|Home > Short description of the project|
About Self: Hindu Responses to Buddhist Critiques
From the early sacred texts, the Upanisads, the principle of a continuous conscious entity as the essence of the human being took root in Hindu thought. The Buddha challenged this idea, by saying that personhood only required a sequence of inter-connected states of awareness to preserve the identity required to explain all ethical, psychological and teleological features of the human being. Indeed, he argued, it was precisely the freedom from the illusion of a stable self (atman) that constituted the highest good of nirvana. This rejection of the self has been presented in contemporary Indian philosophy as a powerful naturalised account of the human person, that can explain a variety of human motivations and ends.
Historically, many Hindu schools of thought responded to the Buddhist critique, drawing on a range of arguments to assert that a stable self best explains the features of experience and the demands of ethical and psychological explanation. The persistence of memory, the proprioceptive capacity in embodiment, the integrity of desires, volition and action, the ways in which mental content is formed, the phenomenology of consciousness, the logical possibility of the first person ('I') - these and other features of experience became the ground for the defence of different conceptions of the stable self by Hindu schools of thought. The purpose of these arguments in defence of the self was to establish the existence of a subject that could possess the necessary features to attain the highest good - formally called liberation (moksa) from the conditions of existence, but variously described.
These arguments were initially conceived in a non-theistic context, in which the highest good was a state attained through insight into the nature of reality by the person concerned. But as a devotional commitment to theism spread from religion into philosophy, the very conception of the highest good was re-cast by many schools in theological terms, as the attainment of some fundamental relationship with the divine (howsoever it was conceived). Consequently, the self that could attain such a relationship was itself re-interpreted, drawing on ideas of a personal God and asking how the self could be modelled or otherwise schematised through the understanding of the divine.
While these debates occurred long after Buddhism had ceased to be a force in India, the very notion of situating the conception of the self at the heart of any understanding of reality had been preserved. Consequently, there is a great deal of material on the different senses of the self in Indian philosophy. The neglect of this material needs to be ended, not only in order to gain a better understanding of the history of Indian philosophy but also to contribute to contemporary debates about the self that are dominated by the concerns and preconceptions of Wester thought. In particular, the 'I', the relationally constructed person, embodied identity, the structure of consciousness, and the nature of the underlying metaphysical entity - which are all part of the broad discussion of the 'self' in contemporary philosophy, are all theorised in significantly different ways by different Indian schools.
Furthermore, the nature of the divine also compares and contrasts in intriguing ways in Hindu and Western (Christian) philosophy of religion.
There is sufficient overlap of concerns and arguments for us to be able to demonstrate the sustainability of a fusion of these different traditions, but also so many relevant differences that mutual illumination too is possible. Hence the project of looking at Hindu senses of the self becomes a self-defining exercise in philosophy across traditions.
|| Home | About the Project | Staff and Students | Conference| Links | Contact Us ||