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The Self in Indian Philosophy. Who am I? What am I?. Hinduism. Hinduism is the primary religion of India It regards the Upanishads (900- 200 BCE) as sacred. Henotheism. There are many gods, But all are forms of one being, Brahman. Rg Veda.

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The Self in Indian Philosophy

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The self in indian philosophy

The Self in Indian Philosophy

Who am I?

What am I?



  • Hinduism is the primary religion of India

  • It regards theUpanishads(900- 200 BCE) as sacred



  • There are many gods,

  • But all are forms of one being,Brahman

Rg veda

Rg Veda

  • “They have styled Him Indra (the Chief of the Gods), Mitra (the Friend), Varuna (the Venerable), Agni (Fire), also the celestial, great-winged Garutma; for although one, poets speak of Him diversely; they say Agni, Yama (Death), and Matarisvan (Lord of breath).”

  • All these gods exist, but as diverse appearances of one God, “the divine architect, the impeller of all, the multiform.”

Bhagavad gita

Bhagavad Gita

  • “Even those who are devotees of other gods,And worship them permeated with faith, It is only me, son of Kunti, that even theyWorship, (tho’) not in the enjoined fashion. For I of all acts of worshipAm both the recipient and the Lord. . . .”

  • “I see the gods in Thy body, O God. . . .”

Concepts of brahman

Concepts of Brahman

  • Nirguna brahman: God without attributes; neti . . . neti (not this)

  • Saguna brahman: God with attributes

Attributes of god

Attributes of God

  • Abstract:

    • Sat: being

    • Chit: awareness

    • Ananda: bliss

  • Concrete

    • Creator (Brahma)

    • Preserver (Vishnu)

    • Destroyer (Shiva)

Six orthodox schools d arshanas

Six Orthodox Schools(Darshanas)

  • Vedanta(end of Veda, or sacred knowledge)

  • Samkhya(nature)

  • Yoga(discipline)

  • Purva Mimamsa(exegesis, interpretation)

  • Vaisesika(realism)

  • Nyaya(logic)

Who am i what am i

Who am I? What am I?

  • Advaita Vedanta, Samkhya, and Yoga answer that I am a higher consciousness than I might realize

  • Desire, will, and effort are extraneous to me

Who am i what am i1

Who am I? What am I?

  • Not all Indian philosophers agree

  • Theistic Vedanta, Nyaya, and Mimamsa all defend what they consider our commonsense conception of ourselves:

    • having bodies,

    • having thoughts and desires, and generally

    • being part of nature



  • Brahman: the Absolute, ground of all being, reality as it is in itself, God

  • Atman: the soul



  • Nondualism: soul (atman) = Brahman

  • Monism: Everything is ultimately one

  • Everything is Brahman

  • Brahman is a child and an elephant, you and me

  • We are one with everything

  • Everything is holy



  • Idealism: The world as it appears is not real

  • Distinctions are illusory

  • The world is maya (play, illusion)



  • Dualism: soul (atman) ≠ Brahman

  • Not everything is identical with everything else

  • Realism: Some aspects of the world are independent of us

  • At least some distinctions are real

The higher self

The Higher Self

  • The Upanishads affirm that each of us is in some way a soul (atman): a spiritual self that has, or is capable of, awareness superior to our everyday consciousness

  • This, our higher self, is continuous with the best of our surface or waking consciousness

  • What is that? Our self-awareness—our awareness of being aware

  • Reflecting on our own consciousness and nature brings us closer to our higher self

Self awareness


  • Our self-awareness—the gateway to Brahman—is self-illumining, like light

  • It is transparent to itself—and self-authenticating

  • What we experience could turn out to be an illusion

  • All objects of experience could turn out to be something other than what they seem to be

  • But self-consciousness is not like that

  • We might misidentify an object lit by a lamp, but we cannot misidentify its light

Self awareness1


  • We do not really have bodies; we do not really own property; we do not really hold jobs

  • But we really are conscious beings

  • Our awareness that we are aware is not an illusion



  • “Analysis of nature”

  • Dualism: reality consists of two irreducible elements:

    • nature (prakrti) and

    • the conscious being (purusa)



  • Samkhya proposes careful understanding of nature

    • organizing principles

    • subtle presentations of nature as thoughts and emotions

  • We come to recognize that we are distinct from our body and our mind

  • Samkhya sees mental occurrences as external to the true person

  • Consciousness, the awareness of thoughts and emotions, is a separate substance—the real person



  • What am I, really?

  • Samkhya answers: consciousness

  • External events, thoughts, feelings, and so on all happen to me

  • I am, essentially, the inner person, the consciousness to whom they happen

  • I am thus transcendent: I am not merely a part of nature. I lie beyond it



  • Personality is a mask

  • We have various personas that the true person identifies with for a time

  • In doing that, the true person thereby alienates himself (or herself or itself: the true person has no gender) from its native state of self-absorption and bliss

  • We do not create these masks. Nature presents them to us

  • By understanding them, we can more easily discover ourselves as the transcendent beings we are

  • Because we are really transcendent, inner selves, we are not really shaped by nature; we are free

Strands gunas of nature

Strands (gunas) of nature

  • sattva(light, clarity, intelligence)

  • rajas(passion, dynamism)

  • tamas(darkness, inertia, stupidity)

Conscious being


  • the body and senses

  • the sensational or emotional mind (manas)

  • the ego-sense (ahamkdra)

  • the rational mind, or intelligence (buddhi)

Katha upanishad


Know thou the soul as riding in a chariot,

The body as the chariot.

Know thou the intellect as the chariot-driver,

And the mind as the reins.

The senses, they say, are the horses;

The objects of sense, what they range over.

The self combined with senses and mind

Wise men call "the enjoyer."

Plato hinduism

Plato & Hinduism

  • Plato's chariot has no passenger

  • Plato's horses are desire and emotion, not the senses

  • Plato’s picture is closer to the Hindu account of the strands (intelligence, passion, inertia) than to the distinction between soul, intellect, mind, and senses

Mind body and soul

Mind, Body, and Soul

• The soul is separable from body, mind, and intellect

Separability of the soul

Separability of the Soul

  • Consequences:

    • Enlightenment: You can detach yourself from each manifestation of nature

    • Reincarnation: The soul may occupy a different body and mind

The self is a hierarchy

The Self is a Hierarchy

  • Great Self

  • Intellect

  • Mind

  • Objects of sense

  • Senses

To master yourself

To Master Yourself

  • Higheritems mustcontrol loweritems firmly:

  • Objects of sense —> senses:be objective, see the world as it is. Pay attention!

  • Mind —> objects of sense:be active, focus!

  • Intellect —> mind:reason —> thoughts and emotions

  • Soul —> intellect:Brahman is ultimate reality; follow path of renunciation

The self in indian philosophy


  • Yoga (self-discipline) is thoroughly practical

  • By practicing yoga, we can discover a higher self

  • Postures and breath control remove physical distractions

  • Meditation removes mental distractions; we concentrate to achieve complete mental silence

  • We thereby find or achieve a transcendent consciousness

Nyaya vaisheshika


  • Argue for the endurance of the self (against Buddhists) and the conception of a self as distinct from the body (against Charvaka materialists)

    • We can see the same thing through different sense modalities

    • We can recognize something perceived previously

Udayana s refinement

Udayana’s Refinement

  • Properties exhibited by physical things are signs of things unconscious

  • Since the precise material composition of the body is all the time changing, it could not be that which remembers

  • An amputee remembers experiences mediated by the severed limb, and so the bodily part is not crucial to remembering

Udayana s refinement1

Udayana’s Refinement

  • The causal link between effort and action, on the one hand, and previous experience, on the other, which is established though invariable positive and negative correlation, requires postulation of previous experience whose subject is clearly not the body



“What are you?”

“I am awake.”

Buddha 563 483 bce

Buddha (563 - 483 BCE)

Four passing sights

Four Passing Sights

  • Old age

  • Disease

  • Death

  • Monk

Quest for fulfillment

Quest for fulfillment

  • Self-indulgence (path of desire)

  • Asceticism (path of renunciation)

Four noble truths

Four Noble Truths

  • 1. Life is suffering

  • 2. Desire, craving, or clinging is the cause of suffering

  • 3. Nirvana extinguishes craving and hence suffering

  • 4. The path to Nirvana is the Eightfold Noble Path

Other core doctrines

Other Core Doctrines

  • There is no soul or self (anatman—no soul)

  • What we call the self is really just a bundle (skandhas)

  • Everything is impermanent

No self

No Self

  • There is no self to fulfill

  • No-self (anatman, anatta): there is no self

  • Idea of self —> desire —> suffering

Absent self

Absent Self

  • Introspect: what do you see?

  • Thoughts, feelings, perceptions . . .

  • You don’t find anything else

  • You don’t find yourself

  • There is no self or soul

  • A person is just a bundle of thoughts . . .

Absent self1

Absent Self

  • Self-knowledge?

  • Knowledge of others?

  • No self: no essence within me to know

  • The best I can do is understand patterns in bundle of thoughts

Buddhaghosa 400

Buddhaghosa (-400)

  • There are 89 kinds of consciousness

  • Nothing unifies them

  • There are only streams of consciousness

  • Nothing unites past, present, and future



  • A living being lasts only as long as one thought

  • People, minds, objects are only ways of speaking

People and passengers

People and Passengers

  • Jane flies from Austin to Houston and back <———————————>

  • She is one person

  • She is two passengers

  • ‘Passenger’ is just a way of counting

  • Buddhaghosa: every noun is like ‘passenger’

Questions to king milinda

Questions to King Milinda

  • “There is no ego here to be found.”

  • “There is no chariot here to be found.”

  • No one element is the whole

  • The combination isn’t the whole; parts could change while object remains the same



  • There is no soul to occupy a different mind or body

  • But there is a cycle of birth and death



  • There are connections between lives through cause and effect, similarity, etc.

  • We construct people (like “passengers”)— we can do so across bounds of death

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