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
While 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’.
Upanishads Turn Inward
Vedic Worldview
Upanishadic Worldview
Focus on this world
Focus on the spiritual world
Primary values: virtue, success, enjoyment
Primary value: liberation
Key to perfection: ritual
Key to perfection: knowledge
Emphasis on community
Emphasis on the individual seeker
Prayer is important
Meditation (yoga) is important
Samsara not mentioned
Samsara is fundamental problem
Karma not important
Karma is all-important
Texts: Vedas, with Brahmanas and Aranyakas
Texts: Upanishads
Emphasis on plurality of existence
Emphasis on unity of existence
Self refers to body-mind
Self refers to the Atman that is Brahman
Supported by Mimamsa philosophy
Supported by Vedanta philosophy
*This chart is taken from p17, Koller
“The Upanishads are much more philosophical and focused on
knowledge than the Vedas” –Koller, p17
2 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 …
‘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
10.129, 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
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).
If 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
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
The true self cannot be simply thinking and understanding because
there must be something beyond thinking and understanding that
gives them existence.
Subject / Object distinction
A natural tendency for moderns like ourselves would be to answer step
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.
Subject / 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…
Atman - The Source of Objects
The awareness and negating acts of the
ultimate self (subject) make objects for
Negate the black portion and you get ____?
Negate the white portion and you get ____?
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.
Koller 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
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).
Atman is Brahman
Koller: Hinduism’s Greatest Discovery …
Seeking ultimate external reality, sages found Brahman
Seeking ultimate internal reality, sages found Atman
Koller 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.
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.
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
Part 2
The World’s Religions, 50th
Anniversary Edition,
Huston Smith (hereafter
What People Want
Smith tells us Hindus hold that people want 4 main things
… that there are 4 “legitimate ends” in life:
1. Pleasure
2. Success
3. ‘To make a difference’
4. Being, Knowledge, & Joy
Also, Hinduism tells us all 4 are good, and we can have
them all.
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
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:
1.Pleasure is too trivial to satisfy one’s total nature.
2.Pleasure is essentially private, and the self is too small an
object for perpetual enthusiasm. Therefore,
3.Pleasure is not all that one wants.
What should we make of this argument?
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
More directly, does pleasure entail boredom? Pleasure 
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
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?
What People Want – Success (2)
Smith calls this “the second major goal in life,” with 3 prongs:
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
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
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
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
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” ???)
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,
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
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-toserve,” people still aren’t fulfilled with this type of life. Because it ends.
What People Really Want – Being, Knowledge, & Joy
Clearly 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.
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!
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.
1.How restrictions on Being, Knowledge, and Joy are removed
2.How reincarnation and personality types figure in Hindu
religious life.
Removing Restrictions on Atman - Joy
Joy is restricted by 3 things
1.Physical pain
2.Suffering cause by thwarted desires
3.Boredom with life in general
Regarding 1, Hinduism suggests a sort of mindover-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.
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:
1. Science suggests the mind is like an “ice berg” with most of
it invisible.
2. Having a “summarizing insight” into everything may be all
that is meant (infinite knowledge would then, perhaps be
‘knowledge of the infinite’).
3. 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.”
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
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.
Four Paths to God…
The practice of Hinduism depends on which of 4 personality types
(with some mixture of types occurring) practitioners have. They
Hindu 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.
Warn out garments
Are shed by the body;
warn out bodies
Are 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)
Once the soul achieves human status, its progress toward identification
with Brahman is ruled by karma, the “moral law of cause and
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?
Finally, 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.

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