The Eastern View of Selfhood: Metaphysical Premises and Puzzles

There are three basic views regarding what animates all of reality.

  • The Eastern view insists that I = the Absolute.
  • The Greek view avers that the human self seeks to live at its peak within the bounds of finitude.
  • The Christian view holds that there is a transcendent being which, animating all of reality, is that which each dependent being seeks to follow and imitate.

The first view is the most radical inasmuch as it asserts that there is no such thing as a human self, the second undeniably secular and immanent, the third transcendent.

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Consider the Eastern view. Below, I leave off the arguments and simply supply the premises:

If the Absolute exists, then…

1. The Absolute is infinite with respect to space, i.e., without measure, limits, or boundary.

2. The Absolute is eternal with respect to time, i.e., without beginning or end.

3. The Absolute is without form.

4. The Absolute is not a thing, a collection of things, or the totality of all things.

5. The Absolute is ontologically self-sufficient.

Now let the present = all time and all space.

Then from 1-5 plus this definition, it follows that the Absolute is ever-present (omnipresent). The intuition is that the Absolute penetrates, saturates, and permeates every-thing and every-when so fully, so completely, so entirely that there is nowhere where it is not. It is, it must be, and it cannot not be. There is no place that it is not, no time that it is not.

If it is, then it resoundingly is. 

What must be grasped is, on this view, the stunning and enigmatic identity thesis: I = Absolute.

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  • 1st Puzzle: Though we can describe the properties of the Absolute and though we can construct a coherent and consistent system, is it true that the Absolute actually exists? How, in other words, do we determine that this is not just a metaphysical story we tell ourselves rather than the correct metaphysical picture of actually existing reality?
  • 2nd Puzzle: Is the reciprocity thesis (the Absolute in the relative ‘at the same time’ that the relative in the Absolute) true?
  • 3rd Puzzle: If the Absolute is ontologically self-sufficient, why does it ‘need’ to ‘divide itself’ into the many (the relative)? Why, in other words, is there the relative at all?
  • 4th Puzzle: Suppose that the Absolute exists. Suppose also that the reciprocity thesis is true. Suppose that it can grasped why it manifests itself through the relative. Still, does this metaphysical picture give us grounds for believing that the Absolute is an animating force? Wherein lies its power, its force, its dynamism or perhaps movement in general? Might it not be a static, unmoving being?
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