The Way of Being | A JourneyTopic Essay: Traditional and modern approaches to living in the world

Anil Mitra, Copyright © November 2, 2019—April 20, 2020

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Traditional and modern approaches to living in the world

Some approaches

Sources (to supplement later)

Some elements of the approaches

For The Way of Being




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The document has two templates which are the sources for other documents. Editing should be done here.

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a journey in being-outline.doc, templates for realization.doc

Traditional and modern approaches to living in the world

Some approaches

Aim—to find and integrate what is valuable to the way.

A short list (bold items are current interest)

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’.

Sources (to supplement later)

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; my memory.

General and Christianity—The Fifth Dimension, John Hick, 1999.

Secular humanism—Secular humanism (Wikipedia); my memory.

Some elements of the approaches

1.    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 gods. There is a core, especially
Advaita 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 Brahman.

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 true.

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 punish.

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.

2.    Pathways.

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’).

3.    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.

4.    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 ultimate.