Bandha (Karmic Bondage)

by Marie-Hélène Gorisse

Conceptual definition

Jains consider that each of us – as well as each living being, up to the many microscopic forms of life that also exist around us even though we are not able to perceive them – is an embodied Self (ātman/appā/ādā, jīva). While the Self is permanent; its current embodied configuration is not. To explain, what we call ‘life’, is a given entanglement of the Self with matter; and that what we call ‘death’ is not an end, but the cessation of this precise entanglement with matter and the transit to another one. In such a way that we are always faced with embodied Selves. Now, the Self is radically different from this matter, may it be physical, karmic or fiery, and Jain religious practices focus on getting us free from these entanglements of the Self, especially that with karmic matter, as this is because from this entanglement, called ‘bondage’, that suffering stems.

Philosophical significance for philosophers of religion

The bondage of a Self with karma displaces several traditional questions of the field of philosophy of religion. For example, in order to cop with the loss of a dear one in death, the hope for the Jains is not for this person to leave as she was in a better realm, but it is that she avoided enough accumulation of karmic matter to leave in a better form within this realm. And this process of avoiding karmic bondage is repeated until one’s Self, who is already immortal in essence, also accesses to a state of acquired immortality. Thinking of our immortal essence, and of our mortality only illusorily brought forwards by karmic bondage, authors like Kundakunda claim “He who thinks ‘I kill’ and ‘I am killed by other beings’, he is an ignorant fool. But the one who knows thinks otherwise” (Essence of the Self, Samayasāra, SSā 247).

The bondage of a Self with karma also shakes the methodology of philosophy of religion. First, karmic bondage is a medium between the physical state of an embodied Self, its moral state, as well as its epistemic state, therefore building bridges as they little exist in other traditions. Second, the vast Jain literature on karmic bondage contains a proliferation of physical metaphors that guide the philosopher’s comprehension. It would be interesting, as we compare space-problems between different philosophical paradigms, to compare traditions of metaphors between them.

Historical context

In South Asian traditions, it is a shared conception that things which have parts are impermanent. For Jains, matter (pudgala) is the only type of substance that can associate or dissociate and, therefore, that has parts. Therefore, impermanence only comes from one’s association with matter. Contrarily to matter, (i) a Self is a single atom devoid of parts and totally independent from both other Selves and other substances; (ii) space, medium of motion and medium of rest are each a single indivisible whole that occupies all cosmic space; and (iii) time has no extension. Therefore, it is the bondage with matter, especially karmic matter, that accounts for any non-permanent feature of the Self, while any permanent feature is accounted by the isolated and essential nature of this Self.

The seminal Treatise on What there is, Tattvārthasūtra (TS 8.5, written in Sanskrit in 350-400, allegedly by someone called Umāsvāmin) lists eight types of karmic matter, divided into four harming (ghātiyā) ones:

  1. The delusory karma (mohanīya), which reduces one’s innate bliss and brings about one’s attachment to incorrect views;
  2. The knowledge-obstructing karma (jñāna-avaraṇīya), which blocks the faculties of the Self, of the mind, and of the senses;
  3. The perception-obstruction karma (darśanāvaraṇīya), which operates likewise;
  4. And the obstacle karma (antarāya), which reduces one’s innate energy.

Next to these, there are four non-harming (a-ghātiyā) types of karmic matter:

  1. The feeling karma (vedanīya), which determines whether an experience of the Self is pleasant or not;
  2. The name karma (nāman), which determines what sort of rebirth is attained;
  3. The life karma (āyus), which decides the duration of one’s life;
  4. The clan karma (gotra), which determines one’s status within a species.

In what follows, let us base our reflections on like karma. The fact that a type of karmic matter decides the duration of one’s life means nothing less than when one dies, say, because of a car accident, these external forces are only the material cause of the death of the embodied Self, while the fruition of her life karma is the efficient cause of her death. In such a conception, death happens as the fruit of the actions that one has herself performed in a previous life. This is how bound by karma we are. The metaphor of the process of sedimentation will help to understand how this karmic bondage works: take a muddy water and leave it without any movement for a sufficient amount of time. The different types of substances involved in this mixture will slowly start to separate, the more gross particles being at the bottom. In this process, the separation time differs for each mixture, since it depends upon the nature of the substances involved, as well as of the intensity of the mixing. The same happens with the Self and its bodies: their type of entanglement in the previous life mechanically has an effect on the lapse of time that the next entanglement will last. In such a way that this has nothing to do with a deserved punishment after some fault, nor with some deserved reward after some good deed. Instead, this has everything to do with the laws of physics. Jain thinkers develop a complex system, with calculations, to explain the practical effects of karmic matter on us. Notably, which mass of material particles is assimilated after a given reprehensible act, as well as the duration and intensity of this assimilation. These calculations resemble a physics, and are found as early as the Elucidation of the Teaching [of Mahāvīra] (ViyāhapannattiSutta, also known as Verses of the Venerable, Bhagavaī Sutta, old parts 5th c. BCE; new parts 1st c. CE). Later on, in the Treatise on What There Is, it is for example stated that: “Bondage to life karma lasts up to thirty-three ocean-measured periods.” (Tattvarthasutra 8.15)

The commentaries develop this, by explaining that this equates to 1/3 x 8,400,00 x 8,400,00 x 107 years. Of course, this maximal possible duration does not concern human embodied lives like yours or mine. Next to one’s life duration, the rest of the states of our embodied Self are similarly regulated by the fruition of a type of karma and can be inferred through calculation.

In his Essence of the self, Samayasāra (SSā, 3rd – 8th c.), Kundakunda is the one to redefine the Self as active only in its own domain, not in the material world of karma (kamma). Concretely, the Self is the material cause only of the modifications of consciousness, while karmic matter is the (indirect) instrumental cause of modifications of consciousness. In turn, the self is the (indirect) instrumental cause of karmic modifications, but only as a king indirectly causes the virtue in his subjects when he acts in a virtuous way and is taken as a model. Another metaphor that Kundakunda uses to think the association between the Self and karmic matter is that of the mirror-like crystal. If a red flower is reflected in a crystal, we see the crystal as red, while it is not (with the pun that the Prakrit term ‘rāga, rāya’, means both ‘red object’ and ‘attachment’). Likewise, the Self sees attachment/wrong notions superposed with it, not being it. The Self and karmic matter always keep their essential distinct natures, even in the midst of karmic bondage, which might lead one to think that they are genuinely mixed.

Whether we use the mirror-like or the sediments-like metaphors, it seems that we haveto understand the world as a whole in which things are mechanically combined together. Even though the types of substance which are the Self and non-self stuff, like karmic matter, are radically separated, they co-exist within the same conditions and so they experience paralleled modifications.

Overview of significant references/uses by contemporary scholars

Phenomena – may they be physical, subtle, or moral – can be explained in terms of karmic bondage. In the Jain system, this means that they can be expressed through calculus. This, in turn, means that equivalences between different planes of reality – physical, moral, epistemic – can always be handled thanks to these calculations based on karmic bondage. Karmic bondage therefore can serve as a translation medium. The tradition of calculation by means of karmic bondage has culminated in Jainism in a textual tradition stemming from the Essence of [the teachings of] Mahāvīra, Gommaṭasāra, written in the 10th c. by Nemicandra as a commentary to the Digambara Sacred Scriptures in Six Parts, Ṣaṭkhaṇḍāgama.

Finally, there is a remaining philosophical question, namely, how come that it is not only an internal death, out of the exhaustion of one’s life force, how come that it can also happen due to external factors, like the being hit by a truck? We are not here dealing with a type of occasionalism, since originated aggregates are efficient causes only in their own realm. But this remaining question makes us think that at least, such a conception is only possible if one conceives the world as a rational whole in which things make sense together, even though only the omniscient ones can experience that. In this dynamic, it is interesting to notice that a lot of South Asian traditions share this holistic approach.

Related emic terms

Pudgala (matter), harming/non-harming karma, permanence/impermanence, life karma, calculation.

Related etic terms

Embodied self, permanence/impermanence, material/efficient cause, holism, metaphors.

List of references

ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bajželj, Ana. “The Jain Ontological Model according to Kundakunda and Umāsvāti.” Asian Studies 1.17, 2013: 3–16.

GS = Nemicandra, Gommaṭasāra, in Gommatsara Jiva-Kanda (the soul), Rai Bahadur J. L. Jainia (trans.), The Sacred books of the Jainas 5, Lucknow: The Central Jaina Publishin House, 1927.

Jaini, Padmanabh, 1979, The Jaina Path to Purification, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Johnson, William. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

Pragya, Unnata, 2021, The Concept of Samudghāta in Jaina Philosophy, PhD defended in London.

Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1923, “The pluralistic Realism of the Jainas”, Indian Philosophy 1, London: Georges Allen & Unwin Ltd, pp. 236–285 (reed. 2008, Delhi: Oxford University Press).

SSā = Samayasāra of Kundakunda. (1) Chakravarti, A (ed., tr. and comm.): Ācārya Kundakunda’s Samayasāra. Benares 1950 (5th ed. Bharatiya Jnanpith, New Delhi 2008). (2) Jaini, J. L. (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasara by Shri Kunda Kunda Acharya. Sacred Books of the Jainas 8, The Central Jaina Publishing House, Lucknow 1930. (3) Zaveri, Jethalal, (ed., tr. and comm.): Samayasāra by Ācārya Kundakunda. Jain Vishva Bharati University, Ladnun 2009.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāmin. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

TSBh = Tattvārthasūtrabhāṣya of Umāsvāti, ibid.

Wiley, Kristi, 2011, “The significance of adhyavasāya in Jaina karma theory”, International Journal of Jaina Studies 7/3 (Online), pp. 1–26.

YS = Yogaśāstra, Hemacandra, in The Yogaśāstra of Hemacandra. A twelfth century Handbook on Śvetāmbara Jainims, Olle Qvarnstrōm (trans.), 2002, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Keyword Videos and Podcasts

Each participating scholar chose a keyword to illustrate with a video or podcast.

Please click on the links below to view or listen to each scholar’s contribution.

Oludamini Ogunnaike – Qalb

Yuko Ishihara – Two-fold-being-in-the-world.

Marie-Helene Gorisse – Upayoga.

Maki Sato – Kami.

Louis Komjathy – Pneumatology.

Louis Komjathy – Daoist standing meditation.

Herbert Moyo – Isintu.

Ayodeji Ogunnaike – Ori.

Qalb(قلب ) 

Conceptual Definition

The Qur’an and hadith have provided a rich and nuanced vocabulary and description of the various dimensions of the human heart, and over the centuries, various Islamic disciplines and literatures have built upon this foundation to develop profound understandings of the heart as the meeting place of the ethical and intellectual, the Divine and the human, the eternal and temporal, the spiritual and the physical.

The Sufi and theologian al-Ghazali (d. 1111) distinguished between two meanings of the word “qalb”: the first is the physical organ that pumps blood and is part of the visible world, while the second is a “subtle substance,” which is connected to the physical heart, but is the real essence of humanity, whereas non-human animals and corpses also have physical hearts. He writes, “The heart is the part of man that perceives and knows and experiences; it is addressed, punished, rebuked, and held responsible, and it has a connection with the physical heart… Its connection resembles the connection of accidents with substances, of qualities with the things they qualify, of the user of a tool with the tool or of that which occupies a place with the place.” In short, the heart is the center of human consciousness/being (wujūd in Arabic) in both its invisible (psychospiritual) and visible (physical/imaginal) forms. 

Later Sufi authors used Qur’anic terminology to describe the different levels of the heart and the human psychospiritual self, for example some schemas describe the breast (al-ṣadr) as the seat of emotions, within which is the heart (al-qalb), within which is the inner heart (al-fū’ād), within which is the innermost heart/kernel (al-lubb), which is the seat of spiritual perception and realization. Related schemas described the human being as having multiple “subtle bodies,” each existing on a different level of being/consciousness, so while the physical heart is the center of the physical body, there are other “hearts” corresponding to the centers of these different “bodies” on different levels of being. For example, one common schema lists seven such subtle centers corresponding to seven levels of being/consciousness:

  1. Nafs (Soul)
  2. Qalb (Psychospiritual heart)
  3. ‘Aql (Intellect)
  4. Rūḥ (Spirit)
  5. Sirr (Secret)
  6. Khafī (Hidden)
  7. Akhfā (The Most Hidden)

 The Sufi tradition presents itself as a “cure” for hearts that are “diseased,” “hardened,” and “blind,” characterized by turbulence, ignorance, and selfishness, transforming them into “sound” hearts characterized by limpidity, knowledge, tenderness, and receptivity to Divine theophanies.  This transformation is also described as a journey from the periphery of one’s being to its center, into the heart itself, which a Prophetic tradition describes as “the throne of the All-Merciful.” Thus, the heart is thus at once the vehicle as well as the goal of the journey of human life; in the words of another hadith, “My heavens and my earth cannot contain me but the heart of my believing servant contains me”; that is, the heart contains the Divine presence that is both our origin and final end.

Philosophical significance

In Islamic philosophical works, the heart is likened to the king of a city and the other human faculties to the cities’ inhabitants. If the heart is sound, then the city will be run well and the inhabitants (the human faculties and whole human being) will be happy and healthy. If the heart is sick and/or if another body part/faculty such as hunger/the stomach, anger, pride, lust, etc. take control, then the people of the city will be oppressed and the city will be out of balance and eventually fall into ruin—the human being will be sick and wretched. As another hadith says, “There is a piece of flesh in the body if it is sound the whole body is sound, but if it is spoiled the whole body is spoiled and that is the heart.” 

For the Sufis however, the heart is the primary instrument of perception and knowledge, provided that it has been properly purified. Another hadith says, “Knowledge is a light that God casts into the heart of the knower” and the Qur’an declares, “Have they not traveled in the land, and have they hearts wherewith to intellect and ears wherewith to hear? For indeed it is not the eyes that grow blind, but it is the hearts, which are within the chests, that grow blind.” (Qur’an 22:46). Yet another hadith says that, “Were it not for the excess of your talking and the turmoil in your hearts, you would see what I see and hear what I hear!” Implying that the enlightened mode of consciousness which the Prophet possesses is accessible to those who can still the turmoil in their hearts. The key to stilling the turmoil of the heart is the central Sufi practice of dhikr, which means mention, remembrance, and invocation . The Qur’an says, “Verily in the remembrance (dhikr) of God do hearts find rest” (13:28) while another hadith says, “for everything there is a polish, and the polish for hearts is dhikr.”

A famous story found in the works of al-Ghazali, Rumi, and Ibn al-‘Arabi contrasts philosophers and scholars to Sufis describing a contest between two groups of artists, each given half of a king’s room to decorate. One group paints beautiful images all over the walls and ceilings, while the other group polishes all the surfaces of their half of the room to mirror-like reflectivity. When the screen between the two halves of the room is removed, the polished surfaces reflect all the images of the other half, made more beautiful, as well as the light and scenery from the room’s windows, as well the people within the room. The polishers are deemed the winners, and are compared to the Sufis who focus on polishing the mirrors of their hearts, in which can be found all Divine and cosmic beauty and knowledge.

It is thus the heart through which the Sufi seeks to see the Real, to see God, in the celebrated symbolism of the “eye of the heart” (‘ayn al-qalb), which is the same “eye” through which God sees us, as the famous Sufi master al-Hallāj sang in a daring poem:

I saw my Lord with the eye of my heart

I said, “who are you?”, and He said, “you.”

Or in another poem by Ibn al-‘Arabi:

When my Beloved appears

Which which eye do I see him?

With His eye not with mine

For none see Him but Him

The Sufi practice of dhikr typically involves repeating names of God or formulas like the Shahada (testimony of faith), la ilaha illa Allah (there is no god/reality but God/Reality), or those invoking blessings upon the prophet. It can be done out loud (with the tongue) or silently (with/in the heart). In some advanced Sufi practices, adepts sync this dhikr (invocation) with their breath and eventually their heartbeat, continuing the practice even as they sleep. As another hadith states, “My eyes sleep, but my heart is awake.” 

 Etymologically, the word “qalb” comes from an Arabic root that means to “turn over, to transform” and the Sufi tradition in particular has emphasized this to illustrate that the human heart is in perpetual flux, never in the same from moment to moment and never in the same state twice. A famous prayer of the Prophet puns on these meanings, “O turner of hearts, establish my heart upon Thy religion.” And as another hadith says, “The heart of the believer is between God’s two fingers.”  Ibn al-‘Arabi takes this up to contrast the perfect receptivity (qābila, from a related root) and flexibility of the sound heart that responds perfectly to the ever-changing, never-repeating theophanies (tajalliyāt) or manifestations of the Divine, like a perfect mirror to the images that impinge upon it. He contrasts this to ‘aql, reason/intellect, which etymologically comes from a root which means “to bind or fetter,” to argue that while reason (al-‘aql) tries to limit the Real according to its own limitations, the Real is exceeds the bonds of the ‘aql, and is in fact that which determines the limits of ‘aql, not the other way around. This is why the heart, with its infinite receptivity, is the proper organ for knowing the Real. Ibn ‘Arabi has a beautiful and famous poem on this theme: 

My heart has become receptive to every form

A meadow for gazelles, a cloister for monks

A hosue for idols, and the pilgrim’s Ka’aba

The tablets of the Torah, pages of the Qur’an

My religion is love’s own and wheresoever turns

Her caravan, that love is my religion and my faith

The word “qālib” meaning container or mold comes from same q-l-b root as “qalb” (heart), indicating that the heart contains the presence of God and is the mold into which God pours His existence, knowledge, love, and light. As the hadith says, “the heart of the believer is the throne of the All-Merciful (al-Raḥmān) [one of the central names of God].”

 In Islamic cosmology, the throne is the boundary between the Divine and created orders and the Qur’an describes it as being carried by 8 angels, so it is often represented by an 8-pointed star (two interlocking squares). In traditional homes, palaces, and mosques, this 8-pointed star design is often found on ceilings as well as around fountains or pools in the middle of the central courtyard, which is symbolically the “heart” of the home. The reflectivity of the water, the perpetual motion of the fountain, and the way it brings life (water) into its surroundings all recall the symbolism of the heart, which is often likened to a fountain or a spring. As another hadith says, “one who dedicates himself to God for forty days, springs of wisdom will flow from his heart to his tongue.” 

Rearranging its letters (as one does in the Islamic kabbalistic science of jafr or ‘ilm al-ḥurūf), the word for heart (qalb) is also related to the word qābila, receptivity, discussed before, and “qibla”, the direction of prayer for Muslims—towards the Ka‘aba in Mecca. The Ka‘aba is the site of the annual hajj pilgrimage and is also symbolically the dwelling place of God, and therefore the center and geographic and ritual focal point of the whole Muslim world. As such, it is also a symbol of the heart, as Ibn al-‘Arabi explains:

“When God created your body, He placed within it a Ka‘ba, which is your heart. He made this temple of the heart the noblest of houses in the person of faith. He informed us that the heavens… and the earth, in which there is the Ka‘ba, do not encompass Him and are too confined for Him, but He is encompassed by this heart in the constitution of the believing human. What is meant here by ‘encompassing’ is knowledge of God.”

In his esoteric commentary on the Qur’an, Imam Ja ‘far al-Ṣādiq describes the Sufi path as a journey of the heart (sayr al-qalb), comparing it to the journey of the heavenly bodies through the constellations of the zodiac:

“Heaven is called heaven due to its loftiness. The heart is a heaven, since it ascends by belief and knowledge without limit or restriction. Just as the Known [God] is unlimited, so the knowledge of it is unlimited the zodiacal signs of heaven are the courses of the sun and moon, and they are Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagitarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, and Pisces. In the heart there are zodiacal signs and they are, belief, knowledge, intellect, certainty, submission, excellence, reliance, fear, hope, love, longing, and ravishing.”

These last three stages of the heart’s journey are all words for intense love.

While death and decay brings an end to our outer, physical heart, for Sufis, the inward, spiritual or unseen dimensions of our heart—particularly those sound hearts polished by the remembrance and love of God—continue their journey back to and within the Divine Presence, endlessly.

As the poet Hafez wrote,

One whose heart has been revived by love can never die

Our everlastingness is engraved upon the cosmic scroll

Significant References

Al-Ghazālī. The Marvels of the Heart: The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Fons Vitae, 2010.

Chittick, William C. The Sufi path of knowledge: Ibn al-Arabi’s metaphysics of imagination. Suny Press, 2010.

Chittick, William C. The Sufi path of love: The spiritual teachings of Rumi. Suny Press, 1984.

Morris, James Winston. The reflective heart: discovering Spiritual intelligence in Ibn Arabi’s Meccan illuminations. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2005

Ernst, Carl W. Sufism: An introduction to the mystical tradition of Islam. Shambhala Publications, 2017.

M. Rustom, “The Metaphysics of the Heart in the Sufi Doctrine of Rumi.” Studies in Religion 37 (2008), 3-14.
Todd, R. The Sufi Doctrine of Man: Ṣadr al-Dīn al-Qūnawī’s Metaphysical Anthropology (Leiden: 2014).

‘Aql (عقل)

Conceptual Definition

In Islamic intellectual disciplines, there Arabic term ‘aql plays a role similar to that of “intellect,” “reason,” or even “mind” or “common sense” in English-language discourses. Etymologically derived from the root, ‘-q-l , whose basic verb is ‘aqala, “to bind or fetter [a camel],” some linguists and philosophers explained that the ‘aql is thus named because it is that which restrains the soul from that which is harmful or evil, or that which “binds” human beings to their Divine Origin, or that which “ties down” concepts, permitting comprehension and understanding. This root appears as a verb, but not as a noun, in the Qur’an, typically meaning “to understand,” for example:

Have they not journeyed upon the earth, that they might have hearts by which to understand or ears by which to hear? Truly it is not the eyes that go blind, but it is hearts within breasts that go blind. (22:46)


They say, “Had we listened or had we understood, we would not be among the inhabitants of the Blaze. (67:10)

‘Aql is typically taken to refer to the intellective faculty of the soul (nafs) or heart (qalb) by which human beings can understand the principles of reality underlying its multiform appearances. In Islamic philosophy and theology, it is the characteristic and defining feature of a human being, that which makes moral responsibility possible, and whose development and cultivation is our raison d’être. In most traditions of Islamic philosophy, the human intellect is the last link in a chain of divine intellects going back to God. The potential of the intellect (ʿaql) to achieve the blissful state of divine contempla­tion and knowledge that is the goal of human existence is actualized through the acquisi­tion of knowledge, and, since the intellect is an immaterial substance, through ascetic ex­ercises, discipline, and a balancing of the passions and bodily humors, which can cloud and weaken the functioning of the intellect. 

However, certain traditions of Sufism and theology emphasized the limited and limiting nature of the ‘aql, contrasting it to the infinitely-flexible and receptive heart (qalb). Nevertheless, other traditions of philosophy, Sufism, and later theology identified the Aristotelian/Neo-Platonic Active Intellect (al-‘aql- al-fa‘āl) with the Archangel Gabriel or the Holy Spirit of Abrahamic cosmologies who is the bringer of revelation. In these traditions, the human intellect served as a kind of immanent or subjective revelation that complements, mirrors, and is connected to the origin of prophetic revelation. In this perspective, if God is like the sun, then the Active Intellect is like the moon, and the activated human intellect is like the full moon’s reflection on a placid lake on a perfectly clear night.

It is important to note that in all of these perspectives, the functions of the ‘aql include but also exceed those of the “rational faculty” (ratio in Latin) to include those of the medieval Latin intellectus, that is, the direct metaphysical perception of universal realities. These perspectives are perhaps best summed up in the distinction of the famous Sufi and poet, Jalal al-dīn Rūmī, between the partial intellect (al-‘aql al-juzwī), which is the instrument of rationality and ordinary learning, and the Universal Intellect (al-‘aql al-kullī) (which he calls “the Intellect of the intellect”), which is the purified intellect of prophets and sages and the instrument of direct intellection of things “as they are.” He writes:

 What sort of thing could the partial intellect possess that is not possessed by the Universal Intellect? The partial intellect is unable to produce anything from itself that it has not first seen. These compositions, engineering feats and structures that people erect are not new compositions. Having seen something like them, human beings merely make additions.  Those who truly produce something new form themselves are the Universal Intellect. The partial intellect can be taught, it is in need of teaching. But the Universal Intellect is the teacher; it has no needs…. Whoever possess a partial intellect is in need of instruction, but the Universal Intellect is the originator of all things. Those who have joined the partial intellect to the Universal Intellect so that the two have become one are the prophets and saints.

Philosophical significance

As the faculty of knowledge, the ‘aql is the main instrument of the Islamic philosophical tradition (falsafa), in both its theoretical and practical dimensions. Indeed, Al-Kindī (d. 873), the first great Muslim peripatetic philosopher, defined falsafa as “the knowledge of the reality of things within man’s possibility, because the philosopher’s end in his theoretical knowledge is to gain truth and in his practical knowl­edge to behave in accordance with truth.” As this definition suggests, the tradition of falsafa combines philo­sophical contemplation, rational demonstration, and ethical cultivation to free the intellect from its limitations and ultimately achieve the goal of human perfection and felicity (saʿāda).

Following the earlier Islamic philosopher, al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā describes four levels of the intellect’s potential development through proper training: (a) the material intellect (al-aʿaql al-hayūlānī), which is shared by all mankind and is simply the potential to acquire knowl­edge from the senses and reason; (b) the dispositional intellect (alʿaql bi’l-malaka), which is the level of the intellect attained when one has mastered the basic rules of knowledge and correct thinking and become habituated to putting them into practice; (c) the actual intellect (al-ʿaql biʾl-fiʿl), in which the intellect can arrive at knowledge by itself and gener­ate its own intellectual activity; and finally, if one continues to train the intellect, one can reach the highest stage (excluding the level of the prophets, who, because of the perfec­tion of their nature, have even greater intellectual possibilities), (d) the acquired intellect (al-ʿaql al-mustafād), in which the intellect perfectly mirrors the higher intelligible world, conjoining with the Universal or Active Intellect (al-ʿaql al-faʿāl), the source and home of all intelligibles and through whom all human knowledge is received by Divine outpouring (al-fayḍ al-ilāhī).

For Ibn Sīnā, the Prophets have a nature characterized by a perfect clarity of conscious­ness and a prefect imagination, which leads to a state of consciousness called the “sacred intellect” (al-ʿaql al-qudsī), which receives all knowledge, directly and without human instruction, from the Active Intellect.  The Prophet’s perfect imagination also gives perfect sensible and verbal form to these intelligible realities, which he can communicate to others in the form of stories, parables, metaphors, and rituals to guide the development of their intellects. Herein lies the import of the rituals of religious prac­tice from the perspective of falsafa: they promote and support the development of the in­tellect in imitation of the Prophetic model of perfect intellection. That is, revelation and its commands and prohibitions kindle the intellect, but the intellect is also necessary to comprehend revelation, and the two work together in a virtuous cycle to cultivate the human perfection of intellection.

Other traditions of philosophical Sufism and theology instead emphasized the limited and limiting nature of the ‘aql, arguing that it seeks to fit reality into its rational constructions, which are exceeded by reality itself. al-Ghazālī famously fell into period of extreme doubt and psycho-intellectual paralysis when he considered that just as the senses can be mistaken, and require an additional faculty to verify conclusions drawn from them, so too could the ‘aql be mistaken, and since it cannot circularly prove the validity of its own conclusions, so too must another faculty be needed to ground and confirm its conclusions. For al-Ghazālī and other Sufis, this form of knowledge beyond the level of the intellect (warā’ tawr al-’aql) is known as kashf (unveiling) or ma‘rifa (direct knowledge) and is bestowed by God to a sound heart (qalb salīm). The influential Sufi master, Ibn al-‘Arabī, emphasizes that one’s ‘aql must work in tandem with imagination and the heart to overcome these limitations and understand and conform oneself to the Real as it is, beyond one’s own rational constructions of reality. Nevertheless, in later traditions of philosophical Sufism, the universal or divine intellect (al-‘aql al-kullī or al-‘aql al-rabbānī ) plays a role somewhat similar to that of the acquired or active intellect in the Avicennan schema—that is, it is cultivated through spiritual exercises and its nearly-perfect knowledge of divine realities is both the means and goal of the process of human perfection. Some later philosophers, such as Mulla Sadra (d. 1636), similarly synthesized Avicennan and Sufi frameworks to create a system that seamlessly combines epistemology, ontology, and ethics, since it is through ethical practice and intellection that the intellect develops and is re-united with the Active Intellect and ultimately, God, Absolute Being.

Historical Context

As with the nafs, Islamic theories of the ‘aql were strongly influenced by the Qur’an, hadith, and traditions of Qur’anic interpretation, and in Shi’ite intellectual traditions, the numerous sayings of the Imams about the ‘aql (e.g. Imam Ja‘far al-Ṣādiq is reported to have said that “Intellect is that ability by which the Merciful God is worshipped and by which Heaven is attained”) profoundly shaped the development of the concept. These traditions interacted with and were interpreted in reference to various Greco-Roman philosophical traditions, especially the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Neo-Platonic, as well as their adaptations by Christian and Jewish authors. Islamic theories of ‘aql influenced Medieval Latin Christian philosophy, Jewish philosophy, and early modern European philosophy. Sufi critiques of the partial intellect and rationalism were taken up by Goethe and the Romantics. The traditions of Islamic philosophy, Sufism and theology, and their various syntheses have continued down to the present day (21st-century), and the nature, function, and limits of the ‘aql continues to be a major topic of debate. Finally, through his many works in both English and Persian, the contemporary Islamic philosopher Seyyed Hossein Nasr (b. 1933) has emphasized the intellectual (‘aqlī) dimensions of Islamic spirituality and the spiritual dimensions of Islamic intellectual (‘aqlī) traditions, especially philosophy and Sufism.

Significant References

 P. Adamson, “Avicenna and his Commentators on Self-Intellective Substances,” in D.N. Hasse and A. Bertolacci (eds), The Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Reception of Avicenna’s Metaphysics (Berlin: 2011), 97-122.

D. Black, “Knowledge (ʿIlm) and Certainty (Yaqīn) in al-Fārābī’s Epistemology,” Arabic Sciences and Philosophy 16 (2006), 11-45.

Davidson, Herbert Alan. Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes on intellect: Their cosmologies, theories of the active intellect, and theories of human intellect. Oxford University Press, 1992

Chittick, William C. “Reason, intellect, and consciousness in Islamic thought.” In Reason, Spirit and the Sacral in the New Enlightenment, pp. 11-35. Springer, Dordrecht, 2011

Kalin, Ibrahim. Knowledge in later Islamic philosophy: Mulla Sadra on existence, intellect, and intuition. OUP USA, 2010.

Marmura, Michael E. “Avicenna’s Psychological Proof of Prophecy.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 22, no. 1 (1963): 49-56.

 Nasr,  Seyyed Hossein, Three Muslim Sages: Avicenna, Suhrawardi, Ibn ʿArabi. New York: Caravan Books, 1997.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Practice of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition. HarperCollins, 2007. 

Rustom, Mohammed. The Triumph of Mercy: Philosophy and Scripture in Mulla Sadra. SUNY Press, 2012.

Treiger, Alexander. Inspired knowledge in Islamic thought: al-Ghazali’s theory of mystical cognition and its Avicennian foundation. Routledge, 2011

Yazdi, Mehdi Ha’iri. The principles of epistemology in Islamic philosophy: Knowledge by presence. Suny Press, 1992.

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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Conceptual definition

Jain renunciants follow a rigorous method towards salvation, in which renunciation from worldly life, a non-violent way of life, the dissociation of Self and non-Self stuff and a purification from karmic matter towards omniscience become in time different facets of the same effort to access to a superior order of being in which the Self resumes its essential nature. At this stage, each Self is absolutely isolated. To reach this, everything that is not the Self – passions, wrong notions, matter, etc. – has to be patiently removed from the Self through continuous practices of renunciation. Renunciatory practices that enable this Self restauration are meant to block further inflows of karmic matter and to burn already adhering karmic matter. They include restraint in speech, mental and bodily activity (gupti), following given rules of behavior (samiti), reflecting on the miseries in life (anuprekṣā), practicing austerities (tapas) and behaving in a moral way (dharma), which itself includes cultivating self-control (saṃyama), abandon the world (tyāga), being detached from things (akiñcanya) and practicing chastity (brahmācarya).

Philosophical significance

In traditions such as Jainism, philosophical and religious teaching firstly aims to promote a type of behavior, a method to concretely modify an unsatisfying situation by modifying oneself. Traditions like this are foremost about transformative practices of the self. One does not only need to be aware of the core categorial distinctions – in Jainism, the distinction between Self and non-Self – one also has to realize her true nature through a set of practices, prominently renunciatory ones.

First, renunciatory practices are more precisely a type of internal sacrifice, where one has to give up current self conceptions before embracing new ones.

Second, renunciatory practices either remove one after one the many layers of self construction which are actually alien to what the self essentially is. For example, repentance and atonement are mechanisms aiming at modifying the self from a reappraisal of its past acts, removing labels deemed unfit. Or renunciatory practices displace the networks of association that exists between oneself and the surroundings. In this dynamic meditation, by modifying habits, relocates associations that prevent what is considered a proper self identification.

Historical context

In South Asia in the 6th c. BCE, considerations on the nature of the world and of human beings’ position in it were developed against a backdrop of Vedic practices of devotion revolving around a sacred fire. Two pan-Indian conceptions notably emerged from the idea that, besides entailing fruits in this life, the correct devotional practice could also secure beneficial consequences in one’s after-life. First, a conception of human life as a long circle of rebirths; second, the belief in the efficacy not only of the devotional act, but of all acts. These beliefs laid the basis of the renowned theory of karma, according to which our current situation in life is determined by our acts in previous lives. Acknowledging this conception, most South Asian traditions aimed at liberation (mokṣa) from the bounding karmic network and, each in its own way, put an emphasis on ceasing the acts that lead to further karmic footprints. This usually takes the form of ascetic practices such as meditation or abstinence, in order to renounce the clinging to transitory passions by reaching equanimity, and to perform as few acts as possible or only dispassionate egoless ones. This, in turn, implies renouncing the social and ritual life of the householder and becoming a wandering mendicant. As such, most of the South Asian traditions are, in different proportions, part of a ‘renunciatory paradigm’. In this renunciatory paradigm, Jainism is the tradition that goes the further. Jains were one of the ascetic groups called ‘śramaṇa’, ‘strivers’, to refer to the hardships of this path to liberation. Jain śramaṇas were more precisely called the ‘nirgrantha’, ‘the ones who are free from possessions’, since Jain male mendicants were singled out as the ones practicing nudity.

A peculiarity of Jainism is to essentially associate these renunciatory liberating practices with the imperative of non-violence. Besides, to cultivate this non-violence involves having an awareness of the existence of the life-forms, of other Selves, that surround us. Finally, since Selves are in essence unobstructed knowledge, perception and bliss, the last main facet of the Jain renunciatory stance consists in epistemic progress up to omniscience. Concretely, to get closer to the realization of our real nature is to follow practices that could be classified into a four-fold way:

  1. Practices of abstinence, in the line of no sexual intercourse, no food for given periods of time, non-possession up to the nudity of the Digambar monks;
  2. Practices towards self-control, like meditation or mortification of the flesh;
  3. Penances, today mainly consisting in fasts and recitation of prayers;
  4. Practices of non-violence, such as not eating meat, nor any product derived from animals, not drinking non-filtered water containing microscopic forms of life, walking with extreme caution so as to avoid killing life forms on the ground, and not using any other modes of transportation for the monastic community.

This is sufficient to see that Jainism is an arduous renunciatory path, in which the disciple needs methods to assist her. One such method is an incitement to cultivate a pessimistic attitude towards the world by means of twelve contemplations (Prakrit: aṇuvekkha; Sanskrit: anuprekṣā) on the miseries of life. These can be found in canonical and post canonical texts, like in the Tattvārtha-sūtra. These are incitements towards contemplation of human beings and their relation to the surrounding world, which prompt the awareness that:

(i) everything in the world is not enduring;

(ii) all beings are helpless;

(iii) when an individual is spiritually free, only she has been able to achieve it, and only she can enjoy it, no other individual can assist and share, each individual is isolated;

(iv) all relationships of an embodied Self are temporary, not real;

(v) empirical reality from life to death to life is endless and full of calamities;

(vi) the empirical universe is an abode for Selves that do not know their real nature;

(vii) embodied Selves are bound in impure, rotten and stinking bodies;

(viii) the influx of karmic matter is the main cause of miseries;

(ix) the stoppage of the influx of karmic matter is possible by means of penances;

(x) the purification of karmic matter that is already bound is possible by means of penances;

(xi) the doctrine (Prakrit: dhamma; Sanskrit: dharma) preached by the Jinas leads to spiritual freedom;

(xii) human enlightenment is rare and difficult to obtain, it is an essential duty of all humans to get it prior to their death.

Significant references/uses

First, in global philosophy of religion, traditions like Jainism focused on self centered transformative practices are important as they help to reshape the prevalent conception of divinities and the definition of religion.

Second, renunciation here mainly consists in acting in a controlled and restrained manner. This type of attention is also crucial for contemporary environmentalists, because this injunction goes in particular against the practices of mass consumption. In Jainism, even the laity must be careful and not desire beyond their needs. In this dynamic, a care for not wasting resource, as well as vegetarianism or veganism become important values. Besides, Gandhi’s style of action centered on self-control, as enjoined by the Gītā, was a source of inspiration for Indian environmentalists. It is worth pointing out that Gandhi’s stance was deeply influenced by Jainism.

Related emic terms

Saṃvara (blockage of the inflow of karmic matter), nirjarā (destruction of karmic matter), gupti (restraint speech, mental and bodily activity), samiti (rule of behavior), dharma (moral behavior), saṃyama (self-control) tapas (austerity), akiñcanya (detachment), brahmācarya (continence), anuprekṣā (reflexions on the miseries in life).

Related etic terms

Transformative practices, techniques of the self, controlled act, self-control, meditation.


ĀS = Āyāraṃgasutta. In Kumar, Muni Mahendra (tr.): Āyāro (Ācārāṅga Sūtra). Jain Canonical Text Series 1. New Delhi: Today and tomorrow’s Printers & Publishers, 1981.

Bhatt, Bhansidar. “Twelve aṇuvekkhās in early Jainism.” In: Nalini Balbir and Joachim Bautze (eds.): Festschrift Klaus Bruhn zur Vollendung des 65. Lebensjhares dargebracht vin Schülern, Freunden und Kollegen. Reinbek: Dr. Inge Wezler Verlag, 1994, pp. 171–94.

Dundas, Paul. The Jains. Routledge, 1992.

Johnson, W. J. Harmless souls: Karmic bondage and change in early Jainism with special reference to Umāsvāti and Kundakunda. In: Lala Sundar Lal Jain Research Series 9. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1995.

TS = Tattvārthasūtra of Umāsvāti. In Tatia, Nathmal (tr.): That which is. Tattvārthasūtra. A Classic Jain Manual for Understanding the True Nature of Reality. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.


by Yuko Ishihara

Basho (場所), which literally means “place” in Japanese, is arguably the most important concept in the philosophy of Nishida Kitarō (西田幾多郎1870–1945), a modern Japanese philosopher and founder of the Kyoto School tradition. Nishida’s concept of basho was first introduced in an essay titled “Basho” published in 1926 in the context of seeking the foundations of our knowledge.[1] Taking issue with epistemological positions that assume the knower and known, subject-object distinction to begin with, Nishida wanted to show that the self or consciousness is not primarily an epistemic subject (as Kant and the Neo-Kantians would have it), but the “place” that makes knowledge possible.

But what does it mean to say that the self is a “place?” Ueda Shizuteru (上田閑照, 1926–2019), a third-generation Kyoto School philosopher, has provided a helpful illustration.[2] In Japanese, when one hears the sound of a bell, one would naturally say, “Kane no oto ga kikoeru” (鐘の音が聞こえる), which can be literally translated as “The sound of the bell is heard.” For an English speaker, such a way of speaking sounds odd, for in English it is more natural to say, “I hear the sound of the bell.” Ueda explains that in the English phrase, the experience is grasped and articulated by the subject “I,” while the Japanese phrase is expressive of an event prior to such positing of the “I” as subject. Before the subject takes the experience as one’s own and says, “I hear…,” there is simply the experience of hearing the sound of the bell. There is not yet a subject that is hearing the bell nor is there an object, “the bell,” that is being heard. In his maiden work, Zen no kenkyu (善の研究, 1911), Nishida called this “pure experience.” It is the direct experience prior to the subject-object duality. Now, while the “I” as subject may be absent in such an experience, this is not to say that it is beyond consciousness. Before the self or consciousness becomes the subject of our experience, it withdraws and discloses the ringing of the bell just as it is. In other words, the self or consciousness is the “place” wherein the sound of the bell is heard. It should be noted that Ueda is not suggesting that the structures of our language directly reflect the way we experience reality, but only saying that the natural way of speaking in Japanese can serve as an illustration for the notion of the self at issue.

Nishida himself did not refer to the Japanese language, but turned to the logical structure of subsumptive judgments in order to show that consciousness is the “place” that makes knowledge possible. In the judgment “red is a color,” the predicate and universal “color” subsumes the grammatical subject and particular “red.” If one takes the particularization to its limit, one would reach that which is subject but never predicate, which was Aristotle’s definition of substance (hypokeimenon) and which he identified with individual things. But in order to know such individuals, they must still be subsumed by some universal. Accordingly, Nishida went the other direction and took the universalization to its limit where he found that which is predicate but never subject. Nishida called this “the transcendent predicate plane” (超越的述語面, chōetsuteki jutsugomen). All judgments and, accordingly, all knowledge, is grounded in this transcendent predicate plane, which he also calls “the place of nothingness” (無の場所, mu no basho). It is “nothing” because it cannot be objectified and predicated. Yet it is the “place” of all objectification and predication. This, for Nishida, was none other than the self or consciousness. However, as long as this “nothing” is understood relative to things that are objectified in consciousness, it is “the place of relative nothingness” (相対無の場所, sōtaimu no basho). The “true” place of nothingness, according to Nishida, is “the place of absolute nothingness” (絶対無の場所, zettaimu no basho). Here, absolute nothingness does not mean that there is absolutely nothing as if to suggest a nihilistic position. Rather, it means that the self has completely emptied itself (the self has become absolutely no-thing), letting things present themselves just as they are. According to Nishida, then, our knowledge is ultimately grounded in the place of absolute nothingness where there is no longer a distinction between the knower and the known. Though it was never his intention to provide a philosophical grounding of Zen Buddhism, the idea of the place of absolute nothingness as the selfless ground of our knowledge and reality clearly has its roots in Nishida’s experience in zazen. And it is with this idea that we find Nishida’s most original contribution, which finds no precedent in the history of philosophy.

In the 1930s and 40s, as Nishida’s interests became less focused on epistemological concerns and move more towards the historical reality, his notion of basho took on a new meaning. Basho is no longer understood in terms of consciousness, but the historical world wherein our embodied actions take place. However, this is not to say that the self was no longer important in Nishida’s philosophy. On the contrary, Nishida highlights the co-determining relationship between the self (or what he calls “individuals”) and the socio-historical world. On the one hand, the self is determined by the world in the sense that it is born into and lives in a society. On the other hand, through its actions, the self shapes the world and makes history. In contrast to the earlier period where basho, as the ground of knowledge and reality, was given priority over the “emplaced” (that which is “in the place”), the later period emphasizes the dialectical relationship between the self (the emplaced) and the world (the place, basho).

Nishida’s concept of basho influenced various thinkers not only within philosophy but in the sciences as well. For example, Imanishi Kinji (今西錦司, 1902–1992), a biologist and founder of Japanese primatology, developed the idea of the dialectical relationship between the self and the world from a biological point of view.[3] Kimura Bin (木村敏, 1931–2021), a Japanese psychiatrist, applied Nishida’s idea of basho to understand the nature of the self through an analysis of various mental disorders such as schizophrenia.[4]


Imanishi, Kinji. A Japanese View of Nature The World of Living Things by Kinji Imanishi. Translated by Pamela J. Asquith et al. London: Routledge, 2002.

Kimura, Bin.  Jikan to jiko [時間と自己, Time and Self]. Tokyo: Chuo Koron Shinsha, 1982.

Krummel, John W. M. and Shigenori Nagatomo, trans. Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Nishida, Kitarō. “Basho” [場所]. In Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al., 208–89. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.

Ueda, Shizuteru. Nishida Kitarō o yomu [西田幾多郎を読む, Reading Nishida Kitarō]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991.

Related emic terms: Zettai mu (“absolute nothingness”), jikaku (“self-awareness” in Japanese), consciousness, historial world

Related etic terms: Nothingness, being, hypokeimenon, consciousness

[1] See Kitarō Nishida, “Basho”, in Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 208-289. The English translation can be found in: John W. Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[2] See: Shizuteru Ueda, Nishida Kitarō o yomu [西田幾多郎を読む, Reading Nishida Kitarō] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1991), 326-329.

[3] See, for example: Kinji Imanishi, Seibutsu no sekai [生物の世界, The World of Living Things] (Tokyo: Kodansha, 1972). Originally published in 1941. The English translation is provided in: Kinji Imanishi, A Japanese View of Nature: The World of Living Things by Kinji Imanishi, trans. Pamela J. Asquith et al. (London: Routledge, 2002).

[4] See, for example: Bin Kimura, Jikan to jiko [時間と自己, Time and Self]. (Tokyo: Chuo Koron Shinsha, 1982).


by Yuko Ishihara

Jikaku” (自覚) is a Japanese word comprised of two Chinese characters, “ji” (自), which means “self,” and “kaku” (覚), which means “awaken.” Originally a Buddhist term meaning “self-awakening” or “awakening by oneself” in contrast to “kakuta” (覚他 literally, “awaken other”), or the awakening of oneself that has been guided by another, the word took on a novel philosophical meaning in the beginning of the twentieth century with the work of Nishida Kitarō (西田幾多郎, 1890–1945), the founder of the Kyoto School tradition. In the context of Nishida’s philosophy, jikaku can be roughly translated as “self-awareness” or “self-consciousness” and is one of the key terms that defines his thought. The term first took on an important role in his philosophy around the time of his second major work, Jikaku ni okeru chokkan to hansei (自覚に於ける直観と反省, 1917) which has been translated into English as Intuition and Reflection in Self-Consciousness.[1] The work resulted from critical reflection on the philosophy of junsui keiken (純粋経験) or pure experience presented in his maiden work, Zen no kenkyu (善の研究, 1911).[2] In this work, Nishida argued that pure experience, namely the direct experience prior to the subject-object split, is the fundamental reality and the foundation for all our knowledge. The question remained, however, as to how reflection and reflective thought, which assume a separation between the reflecting and the reflected, can arise from such pure experience. In order to address this concern, Nishida developed the concept of jikaku by taking insight from Fichte’s notion of “Tathandlung” where the unity of self-consciousness is understood as both the act and product of the I. Like Fichte’s Tathandlung, in jikaku the self infinitely develops itself by reflecting itself within itself.

Nishida’s notion of jikaku is further refined in the 1920s when the “place” component of jikaku is brought to the fore. Nishida eventually comes to see that the infinite process of self-reflection in jikaku cannot occur without the “wherein” or the “place” of its reflection. As he later formulates it, “the self mirrors (or reflects) itself within itself” (jiko ga jiko ni oite jiko o utsusu, 自己が自己に於いて自己を写す). Initially, the “place” (basho in Japanese, 場所) is understood in epistemological terms as consciousness or the self. In his theory of basho, first introduced in the late 1920s and further developed in the 1930s and 40s, the “basho of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no basho, 絶対無の場所) is seen as the ultimate basho and ground of our knowledge and reality. Correlated to this is the notion of “the jikaku of absolute nothingness” (zettai mu no jikaku).[3] “Absolute nothingness” refers to the non-objectifiable nature of consciousness or the self, a complete eradication of the subject-object duality, where consciousness or self is no longer seen as standing over against the world. The “jikaku of absolute nothingness” entails that one become aware of this nature of the self, or better phrased, that awareness awakens to its absolutely no-thingness. “Jikaku” accordingly is a dynamic movement of awareness that essentially involves a deepening of the “place” of our awareness and one’s self-understanding. Here, we can clearly see the Zen Buddhist background to Nishida’s notion of jikaku. For such a deepening of jikaku is not separate from the search for and awakening to the “true self,” a distinctly Zen quest. Because the English equivalents “self-awareness” or “self-consciousness” lack this connotation, they fall short as translations of Nishida’s concept of jikaku. It is also worth noting that Japanese people speak of the deepening of one’s jikaku (jikaku ga fukamaru, 自覚が深まる) in ordinary speech. For example, one’s jikaku as a mother may deepen as she becomes more aware of her specific role as a mother by opening up to the various places involved in being a mother, such as her family, the community, etc. While the Buddhist connotation is absent in such usage, jikaku in ordinary speech still carries the sense of the dynamic movement of self-understanding and has an implicit reference to the “place” of the jikaku.   

In the 1930s, as Nishida’s interest turns towards the historical world, his notion of jikaku also takes on a new meaning. Jikaku is no longer understood within an epistemological context but is now understood in terms of our embodied actions in the world. As the concrete form of jikaku, Nishida introduces the notion of “acting intuition” (koiteki chokkan, 行為的直観) which refers to the interlacing relation between our seeing and acting. Specifically referring to the activity of creating things in the world, Nishida underlines how, on the one hand, we are determined by things as they solicit our actions and, on the other hand, we determine things as we create things and give them new meaning. We thus see things through our actions. Nishida further emphasizes the embodied and historical character of such actions and speaks of “the jikaku of the world” (sekai no jikaku, 世界の自覚) whereby the world expresses itself through our actions.[4]

Recently, Nishida’s notion of acting intuition has gained attention from scholars attempting to bring Nishida’s philosophy into dialogue with contemporary discussions on embodied cognition and enactivism. In an article from 2017, “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida,” David W. Johnson turns to Nishida’s notion of acting intuition to supplement some of the underlying issues with Merleau-Ponty’s account of the relation between perception and expression.[5] In a 2020 book chapter titled, “Habit, Ontology, and Embodied Cognition Without Borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida,” Jonathan McKinney et al. introduce acting intuition and related ideas in the context of what Nishida says about habit and sheds light on the resemblance Nishida’s ideas have with enactivism and ecological psychology.[6] Another interesting direction of research has been opened up by Mayuko Uehara and Elisabeth L. Belgrano in their 2020 article, “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition,’” where they apply the idea of acting intuition to vocal performance.[7] These articles all show that Nishida’s ideas have much to offer to contemporary discussions on the relation between the self and the world.


Johnson, David W. “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida.” Philosophy East and West 67, no. 3 (2017): 693-709. doi:10.1353/pew.2017.0059.

Krummel, John W. M. and Shigenori Nagatomo (trans.). Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

McKinney, Jonathan, Maki Sato and Anthony Chemero. “Habit, ontology, and embodied cognition without borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida.” In Habits: Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory, edited by Fausto Caruana and Italo Testa, 184-203. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Nishida, Kitarō. An Inquiry Into the Good. Translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1990.

Nishida, Kitarō. “Basho” [場所]. In Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al., 208-289. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.

Nishida, Kitarō. Intuition and Reflection in Self-Awareness. Translated by Valdo H. Viglielmo, Takeuchi Toshinori, and Joseph S. O’Leary. Albany: SUNY Press, 1987.

Nishida, Kitarō. “Ronri to seimei” [論理と生命]. In Tetsugaku ronbunshū daini [哲学論文集第二, Philosophical Essays Vol. 2], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 8, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al. 273-394. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.

Uehara, Mayuko and Elisabeth L. Belgrano. “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition.’” In The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy, 69-76. London: Routledge, 2020.

Related emic terms: Basho (“place” in Japanese), zettai mu (“absolute nothingness” in Japanese), reflection, intuition, acting intuition

Relate etic terms: Self-awareness, self-consciousness, self-awakening

[1] Kitarō Nishida, Intuition and Reflection in Self-Awareness, trans. Valdo H. Viglielmo et al. (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987).

[2] The English translation is provided by: Kitarō Nishida, An Inquiry Into the Good, trans. Masao Abe et al. (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1990).

[3] Nishida’s theory of basho was first introduced in an essay titled, “Basho”, published in 1926. See: Kitarō Nishida, “Basho” [場所], in Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 208–89. The English translation can be found in: John W. M. Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[4] For later Nishida’s views on acting intuition, see for example: Kitarō Nishida, “Ronri to seimei” [論理と生命], in Tetsugaku ronbunshū daini [哲学論文集第二, Philosophical Essays Vol. 2], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 8, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 273–394. The English translation can be found in: Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic.

[5] David W. Johnson, “Acting-Intuition and the Achievement of Perception: Merleau-Ponty with Nishida,” Philosophy East and West 67, no. 3 (2017): 693–709.

[6] Jonathan McKinney et al., “Habit, ontology, and embodied cognition without borders: James, Merleau-Ponty, and Nishida,” in Habits: Pragmatist Approaches from Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, and Social Theory, ed. Fausto Caruana (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 184–203.

[7] Mayuko Uehara et al., “Performance philosophy seen through Nishida’s ‘acting intuition,’” in The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2020), 69–76.


by Yuko Ishihara

We human beings always find ourselves in a specific place. It may be our physical surroundings, cultural context, social environment, historical epoch, etc. It is because we are open to these various places that we can interact with other people and things around us. “Being in a place” (basho ni oitearu, 場所に於いてある) is therefore constitutive of our being. This was one of the basic insights highlighted by the modern Japanese philosopher and founder of the Kyoto School tradition, Nishida Kitarō (西田幾多郎, 1870–1945). A similar idea that is perhaps more well-known is Martin Heidegger’s idea of Being-in-the-world (In-der-Welt-sein). What Heidegger here calls “the world” is the ultimate place of all places that we find ourselves in. Ueda Shizuteru (上田閑照, 1926–2019), a third-generation Kyoto School philosopher, takes Nishida and Heidegger’s idea that “place” and “world” are constitutive of our being and develops this further by suggesting that the place we find ourselves in is ultimately twofold. According to Ueda, the world is the all-encompassing space of meaning. As such, it is finite and bounded. If this is the case, however, we must be able to ask the wherein of the world: Where is the world “placed in?” Yet, we cannot determine the “where” of such a place since doing so would make it another place in the world. Accordingly, Ueda calls this place, “unconfined openness” (限りない開け, kagirinai hirake) or, adopting a Buddhist term, “hollow expanse” (虚空, kokū). Insofar as the world is a finite whole that is “placed in” the hollow expanse, the place we find ourselves is ultimately twofold. Ueda denotes this twofoldness as “world/hollow expanse” (世界/虚空, sekai/ kokū). We are Being-in-the-world-in-the-hollow-expanse. He calls this the “twofold-being-in-the-world” (二重世界内存在, nijyū sekai nai sonzai).[1]

The idea that the ultimate place we find ourselves in is “groundless” can be found in the work of various thinkers before Ueda, including that of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) as well as Nishida’s disciple and Ueda’s teacher, Nishitani Keiji (西谷啓治, 1900–1990). However, while these thinkers had various influences on his thought, Ueda’s idea of the twofoldness of the world can be traced back to Nishida’s idea of basho, or place in Japanese. In an attempt to seek the ground of our knowledge and reality, Nishida develops a threefold theory of basho consisting of what he calls “the place of being(s)” (有の場所, u no basho), “the place of relative nothingness” (相対無の場所, sōtaimu no basho), and “the place of absolute nothingness” (絶対無の場所, zettai mu no basho).[2] For Nishida, our knowledge is ultimately grounded in “the place of absolute nothingness” where there is no longer the knower and known or subject-object distinction, and the self has emptied itself and has become absolutely no-thing. While Ueda’s idea of the twofold-being-in-the-world is not so much an epistemological notion as it is ontological, Ueda takes insight from Nishida’s idea that objects in the world (“the place of being(s)”) ultimately find their ground in the groundless ground (“the place of absolute nothingness”).

Now, to say that we live in a twofold world is not to say that we somehow live in two discrete places, the world and the hollow expanse. Ueda often speaks of the world as the “text” and its “margins” and “space between the lines” as the unconfined openness. The “world-text,” he tells us, has “infinite margins and a bottomless space between the lines.”[3] The metaphor suggests that instead of being another place juxtaposed with the world, the hollow expanse is a deeper dimension of the world that provides the world various layers and depth. This dimension, however, is by its nature invisible. And thus, for the most part, the twofoldness of the world is forgotten and we live in a world that has become one-dimensional.

                What implications does the twofold-being-in-the-world have for the self? Ueda tells us that because we dwell in a twofold world, the self is fundamentally “problematic” and “in a state of unrest.”[4] Ueda calls the subject that lives in the world of the all-encompassing space of meaning “the self” and the subject that finds its place in the hollow expanse, “the selfless self.” It is “selfless” because the hollow expanse cuts through and negates our conceptions of the self. Ueda therefore tells us that when the subject finds themselves in the twofold world, their self-understanding is not a simple “the self is the self” (or “I am I”). Rather, the subject in the twofold world says, “the self is selflessly the self” (or “I am not-I, and thus I am I”).[5] This, according to Ueda, is the self-understanding of the “true self.” But why is such a self “problematic” and “in a state of unrest?” The answer to this question lies in the two dangers that are inherent in the self. The first danger is for the self to close up by falsely believing that it is self-sufficient. The danger is one of self-enclosure and self-attachment. This occurs when the negation (“selfless” or “not-I”) falls off and one gets trapped in its own little ego. The world, for such a self, has lost the depth that the hollow expanse brings forth. According to Ueda, this is a common phenomenon since the twofoldness of the world is forgotten most of the time. Indeed, he even says that this is our default mode of the self. Another danger is for the self to lose itself in the selfless disclosure to others. Rather than coming back to itself and saying, “…and thus I am I,” it stops with “I am not-I.” As opposed to self-attachment, the danger here is one of self-loss.[6] These two dangers, self-enclosure and self-loss, are both intrinsic dangers of the self since both closing in and opening up are real moments of the self. According to Ueda, it is because the world we find ourselves is intrinsically twofold and because the self is in a dynamic movement of closing in and opening up that the self is fundamentally “problematic” and “in a state of unrest.”

                Although the Kyoto School tradition is gaining recognition outside of Japan today, Ueda’s philosophy is still widely unknown. Recently, however, some English translations have come out,[7] and the first collection of essays on Ueda in the Western language is forthcoming as part of a book series by Springer called the Tetsugaku Companions to Japanese Philosophy.[8] The book will contain discussions on self-awareness, nature, and poetic language. Its publication will hopefully ignite more interest in Ueda’s philosophy.


Bouso, Raquel, Ralf Müller, and Adam Loughnane, eds. Tetsugaku Companion to Ueda Shizuteru: Language, Experience, and Zen (Tetsugaku Companions to Japanese Philosophy, 5). Cham: Springer, forthcoming.

Heisig, James W., Thomas P. Kasulis, and John C. Maraldo, eds. Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011.

Krummel, John W. M. and Shigenori Nagatomo, trans. Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Krummel, John W. M., ed. Contemporary Japanese Philosophy: A Reader. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019.

Nishida, Kitarō. “Basho” [場所]. In Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, edited by Yoshishige Abe et al., 208-289. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979.

Ueda, Shizuteru. Watashi to wa nanika [私とは何か, What is this thing called the “I”?]. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2000.

Ueda, Shizuteru. Kokū /Sekai [虚空/世界, Hollow expanse/World]. In Ueda Shizuteru Shū [上田閑照集, Ueda Shizuteru Collection] Vol. 9. Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2002.

Related emic terms: Being-in-the-world, basho (“place” in Japanese), world, kokū (虚空, “hollow expanse” in Japanese)

Related etic terms: Ontology, being, place, emptiness

[1] Shizuteru Ueda, Kokū /Sekai [虚空/世界, Hollow expanse/World], Ueda Shizuteru Shū [上田閑照集, Ueda Shizuteru Collection] Vol. 9 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2002).

[2] See Kitarō Nishida, “Basho”, in Hataraku mono kara miru mono e [働くものから見るものへ, From the Acting to the Seeing], Nishida Kitarō Zenshū [西田幾多郎全集, Complete Works of Nishida Kitarō] Vol. 4, eds. Yoshishige Abe et al. (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1979), 208-289. The English translation can be found in: John W. Krummel et al. (trans.), Place & Dialectic: Two Essays by Nishida Kitarō (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).

[3] Ueda, Kokū /Sekai, 327.

[4] Ueda, Kokū /Sekai, 149.

[5] Ueda, Kokū /Sekai, 150-151.

[6] Shizuteru Ueda, Watashi to wa nanika [私とは何か, What is this thing called the “I”?] (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2000), 36-39.

[7] John W. M. Krummel has a translation of Ueda’s Chihei to chihei no Kanata [地平と地平の彼方, Horizon and the Other Side of the Horizon, 1992] in: John W. M. Krummel, ed., Contemporary Japanese Philosophy: A Reader (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2019). Some excerpts of Ueda’s other writings can be found in: James W. Heisig, et al., eds., Japanese Philosophy: A Sourcebook (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011).

[8] Raquel Bouso, et al., Tetsugaku Companion to Ueda Shizuteru: Language, Experience, and Zen (Tetsugaku Companions to Japanese Philosophy, 5), (Cham: Springer, forthcoming).