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Eastern Perspectives on Mind and Body

By Frank Simons

It is not merely that Eastern philosophy offers a different answer to the mind-body question than does Western; it doesn’t even ask the same question. The first part of the lecture looks at Hinduism, and the second part looks at Buddhism, which is even farther away from the Western tradition.

Video Presentation
Mind-Body Philosophy: Part 3–“Eastern Perspectives on Mind and Body
By Frank Simons
Thu, Jan 25, 5:30pm
Meditation Center
Callejon Blanco 4
Free, donations accepted

The ancient Indian Vedas, dating from 1500 to 500BC, are explicitly dualist; the world is seen as divided into two distinct realms: Prakriti, the natural world of observable, inner psychological processes like hunger and touch, and Atman, that which observes experiences. The fundamental mystery of Western dualism is the existence of conscious experience in a physical world. For Hindu dualism, it is the existence of Atman in the natural world of Prakriti, the existence of an observer in a world that shows only the observed. If Western philosophy is an attempt to find out how things are, Eastern is an attempt to figure out how to live. Eastern philosophers tend to speak of truth as something to approach through practice rather than theory.

In Hinduism, suffering is inherently observable; it is part of Prakriti. Atman is not part of the world of Prakriti; it is not part of the world of suffering. If one is ruled by Atman—if one is enlightened—one is free from unnecessary suffering.

Buddhism and Hinduism share an emphasis on a practical rather than a theoretical approach to the problem of suffering. But Buddhism offers a non-dualistic path which is even farther from the Western tradition. A major theme of modern Buddhism is the denial of a central self, Anatman, without Atman. There is no observer distinct from the experience, no self; underneath is emptiness, sunyata. Hinduism has many gods, Buddhism has none.

In Buddhism, what is real is what is experienced. With the disappearance of self, there is the disappearance of self-centered craving, which results in the release from suffering. Release from suffering, the practical issue, is more important than metaphysics. A Buddhist path leads to a non-dualistic worldview. Western philosophy divides the world into mental and physical; Hinduism divides the world into Atman and Prakriti; the forms of Buddhism described in this lecture deny the existence of Atman, and with one stroke they leave dualism behind.

Professor Patrick Grim, a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars. There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video. Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


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