Good class! Hard questions coming from all over. One would like to be as smart to answer all questions satisfactorily at the snap of one's fingers. But as a French rapper would say: N'est pas possible, sommes faillibles.
1- We didn't have time to address meditation and what is good for. We'll catch up.
2- To Emily's great question: What is "gain" good for? There is good and bad gain. Then, there's epiphenomenal gain. Madoff's is bad gain. Why? It cashes in by objectifying people (that was his intention all along). Now, how do we play "gain"? Better yet, when do we "gain"? Let's problematize: Gain, in itself, is empty (for it to be gain it has to be "in relation to" and "for someone").
Do I always gain when -I think- I gain? Certainly not. I can gain in the economic exchange and loose in the long run. Example: Wall Street's idea of financial capitalism, which seemed to destroy the very idea of what a good investment is in Classical Economy (i.e., bankers playing against the solvency of their own banks).
So, when do I "really" gain?
It's here that yajna comes in as sovereignty (which points to just a different exchange; only a virtuous one). The best gain is to give it up. This is when studying for a test and yet failing comes in (or meaning well with an action and yet, being misunderstood). Failing is loosing (a form of un-gain), but only if we see it from the POV of exchange economy. Studying for the test is what one should do to responsibly pass it. Now the duty is fulfilled. Yet, there is no gain = 0. According to Janinism the fulfillment of duty and un-gain are incompatible. One must go behind avidya (illusions).
3- To Facundo's questionable "friend." Parfois, for the sake of time and energy you have to call a spade a spade. I'll approach it from ahimsa's perspective. There is right and wrong: It's axiomatic. You bet that causing unnecessary suffering is wrong. Why? The best you can muster is that it violates ahimsa, which can be seen as symmetry (Golden Rule)
4- A bit on Realism and Anti realism, Materialism, etc.
(a) Realism: There are entities independent of our minds.
(b)Anti realism denies (a).
(c) Irrealism: Entities exist but not as in (a) but as ways to describe the world. This view is also known as conceptualism.
(d) Materialism: There is only matter (even consciousness is matter, i.e, neurons). There is close kin to materialism:
Metaphysical Naturalism (e) There is nothing but natural things, forces, and causes of the kind studied by the natural sciences. So, there are no supernatural thing, force or cause, such as they are described in various religions, as well as any form of teleology (purpose).
5- I wanted to stress the three most important philosophical schools within the Vedanta tradition. Advaita, Dvaita and Vishishtadvaita.
(a) Advaita Vedanta: Teaches that the manifest creation, the soul and God are identical, which is form of monism. This is how Shankara presents it: Just as particles in physics consists of continually moving fields of energy, so the sages of Vedanta recognized energy in the form of consciousness. We perceive the universe by means of gross senses, because of our limited ego-limited body. What is really real and unchanging is the ever-changing manifest world of names and shapes. Shankara's best example is the piece of rope that in the dark is taken for a snake: Anxiety, repugnance are induced by the snake that exists only in one's mind. Once the rope is recognized as a rope it cannot be turned back into a snake. The initial error involves not only ignorance but superimposition (vikshepa) of a notion that has nothing to do with "what is." That is, we live with this idea of the snake (manifest world) on the rope (Brahman). Shankara puts it this way: "May this one sentence proclaim the essence of a thousand books: Brahman alone is real. The world is appearance, the Self is nothing but Brahman."
(b) Dvaita: (in Sanskrit it means duality). The human body is separate from the creator god. Although Madhva's Dualism acknowledges two principles, it holds that the sentient is rigorously and eternally dependent on the other (Vishnu/God). Interesting that for Madhva there is a hell
(c) Vishistadvaita: Defended by Ramanuja: A non-dualistic ontology (things appear "distinct" but are not really separate). Therefore, Brahman alone exists, but is characterised by multiplicity.
Did I forget something? Say it if you want.