In this article, I would like to discuss the idea of the wise person in Stoicism, with a focus on Seneca’s writings and the origin of the concept in Plato’s writings. The article will discuss (a) who is a Sapiens, (b) the process of becoming a Sapiens and (c) philosophical critique of this concept. At each stage, the article shows the connection to Plato and Platonic tradition. The critique of the concept also evaluates pitfalls of the concept of the wise person and the pitfalls of Stoic attachment with Platonic idealism, which suffers similar setbacks.
Who is a Sapiens
The concept of a wise person, also known as Sapiens in Latin or ‘ho sophos’ in Greek first entered Graeco-Roman culture when the Delphic Oracle declared Socrates to be the wisest man of all. Although Socrates tried his best to refute that statement by pointing to weaknesses and lapses in his own life, the sobriquet never left him and he came to symbolize the ideal of life in that society. His influence was so great that even a century after his death, Zeno of Citium was found recommending the ideals of Socrates as standards of life for everyone. The life of a sapiens and that of Socrates became interchangeable terms. Every citizen was urged to be like Socrates. Hence it became important to arrange the Socratic values into a system to serve as a design for training and guidance. Zeno codified these norms and other Stoics including Seneca followed suit.
The process of Becoming a Sapiens
Comprehending the Sapiens as an embodiment of Stoic ethics entails understanding Stoic ethical notions. Stoic scholars listed them separately, commented upon them individually and made some attempts at defining them. Some of the common features of the ethics include the concepts of kathekonta (appropriate actions), oikeiosis (what belongs to oneself), eudaimonia (happy life), arête (virtue) and the Sapiens (wise person), in whom all the ethical terms find their apotheosis. Stoic dialectics plays a key role in understanding how the wise person acquires the expertise to match different situations with suitable arguments, to resist his impulsive responses, and to give his assent to the right judgment. The Stoic theory of indifferents, divided between preferable and less preferable indifferents, sheds some light on the essential and inherent sense of detachment or apatheia in the Sapiens. The telos of a human life, living in accordance with nature, contributes to virtue and wisdom and thereby leads to happiness.
Philosophical Critique of this Concept
Stoic theories seem to fall in the same trap, as does Plato’s idealism including his theory of Ideas. Stoics take inspiration from Platonic philosophy. They ape his philosophical positions and are open to similar charges as Platonic philosophy. Stoic or Platonic theories are idealistic and attractive, but neither pragmatic nor detail oriented. As a result, it enables their critiques to call in question their holistic understanding without showing inconsistencies in their detailed footwork. The charges of creating a utopian concept of a wise person or supporting the elitist culture throughout their philosophies are aimed at the root of Stoic agenda of virtue.
Society upheld Plato’s dialogue ‘Apology’ as a good defense of Socrates’s viewpoint, after Socrates paid the price for his philosophical perspectives with his life. Seneca certainly gained a good following in the later literature, probably because of his unfair death at the hands of Nero or because of being one of the few Stoic writers, whose original writing had survived through the ages. Nevertheless, looking at the philosophical conception of Seneca’s Sapiens, one can derive certain similarities in the fate of this theory with that of Platonic theory of Ideas. Both the theories make an attempt to grapple with some colossal issues of human understanding, namely how to attain human perfection or how to understand reality. They come very close to having solutions. But in the attempt to have perfect solutions, both create utopian structure – Seneca by creating a perfect wise person and Plato by creating an idea of the essence of an object. Nonetheless, neither Plato nor Seneca see this charge as fatal and here is why. It is important to understand a philosophical position in its own conceptual make-up. Given the ideological background of both philosophies, it is a little wonder that they understood the world in terms of perfection. If Aristotle had flourished prior to Plato, Plato would have been able to refute his theories. What is significant for Stoics is that they offer a perfect package of an ideal human being to the world and let everyone strive for perfection, so that the world will be a better place. The only way to make it possible was to create a theory, which was faultless.
Kurt Goedel proved that no mathematical system is both complete and consistent. The same principle would apply to a philosophical theory as well. Both Platonic theory of ideas and Seneca’s Sapiens are beautifully designed ‘consistent’ theories, but whether they are complete or not, depends on how well we can interpret them and learn to apply those principles in our lives.
Moral Essays by Seneca (Available on Amazon, or in the local libraries, certainly at the Firestone library at the University) – Useful for Lectures 5, 6, 7
Bhagavad-Gita, Translation of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd chapters – you are welcome to read all the chapters. (There are many good books available on the Gita, also many PDFs. Here is one that I think highly of. The print version is available in the bookstores. http://www.bhagavatgita.ru/files/Bhagavad-gita_As_It_Is.pdf) – Useful for Lectures 1 and 2
Raj-Yoga by Swami Vivekananda (available on Amazon) – Useful for Lecture 8
Theaetetus by Plato (Available on Amazon or the Firestone library)
History of Indian Philosophy by R D Ranade and S K Belvalkar (Available on Amazon) – Useful for Lecture 1 and 2
Seneca: A Philosopher in Politics by Mirium Griffin (Available on Amazon or the Firestone library) – Useful for Lecture 3 and 4
‘A Constructive Survey by Upanishadic Philosophy’ by R. D. Ranade (Available on Amazon) – Useful for Lectures 7 and 8
Odile Belmont taught French language at the Princeton University as a Lecturer.
In ‘Sapiens and Sthitaprajna‘, Ashwini Mokashi makes an interesting comparison between Sapiens, the wise person in Seneca’s Stoic philosophy, and Sthitaprajna, the sage according to the Indian tradition.
The questions raised in the book seem as relevant today as they were such a long time ago, namely, how can one be wise and happy at the same time.
It was surprising to find so many similarities between these two ancient philosophies on the topic of wisdom. Both Sapiens and Sthitaprajna must exercise good judgment before acting. They must be free of passions. They set an example by their behaviour.
The author also makes a brilliant analysis of the differences between them. The Stoics thought of acquiring wisdom in preparation for death, with no idea of an afterlife. While in the Gita, meditation and yoga enable one to reach moksha, or liberation, from the cycles of birth and rebirth.
The pursuit of wisdom, virtue, and happiness are lifelong goals, and the process of attaining these goals itself is a worthwhile experience. Such themes from ancient texts continue into contemporary conversation, while the quest for happiness is pursued anew with each new generation. Ancient wisdom has stood the test of time and it behooves us to apply these principles to modern situations.
The wise person of the Gita, Sthitaprajna, is concerned with what is right action and how to exercise right judgment. In doing so, the sage becomes a Jnana-yogi, and by performing the right actions, the Sthitaprajna also becomes a Karma-yogi.
The Sthitaprajna possesses the following characteristics:
Wise people abandon all desires and have no eager and earnest longings. They have no sense of possessiveness, sense of ‘mine’. They discard their ego (ahamkara) or a sense of pride in themselves. Their concern for the self is absorbed into a concern for the divine. They are tranquil and happy. This state is known as the state of wisdom (sthita-prajna) or the state of Brahman establishment (Brahmi-sthiti). This state is no doubt difficult to attain but once attained, it stays with the Sthitaprajna until the end.
Stoic Seneca’s Answer
The wise person of Stoic Seneca, Sapiens, embodies the ethical tenets of Stoicism, which bring them permanent happiness. Seneca describes how to be wise by incorporating the Stoic ethical concepts such as appropriate actions (kathekonta), what belongs to oneself (oikeiosis), virtue (arete), detachment (apatheia), telos (goal) of living in accordance with nature, knowledge of the laws of nature, which together lead to happiness (eudaimonia). For Seneca, happiness essentially means tranquility and peace of mind, which results from a constant practice of virtue, and intellectual exercise, which is required to perform moral actions. The choice of action may not be conventional, but it is always moral. The integrity of moral thoughts and actions results in tranquility, which leads to happiness. Seneca’s critique of emotions, such as anger and grief highlight both the utility and futility of emotions, which emphasize the need for detachment from passions in the pursuit of virtue.
In both systems, a wise person is one who has the capacity for making correct judgments when undertaking action, and for these s/he then assumes complete responsibility. Right thinking results in right action, essential for peace of mind and happiness: right or moral actions lead to virtue. Happiness results from knowing one has done the right thing at the right time. Whatever a wise person chooses to do is for the good of mankind. In that sense, s/he is divine. Such people enjoy constant happiness.
Seneca’s treatment of various emotions is one of the most unique features of his philosophical writings. Seneca treats different emotions with the skill of a psychological therapist and shows the futility of those emotions in a very logical and sensitive way, without making it sound like a Stoic mandate of denying passions to any individual. Seneca’s great contribution is to make this concept available to everyone by giving people directions instead of merely asking them to rise to a high standard of the ethical expectations of Stoicism.
This is a repost of the piece first published in the Op-Ed section of the Indian Express on August 12, 2019.
When I published my book or when I began the blog, I remember thinking I would be lucky if I could persuade a handful of my friends to read some philosophical thoughts. Seriously, who reads Philosophy?
Now I know that the articles in English and Marathi languages on this blog have been viewed more than 1100 times from viewers of twenty different countries. Besides the blog views, there are hundreds of views on academic websites, such as researchgate, academia.org. The TV interview on the Princeton community TV – thanks to Joan Goldstein for inviting me to her show, received the second rank in the ‘Top Ten Views’ of August 2019. An op-ed each in the two newspapers in India, Indian Express and Loksatta, thanks to the Editor of Loksatta Mr. Girish Kuber, received much positive feedback. When my book ‘Sapiens and Sthitaprajna’ was published last year in 2019, the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute invited me to deliver the Bapat Memorial lecture, which was well attended. I am most grateful to the Bhandarkar Institute and the Secretary of the Institute, Prof. Shrikant Bahulkar for this honor. The talk at the Bhandarkar was also covered in the local Indian Express, thanks to Anuradha Mascarenhas, a senior Editor in Pune and her team. I must admit that this kind of response is most unusual.
The inspiration for this blog and for the philosophical articles has come mostly from my social work over a period and from studying Philosophy over a lifetime. In the College days, sometimes I would visit the detention facilities in Pune India to teach the kids (of prisoners) stories from ancient Indian texts, or volunteer in the slums of Pune to teach them values of hygiene. In the last few years, I offered some time as a server at the soup kitchen, or as a (trainee) ambulance driver of the Emergency Medical Service in New Jersey, USA. Last few years, I also got an opportunity to observe the work of an Institute ‘Hope Project’ in New Delhi, India, that provided education to the street children. These situations used to weigh on my mind and make me wonder how to help these people solve their problems in life, how to give them perspective on life, so they can support their own lives better. I don’t have the financial means to lift the lives of all the people I would like to help, but I do have some solutions to offer them based on my intellectual work in the field of Philosophy. I decided to do just that. It was only a short span of time that I have spent on my social work, compared to the time I have spent on my family, my career or my research. Yet the influence that these short and intense moments have had on my life is tremendous. It has given me a chance to look at social issues from all angles and figure out what kinds of solutions are possible to any given problem.
If we look at the population of the world in the bell curve statistics, the 15% on the extreme left of the line are unable to handle their lives, as they are too perturbed to function. The 15% on the other extreme can thrive in their lives, thanks to their wisdom, perseverance and available means. The middle population – roughly 70%, have figured out some tricks of how to keep their lives balanced, but not all of them and not always. I have seen many middle-class families suddenly lose most of what they had during the recession years, or due to crisis in their family. They need help too, not just the 15% on the left side of the curve. When we are in a crisis, it becomes too tough to realize whom to trust, whom to turn to and to gather the means to seek solutions. Therefore, it is always important to support our lives and develop the strength to deal with these issues.
Wisdom, perspective and a good understanding of life will help us survive and thrive. It will create more opportunities, more Happiness and less diseases. This was the background for the project of the book and the blog, with the goal of connecting philosophical wisdom to modern issues to help resolve them. Thank you again!
धन्यवाद, वाचकांनी माझ्या ब्लॉगचे ११०० पेक्षा जास्त वेळा वाचन करून जे समर्थन केले, त्याबद्दल मनःपूर्वक धन्यवाद!
मी ब्लॉग सुरू केला तेव्हा मनात विचार केला होता, की माझ्या हातावर मोजण्याइतक्या काही मित्रमैत्रिणींना थोडेफार तत्वज्ञानाचे विचार वाचण्यास जरी मी राजी करू शकले, तरी मी स्वतःला भाग्यवान समजेन. खरंच, कोण वाचतो तत्वज्ञान ?
या ब्लॉगवरील इंग्रजी आणि मराठीतील माझे लेख वीस वेगवेगळ्या देशांच्या लोकांनी वाचले. याव्यतिरिक्त, शेकडो शैक्षणिकांकडून रिसर्चगेट, अकॅडेमिया व इतर वेबसाइट्सवर हे लेख वाचले गेले. जोन गोल्डस्टईन यांच्या निमंत्रणावरून प्रसारित झालेल्या टीव्ही मुलाखतीला ‘टॉप टेन व्ह्यूज’ मधील दुसरे स्थान प्रिन्सटन कम्युनिटी टीव्हीद्वारे मिळाले. एक ऑप-एड लेख इंडियन एक्स्प्रेसमध्ये, तर एक ऑप-एड लेख लोकसत्तामध्ये प्रसिद्ध झाला. त्याबद्दल श्री गिरीश कुबेर या लोकसत्ताच्या संपादकांचे खूप खूप आभार. माझे इंग्रजीतील पुस्तक ‘सेपियन्स अँड स्थितप्रज्ञ’ मागील वर्षी प्रसिद्ध झाले तेव्हा, भांडारकर ओरिएंटल रिसर्च इंस्टीट्युटने मला भाषण द्यायला आमंत्रित करून जो बहुमान दिला त्याबद्दल त्या संस्थेचे आणि संस्थेचे सेक्रेटरी या नात्याने प्राध्यापक श्रीकांत बाहुलकर यांची मी खूप आभारी आहे. या भाषणाचा वृत्तांत पुण्याहून प्रसिद्ध होणाऱ्या लोकल इंडियन एक्सप्रेस मध्ये केल्याबद्दल मी अनुराधा मसकॅरेन्हास यांची आणि त्यांच्या टीमची पण ऋणी आहे. हे सर्व खूप विलक्षण आहे.
या ब्लॉगची आणि तात्विक लेखांची प्रेरणा माझ्या थोड्याफार केलेल्या सामाजिक कार्याद्वारे आणि आयुष्यभर केलेल्या तत्त्वज्ञानाच्या अभ्यासामुळे प्राप्त झाली आहे. मी कॉलेजमध्ये असताना पुण्यातील कैद्यांच्या मुलांना भारतीय तत्त्वज्ञानातील गोष्टी सांगायचे, पुण्यातील झोपडपट्टीत राहणाऱ्या लोकांना स्वचछतेचे महत्त्व पटवून द्यायचे. गेल्या काही वर्षातअमेरिकेतल्या सूप किचनमध्ये वाढपी म्हणून मदत करायचे किंवा न्यू जर्सीमधील आपत्कालीन वैद्यकीय सेवेची (प्रशिक्षणार्थी) कार्यकर्ता या नात्याने अँब्युलन्स चालवायचे. काही वर्षे मी नवी दिल्लीतील रस्त्यावर राहणाऱ्या मुलांसमवेत त्यांना शिकवण्याचे काम करणाऱ्या एका संस्थेचे (Hope Project) काम जवळून बघितले होते. तेव्हा या लोकांना जीवनातल्या समस्यांचे निराकरण कसे करावे, त्यांना आयुष्याकडे पाहण्याचा दृष्टीकोन कसा द्यावा याबद्दल मला वारंवार विचार पडत असे. या सर्व लोकांचे आयुष्य उंचावण्यासाठी लागणारे आर्थिक साधन माझ्याकडे नाही, परंतु तत्त्वज्ञान क्षेत्रात माझ्या बौद्धिक कार्याच्या आधारे त्यांना सांगण्यासाठी माझ्याकडे काही विचार आहेत. मी तेच सांगण्याचा निर्णय घेतला. मी माझ्या कुटुंबासाठी, माझ्या करिअरवर किंवा माझ्या संशोधनात घालवलेल्या वेळेच्या तुलनेत मी माझ्या सामाजिक कार्यावर फार थोडा वेळ घालवला आहे. तरीही या लहान आणि तीव्र क्षणांचा माझ्या आयुष्यावर झालेला प्रभाव प्रचंड आहे. यामुळे मला सर्व बाजुंनी सामाजिक प्रश्न पाहण्याची आणि दिलेल्या समस्येचे कोणत्या प्रकारचे समाधान होणे शक्य आहे हे शोधण्याची संधी मिळाली.
बेल curve च्या आकडेवारीमध्ये आपण जगाची लोकसंख्या पाहिल्यास, रेषेच्या डावीकडील टोकाला 15% लोक आहेत जे आपले आयुष्य सांभाळण्यास असमर्थ आहेत. ते कार्य करण्यास प्रवृत्त होत नाहीत, कारण ते खूप घाबरून गेलेले असतात. दुसऱ्या उजवीकडच्या टोकाला जे 15% लोकं आहेत, त्यांच्या आयुष्यात शहाणपणा, चिकाटी आणि उपलब्ध साधनांमुळे भरभराट झालेली दिसते. या दोन टोकांच्यामध्ये असणारा जनसमुदाय जे अंदाजे 70% लोकसंख्येमध्ये गणले जातात, त्यांचे जीवन बऱ्यापैकी संतुलित असते. जीवन संतुलीत ठेवण्यासाठी काही युक्त्या त्यांना माहीत असतात, परंतु नेहमीच त्या युक्त्या सर्वाना लागू पडतील असेही नसते. मी अशी बरीच मध्यम-वर्गातील कुटुंबे पाहिली आहेत, जी अचानक मंदीच्या काळामध्ये किंवा त्यांच्या कुटुंबातील संकटांमुळे बरेच काही गमावून बसतात आणि हतबल होतात. कठीण समय येता कोण कामास येतो, या उक्तीप्रमाणे जेव्हा आपण संकटात असतो, तेव्हा कोणावर विश्वास ठेवायचा, कोणाकडे जायचे आणि कुठले उपाय शोधायचे, हे समजणे फार कठीण होते. म्हणूनच, आपल्या जीवनाचे समर्थन करणे आणि या समस्यांना सामोरे जाण्यासाठी आंतरीक सामर्थ्य विकसित करणे नेहमीच महत्वाचे आहे.
ज्ञान योग, बुद्धीचा वापर, सकारात्मक दृष्टीकोन आणि जीवनाची चांगली समज आपल्याला जीवन जगण्यास आणि भरभराट करण्यास मदत करेल. यामुळे अधिक संधी निर्माण होतील, अधिक आनंद मिळेल आणि आयुष्यावर होणारे दुष्परिणाम कमी होतील. पुस्तकाच्या आणि ब्लॉगच्या प्रोजेक्टची ही पार्श्वभूमी होती, प्राचीन ज्ञानाचा आधुनिक समस्यांशी समन्वय करून त्या समस्यांचे निराकरण करण्याचा हा छोटासा प्रयत्न आहे. या प्रयत्नात सामील झाल्याबद्दल पुनःश्च धन्यवाद!
आर्किलोचस , (इ.स.पू. 650, पारोस [सायक्लेडिस, ग्रीस]), हे एक कवी आणि सैनिक होते. हे इम्बिक, एलिगिएक आणि वैयक्तिक लय कविता यांचे प्राचीन ग्रीक लेखक होते. त्यांचे लिखाण अत्यंत उत्तम प्रतीचे असून काळाच्या ओघात काही प्रमाणात अजून टिकून राहिले आहे. फार क्वचित कोणी कवी आणि सैनिक असलेले आढळतात. अर्चिलोचस यांनी आपला सैनिकी बाणा आणि पवित्रा आपल्या कवितेत आणला. त्यांची कविता होमर आणि हेसिओड यांच्या पंक्तीमध्ये त्यांना बसवते. तसेच त्यांना एलिजि या काव्यपद्धतीचे जनक मानले जाते.
आर्किलोचसचे वडील टेलीसिकल्स एक श्रीमंत पारियन होते, ज्याने थासोस बेटावर वसाहत स्थापन केली. अर्चीलोचस स्वतः पारोस आणि थासोस या दोन्ही बेटांवर राहत होते. त्याच्या कवितेत इ.स.पू. 6 एप्रिल रोजीचे सूर्यग्रहण आणि लिडियन राजा गेजेस (इ.स. 680-645 ईसापूर्व) च्या संपत्तीचा उल्लेख आहे. प्राचीन चरित्रात्मक परंपरेतील आर्किलोचसच्या जीवनाचा तपशील बहुतेक त्याच्या कवितांतून घेण्यात आला आहे – त्यामुळे त्यात त्याने वर्णन केलेल्या घटना काल्पनिक असू शकतात. परंतु आधुनिक शोधांनी कवितांमध्ये दिलेल्या चित्राचे समर्थन केले आहे. पारोसवरील पवित्र भागात आर्किलोचसला समर्पित दोन शिलालेख सापडले; ते या दोन पुरूषांच्या नावे आहेत: मॅनेसिप्स शिलालेख (तिसरे शतक बीसीई) आणि सोस्थेनिस शिलालेख (पहिला शतक बीसीई). अथीनियन राजकारणी आणि बौद्धिक समीक्षकांनी आर्किलोचसच्या स्वत: च्या वर्णनास 5 व्या शतकाच्या उत्तरार्धात गांभीर्याने पाहिले होते. आर्किलोचस याने स्वत: ला गरीब, भांडखोर, दु: खी, गुलाम महिलेचा लबाड मुलगा म्हणून आपले वर्णन केल्याबद्दल त्याची निंदा केली. त्यामुळे काही विद्वानांना असे वाटते की त्याच्या कवितांमध्ये चित्रित केलेले आर्किलोचस यांचे वर्णन खरे नव्हते.
आर्किलोचस सैनिक म्हणून काम करत असत. थसॉसच्या जवळ असलेल्या मुख्य भूभागावर थ्रेसियन्सविरूद्ध त्याने लढा दिला आणि जेव्हा थॅशियन्स नॅक्सोस बेटावरील सैनिकांविरुद्ध लढत होते तेव्हा तो मरण पावला. एका प्रसिद्ध कवितेत आर्किलोचस स्वत: ची ढाल लढाईत फेकल्याबद्दल कोणतीही संकोच वा खेद न करता सांगतात. (“मी माझा जीव वाचवला. मला माझ्या ढालीची काय किंमत आहे? गेली उडत! मी आणखी एक विकत घेईन.”)
कविता व इतर पुराव्यांवरून सत्यता निश्चितपणे समजणे कठीण असले तरी आर्किलोचस विवादास्पद असू शकेल. कारण ते आपल्या तीक्ष्ण विनोदाबद्दल आणि निंदात्मक भाषेबद्दल प्रसिद्ध होते. त्यानी खूप वेगवेगळ्या प्रकारची लयबद्ध रचना त्याच्या कवितेत करून ग्रीक भाषा समृद्ध केली. ते अतिशय सहजपणे होमरिक भाषेमधून दैनंदिन जीवनाच्या भाषेचा वापर एकाच ओळीत करू शकायचे . वैयक्तिक अनुभव आणि आपल्या भावनांबद्दल लिहिणारा तो पहिला युरोपियन लेखक होता. ग्रीक कवितांचे विषय नेहमी वीर योद्धे किंवा प्राचीन सूत्रे असे असायचे. त्यामुळे त्याच्या कवितांचे वेगळेपण दिसून आले. त्याने त्याच्या कवितांमध्ये वैयक्तिक भावनांचा उहापोह केला. होरेस सारख्या नंतरच्या नावाजलेल्या कवींनी त्याच्या शैलीचे आणि कौशल्याचे खूप कौतुक केले. परंतु पिण्डार सारख्या काही नावाजलेल्या कवींनी त्याच्या अनैतिक वागण्याची निंदाही केली.
Loneliness is a major problem in the current times. This article tries to address the issue of loneliness and the cure for it from the ancient wisdom of Hindu Philosophy. We will take three principles to address this issue from the Indian philosophical texts of the Upanishads and will also rely on the mainstream teachings of the Upanishads, mainly their insistence of the practice of meditation.
Upanishads are India’s great heritage. The twelve main Upanishads were composed before the common era and were passed on through the oral tradition. The genesis of the Hindu religion and Buddhism is found in the Upanishads. There is neither religious nor social rift implied in these texts, as they preceded any religion.
Many scholars have written about the Upanishads. One such great name was Prof. R.D. Ranade. His book ‘A Constructive Survey of the Upanishadic Philosophy’ was published in English around 1926 and soon became one of the most respected and well-read pieces of literature on the Upanishads. We will take a page from this book and let it guide us to examine how loneliness can be decreased or cured with the advice from the Upanishads.
The contemporary Indian society is caught between religious divisions, casteism and various other isms; likewise, the contemporary American society is caught between political, racial, religious divides as well as various issues of what constitutes political correctness. One encounters these challenges daily. For example, before making any new friends, we tend to assess whether we have similar thoughts, similar religion, similar political views, similar beliefs on social issues, similar social class, what do people say about them, will the friendship benefit us, what will they think about us – all these thoughts become constraints and conditions and we happily impose them upon ourselves, thereby making it very difficult for us to reach others and make friends.
This creates a sense of loneliness and induces physical and mental illnesses. Loneliness arises when one is either without family or friends close by, or when one feels that one’s family or friends do not understand one’s inner turmoil and at times, one’s irrational thoughts. This thinking-out-loud with friends is also a process of checking the validity of one’s thoughts to arrive at a rational course of action. How does one go beyond these constraints to find a good solution for making friends? Ancient wisdom comes in handy in this process, helping us examine the values and principles of life. These values are perennial and hence they seem fresh even today. They are concerned with absolute universal values and not short-term goals; hence they become applicable across the board, irrespective of differences of class, caste, color, religion, age, race, sex, origin etc.
The first principle I would like to consider is from the Isha Upanishad, Yasmin sarvani bhutani atmaiwabhudvijanatah, which means that one should think of another human being as an end and not as a means to an end. With this attitude, it becomes easier to respect another human being. It enables one to make friends with others, have compassion for others, reduce the divide between us and them, and help them in times of need. All human beings are representatives of the Atman, and we all share the same principle of the Atman in ourselves. Hence, we are all connected to each other. When one understands that, one does not discriminate against another person based on their caste, color, religion, class, etc. Instead one starts wondering, how we would act, if we had to walk in their shoes.
The philosophy in the Upanishads is very compelling, aside from their linguistic beauty and the wonderful stories. For example, what is the principle of ‘Know Thyself’? How does one understand that, how does one get to know oneself and if we don’t know ourselves, then how do we tell people our opinions? How do we remove any misunderstandings about ourselves? When do we form our opinion? Normally it is necessary for us to understand ourselves. Our growth and development are essentially tied up with that knowledge. As we understand ourselves, our inner self, our soul better, then our inner strength, our sense of contentment grows, loneliness decreases, and we are better able to face the ups and downs of life.
That Thou Art
The second principle I would like to consider is found in the Isha and Maitreya Upanishads, which is ‘Soham – sah aham’ or ‘That thou art’. It means that the concept of Brahman – known as sah or that, is within me. One can understand that by either thought process – Jnana Marg, or through meditation – Bhakti Marg and by doing the right deeds – Karma Marg. These pathways enable us to get closer to the Atman. The Upanishads have a lot of passages that talk about how to understand the principle of ‘Know Thyself’ and how to complete one’s journey towards Moksha. When the individual soul (Atman) and the universal soul (Brahman) become one, then a human being achieves Moksha. In practical terms, one understands that it is important to treat another individual as a soul, with respect and dignity.
To understand these and many other philosophical issues, one must understand the principles behind them. The Upanishads have a lot of discussions of philosophical issues. The Ken Upanishad says that humility is extremely important for the knowledge of the Atman, the knowledge of the self. Without humility, one does not understand the Atman. Perhaps the same principle applies to making friends. It we do not treat others with politeness and humility, no one will want to be friends with us. Perhaps the Upanishads want us to learn these principles in small steps.
Infinite Power of Mind
Prof. Ranade gives an example from the Mundaka Upanishad of the two birds that represent Jiva (the individual soul or Atman) and Ishwara (the Universal soul or Brahman), living on the same branch of a tree. The Atman would tend to be unhappy thinking of itself as a helpless creature. But when it unites with the Brahman, it realizes that it is a part of the infinite power and hence it stops feeling sad and becomes extremely happy. The Atman realizes that it is not alone but is an integral part of the universe. This refers to our third principle, quoted from the Mundakopanishad.
Likewise, when one tries to follow the purpose of one’s life, one becomes happy. Then there is no fear, nor any loneliness. Hence with the consult of the Upanishads, it is possible to lead one’s life with patience, courage and morality. This will enable us to understand the principle ‘Know Thyself’ and ease our way in our pursuit of happiness.
The Chhandogya and Maitri Upanishad discuss the importance of the mind. Mind is the genesis of all thoughts and emotions. A person sees and hears through the mind with the help of the sense-organs. Our emotions are governed by our mind; hence one can choose whether to be afraid of or be thrilled about something. When the mind is ruled by the intellect, then one can take a good decision. None of this is easy, of course. As we keep practicing taking good decisions, we see incremental growth in our confidence, self-love (as in love for the Atman, and not as narcissistic egoism) and self-respect (respect for the Atman). It is considered as spiritual progress.
Meditation and clear thinking can help us practice this further. This practice also enables us to gain an understanding of the world at a different plane, such as through intuition. For example, one can understand who likes us or who does not like us, merely by consulting with one’s own mind. One can also understand who is telling us the truth and who is being deceptive. Similarly, we also have a sense that we are not alone in this world, and that we are connected to the Brahman (also known as the universal soul, or the Ultimate Reality) that protects us, and this knowledge helps cure loneliness and fear. This does not mean however that one should not take care of oneself in practical ways. But it means that one understands one’s role and importance in life and life becomes blissful.
It is possible to cure or limit the sense of loneliness by understanding the perennial values, following the path of humility, understanding the power of mind, practicing meditation and believing that we are a part of the infinite power of the Brahman. In practical terms, extending a hand of friendship to others, being respectful towards others, controlling one’s anxieties and appreciating the positive aspects of our situation would help us connect better with other members of the community and ultimately help us improve our sense of connectedness, resulting into a substantial decrease in loneliness. Besides, loneliness can be transformed into bliss, when one understands that the real source of happiness or bliss is within the Self for the one who seeks the Brahman (the Ultimate Reality) and that is when the Upanishadic teaching has matured in one’s life.
 It was translated into Marathi by Prof. K.V. Gajendragadkar under the title ‘Upanishad-rahasya’.
 A Constructive Survey of the Upanishadic Philosophy, R. D. Ranade, 2002, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, page 25
 A Constructive Survey of the Upanishadic Philosophy, R. D. Ranade, 2002, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, page 118
 A Constructive Survey of the Upanishadic Philosophy, R. D. Ranade, 2002, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, page 348
The most celebrated doctrine of Plato, his ‘Theory of Ideas’, which is the center of his philosophy, faces some acute problems. This theory is very harshly attacked by the critics, and therefore, it stands in need of re-examination. A critic like Aristotle shows the invalidity of the argument in its favor with his contra-argument, viz, the ‘Third-Man’, which forced Plato either to relinquish his theory as a whole or to declare it invalid. This history is as repeated as the same argument was earlier put forth against the doctrine by Plato himself in one of his late dialogues, Parmenides. Plato deserves full credit for the demonstration of the rarest gift of self-criticism. But then, how is it that in spite of seeing the drawbacks and lacunae in the theory, he does not abandon it? What is the reason behind it? Did the extra-sensitive mind of Plato not catch the point of criticism or not comprehend the problem really? Certainly, he did. He himself was the pioneer of the arguments against his own theory. Yet he stands irrefuted on the grounds of the consistency in his philosophy. A twentieth century philosopher Kurt Goedel’s famous theorem says that ‘No philosophical system can be both complete and consistent’. Plato’s theory was consistent but not complete. To be reassured of this claim, let us pursue this interesting issue of the Third-Man argument further.
We shall discuss the issue from the following points of view:
Brief account of Aristotle’s basic criticism of the theory of forms:
What exactly is the argument of Third Man?
Plato’s formulation in the Parmenides
Some contemporary reflections on the Third-Man Argument
Brief Account of Aristotle’s BasicCriticism of the Theory of Forms
A brilliant and devout disciple of Plato, Aristotle was in his academy for more than a decade. How greatly he was influenced by Plato and Platonic philosophy is seen in his humble apology, which says, “It is commendable and even obligatory in defense of truth to abandon one’s own cherished convictions, especially in a philosopher: for though both are dear to us, it is a sacred duty to give the preference to truth.” With such reverence Aristotle proceeds to examine the doctrine of Ideas in his book Metaphysics.
To demonstrate the inconclusiveness and invalidity of Platonic theory of Ideas, Aristotle presents the following arguments:
Those who first proposed the Ideas as causes were in effect doubling the number of things to be explained, as if a man wished to count a few things, but imagined he could not do so, unless he added to their number.
None of the arguments is valid. Some of them are inconclusive, the others would prove there are forms of things of which we maintain there are one. Thus, (a) the argument from the existence of sciences would prove that there are Forms of all things of which there are sciences; (b) the argument of One-over-Many would prove that there are forms of negations; (c) the argument that we can think of what has perished would establish Forms of perishables, because we retain a mental image of the latter: (d) some of Plato’s more closely reasoned arguments explicitly imply Ideas of relative terms, while others mention the ‘Third-Man’.
The arguments do away with what we value more than the Ideas: they make number prior to the dyad, the relative to the absolute; and they open the doors to all those later developments which conflict with the very principles of the theory.
If the Forms are participated, there can be Ideas of substances only; for they are not participated as accidents of a subject that is directly shared in and none can be participated except in so far as it is not predicated of a subject. So, the Forms must be substances. But the same words must denote substance in the sensible as in the Ideal world. Otherwise what is the relation between the two worlds?
The main difficulty: What do the Forms contribute either to eternal or to transient sensibles? For, (i) they cause no motion or change in them; (ii) since they are not in them, they are not their substance, and therefore, contribute nothing either to the knowledge of them or to their being.
To call the Forms ‘patterns’ and to assent that other things ‘participate’ in them is to take an empty metaphor, for there can be different patterns of one and the same thing. Thus, the species will be the pattern of the individuals, but the genus will be the pattern of the species, so that one and the same thing will be both pattern and copy.
It is manifestly impossible for that which is the ‘substance’ of a thing to exist apart from it. How then can the ideas, which are supposed to be the substances of things, exist apart from them?
If formsare numbers, in what sense are they causes? If it is because things inthis world are other numbers, then how does one set of numbers cause the other. Notwithstanding that the former is eternal and the latter not?
One number may be composed of several other numbers, but how can one Form be composed of several other Forms? If it is produced not from numbers, but from units in them, in what relation will the units stand to one another?
How are the intermediates derived? Why should they be considered intermediate between things here and ideal numbers?
Each unit in the number two comes from a previous two, which is impossible.
What constitutes the unity of the one number understood collectively?
If the units are dissimilar, they should be names, just as those who assume two or four elements name them; and if there is absolute One, the word ‘One’ must have a variety of meanings. But this is impossible.
While tracing substance from their princicples, we Platonists derive lines from long and short. But how can the plane contain a line or the solid a plane? Thus, the argument which established the line established a point.
The Platonists have abandoned the search for the causes of sensible phenomena.
The Forms have no connection with the final cause, with which sciences are concerned.
How can we obtain knowledge of the objects of a given sense unless we possess that sense? And yet it should be possible, if the elements of which all things consist are the same.
Aristotle’s realism forms itself through the criticism of Platonic arguments. His main criticism was that Plato unnecessarily thought that the universals exist outside the things and separately. The particulars get their names because of their universals and are bound by them in a way of participation or imitation. But participation is not possible because
If one Idea participates in many sensibles, then it will be divided. In that case, an Idea will exist apart from itself, which is absurd.
The source of Idea will remain inexplicable, because of its division:
If the Idea participates in contrary attributes, then contrary attributes belong to it at the same time. If it does not participate in them, then we cannot account for different attributes.
Thus, the root cause of the matter lies in the relation of participation. The Third-Man Argument is developed from the lacunae in the argument of participation.
What Exactly is the Argument of Third–Man?
Aristotle has coined this term. “If that which is predicated truly of several things also exists in separation from these, there will be a Third-Man. For, if the predicate ‘Man’ is different from its subject and exists independently of them, and the predicate Man is used in the context of both the particular men and of the Idea of man, there will be a Third Man apart from both particular men and the Idea. Similarly, there will be a fourth man predicated both of the third man, particulars and idea, and similarly a fifth, and so on, ad infinitum.”
Plato’s formulation of this argument in Parmenidesis very much similar to that of Aristotle, though chronologically it belongs to an earlier date. Parmenides also mentions the uselessness and infinite regress involved in the argument for Ideas. Two factors are held responsible for the rise of this argument.
The dilemma of participation, i.e., whether the whole or the part of an Idea is participated in the thing
The assumption that as Ideas are separate from sensibles, sensibles are also separate from Ideas.
The latter presumption is found both in the Parmenides, and in the Metaphysics.
Parmenides starts off with the defense that Ideas are paradigms and participation is only possible with resemblance. Thus, the dilemma of participation resolves itself, since the Ideas are not in their participants. Parmenides, the dialogue, does not stop there, but comes up with further arguments, which are as follows:
The Symmetry Assumption: If the participant is like the Idea, then the Idea is like the participant. Continual generation of a new character will never stop if the character happens to be like what has a share of it.
The One-over-Many Premise: If one thing is like another, those two things must have a share of one and the same Idea. Therefore, it is necessary, that that of which like things have share, so as to be like, should be the Idea itself.
The Likeness Regress: It is impossible for anything to be like the Idea or the Idea like anything else; otherwise another idea will turn up beside the first, if the Idea is like what has a share of it, and so on, ad infinitum. Hence, the claim that participation is resemblance implies the regress. If the regress is absurd, then the premises leading to it must also be rejected.
The Third-Man: If a and b are like in respect of c, then a is like c and c like a in respect of d, and so on. This regress requires some further Idea at every stage but does not specify what further Idea at any stage. Thus, the Ideas are present only where things are like in some respect. In a way, the argument implies the limitation of extent.
Thus, the mistake of Third-Man is committed in the attempt of solving the dilemma of Participation. As in all philosophical problem, we should not look for solutions of the problems, but to know how the problems are presented. Here we see that Aristotelian presentation of this problem is in coherence with the Platonic presentation. So, the data is the same, only the form is different. The essence of the argument is the same, only the framework different. Hence, the critics might face another question, as to why Aristotle is given the credit of this argument, when the origin is placed right back in Plato. But we will not go into this problem for the time-being. Instead, we will move to the understanding of some contemporary scholars on this issue.
SomeContemporary Reflections onthe Third Man Argument
We may pick up the work of Gregory Vlastos as representative to his era. He talks about the Third-Man Argument, while focusing his attention on the Parmenides. He deals more with the technical grounds of the argument as devised in the Parmenides than with the essence of the argument or with the argument as a whole. No doubt, he considers the argument as impressive and instructive, but fatal. Let us have a brief review of his understanding of the argument.
Out of his two essays, Vlastos divides the first essay, in Text and Logic of the Parmenides. In the first part of the essay, he says the unity of Forms is being taken for granted in the Parmenides. When the talk is actually about participation, there is not much discussion about it, i.e., when Parmenides asks Socrates, if there exist certain Forms by participation in which the other things get their names, e.g., similar by participating in similarity, etc.
Further, Vlastos constructs a logical hypothesis which he says would be refuted in the Third-Man Argument:
If any set of things share a given character, then there exists a unique Form corresponding to that character, and each of these things has that character by participating in that Form.
A) a, b, c are F.
B) There exists a unique Form (which we may call F-ness) corresponding to the character ‘F’ and a,b,c are F by participating in F-ness.
If a, b, c and F-ness are F, then there exists a unique Form (which we may call F-ness II) corresponding to F, but not identical with F-ness, and a, b, c and F-ness are F by participating in F-ness II.
2. a) a, b, c, and F-ness are F.
2. b) There exists a unique Form (which we may call F-ness II) corresponding to F, but not identical with F-ness; and a, b c and F-ness are F by participating in F-ness II.
If Parmenides can go as far as 2. B, he will have refuted the claim of the Third-Man. “If one, then infinitely many” is so much more impressive, than ‘if only one then two’ though the latter is as fatal to the refutand as is the former, says Vlastos.
The second essay of Gregory Vlastos talks about the Third-Man Argument in a more definite way. The logical formulation of his argument is as follows:
The First Version:
1) If a number of things a, b, and c are all F, there must be a single Form F-ness in virtue of which we apprehend a, b, c as all F. The difficulty here is that another Form will always appear on the scene.
2) If a, b, c and F-ness are all F, then there must be another Form, F-ness, in virtue of which we apprehend a, b, c and F-ness are all F. To make this argument sound and legitimate, we need the self-predication assumption (A. 3)
3) Any form can be predicated of itself F-ness is itself F.
4) Non-identity assumption: If anything has a certain character,it cannot be identical with the Form in virtue of which we apprehend the character. If X is F, X cannot be identical with the Form in virtue of which we apprehend the character. If X is F, X cannot be identical with F-ness.
5) If F-ness is F, F-ness cannot be identical with F-ness.
5a) If any particular has a certain character, then it cannot be identical with the Form in virtue of which we apprehend that character.
Vlastos picks up the argument numbered A.5a, and claims that a, b, c are all apprehended as F in virtue of F-ness itself. The existence of F-ness would remain unproved, so also the existence of all subsequent Forms. The infinite regress would not materialize. Therefore, he blames Plato for not having identified all the necessary arguments leading to the second argument in the Third-Man, which is the main source. Thereby Plato reveals his innocence of all the necessary arguments as well as his uncertainly about the validity of Third-Man Argument.
Finally, the problem still remains as to how do we account for the fact that Plato does not seem to see the Third-Man Argument as fatal to philosophical outlook in the way Aristotle does. We have seen that it has been the fashion to judge Plato’s theory from Aristotle’s perspective. The arguments presented in this essay earlier have been integral arguments and they try to catch Plato in words on technical grounds. But they do not take the argument as a whole into account knowing the essence of Plato’s arguments and knowing the consistency of this theory in Platonic philosophy. We would like to take a different stand, in order to defend Plato on his own merit.
The philosophical force of a logical thesis is partly determined by the conceptual framework in which it is made. Its corollaries are:
The same logical thesis may be made in different conceptual systems.
The force of the thesis depends on the kind of system in which it is made.
Thus, it is necessary to understand the theory in its own framework. Hence, we will consider our method more clearly, so that the way we handle this Platonic problem will be absolutely unambiguous.
The nature of the conceptual system or framework is determined by
The formulation of the basic problem/s,
The methodological presupposition/s,
The type of regulative analogies or metaphors around which it is built up.
This method will yield results to our problem, on thorough examination of Plato and Aristotle’s outlook along with these three dimensions. So now, without going into the details of their philosophies, let us consider the crux of the matter.
Formulation of the Basic Issue:
Plato’s metaphysics is linked with his epistemology. His understanding of Reality can be put forth in the following manner: “Given that mind can have knowledge (episteme) of reality, what should reality be like? It is very well agreed that the soul has episteme and episteme is essentially different from doxai.” Thus, Plato approaches Reality from the standpoint of man. His process is anthropocentric.
His theory of knowledge is a good proof for his argument that the soul has episteme. The very life of Socrates is a live instance of it. As we find the reference in the dialogue Apology that even the Gods regarded Socrates as the wisest of all men. Secondly, Plato talks about two conditions of knowledge, namely the universality and certainty. And only Forms could fulfil these two conditions. Thus, Plato gives stress on the impossibility of relativism in the process of knowledge, i.e., there is no knowledge of particulars, since knowledge is permanent, whereas particulars are not.
The second important argument is that the episteme is different from doxai. Knowledge is related to our mental ability, though it is knowledge of something, whereas beliefs are related to the things, though they are beliefs in our mind. Knowledge enriches our mental power, whereas beliefs only make us well-informed. Just as there is only one mind, knowledge can also be only singular. Whether it is knowledge of one Form or many, it is the power of mind or soul to be capable of grasping their nature. In short, the argument is supported by the two factors, namely, (1) conceptual analysis of knowing and believing and (2) anthropological presupposition that a distinct power has distinct objects. This was the review of Plato’s outlook towards the problem.
When we go to Aristotle, we find the whole approach is reversed in a certain manner. The Aristotelian understanding of Reality would be –
‘Given that the world is what it is in common experience how should we understand man’. Thus, the Aristotelian problem would be how to understand man. His approach is from reality towards man, i.e., cosmocentric.
Thus, the methods of these two great philosophers are exactly reversed and opposite of each other.
Aristotle deals with this problem on three levels, viz, epistemological, logical and metaphysical. The epistemological explanation of the above argument is the primacy of sense perception in the process of knowledge. Aristotle agrees that we have knowledge of universals. But the universals are not outside the things; we know them, when we perceive the things. So, the actual perception is essential. The logical point would be the way every individual thing is treated as a primary substance. Every substance has two aspects – matter and form. The one without the other is an abstraction and unreal. These properties make the thing what it is and just this particular thing and not another thing. The metaphysical aspect is that the reality of change or becoming implies the notions of potency and actuality. In order to understand the development of substance, we have to reinterpret matter and form as potentiality and actuality. We can explain it with an illustration as, the acorn is the potentiality of there being an oak tree and the oak tree is the actuality of the acorn.
The Methodological Presuppositions:
Plato: The order of being is modelled on the order of the soul. What is primary to soul is also primary in reality.
The myth of divided line, the Form of the Good and the myth of the Sun are the best examples to illustrate the point. In Platonic philosophy, myths are designed to say what is too subtle and elusive to be said. The myth of divided line explains the notion of ascent and the placement of different souls in a hierarchical order. The Form of the Good shows us the ultimate point a human being could reach and be pure. Like the Sun, the Form of the Good illumines and makes our level of knowledge meaningful. These myths are based on human experiences and are also applicable to the reality. Plato makes full use of the capacity of human being and by drawing our attention to the highest aspiration, he also draws the limits of reality. We find the same idea later in Wittgenstein also, when he says, “the limits of our language are the limits of our world.”
Aristotle: The distinction between order of being and order of knowing; the first in itself should also be the first for us. Knowing as an adaptation to being is conditioned by the natural powers of the soul.
As we saw earlier, the Platonic approach towards Reality is anthropocentric. He thinks in terms of the requirements of the human soul and the ways to its satisfaction. According to his distinction, the sensible or the actuality of sense-experience lies at the lower level, whereas the true Reality or Ideal Being stands on the higher order of Reality, which alone is capable of satisfying the demands of the soul.
On the other hand, Aristotle’s cosmocentric point of view states that the man is knower. Man has the natural potency to understand the development as an actualization. This understanding of actual on the part of sense-experience is also ideal, since it corresponds to the reality. It is only in understanding that we can divide reality into matter and form, and also be capable of thinking them as separated substances, which in actuality they are not. Thus, the mind knows the world and itself becomes the expression of the world.
We can account for the basic difference between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy to the basic temperamental difference between the two of them. Both of them were mainly concerned with the problem of how to understand reality. Plato took the support of epistemology in order to build his metaphysical theory. Aristotle was also a realist. But he made efforts to correct Plato’s theory of epistemology, in order to have his theory of realism. Plato was an idealist and found all the answers in the utopian, but perfect solutions. He constructed the ideal theory of other world but was not much bothered with the fact whether it was practically possible, whereas Aristotle was a down to earth practical person. He could not see the sense in the other world theory. For him, the world of our experience was not a remove from the real world, but the real world itself. Therefore, he tried to rationalize the problem of this world, with the assumption that this world is real. And therefore, we find the explanation for change, growth, becoming, development and embodiment in his philosophy, whereas the terminology in Plato is totally different. For him, the world is static, because the ideals cannot accept any change, since they are perfect in themselves. Therefore, the purity, simplicity, perfection and immutability of Forms are the ways of how we explain the nature of Forms and thereby the world. This is the reason why Plato always derives his examples from mathematics, which is the absolute and perfect science. Aristotle finds his illustrations in biology with imperfect but growing and living entities. Hence it is very natural that Platonic utopian approach would clash with Aristotle’s realistic approach. To summarize, Plato understands actual as standing after the Ideal or as one step removed from reality. Aristotelian outlook is exactly reversed, the ideal is to be understood as what the actual is capable of, i.e., giving substantial importance and primacy to the existence of this world.
By – Ashwini A. Mokashi
Department of Philosophy, University of Poona, Pune 411007 – Year 1990
Published in the ‘INDIAN PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY’, 17 (1990) PP 1-16
 Gajendragadkar, K. V.: Aristotle’s Critique of Platonism, p 70
 Aristotle: edited by Hutchins, R.M. Britannica Great Works, Volume I, p. 208
उपनिषदांचा अभ्यास हा आपला खूप मोठा ठेवा आहे. आपली संस्कृती समजण्यात आणि जपण्यात मराठी लोकं नेहमीच अग्रेसर असतात. त्यामुळे प्रत्येक नवीन पिढीला आपल्या संस्कृतीचा वारसा सोपवणे आणि त्यांना आपल्या भारतीय असण्याचा अभिमान निर्माण करणे, या सगळ्या बाबी यात ओघाने येतातच. हे वाचताना त्या वाङ्मयाचे सौंदर्य पण अनुभवता येते. महत्त्वाची बारा उपनिषदे इसवीसनापूर्वी लिहिली गेली आणि ती पिढ्यानपिढ्या पाठांतर करून शिकविली जायची. हिंदू आणि बुद्ध धर्माची बीजेपण उपनिषदात आढळतात. धर्मांच्या अगोदरचे हे जे लिखाण आहे, त्यात धर्माची व्याख्या नसल्यामुळे यात सामाजिक अथवा धार्मिक भेदाभेद असण्याचा प्रश्न येत नाही.
उपनिषदांवर बऱ्याच अभ्यासकांनी लेखन केले आहे. त्यापैकीच एक महान लेखक होते प्राध्यापक रा. द. रानडे. त्यांचे पुस्तक ‘अ कंस्ट्रक्टिव्ह सर्वे ऑफ द उपनिषदीक फिलॉसॉफी’ इंग्लिशमध्ये आहे. ‘उपनिषदरहस्य’ हा त्याचा अनुवाद आहे. अनुवादकार होते प्राध्यापक कृ वे गजेंद्रगडकर. १९२६ ला प्रसिद्ध झालेले हे पुस्तक लवकरच खूप मान्यता पावले आणि उपनिषदांच्या अभ्यासात अग्रगण्य समजले गेले. या पुस्तकाच्या आधारे आपण आज उपनिषदांच्या साहाय्याने एकाकीपणाचा कसा ऱ्हास होऊ शकतो याचा विचार करूया.
आजचा समाज धर्म, जाती आणि वेगवेगळे isms यात खूप अडकून पडतो आणि पदोपदी आपल्याला त्याचा प्रत्यय येतो. कुणाशी मैत्री जोडताना आपण आधी खात्री करून घेतो की त्या व्यक्तीचे आणि आपले विचार जुळतात का नाही, त्यांचा धर्म कुठला, त्यांचे राजकारणावरचे विचार कुठले, सामाजिक विषयांवर त्यांना काय वाटते, त्यांची आर्थिक परिस्थिती कशी आहे, समाजात त्याच्याबद्दल काय समज आहेत, आपल्याला त्यांचा फायदा होईल का नाही, ते आपल्याबद्दल काय विचार करतील. अशा सगळ्या आपणच निर्माण केलेल्या अटींमुळे इतरांपर्यंत पोचायला आणि समान विचारांचे मित्रमैत्रिणी शोधायला फार वेळ लागतो. याने एकाकीपण वाढते आणि त्रास होऊन शारीरिक आणि मानसिक आजार बळावतात. बरेचदा कुटुंबात राहून देखील लोकांना एकाकीपणाची जाणीव होते. शिवाय नोकरीच्या निमित्ताने देखील बऱ्याचवेळा आपल्या माणसांपासून दूर राहावे लागते. या सगळ्या कसोटींचा सामना करताना त्या गोष्टींच्या पलीकडे जाऊन मार्ग शोधण्यासाठी आपल्याला या प्राचीन संस्कृतीचा अभ्यास करणे उपयोगी ठरते. ते कसे तर, तिथे जीवनाच्या मूल्यांचा विचार आहे आणि ती कालाबाधीत असल्याने आजही ती ताजीतवानी वाटतात. त्यामुळे कुठला सापेक्ष विचार न करता आयुष्यात कुठल्या गोष्टी महत्त्वाच्या आहेत आणि त्या सर्वांना कशा लागू पडतात, याचे मार्गदर्शन होते.
ईश उपनिषदात सांगितल्याप्रमाणे ‘यस्मिन सर्वाणि भूतानि आत्मैवाभुद्विजानतः’ ह्या मंत्राचा अर्थ प्रत्येक मानव साधन नसून साध्य आहे असे त्याने मानले पाहिजे. दुसऱ्याचा वापर कसा होईल असा विचार न करता त्या व्यक्तीमुळे आपले जीवन जास्त समृद्ध झाले आहे, अशी भावना ठेवल्याने सर्वांप्रती आदर वाटू लागतो. (पान क्र ६-७) त्यामुळे लोकांशी मैत्री करणे, त्यांच्याबद्दल आपुलकी वाटणे, अडीअडचणीला समजून घेणे किंवा आपपरभाव कमी होणे, हे सर्व शक्य होते. सर्व जीव हे आत्म्याचे रूप असतात, म्हणजेच आपल्यात आणि इतरांत एकच आत्मतत्त्व निवास करत असते. ही गोष्ट लक्षात आली की आपण दुसऱ्याचा विचार करताना त्याची जात, धर्म, रंग, आर्थिक स्थिती यांचा विचार ना करता आपण त्यांच्या परिस्थितीत कसे वागू, याचा विचार करू लागतो.
मला स्वतःला उपनिषदांचे तत्त्वज्ञान फार आकर्षित करते. आत्मतत्त्व म्हणजे काय, त्याचा शोध कसा घ्यायचा, स्वतःची ओळख कशी करून घ्यायची, आपल्यालाच जर स्वतःची ओळख नसेल, तर आपण दुसऱ्याला आपली मते कशी सांगणार? आपल्याबद्दलच्या गैरसमजुती कशा दूर करणार? आपले मत नक्की केव्हा तयार होते किंवा केव्हा पक्के होते, हे आपण कसे ठरवणार. बहुतांशी आपल्याला आपली स्वतःची ओळख असणे हे जरुरीचे असतेच. त्याशिवाय आपली जडणघडण होऊच शकत नाही. स्वतःची ओळख जशीजशी जास्त खोलात जाऊन होईल त्याप्रमाणेच आपली स्वतःचे समर्थन करण्याची, आत्मिक उन्नती आणि समाधान मिळवायची, एकाकीपणा नाहीसा करण्याची आणि जीवनातले चढउतार पार पाडण्याची क्षमतापण वाढत जाते. या आणि अशा बऱ्याच प्रश्नांची उत्तरे मिळवण्यासाठी त्यामागची भूमिका समजून घेणे जरुरी आहे. उपनिषदात अशा तात्त्विक प्रश्नांची बरीच चर्चा आहे.
सोहम किंवा ‘सः अहं ‘ हे उपनिषदातले महत्त्वाचे तत्त्व आहे. याचा अर्थ असा की सः म्हणजे ते ब्रह्म, हे अहं म्हणजे माझ्यात सामावलेले आहे आणि हे समजून घेणे म्हणजेच आत्मतत्त्व समजून घेणे आणि ते समजून घेण्यासाठी भक्ती मार्गाने ध्यान करून किंवा ज्ञानमार्गाने विचार करून आणि कर्म मार्गाने योग्य काम करून, आपली आपल्याशी ओळख करून घेणे. आत्मतत्त्व समजून घेऊन मोक्षापर्यंत त्याची वाटचाल कशी होते, याचे मार्गदर्शन या उपनिषदातील मंत्रात आढळते. जेव्हा आत्मा ब्रह्मात विलीन होतो, तेव्हा मोक्षप्राप्ती होते. व्यावहारिक दृष्टीने बघायचे झाले तर समोरच्या माणसाला एक आत्मा या नात्याने आदराने आणि सन्मानाने वागणे, हे समजून येते.
केन उपनिषदात आत्म्याचे अस्तित्त्व समजून घेण्यासाठी अंगी नम्रता असणे खूप जरुरीचे सांगितले आहे. जर नम्रता नसेल, तर आपल्याला आत्म्याचे ज्ञान होत नाही. आपल्याला खूप अजून शिकायचे आहे, हि भावना असल्याशिवाय काही नवीन शिकता येत नाही. मैत्रीचे पण गणित असेच आहे. जर आपण नम्रपणे किंवा आदराने दुसऱ्याला वागवले नाही, तर कोणी आपल्याशी मैत्री करणार नाही. ही मूल्ये अंगी बाणावी यासाठी पण कदाचित हा उपदेश केला असेल. (पान क्र ३६)
छांदोग्य आणि मैत्री उपनिषदात मनाचे महत्त्व सांगितले आहे. मन हे सर्वांचे उगमस्थान आहे. मनुष्य मनानेच पाहतो व ऐकतो. (पान क्र ११३) आपले लक्ष नसेल, तर डोळ्यासमोरची गोष्ट देखील जशी नजरेत भरत नाही, त्याप्रमाणेच डोळ्याने बघून देखील मनाची साथ नसेल, तर न दिसल्यासारखेच होते. आपल्या मनात असलेल्या भावना या सगळ्या मनाच्या नियंत्रणाखाली असल्याने कशाची भीती वाटून घ्यायची आणि कशाचे कौतुक वाटून घ्यायचे, हे पण आपल्या हातीच असते. मनावर बुद्धीचे नियंत्रण असल्याने बुद्धीचा वापर करून आपण चांगला निर्णय घेऊ शकतो. अर्थात हे सर्व वाटते तितके सोपे कधीच नसते. जसजसा आपला चांगले निर्णय घेण्याचा सराव वाढत जातो, त्याप्रमाणे आपला आत्मविश्वास, आत्मसम्मान आणि आत्मप्रेम वाढीस लागते. याला काही लोक अध्यात्मातील उन्नती असे देखील मानतात. ध्यानाने आणि सुविचाराने सुद्धा या गोष्टींचा सराव वाढू शकतो. अशा सरावाने आपल्याला अंतरात्म्याची ओळख वाढून काही गोष्टी वेगळ्या स्तरावरपण कळू लागतात. उदाहरणार्थ कोणाला आपण आवडतो आणि कोणाला आवडत नाही, हे कळायला आपण आपल्या मनाशी संवाद साधून पण समजू शकतो. कोण आपल्याशी खरे बोलत आहे आणि कोण दुटप्पीपणे वागत आहे, याचे ज्ञान पण होऊ शकते. त्याप्रमाणेच आपण एकटे नाही, आपल्या पाठीमागे आत्मतत्त्व खंबीर उभे आहे, याची जाणीव होऊन एकटेपणा किंवा भीती वाटणे हे कमी होते. याचा अर्थ असा नव्हे कि आपण व्यावहारिक पद्धतीने आपली काळजी घेऊ नये, पण याचा अर्थ असा होतो की जेव्हा आपल्याला आपलं स्वतःचे स्थान समजू लागते, तेव्हा आपले जीवन आनंदाने बहरून जाते आणि आपली दिनचर्या सुखकर होते.
मुंडकोपनिषदातले एक उदाहरण देताना प्रा. रानडे म्हणतात की एका वृक्षावर जीव आणि ब्रह्म राहात असतात. जीवाला नेहमी आपण निर्बल आहोत असे वाटून दुःख व्हायचे. पण जेव्हा त्याचे ब्रह्माशी ऐक्य होते, तेव्हा तोसुद्धा अनंत शक्तीचा वाटेकरी असल्याचे त्याला जाणवते. (पान क्र २९६) तेव्हा त्याचे दुःख नाहीसे होऊन त्याला अपरिमित आनंद होतो. तशीच जेव्हा आपल्याला जाणीव होते, कि आपण एकटे नाही. आपण या सृष्टीचा भाग आहोत, आपल्या जीवनाचा हेतू सफल करण्याचा प्रयत्न आपण केला, कि आपण आनंदी होतो. तेव्हा आपल्याला चिंता ग्रासत नाहीत, किंवा एकटेपण खायला उठत नाही. त्यामुळे उपनिषदांचा सल्ला घेऊन आपण संयमाने, धैर्याने आणि नीतीने जीवनाला सामोरे जातो, तेव्हा ज्ञान आणि आनंदाचा अनुभव घेण्यास पात्र होतो.