19 September 2007

Philosophy Class, Week 4

No class on Friday this week. Dr. Levenson didn't specify why, merely that he would not be there, though we could, if we wished, still come. We haven't gotten to the Bhagavad Gita yet. Instead, Dr. Levenson gave us a copy of his favorite passage out of the Upanishads. This is a different translation of the same selection. I like the translation we were given in class better, but I don't really want to type the whole thing in.

One note before I put the rest below the fold: Chapter 3 is up.

The refrain that runs through this Upanishad is "That Art Thou." 'That' refers to Brahman, to the Ultimate Source of Reality, to All That Is. Some might call it God, but, for me, that label is a step down, part of the illusion of separation. Maybe part of the effort to recapture the unity.

Interestingly, there are strong parallels with the Tao te Ching here. Milder ones, perhaps, with Genesis, but with an incredibly different emphasis. From the in-class translation: "In the beginning, there was Existence alone--One only, without a second. He, the One, thought to himself: Let me be many, let me grow forth. Thus out of himself he projected the universe; and having projected out of himself the universe, he entered into every being." Compare to Chapter 42 of the Tao te Ching (Pine): The Tao gives birth to one one gives birth to two two gives birth to three three gives birth to ten thousand things.

The primary difference is that "the One" is thought of as a Being, while the Tao is more a process, or a path. Tam Gibbs' translation is interesting: Tao gives birth to unity, unity gives birth to duality, duality gives birth to trinity, and trinity gives birth to all things. Tao starts off as one, but with the idea of oneness, of unity, comes the idea of two-ness, or duality. But then you can combine duality with unity and wind up with three-ness, or trinity. And ultimately generate the entire universe that way.

There's also a difference in language used to describe mystical experiences and goals. In the Upanishads, everyone is a manifestation of the One, the Self, and just needs to learn to "remember" that. In the Tao, one can fall away from the path and must be taught how to find it again, but there's a sense that... you have to work to keep from the path, hold yourself off, and that once you realize that, you find that you have always been on the path. Well, that's my understanding of it.

We also compared the creation account of Genesis. In it, there is a strong sense of separation between God and his creation. There's no sense of unity in that account whatsoever. Especially not in the Christian version, which uses the story to infer an artificial gap between Creator and Created and then must build a bridge between the two. Dr. Levenson's take seems to be that the Garden of Eden story is symbolic of losing the initial unity with the Divine...except that I don't see any implied unity in the creation account there. *shrugs*

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