Atman and Brahman

Atman and Brahman
Paul
PF Addict
Avatar

Usergroup: Administrators
Joined: Mar 10, 2002

Total Topics: 510
Total Posts: 16253
#1 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Sep 14, 2002 - 7:28 PM:

Hindu philosophy asserts "Atman is Brahman" as one of its most fundamental points. Interpreting what exactly this means, however, is complex... and to agree or disagree we really need to understand precisely what it means.

Breaking this down, with the first term provided just for contrast...

Jira: The self in the regular, empirical and non-transcendental sense. The ego, the personality, the being in the third person world.

Atman: The inner layer of self, the transcendental self. Not like Jira, not empirical -- it's more basic.

Brahman: Fundamental underlying nature of the universe. The foundation of all existence.

Someone may want to correct me or explain in more detail, I don't doubt that there are much better explanations. Building from this, my loose interpretation of "Atman is Brahman" is "The fundamental nature of the self is same as the fundamental nature of the universe."

What does this really mean, and is it true? In some senses I agree and in some senses I probably wouldn't agree. It could be I'm reading in too much of my own options, but all I can do is give my interpretation of how I think it makes sense:

The fundamental nature of the transcendental self is the same as the fundamental nature of the transcendental reality of the universe, even though the self and the universe are clearly differentiated at higher levels. The universe-in-itself and me-in-myself are the same type of stuff, at a basic level. Reviewing Kant very briefly: my experiences are my mind's way of representing data from the senses, and this bears only pattern relationships at best to the actual external world. Empirical reality is the world we know, and it functions for our purposes, but the actuality of what's out there (in itself) is transcendental and is not of the same nature as our mind makes us imagine. (This is Kant's empirical realism and transcendental idealism.) The transcendental reality of the universe-in-itself is actually unthinkable, because to think about it is to run it through the representation processes of the mind and thus automatically distort it.

If you start from Kant and then assert monism, you can make the claim that something about the transcendental reality is known: we know that it includes a mind which has processes that distort things in these ways we experience. Our experience doesn't tell us what things in themselves external to us are really like, but experience is still a real thing-in-itself within the mind... experience-in-itself is known even though what we like to say it represents isn't known. The self is a part of the monistic world and so the experience of being the self is a sample of the transcendental. The full nature of the self is complicated and pattern-based, but we can imagine a basic fundamental background -- the background which is patterned into our experiences of thought. While thought is distinguished from non-thought by the patterns of processing, there's no reason not to believe that the background which the patterns are of can be the same for thought as for rocks. (And since there's no reason to deny it, simplicity and Occam's razor suggests we accept it.) In this way the most fundamental nature of the self (the background which our experience is a pattern of) is the same as the most fundamental nature of everything else in the universe (which all has the same monistic background).

"Atman is Brahman" in this interpretation strikes me as something Bertrand Russell might say, even though his philosophy seems quite different on the face of it. Russell, presenting his philosophy of neutral monism, argued that mind and matter can be reduced to something fundamentally simpler. (Logical atoms being Russell's goal.) Russell was saying the fundamental nature of the internal self is the same as the fundamental nature of the universe -- what underlies thought is the same as what underlies the rest of the universe, Russell argued. On the other hand Russell was using an empirical approach and seemed to imagine logical atoms in empirical sorts of ways, clearly very far away from what the Hindu philosophical tradition intends.

As a monist, I believe that the fundamental nature of the self is the same as that of the universe. The "background" is the same fundamentally everywhere, with the patterns forming the distinctions between mind and rock and vacuum. In this sense I'd say Atman is Brahman. This leaves the question, however, of how a self can be spoken of who has none of the features I associate with me. Atman doesn't think and doesn't experience anything. Atman doesn't know the difference when I (in the Jira sense or the physical body sense) am alive or dead... Atman is as timeless as the fundamental background of the universe. Atman is basically just the section of the universe I happen to be built on top of, and it's fundamentally the same as the rest of the universe. But simply because I'm on top of this section of the universe (which, being the same as the rest, might be called the whole universe?), should I call it "self"? "Atman is Brahman" is a proposition I can accept, but I'm not sure there's any reason at all I should care about or identify with Atman. Perhaps Atman is that as which I experience all my thoughts, but since Atman itself has no thoughts I really cannot possibly care about it.

Any opinions on these issues?
Sahaja
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Sep 04, 2002

Total Topics: 2
Total Posts: 0
#2 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Sep 15, 2002 - 9:53 AM:

I think caring transcends thought. It is the actions that are manifested by such an understanding or "knowledge" that should be cared about. I sense that you feel such "knowledge" has no meaning or that it might not be practical. I would argue, however, that awareness of such "knowledge", when acted upon, can lead to marvelous Realities. Not simply arm chair philosophy.

I don't think, by the way, that you could have posibly clarified this philosophical aspect more that you already have. Nice job.

Cheers,
Sahaja
daorley
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Sep 18, 2002

Total Topics: 2
Total Posts: 0
#3 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Oct 10, 2002 - 5:48 PM:

hello Paul,

thank you. my version of 'Atman is Brahman' is 'man is God', elaborated as '(God in) man is (part of) God', with God, from my viewpoint, being the impersonal principle of monism plus the abstract essence or 'underlying nature' of all living beings.

Spinoza states (in The Ethics) that 'Man is to man a God'. a thought that preceded this was 'Insofar only as men live in obedience to reason, do they always necessarily agree in nature'.

Atman is the higher, capital-S, Self in us, and a division of God or Divine Mind (Brahman). it is said that the higher self is unaware of the lower self, and vice versa. the third part of man, mind (Hebrew, Shekinah, or 'the bridge to God' as Dagobert Runes says in his intro to The Ethics) is what allows us to seek, know and realize Atman.

regards,

daorley
Paul
PF Addict
Avatar

Usergroup: Administrators
Joined: Mar 10, 2002

Total Topics: 510
Total Posts: 16253
#4 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Oct 11, 2002 - 3:48 AM:

Depending on what you mean by 'god', you may have a difficult point to defend in order to make it into a god. Can you assert it as a creator of the universe, as a thinking creature, or as capable of influencing anything? If not, why use the word 'god'... just to attach a positive connotation to it without any evidence of the connotation being deserved?

Anyhow, my point is that my "lower" self is that which thinks (at least according to Samkyha... if you can explain in detail why there should be a 3 part division instead of two, please try) -- and so it's my "lower" self which is the one being asked to go get lost and let the "higher" self shine more freely. Why should the lower self not prefer to exist? The higher self has nothing in common with me, the thoughts, and so I as the thoughts have no reason at all to want the thoughts to cease to exist for the sake of whatever may be observing me. I see no motivation for the higher self, or 'god' being held by the thoughts as worth getting rid of the thoughts in order to let show more clearly. Why should the mind desire to eliminate itself for the sake of the observer of the mind?
green
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 17, 2003

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
#5 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 17, 2003 - 2:28 AM:

I agree with you that "The fundamental nature of the transcendental self is the same as the fundamental nature of the transcendental reality of the universe," but I think that the fundamental nature is change. And that would mean that there arent higher or lower levels of self and the universe just different ones.

like one thought is to another
leucrotta
Newbie
Avatar

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 20, 2003
Location: Indiana

Total Topics: 46
Total Posts: 5
#6 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 20, 2003 - 5:08 PM:

i agree with paul and green, in that the sacrifice of the self for the sake of knowing a more Absolute, ineffable observer of self of which self is actually a part seems confusing. the idea of moksha on some levels proports that samsara, the realm of the worldly in which self is encouraged to manifest itself (a bad definition, there is far more to samsara than that, really), can be broken free from and the self can merge with the Absolute. other philosophies explained that since the Absolute and self are one, the key to liberation is not to fly away from the world but to profoundly realize that the world and Absolute are one and meet the challange of living in the world after finding this Truth within it. i'm unsure of how much of Upanishad philosophy i really understand, and how much i think i understand because i've heard it 'explained' so many times before, but the topic itself is very interesting.
green
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 17, 2003

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
#7 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 20, 2003 - 8:19 PM:

or the self could be defined as the mind and that the mind is the foundation of all existence


almost like the marix but not
LepcisMagna
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 12, 2003

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
#8 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 22, 2003 - 11:53 PM:

I haven't studied Hindu philosophy, but it seems from what I have read here that what is being called Brahman is really Creation (All that Is), while Atman is the Self (that which retains memory of experience).

So thinking of "Brahman" as Creation and "Atman" as the Self, the nature of reality becomes merely Creation/Brahman experiencing itself through Self/Atman.

The Self/Atman creates ("knows") Creation/Brahman through its very own experiences..for how else can Creation come to have any existance, meaning, or reality without the experiences of Self/Atman?

In effect then, Creation/Brahman created itself by simply experiencing itself. (Recall the symbol of the snake devouring itself?) But Creation/Brahman cannot escape itself no matter what kind of Self/Atman is used to explore itself. And if Creation/Brahman cannot escape itself, its exploration (experience) of itself is eternal (can never end). Ergo..Creation/Brahman becomes infinite.

So essentially, Creation/Brahman experiencing itself is the same as the Self/Atman experiencing itself. This means then the Self/Atman and Creation/Brahman are one and the same.

It should be pointed out however that the Self/Atman is infinite, just as Creation/Brahman is infinite...but the Self/Atman ALWAYS has finite awareness. While awareness is finite, the experiences (journey) of this finite awareness are eternal/infinite. Thus from finite awareness (through the illusion of separation), the concept of "infinity" becomes possible as well.
LepcisMagna
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 12, 2003

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
#9 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 23, 2003 - 12:14 AM:

And speaking of The Matrix movie...

There is one problem in the movie that was not pointed out (which, by the way would make a great sequel). In many ways the Matrix theme is identical to our own reality (just replace the machines with Creation). However, if one were to escape the Matrix world, how would one be able to prove without a doubt that one actually escaped? The reality is that one could never prove this.

All along, the entire exerience of being in the Matrix and escaping from it could all still a fabrication of the Matrix...that is, the machines were more clever than we thought and planned ahead for this contingency. No matter where you are...there you are. You escape one world and enter another, you are still YOU. Similarly, if your physical body dies and you (the Self) leaves the dead/dying body, you are still YOU...though now you are not subject to the constraints, forces, and experiences of the material world. You are just a memory storage unit floating around in the ether...perhaps waiting for another physical body to further your experiences in and accumulate more memory ("growth").

And so you find you can never escape yourself. The Self cannot escape itself. Likewise, Creation cannot escape itself. The Self/Creation can never know itself absolutely... it can only experience itself eternally. (Of course this is favorable because it makes the Self/Creation a timeless, eternal eternal "being".)
green
Newbie

Usergroup: Members
Joined: Mar 17, 2003

Total Topics: 0
Total Posts: 0
#10 - Quote - Permalink
Posted Mar 23, 2003 - 1:39 PM:

LepcisMagna i agree
locked
Download thread as
  • 0/5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5



This thread is closed, so you cannot post a reply.