Interfaith Encounter

“Entangled in Indra’s Net” is Gereon Kopf’s explanation of a model for interfaith dialogue.

See page 14 of Luther College’s Agora for Gereon Kopf’s essay, “The Dead, Robots, and End-of-Life Care in Japane: How to Deal with/Study Inconvenient Phenomena.”

Diversifying Philosophy of Religion: Critiques, Methods, and Case Studies – TOC

How might philosophical studies of religion enter the globalized, 21st-century world? Diversifying Philosophy of Religion: Critiques, Methods, and Case Studies is the first of four volumes whose contributions develop neglected topics and issues in the philosophy of religion.

Section 1: Critique and Methods

  1. Deprovincializing Philosophy of Religion: from “Faith and Reason” to the Postcolonial Revaluation of Religious Epistemologies – Jacob Sherman
  2. Postcolonialism and the Question of Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion – Andrew Irvine and Purushottama Bilimoria
  3. Why Philosophers of Religion Don’t Need “Religion”— At Least Not for Now – Tim Knepper
  4. Is Philosophy of Religion Racist? Sonia Sikka
  5. Re-envisioning Philosophy of Religion from a Feminist Perspective – Morny Joy
  6. Philosophy of Religion beyond Belief: Thinking with Anthropology’s New Animists – Lisa Landoe-Hedrick
  1. Theory and Method in the Philosophy of Religion in China’s Song-Dynasty – Leah Kalmanson
  2. The Theory and Practice of the Multi-Entry Approach – Gereon Kopf
  3. Comparison of Religious Ideas in Philosophy of Religion – Robert Neville
  4. The Relevance of Scriptures – Steve Smith

Section 2: Case Studies

  1. Ethnographically Informed Philosophy of Religion in a Study of Assamese Goddess Worship – Mikel Burley
  2. Praxis – Louis Komjathy
  3. Nishida Kitarō’s ‘I and Thou’ through the Work of Jessica Benjamin: Toward the Issue of Equality –  Mayuko Uehara
  4. The Nguni traditional ‘religious’ thoughts: The Isintu philosophy of the Zulu/Ndebele – Herbert Moyo
  5. Approaching a Lakota Philosophy of Religion – Fritz Detwiler
  6. Yasukuni, Okinawa and Fukushima: Philosophy of Sacrifice in the Nuclear Age – Ching-Yuen Cheung
  7. Technology and the Spiritual: From Prayer Bots to the Singularity – Yvonne Förster
  8. Can you see the seer? Approaching Consciousness from an Advaita Vedānta Perspective – Varun Khanna

Nafs ( نفس )

Conceptual Definition

In pre-Islamic Arabic poetry, Nafs was used to refer to a self or person, derived from the root n-f-s whose basic verbs are: nafusa, “to value, deem precious,” and nafisa, “to crave, desire, hoard.” The word nafas, meaning “breath,” is also from the same root. In the Qur’an, the word “nafs” appears 295 times and is used in a manner similar to the English “soul,” “psyche,” “ego,” or “self” and is used as a reflexive pronoun (e.g. “myself,” “herself,” “ourselves,” “yourself,” “itself” etc.). For example:

O you who believe! You have charge of your own souls/selves (5:105)

O humankind! Revere your Lord, Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate, and from the two has spread abroad a multitude of men and women…


They said, “Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if you do not forgive us, and have mercy upon us, we shall surely be among the lost.” (7:23)

Upon the earth are signs for those possessing certainty, and within your souls/selves, do you not see? (51:20-21)

By the soul and the One Who fashioned it

and inspired it as to what makes it iniquitous or reverent

Indeed, he prospers who purifies it

And indeed he fails who obscures it (91:7-10)

The Qur’an describes the nafs as participating in various experiential, appetitive, affective, and intellectual functions, and is generally understood to persist after the experience of death, which separates it from its body. “Nafs” is also used as a marker of identity, e.g. “nafs al-shay’” means “the self-same thing” and “nafs al-amr” refers to “things as they are in themselves.” A polysemic term, in its various uses in later Islamic traditions, it is typically defined in reference to the body (jism) and spirit (rūḥ), and debates over its origin (physical or spiritual, temporal or non-temporal), nature (material or immaterial or in-between), persistence and transformation after death (individually, collectively, or not at all), and the possibility of reincarnation and metempsychosis have continued down to the present day.

Philosophical Significance

As in ancient philosophy, the disciplines of Islamic philosophy (falsafa) and Sufism (taṣawwuf) both present themselves as methods of purifying and perfecting the nafs, and many prominent traditions of both describe themselves as being founded upon self-knowledge. A standard definition of the goal of the discipline of Islamic philosophy is “the perfection of the soul (nafs) by gaining the knowledge of the reality of things as they are through investigation and proofs, not through opinion and imitation.” Although its authenticity is contested, the hadith (saying of the Prophet) “he who knows himself (nafsafu), knows his Lord” is frequently quoted in Sufi literature to underscore the centrality of self-knowledge to the tradition.

Early Islamic theologians (mutakallimūn) and some Sufis held the nafs to be a kind of corporeal substance that suffuses the sensible body like sap in a tree or water in a flower. In this perspective, the nafs is the moral agent, controlling the body, and experiencing felicity or torment after death and resurrection (in which it is given a new body) depending on its actions and God’s will. As such, the nafs is the object of ethics and that in which the various human faculties of awareness, cognition, deliberation, memory, will, etc. inhere. The prominent Ash‘arī school of Islamic theology (kalām) generally argued for a kind of occasionalism in which that the nafs was a substance whose accidents were perpetually recreated at every moment by God. The continuity of the self was thus due to the continuity of the substance in which these different accidents inhered. However, later theologians, such as al-Ghazālī (d. 1111), were more influenced by the philosophical psychology of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) (d. 1037) and that of the Sufi tradition.

In most traditions of Islamic philosophy (falsafa), the nafs was generally held to be an incorporeal, eternal, spiritual, self-subsistent substance. Ibn Sīnā’s famous “flying man” thought experiment, which posits a person created floating in mid-air in a state of total sensory deprivation with no memory would still have self-awareness, thus separating knowledge of one’s self from knowledge of one’s body, indicating the distinction between the nafs and the body. Ibn Sīnā held that this self-awareness is an ever-present characteristic of the nafs, even in sleep, and is a kind of background foundation for all psychological (mental and sensory) activity. Nafs was the term used to translate the various forms and levels of the Aristotelian/Neoplatonic psyche ranging from the vegetative soul to the rational soul (al-nafs al-nāṭiqa), which characterizes human beings and is the aspect of the soul that survives the destruction of the body. An interesting corollary of this position is that some Islamic philosophers held that those who had not sufficiently cultivated this intellect or rational soul, bringing it from potentiality into actuality, would have no afterlife.

Sufi doctrines also posited a hierarchy of levels of the soul (marātib al-nafs) based on Qur’anic terminology, such as this common schema:

1) The “soul that incites to evil” (12:53). The level of soul that drives one to fulfill appetites without regard to morality or consequence

2) The “blaming soul” (75:2). The level of the soul that reproaches one for having done wrong

3) The “inspired soul” (91:8). The level at which the soul becomes open to inspiration and discernment between good and evil

4) The “serene soul” (89:27). The level at which the soul becomes serene and tranquil through its knowledge and experience that all the occurs comes from God.

5) The “contented soul” (89:28). The level of the soul that is pleased with all of God’s decrees-everything that happens to it.

6) The “contenting soul” (89:28). The level of the soul that is pleasing to God, even as it is pleased with God.

7) The “perfect” or “pure” soul. The level of the soul that is likened to a perfectly-polished mirror, reflecting all the Divine Names and Attributes, and is as pure as possible, being transparent before the Divine Reality.

These different levels of soul are described as being present in potentia in everyone, but are only actualized through spiritual exercises leading to the purification of the soul. Related doctrines described different levels of subtle “spiritual bodies,” in which the nafs was one particular level/body (the psycho-sensory-affective) or a name for the totality of spiritual “bodies” comprising the human being. Often in Sufi literature, the term nafs is used to refer to these lower levels of consciousness and selfish desire which must be overcome, purified, or even annihilated in order to reach God. In this sense, the nafs is typically described as the veil that separates one from God. Hoewever, in all of these schemas, as the knowing subject, the soul’s purification and health was deemed essential for proper cognition, particularly of metaphysical/spiritual matters.

This perspective uniting epistemology and ethics was broadly shared by the Islamic philosophical tradition, which described the purification of the soul in terms of its tajrīd (separation/liberation) from the body and the world of matter through spiritual exercises, ascesis, discipline, and contemplation of the non-corporeal realm and its realities. As Islamicist and contemporary Islamic Philosopher, Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes, this perspective constitutes a “universal Islamic principle stated in so many ḥadīths that gaining theoretical knowledge and a purification of the soul have to be combined in order for ‘science’ or ‘ilm to become rooted in the soul, transform its substance and embellish it in such a way that it will be worthy of eternal life in the Divine Presence.”

The prominent tradition of philosophical Sufism, particularly that inaugurated by Ibn al-‘Arabī (d. 1240)and his commentators, developed a doctrine known as “the Breath of the All-Merciful” (nafas al-Raḥmān) in which the nafs and everything else in creation is perpetually returned to God and manifested into existence at every instant, “with every breath,” in the poetic terminology of a hadith. The influential mystical philosopher, Mulla Sadra (d. 1636) made this doctrine the basis of his theory of substantial motion (al-ḥarakat al-jawhariyya) in which all substances, but especially the substance of the human soul (nafs) is constantly increasing in intensity of being (wujūd), moving towards the perfection and simplicity of being, returning to the One from which it was originally manifested. Although having an existence that precedes its attachment to the body, the soul’s individual existence begins with this attachment, which is what gives it its individual identity (this association with the material, sensory, and spatio-temporal is what allows it to be differentiated from other souls). Then the soul’s being increases in intensity as it develops, bringing its various potential faculties into actuality, like the blossoming of a flower from a seed, until the soul becomes a fully actualized intellect through the practice of philosophy (which includes spiritual exercises). Ṣadra thus argues that the individual human soul is corporeal in its origination and spiritual in its subsistence’ (jismāniyyat al-ḥudūth wa-rūḥāniyyat al-baqā’)

Historical Context

Islamic theories of the nafs were strongly influenced by the Qur’an, hadith, and traditions of Qur’anic interpretation, and also by the rich philosophical/religious contexts of the various traditions of Egyptian, Platonic, Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Stoic, Hermetic, Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Vedic, Dharmic, Chinese, indigenous African (and various admixtures thereof) practice and thought that flourished in Islamic and neighboring lands. Arabic translations and commentaries upon Aristotle’s De Anima and Plotinus’ Enneads (translated as the “Theology of Aristotle” and attributed to the Stagirite) were particularly influential in shaping Islamic theories of nafs, with various thinkers creatively adopting, adapting, and arguing against the frameworks presented in these works. Many Islamic philosophical, theological, Sufi, and Heremetic works were translated into Latin (particularly) those of Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Averroës), profoundly influencing the development of medieval Christian and early modern notions of the “soul” and self, while in the Eastern Islamic lands, texts of philosophical Sufism and Sufi poetry in Persian and Chinese influenced Dharmic and neo-Confucian debates on the nature of the self in South and East Asia, respectively.

Significant References

Adamson, Peter, “Correcting Plotinus: Soul’s Relationship to Body in Avicenna’s Commentary on the Theology of Aristotle”, in P. Adamson et al. (eds), Philosophy, Science and Exegesis in Greek, Arabic and Latin Commentaries (London: 2004), vol. 2, 59-75.

Chittick, William. “Bābā Afżal-al-Dīn”. Encyclopaedia Iranica 3 (2011): 285–91. Available online: (accessed on 5 June 2022).

Faruque, Muhammad Umar. Sculpting the Self: Islam, Selfhood, and Human Flourishing. University of Michigan Press, 2021.

Kaukua, Jari. Self-Awareness in Islamic Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Kukkonen, Taneli. “Receptive to Reality: Al‐Ghazālī on the Structure of the Soul.” The Muslim World 102, no. 3-4 (2012): 541-561.

Marmura, Michael, “Avicenna’s “flying man” in context.” The Monist 69, no. 3 (1986): 383-395.

Druart, T.A., “The Human Soul’s Individuation and its Survival After the Body’s Death: Avicenna on the Causal Relation Between Body and Soul,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 10 (2000), 259-273.

Rizvi, Sajjad, “Mulla Sadra”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>

Sviri, Sara. “The Self and its Transformation in Sūfīsm.” Self and Self-transformation in the History of Religions (2002): 195-215.

Research Directory

One goal of “Cross-Cultural Conceptions of the Self” is to engage sources less-commonly studied by philosophers of religion. By working primarily in English who work at institutions of higher education, this project inherits the challenges for cross-cultural studies at work in the field and the academy. To proactively address issues of regional visibility, please see the participants’ suggestions for scholarship on each geographical region.

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by Louis Komjathy 康思奇

Somatology refers to discourse on, study of, and theories about the (human) body. While more conventionally used to refer to a branch of anthropology (a.k.a. “physical anthropology”) primarily concerned with the physical nature and characteristics of people or to a branch of biology concerned with the structure and function of the human body, the term may be used as a comparative and cross-cultural interpretive category. Etymologically speaking, “somatology” derives from the Greek sôma (“body”) and lógos (“study”). Thus, it may be applied to consider the embodied, enacted, and enfleshed dimensions of human being and experience, especially in terms of corporeality, embodiment, physicality, somatics, and the like. From an interdisciplinary perspective, some especially relevant—if under-consulted—disciplines include body work, dance, disability studies, feminist studies, kinesthetics, movement studies, physical education, ritual studies, “sports science,” theater, and so forth.

In terms of the Philosophy of Religion, especially as envisioned in its current “global-critical” trajectory, with an additional concern for embodiment, personhood, and subjectivity, somatology inspires deeper exploration and reflection on “the body” as a lived, phenomenological site of human being and experiencing. Here we must recognize that, while accepting certain shared, recurring morphological and structural features, there is no such thing as “the body,” especially when we engage culture-specific views, “corporeal phenomenology,” transformative body-techniques, and socio-political dimensions (see, e.g., Komjathy 2007). Thus, there is only my body and your body, and other bodies, both historical and contemporaneous. This is not to mention the assumptions often involved with categories like “embodiment.” Are consciousness and identity distinguishable from “the body?” We may consider the ways in which the mind is in the body, including the possibility of “philosophy in the flesh” (see, e.g., Lakoff and Johnson 1999) and perhaps an accompanying “philosophy of skin and touch” (see, e.g., Vasseleu 1998). Additional somatological trajectories include investigation of associated human (and “non-human”) vulnerability and the centrality of pain in the human condition (see, e.g., Scarry 1985; Good et al. 1992). We may, in turn, think of this as the “somatic turn” in scholarship and perhaps in pedagogy, and it may open up more radical possibilities with respect to organic and ecological being-in-the-world.

As herein employed, that is, as a proposed comparative and cross-cultural category, there is no known “historical usage” of somatology, so here we will focus on intersection-points and additional possibilities. In addition to more straightforward investigation of culture- and tradition-specific views and enactments, including from comparative and cross-cultural perspectives (see bibliography herein), somatology inspires consideration of the body as such. Here we may consider actual posture and movement patterns (see, e.g., Hewes 1955, 1957) as well as the anatomy of movement (see Calais-Germain 2007). One possible “thought-experiment” (“body-experiment”?) in this regard involves deeper reflection on and perhaps subversive interaction with the academic vogue of neuroimaging technology. While neuroimages are often presented as providing maps of consciousness (brain physiology), with accompanying legitimation narratives, once again mediated by technology (see, e.g., Heidegger 1977; also Komjathy 2015, 2018), a more direct engagement with human being and expression, here through the “lived/living body,” is possible. One radical counterpoint centers on mapping movement patterns. For this, we may engage and potentially employ “movement notation systems,” including Laban Movement Analysis (LMA). This includes consideration of the four dimensions of body, effort, shape, and space (see, e.g., Bradley 2008; also Komjathy 2018). Hypothetically, we can create notations of any activity or event that may become a historio-cultural record, including for potential future reconstructions (see, e.g., Goodman 1990).

Along these lines, somatology brings our attention to the ways in which human beings have transformed and can transform themselves/ourselves through “body-techniques” (see Mauss 1935, 1979; Martin et al. 1988; Murphy 1992; Hadot 1995; Komjathy 2007). While this occurs all of the time in various ways, including through cultural conditioning and architecture as mandated movement, there are intentional undertakings, whether through specific activities or larger training regimens, that result in specific, self-directed transformative effects. This may include latent and even anomalous capacities, including “paranormal” or “extraordinary” ones (e.g., extreme sports). While Philosophy and Religious Studies have tended to (over)emphasize “beliefs,” “doctrine,” and “thought,” worldview is only one dimension of religious systems and traditions. A shift towards “experience” and even “embodiment” are welcome modifications, but these should ideally be combined with “practice” (see, e.g., Komjathy 2015, 2018). This involves attention to the technical specifics of said techniques and regimens, including transformative effects. In Contemplative Studies, the latter are often discussed in terms of “states” (temporary psychological shifts) and “traits” (permanent character changes).

Another noteworthy, related dimension of somatology involves the unique ways that lived, embodied experience may inform one’s perspective and even writing. Here I am specifically thinking of Écriture féminine (“women’s writing”), which is usually traced to the article “Le Rire de la Méduse”/“The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975) by the French feminist and literary theorist Hélène Cixous. This “movement,” which involves writing in/as/through female embodiment and a more radical “femininity/feminism,” also includes Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva as key members (see, e.g., Marks and de Courtivron 1981). Interestingly, and perhaps adding another layer of gender complexity, Cixous’ writing is highly influenced by the German philosopher and culture critic Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and by her lifelong friendship with the French philosopher and post-structuralist Jacques Derrida (1930-2004). Comparatively speaking, one might consider nǚshū 女書 (“women’s script”), which apparently was first developed between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, as a pre-modern Chinese precedent (see, e.g., Foster 2019). Like the late imperial Ruist (“Confucian”) influence on the European enlightenment via Jesuit Catholic Latin translation, one also wonders about indirect influence on this modern French movement.

The scholarship on “the body” and “embodiment” is vast (see bibliography herein). Partially drawing upon Michel Foucault’s (1926-1984) “archaeology of knowledge” via Nietzsche’s “genealogy of morals,” Michel Feher and his collaborators have published the three-volume Fragments for a History of the Human Body (1989). For individuals interested in “body-techniques” and associated “transformative practice” there are a number of relevant publications (see above; bibliography herein). Summaries and syncretic theories appear in Louis Komjathy’s various publications (2007, 2015, 2018). Komjathy also has advanced a theory of embodiment and transmission, wherein different communities and traditions become manifest as unique presences and movement patterns in the world. This relates to his larger theory of (religious) praxis, involving the interrelationship among views, methods, experiences, and goals. Finally, just as there is a need for deeper engagement with “neurodiversity” in Consciousness Studies and philosophy of mind, my proposed Somatic Studies needs to consider assumptions about and claims rooted in “able-bodiedness,” especially in concert with perspectives from Disability Studies. 

Related terms: anthropology, embodiment, experience, personhood, pneumatology, psychology, 氣 (“subtle breath/energy”; Chinese), shēn 身 (“body/self”; Chinese), subjectivity, xīn 心 (“heart-mind”; Chinese)


Bermúdez, José Luis, Anthony Marcel, and Naomi Eilan, eds. The Body and the Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Bradley, Karen. Rudolf Laban. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

Calais-Germain, Blandine. 2007. Anatomy of Movement. Rev. ed. Seattle: Eastland Press.

Coakley, Sarah, ed. Religion and the Body. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Cottai, Thomas, and June McDaniel, eds. Perceiving the Divine through the Human Body: Mystical Sensuality. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

Csordas, Thomas J., ed. Embodiment and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Feher, Michel, with Ramona Naddaff and Nadia Tazi, eds. Fragments for a History of the Human Body. 3 vols. New York: Zone Books, 1989.

Foster, Nicola. “Translating Nüshu: Drawing Nüshu, Dancing Nüshu.” Art in Translation 11:4 (2019): 393-416.

Good, Mary-Jo, Paul Brodwin, Byron Good, and Arthur Kleinman, eds. Pain as Human Experience: An Anthropological Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.

Goodman, Felicitas. Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault. Hoboken, NJ: Blackwell, 1995.

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. Translated by William Levitt. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1977.

Hewes, Gordon. “World Distribution of Certain Postural Habits.” American Anthropologist 57 (1955): 231-44.

_____. “The Anthropology of Posture.” Scientific American 196 (1957): 123-32.

Ingold, Tim. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London and New York, Routledge, 2000.

Johnson, Don Hanlon. Bone, Breath, and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1995.

Kasulis, Thomas P., with Roger T. Ames and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

Komjathy, Louis. Cultivating Perfection: Mysticism and Self-transformation in Early Quanzhen Daoism. Leiden: Brill.

_____, ed. Contemplative Literature: A Comparative Sourcebook on Meditation and Contemplative Prayer. New York: State University of New York Press.

_____. Introducing Contemplative Studies. West Sussex, England and Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2018.

Laing, R.D. 1967. The Politics of Experience. New York: Pantheon Books.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Law, Jane Marie, ed. Religious Reflections on the Human Body. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

Marks, Elaine, and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. New French Feminisms. New York: Schocken, 1981.

Martin, Luther, Huck Gutman, and Patrick Hutton, eds. Techniques of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988.

Mauss, Marcel. “Les techniques du corps.” Journal de Psychologie Normale et Pathologique 35 (1935): 271-93.

_____. “Body Techniques.” In Sociology and Psychology, translated by Ben Brewster, 95-123. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979.

Murphy, Michael. The Future of the Body: Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc., 1992.

Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Un-Making of the World. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Vasseleu, Cathryn. Textures of Light: Vision and Touch in Irigaray, Levinas and Merleau Ponty. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.


by Maki Sato

Conceptual definition

The concept of good and evil originates from being pure/clean (jo, 浄) or not (fujo, 不浄). As Shinto considers all spirits (tama, 霊) as being neutral, whether a phenomena or objects turn into good or evil depends on how the spirits are treated with purity and honesty (myojoshojiki, 明浄正直) by human beings. Because of their inherent value-neutrality, invisibility, and lack of bodies, spirits can also descend on words. In other words, it is believed that words also have their own inherent spiritual power, known as kotodama (言霊). The spirituality within words is believed since around the seventh-century Heian period. Such spirituality embedded in words are given value through spoken words, through norito (祝詞). Norito can be either yogoto (寿詞, words of happiness), haraenokotoba (祓詞, words for cleansing), or juso (呪詛, words for cursing).  

Philosophical significance

Individual human beings can also be objects upon which the spirit descends. Kuchiyose (口寄せ) is performed in order to listen to what the spirits have to say through language via a person, often a woman (miko, 巫女). Words that are from god spirits are called shinchoku (神勅) and such acts are called takusen (entrusted-words託宣). Moreover, there are no sacred texts in Shinto. Because non-visible and value-neutral of thinking grounds in Shinto, human individuals are supposed to be the ones who need to be clean and honest and lead lives of diligence and self-discipline.

Historical context

The concept of value-neutrality and such understandings that it is reflected in the act of words, kotodama, can be found in Kojiki (古事記, 712). The concept of Freedom is not explicitly written or explained in Shinto. Therefore, it is almost impossible to identify when the term appeared. However, the concept of kami as freed from a) ontic object (the spirits can descend on anything, or it can appear itself through natural phenomena), b) sacred text (sacred texts do not exist in Shinto), c) the notion of good and evil, exists from the establishment of Shinto through Japanese encounters with Buddhism around the eighth century.

Related terms in historical context

Body/Embodiment and Body-Value-freed-Spirit (tama): the idea of body/embodiment in relation to invisibility and value-neutrality,the idea of tama strongly relates to kotodama.

Marebito(稀人): originally means “guest.” Origuchi Shinobu (折口信夫, 1887–1953) call the ancestral spirits as marebito that peridoically brings luck and good when the ancestral spirits are treated well. Origuchi, as an anthropologist, analysed that matsuri (festival, 祭)


Kasulis, T. P., 1948-. 2004. Shinto. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʿi Press.

伊藤, 聡(1961-). 2012. 神道とは何か : 神と仏の日本史 / 伊藤聡著. 中公新書. 東京: 中央公論新社.

鎌田, 東二(1951-). 1999. 神道用語の基礎知識 / 鎌田東二編著. 角川選書. 東京: 角川書店.

國學院大學日本文化研究所. 1999. 神道事典 / 國學院大學日本文化研究所編集. 縮刷版 ed. 東京: 弘                                  文堂. An encyclopedia of Shinto = Shintô Jiten [神道事典]. Tokyo: Institute for                                  Japanese Culture and Classics, Kokugakuin University.

佐藤, 弘夫(1953-). 2021. 日本人と神 / 佐藤弘夫著. 講談社現代新書. 東京: 講談社.

島薗, 進(1948-). 2010. 国家神道と日本人 / 島薗進著. 岩波新書. 東京: 岩波書店.

Debate on Self and Persistence

Udayana’s Concept of the Self and Arguments for its Existence and Persistence

Agnieszka Rostalska, Ghent University

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This essay 1 constitutes an introduction to the concept of the self and arguments for its existence and persistence offered by the 10th-century, Indian philosopher Udayana. Theoretically and methodologically, it aims to develop cross-cultural philosophical inquiry into the concept of the “self”, and related issues of its existence and persistence. The proposal breaks with the orientalist, epistemic problematics of the “East-West” dichotomy by focusing on “persistence,” and, by orienting the ‘public debate’ around an exposition of the relatively unknown philosophical views of the 10th-century South Asian philosopher Udayana (rather than, say, a “Western European” figure or school). Further, it will undergo online annotations, which will serve as an impulse for a public discussion between engaged group of scholars 2 specializing in less-commonly taught philosophies.3 As a consequence, the views of Udayana on the “self” will serve as a starting point for a cross-cultural counterfactual thought-experiment engaging diverse global philosophical traditions.

Cross-cultural counterfactual thought experiment involving UDAYANA

As result of many years of academic research I have spent directing my focus towards the so-called *Indian philosophical traditions (*Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, materialist, etc.), I have chosen the Nyāya philosophical school as a sample model of rational theological enquiry. Nyāya is one of the major darśanas or schools of philosophical thought in India, essentially concerned with epistemology and logic . The term ‘nyāya’ has etymological roots in ‘naya’, signifying the skillful art of reasoning or methods ensuring fairness in argumentation and legitimate tactics. The figure of Udayana is in this context meaningful, as he is considered a “father” of the theistic refinements of this tradition –notably the author of two independent manuals: 1. Nyāyakusumāñjali (An Offering of Flowers), dedicated to the arguments for the existence of *God/Īśvara, and 2. Ātmatattvaviveka, or: Investigation of the Reality of the Self, developing arguments for the existence of the self (ātman), which is the main text of this study.

I identify Udayana among the key innovative philosophical thinkers coming from India. His scholarship dedicated to novel ideas of Self and *God is backed up by sharp arguments developed to defend these notions. In my view, Udayana’s works are worth recognizing for study by philosophers of religion. The text of the Ātmatattvaviveka (later for short: ATV) is overlooked even by more narrow field specialists. Most scholars dedicated to the exposition of the Nyāya concept of Self refer to the sūtras and their commentaries (e.g. Chandha 2013). There are yet to be studies of how Udayana’s independent and novel treatise engages with other traditions of Indian philosophy. Notable interpretations of Udayana’s works were done by Bimal Krishna Matilal (1994), Arindam Chakrabarti (1982), and Chakravarti Ram-Prasad (2001, 2017). Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti (1999) did a partial translation of this work and some commentary on it in his book Classical Indian Philosophy of Mind: The Nyāya Dualist Tradition. Udayana is an example of how cosmopolitan, comparativist philosophers of religion may critically engage with others without defending any religious sect per se. I hope that a debate on this text will invite the participants into dialogue, which makes theoretical pursuits in philosophy of religions a truly global, comparative, and inclusive endeavor.

Introducing Udayana

The philosophical ideas of a particular thinker are always inseparable from their socio-cultural and historical milieu. Who was Udayana? Which intellectual environment inspired his philosophical endeavors?

Udayana was born in a Hindu Brahmin family and lived in ca. 11th century.4 in Mithilā (near Dharbhaṅgā in today’s state of Bihar, India. Amma, 1985: 3). His scholastic commentary Nyāya–vārttika–tātparya–ṭīkā–pariṣuddhi (“Correctness of the Notes on the Meaning of the Gloss on the Commentary on Nyāya”) – also known as Pariṣuddhi or Nibandha – on Vācaspati Miśra’s Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā suggest that he belonged to the lineage of early Nyāya (or prācīna Nyāya) tradition. As such, this text is a final voice in a series of the earliest or classical commentaries of the Nyāyasūtras of Gautama.5 (later for short: NS), the primary treatise of the Nyāya tradition.

Udayana was also an innovator of the Nyāya tradition, as he is the one who synthesized the tradition of Nyāya with its ‘sister–school’ Vaiśeṣika,.6 which gives a syncretic aspects to his texts. Some scholars credit him as the pioneer of a new Nyāya (or Nāvya-Nyāya) tradition, due to his intricate writing style and use of technical terminology.

Udayana’s works are as deeply engaged with competing schools of thought as with peers in the Nyāya tradition, such as Bhāsarvajña (ca. 860–920). Perhaps for this reason, Udayana’s works are regularly commented upon as an authority by later Indian thinkers and present-day Naiyāyika philosophers. Some contemporary interpreters (i.e., Matilal 1977: 97) compare his mastery of logical argumentation with regards to existence of “God” and “soul” with that of Italian Dominican Thomas Aquinas (13th century).7 Udayana’s scholastic style, which predates that of Aquinas, first presents objections (pūrvapakṣa) of the opponent (real or imaginary, at times reformulating standpoints so that they appear even stronger), confronts the objections (uttara-pakṣa), and then endorses his own views.

Udayana engaged in both intellectual debates through his writings, and through debates in public (vāda). A story about his life reveals that when Udayana won in a public debate with the Advaita dialectician Śrīhīra. His son Śrīharṣa composed the text Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya (“The Sweets of Refutation”) to avenge his father’s defeat and public humiliation (Bhattacharyya 2010: 298). An example of Udayana’s intellectual debating is his Nyāyakusumāñjali, which engaged atheistic Indian materialists (Cārvāka), Sāṃkhya and Mīmāṃsā philosophers, as well as Jain and Buddhist thinkers. His Ātmatattvaviveka, or the Investigation of the Reality of the Self also known as Bauddhādhikkāra (Reproach to the Buddhists), is meant to oppose four Buddhist schools, mainly: Sautrāntika, Vaibhāṣika, Yogācāra, and Mādhyamika, as well as early Advaita Vedāntins, and Materialists, among others. Overall, Udayana’s focus in these debates is directed towards the Buddhist philosopher Jñānaśrīmitra,.8 a follower of Dharmakīrti’s school. Thus, I think it is very appropriate to have Udayana’s works as the focus of a contemporary public debate among a wide variety of philosophical perspectives. 

According to some contemporary scholars, Udayana has “demolished in final fashion the claims of the Buddhist logicians” (Bhattacharyya 2010: 298).” Tachikawa writes that Udayana, “made the greatest contribution to driving the Buddhists out of India (…) He may be said to have brought the conflict between the Buddhist logicians and Hindu logicians to an end (…) Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism was subsequently unable to produce any scholar capable of refuting Udayana” (Tachikawa 1981: 8). A more moderate version of these claims is to recognize how Udayana’s personage may be identified to provide scholars today with important evidence about the contents and history of Indian philosophy.

The context for the Ātmatattvaviveka

For the purposes of this essay, I wish to focus on Udayana’s unique texts on the existence of Self (ATV). In terms of intellectual debate, the text’s objective is to refute the Materialists and Buddhists theories of emergent self (materialism), and no-self and momentariness (Buddhism). The Materialists of Udayana’s time argued that cognitions are qualities of the bodily organs, and that consciousness arises out of the bodily processes and is born when the body matures and dies when the body dies. Most Buddhists from the 11th century argued that cognitions are only causally connected in a stream of awareness events, but do not reside in a substance called the self. For them, cognitions are not qualities, but are produced by an association of bodily sense organs with preceding karmic dispositions. I am taking a departure from dwelling upon these polemical aspects of Udayana’s thought. There are, of course, other ways to read the ATV. The primary aim of this essay is to foreground the conception of “self” proposed by Udayana, and then make some remarks on his conception of “persistence.” 

It is useful to pause at this point to highlight Udayana’s method of approaching different philosophical perspectives. Udayana’s arguments constitute a fascinating polemics with other schools of thought; here, Udayana scholastically presents the opposing views – the doctrines opposed to the Nyāya’s concept of the Self – to refute the rivals and establish his own innovative interpretation of the traditional Nyāya postulations. He presents four distinct counterarguments which correspond to the views held by his opponents: 1. Momentariness theory [Buddhist, mainly Sautrāntika] 2. Unreality of external objects, consciousness alone is real [Yogācāra Buddhist, “idealist”], 3. Non-difference between a quality and a qualified/quality-possessor (or quality’ and ‘substance’) [Buddhist and Advaita Vedāntin], 4. Non-perception (anupalambha) or non-experience of the self different from the body [Buddhist and Materialist]. (Bhattacharyya, 2010: 300, Amma, 1985 :13). According to Udayana, “There are (these) views opposed to the reality of self, namely, that everything is of momentary duration, that there is nothing real apart from consciousness, that qualities and things endowed with them do not differ from each other and that the (so called) self is never perceived (or observed)”9 [ATV 20, Dravid ed. p. 5]. Before introducing Udayana’s arguments in more detail, it will be useful to first define the related concepts which were brought out in their original context. 

Nyāya’s rational ātma-logy – conceptualization

The term for “self” across the Indian philosophical traditions engaged with by Udayana is “ātman.” The concept of ātman has a long history on the Indian subcontinent, which is attested by the Upaniṣadic (Upaniṣads, composed ca. 800–400 BCE) principal concern with the knowledge of the Self (ātman). Here, the term ātman, generally signifies the immutable, undifferentiated, unconditioned, and autonomous principle of existence in human beings).10 Liberation from rebirth (mokṣa) pertains to realization, or direct perception of the Self, ātman.

The issue of how the concept of the ‘self’ is defined in the Nyāya tradition is directly linked to another question prevailing across all competing traditions in India, mainly: can the existence of ‘self’ be known through the means of knowledge (pramāṇas), such as perception, inferential reasoning, testimony? Moreover, if, and how is the state of ‘liberated consciousness’ desirable by the self? Is it a happy or blissful state? These are the kinds of questions that guided the public and intellectual debates of Udayana and his peers.

To approach Udayana’s conception of the self, first, I will briefly outline the standard Nyāya views on ‘self’11, which were the object of critique by and debate with mainly Materialist and Buddhists opponents. Their critiques predominantly motivated Udayana’s response in the ATV. Udayana supposes his readers prior knowledge of the concept of the self and the main Nyāya arguments for its existence and persistence, for convenience, I will briefly introduce them in the next paragraph. Afterwards I am going to turn to Udayana’s emphases and modifications. This will lead to examining Udayana’s endorsement of the existence of permanent self (against the Buddhist ‘no-self’ theory and ‘emergentism’).

Nyāya tradition admits the existence of infinitely many selves/souls (ātman), which are eternal, immaterial and non-composite substances with characteristic qualities (e.g. cognition, pleasure, pain, or desire). The selves are singular and different in all organisms.12 They experience when associated with ‘body vehicles’ composed of homogeneous atoms of a particular material substance. Their connection with a living body consciousness emerges not as a necessary but as an accidental feature. Before the connection with the mind (manas), an individual self is not conscious. In other words, the self must be embodied in order to experience awareness and cognitions (NS 3.1.18–26).

The Nyāya tradition may be briefly summarize to attribute three main characteristics of the self:

First, the self is different from the mind and the senses, which enables it to realize its own activity. However, the instance of mind is here not an active or cognitive faculty but solely a passive internal organ, which neither thinks nor acts. It serves as an instrument for the self to experience (pleasure, pain, desire, aversion, merit, demerit, etc.) and cognise. Cognition is here a property of the self, since the self is a locus of awareness, and not a cluster of physical elements or non-sentient intermediaries. The self owns its qualities: cognitions, dispositions, memories, feelings, and actions. The self is therefore not pure consciousness, as Materialists or Idealists would claim, but is a highly individuated self with a personality. 

Second, the self is the substratum of knowing (jñānādhikaraṇam-ātmā).13 Self is not conscious by nature, it is an inherent cause of consciousness or knowledge. Knowledge is an adventitious attribute of the self. Through the connection with a living body consciousness emerges, but not as necessary but as an accidental feature.

Third, because the self is a continuous spiritual substance, it retains its identity through the events of one lifetime and from one lifetime to another. Moreover, the Nyāya thinkers would argue that the self endures beyond death. Their argument is as follows: “Because, immediately being born, an infant has the experience of joy, fear and sorrow [and this] as a result of the ‘lingering of the memory’ (smṛtianubandha) of the past experiences” (Gangopadhyaya transl. vol. 3, 1972: 33). The commentator Pakṣilasvāmin Vātsyāyana in the Nyāya-bhāṣya (later for short: NBh) explains that the recollection of one’s past experiences produces the experiences which are indicated by emotions. The underlying assumption here is that of rebirth, since how does the newborn know how to emotionally respond? Or, why does a newborn immediately try to reach out to the mother’s chest for nourishment? According to this tradition, the answer is that these reactions are linked to memories. They are the result of previous experiences. The continuity of self stretches into the past, and consequently is projected into the future. This gives the self two fundamental forms of identity, i.e., the identity of knowing: one and the same self apprehends cognitions. And, the identity of action: one self inherits karmic fruits of action and suffers or enjoys them.

The Nyāya tradition considered the existence of self as a given long before Udayana’s involvement in their debates.14 The self is enlisted in the NS 1.1.9 as one of the objects of knowledge, prameyas. It is discussed in that text as the topic of inquiry, as something yet to be determined. The Naiyāyikas do not support this conclusion first and foremost on the basis of testimony of sacred text, like the Vedas, nor to the reliable utterance of some source provided by an authoritative speaker (for instance a sage (ṛṣi) or another noble person). They leave space for a possibility of learning about the ‘self’ through testimony. Among all accepted  means of knowledge, the self’s (ātman) existence is postulated with the use of inferential proofs, i.e. through the process of inference (anumāna).15 The self cannot be perceived directly. What this means is that the self is something known based on experienced inner states . The following sūtra states that the self (ātman) is an object of inference based on ‘marks’: desire, aversion, effort, pleasure, pain, and knowledge (NS 1.1.10). Udayana’s broader intellectual context therefore included a predilection to conceptualize “self” as physically imperceptible that is only known by its inferential marks.16

Perhaps the above makes it all the more remarkable that the Nyāya tradition insists that a clear understanding of the true nature of the self is a condition for final liberation (mokṣa). According to Nyāya, mokṣa, or liberation from rebirth, or apavarga, the final liberation or beatitude, is the soteriological aim of all philosophical endeavors. In the emancipated state the self is disembodied, and retains only its formal qualities (like oneness, separateness from other selves, etc.). Freedom from pain, or suffering (duḥkha), is brought about through the removal of all blemishes (attitudes and inclinations) and termination of activity. The self is released from the cycle of rebirth, yet it does not endure in the state of bliss, or eternal happiness (Chakrabarti 1983: 174–5) and persists without further cognitive states (Ram-Prasad 2001: 85–91).17

Udayana’s writings do not fundamentally challenge the positions above. Instead, Udayana’s writings can be seen to bolster these claims, with arguments about how ‘self’ (ātman) is directly apprehended through internal perception. His innovation, in the ATV, is that the self can indeed be an object of direct cognition. 

Udayana’s ‘self-awareness’ of the self

Amid the debates with the Materialists and the Buddhists of the time, Udayana’s objective is to remove the grounds by which these intellectual peers were able to redirect the conventional Nyāya arguments in service of their own positions. In the case of the Buddhist philosophers, the Nyāya claim that the existence of permanent self (ātman), i.e. a quality–possessor, may be inferred, was turned into an argument for no-self/anātman.

It seems that Udayana was not convinced by the dismissal provided by the Vaiśeṣika philosophers18, who argued that the self’s non-perception is no evidence for the self’s non-existence, since this non-perception is due to the self’s subtlety (saukṣmya). Udayana also observed that “[t]he self is not regarded by the Buddhist as cognizable or perceptible” [ATM Dravid ed. p. 343] . To only double down on imperceptibility, as did the Vaiśeṣika, was simply not adequate. Following Vācaspati Miśra’s interpretation of the possibility of knowing the self – through perception, he considers an argument [ATM, ibid.] about the non-apprehension of the self, which K. K. Chakrabarti (1999: 268) paraphrases formally as:

Whatever is not cognized is nonexistent.

The self is not cognized.

Therefore, the self is nonexistent.

Udayana considers two cases of non-apprehension: either that the self is not apprehended by anyone (universally) or by the individual (particular). The first scenario is in his opinion questionable, as there is a possibility that the self is perceived by some or all. In other words, non-apprehension may provide a basis for doubt, but it does not disprove the existence of the self. In the second case, the individual’s non-apprehension “applies even to cognisable entities”, which also does not disprove the existence of self and its possibility of being perceived. 

Udayana’s objective was to determine how the self might be known despite granting that it cannot be experienced empirically. Unless a thing is perceived, it cannot be called perceptible. So if the self is perceptible, it cannot remain unperceived. But how might the self be perceived? Udayana’s first innovation was to make an argument for indeterminate perception:

“But what is the proof for the existence of the self? Perception itself for sure. The awareness as ‘I’ is a matter of experience for all living beings. Certainly this awareness cannot be unobjective or endowed with dubious objectivity as it is neither verbal nor subject to contradiction. It is also not generated by the middle term in an inference. Even a person who has no knowledge of any middle term has self-knowledge. Nor is it recollection as what is not experienced cannot be recollected. It is also not reasonable to say that this awareness is an objectless cognition which is beginningless and is generated by a beginningless urge. This can be said of the common cognitions of blue, yellow etc. also. If self-awareness could be discredited on the ground that it is the product of some beginningless urge, how can any other cognition be credited as valid so that one could depend upon the cognitions of blue, yellow etc.?” [ATV, ibid., p. 344]

This paragraph represents his major argument for the existence of the self. Udayana points here that the indeterminate self-awareness, common to all living beings, is: non-verbal, incorrigible (not subjected to contradiction), not inferential, not recollection, not an objectless construction (non-objective construction, vikalpa).

Udayana introduces the idea of “indeterminate perception” in order to argue that the self is perceived much in the way that other categories of things are perceived. In Sanskrit the basis for this claim is the concept of nirvikalpaka, “in the raw,” where indeterminate perception grasps a qualifier of something prior to forming a robust conceptual deployment and organization of it and does not require a ‘mark’ since its object is perceived directly. The other manner of perception is savikalpaka, or “determinate” cognition, where something may be much more immediately produced as a concept within a verbal propositional. Something indeterminately perceived is not ineffable or inscrutable. Self-awareness simply does not require language; while ordinary cognitions  are subjected to language and assessment (K. K. Chakrabarti ibid. 271).

Udayana’s argument is that living beings have an indeterminate perception about themselves. If the Buddhists admit that the objects of indeterminate perceptions are real, then they must concede that the self is such an object, too.

Udayana thereby argued that while there are erroneous perceptions of the self, that does not mean there is no self. Self is something as real as the color blue. It is not an “objectless cognition which is beginningless and is generated by a beginningless urge” (or, a subconscious impression, vāsanā which is not generated by some previous perception).  In other words, if we would try to challenge the reality of self-awareness in this way, by reducing it to an object-less cognition generated by subconscious impressions, in a similar fashion we would challenge the reality of the color blue.

The general idea of indeterminate perception is not difficult to understand. Udayana’s argument invokes color as the basis of the claim. There can be a determinate perception of things that are “blue,” but Udayana’s analysis finds that ​​a determinate perception of blue presupposes indeterminate awareness of blue. Udayana then extends that claim to the self. There is an indeterminate perception of what is “self.”

Udayana states further that: “Nor is self-cognition baseless or objectless because the self is not cognised by external senses. Even the cognition of intellect or consciousness would the be baseless or objectless. If self-consciousness is the ground of reality of intellect then in the case of the self too the evidencing ground is the mental perception of the self”  [ATM, ibid. p. 346]. Dravid (ibid.) explains this passage as follows: “Just as consciousness is its own evidence so the self is evidenced by mental and not external sensation. Not only the self, even pleasure, pain etc. are known to be real only through mental sensation.”

Udayana’s objection to the Buddhist’s arguments about causation provides another insight into Udayana’s conception of the self. The Buddhist claim was that there is no self because each moment of time is the product of an entirely different set of co-determinating factors. While these factors might create the background for a succeeding state of affairs, that succeeding state’s identity is utterly different. That is, while one state of affairs – either that of a so-called individual or even that of the entire world – might succeed one after the other, the Buddhists argued there is no grounds to claim these states of affairs belong to the identical, same individual or world. Udayana explains this as the theory of momentariness, which he argues is unable to explain how empirical consciousness is continuous. He appeals here to the Nyāya inferential proof for the self from recollection: “it is the definite ascertainment of the earlier and later cognitions being caused by the same agent” [ATM p. 349]. K. K. Chakrabarti (ibid., 275)19 explains this argument as follows: “the support or source or object (ālambana) of I-consciousness is permanent, because it is also the object of recognition.” Udayana argues that if there is grounds to claim there is a continuity that connects moments, then there is grounds to claim there is something like a “self” that provides that continuity and identity, and bounds previous perception and latter recollection of the knowing agent. If perceptions and recollections did not belong to the same knower, then the teacher’s cognition could be remembered by a student. According to Udayana, this is absurd.

Udayana zeroes in on the Buddhist’s agreement about karma. He states that the theory of momentariness cannot sufficiently explain the law of karma (accumulation of merits and demerits), according to which it is one person who reaps the fruits of his/her activities. For a previous state is succeeded by the next state and there is a (split second) gap, between the preceding and succeeding states. Something must, according to Udayana, connect across these gaps. “It is the self with merit that by its contact with things brings about their movements (Dravid p. 375)”. Furthermore, according to Udayana, the Buddhist’s of his time were not able to explain memory. By Udayana’s account, Nyāya conceptions of causality do not run into these problems. The self is the material cause of our awareness of ourselves. It is the same self which both perceives and remembers (Bhattacharya 2010: 308). 

Finally, Udayana points out that the attempts to reject the reality of the self, would pose a difficulty for one’s final release – “A non-self-aware person cannot be a redemption seeker” (ATV ibid., p. 376). Without the ‘self-awareness’ of the self, nothing can be desired or avoided, including one’s own final release or liberation.

Self’s persistence 

Although there is a double reference to “after-life” through the concepts of 1. paraloka, the other or future world, or plane/realm of existence) or 2. svarga, “heaven” or temporary plane where the selves which have not yet reached the state of mokṣa, final release or liberation, the theological considerations of “afterlife” are not the focus of the Nyāya tradition within which Udayana wrote the ATV.20  Given the arguments about karma above, the notion of “after-life” would have to be accompanied by a conception of “pre-life”. And as we have seen in the mentioned earlier ‘newborn’s inheritance’ argument21, revoked by Udayana, to ensure present recollections of past experiences, there should be a continuous self – the agent of apprehension (anubhava), dispositions (saṃskāra), and recollection (Amma (1985: 146).

The correlative terms for “persistence” such as “beginingless” (anādi), and endless (ananta) in Nyāya philosophy, suggest that “persistence” is a well–suited concept to describe Udayana’s ideas. Persistence is a term much better suited to cross-cultural thinking, too. Udayana’s conception of the self draws upon the Nyāya terminology of ātman. And, as we saw above, it does involve the concept of karmic disposition. Udayana’s decision to use the concept of karma was not merely to serve a role in his arguments against the Buddhists. Karma is related to how this idea of self persists.

There is much literature about the philosophical understandings of “karma” across the various schools and thinkers of Indian philosophy. From Udayana’s perspective the persistence of a self provides the grounds for discussions about karma. While his position is that while the conceptual understanding of karma depends on the self, the conception of the self does not depend solely upon karma. Instead, karma is among those phenomena that provide justification of the self as ātman.

As noted earlier, Udayana conceives of the self within the Nyāya tradition as a continuous, spiritual substance. On the grounds that newborns do not learn joy, for example, they must retain this as a lingering memory of the past experiences (see above, Gangopadhyaya transl. vol. 3, 1972: 33). These recollections of emotions indicate the persistence of the self through past experiences. But these past experiences do not destroy “free will”, since Udayana, like other Naiyāyikas, makes knowledge as that which mediates the possibility of freedom. “Why should the unconditioned self be contemplated? Because by means of continuous contemplation of it, release is attained” (ATV, ibid. p. 377). The self is capable of gaining sufficient knowledge for the release from pleasure and pain, which are the indicators of karmic retribution. Udayana asks, “what is the nature of the contemplation of self? It is discrimination. Discrimination from what? From the body, etc. which are other than the self” (ibid.) Thus, acts of cognition to discriminate the self from extraneous phenomena is the means to freely realize persistence of the self.

Udayana’s discussion of how the self can achieve the purest of ideas is based in Nyāya’s singular unifying concept – niḥśreyasa – which results from reaching a state which amounts to attaining comprehensive knowledge (tattvajñāna) of all there is to know. Niḥśreyasa, more than knowledge of the self, is an all-encompassing knowledge state. This is not the same transcendental state that is underscored in the more “spiritually” aligned theological systems – such as, in particular, mokṣa, or salvific liberation from embodied existence. Niḥśreyasa as such has no necessary connections with life hereafter (Potter 1977: 29–34). This knowledge amounts to nothing more nor less than the destruction of all mithyajñāna, false understandings.22 The liberating aspect of the nihśreyasa state is that no pleasures are transported across. Not even the positive pleasures of life, desire-driven satisfaction, from luxuries of appetite to sensual-sexual pleasures (Halbfass, 1997, 155–6).

The introduction of niḥśreyasa is useful to show how Udayana understands persistence of the self. The self can be released, and continue to exist independently in a joyless unending free-time seamless horizon – and steeped in deep-sleep state minus the dreams (suṣuptasya svapnādarśane, see: NS 4.1.62, M. Gangopadhyaya (transl.) part. 4, 1973: 86). In this state, the self is atemporal (nityatva) and cannot be extinguished. And there is no merging with the other, no greater or smaller of which could be thought. Udayana’s formulation of “release without transcendence” amounts to a unique model of liberation that explains the persistence of the self.23 The release of the self from indeterminate cognition occurs not because of any mental state succeeding it but by means of time associated with the destruction of the self’s destiny.


In this essay, I identified Udayana as one among the key innovative philosophical thinkers coming from India. As a relatively overlooked source of philosophical arguments about self and persistence, I have proposed Udayana’s works to be worth recognizing for study by philosophers of religion. While the historical context of the Ātmatattvaviveka is that of debates with Materialists and Buddhists, I have shown how Udayana’s polemics may be read to present some positive formulations on his understanding of “self”, “self-awareness”, and “persistence.” Udayana’s use of “indeterminate perception” enabled his texts to conceptualize an idea of self that persists both prior and after the state of existing as a human being. The objective of this present essay is neither to analyze the philosophical merits of Udayana’s argumentation nor recommend his approach as a means of doing “global-critical philosophy of religion.” I do hope that readers might gain new understandings about how ancient texts overlooked by Western canons pertaining to the philosophy of religion may be read to propose novel conceptions of self and persistence.


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Talking Across the Divide – Discovering our Common Humanity[1]

Gereon Kopf

Today,[2] our human community is seemingly irrevocably divided by many religious, ideological, and political boundaries. These boundaries are indicative of identity politics. Even though, most people agree that there a multiplicity of religious, ideological, national, and political identities divisive rhetoric is often framed in the juxtaposition of a self and an other. For example, we are used to divide the world into “East” and “West,” the “North” and the “global South,” “good” and “evil,” dualism and non-dualism, positivism and nihilism. This rhetoric ignores the multiplicity of cultures and succumbs to identity politics. As post-orientalist theorists such as J. J. Clarke point out, this rhetoric creates counterfactual “quasi-entities” and reifies “cultural enclavism”: This rhetoric “constitutes the ‘other,’ that which stands opposite to us as strange and alien, and it is this very otherness, which confirms our own self-image and defines our own self-identity” (Clarke 1994, 14-15). In addition, the boundaries created by this rhetoric obstruct our view onto our common humanity. It is my belief that this rhetoric is based on an exclusive sense of identity. I believe that a sense of identity based on Buddhist philosophy and NISHIDA Kitarō’s (1870-1945) “self-identity of the absolute contradictories” (J.: zettai mujunteki jikodōitsu 絶対矛盾的自己同一) (NKZ 9: 124) can provide an alternative model of intercultural encounters and multiculturalism. In this paper, I will provide such a new vision of a multicultural world and an analysis of why intercultural, interreligious, and inter-ideological encounters often fail.

            The term “self-identity of the absolute contradictories” (J.: zettai mujunteki jikodōitsu 絶対矛盾的自己同一) (NKZ 9: 124) is an abbreviation of a longer phrase used by Nishida in his later career, starting with his 1936 Philosophical Essays Vol. 2 (Tetsugaku ronbunsho dainikan 哲学論文書第二巻) (NKZ 8: 267-590), “self-identity of the absolute contradictories of the many and the one” (J.: ta to ichi to no zettai mujunteki jikodōitsu 多と一との絶対矛盾的自己同一). Ironically but not completely accidentally, Nishida began citing and evoking Buddhist texts in the same volume especially in his essay “Acting Intuition” (“Kōteki chokkan” 行為的直観) (NKZ 8: 541-571). This term, as convoluted as it might be, implies two fundamental critiques of the exclusive and essentialist conception of identity in particular and, as he argues in his “On Self-Awareness” (“Jikaku ni tsuite” 自覚について) (NKZ 10: 477-564), essentialism in general: Nishida proposes that 1) the self is neither monolithic, self-caused, nor permanent and 2) the foundational juxtaposition in metaphysics is not that between self and other but between the universal one and the multiplicity of particulars/individuals (Kopf 2014, 2019). Both insights he inherits, of course, from Buddhist philosophy.

            The deconstruction of the self has been central to Buddhist philosophy from its early inception. In his Buddhist Psychology, Geshe Tashi Tsering brilliantly maps how self-centered consciousness creates the world of experience and, by implication, our worldview. The key to the construction of our world(s) of experience and to Buddhist psychology in toto is the self-centeredness or attachment to the self identified by the Yogācāra philosopher Vasubandhu (~500) alternatingly as “thought consciousness” (S.: manavijñāna) or as “defiled mentation consciousness” (S.: kliṣṭa-mano-vijñāna). This ego-consciousness constructs the world of experience as its object. Tsering outlines how this self-centered consciousness constructs the world of our experience by means of the “three poisons” (C. sandu 三毒), also known as the “three unwholesome roots” (S.: akuśala-mūla-traya), “ignorance” (S.: moha), “attachment” (S.: rāga), and “aversion” (S.: dveṣa). Ignorant of its own “emptiness” (S.: śūnyatā), the self differentiates the world that is experienced as separate from the self into “good” and “evil,” “like” and “dislike” (Tsering 2006, 48-49).

The Buddha did not only advocate the concept of “no-self” (S.: anātman) as a direct negation of the Upaniṣadic conception of an uncaused, eternal “self” (S.: ātman) but equally refused to reject the notion of the self. Asked about his silence in response to the question of whether or not we have a “self,” he famously answered that “if I had said that there is a self, he would have formed the view of the self. If I had said that there is no self, he would fall into ignorance and madness and would be even more confused” (T ). Much later, the Mahāprajñāpāramitā-sūtra (C.: Dazhidulun 大智度論) interprets Buddha’s silence as a rejection of all forms of dualism claiming that “the claim ‘the five skandhas are impermanent, empty, and without a self’ means that in the perfected wisdom, the five skandhas are neither permanent nor impermanent, neither empty nor non-empty, neither with a self nor devoid of a self” (T 1509.25.17). Finally, the famous “Ten Ox Pictures” (C. shiniutu 十牛図) also named “Ox Herding Pictures” (C.: muniutu 牧牛図) of Kuoan Shiyuan 廓庵師遠 (12th century) deconstruct the self-centered worldview of everyday ego-consciousness (picture 1) and replaces it with the vision of “buddha nature” (C.: foxing 佛性) or the “buddha-womb” (S. tathāgatgarbha, C.: rulaizang 如來蔵)[3] and intersubjectivity (picture 10), that is the encounter of self and other, master and disciple, buddhas, and ancestors. (Kopf 2021).

            Philosophically, early Mahāyāna philosophy replaced the notion of “self” with that of tathāgatgarbha. The goal of this conceptual move is threefold. First, it replaces the self as the center of our worldview with Buddha. To understand reality, we need to learn to view the world the way the Buddha does. Our self constitutes an obstacle to “seeing things as they are.” As Vasubandhu suggested in his theory of the “three self-natures” (S. tri-svabhāva), the world, which we experience as “object” (S. parikalpita), is constructed “vis-à-vis” the experiencing subject (S. paratantra) and, therefore, its “ultimate nature” (S. pariniṣpanna) is devoid of self-nature. Second, to move beyond the self-centeredness, we have to give up or transform our thetic modality of interaction, which Buddhist texts refer to as “attachment,” desire-to-possess, and “aversion,” desire-to-avoid/reject. Only then, can we embrace Buddha’s perspective. Third, the universally shared oneness cannot be reified as an essence but it is, philosophically speaking, “empty” of self-nature. Following this line of thought, Yin Shun (1906-2005) has claimed that, as Scott Hurley has pointed out in his insightful work, the tathāgatgarbha theory is pivotal for establishing a “humanistic Buddhism” (C. renjian fojiao 人間佛教), that is, a Buddhism beyond all boundaries. Chengguan 澄觀 (738-839) stratified the metaphysical implications of such an “empty tathāgatgarbha” in his “fourfold dharma world” (C. shifajie 四法界), especially the “mutual non-obstruction of the universal and the particular” (C. lishiwuai 理事無礙) and the “mutual non-obstruction among particulars” (C.: shishiwuai 事事無礙).  Finally, Dōgen 道元 (1200-1253) described this relationship of non-obstruction between universal and particular as well as among particulars as “expression” (J.: dōtoku). Identifying the relationship of “[a]ll buddhas and ancestors” with the individual practitioner as “expression” (DZZ 1: 302), Dōgen suggests that “[i]n me, there is expression and non-expression. In him, there is expression and non-expression. At the bottom of the way, there is self and other; at the bottom of the non-way, there is self and other” (DZZ 1: 304). This quote is fascinating in many ways. Here, I would like to focus on Dōgen’s claim that, regardless of and beyond all identity politics, all human beings express the oneness of tathāgatgarbha as well as innumerable other individual experiences or expressions fully but not completely in our actions (Kopf 2014). This seemingly innocuous claim has far reaching implications on how we should treat each other. Not only do we all share and participate in “buddha-nature” we are also equally fallible and need the community, saṃgha, of all human beings to reach our goal expressing “all buddhas and ancestors.”

            This is one Mahāyāna Buddhist interpretation of the deconstruction of the self. I am sure that the majority of the audience/readers are familiar with these basic Buddhist concepts. But how do they help us overcome the numerous boundaries created by identity politics? The various thinkers within the traditions of “humanistic Buddhism” (C.: renjain fojiao, V.: nhan gian phat giao[4]) such as Yin Shun and Thich Nhat Hanh have provided us with many practical guidelines on how to practice wholesome deeds. I cannot add to their insight and wisdom. What I would like to do is to provide an analysis of what prevents us from encountering people across the boundaries and as individual and full but incomplete expressions of tathāgatgarbha just as we are. Inspired by Kuoan Shiyuan’s “Ten Ox Pictures” I have developed  the “Ten Wolf-Encounter Pictures” (十遇狼図), which are accompanied by ten descriptive poems.[5] It is the story of a monkey that grows up in a monkey clan and sees the world through monkey eyes until her/his world is threatened by an ominous encounter with a wolf. I see this fable as an allegory for our human shortcomings but also as an inspiration of how to overcome them.

Picture 1:

猴子嬉树                   monkeys playing in the trees

猴在树顶                    high up in the trees

相互嬉戲                    the monkeys’ play is unencumbered

全無干擾                    there is no present danger

這是猿界                    it is the monkey world

We grow up in our families as well as in communities, religious and otherwise. In these communities we learn a specific way of looking at the world, which we adopt and internalize. The language, in the literal and the metaphorical sense, that we internalize shapes the way we think and experience the world. This way, we create our “life-world” (G.: Lebenswelt). The more homogenous our community is the more homogenous our Lebenswelt becomes. In any case, our Lebenswelt is monolithic, we take it for granted, we take it to be THE world. MUTAI Risaku 務台理作 (1890-1974) refers to this phenomenon as the “small world” (J.: shōsekai 小世界) (MRC 4:59). This adoption and internalization of the communal worldview and language constitutes the “socialization of the self” (被社會化).

Picture 2:

練習独立                    practicing independence

从树到树                    From tree to tree

小猴跳跃                    the little monkey jumps

脱离父母                    leaving the parents

練習独立                    practicing independence

No matter how tight a community is, its members will claim some kind of individuality whether it is within one’s place within the community or whether it is vis-à-vis the community. This desire to define oneself constitutes the “search for uniqueness” (尋找自我). But this search is not a one way-street. Feminist as well as Confucian philosophers and thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) or WATSUJI Tetsurō (1889-1960) define even the notion of independent self as relational. We define ourselves in-relationship to others and to a group. When we distinguish ourselves from the community we are socialized in, we paradoxically use their language and adopt their Lebenswelt. E.g., atheists define themselves vis-à-vis theists using a monotheistic framework to define themselves. However, when we try to establish uniqueness, we put our self in the center of this Lebenswelt.

Picture 3:

從樹看狼                    seeing the wolf from the safety of the trees

身处树上                    the top of the trees

感到安全                    feels peaceful and safe

虽闻狼嚎                    even though wolves howl in the distance

猴是树王                    monkey is the king of the trees

Socialized in one Lebenswelt, we assimilate, to use the language of Jean Piaget (1896-1980), the objects of our experience into this our world. This form of consciousness is called “constructing-the-other-for-oneself” (對自成他). Steeped in our ignorance we mistake our world to be the one true world, we categorize and assess the objects of our experience in relationship to ourselves: the phenomena we like, we are attached to, the phenomena we dislike, we develop an aversion to. Buddhist philosophy is especially helpful to understand this experience. Following Tsering’s map of human emotions, our treatment of the objects of aversion is characterized by “jealousy,” “cruelty,” and “resentment” (Tsering 2006, 49).

Picture 4:

猴遇見狼                    monkey encounters a wolf

为探新界                    to explore new worlds

猴子离树                    monkey leaves the trees

忽然之间                    when, all of a sudden,

猴遇見狼                    a wolf shows up

Our self-centered world is shattered when we realize that the other does not necessarily follow the rules of our world. This awareness is triggered by “the encounter with an independent other”  (自偶遇他). It faces us with alternative “life worlds” (G.: Lebenswelten), with new ways of looking at the world. Consequently, our world and its center our self, is shattered. This brings about an existential crisis: Are the beliefs, ontological, epistemic, and moral, that I followed my whole life wrong? How do I deal with the existence of other beliefs. Interreligious but also intercultural encounters can prompt such an existential crisis and uncertainty.

Picture 5:

狼狩獵猴                    wolf chases the monkey

凶残狠狼                    the ferocious wolf

追杀小猴                    chases the monkey

猴试逃脱                    who escapes into the trees

谁又称王                    who is the king now?

When we encounter an independent other, we are faced with three options: 1) withdraw into our own world and pretend the outside does not exist, 2) adopt the worldview of the other, or 3) accept the ambiguity that both might be right and both might be false. Besides uncertainty, such an encounter of the other also creates fear. Not only is our word view challenged, all of a sudden, we are overwhelmed by otherness. This is called “knowing-the-other-forgetting-the-self” (知他忘自). We freeze and, like under Jean Paul Sartre’s (1905-1980) gaze, we lose our agency and become the object of the other.

Picture 6:

舉案齊眉                    mutual respect

休戰達成                    a truce is reached

各有領域                    each has their territory

狼统地面                    wolf roams the land

猴统树林                    monkey rules the trees

In such an encounter, we can also experience mutual respect. What looks like a “truce between self and other” (自他停戰) also implies that we appreciate the accomplishments of the other. A lot of theories of interreligious dialogue are based on this principle. The participants are willing to learn about each other yet stand firm in their beliefs. Similarly, Stephen Gould characterizes the relationship between science and religions as “non-overlapping magisteria” implying science deals with the workings of nature, religion with the meaning of life and moral theory (Gould 1997). Such an approach divides our Lebenswelt into two unconnected and irreconcilable realms and thus implies or even endorses dualism.

Picture 7:

營救狼崽                    rescuing the wolf cub

然有一天                    then, one day,

河变洪流                    the river becomes a torrent

猴来營救                    monkey comes to the rescue

共同强大                    together they are stronger

The deadlock between self and other can be overcome by the “presence of a third” (Kopf 2018). The third, in this case a child, as Mengzi proposed with his allegory of the child in the well (Mengzi 2a, 6)­­, makes us “realize an underlying commonality” (找同存異)  and awakens our compassion. We realize that we are not only different but also similar, as they are similarities and differences between us the member of our community.

Picture 8:

一起旅行                    travelling together

共同合作                    they now work together

互相学習                    and learn from each other

拜访狼家                    visiting the home of the wolf

猴明狼世                    monkey understands the wolf’s world

As important as the insight into the underlying commonality is, it must be cultivated. E.g., the Chan and Seon masters Guifeng Zongmi 圭峰宗密 (780-841) and Jinul 普照知訥 (1158-1210) emphasized the importance of “sudden enlightenment followed by gradual cultivation” (Gregory 1987, 280). A self-cultivation practice that transforms the thetic modality of attachment/aversion and dissolves the boundaries between self and other is the practice of pilgrimage conceived of as “putting oneself in the shoes of the other” (换位思考). Such a practice transforms our attachment and aversion and creates an athetic modality by means of “attunement” (Nagatomo 1992) to the other and the third. The Buddhist scriptures call this athetic modality “mutual feeling response” (C.: ganying daojiao 感應道交) (T 1911.46.004). The importance of this attunement to others is one reason why Buddhist texts emphasize the saṃgha. In a political context, Trinh Minh Ha calls this practice “walking with the disappeared” (2018).

Picture 9:

看水見狼                    looking in the water – seeing the wolf

返回家後                    upon returning home

猴飲甘泉                    monkey drinks from the spring

猴望水时                    in the water, however,

狼脸映出                    wolf’s face is reflected

This practice transforms the self. The result is neither a “self” nor a “no-self,” but a self-in-relationship. Nishida explains: “I and Thou are wholly other. There is no universal that contains both I and Thou. The I becomes and I by recognizing the Thou. The Thou become a Thou by recognizing the I. In the depth of the I is the Thou; in the depth of the Thou is the I. The I unites with the Thou in the depth of the I. The Thou unites with the I in the depth of the Thou. Because they become completely other, they unite internally” (NKZ 6: 381). Similarly, Dōgen’s re-reads the famous words attributed to Bodhidharma, “you attained my marrow” (T 2035.49.291), as “you attain me, I attain you” (DZZ 1: 333).The boundaries between self and other are dissolved: what we call “self” constitutes but one expression of the self-other-relationship, what we call “other” also constitutes one such expression. This insight is called “knowing-the-other-understanding-the-self” (知他明自).

Picture 10:

衆生共存                      the co-existence of all beings

在湖底部                    at the bottom of the lake

無數面現                    numerous beings appear

有帝釋網                    it is Indra’s Net

衆生共存                    the co-existence of all beings

Of course, in the same way as individual is not isolated without context, the relationship between self and other does not exist in a vacuum. Chengguan and Dōgen have convincingly argued that self and other are located in Indra’s net. Furthermore, the boundaries between self and other as well as the walls between communities and species have been broken down and overcome. Self and others meet, human beings and non-human animals mingle. At this point in our journey we realize that all beings, sentient and insentient, “co-exist together and complement each other” (共存互補). The awareness of this larger community, a community that embraces “all beings”[6] including “grass and trees” and “insentient beings,” all of whom  have/are buddha-nature” (T 1853.45.040; T 2223.61.0011) and “become buddhas” (T 1937.46.890; T 2299.70.300), marks the non-thetic modality by means of which we express tathāgatgarbha.

In some sense, these pictures outline a path from self-centeredness to an existential modality of selflessness imagined by the Huayan Buddhist image of Indra’s net. If we recognize that we are all full but incomplete expressions of tathāgatgarbha we will be able to live in a cosmopolitan world (Appiah 2007) and in harmony with particular eco-systems as well as the wider cosmos in toto.  We will be able to cherish the saṃgha of “all beings”­­––sentient beings including human beings and non-human animals, plants, and insentient beings alike––cultivate wholesome deeds, and express tathāgatgarbha. In my incomplete understanding, this is the teaching of the Buddha.

Works Cited


DZZ    Dōgen zenji zenshū 『道元禅師全集』[Complete Works of Zen Master Dōgen]. 2 vols. Ed. Dōshū Ōkubo 城大久保道舟. Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1969-1970).

MRC   Mutai risaku chosakushū『務台理作著作集』 [Collected Works of Mutai Risaku]. 9 vols. (Tokyo: Kobushi Shobō, 2000–2002).

NKZ    Nishida kitarō zenshū 西田幾多郎全集新版 [Complete Works of Kitarō Nishida]. 20 vols. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1988).

T          Taishō daizōkyō 『大正大藏經』 [Buddhist Canon – The Taishō Version], ed. by Junjirō Takakusu and Kaigyoku Watanabe (Tokyo: Taishō Shinshū Daizōkyō Kankōkai. 1961).

Other works

Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 2007. Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. New York W. W. Norton & Company.

Clarke, J. J. 1993. Jung and the East: a Dialogue with the Orient. New York: Routledge.

Gould, Stephen Jay. 1997. “Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” Natural History Vol. 106, 16-26.

Gregory, Peter N. 1987. Sudden and Gradual: Approaches to Enlightenment in Chinese Thought. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. 1967. Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. New York: Hill and Wang.

Kopf, Gereon. 2014. “Philosophy as Expression: Towards a New Model of Global Philosophy,” Nishida tetsugakkai nenpō (The Annual Review of the Nishida Philosophy Association), Vol. 11, 181-155.

_____. 2018. “Self, selflessness, and the endless search for identity: a meta-psychology of human folly,” Self or No-Self, ed. Ingolf U. Dalfehrt (Tübingen: in Mohr Siebeck, 2018), 239-262.

_____. 2019. “Emptiness, Multiverses, and the Conception of a Multi-Entry Philosophy,” APA Newsletter on Asian and Asian-American Philosophers and Philosophies Vol. 19, No. 1, 34-36.

_____. 2021. “‘The Self that is not a self’––Ueda and Kuoan’s Ten Ox Pictures,” in Tetsugaku Companion to Ueda Shizuteru. Doerdrecht: Springer International Publishing.

_____. 2022. “The Theory and Practice of the Multi-Entry Approach.” In Philosophy of Religion Around the World: A Critical Approach, edited by Nathan Loewen and Agnieszka Rostalska. London: Bloomsbury Academics.

Nagatomo, Shigenori. 1992. Attunement Through the Body. Albany: SUNY Press.

Tsering, Geshe Tashi. 2006. Buddhist Psychology. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.

Trinh, T. Minh-Ha. 2016. Lovecidal: Walking with the Disappeared. New York: Fordham University Press.

Ziporyn, Brook. 1996. Emptiness and Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[1] Paper presented in Hsinchu City on 11/06/2021 at the proceedings of the 19th International Symposium on the Theory and Practice of the Teachings of Dharma Master Yin Shun.

[2] I would like to thank the providers of the online resources The SAT Daizōkyō Text Database (, the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism ( for their invaluable service.

[3] See Charles Muller’s Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (佛性).

[4] Thich Nhat Hanh translated this term into English as “engaged Buddhism” (Hanh 1967, 42).

[5] The idea, story, and poems are mine. The poems were illustrated by Amber Takano. I thank Qianran Yang, Irene Lok, and Ching-yuen Cheung for checking my Chinese. I introduced the pictures and poems in a recent essay titled “The Theory and Practice of the Multi-Entry Approach” (Kopf 2022).

[6] Dōgen re-reads the famous phrase from the Mahāparinirvāṇa sūtra, “all have/are” (C.: xiyou 悉有) (T 374.12.407) as “all beings” (J.: shitsū 悉有) (DZZ 1: 14).

Chapter titles – Engaging Philosophies of Religion: Thinking Across Boundaries

The multi-entry approach proposes to rethink our discipline by introducing 18 different ways to envision philosophy of religion. “18,” of course, is an arbitrary number that emerged from the participants in the GCPR project. 1) A multi-entry approach shifts the focus from traditions such as “Christianity” or “indigenous religions” to systems such as “monotheism” and “communalism.” 2) Systems are driven by governing paradigms. Each paradigm determines unique questions and concerns with regard to what may be “philosophy” and/of “religion.” 3) Each system has a concrete historical context that has shaped its development, even if it can be thought through and applied independent from this particular context. 4) Each system develops its own language (translation into English will be an interesting problem) to envision what we call “religion” and “philosophy.” Every author either adopts an existing language or develops a new one. 5) All systems are regarded equal. There will be no overarching paradigm or language. Every chapter engages two other chapters on its own terms. The publication includes the following chapters: (A) Philosophies of religion engaging worldviews  1) “Rethinking Christian Theism: Exploring the Monotheistic Paradigm” (Aaron Simmons) 2) “Ibn al-‘Arabī’s ‘Knots in the Real’: Exploring the Insān-ity Paradigm” (Oludamini Oguannike) 3) “Correlational Cosmologies: Exploring the Qi-Based Paradigm” (Leah Kalmanson) 4) “Contemplation and Neuroscience: Exploring the Embodiment Paradigm” (Laura Weed) 5) “Philosophy of Religion without the Supernatural: Exploring the Naturalist Paradigm” (Kevin Schilbrack) 6) “Faith and Reason Beyond Words: Exploring the Visual-Ontological and Visual-Epistemological paradigms” (Peter Nekola)  (B) Philosophies of religion engaging methods of inquiry 7) “Nyāya Critical Thinking on Matters Small and Great: Exploring the Rationalist Paradigm” (Purushottama Bilimoria, Agnieszka Rostalska) 8) “Beyond Thought(s): Exploring the Trans-Rational Paradigm” (Louis Komjathy) 9) “Subjectivity, Religion, and Otherness: Exploring the Feminist Paradigm” (Hye Young Kim) 10) “”Interrogating ‘religion’: Exploring the Deconstructive Paradigm” (Nathan Loewen, Gereon Kopf) 11) “The Mind-Culture Nexus: Exploring the Systems Paradigm” (Wesley Wildman, Yair Lior) 12) “Anapotheotics: Exploring the Hermeneutic Paradigm” (Nathan Eric Dickman) (C)  Philosophies of religion engaging practices 13) “Somatophilia in Sikhism: Exploring the Aesthetic Paradigm” (Nikky-Guninder Gaur Singh) 14) “The path of the unattached ones: Exploring the Renunciation Paradigm” (Marie-Hélène Gorisse) 15) “One Lakota Perspective: Exploring the  Relational Paradigm” (Fritz Detweiler) 16) “Isintuism Among the Nguni of Southern Africa: Exploring the Communalist Paradigm” (Herbert Moyo) 17) “Philosophy of Religion and Politics: Exploring the Power Paradigm” (Nathan Loewen) 18) “The Journey Metaphor: Exploring the Comparativist Paradigm” (Timothy Knepper)