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Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life


B.Contestabile     admin@socrethics.com    First version 2007    Last version 2013






Table of Contents




1  Introduction

2  Religion and Reason

    2.1 Conflicts

    2.2 Commonalities

3  Life Goals

    3.1 Overview

    3.2 Love and Pleasure

    3.3 Power

    3.4 Justice

    3.5 Salvation

4  Life as a Cognitive Process

    4.1 Transience

    4.2 Traumatic Experiences

    4.3 Levels of Reality

5  Conclusion











Starting point

In the history of philosophy the term transcendence was used in different ways. Common to all meanings is only that the crossing of a border is assumed, which separates two fundamentally different areas. The terms "area" and "boundary" are not to be understood spatially, but mentally. Each of the two areas is characterized by specific possibilities of experience and knowledge.


The term transcendence is often associated with “transcending the finite world of experience and entering a divine dimension”. The complementary term immanence defines what exists within the finite world and does not transcend them; i.e. everything that can be explained without recourse to the transcendental (Wikipedia, Transcendence).


Since the Age of Enlightenment, religious interpretations of transcendence have competed with secular, science-based interpretations. In this paper we attempt to reconcile the conflicting views. As a starting point we use Hinduism, because the Hindu life goals express both religious and biological forms of transcendence.



Type of problem

- What are secular forms of transcendence?

- How does the quest for transcendence change with increasing life experience?




Transcendent experiences in the realm of love and power are driven by the biological utility function, i.e. they originally serve a biological purpose. In the course of cultural evolution they are partially modified (sublimated) or shifted to a dream world.


The shift of transcendent experiences to the life goals justice and salvation is related to specific experiences (accidents, illnesses, death of close persons, etc.) and an increasing awareness of transience. The more ephemeral a phenomenon, the more irrelevant it appears and the less it serves as an orientation.


The search for an indestructible reality first leads to the community and then to mysticism:

The community provides security as long as it respects time-tested laws (traditions). Not only religious laws can convey transcendent experiences, but also the practically lived tradition of compassion. A rational approach to the life goal justice comes about when one realizes that a part of the self lives in the others.


Mysticism is a spiritual form of self-surrender or self-dissolution, which overcomes the fear of loss and death. From a psychoanalytic perspective this can be interpreted as a regression and a denial of reality, from a theological viewpoint, conversely, it can be interpreted as a means for adapting to reality.








German Original


The German original of this paper is available from Erkenntnis und Transzendenz in der Lebenspraxis.






1.  Introduction



Starting point

In the history of philosophy the term transcendence was used in different ways. Common to all meanings is only that the crossing of a border is assumed, which separates two fundamentally different areas. The terms "area" and "boundary" are not to be understood spatially, but mentally. Each of the two areas is characterized by specific possibilities of experience and knowledge.


The term transcendence is often associated with “transcending the finite world of experience and entering a divine dimension”. The complementary term immanence defines what exists within the finite world and does not transcend them; i.e. everything that can be explained without recourse to the transcendental (Wikipedia, Transcendence).


Since the Age of Enlightenment, religious interpretations of transcendence have competed with secular, science-based interpretations. In this paper we attempt to reconcile the conflicting views. As a starting point we use Hinduism, because the Hindu life goals express both religious and biological forms of transcendence.



Type of problem

- What are secular forms of transcendence?

- How does the quest for transcendence change with increasing life experience?




2. Religion and Reason



2.1 Conflicts


         Approximately in the 6th century BC, Indian and Greek philosophy begins to question the meaning-giving function of religion. The goal (liberation from suffering) is set by reason and can be pursued rationally (deductively). Through a combination of emotion (liberation) and reason, philosophy creates meaning in life. The personified conceptions of polytheism are challenged by more abstract, pantheistic concepts. The representatives of these concepts get in conflict with the religious tradition, and thus philosophy obtains a subversive character. Buddhism, although it does not strive for societal power, is in conflict with Brahmanism; whereas the Socratic search for truth is in conflict with the representatives of the pantheon. The power of Stoicism finally procures the ethics of reason a socially acknowledged position. In the Roman society it reaches its climax by the confession of Mark Aurel to the Stoa.


         Under the influence of Christianity, ancient philosophy falls into oblivion and is rediscovered only in the age of the Renaissance. The pantheistic standpoint of the Stoics is revitalized and strengthened by the progress of the natural sciences. The development which begins now is similar to the one in the age of the Buddha and Socrates. Although Spinoza succeeds in a brilliant combination of science and ethics, he is in conflict with the representatives of the Church. Philosophy develops a subversive character again.


         In the 19 th century – ironically – the exclusive position of reason is shaken by the Enlightenment philosopher Sigmund Freud. In a Freudian psychoanalysis the patients are confronted with the power of the biological value system. The method of free association leads to a renaissance of conflicts, which were formerly (in polytheism) projected onto gods. Polytheism reflects the structure of the psyche better than monotheism. The latter strives to eliminate contradictions and has a corresponding affinity to reason. The quasi-religious goal of philosophy changes during the transition from Spinoza to Freud into a therapeutic goal (such as the healing of hysteria). Psychoanalysis is inevitably individualistic and tends towards a political demand for maximum individual freedom. For that reason it can never replace the normalizing and protecting function of religion. In psychoanalysis, the sense of reality is more important than consolation and security. Thus, according to Freud, the patient is cured when neurotic misery is transformed into real misery. The search for meaning in life is left to the individual. The exclusion, respectively the individualization of meaning in life in the therapy corresponds largely to liberal social norms (freedom of opinion and religion). Consequently, in totalitarian systems, psychoanalysis has a clearly subversive character.


         The scientific worldview has a direct influence on the life practice by competing with religious interpretations of the world. Compensations of suffering by happiness in the hereafter are called into question. The meaning of life is not determined anymore by "higher" principles. For many people the farewell to religion was and is a departure from strong and deep feelings. It is a departure from the comfort, security and protection that goes with an encompassing meaning of life. People who need a personal relationship with God perceive the loss of faith similar to the death of the most important caregiver. For them, a culture that does not offer a meaning in life is ill and depression a normal reaction. Conversely, in societies like the former Soviet Union, such people were diagnosed as ill, whereas the atheistic state ideology was considered to be normal. The atheistic offer of meaning in life is the belief in economic and technological progress, which provides the individual an increasingly better life. On the emotional level, however, this is no substitute for religion.




2.2 Commonalities


There are numerous similarities in the myths of East and West, especially in the sacred texts of Buddhism and Christianity [Sick, 253].




         In India the whole tenor of literature changed when the polytheism decayed, or was absorbed, into the monistic framework. All subsequent Indian literature is saturated with the monistic view. Yet in Greece, literature in general continued the polytheistic view of Homer and Hesiod as if the monistic revisions of Xenophanes and others had never occurred. [McEvilley, 61]

         After the monistic turn, Hinduism differentiates between the one God and the (manifold) manifestations of God

-   Brahman (the one and only God) is a metaphysical concept in most Hindu philosophies, a concept which is not definable in space and time.

-   The Trimurti and all subordinate deities are simply different manifestations of the one God. The concept of manifestations also explains the Hindu opinion according to which the different religions are only different paths to the same goal.

-   The Upanishads could be called a symbiosis of philosophy and religion.

         In the tradition of Enlightenment, the laws of nature certainly have the supreme position of an omnipotent God. You can either ascribe them no attributes, or the attributes of their effects, respectively manifestations:

-   No Attributes: The Pantheist Spinoza describes the (divine) natural laws as indifferent relative to happiness and suffering.

-   Attributes of their manifestations: The effects of the natural laws are (like the almighty God in the Old Testament) both good and frightening.

         The Jewish and Muslim traditions also know the almighty God as a non-personal entity. The difference between philosophy and revealed religions lies primarily in the fact that the manifestations of the almighty God (respectively the natural laws) are experienced differently by reason as compared to revelation, and that the revelations often do not allow any margin for interpretation. The flexibility of Hindu philosophy, in contrast, facilitates reconciliation with Western philosophy.


Click here for a detailed chart of the evolution of religions.



The doctrine of reincarnation

         Several scholars have suggested that the Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration of the soul was learned from Indians whom the holy man encountered in Babylon [Sick, 264].


         The Hindu doctrine of rebirth is considered to be overtaken. From a scientific point of view, this is true for the concept of a personal soul (see Reincarnation), but not for the concept of genes.

-    It is no longer a soul which is reborn and subjected to a learning process, but it is genes that are reborn and subjected to a learning process. The genetic difference between humans is only about 0.1% (see Mendel and the mathematics of heredity), i.e. humans are genetically reincarnated to 99.9%.

-    There are many functions in our psyche and in our body, which are characterized by a very specific gene combination and life history, but the ability to suffer is shared by all human beings. A part of our self lives in the others.

-    A similar consideration also applies to the relationship between humans and suffering animals. The genetic match with certain primates is up to 98%.

Even with mice, there is still a 91% match:







This diagram was taken from the internet (author unknown)




Between ethics which are oriented towards the Enlightenment and Buddhism there are many references. The most important is the following:

Current and traditional experiences of suffering are used as the starting point of a cognitive process which is to investigate the causes of suffering and possible remedies.

Buddhism can be regarded as a kind of enlightenment within Hinduism, for the following reasons:

    The myths and the pantheon were rejected or reinterpreted, and the doctrine of rebirth was revised.

     The Hindu caste system was challenged by the Buddhist claim for autonomy of the individual. Buddha criticized amongst others the traditional forced marriage (Ajasattu, Wikipedia)

▪     In the movement of Mahajana Buddhism, equality of opportunity was sought with regard to the life goal salvation.


This paper begins with the Hindu life goals and then attempts to transfer the cognitive process – which resulted in a hierarchical order of these goals – to the present time.




3. Life Goals



3.1 Overview




In today's world the diversity of life goals is almost impossible. In order to examine the quest for transcendence in a more concrete way, one must try to trace this diversity back to a few simple basic structures. The following structure of life goals (Purusartha) is taken from Hinduism and is based on several thousand years of experience. It is, in some sense, an understanding of the basic character traits of man, a result of anthropology.


Hinduism formulates four ways of life, respectively life goals:

1)   The enjoyment of sensual pleasure (Kama)

2)   The acquisition and transfer of material wealth within the framework of family and society (Artha)

3)   A righteous life in accordance with moral principles (Dharma).

4)    The liberation from the cycle of rebirths and from the fundamental ignorance (Moksha).

The third life goal is considered the basis, the last one is classified as the highest. It is considered desirable to keep an eye on all four goals and to achieve a balanced level of all four ways of life (Lexicon Hinduism)

The Purushartas are taken from the Vedas. The following is an overview:



Love and enjoyment


Vital goal

The pleasant



Economic goal

The useful



Ethical goal

The righteous



Ultimate goal

The redemptive



The enhancement of identity through the life goals Dharma and Moksha is at the center of Hindu ethics. The weighting of these life goals, however, is not fixed, but depends on the life phases (see chapter 4.1).




The Hindu life goals can relatively well be related to character traits, which are known from the factor analysis of the interaction behavior (see Competing Life Goals). These character traits have a major influence on the weighting of life goals. Conversely, the choice of life-goals also retroact on the character. Character traits are (apart from the genetic component) long-term adaptations to the inner and outer world and can usually only be changed in the long term. In addition to the duration, the intensity of experiences is decisive for the weighting of the life goals. Possibly transcendent experiences even represent the emotional core of the character and decide whether an adaptation is successful.




3.2 Love and Pleasure


§      Behind the phenomenon of love is originally the biological utility function, i.e. the goal to maximize the replication of the genes. Love, therefore, is conceived as an addictive mechanism, which strives for expansion. The pursuit of love and enjoyment is – similar to the struggle for power – subject to competition. In Hinduism the life goal Kama is combined with the art of satisfying one’s needs for enjoyment. In order to succeed in the competition, a typology of human emotions and reactions is used, similar to the one of Theophrastos (a pupil of Aristotle) or the French moralist La Bruyère. As a quintessence, La Bruyère notes that egoism, craving for recognition, and self-interest are the true motives of human action.


§     This sober point of view is confronted with the experience of transcendence in love. In the case of unselfish (true) love, the common is so strong that the need for autonomy takes the back seat. In the state of infatuation, the positive qualities of the partner are often exaggerated or even distorted into a divine dimension. Thereby the limits to magic are exceeded:

-   Time seems to stand still

-   The chirping of the crickets turns into music, nature is in perfect harmony

-   Light seems to stream out from inside the objects

-   Everything gets a secret meaning

In Hinduism, the name of the life goal love is associated with a unique God (Kama) so that it expresses the longing for divine emotions.


§      In other, seemingly selfless forms of love, we encounter this discrepancy between phenomenal experience and scientific explanation as well. The unselfish love of the parents for their children can be explained, for example, by kin selection. But the addictive mechanism of life also has dysfunctional (non-biological) characteristics. Since evolution is progressing in a non-directional manner, dysfunctional phenomena are widespread. In Hinduism, the term kama is associated not only with love but with various forms of spontaneity, enjoyment and ecstasy. Strong preferences of this kind form the basis for the world view of hedonism .

"In two states, man reaches the joyousness of existence, in dream and intoxication."

This sentence can be found in The Dionysian World View of Nietzsche, at the beginning of The Birth of Tragedy.

That Nietzsche was well-disposed toward the state of intoxication is also documented by the following passage [Nietzsche]:

"…. let us take a look at the nature of the Dionysian, which is brought to us closest by the analogy of the intoxication. Either by the influence of the narcotic drink of which all primordial human beings and peoples speak in hymns, or by the phenomenal coming nigh of spring, which sensually permeates the whole nature, those Dionysian emotions awaken, in whose increase the subjective disappears into complete self-forgetfulness.”


§     Biological happiness is tied to those risks that have led to the notion of passion (Latin passio “suffering”). Dreams and certain drugs avoid these risks and enable a less harmful kind of transcendence. The world view which comes closest to the dream is probably romanticism. There is a connection between hedonism and romanticism, inasmuch as the sense of life is sought in emotions. In romanticism, however, the emotions are melancholy-tinged, that is, they express a distance and alienation from this world. Not only the societal power structures (which prevent love) but also rational thinking is seen as an "alien" power and as an obstacle to the unfolding of emotions. In order to discover emotions, the real world must be transcended into an unreal world, even if this is only possible in the imagination. In this dream world the desires and longings can be fulfilled, which fail in reality.


§      Apart from drugs [Huxley] [Wolfe] music is probably the most intense cultural opportunity to make transcendent experiences.

The unsatisfied longing, expressed in romanticism, is a longing for perfection and immortality, a search for the divine in human love. Romanticism is not only a cultural-historical epoch, but a world of emotions, which continues to exist in different times and forms:








Niccolo Paganini (*1782)


Io Ti Penso Amore


Sting (*1951)


Fields of Gold


Shankar Tucker (*1988)


Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo


Joseph Kosma (*1905)


Autumn Leaves




3.3 Power


§     The mechanisms for the display of power were investigated at an early stage in history in order to better meet the corresponding challenges. Following some examples:

-  In Hinduism, Artha is associated with the art of asserting oneself in the competitive struggle.

-  The Chinese stratagems

-  The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides:

-  Macchiavellis Il Principe

This sober, strategic-tactical point of view is confronted the experience of transcendence in a combat. People with a Dionysian lifestyle (derived from the mythical figure of Dionysus ) follow – according to Nietzsche – unconditionally their will to life and there will to power. The Dionysian is the opposite of the controlled and controllable.


§       As in the case of love, the biological utility function, i.e. the goal to maximize the replication of the genes, is behind the phenomenon of power seeking. The display of power according to biological laws leads to a violent staging of competition and to a pitiless social Darwinism. Individuals can, however, get together in large blocks of power, if this improves the chances in the competition. Because the organization of large communities asks for an internal control, the anarchic forces unload in the behavior towards outsiders and foreigners. In such situations, philosophers and theologians design world views that allow crossing the boundaries: "Transcendence is the accomplice of fascism " (Adorno). Interesting are the parallels between the power fantasies of Nietzsche and Hitler on the one hand, and D'Annunzio and Mussolini on the other hand:

D'Annunzio, philosopher of self-conquest and propagandist of the overman influenced a whole epoch of Italian literary history and developed the external forms and the rituals of fascism (Gabriele d'Annunzio - philosophy and politics).


§     With regard to Hitler we know that he attempted – using a prescription of his personal physician Theo Morell – to cure a chronic nasal sinusitis with speed and cocaine [Gehriger] [Ohler]. As in the case of Hitler, it is documented that D'Annunzio depended on the (aviator-)drug cocaine. This adds a new dimension to the notion of transcendence in combat. In Nietzsche, the consciousness-enhancing and all moral norms breaking impact of his philosophy, is sometimes associated with drugs [Bertaux, 7]. Thereto the appropriate quote:

“The respective way of thinking, the philosophies of the philosophers, can also be deduced from their physical and mental constitution as well as their individual experiences ( Nietzsche , Wikipedia).


§     The martial power struggle is associated with immense risks and creates fear. Consequently there are enough reasons to seek and cultivate less risky forms of the striving for power. Power can be associated with any form of influence, not just the one which results from martial superiority and material wealth. While alcohol and cocaine are known for leading to hubris, the real increase in human abilities has definitely a biological value. Superior abilities improve the chances to survive – gods live forever.

-  Civilized forms of competition can partly replace the transcendent experiences of an existential struggle.

-  Survival chances are not only improved by physical dominance, but also by a better adaptation to the environment. The perfection of knowledge and skills is a more or less conscious, low-risk form of the striving for power. In a technology-oriented world, specialists often dispose of more power than their superiors.

-  How far transcendent experiences can be achieved by advances on a dysfunctional (i.e. not goal-oriented) scale of excellence was investigated, for example, by Iris Murdoch [Tugendhat 2007, 30]. Independent researchers and artists, in particular, are often fascinated by the endless possibilities that open up before them.




3.4 Justice



Tragic view

§     The term tragic view is understood here as accepting the world "as it is" with all its suffering. Transcendent experiences in contemplating the world can arise when all events are seen as the result of a divine will. This can be illustrated by the concept of the Hindu Dharma, which is not only a social order, but also fully permeated by a religious dimension. The Dharma represents a supra-individual identity which restricts self-interests and defuses social conflicts. It is the image of an ideal society, in which each individual has his/her predetermined place. The traditional Indian doctrine of reincarnation is the main reason for the fact that the Hindus consider the caste system to be just. Social duties have an impact on all areas (see Sadharana Dharmas, general Hindu behavior rules) and are valid for a lifetime. The caste system shows exemplarily the basic idea of structuralism. The behavior, the feelings and the knowledge of the people are strongly determined by the structure. The identification with the Dharma corresponds to a mystical absorption in the structure.


§      An example which documents the connection of the divine will with the concept of justice can be found in the Bhagavad Gita:

"As often as a decline of the Dharma (righteousness, virtue) and prevalence of injustice and vice occur in the world, I create myself among the creatures. Thus, from period to period, I embody myself for the preservation of the righteous, the destruction of the wicked, and the establishment of the Dharma. "

Man is a tool in the service of this higher will and must fulfill his duty. Religious legitimacy reinforces the notion of a "just war":

The sons of Prince Pandu are deceived by their uncle Dritarashtra from the tribe of Kurus with regard to their legitimate claim to the throne, and are constantly subjected to persecutions. After all, there is a great battle on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, the "site of the Kurus". Arjuna , the third of the sons of Pandu, is in a personal conflict between his affection for his relatives on the opposite side and his duty as prince and the legitimate claim of his family on land and throne. He is "overwhelmed by fear" and refuses to fight. On his chariot, there is Krishna as a wagon driver. Krishna tries to free Arjuna from his dilemma by religious-philosophical reasoning and motivate him to fight.

(The Mahabharata epic, from which the Bhagavad Gita is taken, corresponds roughly to Nietzsche's Apollonian representation of reality, i.e. to a transformation of emotional impressions into a form language).



Scientific view

§     The scientific view has an affinity to Nietzsche’s Apollonian view, but looks for general criteria in describing reality. Scientific world views are committed to emotional indifference and only allow a positive assessment inasmuch as they satisfy aesthetic needs:

-   Pantheists admire the beauty and omnipresence of natural phenomena.

-   Spinoza's God is indifferent  with regard to suffering. Nevertheless, Spinoza does not classify natural laws as neutral, but uses moral terms like “good” and necessary”. The cognition of the imperishable natural laws becomes cognition of God and is equivalent to a union with God.

-    Many scientists of Enlightenment and Humanism also emphasize the functional and structural aesthetics of the world, their logic and regularity.

In all these cases it is evident that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".


§     The contemporary view of justice is a social contract with a consensus on social welfare. In an ideal contract, an impartial position is sought, for example by means of the original position and the application of game theory. Because the social contract appeals to the normative force of reason and not to common emotions, each individual is free to make his/her own transcendent experiences. The religion is privatized. From the perspective of competing world views, however, the separation of church and state can be a disadvantage. The stability of the system is improved, indeed, by privatizing separate strong emotions, but the stability is even greater if strong emotions coincide and are made public (as in the revealed religions)



The view of compassion

§      In Buddhism, social justice is important insofar as all suffering beings are connected. According to Buddha, nobody should be excluded from material or spiritual support, if it is possible and the need is evident. This guidance, however, is not tied to a belief in progress. In Buddhism there is neither a prospect of social justice in this world nor compensation in the hereafter. Justice is materialized by a (scientifically implausible) doctrine of rebirth.

§     The perspective of compassion can be transformed into a perspective of risk (by means of the original position) so that a similar situation arises as in the risk of a bad reincarnation. To comply with the Dharma then means:

-  to realize that a part of the self (99.5% of one’s genes) will continue to live in future generations

-   to realize which laws make life more bearable for future generations and to act accordingly

 In this sense, compliance with the Dharma improves the chances of a favorable rebirth.

§      In Christianity and many other religions, justice is created only in the hereafter, for example in the form of a Last Judgment. The believers assume that there is a divine plan behind the earthly suffering, a plan that people cannot or should not understand. In Christian ethics, charity plays a central role. If the believer lives according to the divine law (unselfish love) he/she is open for the experience of transcendence. The unswerving engagement for the suffering is rewarded by a stable kind of happiness, even if justice can never be attained in this world.

§    The "egalitarian universalism from which the ideas of freedom and solidarity, of autonomous life-style and emancipation, of individual conscience, human rights and democracy" have emerged, is – according to Habermas – a legacy of Jewish justice and Christian ethics of love" (Habermas, Wikipedia).

In order to link Rawls’ concept of justice with Christianism we have to interpret the decision-maker in the original position (who defines the laws of coexistence) as a metaphysical instance. If this decision-maker takes a compassionate attitude and thus protects the weak, then he can be understood as a Christian God. The fact that the metaphysical instance emerges out of the cooperation of all individuals who support a compassionate ethics does not devaluate this interpretation. It corresponds to the modern Christian conception which says that Christianity is a religion of good deeds (i.e. practice-oriented), that people can influence their destiny themselves and that they should not wait for a sign from above.




3.5 Salvation




-   Moksha means salvation, respectively liberation in Hinduism and Buddhism and is often referred to as enlightenment (...) Moksha is associated with the liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (samsara) and represents the ultimate goal of human life. Indeed, Hinduism also knows an imagination of heaven that a person with good karma can enjoy after the death of the body, but this heaven is only temporary (…). For the followers of Advaita-Vedanta, on the other hand, Moksha can only be reached during human life, not after death. It is said that in order to attain this ultimate goal even the devas (the celestials), must first be born as a human being, since salvation can only be achieved in human life. Existence in the "heavenly" state is not infinite. Others, especially believers in the dualist Bhakti tradition, assume that one can only experience Moksha after death by God's grace (...). For temporary enlightenment experiences the term Samadhi is used (Moksha, Wikipedia).

The experience that not only humans, but also cultures are aging, get ill and die, led to the conviction in Hinduism that everything emerges out of a mystery and eventually returns to it. The mystery is not void, because it is able to produce animated worlds. It is therefore seen as a spiritual form of existence.

-    Buddhism adopted the traditional Hindu concept of a pseudo-world, which must be overcome, but not the notion of the reality behind it. From a Buddhist point of view, the nirvana does not exist as a locality. It is not a heaven and not a tangible bliss in a hereafter. Nirvana is an ending, not a new beginning in another sphere. Thus, it is a state of statelessness, in which all imaginations and aspirations are overcome and quenched (from Nirvana , Wikipedia).

-    In Hinduism, the life goal salvation and thus the withdrawal from the meritocracy is subordinated to the Dharma insofar, as it is scheduled for the last part of life. Consequently it does not dispense from the social and religious obligations in the youth and adult age. Religion, however, creates specific roles that allow a premature retreat. There is much tolerance and respect for ascetics and mystics in a Hindu community.




Mysticism is a place of peace and reflection in a life that is characterized by expansionism and conflicts.

As an alternative to this "still further and further" people have always striven for a different conception of will and time:

-  Instead of going for "more and more" ->  taking a break and looking for stability

-  Instead of insisting on the desired ->  renouncing to one’s own will.

[Tugendhat 2007, 194]

Mysticism is a means to salvation. Salvation is primarily salvation from suffering, in particular the suffering from transience. One can find the meaning of life in the love to a person, in the love of the family or in a professional task, but then one despairs when this point of reference is lost. In contrast, the Orthodox Jew cannot lose his/her relation to God and the Zen Buddhist cannot lose his/her relation to the emptiness of the universe [Tugendhat 2006, 112].


In the usual definitions of mysticism different points of view are mentioned:

1)    Outward-oriented view, transcendence of the self:

a)  Religious Western mysticism: Immediate making contact with God

b)  Non-religious Western mysticism and Indian Vedanta: Meditative merging with the ultimate reality

2)    Inward-oriented view, dissolution of the self:

a)  Theravada Buddhism and Samkhya Yoga: Leaving the phenomenal world

b)  Daoist Mysticism: Remaining in the phenomenal world.

[Tugendhat 2006, 116-117].


The individual man is confronted with an incomparable and enigmatic power (the numinous). To interpret this view as “a projection of the infantile experience of one's own littleness” as Freud did in The Future of an Illusion may be plausible in certain cases, but is an undue simplification in other cases. The feeling of powerlessness (Ohn-Macht) has real reasons such as disasters, accidents, illnesses, aging and death. Religion and mysticism emerge both from the experience of the numinous, but their target course is opposed:

-  Religion tries to satisfy the human desires (for perfection, immortality, etc.) in a transformed world.

-  Mysticism tries to liberate from the human desires (greed, care, etc.). The self is transformed instead of the world, or the self is completely dissolved.

[Tugendhat 2006, 121-122].

According to this definition, mysticism is accessible to everyone.


In some cultures, mysticism is associated with religious music, such as Sufi music or Gregorian chorale .

For Indian musicians such as Hariprasad Chaurasia, the scales of their ragas are symbols outside of time and space. They are regarded as the tonal representatives of a transcendent reality, a reality that can be experienced through the magic of the sounds (Die Welt ist Klang , Deutschlandfunk, 25.12.2012)

In Southern India there is a thousand-year-old tradition, which goes back to sacred writings such as the Vedas and Upanishads, as well as anonymous wise men (Rishis) and sacred musicians (…). They all proclaimed that good music is the key to self-discovery and to the salvation of the individual from its inner and outer conflicts (Karnatic Music, Wikipedia).



Christian mysticism

-     Christian mysticism is a movement within the Christian religions, which strives for the immediate unification with God (Unio Mystica). For that purpose, it uses different means, especially contemplation, but also asceticism and penances, prayers, and singings, among others. In contrast to Far Eastern philosophies, the self is not given up in the unification with God. The mysterious Christian unification goes with a very special individuality. One could almost say that this unification stands for a genuine and deep discovery of the true self, as conceived and created by God. Crucial is the personal experience, by reflection on the Holy Scriptures and by the lived unity of divine love and charity (Christian mysticism, Wikipedia).

-     The pantheistic God is abstract like the natural laws. The Christian God, however, is human. He manifests himself in all persons who selflessly help the suffering. The Christian incarnation of God refers to this change from an abstract God (respectively his ambivalent manifestations) to a concrete God (respectively his good deeds). The pantheistic God is omnipotent, but not (only) good, the Christian God is good, but – in his human manifestation – not omnipotent.

-     Christian mysticism is based on Neo-Platonism in its Christian metamorphosis. This adaptation was facilitated by the fact that Neo-Platonism has strong monotheistic tendencies.

-      From a psychoanalytic point of view, Christian mysticism is a regression, see e.g. [Vinnai].



Hindu mysticism

-      From an epistemological point of view Hinduism is a kind of skepticism, because it questions the perception of reality. The struggle for survival is seen as a role play, which takes place in a pseudo-world (Maja). Maya, on the one hand, represents the reality of life, on the other hand the attachment of man to this reality, which carries him away in his chains of associations (…). If the river of associations is quiesced, however, then man has reached the Atman, the core of his/her nature (Arnold Keyserling, School of Thought Styles).

Behind the pseudo-world there is the real world of Brahman. Brahman is the cosmic world soul and the highest representation of God, while Atman represents the individual soul.

-     With regard to the conception of God, there is a dispute in the Indian Vedanta between the Advaita school of Shankara, and the personalization of God, which is connected with the name of Ramanuja [Tugendhat 2007, 198]

In Buddhism personalization (Bhakti) is regarded as a transitional stage, which helps to approach the abstract. The prayer addressed to a personal God is a means for going on distance to the ego, just as the meditative concentration on an object in yoga is only a preliminary stage [Soni, 229-230].

-   In the personalizing Bhakti tradition, there are forms of mysticism that are close to the Christian tradition, especially when they go with asceticism. In these cases, the same psychoanalytic diagnosis may be applied as in Christian mysticism. The question is, however, whether such an analysis can do justice to the phenomenon. The dissolution of the ego necessarily contains regressive elements, but is, on the other hand, an adaptation to the reality of transience. Mysticism creates its own reality in which the assessments of the “struggle for survival” do not apply. Thereto a poem by the Bengali writer R. Tagore:





The Meeting


My heart longs day and night for the meeting with you -

For the meeting that is like all-devouring death.

Sweep me away like a storm;

Take everything I have;

Break open my sleep and plunder my dreams.

Rob me of my world.

In that devastation,

In the utter nakedness of spirit,

Let us become one in beauty.


Alas for my vain desire!

Where is this hope for union except for you, my God?






Buddhist mysticism

Buddhist mysticism, which is particularly common in the movements of Mahayana and Vajrayana, does not strive for the direct experience of a divine being. Non-duality, however, is usually not conscious and is obscured by the attachment to the ego. From this fundamental ignorance emerges the notion of an ego which is independent of other phenomena. The ego is accompanied by mental poisons like confusion, hatred, greed, envy and pride, the causes of all suffering. The goal is to transform the mental poisons into original wisdom, to dissolve the imagination of an ego, and to overcome the splitting of the phenomena into the subject and object, which is characteristic for the unenlightened being. The Buddha-nature, which is concealed but inherent in all sentient beings, is discovered as the deeper underlying nature. Whoever achieves this is called Enlightened one or simply Buddha. Practices of Buddhist mysticism include meditation, prayer, sacrifices, various yogas, and special tantric techniques (Mystic, Wikipedia)



Comparison between Christian and Buddhist mysticism

In an effort to find universal character traits of all human beings [Tugendhat 2007] the commonalities of Christian and Buddhist mysticism are often emphasized. But the differences are actually more interesting. In the following the term Buddhist mysticism refers to the Vipassana meditation, which is practiced, among others, in Theravada Buddhism:

1.   Realm of emotions: Christian mysticism is associated with worship, ecstasy and affirmation (the mystic is emotionally engaged), Buddhist mysticism is associated with inner peace, mindfulness and indifference (the mystic is emotionally absent).

2.  Object of observation: Christian mysticism sees the object of worship in the external world, Buddhist mysticism focuses on inner conditions. Christian mysticism is related to bhakti yoga because it assumes that love needs an object. Buddhist mysticism attempts to get rid of objects.

3.   Awareness of the self: The self is not given up in Christian mysticism (as opposed to Buddhist mysticism), but is given a transcendental expression through the union with God.

4.   Biological Needs: The (medieval) Christian mysticism requires asceticism and sometimes even mistreatment of the body; the Buddhist mysticism rejects asceticism and seeks the "middle" way. The middle way of the Buddha, however, was still a very strict practice, see The Price of Liberation, Peter Masefield.

5.  Method: Christian mysticism is based on faith, Buddhist mysticism on a process of cognition.


The Hinduism before the Buddha already knew forms of mysticism similar to the Christian ones. There, too, the goal was to reach an ecstatic state through physical asceticism. Buddha practiced this kind of mysticism for several years, but finally gave preference to a knowledge-oriented meditation form. From his point of view the search for a heavenly state or for perfection is a lack of knowledge, indicating a loss of reality. Because of his turning away from traditional patterns of life goals, Buddhism was partly associated with nihilism. Buddhism, however, is not nihilistic insofar, as its motivation is based on the prevention of suffering.




In certain forms of mysticism, the universe is not seen as a unity in which the manifold disappears, but the multiplicity of things in space and time is maintained, but seen in a unified context [Tugendhat 2006, 125]. It seems that certain hallucinogens can establish the perceived connection between unity and diversity. A participant in a scientific study on the effect of psilocybin described his experiences as follows:

I experienced directly and immediately the metaphysical theory known as emanatism, in which, beginning with the clear, unbroken and infinite light of God, the light then breaks into forms and decreases in intensity as it passes through descending degrees of reality ( ...). The emanation theory, and especially the detailed layers of existence of the Hindu and Buddhist cosmology and psychology, had for the past been only concepts and conclusions for me. Now they were the subject of the most direct and most immediate perception. I could understand exactly how these theories had arisen, given that their forefathers had this experience. But by far more than by an “explanation of their origin”, my experience testified their absolute truth [Metzinger, 315].

The use of hallucinogens, however, carries a considerable risk (psychosis, risk of accidents, horrortrips). The attempt to reach mystical experiences without effort has its price as well.



About the fear of death

Interestingly, there is rarely a fear of falling asleep, although the conscious control is given up completely and there is always the possibility of never awaking anymore. In a deliberate dying process, however, the transition is difficult to cope with. Opioids are partly administered in the terminal stage of a disease and have an euphoric effect (terminal elation). The main side effects are decreased attention and respiratory depression. The (drug) addiction hardly seems important at the end of life, so that opioids may become a culturally tolerated, last possibility to achieve transcendence.


Not only opioids but also hallucinogens are explored to relieve pain and anxiety in the terminal stage of a disease [Gasser]. Because hallucinogens such as LSD enhance consciousness, one speaks of psychedelic therapy. Anyone who fearlessly experiences the dissolution of the self in a psychedelic therapy can resort to this experience in the confrontation with death.


Also the classical methods of reflection and meditation aim at the distancing from the egocentric perspective:

§      It is worth at this point to remember the argument of Lucrez, in which he emphasizes that we emerged from nothing, but that we nevertheless do not shudder in front of this (past) nothing. Why then do we shudder in front of the future non-existence? [Tugendhat 2007, 162]

The Buddhist escapes this contradiction, because he/she is not afraid of the future non-existence, but – just the opposite – of the future rebirth.


§     The fear of death refers to the situation immediately or soon [Tugendhat 2006, 102].

It is easy to understand that the fear of „dying soon“ is (biologically) functional for survival, just as the fear of „dying in the future“ is dysfunctional, since it is only paralysing the will to survive [Tugendhat 2007, 165]

The (biological) functionality of the fear of death also explains why our intuition regarding non-existence is so negatively connoted. Death is associated with coldness, loneliness, impotence, loss, deprivation, eternal night, etc. although all these associations are just as inappropriate as the opposite ones.

The ability to die also has (long-term) benefits. These benefits, however, can only be seen only if one imagines a future suffering. Death is terrible exactly inasmuch as it destroys positive ties to the world. If these ties are of a long-term nature, then the thought to die in the future is terrible as well. The ability to die becomes attractive only when the balance of happiness and suffering irreversibly turns into the negative. In the normal case, the problem of dysfunctionality (paralysis by the fear of death) is solved by repression.


§      From the egocentric perspective, the transition to non-existence must appear dreadful (…). Death may be acceptable only from a mystical perspective [Tugendhat 2006, 106].

-    The absorption into the Brahman fulfills an "imagination of immortality without an individual soul" and thus facilitates the departure from the ego. The same function also fulfills the identification with humanity or with one's own children. This is not yet a religious illusion, because the cosmos, humanity and the children in fact continue to exist. The peculiarity of Hinduism, however, lies in the fact that the Brahman is regarded as the best possible state. The absorption into the Brahman is not seen as the loss of a "large-scale perspective" (the world seen from a connection between the five senses and the body) but, conversely, as a liberation from being enclosed in a "small-scale" perspective. Buddhism goes still a step further and even renounces the idea of a world soul. The recipe against the fear of death consists solely in seeing death as a salvation from suffering. This presupposes, however, that one knows the transience of happiness and that one has made the experience of suffering.

 -  Metaphor: If one divides the toy of a child is into its individual parts and then says "there is still everything available" then the child cries because the individual parts are not a substitute for the whole.

Buddhist counter-metaphor: The toy hurts the child and scares. If the toy is now divided into its components, then the child laughs. It has recognized that the dangerous toy consists only of harmless parts.




4. Life as a Cognitive Process



4.1 Transience



Stages of life

In Hinduism, one distinguishes between four phases of life (ashramas):

     The first three phases adolescence (Brahmacharya), employment (Grihastha), retirement (Vanaprastha) refer to the majority of Hindus.

   The fourth phase Sannyasa (renunciation) refers to selected Brahmans and monks, but is also open for laymen at the end of life. A lay person in the retirement phase, however, must separate from his partner in order to enter the fourth phase.


1.   Adolescence: In the period of education and disciplining, the young person must learn the world view and the rules of the community (the dharma) and – in Freud’s terminology – construct an inner control instance (the super-ego). The dharma subsequently forms a constraint for self-realization. If the term dharma is replaced by ethics of reason, then the first life phase can well be translated into the present time.


2.   Employment: In the adult age the internal control instance takes the place of the educators. This instance should ensure that the constraints of the Dharma are respected in the pursuit of the life goals Artha and Kama (i.e. in partnership, family life, conquest and defense of a position in society, etc.) In today’s democratic societies it is important to not only respect the laws, but also to question and actively shape them. Among the Hindu duties the sacrifices which were owed to the gods played an important role. The efficacy of the sacrifice was ensured by the meticulous observance of ritual actions. The basic idea that one could influence destiny favorably by observing such rules appears irrational at first, but is not so far from our current lifestyles. Even the enlightened people mistakenly believe that a disciplined (sacrifices making) life can favorably influence the forces of chance and decay, and avert the worst forms of suffering.


3.   Retirement: Through the confrontation with illnesses, accidents, defeats, aging and death one discovers the transience of temporal values and material possessions. The urge for self-realization loses in importance. The main motif is now the release of power and attachments. For the worldly Hindus this is the preparation for a favorable rebirth and thus an intermediate goal. The ultimate goal is the liberation from the cycle of rebirths (Moksha).

The place of the third stage of life, the wood hermitage, in which the father of the family withdrew with his wife to prepare for salvation (or a favorable rebirth) through study and meditation, was given the name Ashram (Ashram, Wikipedia).

In our society, too, the age of retirement is associated with the release of responsibility in the family and profession [Vrinda]. Typical transitional points are the exodus of the children from the parental home or the birth of the first grandchild (see Holy Scriptures). Preparing for a favorable rebirth (translated into our time) means to engage for a better world, a world in which 99.5% of our genes are permanently being reincarnated. For younger people, who are struggling for power and love, the surrender of the ego is a strange idea. The identification with the life goal salvation only comes with age and then represents a resort, a place to escape, respectively a protection against increasing experiences of suffering.


Life phases do not end in the same way as calendar years, but generally overlap. The process described above, however, has an idealtypic significance with regard to the shift of interests. The interests control a selective perception, a specific focus of attention. In this context the midlife is particularly interesting:



The midlife crisis


1.   Secular orientation

In the midlife crisis experiences with the loss of love and/or power meet with the increasing consciousness of physical decay (see, for example, Midlife Crisis by Peter Bartning). The crisis causes a detachment from the everyday manner to live, a distancing from the way in which one is “driven by life". The volatility of the biological life goals creates a need for an overall view and a solid hold. The imperishable life goal salvation gains in importance. The attention shifts to the prevention of suffering.


2.   Spiritual orientation

Another kind of midlife crisis is not triggered by negative experiences with the life goals love and power, but by the suppression of these life goals. The biological chances to experience transcendence are hampered or even destroyed in the first half of life by culturally imposed self-control. The crisis causes a pause in the way in which one lets the days passing by. In the midst of life, it becomes clear that the gain in power (through self-control) cannot compensate for the loss in transcendence and that the promises to a later happiness will not be honored. This creeping awareness of walking on the wrong path, of missing the essentials and locking oneself up was already addressed in the pre-modern times when the demons were still perceived as real:

In the eight-vice doctrine of the late antique ascetic Evangrius Ponticus (and in his successor John Cassian) the demon Akedia, was the most feared by the meditating monks: "It is that demon, which the Desert Fathers also called the midday demon, since he attacked the monks in the solitude of their Kellion usually around the fourth hour (10 o'clock ) and continued until about the eighth hour (2 pm). " (From Jürgen Daiber: The Mittagsdämon, On the Literary Phenomenology of the Midlife Crisis).

Anyway, in the case of meditating monks of a Christian or Buddhist type, self-control aims directly at transcendental experiences, whereas in our culture self-control aims at ephemeral power and the transcendence which is envisioned (e.g. in the form of transhumanism) is far off. The attention, which was directed towards utopias, is forced back into the present by the first signs of physical decay.


Conclusion: The midlife crisis is primarily due to the increasing awareness of limitations and transience, and not dependent on whether the first half of life was characterized by a very spontaneous or a very controlled way of life.




Is the character of the first half of life unsatisfied longing for happiness;

then that of the second is concern for misfortune.


Arthur Schopenhauer




The evaluation of "transience"

Is it not possible to appreciate an experience precisely because it is unique and only lasts a short time? Is it not possible to upgrade volatility relative to stability and transience relative to duration?

In this general form the question must certainly be answered in the affirmative. The interesting question, however, is the following:

"Is it possible to upgrade the transience of happiness?”

-    In those cases where this seems plausible (e.g. in the metaphor of the dance on the volcano) there is a misinterpretation. He who dances on the volcano does not really know it. The danger is only desirable to increase the tension (and thus the experienced happiness). This is particularly clear in the context of the addiction to gambling, where games without total risk lose in attraction. Not the transience of happiness is upgraded by the danger, but the intensity.

-   The transience of certain experiences can contribute to happiness. A varied life, for example, can be more interesting than a balanced one. But if someone strives for a varied life, then this desire must not be disappointed.

The nature of happiness can be specific and individual, but not the principle of its preservation or increase. Nietzsche's central statement in Thus spoke Zarathustra "But all joy wants eternity ..." is a psychological law.




4.2 Traumatic Experiences



Suffering as a form of cognition

There are not only transcendent experiences of happiness, but also transcendent experiences of suffering. We will call them traumatic experiences in the following and remember that the affected person is offset in a world of nightmares.

The "being out-of-oneself" of pain and the resulting avoidance strategy determine in the following the search for a lower-risk way of living. A traumatic experience can change life as much as a drug experience and determine the character of a person even in early youth. The basic principle is an increase of traumatic experiences in the course of life, whereby the world of nightmares slowly becomes real. Let us go back to the aforementioned episode from the Bhagavad Gita:


§      By the epos, the author creates distance to reality and thus distance to suffering. The world is "as it is", the individual can only observe it, but is at the same time protected by his/her observer status. Thereto the following quote from The Birth of Tragedy:

And thus the same should apply to Apollo, in an eccentric sense, what Schopenhauer said about the man caught in the veil of Maja (The World as Will and Imagination, p. 416): "On the raging sea, which – unlimited in all directions – howling raises and lowers wave crests, a mariner sits on a boat, trusting the weak vehicle. Equally the individual man is calmly sitting in the middle of a world of agony, supported by and trusting in the principium individuationis ".


§      Not only the artist's dream, but also the distanced attitude of the philosopher relative to the "real" world is threatened by collapse. The breaking of this attitude, i.e. the being dragged into another world, can go with fear and terror, but also with great pleasure, because the feelings in the real (Dionysian) world are much more intense than in the (Apollinian) depiction. Thereto the following quote by [Nietzsche]:

In the same passage, Schopenhauer has described to us the monstrous horror which overwhelms man, when he suddenly starts to doubt about the knowledge of the phenomenal world, because the law of causation, in any of its forms, appears to suffer from an exception. If we add to this horror the joyous ecstasy which, in the breaking up of the principium individuationis, rises from the innermost core of man – nay nature – then we have a look at the essence of the Dionysian.

If the distancing from the world, which expressed in the Apollinian position is abolished by infatuation or by drugs (as insinuated in the case of Nietzsche), then it can lead to joyous ecstasy indeed. But if the collapse of the structured and predictable world occurs, for example, by an accident, a natural catastrophe, or a cancer diagnosis, then the affected person is confronted with Schopenhauer's "monstrous horror."


Because people in the second half of life are subjected to a decay process, the traumatic experiences increase relative to the positive surprises. Traumatic experiences and deceptions go with a loss of ideals, hopes and expectations. People become more cautious and conservative with age.



The happiness of old age

As long as traumatic experiences fail to appear, older people can even state (in opinion polls) that they are happier than in the first half of life. These statements, however, have to be interpreted with caution:

-    It is a different kind of happiness, a happiness which can be explained by the reduction of responsibilities (children, work, etc.), by the reduction of competition and last but not least by the reduction of self-demands. It is the kind of happiness which Epicurus recommended already to young people and which points into the direction of the life goal salvation.

-    Retirement often goes with a gain in self-determination. The fact that this self-determination also means that one is no longer needed and that it is soon lost again for reasons of illness or old age can be repressed for a certain time.

-   People tend to portray their lives as a success story. The optimism, which is displayed in opinion polls, has biological roots and improves the survival chances. It is the same mechanism that produces a positive response to the question "How are you?", although the person concerned may just have asked a therapist for help.

-   The inquired persons are not yet at the end of their journey. They can comment on the first half of life, but not on the second. Anyone who knows the awareness of life in retirement and nursing homes knows that the happiness of old age is transient as well.


In old age a kind of reversal situation arises as compared to the adolescence. The body, which was a source of joy, becomes a source of suffering. For young people the body procures a feeling of freedom, for old people it becomes a prison. The mind, which is locked in the body, looks for an escape. The experience of internal loss of control (because of the aging process) implies that now the external controlling forces are perceived more positively. The opponent is no longer external (educators, moral laws) but internal (illness, decay). The family, community and religion which have restricted egoistic interests at an early age, now become a source of consolation.



4.3 Levels of Reality



The value of experience

Are world views merely the rationalization of emotions? According to which criteria can one say that something is learned in life? To what extent is the perception in the second half of life "more true" or "more realistic" than in the first half? Is the perception not just a mirror of the personal situation, as in the first half of life? There is undoubtedly a strong part of the evaluation which reflects the current situation. The difference, however, is that the evaluations in the second half of life additionally have a comparative and cumulative character. Earlier ratings can be corrected:

-     The felt perception of young people of an indefinite expansion of abilities is gradually corrected. Advice concerning the transience of power and love has no effect on adolescents, but only the experience of personal failure.

-    Traumatic experiences cannot be intellectually understood and classified. The feeling of invulnerability which is inherent to the youthful (and still undefeated) observer is abruptly rebutted in the trauma.

-     The feeling that life lasts almost indefinitely, that death is far away, is gradually corrected by physical decay.




One experiences happiness as a gift

and later realizes that it was a credit.


Author unknown




The struggle of interpretations

The fact that the majority of people adheres to a belief in progress, or to the consolations of religion, indicates that the increasing awareness of vulnerability and transience (due to accidents, diseases, age, death of close persons, etc.), is difficult to cope with. The proliferation of constructions of meaning such as the eschatology, the myth of the expulsion from paradise and the longing to retrieve it (keyword: Paradise Engineering) speak a clear language. Interesting is also the evaluation of this world in Hinduism and Buddhism. If the highest goal of a culture is the liberation from the cycle of rebirths, then it is obvious that this cycle has a profoundly negative rating.

To deal with the negative experiences and to legitimize the status quo (i.e. the actual value system), there are epics (myths) in each culture that describe and aestheticize the natural catastrophes and the (Dionysian ) power struggles from a distant (Apollonian) perspective. The truth thus has two sides:

1.   The balancing of happiness and suffering with a possibly negative result [Johnson].

2.   The ability to repress suffering, aestheticize the world and construct meaning with a positive result. The positive result can, if necessary, be transferred to the future by means of scenarios of progress and/or salvation. Behind the positive interpretations of the world is the will to survive, but also the fact that epics are written by observers (winners) and revelations by "Chosen Ones". The need for positive interpretations is immense, and the people who are able to find such an interpretation get a correspondingly high reward. Given the above situation of interests, there is reason to suspect that the perception is manipulated:

The need, respectively wish to believe in something is not just an inadequate reason to believe it, but it is always and in itself – if there is no independent evidence – a counter-argument to believe it [Tugendhat 2007 , 191]


Each of the two basic interests survival and liberation from suffering is able to interpret the world in a radically different manner (as lawyers do):

         Liberation from suffering: The example of voluntary euthanasia demonstrates that the value of survival can be measured within a hedonistic framework. The interest to survive is non-hedonistic, but can be reinterpreted within the framework of motivational hedonism.

         Survival: No matter what kind of ethics we denote as “rational” or “higher”, it is impossible to control the forces of evolution globally and long-term. Life creates and destroys ethical systems. Ethics can always be interpreted in an evolutionary context.


For an analytical investigation concerning the evaluation of the world, see The Denial of the World from an Impartial View .



The hierarchy of life goals

Schopenhauer adopted the Hindu view according to which not only the artistic representation of reality (e.g. the Mahabharata epic) is a pseudo-world, but also the reality that is depicted in art:

The philosophical man has the presentiment that even behind the reality in which we live, there is hidden a second quite different reality, i.e. the former is an illusory world as well (from The Birth of Tragedy).


Holding on to transient things means to be guided by an illusionary reality. A reality appears all the more illusionary, the faster it vanishes. In this sense

1.   the reality of love is transient as compared to that of power

2.   the reality of power (elites, family-dynasties) is transient as compared to that of the Dharma (law, justice)

3.   the reality of the Dharma is transient as compared to that of the natural laws which underlie cultural evolution.

Cultures and their laws decay as well as dynasties and individuals. The laws of nature, however, are imperishable, and therefore represent the highest reality.


This reflection results in the following hierarchy of life goals:

1.    Salvation (by knowing the highest reality)

2.   Justice (the contemporary version of the Dharma)

3.   Power

4.   Love


Whereas Hinduism devalues the life-goals of love and power by interpreting them as a role-play, Buddhism is characterized by an unconditional will to orient itself directly towards the highest reality. The ancient primacy of the life goal salvation was only relativized by the devaluation of religions in the Enlightenment and Modernism (Nietzsche, Freud), see Competing Life Goals. Interestingly, Freud's reversal of the hierarchy is also mentioned in the Hindu epic:


The Mahabharata (12.167) reports of a dispute as to which of the life-targets is the highest. Bhima, one of the Pandava brothers, argues the case for kama: This is the first duty of man, for, without desire, every achievement is impossible. He sees kama as the secret of all success, whether material or spiritual (Kama , Wikipedia)


If "love" stands for the inexhaustible vitality (and not for the transient love for a person), then it has something transcendent (which is indeed expressed in the assignment of the deity kama. Finally, however, the above-mentioned hierarchy has prevailed in Hinduism. Perhaps because – given the cyclical world view of the Hindus – the vital force is destroyed and re-created by a higher power. But perhaps also simply, because the creations of the life force are always tied to suffering.




5. Conclusion


Transcendent experiences in the realm of love and power are driven by the biological utility function, i.e. they originally serve a biological purpose. In the course of cultural evolution they are partially modified (sublimated) or shifted to a dream world.


The shift of transcendent experiences to the life goals justice and salvation is related to specific experiences (accidents, illnesses, death of close persons, etc.) and an increasing awareness of transience. The more ephemeral a phenomenon, the more irrelevant it appears and the less it serves as an orientation.


The search for an indestructible reality first leads to the community and then to mysticism:

The community provides security as long as it respects time-tested laws (traditions). Not only religious laws can convey transcendent experiences, but also the practically lived tradition of compassion. A rational approach to the life goal justice comes about when one realizes that a part of the self lives in the others.


Mysticism is a spiritual form of self-surrender or self-dissolution, which overcomes the fear of loss and death. From a psychoanalytic perspective this can be interpreted as a regression and a denial of reality, from a theological viewpoint, conversely, it can be interpreted as a means for adapting to reality.








I would like to thank Michael Hampe for the inspiring conversations in the context of this paper.








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