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East Meets West

East Meets West

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Published by: Sasha Chaitow on Mar 17, 2010
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East meets West

Elements of Hindu Philosophy in Western thought

World Religions: Hinduism March 2010

Sasha Chaitow
MA Eng. Lit., MA Western Esotericism


Western Sociocultural backdrop of 19th Century
‡ Post-Enlightenment Industrial Age of Reason and Rationalism Secularism, Materialism, Determinism & Empiricism ‡ Exoteric (mainstream) religion no longer has strong influence ‡ Mystical/esoteric traditions which saw their heyday during the Renaissance survive ³underground´, but are discredited and derided as ³superstitions belonging to a benighted past´ ‡ Cultural lack of direction: science and industrialisation cannot provide answers to eternal ontological questions


³Secularism and science replaced religion and mythology as the uppermost areas for intellectual exploration, discrediting many longstanding esoteric traditions. The effects spread from the arts and natural sciences to history, rhetoric and government, with the utilitarian aim of ³the promotion of a better life on earth by making man more rational, and therefore wiser, more just, virtuous and happy.´ Achieved by avoiding the ³uncritical acceptance of the evidence of one¶s senses [«] of misunderstanding of words, of confusions bred by the speculative fantasies of philosophers,´ (Bacon) the ³clouding of reason by emotions´ (Spinoza) and the ³fallacies and confusions due to the misuse of language´ (Valla, Locke and Berkeley). Language had been handed over to the grammarians, knowledge to the encyclopaedists,´and the emergence of a secular world-view left little space altogether for esoteric and magical thinking.




Isaiah Berlin, µThe Divorce between the Sciences and the Humanities,¶ Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (London: 1955; Pimlico, 1997), pp. 80-109 (pp. 83-87) Christine Bergé, µIlluminism,¶ Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, pp. 600-606 (p. 601)

Post-Enlightenment counter-currents (mid-18th ± mid-19th centuries)
‡ ‡ Theosophy based on ³revealed knowledge´ & direct spiritual experience and visions Philosophy of artist & poet as ³initiates´ Romanticism & Symbolism ‡ Re-discovery of the µsublimity¶ of myth and poetry ‡ View of the ³universe as the self-development of a primal, non-rational force that can only be grasped by the intuitive powers of men of imaginative genius´ (Schelling) ‡ Pietism with an ³emphasis on interior spirituality´ Spiritualism: (psychic experiments, mediumship, communication with spirits) ‡ In UK & US gained over 8 million followers by late 19th century BUT no clear philosophical underpinnings Mesmerism: concept of élan vital or life force which can be directed for healing or balancing the body and spirit Swedenborgianism: based on a ³reformed Christianity´ with an emphasis on angelic hierarchies and communication with the spiritual world ‡ Though a scientist, following a spiritual vision in 1745, Swedenborg believed higher knowledge is not something that can be acquired, but that it is based on intuition. He believed that he received scientific knowledge from angels

‡ ‡ ‡

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky 1831-1891
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Born and grew up in the Ukraine ± old aristocratic family Exposed to occult literature from a very young age through her grandfather¶s library Youth marked by inexplicable incidents and psychic phenomena Abandoned her husband during their honeymoon (1849), travelled extensively around Europe, the Middle East, India, Tibet, & North America 1875 ± Establishes Theosophical Society in New York (1877 in Corfu, 1879 at Adyar, India).
‡ ‡ 1877: Publishes Isis Unveiled 1888 ± Publishes The Secret Doctrine



The most influential occult books in modern times ± synthesising centuries of occult knowledge with science and aspects of Hinduism & Buddhism

Blavatsky¶s Theosophy
‡ She sought a universal esoteric tradition in India and the religions of the Orient in an attempt to find the opposite pole to rationalist and materialist science Theosophy is a syncretic blend of Western Esoteric traditions, contemporary science and evolutionism, and a variety of philosophical and religious concepts from Buddhism and the Hindu Advaita Vedanta tradition. Some of these include: cosmology, human spiritual constitution, after-death states, reincarnation, karma, & the idea of Ascended Masters guiding mankind Blavatsky did NOT import these philosophies piecemeal, but uniquely adapted them into a hybrid of Eastern and Western thought, ³projecting an ancient wisdom tradition to be shared by all mankind´




(Organisation) culture is the emergent result of the continuing negotiations about values, meanings and proprieties between the members of that organisation and with its environment. (Richard Seel, http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/culture-complex.htm ) A paradigm is a constellation of concepts, values, perceptions and practices shared by a community, which forms a particular vision of reality that is the basis of the way a community organises itself. (Capra 1997:6)

Cultural Identity

Outward expression within: Society Politics Values

3 Points of convergence: The Perennial Philosophy, Monism, Illusion of Matter
Advaita Vedanta
‡Found in the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda: consolidated by Adi Shankara (788 CE - 820 CE) ‡Characterised by emphasis on Monism and panentheism (all is in God - Brahma and God is in everything): no differentiation between material life, human soul (Atman) and Brahma ‡The secret for attaining moksha (liberation) from samsara (the reincarnation cycle) is through absolute knowledge of Brahma and inner realization of this lack of differentiation ‡Brahman is the only truth, the spatio-temporal world is an illusion, and there is ultimately no difference between Brahman and individual self. ‡Advaita Vedanta is based on stra ("scriptures"), yukti ("reason") and anubhava ("experience"), and aided by karmas ("spiritual practices")

Advaita Vedanta

Perennial Philosophy ± ³That thou art´
‡The universal recurrence of universal truths independent of epoch or culture, including universal truths on the nature of reality, humanity or consciousness ‡Linked to the prisca theologia (pure, first theology as given to Adam by God). Emphasis on seeking the earliest possible revelations of truth. ‡Sought after by numerous esoteric philosophers from the Renaissance onwards ‡Blavatsky¶s driving force and the core of her Secret Doctrine. Through amalgamating the essence of all esoteric philosophies (east & West) she could produce a universal esoteric tradition, above and beyond the material world as well as exoteric religion.

The Sanskrit for swan is hamsa. Repeated as a mantra it becomes soham ("I am That"). Just as a swan lives in water but does not become waterlogged, a liberated Advaitin lives in this world full of Maya but is untouched by its illusion

Maya ± Gnosticism -The Ring Pass-not
‡ ‡ ‡ ‡ Maya: ³the veil´, the principal concept which manifests, perpetuates and governs the illusion of duality in the phenomenal Universe The goal of enlightenment is to understand and experience this: to see intuitively that the distinction between the self and the Universe is a false one. Plato and especially later NeoPlatonists describe this concept in a very similar way. Gnosticism, a strongly dualist religion that developed c300 BCE and informs the majority of W. Esoteric currents, bases its very essence on this division; Matter is considered inherently evil and the material world seen as the creation of ³a lesser god´ Boehme considers this the necessity of existence ± for God to know Himself duality had to come into being ± thus explaining the necessity of evil Blavatsky speaks of the Ring Pass-Not, based on Gnostic mythology, but takes a more Eastern view (echoed by Plato)± through enlightenment it can be crossed; the veil can be lifted In Advaita Vedanta it is a false division caused by a playful god, and a challenge to be met in the quest for enlightenment

‡ ‡ ‡

Further Reading
‡ ‡ ‡ Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas, Helena Blavatsky [Western Esoteric Masters Series] (Berkley: North Atlantic, 2004) Hanegraaff, Wouter J., New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism through the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden: Brill, 1996) van Egmond, Daniël, µWestern Esoteric Schools in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries,¶ in Gnosis and Hermeticism from Antiquity to Modern Times, Roelof van den Broek and Wouter J. Hanegraaff eds. (Albany, NY, SUNY: 1998) Isaiah Berlin, µThe Divorce between the Sciences and the Humanities,¶ Against the Current: Essays in the History of Ideas (London: 1955; Pimlico, 1997), pp. 80-109 (pp. 83-87) Christine Bergé, µIlluminism,¶ Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism Godwin, Joscelyn, The Theosophical Enlightenment, (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1994) http://sashanonserviat.net/blog/en/articles/east-meets-west-world-religionshinduism-in-the-west/ sasha@sashanonserviat.net

‡ ‡ ‡

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