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Philosophy 312: Oriental Philosophy
Chapter 2: With the Samanas

I. Siddhartha recognizes the world as illusion or Maya.

  1. Taking a global perspective, we can ask what is the significance of any one thing if nothing exists which is necessary in itself?

    1. No person or thing  is indispensable; the world would still go on if you did not exist or it this or that thing did not exist.

    2. Nothing can be known to be true about the nature of the world in a transcendental or absolute sense. Things change; nothing stays the same. As Heraclitus writes, "You cannot step twice into the same rivers; for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you."

  2. From one point of view, our individual existence doesn't really seem to matter in the vast scale of things. E.g., if we travel at the speed of light it would take ...

      11 hours to reach Pluto
      4 years to reach the nearest star
      100,000 years to cross our galaxy (The Milky Way)
      2 million years to get to the nearest galaxy (Andromeda)

  3. Everything changes: glass is said to flow; the smell of things is an indication of their molecular make-up evaporating into the atmosphere. Furthermore, who could possibly know you as you are now, one hundred years from now?

  4. Connected with the notion of Maya is the notion that truth or reality is somehow behind appearances.

    1. We know that our senses are often deceived—that seeing really isn't believing—but most of us fall into the habit of thinking that what we perceive to be true is actually true.

      1. E.g., physical objects actually have no colors; the effect of electromagnetic radiation on the visual pathway is part of the explanation for the cause of our perceiving the world in this way.

      2. Consider also the magic trick of the appearance of the "flexible magic pencil." A pencil shaken slowly when held between thumb and forefinger appears to wobble and be flexible, but of course the pencil itself remains rigid.

    2. What we sense by seeing, touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting are only part of the total spectrum of what is possible. Consider the incredible abilities of other animals such as bats. What is the world like to a bat?

II. Siddhartha's goal was to conquer the Self—to get rid of desires and emotion which cloud the insight into what we are. Note the distinction assumed in this chapter  between the Big Self  (Atman, soul, or the collective unconscious) and the little self (the empirical ego).

  1. The Island Metaphor illustrates one way of looking at the psychology involved:


  1. Siddhartha is trying to work his way back to the Ground of Being by self-denial and meditation. Consider this process according to Hegel's model as revealed by the moments in his dialectical thought. In accordance with this metaphor, Siddhartha is seeking the innermost aspect of Being which is no longer Self.
Being   Nothing                
  h_____ _____|
    Self   not Self            
      h_____ _____|


          h_____ _____|
            self-consciousness   objectivity    
              h_____ _____|
                reason   non-reason
                  h_____ _____|
  1. Siddhartha meditates by attempting to reproduce the life-cycles of all things [12 A]:  Siddhartha is attempting to capture the general archetypes of life itself in the same way as we can sometimes understand someone's personality when we are suddenly put in exactly the position that they are in.

    1. How is it that we can become more broadminded? How do we recognize what are the common characteristics of all persons?

      1. We see how other persons act. We could study other people as a psychologist or a novelist would.  However, this process doesn't capture the "soul" or "spirit" of other people..

      2. We understand ourselves by understanding other people by recognition or intuition, nor formal study.

      3. John Gardner once said that if you want to know what other people are thinking, try using their gestures. The behaviorists often say "what we think" follows "how we act."  (E.g., if you want to be happy, smile more. If you want not to be depressed take a walk, wash the dishes—do something; do anything.)

    2. Siddhartha is meditating through the apprehension of the soul of all living things.

      1. He seeks to sense the "built-in nature" (the Tao) to all things.

      2. His animal-mediations are "to feel the self in a thousand different forms."

    3. Siddhartha's discovery is that there are many ways to lose yourself, but they are all tricks. (Notice how we can lose ourselves just as well by playing sports, watching movies, reading books, or drinking and drugs.)

      1. One can learn nothing [15 C]. The person of learning is the worst enemy.

      2. The magic arts are also tricks: note how someone highly skilled at anything seems to have magical powers.

        1. E.g., consider the mythic powers of walking on water or the manner in which Richard Bach's book Illusions describes  magic as a knack, a technique, a way, or a miracle.

        2. Consider as well the skill of a master craftsman, the skill of the spinning of a basketball,, or the art of killing a fly with your bare hands.

        3. When something is done without effort, the magic is there—"like a stone through water."

    4. Philip Kapleau writes in Zen Dawn in the West about an American professor who met an Indian with remarkable psychic powers. The Indian said he these powers or siddhis distracted him from his quest for enlightenment.

    5. Christmas Humphreys writes in Concentration and Meditation, "Yet in success along this path [The Middle Way] is found the normal development of the siddhis, those super-normal powers which foolish persons seek to develop in order to satisfy their personal desires."

Check your understanding of the concept of "Self" with a quiz on Soul and the Empirical Self.



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