The Way of Being | A Journey—Topic Essay: Traditional and
modern approaches to living in the world
Anil Mitra, Copyright © November 2, 2019—April 20, 2020
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and modern approaches to living in the world
(to supplement later)
elements of the approaches
For The Way of Being
The document has two templates
which are the sources for other documents. Editing should be done here.
a journey in
Aim—to find and integrate what is
valuable to the way.
A short list (bold items are
1. Primal ways—the experienced world and its hypothetical causes
are not split.
2. Eastern, especially Hinduism
(particularly, Yoga and Advaita Vedanta) and Buddhism
(four truths, eightfold way of realization).
3. Abrahamic religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity (symbolic truth, Christian
message), and Islam.
4. Secular, modern, e.g. Secular humanism, material, existential and approach from Being, psychotherapies and psychoanalysis, other experimental and ad hoc approaches—for example on
‘how to live life to the fullest’.
Primal—Make Prayers to the
Raven, Richard K. Nelson, 1983; my memory.
Hinduism and Buddhism—A
Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, C.A. Moore and S. Radhakrishnan, 1957;
General and Christianity—The
Fifth Dimension, John Hick, 1999.
Secular humanism—Secular humanism
(Wikipedia); my memory.
metaphysics, cosmology, and psychology.
This defines the world in which we live according to the approach. It defines
condition and aim of living. It may include afterlife, eternal destiny,
spiritual and divine being or beings.
In the primal there is the immediate world and the spirit world of the
inferred but unseen. The spirit world dictates prescribed and proscribed
behavior which are determined by narrative as well as semi-empirically.
Hinduism for the ‘people’ has many colors and gods. There is a core,
Vedanta, that sees the universe as cyclic. The
cycles of emergence, sustenance, and dissolution are Brahman—the conscious
living universe. The individual, Atman, lies within and is ultimately
In original Buddhism, metaphysical speculation is eschewed, life is an
impermanent stream of becoming, all things are interconnected, what we think
and do affects what we become. The human condition is specified in the four
noble truths—suffering, its cause, therefore a way to eliminate suffering,
and a path (the eightfold way).
In Christianity, God is the creator and master of all things—and of the moral
life as given, especially, in the commandments. Life is eternal and its
destiny is heaven or hell. To achieve salvation requires worship and moral
life. Worship is of God and of God’s son, Jesus who died for our sins. Many
modern Christians see the cosmology as symbolic; they are there for the
Christian message (e.g. of love), the symbology, and community. Other
Christians regard the Bible (and some of its interpretations) as literally
Regarding the harm due to religions the attitude may be taken that it is
humans causing the harm. But, in any case, the harm is there. An attitude may
be taken that separating the secular (‘state’) and traditional dogmatic religion
(‘church’) is consistent with the benefit while minimizing harm. But it is
unavoidable that religion is an institution; that institutions have political
power; and that power will be used.
Secular humanism recognizes only the secular, natural, and human world and
rejects the extranatural including God (but aspects of the natural world may
be seen as God—as, for example, by Charles Hartshorne). Humans are not superior to other beings (animals);
they are inherently capable of moral thought, attitudes, and behavior
(imperfectly) but are not inherently good or evil. Science and philosophy are
major sources of truth. Utilitarianism is the most common ethics, at least
pragmatically. The concern for the individual and for humankind is
fulfillment, growth, and creativity. Building a better world for ourselves
and our children is possible and a primary value and may be achieved with “reason, an open exchange of ideas, good will, and
tolerance”. Tolerance is not “anything
goes”. It is many things, especially non-rejection of what is different and
what is non-normative just because different or non-normative. But it is not
tolerance of harm; it is not tolerance of intolerance. Yet its attitude to such
things is to contain, understand, and limit, rather than to disconnect or
Traditional religions have an implicit psychology that is often seen today as
having positive elements as well as deficiencies which include lack of clear
recognition of the nature of suffering and mental illness. These are
addressed (imperfectly so far) by psychology, psychotherapy (which is not inherently a-religious), and psychiatry.
The eightfold way of Buddhism and of Yoga, the Christian life of worship and
morality are examples.
The eightfold way of Yoga is described by Moore and Radhakrishnan in A
Sourcebook of Indian Philosophy—“ The special feature of the Yoga system, as
distinguished from Samkhya, is its practical discipline, by which the
suppression of mental states is brought about through the practices of
spiritual exercises and the conquest of desire. The Yoga gives us the
eightfold method of abstention, observance, posture, breath control,
withdrawal of the senses, fixed attention, contemplation, and concentration.
The first two of these refer to the ethical prerequisites for the practice of
yoga. We should practice non-violence, truthfulness, honesty,
continence, and non acceptance of gifts. We should observe purification
(internal and external), contentment, austerity, and devotion to God. Posture
is a physical aid to concentration. Breath control aids serenity of mind.
Abstraction of the senses from their natural function helps still the mind.
These five steps are indirect or external means to yoga. In fixed attention
we get the mind focused on a subject. Contemplation or mediation leads to
concentration. Yoga is identified with concentration (samādhi), where
the self regains its eternal and pure free status. This is the meaning of
freedom or release or salvation in the Yoga system.”
The way of yoga is similar to the eightfold way of Buddhism—right views, intention or resolve, speech,
conduct, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and right concentration or samadhi (‘meditative absorption or union’).
Progression from birth to death. ‘All’ cultures recognize phases, at least
implicitly. Some systems define stages and prescribe activities.
Roles and careers. The main division is transsecular versus secular. Within
the secular different roles and career paths reflect societal and cultural
emphases and needs.
Degree of social involvement. Imperatives to social involvement are the
contribution and the rewards. Withdrawal and indirect involvement are (i)
personally rewarding, (ii) learning phases, (iii) source of contribution and
progress in secular and transsecular realms.
Community and involvement.
In part for support and significantly due to the normative tendency regarding
the nature of reality, community is essential. Sanskrit has the term Sangha which is common to Indian traditions and Buddhism. A monastery or
temple may provide a venue for community but community is everywhere. Without
strength of personality, community is especially important to maintaining any
contra-normative sense of the real.
There are Christian communities and Churches.
Involvement in the world is a function of community.
Power and structure are other ‘functions’.
For The Way of Being
For living in the world, the real
metaphysics reveals the approaches of Yoga and Buddhism to have robustness.
For living in the immediate and ultimate as one, Advaita Vedanta is
robust—and real metaphysics gives it foundation, realism, elaboration, and a
path. Real metaphysics does not reject the Abrahamic religions but finds
their cosmologies and paths (i) less robust as real (ii) having symbolic
value in emotional and material terms.
Some elements of the traditional
and modern ways are embedded in the templates. These may be supplemented according
to inclination and temperament—which is encouraged to be cultivated from
experience, in imagination, and subject to reason.
While the traditional and modern
ways have value, for The
Way they are seen as supplements to be
regarded as experimental and subject to reinterpretation, redefinition, and
enhancement. Perfection in this world according to the traditional-modern
ways or individual internal criteria are valuable but it is always essential,
in terms of values stemming from the real metaphysics, to keep such
experimental notions of perfection in balance with being on a path to the