Who Am I Without You? The Reconciliation of Self with Society in Hegelian and Mahayana Buddhist Thought

Gautama Buddha [1] lived from 563-483 BCE, dying thirteen years before the birth of Socrates, and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel lived from 1770-1831 CE. Each was in most senses radically different from each other as one was a revered, religious leader still followed by millions around the world and the other mainly a professor of philosophy. Most scholars have kept this perception of both, confining the Buddha with the great philosophical traditions of India, China, and Japan and Hegel confined within continental philosophy or the school of German Idealism, with few attempts at bridging the two together (cf these few examples Nakamura 1964; Scharfstein 1998; Suzuki 1963).

When Eastern thought is compared with Hegel, Fa-tsang (Scharfstein 1998: 10) or Hinduism, broadly understood, have instead been suggested rather than Gautama Buddha. When Mahayana Buddhism is compared with Western thought, John Dewey (Suzuki 1963: xix) [2] or Schopenhauer have been suggested rather than Hegel. Here I shall argue that despite the great separation in time and space between Hegel and the Buddha, by not comparing these two great schools of thought scholars have missed an important bridge between Western and Eastern thought. Both the Buddha and Hegel have interesting parallels heretofore unexamined in their unique philosophies on how an individual may understand her or his social world as a home for this person through a reconciliation of herself or himself with her or his society.

As there are many schools of Hegelian thought (i.e., "left Hegelians" and "right Hegelians"), there are as well many divergent schools of Buddhism such as the Theraveda/Hinayana tradition of Southern and Southeast Asia, which argues that only monks may attain Buddhahood, and Zen Buddhism of the Pacific Rim, which argues that it is incorrect to state that people may become Buddhas as "we already in fact possess [Buddhahood]" we just fail to realize it (Billington 1997: 73). I shall confine my analysis to Mahayana Buddhism, a tradition that dates back to the sixth century CE now generally geographically in Northern Asia, where the ability to attain Buddhahood is open to all and is something one must achieve. [3] Those in the Theraveda/Hinayana tradition aspire for personal liberation as an Arhat, or saint, whereas in Mahayana the Mahayana equivalent of the Arhat, the Bodhisattva, aspires to remove the sufferings from all sentient beings; and hence, the difference between traditions rests on the aspirations for these revered states of consciousness, or being (Williams 1989: 197). [4] "To set forth the path of the Bodhisattva as the ultimate aspiration for all," says Williams, "seems to be a uniquely Mahayana conception" (1989: 25). Suzuki goes one step further: "For Mahayanaism is no more than the Buddhism of Bodhisattvas [emphasis added]" (1963: 9).

How this Mahayana Bodhisattva is to attain an awareness, or consciousness, of the manner by which s/he is connected interdependently in her or his social world and how this process compares with Hegel's project of reconciliation is the focus of this essay.

Hegelian and Mahayana Thought as Panentheist

It is reasonable to compare Hegel's philosophical system with Mahayana Buddhism's philosophical system as it has been noted that Buddhism as a tradition may be looked at as a philosophy rather than purely a religion, strictly speaking, as in Eastern schools of thought "knowledge" tends to replace "faith" (Billington 1997: 9; cf Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957). The division between philosophy and religion is at least as blurred in Hegel's thought as with Mahayana Buddhism [5] as Hegel's philosophy has been described as "a speculative metaphysics" which provides us "with a rational theodicy of modern social life" (Wood 1990: 8), although other scholars such as Solomon describe Hegel as "neither a metaphysician, in the old sense, nor a mystic" (1987: 13).

Robert C. Whittemore in 1960 made the argument that Hegel was "a panentheist," a Greek term which translates as "all in God" and that this God "is more than all the parts of the universe, but not separate from it [a non-transcendent God (Hardimon 1994: 51)] ... [as] God needs the universe in the same way as a person needs a body" (Singer 1983: 82). [6] Indeed, Hardimon writes: "In Hegel's view, God [which Hegel understands as absolute Geist] exists only as actualized in nature and becomes self-conscious only through the consciousness of human beings" (1994: 51). While Buddhism has been falsely characterized as being "agnostic about God" and "to all intents and purposes ... an atheistic philosophy," (Billington 1997: 55, 140) Buddhism has as well been interpreted as panentheistic: indeed, all of Eastern thought can generally be thought of as panentheistic (Billington 1997: 14). What might at first glance seem an introductory obstacle to bridging Hegel's project of reconciliation with the Mahayana Buddhism's conception of a Bodhisattva's attainment of nirvana in terms of irreconcilable differences in religious belief is avoided by appeal to panentheism.

Philosophy in Action Through Mind

For Indians, "philosophy is for life; it is to be lived ... It is not enough to know the truth; the truth must be lived" (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: xxiv). Indian philosophy is an action-philosophy which manifests itself in this praxis of awareness and action. While Mahayana Buddhism has over the millenniums developed mostly in Tibet, China and Japan, its roots are in India. The historical Buddha was born in 563 BCE in the border community of Lumbini, Nepal, entering into a royal Indian family from whom he removed himself. While most Mahayana religious texts are found written in Chinese and Tibetan, they were originally written in Sanskrit and the Mahayana Buddhist tradition remains rooted very much in Indian philosophy and so it is proper to speak of both Mahayanism and Indian thought side by side (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: 272-73;cf xxvi; xxviii-xxx).

Spoken of as being "among the most renowned and esteemed figures in the entire history of Mahayana Buddhism," the eighth-century Mahayana monk Santideva in his A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, remarked that "[t]his wretched body of human is an instrument for actions" (1997: 11, 54). [7] He further suggests that without action there is nothing -- neither happiness nor suffering - and so he advises one to act but only in such a way that will spread happiness to all (1997: 129), [8] doing so in such a way that this individual to whom he advises, a Bodhisattva, does not draw attention to themself (1997: 110). [9] Enlightenment for the Bodhisattva arrives "not through our encounters as such but through following [the Buddha's] teachings until [the Bodhisattva embodies] them in [her or his] own physical presence" (Williams 1989: 169). The body of the Bodhisattva is her or his "vehicle of enlightenment" (Williams 1989: 155). Both women and men may become Bodhisattvas as each and every person has the ability to become enlightened (Williams 1989: 98).

Like the Mahayana, Hegel as well does not "distinguish between theory and practice" (Solomon 1987: 14): The individual defines herself or himself through her or his personal actions, with this particular action being a component "of a larger social process that systematically achieves the good" (Wood 1990: 50). Subjective freedom, as but an example, directly refers to a "kind of action, one that is reflective, conscious, explicitly chosen by the agent, as opposed to actions performed unthinkingly, habitually, or from concern (PR §§185R, 228R, 270R, 272R, 274, 301, 316; cf. PR §§132, 138, 140R). [10] Subjective freedom also includes actions that satisfy the agent's particular needs and interests" (Wood 1990: 38; cf PR §§121, 185R, 185A, 258R, 299R).

This project of reconciling the person with her or his community, the reconciled individual cognizant of being at home in her or his social world, [11] was Hegel's primary social and political philosophical goal (Plant 1973: 129), "and ... through a speculative cognition of the actual in its rationality in the effort to overcome a person's alienation" [12] (Wood 1990: 6; cf PR Preface 27). The process by which one is reconciled to the social world is "a matter of taking a particular attitude toward the social world or of relating to the social world in a particular way" (Hardimon 1994: 17). The social world for Hegel's state is a specific kind of society, containing three institutions of the modern family, civil society, and the modern state: All of which are not clearly discussed in Mahayana texts nor how the Bodhisattva is to achieve reconciliation through these particular institutions to the degree that Hegel's reconciled individual is clearly discussed. On this point of difference however, Singer writes: "So far as Hegel's conception of freedom is concerned, the particular institutional arrangements he prefers are not crucial ... He is interested in freedom in a deeper, more metaphysical sense" (1983: 39). Notably, while Hegel's particular institutions are crucial to the Hegelian state to which persons would ideally reconcile themselves with, this paper will only emphasize the more metaphysical notion of freedom as Mahayana Buddhism is independent of a theory of institutions.

Geist, Suchness (Dharmakaya), and the Interdependent Nature of Self with Other

Hegel's Conception of Geist

Solomon states that Hegel's conception of Geist "is an activity" as "Geist is the universal in action" (1987: 12). This is to say that Geist, as universal reason, manifests change in the world through human agency by actualizing itself in what exists (Wood 1990: 11; 46). As an activity, Geist gives subjective freedom content as it grounds subjectivity in the world by manner of Geist actualizing itself in the material world, through a person's labor. In contrast, through meditation the Bodhisattva's mind can "pervade" or "enter into" all things, permitting such a mind to attain enlightenment, the harmony between thought and reality in all things (Williams 1989: 121).

Wood claims that "Hegel seeks to overcome alienation by rationally reconciling us to the world, comprehending a divine reason, akin to our own, immanent in it" (1990: 7). This divine reason which exists within, among and outside of us Hegel calls "Geist," translated as mind or as some kind of "general consciousness" which is common to everyone (Solomon 1987: 3). [13] A central conception of Hegel's mature philosophy, Hegel's philosophy can only be understood if we understand Geist (Solomon 1987: 3). Hegel's theory of self-identity in Geist might be described as "a theory in which I am something other than a person [italics given]" (Solomon 1987: 3). Geist is understood as a dichotomy as the consciousness particular to individual persons and in and absolute form as "absolute Geist" where Geist is instead understood as a universal consciousness, or universal reason, belonging to the community of interdependent individuals. The social world is a home for its individual social members "if its essence [the essence of the social world] is not fundamentally other than the essence of its members" (Hardimon 1994: 109). This Geist becomes, for Hegel, the instrument through which the individual may reconcile themself with her or his community, the social world. Hegel highlights this point when he states that

The external subjectivity which is thus identical with me is the will of others ... The basis of the will's existence in now subjectivity, and the will of others is the existence which I give to my end, and which is for me at the same time an other ... The implementation of my end therefore has this identity of my will and the will of others within it [italics given] (PR §112).

Hegel's meaning here is that there is an entity (i.e., "the will of others") which is outside of myself as it is external but my will is a reflection of this external entity as it is "thus identical with me," the subjectivity of others being understood as "the will of others." However, the will of others is not an entity above or beyond that of the constituent persons from whom this "will of others" arises: This will is itself in "subjectivity," and not objectivity, and the will is a term to represent the conglomeration of particular and individual wills of particular individuals. Indeed, the foundation, or "basis" as Hegel calls it, for this "will of others" is not in an abstraction but in the subjectivity of persons other than and including myself: This will of others is "the existence which I give to my end" and as well this will "is for me at the same time an other." The identity of this "will of others," this "external subjectivity," is an embodiment of "my will" and that of others within it.

Still, Hegel's precise definition of what it means to be one and all in Geist in some kind of spiritual community or sharing a communal consciousness is debatable. Some scholars have argued that, for Hegel, Geist is "neither metaphysical nor mystical" (Solomon 1987: 13). Hegel's "God," or absolute Geist (i.e., Geist in its purest and grandest form) is "an essence that needs to manifest itself in the world, and having made itself manifest, to perfect the world in order to perfect itself" (Singer 1983: 83). For instance, in Hegel's system of thought "world history is nothing but the progress of consciousness of freedom" because "history is the development of mind" (Geist) (Singer 1983: 24, 47). Hegel's abstractness and lack of definition makes his thought, a system whose foundation is in Hegel's conception of Geist, difficult to compare to rival Western systems with whom lack any similar conception of mind or spirit.

Mahayana's Concept of Suchness (Dharmakaya) and Its Relation to Geist

Absolute Geist, for Hegel, is totally self-sufficient and "depends on nothing, needs nothing, and is bound by nothing ... fully self-actualizing and fully actualized in the world" (Hardimon 1994: 51). This idea of Geist is importantly not unique to Hegel. A Mahayana Buddhist and Nichiren scholar, Gyokei Umada, remarked that through a particular manner by way of right mindfulness "heart and soul, subjectivity and objectivity, become fused into one whole, and the worshiper realizes in [themself] the excellent qualities of the Supreme Being, and thereby [her or his] short life is made eternal" (Williams 1989: 163). Suzuki speaks of "the cosmic mind (Dharmakaya)" whose realization is "the appearance of a phenomenal world" (1963: 123) and that "this life is the manifestation of the Dharmakaya": "[T]he ideal of human existence is to realize within the possibilities of [her or his] mind and body all that [s/he] can conceive of the Dharmakaya [italics added] (1963: 360). This "cosmic mind," this consciousness (Dharmakaya), similarly to Geist is the manifestation of subjective consciousness in reality, the objective world in which we live. [14] To reiterate Umada, subjectivity and objectivity become one whole through a particular kind of consciousness or awareness of understanding and the individual is able to realize or attain within themself qualities of a being external to herself or himself.

The Mahayana notion of an all-embracing, absolute Geist as Dharmakaya is described, for the individual, as "the merit of the jewel of the mind, which is the seed of the world's joy and is the remedy for the world's suffering" (Santideva 1997: 21) [15] which would be a notion Hegel might accept as his philosophy of history describes a world becoming more rational, that is progressing to a higher state of consciousness if not being like a seed that is watered and grows into a flower. As Hegel's system of thought is impenetrable without an understanding of Geist as a fundamental cornerstone of the philosophy, we find Suzuki saying as well that the concept of Dharmakaya "plays such an important role in Mahayanism that an adequate knowledge of it is indispensable to understand the constitution of Mahayanism" (1963: 21). Geist is a vehicle through which the individual overcomes alienation and understands herself or himself to be reconciled with the community in which she or he lives and Dharmakaya at this point is a consciousness within and outside the individual to whom such a person this consciousness is the seed of world's joy and which ends the suffering of the world.

The Buddhist conception of "Suchness" [16] appears to be share similarities to that of Hegel's conception of absolute Geist and what we have seen with Dharmakaya. Like Hegel's Geist, Suchness has a variety of other uses and interpretations as "the Dharma (body of laws)," "nirvana," and "wisdom" (Prajna) (Suzuki 1963: 125), although our understanding of Dharmakaya may be identical with Suchness if we accept Suzuki's translation of Dharmakaya as "a sort of Absolute, or Essence-body of all things" whose manifestation is as idea (1963: 21). For an example of Suchness as identical to Dharmakaya and essentially Geist, in chapter eighteen of the Ashtasahasrika, Subhuti asks the Buddha what supreme enlightenment is and the Buddha's answer is that

It is Suchness. But Suchness neither grows nor diminishes. A Bodhisattva, who repeatedly and often dwells in mental activities connected with that Suchness, comes near to the supreme enlightenment ... when he dwells in mental activities of this kind, a Bodhisattva becomes one who is near to perfect enlightenment" (Conze et al 1995: 180; see 145). [17]

This Suchness has a form that is a manifestation of mind or idea as it may only be connected to through certain "mental activities." As Geist, Suchness resists alteration in its form or substance as it is an instrument by which an individual may attain enlightenment: Through a personal understanding in the activities of one's mind of this particular kind of consciousness, an individual may develop themself to a level of enlightenment as a Bodhisattva.

Supporting the description and explanation of Suchness above in the Ashtasahasrika, the Mahaprajnaparamita tells of "the Suchness of consciousness" which is "not subject to origin or extinction," which "neither comes nor goes" ... "[and] is constant to its own nature" (Conze et al 1995: 157). [18] Apart from this "All-Conserving Mind (Alaya) [19] which is universal" Mahayana Buddhism seems to deny the existence of any individual mind (Suzuki 1963: 139), an attribute that Geist does not share. However, we should understand as well that Suchness is "enlightenment and the essence of intelligence, constantly [working] in and through the hearts of all human beings ... in and through our finite minds" [italics added] (Suzuki 1963: 113). Existing in all people as mind (i.e., "the essence of intelligence"), Suchness is interconnected both in the subjectivity of our individual mind but as well in the community of individual minds with whom we interact amongst, in community, as Suchness moves "in and through our finite minds." In reality, according to the Mahayana world-view, the world is in fact "a great spiritual community, and every single sentient being forms its component part" (Suzuki 1963: 193). Suchness exists here and now in the social world and not outside of it, found even in "the smallest, meanest thing" (Williams 1989: 131). As Hegel's Geist exists in and manifests itself through this world and is not separate from it, so too does Suchness for the Mahayana, whereas both concepts are embodied both in the particular subjectivity of individuals and in the individuals in community as an interconnected consciousness.

Consciousness and Reality

There is much to be gained through self-awareness. In order to arrive at a truth we must become most knowledgeable with the instrument through which we discover reality. Through mindfulness as to our respective strengths and weaknesses we are best able to calibrate ourselves when attempting to make objective observations. Without this knowledge about the limitations of ourselves, it will be quite easy for parts of our personality to alter our perception of the reality. Individual experience is "the decisive authority accepted by all the Eastern schools" [20] (Billington 1997: 172). Hegel as well saw organizations such as orthodox religion as "a barrier to the goal of restoring [the person] to a state of harmony, for it makes [the person] subordinate [her or his] own powers of thought to an external authority" (Singer 1983: 5). The only proper authority for both systems of thought is one's own reason.

How the Bodhisattva discerns her or his world is idealistic as mind conditions, at the very least, matter: "Since mind and matter are connected, so changing the mind through Buddhism inevitably affects the material surroundings and thence prosperity" (Williams 1989: 166). In other words, "as the mind is so is the world" as "the images created in meditation by the Buddhas will have as much reality as anything else" (Williams 1989: 122). [21] In essentially the same manner and to use a similar metaphor, "actuality" stands "in need of purification": That which is actual may be defiled and may need to be transformed to something more in accordance with reason, simply stated (cf Griffiths 1994: 77).

Hegel argued that although the external social world "is not a construction of mind ... the human mind can appropriate it in thought and make it a structure which mirrors the human mind" (Plant 1973: 144), as stated in Hegel's double dictum [Doppelsatz] "[w]hat is rational is actual and what is actual is rational" (PR §12) and his famous statement, "[w]hat is is reason" (PR §13). While poetic, these statements are not to be understood literally. Instead, one should recall Hegel's statement of "[w]hat is actual becomes rational, and the rational becomes actual [italics added]" (Wood 1990: 13). As the human mind matures over time and gains in rationality, so too does universal reason existing as absolute Geist, a general and shared "consciousness." In this sense, a more accurate reading of the double dictum [Doppelsatz] would be: "What is rational becomes more actual in the sense of coming to be adequately realized in existing things" (Hardimon 1994: 64).

For Hegel, "the content of the Idea (Idee) is fully realized in the world" (Plant 1973: 138). In other words, a person is in Hegel's philosophy "free," or in his terminology "with her or himself," when this person's desires and choices "harmonize with the practical system" (Wood 1990: 49; cf PR §19).

Hegel's Project of Reconciliation

Always central to Hegel's concerns is "freedom" (Singer 1983: 25). Hegel's expression for his concept of freedom is Beisichsein (Beisichselbstsein) which translates as "being with oneself" (cf PR §23). The way in which Hegel uses the term Beisichsein for both freedom and reconciliation "enables him to encapsulate the view that freedom and reconciliation are essentially the same" (Hardimon 1994: 116). Properly understood, freedom and reconciliation may thus be used interchangeably and the process to bring one concept about must inevitably bring as well the other concept and vice versa.

The integration of the self with society is an important feature of Hegel's social thought (cf PR §141). Raymond Plant stated that the "basic aim of Hegel's philosophical enterprise was ... to make [the individual] feel at home in the world" in an "integrated, cohesive, political community" (1973: 135, 25). Thus, within an interdependent community an individual may become "at home" in that person's social world. The social world within which a person lives is a home to such an individual "if and only if it makes it possible for [the individual] to actualize" herself or himself as both an individual and as a members of her or his particular society, (i.e., the community within which this person lives) (Hardimon 1994: 99).

This project is one of "reconciliation" (Versöhnung), which is a term Hegel uses in the sense of "overcoming alienation" (Hardimon 1994: 2). Hardimon describes such a reconciled person as "individual social members" who have undergone "reflective identification" (1994: 141, 166). The term "individual social members" is particularly well suited to Hegel's project of reconciliation as it recognizes the person as a community member as an individual and it recognizes this individual's interconnectedness as a "social member." Both the subjectivity and objectivity of an individual, the person's identity as an individual and as a partner in society with others, are the spheres of being through which one is reconciled and made to "feel at home" in the community in which the person lives. Such a community is as much a reflection of this individual as such an individual is a reflection of the society in which s/he lives.

This social world is "strikingly inclusive" as it "is also a home for women and peasants" (Hardimon 1994: 131), although men have more freedom than women. [22] Within the community of persons, all are to be able to be at home in the community through which each individual person is reflected in the community's development. In addition, the community is reflected in each and every person as each individual develops in Hardimon's aforementioned "reflective identification."

When a person's world has become a social home, this world no longer bears the appearance of something alien from the person but instead this world appears as "an environment which progresses and develops ... [having] being in and of itself" (Plant 1973: 144). To be reconciled with such a world an individual must "regard [her or his] social membership [in the community they live within] as an 'essential aspect' of their individuality and to regard their individuality as an 'essential aspect' of their social membership" (Hardimon 1994: 105). This reconciliation is internalized within Hegel's rational state where 'the interests of the individual and of the collective are in harmony" (Singer 1983: 43).

People "are fully at home in the social world if and only if
(i) the social world is a home,
(ii) they grasp that the social world is a home,
(iii) they feel at home in the social world, and
(iv) they accept and affirm the social world" (Hardimon 1994: 95).

Reflective identification represents, for Hegel, "the highest stage of social membership" as the individual gains attains a certain awareness of the complexity of interdependence between her or himself and her or his social world community (Hardimon 1994: 173; cf PR §147, R).

The Bodhisattva and the Attainment of Nirvana in Comparison to Hegelian Reconciliation

The Role of the Bodhisattva in the Social World

The translation of the word "Buddha" is literally "the awakened one" and while it has primarily referred to a particular historical figure, Gautama Buddha, "at the heart of Buddhist philosophy" is the conviction that "we are all capable of achieving Buddhahood" whether or not we are aware of the fact as we all share "Buddha-nature" (Billington 1997: 51). In the Mahayana tradition we may become, in a particular sense, enlightened and transform ourselves to Buddhas in our own right. Only Bodhisattvas may be transformed to Buddhas after attaining this awakening of consciousness in what is popularly called "enlightenment"(nirvana).

A Bodhisattva is a person whose primary concern is liberation (i.e., freedom), which is understood as attaining "full Buddhahood (i.e., becoming a Buddha)," for all sentient beings [23] On this point there is an important difference between Hegel's conception of absolute Geist and Mahayana Buddhism's conception of Suchness. For Hegel, it would be safe to say that not all sentient beings would help constitute Geist. Geist and Suchness appear to only differ in relation to the application of each to non-human entities. and the benefit of these beings, not just the Bodhisattva's own person and personal fulfillment (Williams 1989: 49). This Bodhisattva is "the Mahayana ideal" and the term is translated as an "enlightenment being" (Billington 1997: 72), an individual one step removed from becoming a Buddha: An achievement open for all individuals to attain. Mahayana Buddhists aspire through faith and action "to full and perfect Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings" (Williams 1989: 5). The Mahayana thus aspires to become a Bodhisattva only through a particular kind of interaction with other sentient beings. In essentially the same manner as described by Hegel where one cannot achieve reconciliation in Hegel's system without others to reconcile oneself with, an individual cannot become a Bodhisattva isolated or removed from other individuals. The specific manner of interaction with an other, a separate individual, is manifest in the entirety of "the motives, efforts, and actions of the Bodhisattvas [pivoting] on the furtherance of universal welfare," with the end goal of achieving general and universal salvation [nirvana] for all sentient beings (Suzuki 1963: 63). The individual becomes an enlightened being, a Bodhisattva, through the constant exchange of that person's actions toward the improvement of her or his own particular social community, these actions directed not toward an abstract entity called "the community" but instead toward the entirety of sentient beings.

The Centrality of Interdependence in Mahayana Buddhism

That nothing in this social world (i.e., the world in which we all live within) is created from a single, individual cause is one of "the most fundamental doctrines established by the Buddha" (Suzuki 1963: 33). The most important Mahayana philosopher, Nagarjuna claims that "there is nothing at all truly independent" (Scharfstein 1998: 246). All individual entities and things are interconnected and interdependent with others. While broader implications of Nagarjuna's insight is not presently of concern, what is of interest here is the importance of the person as interdependent and cognizant of this relationship with others. Such an interconnectedness and awareness is fundamental at attaining Buddhist enlightenment, and henceforth attaining the identity for oneself as a Bodhisattva and is the highest aspiration for the Mahayana. Without others in community with the Bodhisattva-to-be, no such enlightenment is possible: "One should always look straight at sentient beings as if drinking them in with the eyes, thinking, 'Relying on them alone, I shall attain Buddhahood'" (Santideva 1997: 56). [24] The Mahayana Bodhisattva even aspires to an essentially organic interactionistic conception of society, much like Hegel's conception of society: "Just as the hands and the like are cherished because they are members of the body, why are embodied beings not cherished the same way, for they are members of the world?" (Santideva 1997: 104). [25]

As all sentient beings share the qualities of a Buddha (i.e., Buddha-nature or Suchness (Dharmakaya)/Geist), all people are in the abstract sense inherently equal in their individual shares of Suchness: Some individuals, however, recognize and exercise these qualities more than others (cf Santideva 1997: 74). Indeed, in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra [26] we find that the universality of enlightenment is even extended to those people who are "really wicked, evil people" in terms of eventual Buddhahood (Williams 1989: 98). Thus, the Mahayana project of enlightenment as a Bodhisattva is open to all in society just as Hegel's project of reconciliation is open to all in society.

Interdependence as Non-Self (Anatman)

The general Buddhist precept that all persons are essentially without any permanent identity or soul/self is an oft misunderstood concept. To explain this concept there is a popular metaphor of the chariot in the Milindapanha: A chariot is nothing except a combination of wheels, axles, chariot body, yoke, reins, etc. We can only identify what a chariot is by way of the pieces from which it is composed: Apart from its constituent components "a chariot," as an entity, has no separate and independent existence (cf de Barry 1969/1972: 21-23; Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: 281-84). Perhaps a better analogy might be the following clay metaphor:

If we take a piece of clay and make a jar from it and this jar one day becomes aware of itself, it will say: I am a jar. If we break down the jar and re-knead the clay and make a statue and one day the statue becomes conscious of itself, it will say: I am a statue. If we break down the statue and re-knead what gave origin to the jar and to the statue and make a pyramid out of it and this becomes aware of itself it will say: I am a pyramid. But if the jar, the statue and the pyramid - spatial-temporal constructions qualified by certain forms - could really become aware of their primordial and existential unconscious substratum they would say: I am formless, homogenous clay that takes form now as a jar, now as a statue, now as a pyramid (Raphael 1990: 3).

This fascinating passage elucidates the concept that no matter the shape an individual entity has, whether it be a jar, statue or pyramid, all three share the same essence. More importantly, this essence is also each object's primary constituent, showing itself in reality as consciousness (Suchness or Geist) which is both what makes up the consciousness of each particular object and yet is as such an entity each object as well shares, as this essence moves from jar to statue to pyramid, et cetera.

Suzuki states the Mahayana Buddhist conception of interdependence best when he says that "[a]ll particular existences acquire their meaning only when they are thought of in their oneness in the Dharmakaya ... I recognize myself in you and you yourself in me; tat tvam asi" (1963: 47). This would suggest that a person gains meaning for herself or himself as a person when this interdependence is acknowledged and understood in its complexity. Tat tvam asi may remind us of our discussion of Hegel's project of reconciliation and what it meant as stated by Hegel to be reconciled in one's community: One had to recognize themself in others, and vice versa, as the individual is mindful of one's interconnectedness with Geist.

However, it must be noted that when Nagarjuna says that all things lack a self or that "there is nothing in the everyday world that is real" he may be best interpreted as meaning that nothing in the world "exists independent [italics given]" and by itself alone (Scharfstein 1998: 245). This essentially is the same concept as Hegel's individual: "But the truth of the individual [des Einzelnen] is the universal, and the determinate character of the action for itself is not an isolated content confined to one external unit, but a universal content containing within itself all its various connections [italics given]" (PR §119). Individuality (Einzelheit) for Hegel "consists in the unity of particularity (Besonderheit) and universality (Allgemeinheit)" (Hardimon 1994: 171; cf PR §7R; cf. PR §258R). Additionally, for Nagarjuna relationship "is the clearest criterion for reality, and absence of relationship is the clearest criterion for unreality" (Scharfstein 1998: 271). Vasubandhu likened the concept of a self (atman) to running water or a river [27] which is itself both in constant flux but retains its identity (Williams 1989: 91). This could be restated in the following manner: Standing in a stream the water that runs by me now is not the same water that ran by me twenty minutes ago which is now downstream; however, I remain standing in the same stream. Indeed, Nagarjuna and Mahayana Buddhists hold that "a human being is nothing other than a chain of interdependent processes" (Scharfstein 1998: 97, 241). [28] Anything only exists when viewed in relation with something else (Billington 1997: 59). [29]

Attainment of Nirvana as a Reconciled State of Being for the Bodhisattva

bSod nams rgya mtsho, the Third Dalai Lama, stated that:
there is a need to look to the goal of complete Buddhahood, which is ultimate fulfillment from both one's own and others' point of view. Moreover, one should not think to gain Buddhahood merely for one's own benefit. One should want it purely in order to be able to more efficiently and deeply benefit sentient beings (Williams 1989: 200). [30]

This "goal of complete Buddhahood" of "ultimate fulfillment" which bSod nams rgya mtsho speaks off is the attainment of enlightenment: The state of being Buddhists call nirvana.

The term "nirvana" comes from nih, or "out," and va, or "blow," having the literal translation of "blowing out" which signifies a "transcendent calm not only by Buddhists but by both Hindus and Jains as well" (Scharfstein 1998: 98). It is a state of attainment and not one of annihilation (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: 273). While attainment of nirvana may be viewed as negative freedom as the Bodhisattva is emancipated and liberated from turmoil and suffering, "in reality it is the positive achievement of a richer and fuller life and the attainment of infinite bliss (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: xxviii). [31] Nirvana is to be achieved in this social world through "the correct understanding of the here and now" (Williams 1989: 69), sometimes referred to specifically as "Upadhicesa Nirvana" or "nirvana with some residue" (Suzuki 1963: 344) or "nirvana with phenomenal existence" (Scharfstein 1998: 98). The goal in attaining nirvana is "liberation," freedom (Williams 1989: 146). More simply stated, "Nirvana is enlightenment" (Suzuki 1963: 341).

A fundamental aspect of nirvana is the Bodhisattva's desire for the happiness of those in her or his community which alone brings happiness to the Bodhisattva and we find in the Mahayana literature no shortage of precepts full of selflessness and idealistic compassion. [32] The Bodhisattva, almost by definition [33], must be "willing to abandon [her or his] own Nirvanic peace for the interests of suffering creatures" (Suzuki 1963: 296; cf Williams 1989: 52; 183): "In renouncing even Buddhahood the Bodhisattva precisely attains Buddhahood" (Williams 1989: 53). Such a Bodhisattva is transformed to a Buddha after attaining nirvana "not so much for [herself or himself] as for the good of all living beings" (Dasgupta 1965: 175; cf Santideva 1997: 103 [34]). As enlightenment is an act filled with selflessness in this light, the Sikshasamuccaya, 257 (Pitrputrasamagama) states rather paradoxically that, therefore, people are "ridiculous if they desire to win Nirvana" as nirvana is to be desired for others and not for oneself if one's goal is to attain nirvana (Conze 1995: 164).

The Ratnagotravibhaga I:70 states that such an enlightened Bodhisattva, having attained nirvana in her or his social world, "has attained the state of a saint," however the Bodhisattva still "appears to be in a state of an ordinary person" (Conze et al 1995: 130). This attainment of nirvana is to be understood as a state of consciousness an enlightened being achieves and attains while in this social world in her or his life, in contrast to the Judeo-Christian conception of "heaven." Once nirvana is attained, the Bodhisattva must maintain her or his current lifestyle as this Buddhism verse from The Conversion of Sariputra reminds us:

When from all of those false views I had become free,
And when I had experienced dharmas as empty,
Then I thought: "I am at Rest."
Yet this is not what is called Nirvana" (Conze et al 1995: 122).

Nirvana does not exist separate us from "the world of appearance," the world viewed by one not reconciled and at home in the world: it exists "alongside" (Billington 1997: 60). Santideva claims that in reality "there is no difference between those who have attained nirvana and those who have not" (1997: 133). [35]

While Hegel's conception of individuals living in harmony in community and at home in the social world is reflected in the Bodhisattva's attainment of nirvana there is a point of difference that is significant. While Hegel specifically grounds his social thought utilizing the interaction of individuals with each other through institutions of family, civil society, and the modern state, the attainment of nirvana is achieved specifically through the expression of compassion by the Bodhisattva. Hegel's thought is not all together much different: Avineri describes Hegel's state of reconciliation as "universal altruism" and as "a mode of relating to a universe of human beings not out of self-interest but out of solidarity, out of the will to live with other human beings in a community" (1972: 134). It is to say that while present, compassion is not as prominently mentioned and developed in theory much as reconciliation through a socio-economic, part political, process of interaction is not nearly as developed in Mahayana theory. What remains significant is that this project of reconciliation understood as both a particular process of one becoming conscious of the interdependence of herself or himself and the society and reconciliation as freedom are similar manners of thinking for Hegel and for Mahayana.

Duty, Reconciliation, and Liberation for Hegel and Mahayana

Duty is an important aspect of Hegel's social thought in which he claimed that duty "appears as a restriction on our natural or arbitrary desires"; however it is by doing one's duty where "the individual finds [her or his] liberation ... from mere impulse ... In duty the individual acquires [her or his] substantive freedom" (Singer 1983: 32). These duties are themselves based upon rational principles which make up the individual's community. It follows for Hegel that rational citizens would understand rational principles and freely choose to serve these principles (cf Singer 1983: 35, 37). For Hegel, it is the highest duty of the individual to become a member of the state (PR §258) for just such reasons as the state actualizes the individual's concrete freedom (PR §260). Cullen states that for Hegel, in "the modern state ...individual freedom and communal responsibility, right and duty, the private [person] and the public [person] are finally united in a higher synthesis" (1979: 95).

This synthesis can be developed as follows:
Hegel is going right back to his own youthful dictum that 'the only ethical totality is a people [ein Volk]'. 'In an ethical community [sittlichen Gemeinwesen], it is easy to say what [a person] must do, what are the duties [s/he] has to fulfill in order to be virtuous [i.e., free]: [s/he] has simply to follow the well-known and explicit rules of [her or his] own situation. Honesty [Rechtschaffenheit] is the general character which may be demanded of [her or him] by laws or customs' (PR §150R)" (Cullen 1979: 109).

As the community's duties for its individuals to perform for the community's ability to best thrive are rooted in rational principles, reasonable individuals in the community will freely perform duties such as these and in doing so exercise their freedom as in so acting in accord with both their own reason and its mirror in the community's duty they act freely "with themselves." Any individual who fails to perform her or his duties is not acting in accordance to the general reason of the community (the absolute Geist), but more importantly they fail to act in accordance with themself in her or his own reason as a rational being.

Following one's duty is also important an important fact for the Bodhisattva: "I should respectfully act in accordance with my commitment. If I do not make an effort now, I shall go from lower to lower states" (Santideva 1997: 40). [36] When one fails to act in such a way that contributes to the reconciliation of others in the community with the community, the Bodhisattva, at least figuratively, degenerates in the well-ness of her or his being.

"Dharma" is literally translated as "what holds together," "what is maintained" and "what is held to" and, in a wider scope, "the cosmic order" and is used regularly as "a principle, precept, duty, rule, or custom" (Scharfstein 1998: 199). Verse fifty of the Ratnagotravibhaga states "the world of beings is not one thing, and the Dharma-body another. The world of beings is just like the Dharma-body, the Dharma-body is just the world of beings. Objectively they are not two" (Conze, et al 1995: 182).

As Bodhisattvas strive to end the suffering of all sentient beings they do not feel "that they are compelled by any external force" and these Bodhisattvas interact by way of "free activity ... which constitutes their reason for existence ...thus there is nothing compulsory in their thoughts and movements" (Suzuki 1963: 285). In Hegel's philosophical system, to be an autonomous person who finds freedom in doing her or his duty one must act both rationally and in accordance with one's own reason: One must be "subjectively" free (Wood 1990: 41; cf Singer 1983: 39). Liberation for the individual should rather be viewed as stemming from, and perhaps within, social constraints and duties (PR §149) as the "restraint of the aggressor is the freedom of the sufferer, and only by restraint on the actions by which [people] injure one another do they as a whole community gain freedom" (Hobhouse 1994: 44). How one finds freedom in doing one's duty, albeit in a specific context, is essentially the same process for both Hegel and Mahayana.

Final Remarks

Without any doubt there are many important differences between Hegelian and Mahayana systems of thought and this essay has remained focused on this subject of reconciliation of the self with society being this is one subject of harmony between the two. I have not explored differences . Again looking at how the two schools of thought compare, we analyzed conceptions of philosophy versus religion; Geist and Suchness (Dharmakaya); consciousness and reality; Hegel's specific project of reconciliation and the Bodhisattva and her or his attainment of nirvana; as well as duty in relation to reconciliation and freedom; and throughout we found in each case that in this method by which the individual is reconciled with her or his community is for both Hegel and the Mahayana Bodhisattva similar approaches to a method of reconciliation.

The importance in doing comparative political philosophy such as this essay between Eastern and Western thought lies in the ensuing enrichment of our comprehension of both schools of thought taken together or separately. For example, our new understanding of Geist as similar to Dharmakaya may create an extended literature from which both concepts and their corresponding philosophies may be better understood: Such implications are not solely for the Philosophy of Right and the Bodhicaryavatara, but perhaps instead for The Phenomenology of Mind and the Dhammapada.

In the future, it would seem a particularly lucrative field of research would be in this comparison as I have done between Eastern thinkers and German Idealism and more work comparing such philosophers as Kant, Fichte, Schopenhauer and Feuerbach with Shankara, the Nyaya School, Taoism and Vasubandhu should be done. [37]


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[1] I shall hereafter refer to Gautama Buddha as either "Buddha" or "the Buddha."

[2] In Suzuki's introduction it is Alan Watts who makes this claim and not Suzuki himself.

[3] The Dhammapada 12:9 states that one must purify themself as "[n]o one purifies another" ... "By oneself is one purified" (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: 305).

[4] There are many other differences for sure between Mahayana Buddhism and other Buddhist traditions and eastern philosophies, most of which will not be of concern here. A second important difference that should be noted is that Theravedan tradition more heavily favors a literal understanding of the Buddha's message whereas the Mahayana instead "is a living faith that has evolved from Buddha's original teachings" (Suzuki 1963: 14).

[5] This is not to imply that Hegel's philosophy is a religion.

[6] Singer cites Robert C. Whittemore's (1960) article "Hegel as Panentheist," from Tulane Studies in Philosophy 9: 134-64.

[7] The Bodhicaryavatara 5:66. This seemingly despisement of the human body in this passage is not alone. For instance, 8:31of the Bodhicaryavatara: "For this body of mine will also become so putrid that even the jackals will not come near it because of its stench" (Santideva 1997: 93).

[8] The Bodhicaryavatara 9:122. Santideva advises in 5:52 that if he in his mind wished to seek out his own self-interest or if his thoughts were adverse to the interests of others, he would "remain still like a piece a wood" (1997: 53).

[9] The Bodhicaryavatara 8: 164.

[10] All references to the Philosophy of Right are from Hegel's (1996) Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[11] For one to be "at home in her or his social world" is for one to be reconciled with her or his community.

[12] For one to be "alienated" is for that individual to be incognizant of how s/he s to be at home in her or his social world: The alienated individual is thus not reconciled with her or his community.

[13] This translation is at odds with others, such as Taylor (1979). Recalling Hegel's attacks on Schelling's "mystical tendencies" in the preface to Hegel's Phänomenologie des Geistes, Solomon convincing, in my view, argues that the "concept of Geist is a successor both to Kant's transcendental ego or "I think" and Descartes' celebrated cognito" (1987: 6, 9; cf 3-17; 1970).

[14] Witness 5:14 of the Bodhicaryavatara: "I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind. What need is there to restrain anything else?" (1997: 49).

[15] The Bodhicaryavatara 1:26.

[16] "Suchness" as a term originates from Ashvaghosa's reference to tathata: "such as it is." Recognizing the complexity of interrelationship between individuals and society, the nature of the enlightened person seemed to Ashvaghosa to be beyond the word "person" and so he called such a nature "suchness" (Koller 1970: 142).

[17] This is a description of Suchness in the Saptasatika, I95.

[18] The Sthiramati, Madhyantavibhagatika 1:14 speaks of Suchness as "the ultimate reality" (Conze et al 1995: 170).

[19] Suzuki states that the "All-Conserving Mind (Alaya) ... is the manifestation of Suchness" (1963: 137).

[20] Billington is quite right to point out that this point does not always stand with Jains (1997: 172).

[21] Williams references L. O. Gomez (1967). "Selected Verses From the Gandavyuha," unpublished doctoral thesis, Yale University: lxxix, cf. lxxxv.

[22] Mahayana Buddhism, while arguing that women may become Bodhisattvas as well as men, equally demotes women. Witness 10:30 of the Bodhicaryavatara: "May the women in the world become men" (Santideva 1997: 141).

[23] A quick definition of "sentient being" is required to understand the object of the Bodhisattva's infinite compassion, let alone the immediate passage. The term "sentient being" refers "to everything and everything is the Buddha-nature ... All beings, sentient and insentient, are the Buddha-nature" (Williams 1989: 114). Strictly speaking, a sentient being is by definition one with feelings or sense perception. In Buddhism, while all things sentient and insentient are constituted of the same fabric of Buddha-nature (Suchness or absolute Geist --- these three terms may be used interchangeably) only sentient beings may be able to discover this for themselves and develop themselves through and within the Buddha-nature: Suchness is the medium through which one develops themself through the recognition of the complexity of interdependence between how one is constituted by and acts through Suchness and how others are so constituted and so act.

[24] The Bodhicaryavatara 5: 80.

[25] The Bodhicaryavatara 8:114.

[26] Williams reminds us that this sutra is "not to be confused with the non-Mahayana sutra of the same name, represented in the Pali tradition by the Mahaparinibbana Sutta" (1989: 98).

[27] Williams advises us to see with regards to Vasubandhu the Trimsika v.5 and the Samdhinirmocana 5:5 (1989: 91).

[28] Williams states: "[T]he Madhyamaka is not saying that we do not exist, or that we should use the word 'I'. Rather, we do not exist in the way we think we do, as inherent existent, independent monads" (1989: 67).

[29] Santideva states in 6:31 of the Bodhicaryavatara: "Thus, everything is dependent on something else, and even that on which something is dependent is not autonomous" (1997: 65).

[30] Williams cites S Gyatso (Glen Mullin, transl.) (1982). Third Dalai Lama, Essence of Refined Gold. New York: Gabriel/Snow Lion, pp 109-10.

[31] This goal, while called other names and achieved in different ways, is essentially the same as well for Hinduism and Jainism (Radhakrishnan and Moore 1957: xxviii).

[32] For example, 8:95 of the Bodhicaryavatara: "When happiness is equally dear to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I strive after happiness for myself alone?" (Santiveda 1997: 101; cf 34 [v3:10]).

[33] I primarily refer to the Bodhicaryavatara 8: 131: "One who does not exchange [her or his] own happiness for the suffering of others surely does not achieve Buddhahood" (Santideva 1997: 106).

[34] The Bodhicaryavatara 8:109.

[35] The Bodhicaryavatara 9: 150.

[36] The Bodhicaryavatara 4:12.

[38] This paper was presented 1 April 1999 in San Antonio, Texas at the Southwestern Political Science Association's Annual Meeting. I have benefitted from comments made by Avital Simhony, Terry Ball, and Jack Crittenden. I am most indebted to Joyotpaul Chaudhuri. All errors are the sole responsibility of myself.

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