Introduction to Ancient and Modern Western Thought

Days: Tuesday from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm
Language: English
Taught by: Dr. Renaud Fabbri
​University: Georgetown University in Qatar

Course Description:

The course provides a general introduction to some of the great tracks of western philosophy including epistemology, ethical philosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of history and metaphysics. The course is based on the reading of excerpts from authors such as Plato, Kant and Nietzsche. No prior knowledge of philosophy is required, only the ability to read carefully and attentively.

Course Goals & Objectives

According to René Descartes, “to live without philosophizing is in truth the same as keeping the eyes closed without attempting to open them.” The course has been designed to offer more than a simple history of ideas. Its goal is also to initiate students to the transformative and practical dimension of philosophy – a dimension that was very clear to the founders of Western Philosophy but that has a tendency to fall into obscurity in today’s times.

Desired Learning Outcomes

By the end of the course, students will have familiarized themselves with great names and major philosophical theories and controversies. Most importantly they will realize that in and of itself, the practice of philosophy does not bring about definitive answers, rather more questions about who we are and the reality we live in.

Weekly schedule of topics/materials to be covered

Each week, students are assigned short but challenging excerpts from major philosophical texts (on average 10 pages per week).

Week 1: What is it to be wise? (full readings, video)

In this introductory class, we work to define the practice of philosophizing, emphasizing the difference between the modern and the classical conceptions of wisdom.

Plato, The Republic

Immanuel Kant, What is Enlightenment?

Week 2: What is the basis of morality? (full readings)

We intuitively think we know what is right and what is wrong. But what is the basis of this knowledge? Is it possible to provide a rational basis for morality? On the contrary, do feelings such as empathy teach us more about the ground of morality? Or is morality only a delusion, a mask for our will to power?

Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

Arthur Schopenhauer, On The Basis of Morality

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

Week 3: Is evil always diabolical? (full readings and video)

In Christianity, Islam or Judaism, the origin of evil is generally traced back a satanic figure and to a revolt of man against God. In this class we analyze the evolution of the reflection on evil from Plato to the modern experience with genocide and the human, too human “banality of evil.”

Plato, Meno

Augustine, The City of God

Hannah Arendt, The Life of the Mind

Week 4: Can we demonstrate the existence of God? (full readings)

This class discusses the different types of philosophical demonstration of the existence of God and the criticism that have been addressed to them.

René Descartes, Meditations

Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.


Week 5: What can we know? (full readings)

What are the limits of human knowledge? Is it true that our knowledge is limited to sense perception? What does it mean to say that we know ourselves?

Kant, Critique of Pure Reason

Schopenhauer, The World As Will and as Representation


Week 6: Is there a meaning to history? (full readings)

With the American and French Revolutions, a new concept of political revolution emerged, thus creating the philosophical problem of an “end to history” but also a political mythology responsible for some of the worst catastrophes of the 20th century. In this last course, we deconstruct the modern philosophy of history, showing both its historical and religious roots.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Kant, Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical reflections

For more informations:

Corbin on the radical difference between Mulla Sadra and existentialism

“Elsewhere, in editing and translating one of his books (the Kitab al-Masha’ir, I have sketched the radical difference separating Mullâ Sadrâ’s metaphysic of existence from what has in our day taken the name “existentialism.” For Mulla Sadrâ the degree of existentiality is seen in terms of Presence, which does not mean in terms of being present to this world, the supreme finality of which would be to im­merse being in “being for death.” For him a being is present to itself just in so far as it is separated from, and triumphs over the conditions of this world, which is subject to extension, to volume, to duration and to distance. The more it is separated from this world, the more it is separated from what conditions absence, occultation, darkness, unconsciousness, the more it is also freed from “being for death.” The more intense the degree of Presence, the more intense also the act of existing, and so also from that point does this existence exist for “beyond death.” Being, as Presence, is not a presence ever more and more involved in this world because it has shut itself off from access to the hierarchy of worlds; it is a presence to all worlds beyond death. The whole of Mulla Sadrâ’s philosophy of the resurrection makes this fundamental intuition explicit.”

Henry Corbin, “The Force of Traditional Philosophy in Iran Today”, Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 2, No.1.

Kundalini Yoga

(1) Only joined with Power has the God power to rule, otherwise He cannot even quiver-and so You are worthy of adoration by Hari, Hara, Virinci, and all the rest, and so how dare I who’ve done nothing meritorious reverence and praise You?

You, O wave of consciousness and bliss (9) You pierce earth in the muladhara cakra, water in the manipura cakra, fire in the svadhistana cakra, wind in the anahata cakra and the ether above that, and mind in the cakra between the brows; thus You pierce the entire kula path and then take pleasure with Your Lord in the secrecy of the thousand-petaled lotus. (10) You sprinkle the evolved world with a stream of nectar flowing from beneath Your feet, and from the resplendent abundance of the nectar moon You descend to Your own place, making Yourself a serpent of three and a half coils, and there You sleep again in the cave deep within the foundation.

Sundarya Lahari, attributed to Shankara (trans. Francis Clooney)

“Fifteen Verses of Wisdom”

1. The brilliance of the One Being’s light does not vanish in external light or in darkness because all light and darkness resides in the supreme light of God Consciousness.
2. This Being is called Lord Siva. He is the nature and existence of all beings. The external objective world is the expansion of His Energy and it is filled with the glamour of the glory of God Consciousness.
3. Siva and Sakti are not aware that they are separate. They are interconnected just as fire is one with heat.
4. He is the God Bhairava. He creates, protects, destroys, conceals, and reveals His nature through the cycle of this world. This whole universe is created by God in His own nature, just as one finds the reflection of the world in a mirror.
5. The collective state of the universe is His supreme Energy (sakti), which He created in order to recognize His own nature. This Sakti, who is the embodiment of the collective state of the universe, loves possessing the state of God Consciousness. She is in the state of ignorance, remaining perfectly complete and full in each and every object.
6. The supreme Lord Siva, who is all-pervasive and fond of playing and falling, together with the Energy of His own nature simultaneously brings about the varieties of creation and destruction.
7. This supreme action cannot be accomplished by any other power in this universe except Lord Siva, who is completely independent, perfectly glorious and intelligent.
8. The limited state of consciousness is insentient and cannot simultaneously expand itself to become the var- ious forms of the universe. The possessor of independence is absolutely different from that insentient state of consciousness. You cannot, therefore, recognize Him in only one way. The moment you recognize Him in one way you will also recognize Him in the other way.
9. This Lord Siva, who is completely independent (svatantra), has the diversity of creation and destruction existing in His own nature. And, at the same time, this diversity is found existing in its own way as the field of ignorance
10. In this world you will find varieties of creation and destruction, some of which are created in the upper cycle, some of which are created below, and some of which are even created sideways. Attached to these worlds smaller portions of worlds are created. Pain, pleasure, and intellectual power are created according to the status of being. This is the world
11. If you do not understand that there is actually no span of time, this misunderstanding is also the independence (svatantrya) of Lord Siva. This misunderstanding results in worldly existence (samsara) . And those who are ignorant are terrified by worldly existence.
12. & 13. When, because the grace of Lord Siva is showered upon you, or due to the teachings or vibrating force of your Master, or through understanding the scriptures concerned with Supreme Siva, you attain the real knowledge of reality, that is the existent state of Lord Siva, and that is final liberation. This fullness is achieved by elevated souls and is called liberation in this life (jivanmukti).
14. These two cycles, bondage and liberation, are the play of Lord Siva and nothing else. They are not separate from Lord Siva because differentiated states have not risen at all. In reality, nothing has happened to Lord Siva.
15. In this way the Lord, Bhairava, the essence of all being, has held in His own way in His own nature, the three great energies: the energy of will (iccha-Sakti), the energy ofaction (kriya-sakti), and the energy of knowledge (jnana-sakti). These three energies are just like that trident which is the three-fold lotus. And seated on this lotus is Lord Bhairava, who is the nature of the whole universe of 118 worlds.
16. .I, Abhinavagupta, have written and revealed these verses for some of my dear disciples who have very little intellectual understanding. For those disciples, who are deeply devoted to me, I have composed these fifteen verses just to elevate them instantaneously.
by Abhinavagupta (Trans. John Hughes)

Gaudapada’s Karika (trans. Swami Nikhilananda)


1 Visva is all—pervading, the experiencer of external objects. Taijasa is the cognizer of internal objects. Prajna is a mass of consciousness. It is one alone that is thus known in the three states.

2 Visva is the cognizer through the right eye; Taijasa is the cognizer through the mind within; Prajna is the akasa in the heart. Therefore the one Atman is perceived threefold in the same body.

3—4 Visva experiences the gross; Taijasa, the subtle; and Prajna, the blissful. Know these to be the threefold experience. The gross object satisfies Visva; the subtle, Taijasa; and the blissful, Prajna. Know these to be the threefold satisfaction.

5 The experiencer and the objects of experience associated with the three states have been described. He who knows these both does not become attached to objects though enjoying them.

6 Surely a coming into existence must be predicated of all positive entities that exist. Prana manifests all inanimate objects. The Purusha manifests the conscious beings in their manifold forms.

7 Some of those who contemplate the process of creation regard it as the manifestation of God’s powers; others imagine creation to be like dreams and illusions.

8 Those who are convinced about the reality of manifested objects ascribe the manifestation solely to God’s will, while those who speculate about time regard time as the creator of things.

9 Some say that the manifestation is or the purpose of God’s enjoyment, while others attribute it to His division. But it is the very nature of the effulgent Being. What desire is possible for Him who is the fulfillment of all desires?

10 Turiya, the changeless Ruler, is capable of destroying all miseries. All other entities being unreal, the non-dual Turiya alone is known as effulgent and all—pervading.

11 Visva and Taijasa are conditioned by cause and effect. Prajna is conditioned by cause alone. Neither cause nor effect exists in Turiya.

12 Prajna does not know anything of self or non-self, of truth or untruth. But Turiya is ever existent and all—seeing.

13 Non-cognition of duality is common to both Prajna and Turiya. But Prajna is associated with sleep in the form of cause and this sleep does not exist in Turiya.

14 The first two, Visva and Taijasa, are associated with dreaming and sleep respectively; Prajna, with Sleep bereft of dreams. Knowers of Brahman see neither sleep nor dreams in Turiya.

15 Dreaming is the wrong cognition and sleep the non-cognition, of Reality. When the erroneous knowledge in these two is destroyed, Turiya is realized.

16 When the jiva, asleep under the influence of beginningless maya, is awakened, it then realizes birthless, sleepless and dreamless Non-duality.

17 If the phenomenal universe were real, then certainly it would disappear. The universe of duality which is cognized is mere illusion (maya); Non-duality alone is the Supreme Reality.

18 If anyone imagines illusory ideas such as the teacher, the taught and the scriptures, then they will disappear. These ideas are for the purpose of instruction. Duality ceases to exist when Reality is known.



II, 32 There is neither dissolution nor creation, none in bondage and none practicing disciplines. There is none seeking Liberation and none liberated. This is the absolute truth.


II, 13 The identity of the jiva and Atman is praised by pointing out their non-duality; multiplicity is condemned. Therefore non-dualism alone is free from error.

14 The separateness of the jiva and Atman, which has been declared in the earlier section of the Upanishads, dealing with the creation, is figurative, because this section states only what will happen in the future. This separateness cannot be the real meaning of those passages.

15 The scriptural statements regarding the creation, using the examples of earth, iron and sparks, are for the purpose of clarifying the mind. Multiplicity does not really exist in any manner.

16 There are three stages of life, corresponding to the threefold understanding of men: inferior, mediocre and superior. Scripture, out of compassion, has taught this discipline for the benefit of the unenlightened.

17 The dualists, firmly clinging to their conclusions, contradict one another. The non-dualists find no conflict with them.


II, 25 Further, by the negation of the creation, coming into birth is negated. The causality of Brahman is denied by such a statement as “Who can cause It to come into birth?”

26 On account of the incomprehensible nature of Atman, the scriptural passage “Not this, not this” negates all dualistic ideas attributed to Atman. Therefore the birthless Atman alone exists.

27 What is ever existent appears to pass into birth through maya, yet from the standpoint of Reality it does not do so. But he who thinks this passing into birth is real asserts, as a matter of fact, that what is born passes into birth again.

28 The unreal cannot be born either really or through maya. For it is not possible for the son of a barren woman to be born either really or through maya.


IV, 3 Some disputants postulate that only an existing entity can again come into existence, while other disputants, proud of their intellect, postulate that only a non—existing entity can come into existence. Thus they quarrel among themselves.

4 An existing entity cannot again come into existence (birth); nor can a non-existing entity come into existence. Thus disputing among themselves, they really establish the non-dualistic view of ajati (non-creation).

5 We approve the ajati (non-creation) thus established by them. We have no quarrel with them. Now hear from us about Ultimate Reality, which is free from all disputations.

6—8 The disputants assert that the unborn entity (Atman) becomes born. How can one expect that an entity that is birthless and immortal should become mortal? The immortal cannot become mortal, nor can the mortal become immortal. For it is never possible for a thing to change its nature. How can one who believes that an entity by nature immortal becomes mortal, maintain that the immortal, after passing through change, retains its changeless nature?

47 As the line made by a moving fire—brand appears to be straight, crooked, etc., so Consciousness, when set in motion, appears as the perceiver, the perceived and the like.

48 As the fire—brand, when not in motion, is free from all appearances and remains changeless, so Consciousness, when not in motion, is free from all appearances and remains Changeless.

49 When the fire-brand is set in motion, the appearances that are seen in it do not come from elsewhere. When it is still, the appearances do not leave the motionless fire-brand and go elsewhere, nor do they enter into the fire-brand itself.

50 The appearances do not emerge from the fire—brand, because their nature is not that of a substance. This applies likewise to Consciousness, because of the similarity of the appearances.

The Mandukya Upanishad (trans. Eknath Easwaran)

May we hear only what is good for all.

May we see only what is good for all.

May we serve you, Lord of Love, all our life.

May we be used to spread your peace on earth.

OM shanti shanti shanti

1 AUM stands for the supreme Reality. It is a symbol for what was, what is, and what shall be. AUM represents also what lies beyond past, present, and future.

2 Brahman is all, and the Self is Brahman. This Self has four states of consciousness.

3 The first is called Vaishvanara, in which one lives with all the senses turned outward, aware only of the external world.

4 Taijasa is the name of the second, the dreaming state in which, with the senses Turned inward, one enacts the impressions of past deeds and present desires.

5 The third state is called Prajna, of deep sleep, in which one neither dreams nor desires. There is no mind in Prajna, there is no Separateness; but the sleeper is not conscious of this. Let him become conscious In Prajna and it will open the door to the state of abiding joy.

6 Prajna, all-powerful and all-knowing, Dwells in the hearts of all as the ruler. Prajna is the source and end of all.

7 The fourth is the superconscious state called Turiya, neither inward nor outward, beyond the senses and the intellect, in which there is none other than the Lord. He is the supreme goal of life. He is Infinite peace and love. Realize him!

8 Turiya is represented by AUM. Though indivisible, it has three sounds.

9 A stands for Vaishvanara. Those who know this, through mastery of the senses, obtain the fruit of their desires and attain greatness.

10 U indicates Taijasa. Those who know this, by mastering even their dreams, become Established in wisdom. In their family everyone leads the spiritual life.

11 M corresponds to Prajna. Those who know this, by stilling the mind, find their true stature and inspire everyone around to grow.

12 The mantram AUM stands for the supreme state of turiya, without parts, beyond birth and death, symbol of everlasting joy. Those who know AUM as the Self become the Self; truly they become the Self. OM shanti shanti shanti.

Eastern Metaphysics

Intellectual intuition is even more immediate than sensory intuition, for it is beyond the distinction between subject and object which the latter allows to subsist; it is at once the means of knowledge and the knowledge itself, and in it subject and object are identified. (…) Knowing and being are fundamentally but one and the same thing; they are, so to speak, two inseparable aspects of a single reality, being no longer even really distinguishable in that sphere where all is “without duality” [advaita]. This in itself is enough to show how purposeless are all the various “theories of knowledge” with metaphysical pretensions which occupy such a prominent place in modern Western philosophy, sometimes even going so far, as in the case of Kant for example, as to absorb, or at least to dominate, everything else. The only reason for the existence of such theories arises from an attitude of mind shared by almost all modern philosophers and originating in the Cartesian dualism; this way of thinking consists in artificially opposing knowing and being, an opposition that is the negation of all true metaphysics.

(…) It is necessary to say something at this point about the way in which we use the word “theory”: etymologically, its primary meaning is “contemplation”, and if it is taken thus, it might be said that metaphysics in its entirety, including the realization which it implies, is theory in the fullest sense; but usage has given the word a rather different and above all a much narrower meaning. In the first place, it has become usual to oppose theory and practice, and in its original sense, this antithesis, which meant the opposition of contemplation to action, would still be justifiable here, since metaphysics is essentially beyond the sphere of action, which is the sphere of individual contingencies; but the Western mentality, being turned almost exclusively toward action and being unable to conceive of any realization outside the sphere of action, has come to oppose theory and realization in a general sense.

…In all doctrines that are metaphysically complete, as are those of the East, theory is invariably accompanied or followed by an effective realization, for which it merely provides the necessary basis; no realization can be embarked upon without a sufficient theoretical preparation, but theory is ordained entirely with a view to this realization as the means toward the end, and this point of view is presupposed, or at least is tacitly implied, even in the exterior expression of the doctrine.

René Guénon, General Introduction to the study of Hindu Doctrines.

Excerpts from the Upanishads (trans. Eknath Easwaran)

All this is full. All that is full.

From fullness, fullness comes.

When fullness is taken from fullness, Fullness still remains.

OM shanti shanti shanti


Teaching of Yajnavalkya about the Self

The Path to Immortality

4.1 “Maitreyi,” Yajnavalkya said to his wife one day, “the time has come for me to go forth from the worldly life. Come, my dear, let me divide my property between you and Katyayani.”

MAITREYI 4.2 My lord, if I could get all the wealth in the world, would it help me to go beyond death?

YAJNAVALKYA Not at all. You would live and die like any other rich person. No one can buy immortality with money.

MAITREYI 4.3 Of what use then are money and material possessions to me? Please tell me, my lord, of the way that leads to immortality.

YAJNAVALKYA 4.4 You have always been dear to me, Maitreyi, and I love you even more now that you have asked me about immortality. Sit here by my side and reflect deeply on what I say. 4.5 A wife loves her husband not for his own sake, dear, but because the Self lives in him. A husband loves his wife not for her own sake, dear, but because the Self lives in her. Children are loved not for their own sake, but because the Self lives in them. Wealth is loved not for its own sake, but because the Self lives in it. Brahmins are loved not for their own sake, but because the Self lives in them. Kshatriyas are loved not for their own sake, but because the Self lives in them. The universe is loved not for its own sake, but because the Self lives in it. The gods are loved not for their own sake, but because the Self lives in them. Creatures are loved not for their own sake, but because the Self lives in them. Everything is loved not for its own sake, but because the Self lives in it. This Self has to be realized. Hear about this Self and meditate upon him, Maitreyi. When you hear about the Self, meditate upon the Self, and finally realize the Self, you come to understand everything in life. 4.6 For brahmins confuse those who regard them as separate from the Self. Kshatriyas confuse those who regard them as separate from the Self. The universe confuses those who regard it as separate from the Self. Gods and creatures confuse those who regard them as separate from the Self. Everything confuses those who regard things as separate from the Self. Brahmins, kshatriyas, creatures, the universe, the gods, everything: these are the Self. 4.7 No one can understand the sounds of a drum without understanding both drum and drummer; 4.8 nor the sounds of a conch without understanding both the conch and its blower; 4.9 nor the sounds of a vina without understanding both vina and musician. 4.10 As clouds of smoke arise from a fire laid with damp fuel, even so from the Supreme have issued forth all the Vedas, history, arts, sciences, poetry, aphorisms, and commentaries. All these are the breath of the Supreme. 4.11 As there can be no water without the sea, no touch without the skin, no smell without the nose, no taste without the tongue, no form without the eye, no sound without the ear, no thought without the mind, no wisdom without the heart, no work without hands, no walking without feet, no scriptures without the word, so there can be nothing without the Self. 4.12 As a lump of salt thrown in water dissolves and cannot be taken out again, though wherever we taste the water it is salty, even so, beloved, the separate self dissolves in the sea of pure consciousness, infinite and immortal. Separateness arises from identifying the Self with the body, which is made up of the elements; when this physical identification dissolves, there can be no more separate self. This is what I want to tell you, beloved.

MAITREYI 4.13 I am bewildered, Blessed One, when you say there is then no separate self.

YAJNAVALKYA Reflect on what I have said, beloved, and you will not be confused. 4.14 As long as there is separateness, one sees another as separate from oneself, hears another as separate from oneself, smells another as separate from oneself, speaks to another as separate from oneself, thinks of another as separate from oneself, knows another as separate from oneself. But when the Self is realized as the indivisible unity of life, who can be seen by whom, who can be heard by whom, who can be smelled by whom, who can be spoken to by whom, who can be thought of by whom, who can be known by whom? Maitreyi, my beloved, how can the knower ever be known?

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II)


The States of consciousness

YAJNAVALKYA The Self indeed is the light of man, your majesty, for by that we sit, work, go out, and come back.

JANAKA 7 Who is that Self?

YAJNAVALKYA The Self, pure awareness, shines as the light within the heart, surrounded by the senses. Only seeming to think, seeming to move, the Self neither sleeps nor wakes nor dreams. 8 When the Self takes on a body, he seems to assume the body’s frailties and limitations; but when he sheds the body at the time of death, the Self leaves all these behind. 9 The human being has two states of consciousness: one in this world, the other in the next. But there is a third state between them, not unlike the world of dreams, in which we are aware of both worlds, with their sorrows and joys. When a person dies, it is only the physical body that dies; that person lives on in a nonphysical body, which carries the impressions of his past life. It is these impressions that determine his next life. In this intermediate state he makes and dissolves impressions by the light of the Self. 10 In that third state of consciousness there are no chariots, no horses drawing them or roads on which to travel, but he makes up his own chariots, horses, and roads. In that state there are no joys or roads. In that state there are no joys or pleasures, but he makes up his own joys and pleasures. In that state there are no lotus ponds, no lakes, no rivers, but he makes up his own lotus ponds, lakes, and rivers. It is he who makes up all these from the impressions of his past or waking life. 11–13 It is said of these states of consciousness that in the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self, who never dreams, who is ever awake, watches by his own light the dreams woven out of past deeds and present desires. In the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self keeps the body alive with the vital force of prana, and wanders wherever he wills. In the dreaming state, when one is sleeping, the shining Self assumes many forms, eats with friends, indulges in sex, sees fearsome spectacles. 16–17 But he is not affected by anything because he is detached and free; and after wandering here and there in the state of dreaming, enjoying pleasures and seeing good and evil, he returns to the state from which he began. 18 As a great fish swims between the banks of a river as it likes, so does the shining Self move between the states of dreaming and waking. 19 As an eagle, weary after soaring in the sky, folds its wings and flies down to rest in its nest, so does the shining Self enter the state of dreamless sleep, where one is freed from all desires. 21 The Self is free from desire, free from evil, free from fear. As a man in the arms of his beloved is not aware of what is without and what is within, so a person in union with the Self is not aware of what is without and what is within, for in that unitive state all desires find their perfect fulfillment. There is no other desire that needs to be fulfilled, and one goes beyond sorrow. 22 In that unitive state there is neither father nor mother, neither worlds nor gods nor even scriptures. In that state there is neither thief nor slayer, neither low caste nor high, neither monk nor ascetic. The Self is beyond good and evil, beyond all the suffering of the human heart. 23–30 In that unitive state one sees without seeing, for there is nothing without seeing, for there is nothing separate from him; smells without smelling, for there is nothing separate from him; tastes without tasting, for there is nothing separate from him; speaks without speaking, for there is nothing separate from him; hears without hearing, for there is nothing separate from him; touches without touching, for there is nothing separate from him; thinks without thinking, for there is nothing separate from him; knows without knowing, for there is nothing separate from him. 31 Where there is separateness, one sees another, smells another, tastes another, speaks to another, hears another, touches another, thinks of another, knows another. 32 But where there is unity, one without a second, that is the world of Brahman. This is the supreme goal of life, the supreme treasure, the supreme joy. Those who do not seek this supreme goal live on but a fraction of this joy.

JANAKA 33 I give you another thousand cows! Please teach me more of the way to Self-realization.

YAJNAVALKYA 35 As a heavily laden cart creaks as it moves along, the body groans under its burden when a person is about to die. 36 When the body grows weak through old age or illness, the Self separates himself as a mango or fig or banyan fruit frees itself from the stalk, and returns the way he came to begin another life.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV)


The Story of Shvetaketu or the question of Being

1.1 Shvetaketu was Uddalaka’s son. When he was twelve, his father said to him: “It is time for you to find a teacher, Dear one, for no one in our family Is a stranger to the spiritual life.”

1.2 So Shvetaketu went to a teacher and studied all the Vedas for twelve years. At the end of this time he returned home, Proud of his intellectual knowledge. “You seem to be proud of all this learning,” Said Uddalaka. “But did you ask your teacher for that spiritual wisdom

1.3 Which enables you to hear the unheard, think the unthought, and know the unknown?” “What is that wisdom, Father?” asked the son. Uddalaka said to Shvetaketu:

1.4 “As by knowing one lump of clay, dear one, We come to know all things made out of clay That they differ only in name and form, While the stuff of which all are made is clay;

1.5 As by knowing one gold nugget, dear one, we come to know all things made out of gold: That they differ only in name and form, while the stuff of which all are made is gold;

1.6 As by knowing one tool of iron, dear one, we come to know all things made out of iron: That they differ only in name and form, while the stuff of which all are made is iron – So through that spiritual wisdom, dear one, we come to know that all of life is one.”

1.7 “My teachers must not have known this wisdom,” Said Shvetaketu, “for if they had known, how could they have failed to teach it to me? Please instruct me in this wisdom, Father.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” replied his father.


2.2 “In the beginning was only Being, One without a second.

2.3 Out of himself he brought forth the cosmos and entered into everything in it. There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.


8.1 “Let us start with sleep. What happens in it? When one is absorbed in dreamless sleep, He is one with the Self, though he knows it not. We say he sleeps, but he sleeps in the Self.

8.2 As a tethered bird grows tired of flying About in vain to find a place of rest And settles down at last on its own perch, So the mind, tired of wandering about Hither and thither, settles down at last In the Self, dear one, to which it is bound.

8.4 All creatures, dear one, have their source in him. He is their home; he is their strength.”

8.6 “When a person departs from this world, dear one, His speech merges in mind, his mind in prana, prana in fire, and fire in pure Being.

8.7 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please tell me, Father, more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.


9.1 “As bees suck nectar from many a flower and make their honey one, 9.2 so that no drop Can say, “I am from this flower or that,” All creatures, though one, know not they are that One.

9.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

10.1 “As the rivers flowing east and west Merge in the sea and become one with it, Forgetting they were ever separate rivers, 10.2 So do all creatures lose their separateness When they merge at last into pure Being.

10.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

11.1 “Strike at the root of a tree; it would bleed but still live. Strike at the trunk; it would bleed but still live. Strike again at the top; it would bleed but still live. The Self as life Supports the tree, which stands firm and enjoys the nourishment it receives.

11.2 If the Self leaves one branch, that branch withers. If it leaves a second, that too withers. If it leaves a third, that again withers. Let it leave the whole tree, the whole tree dies.

11.3 Just so, dear one, when death comes and the Self Departs from the body, the body dies. But the Self dies not.” “There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

12.1 “Bring me a fruit from the nyagrodha tree.” “Here it is, sir.” “Break it. What do you see?” “These seeds, Father, all exceedingly small.” “Break one. What do you see?” “Nothing at all.”

12.2 “That hidden essence you do not see, dear one, from that a whole nyagrodha tree will grow.

12.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

13.1 “Place this salt in water and bring it here Tomorrow morning.” The boy did.” Where is that salt?” his father asked. “I do not see it.”

13.2 “Sip here. How does it taste?” “Salty, Father.” “And here? And there?” “I taste salt everywhere.” “It is everywhere, though we see it not. Just so, dear one, the Self is everywhere, within all things, although we see him not.

13.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

14.1 “As a man from Gandhara, blindfolded, Led away and left in a lonely place, Turns to the east and west and north and south And shouts, ‘I am left here and cannot see!’

14.2 Until one removes his blindfold and says, ‘There lies Gandhara; follow that path,’ And thus informed, able to see for himself, The man inquires from village to village And reaches his homeland at last – just so, My son, one who finds an illumined teacher Attains to spiritual wisdom in the Self.

14.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.” “Please, Father, tell me more about this Self.” “Yes, dear one, I will,” Uddalaka said.

15.1 “When a man is dying, his family all gather round and ask, ‘Do you know me? Do you know me?’ And so long as his speech has not merged in mind, his mind in prana, Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being,

15.2 He knows them all. But there is no more knowing when speech merges in mind, mind in prana, Prana in fire, and fire in pure Being,

15.3 There is nothing that does not come from him. Of everything he is the inmost Self. He is the truth; he is the Self supreme. You are that, Shvetaketu; you are that.”

16.3 Then Shvetaketu understood this teaching; truly he understood it all.

Chandogya Upanishad (XVII)

Excerpt from The Rig-Veda

There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. What stirred? Where? In whose protection? Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then. There was no distinguishing sign of night not of day. That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse. Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of the heat.

Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind. Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom found the bound of existence in non-existence.

Their cord was extended across. Was there below? Was there above? There were seed-placers; there were powers. There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above.

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? The gods came afterwards, with the creation of the universe. Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen – perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does not know.

The Rig Veda, trans. Wendy Doniger, X, 129 p.25.

Philosophy of History, Millenarianism and Revolution

Once certain structures of reality become differentiated and are raised to articulate consciousness, they develop a life of their own in history. One of the important insights gained by philosophers, as well as by the prophets of Israel and by the early Christians, is the movement in reality toward a state beyond its present structure. So far as the individual human being is concerned, this movement obviously can be consummated only through his personal death. The great discovery of the Classic philosophers was that man is not a “mortal,” but a being engaged in a movement toward immortality. The athanatizein—the activity of immortalizing—as the substance of the philosopher’s existence is a central experience in both Plato and Aristotle. In the same manner, the great experience and insight of Paul was the movement of reality beyond its present structure of death into the imperishable state that will succeed it through the grace of God—i.e., into the state of aphtharsia or imperishing. This movement toward a state of being beyond the present structure injects a further tension into existential order inasmuch as life has to be conducted in such a manner that it will lead toward the state of imperishability. Not everybody, however, is willing to attune his life to this movement. Quite a few dream of a shortcut to perfection right in this life. The dream of reality transfigured into imperishable perfection in this world, therefore, becomes a constant in history as soon as the problem has been differentiated. Already the Jewish apocalyptic thinkers expected the misery of the successive empires of which they were the victims soon to be superseded by a divine intervention that would produce the state of glory and the end of empire. Even Paul expects a Second Coming in the time of the living and revises the dream only under the impact of the experience of believers in Christ dying before the Second Coming.

Metastatic expectation of a new world succeeding the old one in the time of the presently living has become a permanent factor of disturbance in social and political reality. The movement had been suppressed by the main church with more or less success; at least the apocalyptic expectations were pushed into sectarian fringe movements. But beginning with the Reformation these fringe movements moved more and more into the center of the stage; and the replacement of Christian by secularist expectations has not changed the structure of the problem.

In the modern period, an important new factor entered the situation when the expectation of divine intervention was replaced by the demand for direct human action that will produce the new world. Marx, for instance, expected the transformation of man into superman from the blood intoxication of a violent revolution. (…) The eschatological state of perfection will be reached through direct violence. The experience of a movement in reality beyond its structure has been transformed into the magic vulgarity of aggressive destruction of social order.

Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflexions.