“A good half of the effort of understanding what the Indian philosophers were after — and their subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys — lay in trying to erase from my mind all the categories and kinds of distinction common to European philosophy from the time of the Greeks.”
– T. S. Eliot
Hindu Philosophy in a Nutshell
There are many darshanas (schools of thought or philosophies) that form the basis of Hindu philosophy, but the ones that that have the most far reaching influence on Hindu culture, are from Samkhya, Yoga, Vedanta, Mimasa, and Nyaya darshanas. The last mentioned darshana, Nyaya philosophy, was pivotal in crystalizing all the other schools of thought, by driving the development of cutting-edge techniques in logic and reasoning within each darshana, as well as a stand-alone philosophy.
Listed below are some of the general concepts from Hindu philosophy that permeates Hindu culture, in a nutshell, as simple as it gets:
- To start with, is the proposition that there is something beyond what you perceive as “you” and what you perceive as “reality”, called the Atman. This included everything – space, time, mind, consciousness, and the substratum of the visible (and invisible) universe. Unlike Greek philosophers, Hindus did not ask “where did it all begin?” but right from the start theorized such questions (as “beginning”, “end”) are relativistic to human experience (created by our perception of time as linear).
- This Atman is present everywhere in everything (animals, plants, rocks, stars, time, space, mind, consciousness, etc), and extends all the way back, in space and time, to the Source, Brahman. Brahman and Atman are two sides of the same coin. Brahman and Atman is often wrongly equated to “God Transcendent” and “God Immanent” of Western/Christian theology. However I show that is not accurate in another article, as Hindu Philosophy does not presuppose a theological God, but starts with highly abstract metaphysical premise as the basis for Brahman and Atman. In other words, there is no equivalent to Brahman/Atman in Western theology nor philosophy. To equate it to some theological entity called “God” (whether it be God Immanent or God Transcendent) is a vain attempt to fit it into a Christian theological knowledge base and very misleading.
“The power of the One extends beyond this world. It reaches from here all the way back to where it came from… The Source.”
– The Matrix
In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
All things return to it.
– Tao Te Ching
- Everything is Pure Consciousness. At every instance, in particular for every choice we make, a split takes place in the universe and you continue on that universe-line (like time-line or light-ray-line) containing the choice you made.
“SPOON BOY: Your spoon does not bend because it is just that, a spoon. Mine bends because there is no spoon, just my mind.
(Neo watches as it curls into a knot.)
SPOON BOY: Link yourself to the spoon. Become the spoon and bend yourself.”
– The Matrix
We are what we think.
All that we are arises from our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
— The Buddha
- Everything is also maya. What we think as reality, that is, the universe as we experience it is a construct, a veil, hiding the true nature of the underlying Reality.
“The Matrix is everywhere, it’s all around us, here even in this room. You can see it out your window, or on your television. You feel it when you go to work, or go to church or pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”
– The Matrix
- This maya is a result of bondage, attachments. With attachment comes delusion, and with delusion comes suffering.
“That you are a slave, Neo. That you, like everyone else, was born into bondage… kept inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind.”
– The Matrix
- This bondage is caused by conditioning, through the sense organs, indriya. The moment we are born light falls on our eyes, a chemical reaction takes place and is transmitted in the form of electrical impulses to the brain via the optic nerve. If one were to even slightly alter the chemistry then our whole perception changes. We might see other wavelengths of light that we may not normally see, for example radio waves (and it would make our world view utterly different and surreal from what we see now). Thus we are bound to the grosser senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) by chemical reactions. The eye alone is just an inert object. The optic nerve carries the sense impressions to the manas (or mind) which registers the sense impressions.
- These sensations that the manas feels are then interpreted by the buddhi or intellectual faculty. That is, it is interpreted, differentiated, named, cataloged, and stored (in the chitta or thought/memory space). The key is the word differentiated – i.e. when the buddhi perceives x and y are different.
“What is real? How do you define real? If you’re talking about your senses, what you feel, taste, smell, or see, then all you’re talking about are electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”
– The Matrix
The chitta is not just “memory”, but is a cosmic memory – ancient, old, eternal. Normally undifferentiated, but becomes differentiated by vritti (literally means waves/vibrations) or thought waves/patterns. When all the vritti are silenced, it revels the underlying chitta, which goes back to the Source. The act of recollecting something from memory engages that cosmic memory space. Haven’t you ever been amazed at how you are able to recollect some of the most mundane of details from childhood with vivid clarity, when put your mind to it and meditate on it?
- Because of this indriya-manas-buddhi binding, that you as the jiva-atman, sees things as “this” and “that”, and including seeing itself as distinct and different — as opposed being part of the whole, thereby developing an identity “I am”, from which arises the concept of ahamkara (ego).
“When the reaction comes from Buddhi, along with it flashes the external world and egoism”
– Swami Vivekananda [Collected Works, Vol.1]
- The ego is bound up in the prithvi-narayana principle, i.e. the self-limiting principle that makes us think we are the just the “body” and that mind is confined to the small space inside our head. This is called avidya, ignorance or delusion.
“(Sitting across from Cypher is Agent Smith.)
AGENT SMITH: Do we have a deal, Mr. Reagan?
(Cypher chews the steak loudly, smacking it between his teeth.)
CYPHER: Mmm, so, so fucking good.
(Smith watches him shovel another hunk of meat into his mouth.)
You know, I know that this steak doesn’t exist. I know when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, do you know what I’ve realized?
(Pausing, he examines the meat skewered on his fork. He pops it in, eyes rolling up, savoring the tender beef melting in his mouth.)
CYPHER: Ignorance is bliss.
AGENT SMITH: Then we have a deal?
CYPHER: I don’t want to remember nothing. Nothing! You understand? And I want to be rich. Someone important. Like an actor. You can do that, right?
AGENT SMITH: Whatever you want, Mr. Reagan”
– The Matrix
- In Hinduism the science of yoga is the act transcending the self-limiting conditioning and to realize our true nature, true potential, our true Self. Our grosser sense attachments mask our subtler senses. It is like room full of ten radios playing heavy metal rock music, and one playing light classical music. We cannot hear the classical music unless we turn off the heavy metal. To see/hear/know the Self, one must completely withdraw from sense objects like a tortoise withdraws its limbs [Bhagavad Gita, 2:58], through yoga. Yoga in Sanskrit meaning, “union with” [Reality/The Source/God]. In the process of aiming towards such a divine goal, ones life becomes more fulfilled, as it becomes more holistically aligned with the universe.
“You must let go of everything.”
– The Matrix
- Hindu philosophy further says even all of the above itself is based on conditioning. The Vedas say that one needs the Vedas to help you get to the Truth, but eventually one needs to transcend/jettison the Vedas itself. That is, the only way to “know” the Truth is to experience the Truth directly, it cannot be known through our limited intellect, sense awareness, and perception.
“Agent Smith: Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why, why do you do it? Why, why get up? Why keep fighting? Do you believe you’re fighting for something, for more than your survival? Can you tell me what it is, do you even know? Is it freedom or truth, perhaps peace – could it be for love? Illusions, Mr. Anderson, vagaries of perception. Temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose. And all of them as artificial as the Matrix itself.”
– Matrix Revolutions
“Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”
– The Matrix
- And finally, Hinduism asserts that anyone can experience (directly see, have the vision of, merge with, become one with) the Truth (God, Self, Atman, Shiva, Krishna, Kali,…) through yoga. If their desire is strong enough and that is what they really want, they can extricate themselves from maya, from bondage.
If you are completely new to Hindu philosophy, then I’d say the best place to start is with The Collected Works of Swami Vivekananda – Vol 1 & 2 (of 9 volumes).
For a more critical study of the schools of Hindu philosophical thought, an excellent introduction is S. Radhakrishnan’s Indian Philosophy Vol 1 & 2. Even thought it is just introductory, it is not for the faint-hearted. The six darshanas (systems of Indian philosophical thought) introduced in the book reveal the phenomenal depth with which Hindus had brainstormed the nature of knowledge and the means of acquiring higher knowledge — steeped in epistemology, psychology, logic, and metaphysics. It is said that, of those who undertake a serious study of the six darshanas without being tempered with yoga, most will give up quickly or be driven to insanity. The hair-splitting logic will impel you to take your conscious to higher levels, without which you either reach a dead-end or become trapped in a hysteresis loop.
Even reading Tamil tantric classical texts (like Thirumanthiram) is a mind-bending exercise. But with time, if you keeping trudging through, your mind adapts and takes you into a different mode of acquiring insight/knowledge. The text itself is written in a style of language known as sandhya basha (or “twilight language”), whose intention is not as much to shroud things in secrecy, but to raise your mind to the level where you start gaining insight without being restricted by the linearity of language to convey information.
Also, to note, in Hindu philosophy drishta or “direct revelation” is not some religious jargon as in “having visions” or “hearing voices”, but one of the pramanas (valid methods of acquiring knowledge: meditative insight, deep reflection, reasoning (inference, deduction,…), etc). The most efficient of these tools for exploring the inner conscious (pratyak-chetana), that became sharpened over thousands of experimentation and refining, is that of Yoga (no, not the exercise as it is known in the west, which is just yoga-asanas). This is similar to the meditative or inspirational insights that scientists experiences when tackling a problem, only difference is that Hindu philosophers explicitly developed it and harnessed it at will for their explorations.
Also, would like to add, bhakti is also an essential component in reading classical spiritual texts in Tamil/Sanskrit. Even if you lack that temperament to start with, if your pursuit for Truth is genuine and you’re fully determined, it will evolve into bhakti. As Rajaji said, quoting from Adi Shankara: “knowledge, when it becomes fully mature, is bhakti. If it does not get transformed into bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel.”