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                                                          Hindu Ethics

                                                       by Robert Waxman 

                        

                                                           Introduction

     In The Evolution of Integral Consciousness, Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri offers a detailed account of Hinduism’s influence on The Integral Consciousness Movement. Throughout the book, he explains Hindu concepts and Sanskrit words that are the foundations of the Integral approach.

     Chaudhuri’s articles on Integral Consciousness begin appearing in scholarly journals in the 1950’s, and he establishes The California Institute of Integral Studies in 1968. He was a devoted student of Sri Aurobindo, who is considered one of the foremost religious philosophers of the 20th Century. Aurobindo was a political activist, mystic, spiritual leader, and a poet, yogi and teacher (2008). Chaudhuri includes many of Aurobindo’s teachings in his writings that serve as a bridge between Hinduism and The Integral Consciousness Movement.

     This paper will examine Chaudhuri’s interpretation of Aurobindo’s teachings, and many Hindu concepts affecting the formation of The Integral Consciousness Movement. The discussion includes the advantages and disadvantages of Hinduism’s and Existentialism’s influence on Integral Consciousness. Additionally, there are conclusions that summarize the foundational beliefs of The Integral Consciousness Movement, and its continuing assimilation of Hindu and Existential thought. 

     

                                                            Commentary

     The Integral Consciousness Movement begins in 1951 when Dr. Haridas Chaudhuri is invited by Frederic Spiegelberg of Stanford University to join the staff of the American Academy of Asian Studies in San Francisco. “He accepted the invitation, eager to implement in a Western educational institution the integral approach to education that he had developed as a student of Sri Aurobindo” (2008). Chaudhuri’s articles about Hinduism are published in Western journals during the 1950’s, but it is not until the early 1960’s when his articles on Integral Consciousness are published in the West (2008). It is important to review Chaudhuri’s definition of Integral Consciousness:

The truth, which is of paramount importance to us, is that consciousness is an emergent value that arises at the human level and lends a unique glory to man as the focus of Being. It reveals to him the realm of boundless possibilities and makes him the master of his destiny. It bestows upon him the creative ability to refashion life and society into an image of his inner vision of truth and beauty and righteousness. (1977, p. 42) 

     Chaudhuri has a unique opportunity in the early 1960’s to create The Integral Consciousness Movement by ‘westernizing’ Hindu teachings and sharing its universal wisdom with the world. He realizes that Americans will not want to read the complex books of Hinduism (Vedas, Upanishads, etc.), so, he summarizes the main teachings of Aurobindo’s Hinduism, and offers a more appealing version of Hindu thought to the West. By combining Hinduism with various aspects of Existentialism, Chaudhuri creates a new philosophy of Integral Consciousness. This combination of ‘Eastern and Western thought’ resonates with spiritual seekers, intellectuals, and the youth of a changing American culture. Chaudhuri’s Integral Consciousness system is refreshing and exciting to middle-class youth, and he becomes a popular teacher, writer and founder of a new University.  

     Before reviewing Hinduism’s influence on The Integral Consciousness Movement, it is important to understand Aurobindo’s influence on Chaudhuri’s thinking. Aurobindo inspires Chaudhuri by introducing him to the idea of integralism - “a self-coherent articulation of the integral experience of reality” (Chaudhuri, 1953, p. 131). This vision of reality includes experiencing a connection with the essence of existence, and integrating aspects of the human condition such as “common sense, science, art, morality, religion” into a person’s everyday life (p. 131). Aurobindo also describes the benefits of living in harmony with the Ultimate Reality, and how to experience the highest form of spiritual intuition. Chaudhuri builds on Aurobindo’s teachings by developing a system “that provides the basis for a new orientation of our evolutionary advance” (p. 135).

     Chaudhuri understands Aurobindo’s concept of integralism and its close relationship to mysticism. He explains the similarities and differences between these two systems.

There is no doubt that mysticism expresses a significant truth in its emphasis upon the essential ineffable character of the ultimate reality and in demonstrating the imperfection and inadequacy of the purely intellectual approach to reality.  But mysticism overshoots the mark when it proceeds to deny, on the basis of the ineffable mystery of existence, the reality of individuality and cosmic creativity and, also to deprecate the importance of thought or intellect as an instrument of objective self-expression of reality.  (Chaudhuri, 1953, p. 135).       

This comment by Chaudhuri about the similarities between Vedanta’s Brahman and integralism’s Ultimate Reality, provides a solid foundation for the ‘Integral Consciousness-Vedanta’ connection. However, Chaudhuri argues that mysticism (Advaita-Vedanta) is unlike integralism, when it deprives the individual of creative expression. In The Mystic Heart by Teasdale, the author voices the same concern about this limitation of Hindu mysticism. Teasdale says that by combining Eastern and Western mysticism, the individual can express his unique creative ‘identity’ (pp. 226 – 227).

     Chaudhuri criticizes the system of Shankara (founder of Advaita), for over-emphasizing the importance of meditating and achieving oneness with Brahman. Alternatively, the student of integralism is connecting (or participating) in all aspects of the human experience, and still continues to pursue his meditative practices. In Vedanta; Heart of Hinduism, Torweston agrees with Chaudhuri’s position on Shankara’s strict meditative system, “During the Middle Ages we find Shankara’s static ‘absolute’ on the one side of the divide, and a series of theistic systems on the other” (1991, p. 156). Consequently, Shankara’s Advaita suffers a serious division of ideology, and Ramanuja (12th Century Vedantin philosopher) forms a balanced system of meditative and

devotional practices called Vishishta-Advaita. In the same way Ramanuja modifies Shankara’s Advaita, Chaudhuri modifies traditional Vedanta. Similarly, as Ramanuja emphasizes the individual’s participation in nature, Chaudhuri’s encourages the individual to express creativity into the evolving nature of all things. According to Torweston, Ramanuja’s preliminary form of an ‘integral’ philosophy includes such concepts as ‘oneness with nature’ and the ‘individuality of the soul’. 

One could call it [Romanuja’s Vishishta-Advaita] a ‘pan-en-theism’, a view of God and the world which attempts to balance an extreme pantheism with a no less extreme monotheism (where the stress is separating creator from creature)…The individual soul is not altogether identical with Brahman. Rather, Ramanuja’s conception was that of an organic whole where the individual soul is part of Brahman. (1991, p. 158).   

Correspondingly, Ramanuja and Chaudhuri offer similar solutions for satisfying the two essential needs of most spiritual seekers – expressing the creativity of one’s self in the world, and experiencing oneness with God. Torweston reinforces this point:

This idea of an organic whole in which all parts are oriented toward the one, toward god, in whose being they ‘partake’, is not only more accessible to the human heart than Shankara’s position was, but also one that makes more sense to the mind.

Ramanuja’s Vishishta-Advaita, like Chaudhuri’s Integral Consciousness, emphasizes the importance of the individual. Included in Ramanuja’s and Chaudhuri’s teachings are feelings of wholeness, balance, and love. Both men have similar desires to change the consciousness of their times. Therefore, Ramanuja’s Vishishta-Advaita influences the development of The Integral Consciousness Movement.  

     Chaudhuri is consistent in his views on integralism. He interprets the Bhagavad Gita as a Universalist and not as a mystic. He writes about the universal message of the Gita without bias or attempting to secularize its teachings. According to Chaudhuri,

Besides being the most systematic scriptural statement of the Perennial Philosophy, as Aldous Huxley has aptly described the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, it formulates the guiding principles of human conduct, shows us how we can resolve our spiritual crises and ethical conflicts with reference to the ultimate goal of human life, and thus transcends in its central message the boundaries of East and West (1955, p. 245)

Chaudhuri interprets the Gita as a universal methodology for transforming an individual into a fully integrated human being. He does not concentrate on the metaphysical abstractions of the Gita or its theological significance. Instead, he views Krishna’s advice to Arjuna as a call to action. He also underlines the importance of balancing the yogas - bhakti, jnana and karma. Chaudhuri believes the Gita is helping humanity to establish higher values, and encourages each individual to contribute goodness and love to the world. His in-depth discussion of the Gita provides another example of Hinduism’s influence on The Integral Consciousness Movement. Chaudhuri offers conclusions about The Bhagavad Gita and reinforces themes of integralism.

We cannot blindly follow any pre-established general principle or set of principles. There is a constant need for independent thinking, intelligent reliance upon competent authorities, and critical self-examination. The refusal to follow the line of least resistance or of blind conformity to some generalized principles is, indeed, a hard way. (Chaudhuri, 1955, p. 153)

     Chaudhuri’s aforementioned comments about the Gita are similar to the Existentialist view of individualism and conformity. Although this paper focuses on Hinduism’s influence on The Integral Consciousness Movement, it is important to understand Existentialism’s influence on this Movement as well. According to Chaudhuri,

In my view there are profound elements of truth in both the classical Hindu view and the existentialist view…Such a synthesis would be the essence of the integral view of consciousness…The integral consciousness enables man to grasp simultaneously the timeless mystery of Being and the meaning of time. (1977, p. 40)               

Although, Chaudhuri is positing that Hinduism and Existentialism are capable of synthesizing into a form of integralism, it is important to note that Hinduism has a strong influence on the Existentialist Movement. The validity of this claim finds proof with the writing of a journal article by Chaudhuri entitled, Existentialism and Vedanta. In this article, Chaudhuri speaks about Hinduism’s influence on Existentialism, and how Vedanta and Existentialism grapple with many of the same perennial questions. These timeless questions include the ‘nature of Being’, the relationship between mankind and ‘the abstract mystery’ (mysterium tremendum), and how to experience joy through self-realization.

     There are many interpretations of Existentialism, and many of the well-known Existentialists contradict each other. However, Chaudhuri says there is a common thread among Existential philosophers relating to the main issue of man’s alienation from existence.

Uprooted from the matrix of existence, he is plunged into an age of anxiety, doubt, and despair…Man finds himself a stranger in an alien universe. He is faced with a world from which the old gods have disappeared, the all-too-familiar traditional values have been liquidated, and in consequence a terrifying metaphysical void has been created in the minds of those who think. (Chaudhuri, 1962, p. 5)

Chaudhuri claims there is an important connection between Existentialism and Hinduism. He believes these two philosophies complement each other. However, after reading Existentialism and Vedanta by Chaudhuri, one comes away with the feeling that the Existentialists are trying to resolve man’s search for meaning by adopting a core Vedantic teaching.

Vedanta has always stressed the need for man’s reintegration with pure Being or with the inmost center of his own existence. Pure Being has been regarded as the source of all values and the supreme fulfillment of all life. (1962, p. 4).

In Denial of Death, Existentialist Ernest Becker confirms the Eastern origins of the existential solution to man’s problem of finding meaning.

The whole thing seems very logical, factual, and true to nature: man peels away his armor and unfolds his inner self….and so it seems logical to say that we are being constantly ‘created and sustained’ out of the ‘invisible void’ - the ‘inner room’ of Taoism, the ‘realm of essence’,  ‘the source of all things’ or the ‘It’. (1973, p. 274)

The philosophical link between Existentialism and Vedanta is their systematic questioning about the true nature of existence. Vedanta and Existentialism both teach transcendence as a method of overcoming false ideas that are projected into a world of illusion (maya). However, their philosophical differences relate to the motivating factors for wanting to transcend a false reality. The Vedantin has an enthusiastic spiritual motivation by maintaining faith, hope, and a genuine desire to experience oneness through self-realization. However, the Existentialist has a self-serving desire to escape from societal fictions, feelings of alienation, and fear of death. The Vedantin believes that by transcending the world of maya, he will experience a supernal, blissful state of Being. According to Chaudhuri,

Whereas, according to Vedanta, consciousness in its inmost structure is of the essence of Being, Sartre affirms consciousness is a Nothingness, which is also a revelation of Being. In Vedanta, consciousness shines out in its complete purity and grandeur on the attainment of Samadhi, the fundamental ontological dimension of human experience. (1962, p. 17)  

It is important to note that Sartre’s indifferent ‘Nothingness’, is in opposition to the optimistic ‘Nothingness’ of Vedanta (Brahman). Chaudhuri states, “I personally believe in optimism. This very attitude of optimism is good because by being an optimist, by looking forward to the future with hope and self-confidence, we generate positive forces (1991, p.133). Vedanta offers this type of spiritual optimism, while Existentialism offers intellectual agnosticism. Therefore, Vedanta’s optimism is compatible with the teachings of Chaudhuri and The Integral Consciousness Movement.

     Existentialism is compatible with integralism’s goal of transcendence, and its intellectual probing into the ‘nature of existence’. However, Existentialism is not compatible with Vedanta’s spiritual motives for experiencing transcendence, nor is it concerned with the progression of the soul toward enlightenment. Consequently, Existentialism has limitations influencing Integral Consciousness.

     Since the optimism of Aurobindo’s Vedanta is such a major influence on Integral Consciousness, it is important to discuss additional details of Aurobindo’s teachings. Aurobindo’s vision of Vedanta reflects his outlook on life, and his desire to reconcile Vedantic metaphysical schools with its humanistic, intellectual and transcendental schools (Chaudhuri, 1962, p. 4). Chaudhuri agrees with Aurobindo’s position, and wants to unite the various sects of Vedanta. Aurobindo also believes that the intellect is not the sole vehicle for achieving self-realization. Although he values the Advaitic concept of achieving oneness with Brahman, he realizes the pursuit of truth is equally as valuable (McDermott, 1972, p. 19). His vision of Vedanta includes expressing one’s truth in the world, and experiencing that truth by living it every day. His experiential philosophy is a spiritual quest to find what the soul is seeking. However, Aurobindo stresses that mind alone is incapable of satisfying the needs of the soul. According to Aurobindo,

It is not by ‘thinking out’ the entire reality, but by a change of consciousness that one can pass from ignorance to Knowledge – Knowledge by which we become what we know. To pass from the external to a direct and intimate inner consciousness; to widen consciousness out of the limits of the ego and body; to heighten it by an inner will and aspiration and opening to the Light till it passes in its ascent beyond Mind, to bring down a descent of the supra-mental Divine through self-giving and surrender with a consequent transformation of mind, life and body – this is the integral way to the Truth. (Sen, 1963, p.293)

Aurobindo’s philosophy strongly influences Chaudhuri’s development of Integral Consciousness. Chaudhuri is building on the foundational work of Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga by developing the Integral Consciousness system.

The secret of Aurobindo’s yoga lies in man’s conscious cooperation with the creative energy of Being toward the integral transformation of his total being, including the social and global dimension….The more there are men with the integral Being-awareness and the more men begin to assume responsibility and accept suffering with a view toward reshaping affairs of the world, the more the projected kingdom of truth, love, justice, peace, freedom is to be established on earth. (Chaudhuri, 1972, p. 14)    

These fundamental concepts of Integral Yoga are based on Aurobindo’s book, The Synthesis of Yoga (Chaudhuri, 1972, p. 10). According to Chaudhuri, “I have tried to express the same [fundamental principles of Aurobindo] in a brief compass in the context of contemporary thinking in my book (p. 10). This statement by Chaudhuri underlines Hinduism’s influence on The Integral Consciousness Movement.

                                                              

                                                              Conclusion

     In The Evolution of Integral Consciousness, Chaudhuri explains his life’s work. He discusses many teachers, books, religions and philosophies which influence his thinking over two decades. Of all these influences, it is clear that Aurobindo’s innovative philosophy of Vedanta is most important. Chaudhuri deserves credit for being proud of his Hindu upbringing, and his devotion to Hindu teachings. He is straightforward and definitive on every subject, and does not back away from explaining Vedic concepts, Sanskrit words, and important Hindu principles.

     Chaudhuri has a wonderful opportunity in the 1960’s to share Integral philosophy with the West. He does not allow this opportunity to pass him by. Instead, he writes books, scholarly articles, teaches, and becomes the founder of The California Institute of Integral Studies. With his knowledge and experience, he introduces a synthesized version of Vedanta and Existentialism to students, spiritual seekers and intellectuals. He simplifies the complex teachings of Vedanta, and combines them with the best of Existentialism. He creates an appealing East-West ‘perennial philosophy’ that contributes to raising the consciousness of the world.

      During the apathetic 1970’s, many people are feeling that life has no meaning or purpose. With the introduction of Integral Consciousness, Chaudhuri offers them a new way of thinking, and a specific method for connecting with The Ultimate Reality. By the mid-1970’s, The Integral Consciousness Movement is bringing like-minded people together, and changing perceptions about philosophy, history, psychology, education and science. 

     Chaudhuri teaches people to look within themselves to find answers to life’s most difficult questions. He understands that the universe is a unified macrocosm, and each person is a microcosmic part of the organic whole. He recognizes the importance of the individual, and explains that each person is responsible for advancing world consciousness.

     Chaudhuri assimilates the best of Hinduism and Existentialism into the Integral Consciousness Movement. He dedicates his to life to pursuing a vision of an interconnecting world, where the highest values of love and compassion overcome hate and selfishness. With his knowledge and experience, he understands the significance of developing the self, tapping into unconscious wisdom, connecting with a Divine source, and finding one’s own truth. His teachings include having faith in cosmic goodness, keeping body-mind-spirit healthy, and believing in survival of consciousness after-death. Ultimately, he wants every person to experience self-realization, and express their creativity in ways that serve humanity.