Lecture 5: Key Themes in the Upanishadic Vision (Part 3)
Course: Introduction to Hinduism
Well, we have a lot to cover this week. We are continuing to build kind of the basic building blocks of the Upanishadic worldview from which everything is either affirming or in some way reacting against in various forms of Hinduism, as well as some of the major dissent movements in Buddhism and Jainism. So, we were discussing karma. We have not yet completed karma.
But I wanted to, before we revisited some of the things about karma, I wanted to just show you on the board here some of the ways that reality is talked about in Indian theologising. Because in India they make a very important distinction between something that is ultimately real, which is the highest level – this Paramarthika. Paramarthika is a word that is used frequently in the literature for ultimately real. This is a way of speaking of Brahman or nirguna Brahman. Ultimately real.
I'm always looking for pens. I guess it disappears. I've got another one. ...
Paramarthika is an expression for ultimate reality. Now, I tend to make a distinction in my own writings on this between – and this is viewed by some as well – capital "r" Real and then little "r" real. Because sometimes I think we make the mistake of assuming that when Indians say something is not real or is unreal – we mean by that, we take it to mean, that they think that it's all illusory – that it's like all in your mind. There are some schools of thought that argue that kind of think in Buddhism, but in Hinduism that's not true. In Hinduism you have the realm of Paramarthika which, at least so far we're looking at the expression of that, as nirguna Brahman in the kind of classical Hinduism that's true to this very day.
There's a whole other category, Sadasadvilaksana. Now Sadasadvilaksana represents neither real nor unreal. It's an in between category, ontological category. And it's not a category that we're all that familiar with, but it's very important for the Hindu context. Sadasadvilaksana – neither real nor unreal. And notice I have here neither real, meaning capital "r" nor unreal.
That's subdividing in the two sub-categories – one called vyavaharika which means this is the experience you're having right now. This is your daily experiences that are actually true to one's perceptual experience. So if you are eating a meal or you are taking notes in a class, you're sitting in a chair, you're in a room that's a certain temperature – that's all vyavaharika. That's all the category of things that are real, that are not nevertheless identified with Brahman or ultimately real. Practical daily experiences.
Pratibhasika is another category which refers to perceptual errors. We'll discuss this more later. This is the world as we perceive it – perception. Perceptual errors where you think you see something that may not be actually true. For example, a very famous example has to be a dream. You have a dream. The dream appears to be vyavaharika. You wake up and realise it was not. It was a dream. So dreams can have the appearance of a greater reality than they have. And I think that's very critical – the whole dream thing is very important to Hindus – because the dreams to them are a paradigm for all kinds of potential perceptual problems. So what they would argue is, just as the Western world would agree, that because you have a dream that you went out and hiked up a mountain, and you woke up – you had never left your bed. Everybody admits there's a different reality to dreaming about a hike up a mountain and actually hiking up a mountain. So they make the same kind of thing on a larger scale.
How do we know that what we're experiencing here in this classroom is ultimately real? It may not be ultimately real. It may be at some other level of reality. So it kind of opens up the possibility that there are different levels of perception and they're not as convinced as Westerners are as to the correlation between perception and reality – which is why typically Western scientists have had made great progress because the whole basis of science is based at least in part on the ability to trust in your perceptions. We can look through a microscope and see things, observe things, and so forth. If that fundamental kind of confidence is not there, then it breaks down and affects your whole worldview.
So this has definitely influenced Indians in many ways. Indians, no one I don't think would deny, that Indians lack the analytical ability to do great science because these are some of the greatest philosophers the world ever produced. These are tremendously bright people. But they have not been as successful in producing a truly indigenous Indian science. There are wonderful Indian scientists who have studied in the West especially or adopted Western premises to science. But in terms of a truly Hindu-based science, it's simply is not very strong.
And then you have the whole category, if you want to call it that, or at least the possibility of something being unreal. My view is I don't know there's anything in Hindu writings or philosophy that actually speaks about anything that is absolutely unreal except logical contradictions. In that sense, they say – for example, they'll say things like Shankara says: The only thing I know of that's unreal, absolutely unreal, is the son of a barren woman. That's the example he gives. Or the horns of a hare – h-a-r-e – hare – the horns of a hare – things of that nature. So, in that sense there's a possibility of unreality, but not as a real category of ontology.
So, the world operates at this level, not this level [presumably referring to the board]. So the word maya – maya is working in some way in this category. And the reason it's maya is not because it's unreal in an absolute sense. It's maya because we think it's Paramarthika. We think it has ultimate reality. We think there's nothing – there's no greater reality than the world around us. That's essentially the ... So, I define maya as a false way of looking at the world due to ignorance. They call this avidya or the superimposition of ultimate reality upon it – that's adhyasa. I believe both those terms are on the back. Adhyasa, avidya, number 11, number 12. 11 avidya is the word for ignorance. Adhyasa refers to the superimposition of a greater reality on a lesser reality.
Question: Could you elaborate just ??? or like in the second ontological category that's something ??? second. I'm having a hard time I guess wrapping my Western brain around something neither real or unreal like …
Something neither real or unreal. OK, I'll give you an example that you will surely accept. You do not believe that you are an illusion. Right? OK, so you believe that you have some reality. You pinch yourself, you hurt. All right. But you also believe that your reality is ontologically different than God's reality. All right. Because God is a necessary being. You're a contingent being. You are – your being is totally dependent upon His existence for your existence. He's not dependent upon you for your existence. So therefore, that's a different category of ontology. So they are simply acknowledging that there is an ultimate reality that is ontologically independent and there is everything else is dependent. And sometimes we make … perceive that we have a greater reality than we do. We forget that we're dependent upon God. We live as if we're completely ontologically independent. That's ultimately part of the problem of sin. So they are actually observing something that we ourselves accept to a certain degree – that there are different ways of speaking of reality even in our context. But for Indians it's just much more important in their thinking than in typical kind of Western conversations. Does that help?
Response: It does. Thank you.
Great. Other questions or comments about ... we're going to come back to this from time to time – this overall structure, so I've only put it up here just to maybe give you at least a little framework. And then we can begin as time goes on to fill out a little more of the way this actually works in some of the discussion.
Question: I'm still struggling with the issue of maya in terms of wouldn't it be a major flaw in their understanding if you can't trust our senses to perceive reality or unreality, how can you even make those sorts of distinctions?
Right. Well, that's a good question. And one of the terms on this sheet actually is the term Yoga – I believe it's included that as one of the top 10 – yeah, number 9. There are different ideas about this – about how much you can trust your senses, how trustworthy they are. And whether or not there are other ways in which we can access knowledge. See, you're still thinking along the axis of that the best way to access knowledge is through rational kind of reasoning approach and by using your sense. You're a potential great scientist because you trust it. So, what they're saying is maybe there are other ways we can gain information apart from our senses.
Response: That requires some sort of a sensory decision.
I don't know if I'd call it sensory decision. It doesn't involve some rational decision maybe, but ... I'm not allowed to say sensory. Someone is sitting in an ashram somewhere and they're meditating. And they try to void themselves of all of their sensory inputs – ears, smell, sight and all of that – and they begin to from their perception – I agree with you – I'm' just saying … trying to understand – from their perception they begin to gain insight into reality that they believe transcend their senses. And they're not actually, from their point of view, arguing that this is a sensory experience but a suprasensory experience.
Would that make it senseless? Laughter. I couldn't resist.
It makes them super-senseless. Laughter. In fact, I'll never forget one time I was in this debate and this guy said to the Hindu in the debate – that's a contradiction. That's a contradiction. What you're saying is a contradiction. ... It breaks the law of contradiction. And the person said: That's no problem for us. We don't mind being contradictory. Which for us is like the fatal blow of any, you know, debate. He wasn't too concerned of being contradictory. In fact, I wrote down the whole quote. It was a profound quote about how great contradictions are, but I seem to have lost the quote.
OK, we'll come back to this from time to time. I will have so long. Maya is the most difficult concept to actually understand in the Hindu worldview. And it is the most widely misunderstood in the West because of that – because it's generally translated as illusion. And I think it operates at a little higher level than that, but I must admit that it is a level that eludes, kind of, easy definition. So, what we'll continue to kind of flesh that out. But that gives us at least, I think, a working definition of it. Some of the other discussion will help to clarify some things about it.
The sixth of our ten key themes is the term karma. This is the one you've probably heard of the most, cause it's kind of gone into the vocabulary of the West. The word karma literally means act or deed – and I believe we at least introduced in general terms the idea that this is the immutable law of cause and effect. I made the comment last time it's not just that you reap what you sow, but that you alone reap what you alone have sowed.
What we did not discuss are the different kinds of karma and this actually is quite important in the discussion, although you don't often hear this referred to in the West. But there are three different kinds of karma. You don't need to know the Sanskrit terms for these, but I'm giving you them in parenthesis in case you're interested. But essentially you have three different ways that karma operates in someone's life.
So here you are – this is your lifespan. All right, you're born at point A – ??? or I should say, reborn at point A. You emerge and you have past karma that you have accumulated over multiple lifetimes and existences. In previous ... that is accumulated karma. You see there's point A there on the thing or point 1 – accumulated karma – sanchita. All of your lifetimes, all previous existence, build up essentially like moral baggage. So you have cause and effect, cause and effect. Every effect is the result of a cause. Every cause results in effects. Everything is linked together and this accumulates and so you have essentially like a ledger. Here's your ledger and you have ... whenever you perform karma or work off karma, then you can lower the ledger. But this ledger continues to grow. These are your moral debt as it were. And they must be paid off by you. That's fundamental to Hindu and Buddhist thought. No one else can satisfy your karma for you. You alone must satisfy it. Everything that comes in to challenge this are all, you know, things from the side. The basic view of karma is that you alone must deal with this. Now, so that's accumulated karma.
Now, the advantage of the second kind, kriyamana, which is being performed karma, is the human transmigration is very high in this kind of karma. And that, whereas a stone or a tiger will be very low in this kind of karma. This is the karma that's currently being worked off. That's what's called being performed. It's the karma you're satisfying. The human existence is, comparatively speaking, a good position in order to work off karmic debt. This puts a certain priority, or certain advantage, to the human incarnation because you can begin to deal with karma that you have accumulated in past lifetimes once you're human. Now this means – maybe it's a Kshatriya, it may mean that you perform military service. Maybe if you're a Sudra, it means you clean toilets. It's doesn't necessarily mean that you'd be a Brahman. This is true for everybody. If you are born as a Sudra, you can, by virtue of being born a Sudra, you're satisfying some of your karmic debt and by following your dharma, as a Sudra, doing your duty as a Sudra, you satisfy a lot of karmic debt.
And the point, hopefully, the point will be that you might be reborn hopefully as a upper caste person. If you're already upper caste, you want to be born back as a Brahman. If you're a Brahman female, you want to come back as a Brahman male. If you're a Brahman male, you want to make sure that you have satisfied all of your karma in any previous lifetime, which is almost certainly if you're born a Brahman male, you've already done. You have karmic debt you satisfy by virtue of your life as a Brahman.
And then there is the karma that you take on in this particular life. Cause obviously, as you live your life, not only do you have the opportunity to be relieved of karmic debt, but you can also take on some karmic debt. You, we'll say, you were to eat meat or you were to … your eye were to actually see an untouchable person or unseeable person. That's considered to be bad karma. So, you walk along one day and you're a Brahman and all of a sudden you look up and you see an untouchable. That's karmic debt that you just immediately took on at that moment.
So there's different kinds of karmic debt and this is largely how their whole ethical system functioned because according to their ethical framework the way to maintain ethical guidelines is to present karmic consequences for everything. So therefore evil deeds or deeds that they believed to be socially unacceptable can be eliminated through placing karmic consequences that are very high. So, I mentioned for example, stealing from a Brahman is a very high consequence. And so that gets how ethical structures work in essentially a system that doesn't have ethical frameworks that we have in Christianity.
Dr Tennent? Yes. Where would all of us fit in terms of karma? Would we have better or worse karma than Dalits or Sudras or …
Yeah, it's difficult to say. I would say that essentially this whole discussion, historically at least, is happening within the context of the Varna system. So it doesn't really happen ... there's not a lot of discussion among Brahmans about how this relates to Moslems or Sikhs, much less a secular Westerner or a Christian person in the West. In more modern times of course, this has been given all kinds of permeations and many Hindus will say that the Westerners have got to understand karma is what is clouding their ability to see the truth of the Hindu vision – the Upanishadic vision. So that you have some discussion about Westerners being encrusted with karma. And certainly, theoretically, it's got to be true. But I think it doesn't really play in very strongly to most of the Hindu discussion, because all this classical discussion is done by Indians for Indians in India. It doesn't really deal with outside influences.
How far do Indians accept this doctrine ??? So how far do Hindus accept this karma?
I think ... in terms of where you are in India, of course, and also it depends on what you mean by they accept it. If you mean ... If you're in an area like the northeast, where you're from – the seven northeastern states – or you're in parts of Kerala, you know, you're not going to have a strong belief in this, of course. But in most of India, this is widely accepted by Hindus. Now, it's not accepted in terms of a theological structure by Christians, but it is the social realities of it are widely bowed to by Christians and Moslems alike. Because there's certain cultural barriers in terms of who marries who, who eats with who, who lives with who, and all that. And that continues in much of India. So I would say, in my experience, the karmic system is very, very high.
In fact, I have here, somewhere in my notes, they did a survey of Indians and they asked them two questions.
1. Do you consider yourself part of the Varna system? They just asked them this question.
2. If so, which Varna do you belong to?
It was really interesting because, of those who responded, there's about … only about ... it was like 72, 75 … somewhere near percent of Hindus believe they were in the Varna system. But there was a lot of confusion about what the question meant, because there were people – in fact, there was at least a 10% overlap of people who said on one hand: "I'm not in the Varna system" – but only because they view themselves as outcast. They were Dalits. And they thought – Therefore I can ... I'm not in the Varna ... I can't even be in the Varna system. So to them they ... but that shows they accepted the whole concept, even though they were outside it. There were another ... 10% of all other people who weren't sure if they were Dalits or Sudras. They just didn't know. They didn't know if they were Dalits or Sudras. They weren't sure if they were in or out of the caste system. So that was ... that shed a lot of light on a. the confusion in the minds of many people in popular Hindu ... in villages,, but also that there's still an extremely high percentage of Hindus or of Indians that believe in it and of Hindus extremely high. Extremely high. And India has 700 million Hindus. So, I would say it's very, very high – especially among Hindu peoples.
Question: When you're witnessing to people, do you take certain concepts, like karma, for example, as bridges for the gospel?
Well, I think that the ... we'll look at this much more later in the course, because that obviously is an important point you're making. But I think that in a short answer for now, that there's no question that you cannot preach among Hindus in India without – or with Buddhists for that matter – without dealing with karma. The question is whether you want to use it as a bridge or not. That bridge is a kind of an open question. I think the key is to acknowledge that karma creates a situation where vicarious suffering is impossible. So the idea of Christ suffering for your sins goes against the entire doctrine of karma. I have articles written in The Times of India where people have written in and said things like this – said how in the world can Christians believe that what somebody did, however great – and we think Jesus is wonderful too; we think He's a great teacher too; we revere Him as a god too – but how can these Christians actually say that what somebody did 2000 years ago can in any way affect their life today? How's that possible? I mean, for Hindus it's absolutely incredulous. See, that's because of the karmic idea – that there's no way that Jesus can take your karmic debt. So I think part of the challenge is, that if you preach in India not being aware of karma, you will have huge problems.
Whether the karma can be used as a bridge, it depends on how you define a bridge. If by bridge you mean that showing them the utter ludicrousness – how ludicrous it is to pretend as if we don't affect each other – we can't influence each other – I think is a very helpful thing. Because many Indians, when they think about it, realise that what people do does affect us. I used the example last week about the man coming home drunk every night. You know, to say that person is not causing suffering for his family and the family's only satisfying their own karmic debt, totally independent of his drunkenness, is ludicrous. And there's not too many Indians that, if you pressed them, would not understand that point. And yet, in the theology of karma, it's not that way.
OK, so is everyone clear on the three different categories or kinds of karma, the accumulated karma from the past, the current karma being worked off and the karma you may take on in the current incarnation that you are in. OK. Great.
Number 7 – the one that you've all been waiting for. How in the world do you get off the wheel of Samsara? Well, moksa – this is the kind of the salvation concept. This is your release from the bondage of Samsara. Moksa means release. This is the goal of Hinduism. It's the appropriation of the basic truth that if you work your karma and you have satisfied all of the accumulated karma, you've satisfied all the karma in your present life, then you can be released from the wheel of Samsara. We mentioned this whole wheel idea and, if you are released from that, your Atman is reunited with Brahman. There are different ways ... you can say your Atman is reunited with Brahman. You can say that Atman finally realised its oneness with Brahman. There's different ways you can say it precisely. But essentially it is realising there's no distinction between the ultimate I, the essence, and the soul of the universe itself. Atman is Brahman – tat twan asi. Once that realisation occurs, then you can achieve moksa. Yes.
Question: How can they be certain that the whatever constitutes a person's essence when you die is going to be in that same essence is going to continue on as a rabbit or as a Brahman or whatever?
There is no guarantee of that.
Question: Well then how does karma work?
So what happens is your karma, your karmic debt continues on attached to the Atman. The manifestation of your essence could occur in multiple places. And in both cases, the karmic is attached to that part of it. So it wouldn't necessarily be a one-to-one correspondence. But that being said, there is one school of Hindu philosophy which does believe it's always separated and it always stays individual and even when you're released from moksa you maintain your individual existence in Brahman. So there is a school of Hindu philosophy accepts that. But, at this point, we're looking at kind of the main stream which is essentially the idea that when your Atman reunites with Brahman it's lost in just the way he said the salt is lost in the water in that analogy in Upanishads. There's no way you can take the salt out. You can't separate the salt from the water. It's there but it's diffused into the whole. Any other question on moksa? Yes.
Question: More a general question about how Hindus view religion itself. Do they view it as we would view Christianity as ??? the great embodiment of truth or do they view it more as ... like a political system that has good and bad in it, but it's just what you have to work with?
Well, that goes back to the whole transmigration and karma thing. If you have a system that says: There's no suffering that you experience, except what you deserve through your actions, then it's not unjust. Part of the problem with what they believe is the way Christians deal with theodicy is that we accept that there is such a thing as innocent suffering. And so, if you have a baby with cancer or whatever, then that baby we would say is an innocent sufferer. That raises the whole issue of theodicy. Why is this child being afflicted with suffering? An Indian doesn't have that problem – because whatever suffering exists, exists because of that individual person's karmic debt. And so from their point of view, it is completely just.
As far as the question of whether it's the eternal truth, they definitely believe that. Even the most basic village Hindu believes that Hinduism is the Sanatana Dharma. It's one of the most commonly phrased statements in India that Hinduism is the eternal truth. And everything else is a reflection of some aspect of that eternal truth, including Christianity. And that ultimately everything finds its oneness in Hinduism – which is monism. You know, they have that insight, that there's only one ultimate reality to the universe. And because of that, they think all the dualistic systems that are present – be it Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, whatever – are ultimately less true at the level of Paramarthika than Hinduism.
Well, since you're on that point, let me quote you, I think, a really great point that's made by ??? We'll look at him more later in the course, but he raises questions as you just did, actually. He says in his writings that the doctrine of transmigration is unjust. And the Hindus say: This is absolutely just because it's your karma. You're paying it off.
But he makes the analogy. He says: What if you were to have a boy, a school boy, who commits an offence in school. And you realise, this is 19th century India. This is not 21st century America. And the boy must stand before his comrades and receive 30 lashes. OK, that's not unusual – even today in India you can be physically beaten by your professors. So watch out. Indians are always amazed at how – how's the word ... the word kindness, but how affable the American environment is. And I have no idea how this compares with north-east, but in the regular part of India ...
The same with the Indians, but mostly in the school ...
Do you have corporal punishment by your teachers?
O sure. In the schools.
You've been hit?
Not in the colleges or ???
But in a lower school. O yeah, right. O you're getting out. She is out of here. Anyway, so, this little boy needs to get 30 lashes all right. Anybody who hears this story, they're so familiar with it – cause Indians get their hands slapped with little rulers and all this stuff. It's very much a part of their education. The boy gets up. Before he is ministered the lashes, someone comes up and he administers a little potion to the boy – a shot – so that he forgets everything he's done wrong. He has no idea why he's being punished. And then everybody that's observing the thing, they get a shot. So they have no idea why he's being punished. So the poor child is being lashed away at. All right. He has no idea why. No one knows why he's being punished. They all just know he's punished for something he did. Pratiya asks the question: Is that just? Is it just to punish someone when they do not know the cause or what they did? That seems to be standard justice.
Now, I realise he's living in British India. So, he's been exposed to Western conception of justice. But the whole idea is that if you commit a crime, you come before the court and they say: OK, Joy, you're guilty of x. She's tried. She's committed. She's guilty. Then she's punished. That makes perfect sense to Upaniya. And this guy's a Brahman now – a Brahman convert to Christianity. So he's saying: It's simply not just.
And so no one except for Shirley MacLaine remembers their past lives. All right. And notice how Shirley MacLaine's always a general or some great ... She never says: O, you know, I was a street sweeper or you know. Indians do not know about their past lives. That's a modern, Western, kind of Hindu thing. The traditional Indians, when your Atman re-emerges, part of the whole thing is your conscious link is dropped. So you do not have any conscious knowledge of your previous life or karmic deeds. So you don't know – am I being punished because I, you know, stole from a Brahman? Am I being punished because I ate meat? Am I ... I have no idea. So that raises a question of justice.
The other thing he points out is the doctrine of evil itself is askew. Because what they do is they put … transmigration creates a chain of being that goes from, for example, a worm is lower on the chain of being than a tiger. A tiger is lower on the chain of being than a human being. So, essentially what you have is this – and the laws of Manu support this – this huge chain of being that goes down to lesser and lesser forms of life. And it assumes, transmigration assumes, that the lower you go down on the chain of existence, the more evil it is. And it simply is not true. That's an improper view of evil.
A worm cannot be viewed as evil because it cannot perform the duties of a tiger. It's simply not true. You can't chastise a worm for not being able to attack something or run after something, because that's ... it wasn't created that way. A worm has inherent goodness. It is created to do exactly what it's created to do. And that carries goodness. In the Indian idea, the absence of any quality is an evil. And so, they would say that a butterfly is more evil than an elephant. But is that true? Is that not an improper view of evil?
I'll quote from him. He says: The worm which lives upon filth is not at all unhappy because it cannot enjoy like the cuckoo the sweetness of the lushest fruits and cool purity of the zephyr. Place it in the position of the cuckoo on a leafy bower of a mango tree, it will sigh of its dirty home. To say that the worm because of its filthiness is suffering from a greater evil than the cuckoo, is only drawing upon imagination. So true, so true. So, as so many times the Indians, they come out of this, can see a lot of unjustness, to raise your question. But in the traditional way, because of karmic 101 correspondence, they don't believe it's unjust.
Question: Well, also, what is the moral code for a stone or a worm? How does it transmigrate to a higher level?
That's what happens. Once you have a worm, for example, the worm is very low on this being performed karma. So it takes a long time for that worm to migrate back up to the position of a human migration again. But by virtue of the fact that you're born a worm, does satisfy some karmic debt. You can gradually work your way over thousands of rebirths to once again be in a position where you can really take care of some karmic debt in the human incarnation. Yes.
Question: The yugas were always winding down to utter destruction. How come worms are going upwards?
Well, the worm is going upwards perhaps in a micro-sense, but in the larger sense, the overall creation is winding down. And if the worm doesn't crawl out of the its filthiness – or evilness, as they would say it – then ultimately the worm will be destroyed in the last yuga and would not make it out. I don't know. That's a good question. There may be ... I guess your point is if the whole universe is increasingly becoming wicked, why would things not tend toward gaining more karma than losing more karma? That's a good question.
They say that they've got both.
That's a good question. I'll have to ask that to my Hindu friends sometimes – see what they say.
Question: So then, how did this chain of being come about? Like, how was it decided that a tiger is better than a butterfly?
Better or less evil or whatever. Yeah, that's .... most of this comes out of the laws of Manu. Cause the laws of Manu give the consequences for what you'll be reborn as if you do this or that. And so eventually, it creates a code which ranks things.
OK, well let's ... number 8 we've already discussed quite a bit and that's the concept of monism. Monism argues there's one ultimate principle of existence or being. Reality is not divided. There's not god and other. There's only Brahman. And there is definitely … this is a strong point within Verdanta school – this one major school of Hindu philosophy – but there are many Indian schools that simply deny monism. It's not at all true to say that Hindus are monistic. You get that in summary books and so forth. But what they're really saying is that the dominant school of Hindu philosophy is monistic. That is true. But even within that school, it does not necessarily mean you don't have individualness. In the larger sense it's described monistically. We'll have to look at that later.
Monism is definitely something that is propagated by this particular school of philosophy and it is definitely influenced the way people think about Hinduism. Nirguna Brahman is the only ultimate reality according to Brahminical Hinduism – the Upanishadic vision. Right now, we're just exploring the Upanishadic vision. Just keep that in mind. Now, once we get these ten things down and we kind of go through some of these texts in the Upanishads, then we can begin to see how Hinduism has reacted to or embraced kind of the overall vision of the Upanishads. Any question on monism.
Question: Can you talk about mukti?
Mukti is just another word for moksa. Mukti is used almost interchangeably with moksa. So, it's just another term for it. One means release. One means freedom. It's just two different words, like.
Question: How does the Hindu ??? to monism? How do they reconcile that belief to this idea that karma is one's own problem to deal with?
Well, first of all, the perception of individual existence is part of the karmic debt. And so therefore, the idea that one is encrusted with karma which gives one the perception of individual existence is part of this whole second category here – Sadasadvilaksana. So therefore when a person goes into moksa, they not only lose their karma, they lose ... one of the things that's lost is the individual self.
Now, granted, we're not yet at the point of saying that, and now you know this, all Hindus don't believe that, but at that particular school believes that the perception of your individualness is part of the signs of your karmic debt. And that encrusting over ... they say it's like a mirror. One of the ??? is the mirror. And if you look in the mirror without anything on it, then what you'll see is Brahman. The problem is, the mirror's dirty. The mirror's crusted all over. So you can't see Brahman. So you're looking for yourself. And so part of what you do when you satisfy your karma is you're cleaning the mirror off. And eventually you'll see reality as it truly is – and you'll see that there is no self – tat twan asi – you are actually Brahman. But in the meantime, you're caught. You're trapped in the perceptual error. And that's part of what karma does. Karma traps you into the perception of your individualness.
OK let's now go to Yoga.
I have a question.
Question: What's the point of being a Brahman on this planet if you have no more karma to pay off?
Well, if a Brahman – while a Brahman is still alive, a Brahman is satisfying that last little bit of karma that's been performed in this lifetime. So that Brahman must satisfy that in his lifetime. So Brahmans are very careful about their, generally speaking, about their diet and about all that, because they don't want to take on karma. Cause a Brahman, even a Brahman male, can be born back as Sudra or as a Dalit, if they do something stupid – according to most Brahminical views. This is how they keep their communities separate. So they're very careful not – for example, if a Brahman wants to marry a Sudra or a Dalit, the consequences are catastrophic for that Brahman. So because of that, that is the purpose. They're trying to maintain that purity of their Brahminical position.
They do. There are, as I mentioned last time, there are these certain great teachers, Brahminical teachers, who claim later in life that they have gotten past that point – and karma can no longer touch them. And then that's when some of these gurus will, like, start collecting cars and they'll start, you know, engaging in all kinds of sexual activity and stuff that goes against Brahminical codes. But that's only a certain group of people that are very powerful that feel like they have a big enough following they can kind of buck the system a little bit. Yes.
Question: Well, if they won't remember when they come back as whatever they come back as, why is it that some of them even care? Is ...
Right, but you still want to get released from this existence. And again, only this one school, this Vedanta, is arguing that you don't have conscious knowledge of it. So there are other schools that do. So, it's difficult to make that generalisation. But the Brahmans, in Brahminical Hinduism, they still view that life is ultimately a suffering experience – Brahman or not – and therefore you want to be released from the wheel of suffering. In Western worldviews, we generally view life as an affirmative experience, and therefore we don't have that desire to escape it as is part of the Hindu worldview. Yes.
Question: How widespread in Hinduism is the belief that an avatar can pop you out of the wheel of rebirth?
We'll need to develop that later. The avatar is very, very important – but it's not until Buddhism comes and challenges this basic Brahminical idea that you have the Hindu absorption of that – which creates the possibilities of all these avatars, all these incarnation. So that, we'll develop that later. It's very widespread. It's very important. Now, whether or not – whether that person – that god – has the ability to actually take your karma is a very Buddhist idea. It's not a fundamentally Hindu idea. So, the question is: How is that interpreted with someone who worships a particular deity in a particular village temple, whatever. In that makes a big difference on where you are in India and who you're talking to. So, it's not like a solid view of that. But you're right – that really does shake up all of this a little bit.
Right now, we're learning the kind of the baseline and then we're going to look at all the harp carping against it because this is definitely the baseline on which everyone is fighting against, or affirming, whatever, fighting for.
Yoga is a term which many of you have heard a lot as you did the term karma, because it's so much a part of the American vocabulary. If you were to go out in the streets of Boston and you stopped ten people and asked them: "What is yoga?" they would probably say: "What? What is yoga?" What do you associate with Yoga in your own mind?
Stretching and meditating.
Right. Some kind of meditative activities. Yeah, like spiritual aerobics or whatever and you go to classes, and everybody in Hollywood apparently has signed up for Yoga classes, seems like nowadays. And it kind of has an Eastern flavour to it or whatever. So, that's true. Yoga does do that.
But actually, we need to go back a little bit and, at least for the moment, just forget that you have this association with Yoga about meditation. Let's just wipe that out. Yoga originally is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy – the School of Yoga. OK, it's one of the major philosophical schools, like Vedanta. We, yet we're going to look at all these later, but, right now, we're just kind of giving some of the terms. But there was a particular view, another school of philosophy known as Samkhya – which, on the handout there, the Samkhya, which did believe in individual existence, or individual consciousness of one's existence, all right.
So, they actually raised the question that you raised. How in the world OK, Samkhya has this great insight into reality, but how in the world can the average person achieve it? If you can't figure it out rationally, if you can't do this, perceptual errors and all this are abound, how can achieve it? So the School of Yoga came up as a pathway or a means, a … what's the word for this, maybe, might say … a technique in order to achieve the insights of Samkhya. So, basically, the School of Yoga said: we believe that Samkhya philosophy is true. But they don't have a clue how to get somebody to that point to see their truth. We'll give you the technique. If you follow our school, we'll lead you to the truth of Samkhya.
So, essentially, Yoga became used broadly in India to refer to any technique or path to get to some greater realisation. So people will say: "What's your Yoga?" What they mean by that is: what is the path that you're following in order to achieve Moksa? So everybody is acknowledging, OK, here you are, you're stuck on the wheel of Samsara, you want to achieve Moksa, how are you going to get there? And so some people said: "Many of the Hindu schools have great brilliant insights, but they don't help the average person that's sitting in the bazaar somewhere, in a street or whatever, know how to get from where he is or from where she is to that point. And so there needs to be some techniques, some methods. So Yoga becomes kind of an umbrella term for technique, method, of achieving Moksa.
And one of the most dominant ones is through meditation. So Yoga became a path or a way, they called it a marga is the term for it (marga's the word for path) towards liberation. So, what would originally began as a philosophy of Yoga to achieve the goals of Samkhya philosophy. And they particularly said, in order to achieve Samkhya philosophy, you must go through meditation. So it gradually broke out into that all kinds of people believe it. If you follow the eight step meditative process of Yoga and you learn to control your breathing techniques, you learn to control your posture, your breath control, concentration, different things – then eventually you can achieve Moksa. So people began to borrow Yoga as a way to help them to achieve Moksa. And so today, you can be a follower of Yoga and, especially in the West, it can be a kind of way of just centring yourself, clearing your mind, relaxing, all of the way up to achieving some huge lofty philosophical goals. It can be everything in between and is not at all identified today particularly with Samkhya, the way it originally was.
The term OM, we mentioned already, this is part of this great mantra and part of the idea is that if you can control your breathing, then you can focus your consciousness and your body, there is energy flowing, this OM mantra is also flowing through your body. It's a cosmical homology. So if you can control your body, you can control the universe. If you can control your body, you can control your ability to get off the wheel of Samsara. So the whole idea of cosmical homology is very important to Yoga because they say your body is a microcosm of the universe. So there's power flowing through your body just the way there's power flowing through the universe. The OM resonance resonates through your body the way it resonates through the universe. So if you can focus and concentrate and control your breathing, then you can be liberated out of the bondage of Samsara.
So, that's today the broad use of the word Yoga and it's probably the best one to have in your mind in this course, even though it's used the way it's used in the West in a kind of a particular way. Thoughts or comments about the term Yoga? Yes.
Samkhya is a, one of the schools of philosophy that believed that there are two eternal principles in the universe, rather than one. One of those principles is Brahman. The other is nature and matter ??? the eternality of matter and the reality and essence of Brahman. So they did not want to deny the reality of nature the way Vedanta did. So it's like there's two ultimate principles. It's form of dualism – eternal dualism in Samkhya.
Question: Of the six schools of philosophy, is Yoga a school and Samkhya a school?
There are two separate ...
Yoga's a school and Yoga ...
Yet, Yoga is just a path ...
It is a path, but, to be fair, they also added one little philosophical insight. They said that they believed that the principle of Brahman that Samkhya was reaching for was actually god. They wanted to kind of bring in god into it. So Yoga is probably, of all the schools of Hindu philosophy, more theistically oriented than others – which is why they believe that Americans might be more apt to accept Yoga philosophy than any other. One of the reasons why it was propagated in the West. Yes.
Question: So what does it mean to achieve Samkhya?
Yeah, achieve the insight of Samkhya. So it's not – yeah I don't mean they have achieved Samkhya like achieving Moksa, but achieving the insights, the philosophical insights of Samkhya, which they basically accept it.
Question: What's the Hindu perspective of kind of how Americans have ??? the Yoga thing?
Well, there's different ideas about it. Back in the 1800s there was a big move led by a guy named Swavimivikananda who came to the West as a missionary to the West – to propagate Hinduism in the West. So they said that in order to propagate Hinduism in the West, we have some accommodations. And so it's the same kind of fight that goes on in Christian circles about how much can you or should you accommodate to a culture. One of the examples was with Yoga because Americans find it very difficult and painful to sit in the Yogic position – because we're not used to sitting that low to the ground. We sit in chairs. And so one of the concessions that was made was that American Yogic exercise, or many of them, take place in chairs rather than on the floor – because many Americans simply could not get in the position. Because Indians will sit very normally, like in the marketplace, they'll sit like this all the time, in this right? They can be sitting around and talking – I'm going to fall over here. I mean this – not to mention cross-legged. OK, it's even more difficult. But if I get in that position, I can't get up. All right. So if I sat like this – they can sit for hours. At school, at NTC next week when I'm there, they'll be sitting for hours at night, the boys talking to each other like this. OK, after about five minutes like this, I'm about to die – because my muscles haven't stretched that way. We don't sit that way. So, they're very flexible, and they can get on all in the ground and cross their legs over. That's a comfortable position to sit in and meditate in. So, there have been some people very critical because the thing is so much based on your exact body position that people say: How can you have Yoga in a chair? It's just impossible. We're on all these high cushions and all. So those are some of the things that people harped about. But I would say basically Hindus are so flexible, so absorbing, they've accommodated so much of Western problems and challenges and tried to continue to work their way into the American system. Hinduism is not doctrinally oriented, you know, so it's just experience oriented. So, as long as you're having the experience they can be very flexible.
OK, the last and final of the ten concepts is known as Sat Cit Ananda. I probably should have written this also as a single term, because actually that's the way it really appears.
There appears to be a gap in the recording at this point.
... how they have the transmission to their pupil. Remember how he says, you know, they have this ??? Brahman, I am Brahman and all that. So that, what happens is that, at the end of his life, people will kind of give a last testament or last insight that summarises the essence of their teaching. So, it's of no small moment that the last Upanishad.
By the way, commercial, you really can't get on with Hinduism very far without having a copy of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. Even if you don't have the Vedas, you've got to have the Upanishads.
OK, so where were we? In the Upanishads, if you go to that book, and you flip through it, and the very last Upanishad of the principal ones, is this Vajrasucika Upanishad, which is one of the ones you are required to read. And in that, you have essentially a transmission, an Upanishad that seeks to finally give some insight into Brahman. Remember how ??? nirguna Brahman. Remember how we said, there's nothing one can say for certainty about Brahman. So finally we have some basic and agree – these are very basic – but basic things said about Brahman. But they become very, very important in later Christian discussion with Hindus. And so it's so important that you're aware of this.
The three affirmations are that Brahman is being – being meaning he has ontology. So he has existence. This is, you know, the basic idea of being philosophically. He has consciousness. That means there's thinking there. There's consciousness there. There's awareness there. That's very, very important. And finally Ananda means – it literally means bliss. It is so important in Hindu writings, this concept of Ananda. Like the West, it doesn't just mean bliss being like happiness. It means bliss in terms of total freedom from any kind of dependence. ??? more of that term.
But all the great teachers and the philosophers will somehow or another have Ananda tied into their name. And so, even myself, when I write books for Hindi audiences in Hindi, they are – or like pamphlets, whatever else – I never use the name Timothy Tennent. Because, if you're walking through a market place people will pamphlet and it's like Timothy Tennent. That immediately tells them: This guy is not an Indian. He's some outsider. Pooh. Junk it. But, I go by the term – and the problem is, if you want to use a north Indian name – so if you use a name, a south Indian name like, you know, Sam George or something – that's just as bad. It's a foreign name. So you've got to use a north Indian name. Well, the north Indian names are all related to Hindu gods, almost exclusively. So, again this would not apply to northeastern names, but in the north part of India.
So, for example, the translator that I work with – his name is Shivraj Mahindra – very classic north Indian name. You know Shivraj. Shivraj means Shiva. Raj is the word for king, right? King Shiva. OK, so his name gives exaltation to Shiva. His last name, you'll now know. His name is Mahindra – maha Indra – the great Indra. Remember the Vedic god Indra? So his name means king Shiva the great Indra. All right, so that's typical of north Indian names.
So, I had to come up with a name that was, on one hand, sounded very north Indian, and yet could point to Christ rather than to a god – a Hindu idol or whatever. So my name is Kraymraj which is – Kraym is the word for love in Hindi – king of love. And then the last name … referring to Jesus. Jesus is the King of love, not me. And the last – and my last name is Dharmananda – again, this is – o, the minute they see Ananda they know you're a teacher see. So they'll pick it up because that means you are a teacher of Hinduism, you know Hinduism. And of course Dharma you know. So this basically means the bliss of righteousness. The bliss of truth. So Kraymraj Dharmananda. You see that on the stands, that's me.
Question: Do they call him for speaking engagements?
Not yet. We're still working on that one. But I'm hoping that more and more, I'll have some access to Hindu audiences as Kraymraj. There's people, I mean, like Shivraj. Shivraj always calls me Kraymraj. He never calls me Dr Tennent. He'll call me Uncle Kraymraj. Uncle Kraymraj – I love it. Anyway, so it's very much a part of the Hindu thing. You've got to have a good name. But Ananda is very, very important, because even Brahman is given this title, as it were, Ananda – being conscious of bliss.
Now, what's important from this, at least in seed form at this point – we'll develop this more later – is there's actually two ideas about the Trinity that are latent in Hindu thinking. One is totally inappropriate and doesn't help us very far and there's this one. The one is the trimarti idea which we mentioned in context early on – the three faces of god – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. This is a very popular idol in India. And so some people have tried to take the idea of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva as a kind of Trinitarian concept that's embedded in Hindu thought. I found this to be highly unsuccessful because there's so many problems with this. This is like crass idolatry here.
Whereas Saccidananda – Sat Cit Ananda – these three concepts, I think has been very, very fruitfully dealt with by many Indian thinkers as a doorway to try to communicate the Trinity to Indians in a way they can understand it. This book, ???, he spends a huge amount of time trying to develop this. And a good portion of this book is dedicated to his trying to make that connection theologically using the language of the Upanishads. It's not easy to do but it's certainly a doorway. And he's not the first, nor the last. There are many others who've worked on this within the Christian context who are mainly converts from Brahminical background who tries to do this. So, for now we're just laying it on the table as a seed point because this will be later revisited – actually not till the 19th century. But eventually in the 19th century this is visited big time by famous Indians like Rahamanna Roy, ???. These are people that every Indian knows about. They're very famous Indian writers and thinkers that influence the way Indians think.
And during the British presence there, the Indians went through a long period of trying to find a way to cleanse Hinduism of what they believe were repulsive elements. And they were very, very infatuated with the British presence there. And so during those times there was a great openness to trying to find connections with Christianity with Hinduism. So this created a huge amount of literature which is still being sifted through to this day in various writings and responses.
OK, any question about this or about any of the ten concepts. We now have the basic working vocabulary that will help us down the road. Yes.
Question: Did you say that Ananda is the one that's the very end of the last Upanishads?
Uh hum. Yes, it is. It's a very short Upanishad, only a page or so long. So you'll definitely read that and you can see that mentioned in that Upanishad.