Glossary of Phil 307
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- What are the main periods in the development of Indian philosophy? Briefly characterize the literature of each of these periods, and describe the main differences between periods.
- We can distinguish five main periods: the Vedic Period (1500-700 BC), the Epic Period (800 BC-200 AD), the Sutra Period (400 BC-500 AD), the Period of the Great Commentaries (400 BC-1700 AD), and the Modern Period (1800 AD - ). The main Vedic texts are the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. They contain hymns to various gods, questions, reflections, chants and formulas for success.
The Rig Veda is oldest and of greatest importance for later Indian thought. The Upanishads, part of the Vedas, are the most philosophical of the texts. They contain reflections on the basic questions underlying religious thought and practice. The Epics are less esoteric than the Vedas, which were part of a sacred and carefully tradition unavailable to many common people.
The most important collections of epic material are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. They communicate some ideas from the sacred tradition in a more easily accessible way in the form of stories, poems and advice about how to live. The Mahabharata tells of the conquest of India. Its most famous part, the Bhagavad Gita ("Song of the Lord", a kind of New Testament for many Hindus) explains the nature of humans and the universe and tells how to achieve spiritual freedom. The Ramayana, a poem about an ideal man and woman (Rama and Sita), gives guidence about how to order individual and social life. Other influential texts such as the Code of Manu (Manu Shastra) and the Artha Shastra explain principles of justice, kingship and how to acquire wealth.
The Sutras (literally, threads) are summaries of analyses, arguments and answers to philosophical questions about the world. They are divided into schools such as Buddhism, Jainism, Carvaka, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Because the sutras were often very compressed and in need of explanation and debate, many commentaries were written on them during the Period of the Great Commentaries. Because originality was not thought possible or proper, much original thought is presented in the form of commentary on ancient sutras.
Finally, during the Modern Period, Indian philosophers began to examine their tradition in the light of Western influence.
- 2) What is the basis for the distinction between the "orthodox" and "unorthodox" systems? In what sense is the distinction between Carvaka and all the other systems fundamental?
- Orthodox (astika) systems acknowledge the authority of the Vedas and Upanishads, while unorthodox (nastika) systems do not. Since Vedic literature has many parts, polytheistic, mono- or henotheistic and monist, which are not consistent with each other, this still leaves lots of scope for disagreement. The orthodox schools include Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta systems. The unorthodox schools include Buddhism, Jainism and Carvaka.
Carvaka is distinguished from other traditions by the fact that it is completely materialistic.
- ) How did confrontation with physical, mental, and spiritual suffering lead to philosophical thought in India?
- Philosophy was required to have a practical effect on suffering. One test of a philosophical system was thought to be its power to reduce the suffering of its adherents. Suffering may be reduced in one or both of two ways: by adjusting the world to suit one?s desires and aversions, or by adjusting one?s desires and aversions to the world. Indian philosophy chose the latter course, by and large.
Self knowledge and self-discipline are important in this quest. Hence a great deal of thought went into describing the nature of the soul and how its desires and aversions could be trained to transcend (be liberated from) physical limitations. Non-attachment was practiced and the unreality of physical appearances was emphasized.
- What evidence is there that the people of the Indus civilization had reached a relatively high level of culture and thought even before the advent of the Aryans?
- There is evidence of cities like Mohenjo Daro (pop. 40,000) which was well planned, paved and organized with sophisticated engineering and impressive standardization. Fine jewelry, beautiful toys and games, accurate weights and measures, and use of an efficient binary and decimal computation system show advanced knowledge and craftsmanship. Trade was probably extensive, as Indus seals have been discovered as far away as Mesopotamia.
- 2) What is the significance of the Vedic Hymn of Origins?
- This Hymn speculates about the beginning of the universe and suggests that its origin lies beyond both being and non-being. If there is some entire reality that is more fundamental than existence and non-existence, it seems beyond our ability to know, refer to or describe directly, as the author seems to suggest.
- 3) What are the sages of the Upanishads seeking?
- The Upanishads deal with the nature of appearance and ultimate reality. The authors try to explain the fundamental principles of existence, including the innermost self (the Atman), the ultimate reality (Brahman), karma and meditative knowledge. They make an effort to provide reasons for their answers.
- 4) How does the Taittiriya teaching of sheaths or layers of existence lead to the discovery of Atman?
- The Taittiriya Upanishad draws a distinction between the apparent self or selves and the true or ultimate Self. To discover the true Self one must understand that it is not identical with any material body, with the sensing self, or the self of intellectual activity. Instead it is a kind of blissful, fully conscious being which gives life to the other sheaths or layers of self.
- 5) What is the meaning of Uddalaka's teaching, "You are That (Tat tvam asi)"?
- In the Chandogya Upanishad the father of Shvetaketu, Uddalaka, teaches his son that Brahman, the ultimate reality is nothing other than the true or ultimate self (Atman). Shvetaketu learns that the subtle essence of the whole world (Brahman) is identical with his own Self, so that Self knowledge is knowledge of the real universe.
- 1. How does Jainism conceive of karmic matter? Discuss its mass aspect, its force aspect, and its atomic constituency.
- Unlike some other schools of Indian philosophy Jainism conceives of karma in material terms. Karmic matter is supposed to bridge the theoretical gap between physics, psychology and morals. It is a subtle and imperceptible except as an aggregate of particles which are thought to float about and accumulate, sticking to souls that perform bad acts. It has the effect of preventing souls from attaining release, and is said to be like a seed in that it bears future fruit for better or worse determining the soul's future existence. The atoms of karma are held to be indivisible.
- 2. What is the soul? What are its principal characteristics?
- The soul in itself is a pure and omniscient entity whose essence is to be alive and whose essential qualities are pure bliss and unlimited energy. The bliss, energy and knowledge are obstructed by the accumulation of karmic particles which are said to cling to the soul like dust to a moist jewel. The true soul is said to be in karma as gold in ore, or as the sun concealed by fog and clouds.
There is also an empirical soul in the form of a subtle body constituted by a kind of karmic matter. This matter constituting the five senses, mind, speech and will is supposed to be particularly fine in comparison to the matter composing the physical world. Encumbrance by karma makes the naturally omniscient pure soul dependent on perception, reason and authority for its knowledge.
- 3. What is bondage? How does bondage occur? How is it constituted?
- Bondage is obstruction of the soul by karma. It is caused by delusion, false views and the passions. Pride, deceit, anger, greed, carelessness, uncontrolled passion generally and evil acts of injury are among the things which accumulate harmful karma. The length of the bondage depends on the intensity of passion and the nature of the acts involved. After a certain period the karma has exhausted its effects and drops away, once again becoming free and undifferentiated.
- 4. In what does liberation consist and how is it achieved? Discuss how faith, knowledge and conduct work together to enable a person to attain the various levels of purification.
- Liberation is the central focus of life for a devout Jain and is achieved by a process of purifying the soul from karma. This is accomplished by practising the four great restraints, of body, senses, speech and mind and keeping the five great vows of non-hurting (ahimsa), nonstealing, chastity, truthfulness and nongrasping. Traditionally, there are fourteen stages in the purification process, beginning with wavering faith which triggers slight insight. Faith yields insight and right views which in turn contribute to right conduct and self-mastery. Right conduct permits awakening and greater faith, and so on in a virtuous circle. Deep faith, knowledge and pure conduct are described as three jewels which hinder the influx of destructive karma.
- 5. What is the Jain theory of knowledge? Explain the conditional nature of knowledge (syadvada).
- According to Jainism the innumerable material and spiritual substances in the world endure but are constantly changing and possessed of infinitely many qualities and modifications. The doctrine of anekanta (many-sidedness) is distinct from views which hold that unchanging, permanent Brahman alone is real, and also from the Buddhist view that nothing is permanent and changing processes are the only reality.
Since we can never grasp all the qualities and modifications of a thing our knowledge is destined always to be only partial.
Jainas use the metaphor of perspectives to assert that knowledge claims must be relativized in certain ways. Sometimes it is also said that knowledge claims must be tentative, provisional or conditional. The famous story of five blind men examining an elephant is supposed to illustrate this.
There is a seven-fold conditional assertion scheme, applied to the example of a glass of water. All of the following can be true at once:
1. It may be warm (to a cold sense organ).
2. It may not be warm (to a hot sense organ).
3. It may be both warm and not warm, depending on conditions.
4. Independent of all conditions, the water is indescribable.
5. Indescribable in itself, the water may be said to be warm, under certain conditions.
6. Indescribable in itself, the water may be said to be not warm, under certain conditions.
7. Indescribable in itself, the water may be said to be warm and not warm under certain conditions.
- 1. What is Arjuna's dilemma in the Bhagavad Gita?
- Arjuna must decide whether to take part in a civil war in order to help regain a wrongly lost kingdom. He is about to go into battle but consults the god Krishna in the form of his chariot driver because he is reluctant to make war against his relatives and former friends.
A deeper significance to the conversation is that Arjuna has confused his changing, lower, empirical self, constituted by gunas, with his unchanging true Self, which is identical with the ultimate reality. Krishna persuades him to fight on the ground that no one will be really be slain in the impending battle.
- 2. What is the relation between the ultimate Self (Atman) and the guna self? Why is this distinction important?
- The gunas are three strands or forces or perhaps qualities which in varying proportions constitute all matter. Sattva is goodness or purity, inclining one toward intellectual activity. Rajas is passion or activity, inclining one to vigorous acts; while tamas is darkness, dullness or inactivity, inclining one to devotion. They correspond to three disciplines or yogas taught in the Gita: the yogas of knowledge, work and devotion, respectively.
The gunas constitute the material self, a changing entity which obscures the real Self (Atman), so that ignorant people, or their ignorant material selves, falsely think that reality is made up of changeable beings.
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