Hinduism Through Its Scriptures – 4: Integral Unity

Author: Ananth Sethuraman.


edX is a provider of massive open online courses [Ref 1]. It was founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One of the courses that edX offers is titled Hinduism Through Its Scriptures [Ref 2]. The course covers some concepts from the angle of Western Indology, rather than the angle of adhyātma.

In this article, we will take up one of these concepts, integral unity [Ref 11, Chapter 3]. We will see that the edX course covers integral unity in a way that is far removed from how adhyātma understands integral unity

Buddhism and Jainism—Two Other Religions

The course contains this line:

“You should keep in mind that this text [Manusmr̥ti] was composed in the era following the rise of two other religions presenting ascetic life as the ideal—Buddhism and Jainism.”


The excerpt hints the following: Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are distinct religions; they are in competition with one another; Hinduism does not present ascetic life as the ideal, whereas Buddhism and Jainism do; Manusmr̥ti attempted to make Hinduism more competitive against Buddhism and Jainism.

Integral Unity

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism have the fundamental postulate that there are two kinds of happiness, sukha and ānanda. Indeed, adhyātma is the theory and practice of achieving ānanda [Ref 4, Section “Of Adhyatma”]. The achieving of ānanda is termed as enlightenment, awakening, ātma jñāna, ātma sākṣātkāra, jñānōdaya, etc.

Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism agree that the achieving of ānanda has a connection with the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself”. The usual referents of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” [Ref 4] are termed vyāvahārika in Sanskrit and personhood in English. The individual who has achieved ānanda sees that the vyāvahārika referents do not completely capture the meaning of the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” [Ref 5, pg 16].

Some teachers of adhyātma supply another referent for the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” in order completely to capture the meaning of “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself.” This other referent, or the paramārthika referent, is variously termed ātman, brahmaṇ, tatva, tēj sthān, emergent property, Consciousness, Awareness, the Self, the Universal Spirit, the ‘I’, etc.

Other teachers of adhyātma do not supply another referent for the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” in order completely to capture the meaning of “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself.” Instead, they supply totally different theories how the words “I”, “me”, “mine” and “myself” could be given meanings. Some of these theories are termed śūnya vāda, kṣanika vāda, anēkānta vāda and so on.

Now, among teachers, there is often competition as to whose teaching style is better. Sports coaches have this sort of competitiveness; so do the different gharāna-s of Hindustani music. Despite this competitiveness, teachers do recognize that other teachers are able to teach students; sports coaches do recognize that other sports coaches are able to mold talented sportspersons into champions; the gharāna-s of Hindustani music do recognize that other gharāna-s are training students in Hindustani music and not in Qawali music. So also teachers of adhyātma recognize that that other teachers of adhyātma are teaching students to achieve ānanda.

The phrase “integral unity” is a short way of referring to the points made above.

Western Indology has not noticed that the various Indian traditions are different teaching styles of adhyātma. Instead, it has postulated that the various Indian traditions are as different from each other as the Protestant Christianity is different from Catholic Christianity [Ref 7, Section titled “On How Buddha Saved Souls”].

Action Item for Swadeshi Indology

When Swadeshi Indology prepares syllabi on adhyātma, it should devote some space to the topic of integral unity. Integral unity is useful in understanding those controversies where it is claimed that some teaching style of adhyātma, say, the Lingayat mārga is a separate religion in its own right.

The claim that Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism are different religions was generated at a time the concept of integral unity was not published. When Swadeshi Indology prepares syllabi on adhyātma, it should eschew the words “Hinduism”, “Buddhism”, “Jainism” and “Sikhism,” and use the original Sanskrit terms, such as kṣanika vāda, śūnya vāda, anēkānta vāda, Nānak pantha and so on.

Ananth Sethuraman has degrees from IIT Madras (Chennai) and Iowa State University. He is employed in a number of engineering companies. View More…

References: –

Ref 1: https://www.edx.org

Ref 2: https://www.edx.org/course/hinduism-through-its-scriptures-2

Ref 3: R Malhotra, Breaking India, HarperCollins Publishers India, 2011, ISBN13 978-93-5116-050-2

Ref 4: https://www.academia.edu/9462514/What_Do_Indians_Need_a_History_or_the_Past_A_challenge_or_two_to_Indian_historians_Parts_I_and_II

Ref 5: https://www.hipkapi.com/2017/01/10/nirvana-shatakam/

Ref 6: P Kapleau, The Three Pillars of Zen, Anchor Books, 1989, ISBN13 978-07-1261-926-4

Ref 7: S N Balagangadhara, The Heathen in His Blindness, Asia, the West and the Dynamic of Religion, E J Brill, 1994, ISBN10 900 409 9433

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