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The soul: Views from Eastern Philosophy

 
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2007 1:16 am    Post subject: The soul: Views from Eastern Philosophy  Reply with quote

This discussion is a continuation from the topic The Soul in Atheism, Agnosticism, Spiritualism and Faithheadism section.

roshan wrote:
I think that in many ways, Mahayana Buddhism is basically a blend of Theravada and Vedanta (there are non philosophical influences as well - such as, for example, the use of Sanskrit as a liturgical language, breaking away from the use of Buddhist tradition of using Prakrits like Pali and Gandharan).


You're probably referring to the original Indian Mahayana. I'm only familiar with the Chinese form of Mahayana, some of which sounds - if I may say so - rather bizarre. The long-held suspicions of fake Mahayana sutras didn't help at all. So far I have stuck with Theravada.

Quote:
Note that caste in India was a medieval phenomenon - at the time Buddhism started, the caste system barely existed. By the time caste began to develop into its modern form, Buddhism was already on the decline, if not well on its way out.


Do you know if the caste system is a cultural phenomenon or one sympathized by Hinduism? I, as most people I'm sure, would have moral issues with apartheid, more so if its religious based.

Quote:
One way of thinking of the soul is the pure, uncontaminated, changeless "Buddha" that lies within you, which Hindus call the Atman. Obviously, this is the exact same thing that lies in everyone else, hence, the Atman is identical to Brahman (Nirvana), or the absolute reality upon which everything else is superimposed. Therefore, no one actually has a soul of their own, there is just "the" soul, which would explain that incident of branching reincarnation in Tibet.


If you're referring to a force that everyone is part of, then yes I can see that. I've always imagined "individuals" as high-intensity energy concentrations in a vast sea of energy we call existence, manifesting as very high frequency vibrations. I call these concentrations karmic energy. I see it as a form of potential energy, like a clock spring unwinding. Once it has fully unwound, the energy concentration dissipates and you are said to reach enlightenment (no more turning of the "wheel" of existence).

But a completely unwound spring is a very rare phenomena. As energy streams in the vast sea of energy collide (probably manifesting as two individuals meeting in this life), it can loosen or tighten the spring (you can help enlighten each other or fight each other and create more karmic energy).  Whether its one or the other, the net balance of energy in the whole energy ecosystem keeps its equilibrium, implying we are all connected despite perceiving ourselves as separate.

Quote:
Note that the existence of memories (even of previous lives) that can be relived indicates that experience is not merely just a series of snapshots, but that there is some sort of thread connecting it together. Therefore, in addition to the atman/brahman, Vedanta accepts the idea of a Jiva (illussionary individual soul) which is a composite entity, composed not only of the atman, but also of karmas from previous lives, memory imprints and possibly other things as well. Strangely enough, it seems that there were Buddhist sects who accepted ideas similar to the Jiva while at the same time rejecting the Atman, while other Buddhists sects accepted the Atman (but calling it different names) while rejecting the Jiva, showing the many different ways in which Anatta can be interpreted, and blurring the distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism just a little bit more.


My knowledge is not deep enough to say if Jiva and the Atman is consistent or contradictory but I'll bet using the same reflective tool of meditation, we should be able to arrive at the same conclusion whatever the labels are.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 3:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Do you know if the caste system is a cultural phenomenon or one sympathized by Hinduism? I, as most people I'm sure, would have moral issues with apartheid, more so if its religious based.


Hinduism basically prescribed a social order in which there are four classes of people, each with their own responsibilities. People belonged to a class based on merit, and there was fluid movement between them.  However, the caste system of modern India is very different. It is more like a system of clans. There are thousands of these clans, called "jatis". This system was a development in medieval India. So, basically, the caste system of today is not one that Hinduism sympathizes with. Most medieval Hindu saints actively campaigned against it.

In India, although it has been painted as a Hindu phenomenon, it is actually practiced by Muslims and Christians as well, even those in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It also exists in Buddhist Sri Lanka. In India, Christians from low castes have to sit in the back rows at church.

PS. What exactly does a class system have to do with racial discrimination?

Quote:
If you're referring to a force that everyone is part of, then yes I can see that. I've always imagined "individuals" as high-intensity energy concentrations in a vast sea of energy we call existence, manifesting as very high frequency vibrations. I call these concentrations karmic energy. I see it as a form of potential energy, like a clock spring unwinding. Once it has fully unwound, the energy concentration dissipates and you are said to reach enlightenment (no more turning of the "wheel" of existence).

But a completely unwound spring is a very rare phenomena. As energy streams in the vast sea of energy collide (probably manifesting as two individuals meeting in this life), it can loosen or tighten the spring (you can help enlighten each other or fight each other and create more karmic energy).  Whether its one or the other, the net balance of energy in the whole energy ecosystem keeps its equilibrium, implying we are all connected despite perceiving ourselves as separate.


That could probably be a good model for the Jiva, but not the Atman. Heres a model I like to use to explain the Atman: Lets say we visualize Brahman (the absolute reality) as a flat, two dimensional plane, extending infinitely in all directions. Now, think of the Atman as being a point within that plane, centered on the individual, but also extending out in all directions. The Atman and Brahman are exactly the same, the only difference is that the Atman has a midpoint centered on the individual. But that midpoint is illussory, it does not exist, as a plane that extends infinitely everywhere cannot have a midpoint. The illussion of a midpoint exists because of humans being bound by their attachments, desires, ego, etc, as well as being trapped by karmic forces. Once one is liberated/enlightened, the illussory midpoint disappears, and one realizes that the atman/brahman have always been the same all along.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

roshan wrote:
Hinduism basically prescribed a social order in which there are four classes of people, each with their own responsibilities. People belonged to a class based on merit, and there was fluid movement between them.


Hi Roshan, could you elaborate how this meritocracy system works? I think you can help dispel some common misgivings about Hinduism.

Quote:
PS. What exactly does a class system have to do with racial discrimination?


Apartheid is a general term for institutionalized segregation. It can be forced om people for religious, racial, political, or economic reasons.

Quote:
But that midpoint is illussory, it does not exist, as a plane that extends infinitely everywhere cannot have a midpoint. The illussion of a midpoint exists because of humans being bound by their attachments, desires, ego, etc, as well as being trapped by karmic forces. Once one is liberated/enlightened, the illussory midpoint disappears, and one realizes that the atman/brahman have always been the same all along.


I've thought of this model before and I think its a good one. A couple of questions - What is the mechanism by which consciousness arise? Is attachment, ego, and desire centered around a midpoint or does it pervade across the entire plane? If its centered, what force attracted it to the center?

I understand the effects of karmic energy in physics terms but how it works is something still unclear to me.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Hi Roshan, could you elaborate how this meritocracy system works? I think you can help dispel some common misgivings about Hinduism.


Basically, there are definitions given of what attributes Brahmins, Kshatriyas and others are expected to posses - and there was fluid movement between the varnas. In any case, it is not really relevant at all to the topic of caste, since the "varna" system of Hinduism is radically different from the system of "Jati" practiced by all the peoples of south asia. If I find some good articles for you to read, I will send you the links.

Quote:
I've thought of this model before and I think its a good one. A couple of questions - What is the mechanism by which consciousness arise? Is attachment, ego, and desire centered around a midpoint or does it pervade across the entire plane?


I think consciousness (IE thinking and feeling) is purely produced by the mind - however, I think the "us" that is aware of the thoughts and emotions of the mind is the soul. Attachment, ego, desires - these things make us identify with the thoughts, emotions, actions and physical body instead of the soul.

Brahman despite not having properties, has an essence - this essense is described "sat-chit-ananda" - absolute awareness, absolute existence, and absolute bliss. Everything is superimposed on brahman, so even physical objects are composed of it. But physical matter is not conscious, showing that consciousness is produced by the brain, tapping into soul - I guess something like a radio recieving a signal (or maybe a better analogy is electricity?), and then producing sound out of it.

Quote:
If its centered, what force attracted it to the center?


Well, awareness of consciousness is not centered... But, there has to be something that transfers the midpoint from one life to another, which would be karmic forces.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi,

Sure I appreciate any links you can give on the varna system. But what do you reckon brought the existing caste system mainstream, because it seems to have done a great disservice to a beautiful religion, at least in western eyes.

There is a slight difference in our views of consiousness. I'm of the view that consciousness is produced by the six senses, of which the mind is just one of them. The 6 are sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The mind is not the same as the brain, just as smell is not the same as the nose.

Quote:
I think the "us" that is aware of the thoughts and emotions of the mind is the soul.


In my opinion, "us" is an identity and identities aren't permanent, and is therefore inconsistent of the idea of permanent identifiable souls. "Us" in my opinion is a conglomeration of vibrations picked up by the 6 senses brought to existence by karmic energy. The same energy that causes one to be born fit or handicapped, of sound or unsound mind. That conglomeration changes very rapidly moment to moment, impacting and being impacted by other forces whizzing around the plane of existence. "Us" is illusory and transient, and so is the soul.

If Brahman's absolute awareness, absolute existence, and absolute bliss is equated to enlightenment, then its also differs slightly from the Buddhist definition. In Buddhism enlightenment cannot be described in dualistic terms. So its said to be neither awareness nor non-awareness, neither existence nor non-existence, neither bliss nor non-bliss. The problem is, its hard to understand something by what its not than by what it is and I admit I'm still struggling to understand what it is. Maybe its one of those things that's impossible to put in words.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
There is a slight difference in our views of consiousness. I'm of the view that consciousness is produced by the six senses, of which the mind is just one of them. The 6 are sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and mind. The mind is not the same as the brain, just as smell is not the same as the nose.


Im not sure what sight, sound, smell, taste and touch have to do with consciousness. Consciousness is basically defined as thoughts and emotions. Sensory perception is not consciousness - consciousness is the interpretation of what we percieve with our senses, which is purely mental. As an example - when one is deep in thought, one is not conscious of what one sees or hears. Or think of someone born blind - they are no less conscious than anyone else, and in fact, become keenly aware of sounds, smells and touch.

Quote:
In my opinion, "us" is an identity and identities aren't permanent, and is therefore inconsistent of the idea of permanent identifiable souls. "Us" in my opinion is a conglomeration of vibrations picked up by the 6 senses brought to existence by karmic energy. The same energy that causes one to be born fit or handicapped, of sound or unsound mind. That conglomeration changes very rapidly moment to moment, impacting and being impacted by other forces whizzing around the plane of existence. "Us" is illusory and transient, and so is the soul.


In Advaita, there is no such thing as permanent identifiable souls. There is only Brahman, and the notion of a seperate identifiable soul is dispelled upon its realization. Using the word "us" was a bit of a mistake on my part - as I pointed out to you some time back, the soul has nothing to do with our identities, thoughts and emotions, and is in fact the very opposite of it. Thoughts keep changing. Identities keep changing. Actions keep changing. Emotions keep changing. What then remains the same continously throughout? Only awareness. That is the soul.

Quote:
If Brahman's absolute awareness, absolute existence, and absolute bliss is equated to enlightenment, then its also differs slightly from the Buddhist definition. In Buddhism enlightenment cannot be described in dualistic terms. So its said to be neither awareness nor non-awareness, neither existence nor non-existence, neither bliss nor non-bliss. The problem is, its hard to understand something by what its not than by what it is and I admit I'm still struggling to understand what it is. Maybe its one of those things that's impossible to put in words.


True, in the end, the Theravadic and the Advaitic idea of what the ultimate reality is like is different - Theravada seems to look at reality as being empty, Advaita on the other hand views it as being absolute and monistic. On the other hand, some Mahayanist concepts of reality are very close to that of Advaita (from the link I gave you earlier):


Quote:
It is seen as the state which constitutes the attainment of what is "Eternal, the Self, Bliss, and the Pure"


Eternal? The Self? Bliss? Virtually identical to Advaitas description.

Quote:
The Buddha of the Mahaparinirvāṇa Sutra gives the following definition of the attributes of Nirvāṇa, which includes the ultimate reality of the Self (not to be confused with the "worldly ego" of the five skandhas):

"The attributes of Nirvāṇa are eightfold. What are these eight? Cessation (nirodha), loveliness/wholesomeness (subha), Truth (satya), Reality (tattva), eternity (nitya), bliss (sukha), the Self (atman), and complete purity (parisuddhi): that is Nirvāṇa."


Note how reality is described as being "atman" or the soul.

Quote:
An important facet of Nirvāṇa in general is that it is not something that comes about from a concatenation of causes, that springs into existence as a result of an act of creation or an agglomeration of causative factors: it was never created; it always was, is and will be.


This is why reality (Brahman) is decribed by Advaita as being "absolute existence".

Quote:
The Buddha of the Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra insists on its eternal nature and affirms its identity with the enduring, blissful Self


Once more, the same description of reality as advaita, claiming the soul(atman) is the ultimate reality.
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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But what do you reckon brought the existing caste system mainstream, because it seems to have done a great disservice to a beautiful religion, at least in western eyes.


I dont really know. The thing with castes is, each has a different basis. Some castes formed out of tribes or ethnic groups migrating from one place to another, others are based on profession, and so on. Caste itself is not a bad thing. It is basically an instrument for diversity. For example, Jews and Zoroastrians who migrated to India, despite being in minute numbers preserved their identity for centuries because they basically became castes. Much of Indias cultural diversity is due to caste. A few months ago, I was reading about the Nair caste in Kerala, a state in south India. I was absolutely shocked by what I read, as their matriarchal culture was incomprehensible to me - their cultural values were diametriacally opposed to my own. I could not believe such a culture existed in South Asia! So what is bad is not caste but casteism, or discrimination based on caste.

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