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Acosmism, in contrast to pantheism, denies the reality of the universe, seeing it as ultimately illusory, (the prefix "a-" in Greek meaning negation; like "un-" in English), and only the infinite unmanifest Absolute as real.[1] Conceptual versions of Acosmism are found in eastern and western philosophies.

Acosmism in Eastern philosophy

The concept of Maya in non-dual Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism is a form of acosmism. Maya means "illusion, appearances".[2][3] The universe is considered to be Māyā, however this does not mean universe is considered as unreal. Wendy Doniger explains, "to say that the universe is an illusion (māyā) is not to say that it is unreal; it is to say, instead, that it is not what it seems to be, that it is something constantly being made. Māyā not only deceives people about the things they think they know; more basically, it limits their knowledge to things that are epistemologically and ontologically second-rate."[4]

In Vedanta school of Hinduism, cosmos is a Maya that hides the Absolute and Ultimate Reality (Brahman).[5] Human mind constructs a subjective experience, states Vedanta school, which leads to the peril of misunderstanding Maya as well as interpreting Maya as the only and final reality. Vedantins assert the "perceived world including people are not what they appear to be, there is more to them that their perceived physical forms".[6] There are invisible principles and laws at work in cosmos and in individuals, assert Vedanta scholars, true nature in others and objects that is invisible, and this invisible soul that one never perceives directly, but this invisible reality of spiritual Atman (Self, Soul) exists. Māyā is that which manifests, perpetuates a sense of false duality (or divisional plurality).[7] This manifestation is real, but it obfuscates and eludes the hidden principles and true nature of reality. Vedanta school holds that liberation is the unfettered realization and understanding of these invisible principles – the Self, that the Self (Soul) in oneself is same as the Self in another and the Self in everything (Brahman).[8]

Advaita Vedanta school is best described as monistic, absolute idealism, while Dvaita Vedanta school as pluralistic idealism.[9] Both have elements of ontological acosmism, where the material aspect of cosmos is considered an "illusion, appearance, incomplete reality" in that "which is spiritual, eternal, unchanging" sense. In Advaita Vedanta philosophy, there are two realities: Vyavaharika (empirical reality) and Paramarthika (absolute, spiritual reality).[10] Māyā is a fact in that it is the appearance of phenomena. Brahman (Ultimate Reality, Absolute, Cosmic Soul) is held by Advaitins as the metaphysical truth. The perceived world, Māyā is true in epistemological and empirical sense; however, Māyā is not considered by Vedantins as the metaphysical and spiritual truth. The spiritual truth is the truth forever, while what is empirical truth is only true for now. Since Māyā is the perceived material world, it is true in perception context, but is "untrue" in spiritual context of Brahman. True Reality, to Advaita scholars, includes both Vyavaharika (empirical) and Paramarthika (spiritual), the Māyā and the Brahman. The goal of spiritual enlightenment, state Advaitins, is to realize one's soul as same as Cosmic Soul (Brahman), realize the eternal, fearless, resplendent Oneness.[10][11]

Advaita Hinduism and Buddhism have both been called as examples of acosmism.[12][13][14] Other scholars state Buddhism cannot be accurately classified as a philosophy based on acosmism,[12] and that Advaita Vedanta is not acosmism either.[15]

Acosmism in Western philosophy

Acosmism has been seen in the work of a number of Western philosophers, including Parmenides, Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and British and American idealists, such as F.H. Bradley.[16][17] The word acosmism is often traced to Hegel who used it in his discussion of the philosophy of religion, in particular his understanding of pantheism and refutation of the charge that Spinoza was an atheist.[18][19][20] Hegel explains that for Spinoza it is the infinite 'substance' which is real, while the finite world doesn't exist. "But the accusers of Spinozism are unable to liberate themselves from the finite; hence they declare for Spinozism everything is God, because it is precisely the aggregate of finitudes (the world) that has there disappeared. If one employs the expression "All is One" and [claims] therefore that unity is the truth of multiplicity, then the "all" simply is no longer. The multiplicity vanishes, for it has its truth in the unity."[21] W.T. Stace sees all philosophical acosmism as rooted in the mystical experience, whether or not the authors are aware of this. Stace points out that most Western philosophers tend to a form of qualified acosmism, where the world is less real rather than utterly illusory. He sees two mystical sources of acosmism from within the eternal moment, firstly the mystical moment contains all eternity and infinity and thus there is nothing out side it, and secondly because the eternal moment is experienced as the supreme value.[22]

See also


  1. Acosmism Encyclopedia Britannica (2012)
  2. PD Shastri, The Doctrine of Maya Luzac & Co, London, page 3
  3. S. Radhakrishnan, The Vedanta Philosophy and the Doctrine of Maya, International Journal of Ethics, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Jul., 1914), pages 431-451
  4. Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty (1986), Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226618555, page 119
  5. Donald Braue (2006), Maya in Radhakrishnan's Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120822979, pages 19-21
  6. HM Vroom (1989), Religions and the Truth: Philosophical Reflections and Perspectives, Eerdmans Publishing, ISBN 978-0802805027, pages 122-123
  7. Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. PD Shastri, The Doctrine of Maya Luzac & Co, London, page 58-73
  9. Edward Craig (1998), Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415187152, pages 197-198
  10. 10.0 10.1 Frederic F. Fost (1998), Playful Illusion: The Making of Worlds in Advaita Vedānta, Philosophy East and West, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1998), pages 387-405
  11. Arvind Sharma (2007), Advaita Vedānta: An Introduction, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120820272, pages 19-40, 53-58, 79-86
  12. 12.0 12.1 Encyclopedia of World Religions, Encyclopaedia Britannica (1986), page 9, ISBN 978-1593394912 (2006 Reprint)
  13. Eduard von Hartmann, The religion of the future, p. 103, at Google Books
  14. LP Jack, Hibbert Journal: A Quarterly Review of Religion, p. 3, at Google Books
  15. PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0887061394, page 409
  16. Stace, W.T. (1952). Time and Eternity, Princeton University Press. p.122.
  17. Nicholson, Hugh. (2011) Comparative Theology and the Problem of Religious Rivalry, OUP. p.118
  18. OED Acosmism entry.
  19. Inwood, M.J. (2002) Hegel, Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415277198. pp.232-233
  20. Beiser, Frederick. (2005). Hegel, Routledge. ISBN 9781134383924. pp.143-144
  21. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Hodgson, Peter C. Ed. (2006) Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: One-Volume Edition, The Lectures of 1827, OUP. ISBN 9780199283521. pp.28-29 & 123-126
  22. Stace. (1952) p.123-127