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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Hinduism: The Ends of Life

Abstract: We can seek what we want; all paths can be legitimately pursued.

I.  The Purpose of Life:  the four legitimate ends of life.

    In this life you can seek what you want. In order to achieve meaning and significance, there are four basic ways.

    It is important to realize that all persons need go through all stages, and they will be left alone if they pursue and enjoy any one of the following paths.

    A. The Path of Desire--the twin goals are pleasure and success; nothing is gained by repressing these desires--in fact we might be worse if at some point we do not seek desire.

      1. Pleasure: if you want it, go after it; the beauty and delight is there.

        a. Of course, you have to balance short-term and long-term pleasures.

        b. You will soon find that lasting pleasures are preferable.

        c. There might be some sacrifices. E.g., the basic precepts of morality (cf. Siddhartha, "Samsara.")

        d. The hedonism in Hinduism is sometimes viewed as shocking in terms of Western ethics.

      Problem with the stage or goal of the path of pleasure: pleasure is enervating and too narrow and trivial to satisfy your total nature. The literature is full of advice from individuals who lament the transience of pleasure, glamour, and wasted youth.

      2. Worldly Success: the path entails the triple aspects of wealth, power, and fame (all equally worthy goals).

        a. The drives for these goods are almost second-nature to us.

        b. They make many other things possible: raising a family, civic duties, dignity, and self-respect.

      Problems with the state of worldly success:

        a. Wealth, fame, and power are precarious--they are not distributive properties. They tend to be exclusive; not everyone can have them. (How can everyone be famous?)

        b. Success can never be satisfied--for we compare ourselves to others.

          (1) We can never get enough when worldly success becomes our style of life. The rich never retire.

          (2) Poverty is measured by the increase of one's greed. The wise person has nothing he cannot carry in his hands. If you have something of worth, you must look out for it.

        c. There remains a lack with worldly success. Surely there is more to life than this--subjective qualities seem to be lost.

        d. We have molded the world to our will; dogmatism results. Life is short; "you can't take it with you."

        e. Even the child will move on; unless we move on we are locked into the daily round (samsara). Even so, worldly success is a necessary stage in our development.

    B. The Path of Renunciation,--has a negative ring to our ears (e.g., ascetic), but is not meant to do so. An athlete in training employs discipline toward a greater good. Hence, "renunciation" can be thought of as "hope" instead of "disillusionment" since the name "renunciation" is used in reference to what has gone before, i.e., the path of desire.

      Not everyone will pursue this path in this life (cf. reincarnation).  What makes the path of renunciation persuasive is that those who pursue it after the successes of the path of desire and people who want more from life.

      1. Duty: the third great aim in the Hindu outlook (dharma).

        a. There are specific duties appropriate to our age, disposition, social status, community, and peer group.

        b. Faithful performance brings praise and self-respect and joy for a time.

        c. We have the sense of worth of being a valuable, reliable, productive person. Our existence seems to be justified by our doing the right thing.

      Problems with the stage of duty:

        a. We become a cog in a machine; we have the feeling of being used, taken advantage of.

        b. We lose ourselves in the daily round. (Cf., Hesse's Siddhartha, 106D.) Consider factory children working 12 to 14 hour shifts six days a week. What is the feeling of having done a good job?

        c. Is this all there is?  I.e., what is the replacement value of a human being?  What other possibilities are there?

      2. Liberation: seeking freedom from life's limitations. What are the things we really want, we deeply want?

        a. The real desires of people are for liberation.

          (1) Being--we don't want to die; we want life.

          (2) Awareness--existence is not enough; curiosity and knowledge is more important.

          (3) Joy--the feeling of well-being

        b. More precisely, we want infinite being, infinite knowledge, and infinite joy. What is this concept in Western terms?

        c. The Hindu word for this state of being is moksa (pronounced something like "mok shah," sometimes spelled moksha)) or liberation. Moksa is the complete release from the countless limitations and restrictions which impinge upon our existence.

III. The heart of Hinduism: what you want most, you can have. Not only can you have them, in a sense, they are already yours. (Remember Siddhartha's advice to Govinda, "Perhaps you seek too much.")

    A. Is a person just a body? a personality? Hinduism says something more--an indestructible infinite center of being that never dies and is without limits.

    B. The infinite center of every life is the hidden self. The Atman who is no less than Brahman, the Godhead. You are all three: body, personality, Atman-Brahman. 

    C. But suppose you say you don't feel particularly infinite today--where is this? It is buried and it is the task of the following lectures to show how it can be uncovered.



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