8 nov 2013

Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism - 6 : the question of the ego and the self

Submitted by Anonyme (non vérifié)

Karl Marx didn't know Buddhism and its role in India, so he thought that Hinduism had always been the dominant form and that the worship of nature was an element of it, when in fact it was an animist component of the indigenous colonized people and a peaceful component of Buddhism as a civilized and urban ideology.

If we take for example Adi Shankara (circa 788-820), one of the most important theoretician of Hinduism, we can see that he fought against the cult of Khandobā, a pre Aryan god protector of the Deccan (the southern part of India), who had the head of a dog.

This god was afterwards transformed as a form, an “avatar” of Shiva, and in fact and as we shall see, Hinduism promoted mainly Vishnu and Shiva and integrated all the non Aryan gods as “forms”, “avatars” of the others.

In the same way, Adi Shankara fought against the “Tantric” culture, i.e. magic and the erotic rituals, which existed in what became Assam, a region very remote from the Aryan zones.

Adi Shankara also developed a strong culture of the monasteries, producing an ascetic culture directly borrowed from Buddhism, still very strong in the South of India where it was initiated.

Adi Shankara was in fact the great theoretician of Hinduism, the one who crushed the already weakened Buddhism.

The point is the following: the triumph over the ego is clearly the most developed part of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Even if the reflection at this level gets lost in reactionary psychology, and if reincarnation appears as the strongest element in these systems, the level of questioning was extremely high, and contained at first a materialist dimension.

According to dialectical materialism, the thought is the reflect of the movement of eternal matter; the mode of production explained by Karl Marx allows the understanding of the relationship between thought and matter in (eternal) development.

Averroes, in formulating that the human being doesn't think, paved the way for materialism in Europe, with Latin Averroism.

In India, it was the “Buddha” which formulated the first position going in this direction. His position consisted in explaining that the conscience, as a personal ego, was an illusion.

Nevertheless, the “Buddha”'s task was to free society through religion, so he concentrated his approach on the extinction of the false ego, never valuing reality as such. The reality belonged to the absolute monarch and the merchants.

But there was still a problem: even though in this conception actions are bad because they bring pain, there was still the necessity to explain actions. It is precisely here that Hinduism developed an explanation, which is in fact precisely the same as Plato and Aristotle.

And it was Adi Shankara who played a central role. In fact, Shankara admitted the position of Buddhism, but instead of saying that the ego didn't exist, he proposed as a system the fusion of individual conscience into divine, pure conscience.

The system appeared superior to Buddhism because it presented itself as a monism: there was only one reality, the one of the superconscience, and our own conscience was a part of it. Religion was the method to understand it, and the sacred texts of the Vedas, rejected by Buddhism, a help.

Buddhism didn't explain the world, it simply denied its reality. Shankara agreed and introduced the principle of “maya”, illusion, i.e. the world as illusion. But he explained that the world was not an abstraction, but a sort of dream of the superconscience.

Buddhism explained that the material world was the product of the “will”, which created a “cause”, through “desire”. When one's will is ended , then the conscience stays in a kind of buffer zone between destruction and creation: the “nirvana”.

Shankara explained that on the contrary the effect existed before the cause, our own reality being superimposed on the eternal cause, our soul as it appears being in fact a part of the supersoul, the “atman”.

According to Shankara, for example, as he says in the Brahmasutra: “the soul is only the reflection of the higher ātman.” “The soul is only knowledge or cognition.” “It is impossible to deny ātman, since he, who is denying it, is the very ātman.” “It is impossible that the individual soul, that is knowledge, could be different from this Brahman, and it is impossible that there could exist numerous effects or separate souls.”

Plato and neo-platonism didn't say anything else: God created goodness, and goodness being something “additional” to God was in this way a “number 2”, producing the multiple. The numbers of the multiple produced, as combinations, “ideas” which gave shapes to the matter.

The goal is therefore to understand that each soul comes from the big one and wishes to return there. Shankara says precisely the same. Matter masks the soul, it is the principle of māyā-avidyā, illusion – ignorance.

In his commentary of the Brahmasutra, Shankara writes: “this superimposition, so defined, is called avidyā [ignorance] by the sages, while the affirmation of the true nature of something that is real by distinguishing / it from the superimposed things / they call knowledge”.

Shankara gave here a powerful weapon against Buddhism. But it is impossible not to notice that in this perspective, the goal is to join the “real” reality, God, and to consider without value the “low” world. The concept of māyā was even directly taken from Buddhism.

Therefore, this “advaita” (non dualist) system didn't conquer the hegemony in Hinduism, the ruling classes prefering the “dvaita” systems, i.e. a classical deist systems. But before studying these dvaita systems, let's see what was the position of materialism and why it could not triumph.