• gnat
    9
    When religion is discussed on the forum, it’s generally in reference to Christianity. This dialogue is valuable, but limited to the confines of Christianity. This discussion will focus on the karma cycle as described in the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita. When reading through the literature, I wondered if selfishness was inherent in karma yoga. I will explain my thinking and would love your thoughts as well.

    1. If selfishness exists, a person cannot reach enlightenment.
    2. Selfishness is inescapable.
    3. Therefore, enlightenment is unreachable. (MP 1,2)

    Karma yoga is defined as “the path of selfless, God-dedicated action” (45) in the Bhagavad Gita. Hinduism frames enlightenment as the purpose of existing, which is achieved through the release from the karma cycle. Here the irony rests: to reach enlightenment, a soul must act selflessly. Selfless action is required to be released from the karma cycle, but the action will never be entirely sacrificial because the motivation behind altruistic action is personal gain. As a result, enlightenment is unreachable because selfish intent can never be separated from altruistic action.

    A potential objection arises when considering the difference between intention and action. In its definition, karma yoga specifies selfless action, not intention. If release from the karma cycle only requires selfless action and permits selfish intention, then selfishness is no longer a threat to enlightenment because selflessness is preserved. As a result, enlightenment becomes a realistic option in the karma cycle. However, if intention is considered an action, then selflessness action is tainted by selfish intention and enlightenment is unattainable. A specification of definition is required to further develop this conversation. In regards to religions other than Hinduism that recommends that its believers act altruistically, similar logic applies. Should we be concerned if a believer acts selflessly out of ultimately selfish motive? In other words, does selfish intention taint altruistic action?
  • Valentinus
    146
    I am having trouble separating your claims from your questions. You state that, "motivation behind altruistic action is personal gain" and also ask "does selfish intention taint altruistic action?"

    I am also having trouble with accepting as a premise that "intention is considered an action." As a matter of parts of speech, intention qualifies an action. I am willing to hear other ways of listening to the idea but I don't know what it means to assume it.
  • Tzeentch
    93
    2. Selfishness is inescapable.gnat

    If a person is motivated by the needs of others, how can that be considered selfish?
  • BrianW
    481
    Karma yoga is defined as “the path of selfless, God-dedicated action” (45) in the Bhagavad Gita.gnat


    Man does not attain liberation from the chains of destiny by refusing action. By renunciation alone, one does not ascend to Perfection.
    No one can stay truly action-less even for a moment, for the properties of prakriti (matter) compel all to act!
    - Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3; 4-5.

    Therefore, perform righteous actions, for action is better than inaction. Being idle, one cannot support even one’s own body!
    Secular people are enslaved by action if it is not performed as sacrifice. Perform your action as offering to God, staying free from the attachment to the earthly, O Kaunteya! (I.e., deeds have to be performed not for the sake of oneself but for the sake of God (absolute unity and harmony of everything) — as acts of participation in His Evolution.)
    - Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3; 8-9.

    Satisfy the Divine with your sacrificial deeds — and It will satisfy you! By acting for Its sake, you will achieve the highest good.
    For the Divine satisfied with your sacrificial deeds will grant you whatever you need in life. The one who receives gifts and gives no gifts in return, is verily a thief!
    The righteous who live on the remains of their sacrificial gifts to God are liberated from sins. But those who are anxious only about their own food — they feed on sin!
    Thanks to the food, the bodies of creatures grow. The food arises from rain. The rain arises from Sacrifice. (I.e., as a result of right behavior of people.) Sacrifice is performance of right action.
    - Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3; 11-14.


    As you can see God-dedicated action means acting for the sake of the collective whole. It means understanding yourself as an individual (a self or atman) who is part of a collective of individuals (other selves or atma) and, therefore, realising that what is good for everyone is the utmost good for the individual as well because every part of life is connected and dependent on the rest.

    Selfishness means acting for oneself against others. In the Bhagavad Gita, Karma Yoga teaches against that. It teaches us to act for ourselves and for others as part of a unified and harmonic collective in God. Hence Karma Yoga requires one to possess the appropriate discernment and, consequently, the next chapter after that on Karma Yoga is called 'The Yoga of Wisdom'.
  • karl stone
    203
    When I read "enlightenment" - I didn't think yoga. I thought political system based on science and rationality. Evidence of the benefits of science and rationality surround us; this computer for example - is to my mind, miraculous. The knowledge that allows for this computer to exist is a small aspect of the truth of reality - and to my mind, enlightenment would be to accept that science describes reality, and act accordingly. The consequence would not be some immaterial sense of enlightenment - but a better world, forged in pursuit of responsibility to truth. Further though, I think there are real psychological and spiritual benefits - that not only would the outer world function better, but the inner world would too.
  • vulcanlogician
    13
    As you can see God-dedicated action means acting for the sake of the collective whole.BrianW

    Yes. A charitable reading of the Gita makes room for "selfish" actions. Acting to one's own detriment for the sake of "selflessness" might even be categorized as a sort of delusion by Krishna (see Chapter 1 where Arjuna is moved by compassion toward his enemy and refuses to fight).

    As Brian points out, the Gita doesn't prohibit selfish actions. It merely advises one against attachment to the fruits of one's actions. In principle, it is possible to perform an action whose goal is to benefit oneself and also be satisfied if such a benefit is not attained.
  • Tzeentch
    93
    What about the costs of science?
  • Pattern-chaser
    629
    When religion is discussed on the forum, it’s generally in reference to Christianitygnat

    Yes, white, male, Christian, Western techno-capitalist is quite a few ruts to be in, all at the same time! :wink: :smile:

    1. If selfishness exists, a person cannot reach enlightenment.gnat
    ...
    to reach enlightenment, a soul must act selflesslygnat
    This seems problematic to me. For a start, are "selflessness" and "selfishness" synonymous here, for you
    seem to be conflating the two? :chin:
  • Pattern-chaser
    629
    When I read "enlightenment" - I didn't think yoga. I thought political system based on science and rationality.karl stone

    enlightenment would be to accept that science describes realitykarl stone

    Really? Then you are not using the term "enlightenment" as it is commonly (exclusively?) used to describe this Eastern religio-philosophical concept, are you? Enlightenment has little or nothing to do with politics, science, rationality, or even reality (in the scientific sense), as I understand it. :chin:
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    Really? Then you are not using the term "enlightenment" as it is commonly (exclusively?) used to describe this Eastern religio-philosophical concept, are you? Enlightenment has little or nothing to do with politics, science, rationality, or even reality (in the scientific sense), as I understand itPattern-chaser

    Aren't you familiar with https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_Enlightenment?
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    2. Selfishness is inescapable.gnat

    I wouldn't agree with that premise, by the way. And I would assume that Hinduism doesn't assert that selfishness isn't inescapable if it asserts that enlightenment isn't possible without selfless action. (Of course, maybe Hinduism doesn't assert that enlightenment isn't possible without selfless action, as others suggest above.)
  • Pattern-chaser
    629

    Yes, of course. But "enlightenment" in the context of Eastern philosophy, has only one meaning. Didn't you know that? I'm sure you did.... :wink:
  • karl stone
    203
    Really? Then you are not using the term "enlightenment" as it is commonly (exclusively?) used to describe this Eastern religio-philosophical concept, are you? Enlightenment has little or nothing to do with politics, science, rationality, or even reality (in the scientific sense), as I understand it.Pattern-chaser

    Then I'm sorry to have disturbed your obvious calm!
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    Sure, but he said that when he read the thread title, he thought it was going to be about the Enlightenment. Apparently he's far more interested in that, so he decided to comment from that perspective.
  • Pattern-chaser
    629
    So he commented having read the topic title, but not having read any part of the OP? That seems strange....
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    He probably just wasn't as interested in the content of the initial post as he was in what he thought the thread was going to be about based on his interpretation of the title.
  • Dan84
    40
    We can become more subjectively enlightened, but who decides upon enlightenment?

    The progressive ‘left’ currently believe that their campaign of social justice are the actions of an enlightened mind and that Trump is a terrible mistake.

    I believe that the progressive ‘left’ are largely naive and dangerous. I believe Trump is objecticticely just a repetition of history. I think my view is more enlightened.

    In terms of the kind of Bhagavid Gita sort of enlightenment then yes it’s possible to achieve but if it’s anything other than a form of stoicism and self love; I don’t know.

    In answer Yes it is possible to achieve. But what that means.. I don’t know.
  • Pattern-chaser
    629
    In terms of the kind of Bhagavid Gita sort of enlightenment...Dan84

    ...which is what the OP asked us to consider...? :chin: So why add alternative interpretations of "enlightenment" to muddy the original poster's topic?
  • Dan84
    40
    Ok well ignore the bits you don’t like. :)
  • Dan84
    40
    in answer to do rewards to self taint altruism - my opinion;

    Noble deeds reward the Noble soul. The Nobel soul if acting selflessly is rewarded then there is no taint. If the Nobel soul acts with self gain in mind, even if only in the furthest and most silent corners of the mind, then yes, the nobility of the action is tainted.

    There are plenty of holes in the above. But I think from a rationalist perspective that’s enough to settle ones mind.

    I’ve read the BG and couldn’t help but think this selflessness sounds a hell of a lot like being selfish lol. But one needn’t handle the bread oneseld In order to feed the masses.

    Another idea is detatchment. We are destructive beings, to lesser and greater extents, by being enlightened we become more detached and pose less of a threat. That’s pretty selfless. Foregoing material gain in order to live a life of integrity that involves taking as little from the collective availability as possible.
  • BrianW
    481
    When I read "enlightenment" - I didn't think yoga. I thought political system based on science and rationality.karl stone

    When Krishna expounds on yoga in the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings are based on the principles of absolute unity. Yoga means absolute unity in spiritual teachings. Absolute unity means unity with everything or with the whole of reality. The different types of yoga are different paths to attaining such unity. Karma Yoga are teachings on how to attain unity through appropriate activity whether political, scientific, rational, social, etc, etc. Because those teachings are based on principles, they apply to all the various channels of our life-interactions.

    The enlightenment taught in the Bhagavad Gita is a comprehensive enlightenment, the only problem for most people is the spiritual language used. However, I think it is possible to translate it into political, scientific, rational, social, etc, fields of association.
  • BrianW
    481
    All actions have rewards or consequences. An action designed to benefit the collective whole also awards benefits to oneself as part of that collective. Therefore, the nobility of an action is in the awarding of benefits to oneself and others simultaneously while the taint is from excluding any others from the benefits of actions.
    The idea of Karma Yoga is to act for the sake of everyone and everything (our selves included).
  • karl stone
    203
    When Krishna expounds on yoga in the Bhagavad Gita, the teachings are based on the principles of absolute unity. Yoga means absolute unity in spiritual teachings. Absolute unity means unity with everything or with the whole of reality. The different types of yoga are different paths to attaining such unity. Karma Yoga are teachings on how to attain unity through appropriate activity whether political, scientific, rational, social, etc, etc. Because those teachings are based on principles, they apply to all the various channels of our life-interactions.

    The enlightenment taught in the Bhagavad Gita is a comprehensive enlightenment, the only problem for most people is the spiritual language used. However, I think it is possible to translate it into political, scientific, rational, social, etc, fields of association.
    BrianW

    I was quite content to have misunderstood - and for the word enlightenment to have been used in an entirely different sense here, to that which I had in mind. Because I'm a scientist and a rationalist, if you discuss this further, I shall be forced to adopt a critical position relative to your philosophy - and I have no desire to do so. Let us shake metaphorical hands and retreat to our separate realms, and for the avoidance of confusion in future, perhaps you might use the word moksha, or Kevala Jnana, or ushta instead. i.e. "Can we ever reach moksha?"
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Selfless action is required to be released from the karma cycle, but the action will never be entirely sacrificial because the motivation behind altruistic action is personal gain.gnat

    This argument is strangely reminiscent of Calvinism, for whom any really altruistic motivation is impossible, due to the ‘total depravity of the will’ arising from the fall of man, the only remedy to which is complete and unquestioning faith in Christ.

    But such arguments really don’t hold water in respect of Hinduism. In Indian spirituality, the impediment is more cognitive than volitional; it can’t be understood solely in terms of corruption of the will (although that is a factor), as the fundamental impediment is avidya. This is usually translated as ‘ignorance’ but I think a better translation would be ‘un-wisdom’. And that in turn arises from the ‘illusion of otherness’, which is inherent in the condition of having been born an individual.

    Actually that brings to mind a quote from another, wildly different source:

    A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind. 1 — Albert Einstein

    It might sound trite spelled out in such perfunctory form, but the actual task of ‘freeing oneself’ is one of great magnitude - as eloquently illustrated in the Bhagavad Gita.
  • BrianW
    481


    What enlightenment did you have in mind?
  • karl stone
    203
    What enlightenment did you have in mind?BrianW

    The Enlightenment in European history was a period in which absolutist religious authority and religious reasoning were cast off, and rationality and science were embraced. Clearly, this was never fully realized - but separation of church and state, and other secular values are attributable to the era. Thus, I took the question to mean - can we complete the enlightenment project by accepting that science truthfully describes reality, and conducting our political and economic affairs accordingly. It is, to my mind - necessary to secure a sustainable future.

    Clearly, you use the term enlightenment to refer to something else entirely, something inconsistent with a scientific rationale that demands empirical proof of reliably reproducible phenomena. I cannot help but consider this conflation of terms an unfortunate and unnecessary appropriation of a well established term with a specific and important meaning.

    The English speaking world managed to understand and incorporate words like karma - such that continuing to colonize over the idea of enlightenment seems somewhat calculating on your part; a deliberate attempt to undermine an alternate and opposed system of thought. And if you are successful - I rather suspect the entire human species likely to achieve the nirvana of non-existence!!
  • BrianW
    481
    Clearly, you use the term enlightenment to refer to something else entirely, something inconsistent with a scientific rationale that demands empirical proof of reliably reproducible phenomena.karl stone

    Not quite so.

    Enlightenment, from the Bhagavad Gita, refers to a state of unity, harmony and freedom as a conscious being within an absolute reality. I have utmost confidence that every part of its teachings are consistent with rationale, scientific or otherwise. Also, every principle or law stated in the teachings are observable in their action through phenomena thus making empiricism evident.
  • Dan84
    40


    Wouldn’t philosophy be dull if it was just science.

    Imagine.
  • BrianW
    481
    Wouldn’t philosophy be dull if it was just science.Dan84

    Yeah. And what would it mean for logic or analytical thinking if it began with the advent of modern science? Because last I checked science was initially called natural philosophy. It's weird when people speak as if logical thinking didn't exist before science.
  • karl stone
    203
    Not quite so.

    Enlightenment, from the Bhagavad Gita, refers to a state of unity, harmony and freedom as a conscious being within an absolute reality. I have utmost confidence that every part of its teachings are consistent with rationale, scientific or otherwise. Also, every principle or law stated in the teachings are observable in their action through phenomena thus making empiricism evident.
    BrianW

    The actual Enlightenment refers to something real, that actually occurred, and is rationally comprehensible - a political movement in European history that rejected absolutist religious authority in favor of science and rationality.

    A "state of unity, harmony and freedom as a conscious being within an absolute reality" is at best, a subjective psychological state - and at worst, a string of words that signify nothing. Either way, it's not consistent with empiricism - which requires proof of reliably reproducible phenomena.

    Given that the Bhagavad Gita has names for this supposed psychological state - please use those. This is beyond cultural appropriation. It's cultural vandalism to claim Enlightenment can be achieved by sitting cross legged in one's pajamas, eyes closed and believing really, really hard! The Enlightenment is the very antithesis of that kind of nonsense.
  • BrianW
    481
    This is beyond cultural appropriation - it's cultural vandalism to claim Enlightenment can be achieved by sitting cross legged in one's pajamas, eyes closed and believing really, really hard! The Enlightenment is the very antithesis of that kind of nonsense.karl stone

    This is not taught in the Bhagavad Gita. Actually, it states quite the contrary.

    Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 5; 2
    Both sannyasa and Karma Yoga will bring you to the highest good. But, verily, Karma Yoga
    is preferable!
    (Sannyasi refers to the way of life which implies renouncing the earthly and living solely meditatively.)

    Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6; 1
    The one who actively performs one’s own duty without desiring a profit is a true sannyasi.
    Such one is a Yogi, rather than those living without a fire and duties.
    (Krishna teaches that we have duties to ourselves and the communities of our fellow men and, therefore, it is against true yoga teachings to abandon such.)

    These are just a few of the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. As you can see, they harbour no delusions about what entails the path to enlightenment. Krishna himself was a king and taught the value of appropriate real life living.
    Also, the term 'enlightenment' from the 'age of enlightenment' is borrowed from the spiritual teachings found in the ancient scriptures. Back then, they thought that a scientific revolution would bring about that beatific society often alluded to in scriptures. Compared to now, obviously they were wrong, or it is yet to happen.
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