The New Seminary Hinduism Assignment

The "four desires" of Hinduism is normally interpreted as the puru??rtha [1] (purusha; god, human., artha, object and objective), the objectives of human. These are normally considered within four types; Dharma, Artha, K?ma, and Mok?ha. Dharma suggests devotion to the natural and moral laws (rta) which has conceptual similarity to the Chinese notion of dao, or the European logos. In comparison Artha suggests properity, in the sense of both material well-being as well as reputation and social standing. K?ma is basely described as the satisfaction of sensual desires but can also be elaborated to include aesthetic joyfulness. Finally, Mok?ha represents the desire for release or freedom from sa?s?ra, the cycle of life and reincarnation [2]. Interpreted psychoanlytically, one can say that k?ma represents satisfaction of the id, artha satisfaction of the ego, dharma satisfaction towards the superego with mok?ha being beyond the scale.

It has been suggested that initially there was only three desires and certainly this is suggested in the Ramayana and Mahabharata [3], which refer to the goals of human life commonly refer to k?ma, artha and dharma as the "trivarga". However, as mok?ha is associated with the final stage of life and engages in contemplation and renunciation, this need not be represent either a contradiction or a historical addition. Likewise there is the distinction between the socal (trivarga) activity and personal (mok?ha) [4].

One concern that arises from the puru??rtha is that the desires are arbitrary, incomplete and potentially in internal conflict. For example, knowledge in its own right does not exist as a independent category, potentially reducing the capacity of interconnectedness between the puru??rtha. The union of natural facts with moral principles in dharma certainly suggests a high potential for naturalistic or moralistic fallacies, that confuse "is" and "ought" [5]. This is problematic at best, and would certainly limit the capacity for a highly traditional Hinduism to develop modern liberal approaches.

There have been popular and contemporary attempts to overcome these issues through elaboration of the four desires of life with the stages of life (ashramas) or the four castes or, in contemporary political mores, professions [6]. In this model the stages of life (Brahmacharya (student), Grihastha (householder), Vanaprastha (retiree "forest dweller") and Sannyasa (final years, renunciation) and the four primary professions Brahmana (priest/teacher), Kshatriya (warrior/politician), Vaishya (landowner/entrepreneur) and Shudra (servant/manual labourer), would have tendencies towards particular puru??rtha, for example the Sannyasa period would be correlated with concerns of mok?ha, the Brahmana with dharma etc.

A personal assessment of the puru??rtha indicates no particular surprises. Like other "meaning of life" philosophies it represents a contribution to the historical development of the human spirit, but also representing potential limits if applied with undue contextually-bound dogmaticism. Whilst cautious optimism can be expressed with the possibility of a critical approach and especially the recognition of profession and life-stage associations unbalanced dedications to a particular puru??rtha unnecessarily truncates one's life experience. Whilst my own personal approach may be firmly embedded in the dharmic, aversion from artha or k?ma limits the potentials of life's rich experiences and a disengagement from mok?ha can bring both fear (of death) and discomfort from an unfulfilled and unexamined life.

[1] See for example the work of K.J. Somaiya Bharatiya Sanskriti Peetham (University of Bombay, Department of Philosophy), Puru??rtha, Datta Lakshmi Trust, 1995
[2] One can reference the last words of Socrates, requesting an offering to Asclepius, the god of healing in a similar expression (Plato, Phaedo 118a)
[3] Alf Hiltebeitel, Rethinking the Mah?bh?rata, University of Chicago Press, 2001
[4] Rajendra Prasad, A conceptual-analytic study of classical Indian philosophy of morals, Centre for Studies in Civilizations, Concept, 2008
[5] See in particular G.E. Moore, Principia Ethica, FP 1903 and David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (Book III), FP 1739
[6] Patrick Olivelle, "The ??rama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution", Oxford University Press, 1993

2. Describe the difference between Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, and Raja yoga. Which path do you feel is closest to your own spiritual approach?

Jñ?na represents knowledge, a cognitive event, a moment of awareness, the experience of a spark of enlightenment, not just of a single subject but on the interconnectedness of all in a totality [1]. As a path to mok?ha, jñ?na yoga teaches the means of discrimination (viveka), the capacity to review issues with a detached and dispassionate attitude (vairagya), specific virtues (shad-sampat), such as mental self-control, sensual control, renunciation of other activities, faith, and concentration and an finally anarchistic emotion (mumukshutva) [2], which arises from the conflict between reason and social law.

Bhakti is a term for active religious devotion, expressed as a central theme in the Bhagavad Gita an elaborated in Bhagavata Purana [3]. As a Sanskrit noun, the term "devotion" doesn't convey it suggests participation and emotional intensity that is described as being similar to the English language concept of "love", through the devotees experience of reality as anada, or divine bliss [4] as a personal experience. The Bhagavata Purana expands on bhakti yoga, offering nine specific activities for the bhakti yogi, expanded as sutras in the Narada Bhakti Sutra [5], which emphasises bhakti as the highest goal of human life, requiring that on gives up wordly pleasures, the close company of others who indulge such activities, and engaging in continuous worship.

Karma is understood as that which causes the cycle of cause and effects, both beneficial and harmful transcend the single lifetime through the cycle of reincarnation. Karma is accrued through words, thoughts, actions. As a yoga, Karma seeks to achieve disciplined perfection in actions. Expounded in the Bhagavad Gita [6], it argues for action, thought and will which acts within one's duty (dharma) without consideration of any level of self-centeredness as a pathway to the divine. This surrendering of action is expressed through the Sattvika tyaga ritual.

R?ja refers to royal in Sanskrit, and by extension R?ja yoga is concerned with the mind, as the highest form of meditative control. However it is commonly expressed that before the mind yoga can be perfected, a bodily yoga, Hatha, should be completed. As described by Yogi Swatmarama this includes yogas for purification (shatkarma), posture (asana), instinct (kundalini), muscles (bandhas) etc [7]. Following this period of physical control, the opportunity exists ofr the cultivate of mind through meditation (dhyana) as a path to access the Supreme [8]. Raja Yoga is referred to as A???nga (eight-limbed) yoga because there are eight aspects to the path to which one must attend; self-restraint (yama), religious observance (niyama), physical integration (?sana), regulation of breath (pranayama), withdrawl and abstraction of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and heightened awareness (sam?dhi); this final limb allows for self-realisation.

As a discipline, the yogic traditions that have the greatest affinity to my own spiritual approach are those distinguished in the Bhagavad Gita, that is, the yoga of knowledge (Jñ?na) and the yoga of action (Karma). The first allows for the opportunity to investigate with truthfulness, a dedication to both the science of explanation and hermeneutics of understanding. The second part, the karmic yoga, emphasises action built on an ethical foundation of service. Interestingly, when one is dedicated to this yoga, a paradoxical achievement is reached where one engages in "the good" not for the karmic cycle, thus suggesting that the more distasteful elements (e.g., blaming the poor for bad deeds in their past life) can be dispensed with. Finally, it must be acknowledged in order to emphasise this yogic approach of jñ?na and karma, the other yogis should not be entirely ignored. The self of wonder that can be achieved through bhakti and the health and peace of mind from r?ja can complement the other yogas.

[1] Ramakrishna Puligandla, Jñâna-Yoga - The Way of Knowledge (An Analytical Interpretation), University Press of America, 1985.
[2] ?ankarâchârya, (trans. Charles Johnston), "The Crest Jewel of Wisdom", Theosophical University Press, 1946
[3] Norman Cutler, Songs of Experience, Indiana University Press, 1987. See especially chapters 1 to 3.
[4] Lindsay Jones, ed, Gale Encyclopedia of Religion. Volume 2. Thompson Gale. 2005, pp. 856-857. This experience is closest to the Tabor Light of Eastern Orthodox Christian faiths, or "the final end" described by Aquinas, in which one attains to a perfect happiness; immediate in paradise, and mediated on earth.
[5] Swami Prabhavananda. Narada's Way of Divine Love (Narada Bhakti Sutras).
[6] Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3, Text 19
[7] Swami Svatamarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, c15th CE
[8] Amiya P. Sen, "Raja Yoga: The Science of Self-Realization" in The Indispensable Vivekananda, Orient Blackswan, 2006

3. Describe: Samsara., Karma., Maya., Lila., Purusha., Atman., Brahman

Sa?s?ra is a widely used word among various Indian religions, directly meaning "continuous flow", and representing the flow of life, the stream of consciousness, the arrow of time applied to emotions and experiences, that occurs in an organism's life and beyond through reincarnation. It is also used to apply a philosophical approach to attachments in recognition of their temporal nature. This continuous flow also has an association with continuous disappointment and suffering (sengsara in Malay). More spefically to Hinduism, these attachments, k?ma (desire), lead to the continious cycle of karma and reincarnation, and should be avoided through escaping avidya (ignorance), breaking the ego-illusion (maya), by the practise of a holy life (brahmacarya), eventually leading to liberation (moksha).

As previously mentioned, Karma is understood as that which causes the cycle of cause and effects, both beneficial and harmful transcend the single lifetime through the cycle of reincarnation. Karma is accrued through words, thoughts, actions performed by one's self, and actions that others perform whilst under one's instruction and is experienced as either accumulated karma (sanchita), particular problems (prarabdha), and that we have produced in our current life (kriyamana). There is some dispute in Hinduism of the role played by divine forces in influencing Karma, with the Vedanta school claiming influence and the Samkhya and Mimamsa rejecting it.

Maya is usually described as "illusion", describing an advanced form of phenomenological analysis (very similar to Kant's transcendental idealism) where our apperception of the universe is subjectively projected. Whilst often perceived as a barrier to discovering the Supreme, to some mystics the manifest illusion is "real". More usually however, Maya represents a requirmenet to be seen through, by breaking down the perceived subjective and ideal objective duality which involves breaking down the influence of desire (kama) and ego-consciousness (ahamkar). Once the illusion is by-passed the opportunity to experience enlightenment is possible.

Lila (or Leela) literally means "play", referring to the universe as a playground for the various aspects of the divine, either as a creative process through play (non-dualist Hinduism) or simply as the activities of the divine and devotees (dualist schools). Further there is some dispute on how to approach Lila, some suggesting an elated and intentional recognition of the universe as an arena for joyful activity, whereas engage in world-rejection as a path for striving towards the Supreme. In traditional Hindu mythology, Lila is expressed as Krishna (in the prankster aspect) and Shiva (as the dancer)

Purusha is a concept in some Hindu traditions of "Comsic Man", a panentheist "Self" which exists within and as the whole universe, whereby specific parts of the universe represent aspected or dismembered bodily or spiritual components. Purusha, represented as giant that sacrificed gives rise to the castes the Brahmins were made from Purusha's mouth, the Ksatriya from his arms, the Vaisyas from his thighs, and the Shudras from his feet, Purusha's mind became the moon, the breath is the wind etc.

?tman refers to an authentic self, not just as a materialist existentialism would interpret such a condition (i.e., free from bad faith), but rather one which has achieved enlightened self-realisation which requires being able to transcend illusion (maya) and has acquired knowledge (atma jnana). Some branches of Hindu philosophy (e.g., non-dualistic Advaita) considers that all living things contain atman within it that is identical with the Godhead of Brahman, whereas others (dualistic Dvaita) consider that each individual atman is at least partially independent. In Advaita Vedanta atman represents a the principle of life.

Brahman is a monistic reference to the universal spirit, the Godhead of the universe, Infinity, the Absolute Reality that remains beyond the changing appearances, the essence from which all things have arisen and will return. There is some dispute within Hinduism where Brahman is a person with qualities, or an impersonal force without qualities. There is also some dispute over whether Brahman evolves or whether it is timeless. Because Brahman is the source of consciousness and of the universe, knowledge cannot be achieved by empiricism or rationality, but only through transcendent enlightenment, whereby the self realises that it is also Brahman.

Definitions derived from:
René Guénon, Henry D. Fohr, S. D. Fohr., Studies in Hinduism, Sophia Perennis, 2001 FP 1966
Gavin Flood, The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Blackwell, 2003

4. Describe these major texts in the evolution of Hindu thought. What purpose did they serve and what conception of divinity do they reflect: The Vedas., The Upanishads., The Bhagavad Gita., Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

The Vedas (Sanskrit "knowledge") are the oldest texts of Sanskrit literature and the oldest Hindu scriptures [1], although the authority is not universally accepted (e.g. Dravidians Hindus), and in some cases the term Vedas may in some cases include any text relating to the Vedas [2]. The four canonical texts are the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda, consist of the "triple sacred science" (tray? vidy?) of reciting hymns, performing sacrifices, and chanting; the fourth Veda includes incantations [3] of mantras of hymns, rituals and, in some cases, incantations. As with many similar foundational texts, Hindus claim that the Vedas are "not of human agency" (apauru?eya), the result of direct revelation (?ruti) [4]. As founding texts, the Vedas provide the basic customs and obligations which govern the Hindu religious tradition with regard to laws, domestic behaviour, religious devotion, lifepath etc. The historical story is particularly expressed in the Rig Veda, which combines an expression of the divine which incorporates Hindu monotheism but also naturalistic polytheism, especially in the hymns.

The Upanishads, consisting of more than two hundred texts, are philosophical and theological studies, dating back to pre-Buddhist India [5]. Unlike the Vedas, the Upanishads are not considered divinely inspired and have been attributed to several human authors, and are seen as foundational to schools of Hindu philosophy (vedanta), such as Advaita, Dvaita, and Vishishtadvaita. A core philosophical theme that is typical in this wide variety of texts is the discussion between the relationship between the Infinite (Braham) and the Self (Atman) [6]. It has been argued there is a general orientation to argue a metaphysical position that the Self is the ultimate existence and subordinated the world and God to the Self, more real than either the world or God [7]. The purpose of the Upanishads within a general religious orientation is therefore quite strictly orientated towards difficult philosophical and theological issues, with an expression of divinity that emphasises the scholarly and investigative discovery of the core principles of the universe.

The Bhagavad G?t? (Sanskrit "Song of God") is part of the ancient Hindu epic story, the Mahabharata, and is often considered as an Upanishad in its own right. As a revealed scripture in the views of Hindus, the context is the conversation between Lord Krishna and the Prince Arjuna before the start of the Kurukshetra War. Arjuna is concerned with fighting members of his own family who command a tyranny whilst Lord Krishna answers in terms of caste duties, yogic and philosophical approaches eventually leading to a literal divine revelation from Krishna, a moment of Enlightenment for Arjuna. The purpose of the story is usually interpreted as allegorical; for example Mahatma Gandhi described it as "an allegory in which the battlefield is the soul and Arjuna, man's higher impulses struggling against evil" [8], whereas Aurobindo's Krishna is "symbol of the divine dealings with humanity" and Arjuna the "struggling human soul" [9]. The purpose of the Bhagavad G?t? is to provide a narrative example which incorporates practical ethical guidance in everyday life; a condensed and accessible text of for the general populace.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the foundational text of Yoga, and part of the wider collection of Sutras. Again, the text is considered to have a human author, although there is dispute on whether it was compiled from previous fragments [10]. Grounded in the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy, the sutras consist of four chapters, Samadhi Pada, the achievement of meditative bliss, Sadhana Pada, the importance of discipline and practice, Vibhuti Pada, the acquiring of manifest powers, and finally Kaivalya Pada, reaching enlightened detachment as liberation. Of particular import is the second Pada which describes the eight "limbs" (ashtanga) of yogic practise; yama (absention), niyama (devotional observance), asana (bodily discipline), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sensual withdrawl), dharana (concentration on a physical object), dhyana (steadfastedness in meditation) and finally samadhi (oneness with the object of meditation) [11]. With a purposeful concentration on the practise of yoga, the Sutras apply the Hindu metaphysic of seeing the divine through control of the Self.

[1] Witzel, Michael, "Vedas and Upani?ads", in: Flood 2003, p. 68; Flood, Gavin, ed. (2003), The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism, Malden, MA: Blackwell,
[2] For example, this is the case with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
[3] Witzel, M., "The Development of the Vedic Canon and its Schools : The Social and Political Milieu" in Witzel 1997, pp. 257–348
[4] Apte, Vaman Shivram (1965), The Practical Sanskrit Dictionary (4th revised & enlarged ed.), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, pp. 109f.
[5] Olivelle, Patrick (1998), Upani?ads, Oxford University Press, p. xxxvi.[6] Mahadevan, T. M. P (1956), Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, ed., History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Mahadevan 1956, p. 59.
[7] Ranade, R. D. (1926), A Constructive Survey of Upanishadic philosophy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Ranade 1926, p. 248.
[8] Louis Fischer, "Gandhi: His Life and Message to the World", Mentor, 1954, pp. 15-16
[9] Sri Aurobindo, "The Human Disciple", Essays on the Gita, Lotus Press, 1995, pp. 17-18,
[10] Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996, p96.
[11] I.K. Taimni, The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali in Sanskrit, Theosophical Publishing House, 1961

5. Summarize Ramakrishna’s statement “Many paths to the same summit”? How does it resonate with your conception of interfaith?

Ramakrishna's essay from which the phrase "Many Paths to the Same Summit" come from claims that God has made different spiritual paths for different times and places, all of which will come to the same conclusion, if followed with devotion. In one sense the essay argues that one should adopt an interfaith perspective; "The devotee who has seen God in one aspect only, knows Him in that aspect alone. But he who has seen him in manifold aspects is alone in a position to say, 'All these forms are of one God and God is multiform', yet it also claims "Every man should follow his own religion. A Christian should follow Christianity, a Muslim should follow Mohammedanism, and so on", but then goes on to claim that those who say their religion is the only religion are in ignorance. Freedom of religious belief gains a particular recognition in this sense: "As you rest firmly on your own faith and opinion, allow others also the equal liberty to stand by their own faiths and opinions".

The apparent contradiction between recognising the multiform and the devotion to one's specific religion is not easily resolved. The trivial answer to say that one should adhere to one faith and be aware ("see") others does not resolve conflicts between the different approaches on metaphysical grounds, let alone the practical grounds of religiously-inspired ethics, let alone atheistic approaches. Further, it is difficult to see, for example, how with an increasing internationalisation, singular devotional adherence is appropriate and whether such an approach limits one from adopting a new syncretic evolutions. Of course it is clear that Ramakrishna's approach would consider new faiths to be equally legitimate paths in accepting that experience is a single reality. To continue the analogy, whilst there is only one summit, and there is many paths, there is also a recommendation not to change the path you are on, regardless of whether other paths offer a easier climb, or with a more beautiful view. Nor is there a suggestion to cut a new path, which is particularly problematic if none of the paths actually lead to the summit!

In a definitional sense, Ramakrishna's position consists of unifaith devotion, multifaith awareness, with an interfaith conclusion. This is certainly an appropriate approach for those who wish to retain a unifaith devotion which is accepting and aware of other faith systems also striving to reach a common end. However being aware and sympathetic to a historical traditions should not necessarily mean being bound it. The question is raised on whether in a increasingly globalised world whether the unifaith devotion of Ramakrishna is still appropriate and whether an interfaith devotion, interfaith awareness and and interfaith conclusion is more enticing.

A text copy of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's essay is available online at:

6. What is the most important aspect of Hinduism that resonates with you?

As a religious approach there is certainly some affinity with yogic traditions as a disciplined approach to knowledge, ethical action, group devotion and meditation. These have value in themselves without necessitating the adoption of Hindu metaphysics, although that as well includes an appealing, if not unique, recognition of the temporality of material experiences. From the texts there is certainly effort in discussing cosmological issues although, as religious texts, these tend towards the transcendent supernatural and therefore often the conclusions (e.g., various levels of liberations, oneness with the Supreme etc) are not available to independent verification.

Perhaps however the most personally influential component of Hinduism is the expressions of the human narrative and ethical challenges embodied in mythological stories, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata epics. Obviously Hinduism is hardly unique in this regard, however the richness of the tales and the characteristics ascribed to supernatural entities has beautiful aesthetic richness; only the most hardened, who have lost any sense of child-like wonder in their heart, could think badly of an good natured elephant-headed humanoid who is carried about by a rat, or floats about on a lotus leaf.

This sense of aesthetics is also experienced in the richness of the various expressions of Hindu architecture (whether Nagara, Dravida, or other) found in the Indian sub-continent and the peninsula and archipelago Malay regions. When this is combined with storytelling the experience is extremely positive. To witness open-air grand performance of the Ramayana at sunset with the Prambanan temple complex of central Java in the background (for example) is a breathtaking example of devotion to a meaningful cultural tradition deserving of respect, recognition and understanding.