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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Chapter 1: The Brahmin's Son

Abstract: The main themes of the book are introduced, including meditation, Atman and the notion of "self." 

I. Even here at the beginning of the book, many important themes of the book are suggested.

    A. Meditation is an attempt to discover the Self [1 D].*

    B. The attempt to recognize Atman is the desire to attain unity [2 A].

    C. Parent-Child relationship is the relationship between Siddhartha and his Father and later between Siddhartha and his son [2 A] [4-5].

    D. Leader-Follower relationship is between Govinda and Siddhartha [2 D].

    E. The Metaphor of the River is throughout the book.[3A].

    F. The Psychology of the Individual is a central theme.[3C].
II. Consider the title "The Brahmin's Son"  as to its meaning.  What is a Brahmin?
    A. Cf., The New Brahmins is the title of a book describing the best and the brightest (scientists) in our culture.

    B. Brahmin (occasionally misused as "Brahman" by some authors) is a member of the highest class, traditionally a priest.
III. Meditation has the goal to recognize Atman, self, soul, ego, or I (not your empirical ego). Sometimes Atman is considered as the supreme personal principle of life in the universe.
    A. "Atman" is perhaps best initially thought of as "Soul" without imposing the categories of understanding of size, shape, number, or mass. It's often defined as one or more of the following entities.

      1. Atman is the hypothetical carrier of karmaKarma can initially be thought of as mental causation.

        a. E.g., "As a man thinks, so is he." Most of our decisions can be predicted from our past decisions or character.

        b. A person who cannot fully trust anyone else or a showoff is an example of a person who has developed karma which will hinder development.

        c. The mental effect of your past determines, in large measure, your present decisions.

      2. Atman is identical with the divine: i.e., that aspect of a person which survives death.

      3. Atman is dependent on the divine or that part of the divine which is god-like in us.

      4. "Smaller than the small" and "greater than the great" are also descriptions of Atman.

    B. Notes on How to Meditate.

      1. Find a quiet place with subdued light.

      2. Sit in a straight-backed chair with good posture: feet can be crossed at the ankles, hands cupped together with thumbs interlaced.

      3. Shut your eyes and breathe in and out.

      4. Concentrate on the furthermost point of exhalation only.  When other thoughts intervene, note them, let them go, and go back to breathing.

      5. Some persons mentally say "one" or "om" (the mantra) in place of concentrating of the point of exhalation.

      6. Try this technique for ten or fifteen minutes a day for a week and see what the effects are. Do not meditate just before going to bed or before a period where you are about to do analytical thinking.
IV. Questions raised in Chapter One.
    A. What is Govinda's goal in life? [2 D].

      1. He didn't want to be ordinary or secure.

      2. He wanted to follow Siddhartha; following Siddhartha his best chance to be at one with Atman.

    B. Why was Siddhartha unhappy? He had everything going for him--he was good looking, smart, well-born, highly thought of by both his peers and his elders. Isn't this all there is in life?

      1. All of his external goals have been met. The internal goals remain.

      2. To achieve the internal goals, he must turn his back on the external goals.

        a. Compare Siddhartha's quest for happiness to Maslow's heirarchy of "needs" as shown in his The Farther Reaches of Human Nature.

          Spiritual or aesthetic
          Cognitive
          Self-Actualization
          Ego or Esteem
          Love and Belonginess
          Security and Safety
          Physiological Needs

        b. Do internal goals normally come about through the seeking of external ones?

          Since Siddhartha has already obtained the external ones, seemingly without much effort, does this imply he should reject them?

          Perhaps it is a burden to be born with everything. Perhaps, our parents should make us work for what we have. Cf., the psychological problem of affluenza.

        c. "...his intellect was not satisfied, his soul was not at peace, his heart was not still" [3C]

          (1) Note how this list describes the types of personality outlined by Jung in his Theory of Types.

            intellect: thinking type
            heart: feeling type
            soul: intuition type

          (2) What's missing from Jung's psychology of types?
            Perhaps a necessary condition for these types to interrelate in a complete life is the psychological type of experience or perception—hence, Jung's sensation type is missing

          (3) The seeds of Siddhartha's discontent are pointed out in the passage:  "They knew a tremendous number of things—but was it worth while knowing all these things if they did not know the one important thing, the only important thing." [4 B]

          (4) So Siddhartha's goal is to experience the profound knowledge of Self; hence, he is seeking practical knowledge or something like Aristotle's phronesis.

            What good is knowing how to read if one does not read?

            What good is knowledge, if one does not use it? Siddhartha concludes that knowledge has little value unless it is proved in experience.

    C. What is Self? [4 A].

      1. How is being "at one with the universe" [2 A] be related to self?

      2. Look at some common phrases from our culture:

        (a) "To thine own self be true."

        (b) "The unexamined life is not worth living."

        (c) Contrast "tend your own soul" with "Look out for number one."

      3. This innermost Self ... is ... "towards Atman." [4 A].

      4. Siddhartha's goal is to find the source within one's own Self—to possess it [5B].

    D. What are the conditions under which Siddhartha leaves?

      1. Why did Siddhartha remain standing? Why did not he  just leave?  His father asked hem not to request another time—note that Siddhartha makes the same request of Govinda.

      2. What if Siddhartha's father had said "No" to his request?  Siddhartha's Father had noted that Siddhartha had already (from a psychological point of view) left.  This is one measure of the force of Siddhartha's personality.

      3. Why does Siddhartha speak of himself in the third person? Others often have insight into our lives that we cannot see for ourselves. By seeing ourselves from a more objective view, we can become more aware of why we do what we do. Siddhartha's "overself" is taking charge of his life. Note the relation to the "active awareness" or self-observation of the Stoics.

    E. What do you think were the conditions under which Govinda was able to leave home?

    ---------------------------
    * Entries in square brackets refer to page locations in Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, trans Hilda Rosner  (New York: New Directions, 1951). "A" is at the top of the page; "D" is at the bottom of the page.

 
 

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