Advaita Vedanta, later Hinduism

We can also see the impact of Buddhist ideas of the “no-self” doctrine on later forms of Hinduism. The eighth century philosopher Sankara borrows extensively from Buddhist rejections of self as he synthesizes from earlier sources a particularly prominent school of Indian philosophy, Advaita Vedanta, still popular today. Through his commentaries on the Upanisads, he espouses an idea of subjectivity as a cosmic and depersonalized self-awareness, proposing a notion of self as transcendent subjectivity, a bare, stripped-down subjectivity, satcidananda, “being, consciousness and bliss” Sankara’s phenomenology of a self as a pure subjectivity, abstracted out from the material trappings of personality, was by no means universally accepted, as he was accused by later Hindu commentators of being a crypto-Buddhist (pracchanna bauddha) (Isayeva 1992). The decoupling of self from notions of personality was, no doubt, formulated at least in part in response to Buddhist doctrinal articulations of “no-self”

Particularly influential was the Vijnanavada, the Buddhist school dubbed “mind-only,” that is, the idea that all reality is internal to the mind. These later understandings of a universal, abstract self, the atman of Advaita Vedanta, assert the necessity for a concept of self, even as they refine the idea of self away from any particular or personal formulation of self. Moreover, the schools of Hinduism that offer a universal and abstract conception of self tend also to emphasize meditation as key in the process of enlightenment. One sees with this also the notion that the awareness of a transcendent self presents as a discovery arising out of meditation practice. Here we see a process similar to what we find in Buddhism, which offers a constructive component as a basic truth, which the aspirant then also discovers through meditation. In tandem with this is also a deconstructive mental component of meditation where, as with Buddhism, meditation practice affords insight also through filtering away the obscuring mental conceptualizations (vikalpa).

So philosophical conceptions of self and subjectivity influence how meditation, and especially the goal of meditation, is framed within particular traditions in India. India offers a rich history of philosophical perspectives on the idea of selfhood, which is expressed in the writings of different philosophical schools, such as Nyaya, the school of logic, and Samkhya, an early philosophical school that offered a basic cosmology of matter and spirit as bifurcated. Indeed, a great deal of philosophical discourse hovers around conceptions of self (atman) or its rejection, and its relationship to the world and to divinity, which, one might argue, derives from the parameters set by the Buddhist doctrine of “no-self" Also, much subsequent debate focuses on epistemology, which, at least in part, grounds itself on the correspondence of meditation insights with canonical texts. At a minimum, the phenomenology of self that one encounters in the process of meditative self-reflection is shaped by and shapes philosophical conceptions of self.

We can see in this discussion a plethora of different perspectives on what it is precisely that one discovers in the process of meditation. The ontological framework varies, yet oddly, the practices employed across these traditions are generally quite similar (with perhaps the exception of a greater intensity of asceticism found in Jainism). Generally, we find techniques involving visualizations, both of self and external figures, such as deities, recitation of canonical texts, recitation of short formulas called mantras, techniques associated with awareness of self and body as persistent practices, including in this last category vipassana, or insight, and samata, calming practices that have made their way from Buddhism to the West. In addition, Hindu particularly but also some forms of Buddhist and Jain traditions incorporate ritual as a component of meditation practices. These rituals frequently present as rituals of hospitality (puja), making offerings such as food, incense, water, and so on. We also see some use of fire rituals (homam), particularly in Hindu traditions.

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