The Bhagavad Gītā

Author: Amod Lele (Boston University)

The Bhagavad Gītā is an episode from the Mahābhārata (the long Indian epic poem) in which the god Krishna offers advice to the hero Arjuna, in response to Arjuna’s despair at the need to kill his cousins in battle. It is one of the most loved texts in Indian tradition – enough that some modern thinkers, including Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi have taken it to be the central text of Hindu tradition. When one wants to identify the ethical teachings of the great philosophers in the Vedānta tradition (such as Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja), those philosophers’ commentaries on the Gītā, while difficult for a novice reader, are often the clearest guide to their ideas.

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Shankara’s Nondualism (Advaita Vedanta)

Author: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa)

Shankaracharya, also known as Adi Shankara, is an 8th century Indian philosopher and theologian who argues that ultimate reality or brahman is single and not substantially distinct from the world. Often compared with Western monists such as Parmenides, Plotinus and Spinoza, Shankara contends that the universe of distinct particulars has only a dependent and limited being, and that our everyday attribution of ultimate reality to it is a result of ignorance. While in some respects this metaphysics resembles Buddhist emphases on the conditioned and transient nature of things, Shankara posits a stable and unchanging reality behind the shifting appearances, which is said to be identical with the permanent aspect of the self (atman) as pure consciousness. Shankara is a Vedantic thinker who respects the authority of the Upanishads, to which he appeals in support of his claims. However, his metaphysical position is at the same time developed through philosophical refutations of the views of rival schools, including Buddhist ones. Shankara’s commentary on the Brahma Sutras, for instance, contains arguments against Buddhist subjective idealism maintaining the non-existence of the external world, and against the central Buddhist doctrine of no-self or anatta.

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Gandhi on non-violence

Authors: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa), and Manvitha Singamsetty (University of Ottawa)

Non-violence or ahimsa is a principle at the heart of Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy. Most fundamentally, the principle involves a commitment to not harming others in one’s interactions with them, but it is especially connected with a variety of peaceful civil resistance. Gandhi drew on classical schools of wisdom such as Jainism, Buddhism and Vedic thought to presents an ideal of non-violence adapted to a contemporary social and political climate.  This ideal encompasses the virtues of freedom, truth, love, justice, courage, honesty and sacrifice. Its political methods include, among others, satyagraha (“holding to the truth”), civil-disobedience and non-cooperation. For Gandhi, the goals of non-violence are political justice, social stability and economic self-sufficiency

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