The Way of Being | A Journey—Topic Essay: Traditional and modern
approaches to living in the world
Anil Mitra, Copyright © November 2, 2019—February 9, 2020
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and modern approaches to living in the world
For The Way of Being
A JOURNEY IN BEING
The document has two templates which are the sources for
other documents. Editing should be done here.
journey in being-outline.doc, templates
There is a range of approaches to living in this world—the
aim here is to be representative, not comprehensive; here is a short list of
which only the bold items are a current interest. The primal ways of life; the religions of the
East, especially Hinduism (especially
Yoga and Advaita
Vedanta) and Buddhism; the Abrahamic
religions, i.e. Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam; and a range of secular / modern approaches, for example Secular humanism,
existentialism, a range of psychotherapies and psychoanalysis, and a
range of other experimental / more or less ad hoc approaches—for example on
‘how to live life to the fullest’.
Buddhism—A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, C.A.
Moore and S. Radhakrishnan, 1957; and my memory.
Secular humanism—Secular humanism
(Wikipedia); and my memory.
The elements of an approach may include—
A philosophy, 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 many gods but there is a core,
Vedanta, that sees the process of the universe as cyclic perhaps with
period so long as to be eternally novel. The cycles of emergence, sustenance,
and dissolution are Brahman—the conscious living universe. The individual,
Atman, lies within and is ultimately Brahman.
In original Buddhism, metaphysical speculation is eschewed, life is an
impermanent stream of becoming, all things are interconnected in that what we
do affects what we become. The truth of the human condition is 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, especially 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.
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 a major source 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”.
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 particular 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.”
Note the similarity of yoga with the eightfold way
of Buddhism—right views, intention or resolve, speech, conduct, livelihood,
effort, mindfulness, and right concentration or samadhi (‘meditative
absorption or union’).
Phases of life
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 in a sense community is everywhere. But it is not all conducive
or positive and so without strength of personality, community is important.
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 be robust. 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. Readers may supplement the templates according to
inclination and temperament—which is encouraged to be subject to reason.
While the traditional and modern ways have value, for The Way they are seen as supplements to be
regarded as experimental. 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 ultimate.