Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 16

(Read Part 15 of the series.)

So, do any of these philosophies provide us with the answer for which we are looking? It has been a very cursory overview and obviously much has been omitted, particularly the ideas of more recent philosophers. Again I must remind the reader that I have not studied all of these philosophers and my findings are the result of reading histories, dictionaries and overviews and of research on the Internet. I have extracted only those ideas that seemed relevant.

Philosophers typically take an interest in many areas, even if they concentrate principally on one or two and they often devote much effort to supporting, or more frequently refuting, the ideas of their predecessors. If you should attempt to go into any significant detail on any aspect of what has been outlined above, you would soon find yourself reading many books and studying often complex arguments on all sides of the issue. All that I have attempted to do was to find some relevant ideas and I have to say that none of the ones that I discovered seem entirely appropriate for today’s society.

Somehow, they leave a feeling of incompleteness or even emptiness. Maybe they provide excellent guidelines for discriminating between potential course of action in a specific situation but there is no overall sense of purpose and meaning. If I want to know whether I ought to go out to the cinema or visit my ageing grandmother, there is much material to provide guidance – in fact, I could decide to stay in and read all about it for the next few weeks instead of going anywhere. But when it comes to giving me a raison d’être for my life, it seems that, unless I adopt a religious outlook and acquire faith in a heaven and hell, then I am left with little of substance. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 13

(Read Part 12 of the series.)


When deciding whether an action should be deemed good or bad (as opposed to whether it is something we ourselves want to do), people will sometimes try to calculate whether the result will benefit the majority. This principle was expressed in the 18th Century by Francis Hutcheson: ‘That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers’. It is effectively the opposite of what Kant was saying. Whereas he insisted that it was the motive alone that determined whether an act should be deemed to be ‘good’ and that we should act from a sense of duty, Hutcheson was claiming that motives were ultimately irrelevant, it was the outcome alone that mattered.

Two philosophers in particular were responsible for developing and propagating these ideas and thereby influencing many people’s attitude towards morality. The first was Jeremy Bentham, who is generally regarded as the originator of so-called ‘Utilitarianism’, which says that conduct is right or wrong according to its tendency to produce favourable or unfavourable consequences for the people who are affected by it. It was given this name because actions are judged on the basis of their ‘utility’ or usefulness in bringing about good, or benefit of some kind as opposed to evil or unhappiness. Continue reading

Waves on the water


All the objects in the world are Brahman. ‘I’ am Brahman. Such being the case, both passion and dispassion, craving and aversion are but notions. Body is Brahman, death is Brahman, too: when they come together, as the real rope and the unreal imaginary snake come together, where is the cause for sorrow? Similarly, body is Brahman and pleasure is Brahman: where is the cause of rejoicing when body experiences pleasure? When, on the surface of the calm ocean, waves appear to be agitated, the waves do not cease to be water! Even when Brahman appears to be agitated (in the world appearance), its essence is unchanged and there is neither ‘I’-ness nor ‘you’-ness. When the whirlpool dies in the water, nothing is dead! When the death-Brahman overtakes the body-Brahman, nothing is lost.

The Supreme Yoga: Yoga VasiShTha, translated by Swami Venkatesananda, Chiltern Yoga Trust. ISBN: 8120819640. Buy from Amazon US, Buy from Amazon UK.

Seeking – giving up pleasures? (Q. 322)

Q: I can see I need to live more austerely, and I am prepared to sacrifice much to bring about a more lucid and disciplined spiritual practice, but if I am honest, sacrificing those pleasures will have their cost and I will miss them. I would give up nearly anything to find a way forward, but I have heard that unless giving up pleasures is seen as so necessary it isn’t actually a sacrifice, it won’t produce any progress, making it pointless. I am confused. Living austerely definitely means sacrifice, and I could do it, but what’s the point in doing it if it won’t work? I hope I have been clear. If you could tell me what you think, I would be most grateful.

A (Sitara): Your emphasis on austerities and sacrifice indicates that you are influenced by a tradition other than Advaita Vedanta. While following dharma (an ethical lifestyle) has its place in Advaita Vedanta, it does not require austerities. It just means “be fair”, i.e. treat others the way you yourself would like to be treated. Also following a spiritual practice of meditation and prayer is thought of as beneficial for the seeker; but there is no need for much sacrifice here either, except for remaining with it even if sometimes inconvenient – having to get up a little earlier for example. Continue reading

Being a bhakta (Q. 314)

Q: I take no great pleasure in what the Buddhists call samsaric existence, and, over a long number of years, by intellectual hard work, have extricated myself from sectarian Christianity. However, I have come to realise that my progress has been not so much spiritual as intellectual. In practice, I find that I seem to be incapable of devotion, or any emotional attitude to any avatar or guru. For me, Bhakti seems to be impossible even though I really try to avoid obvious “sins”, and try to be altruistic in my outlook. It seems as if I am damned to be merely a seeking, learning intellect, with very little emotion in what I do, except in times of crisis. For instance, in desperation at what I see as my condition, I have prayed to Ramana Maharshi, asking him to open my heart, and to allow me to feel more emotion/devotion than I do. Sometimes, on such occasions I have shed tears, but they pass, and soon, I am back to my usual practical self, doing  the usual, practical things, and taking an “intelligent interest” in things.

 Years ago, I used to attend a Buddhist meditation group under a very able teacher who, it was obvious, had seen through the ego and was beyond it. (It would be too complex a matter, and would take too long, to tell you how I knew this, but know it I did. He was a very powerful being, and his aura could be felt even after leaving him.) After a number of years’ attendance, this teacher made it clear to me (I must say, very skilfully, by implication and not directly) that I was not a suitable attendee. This was even though there had been many of what I would call transcendental experiences, and insights (all, I think, thanks to the darshan of this teacher) that have now been lost. For many years, since leaving the group, I have been a loner, living a very quiet and studious life, mainly. I try to do all the good for others that I can, by being helpful to others, and as generous as I can afford to be (I think) with money. Yet, I feel as if I am damned, having lost my chance to practice with a realised teacher. And all because (it seems) I was not able to forswear sex within marriage at that time of life. Even now, in old age, when such an obstacle cannot exist, there is still the problem of a lack of a capacity for devotion — only a capacity for intellectual understanding.

 What can be done? I am afraid of being re-born in unpropitious states because of my condition. Continue reading