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Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of South and East Asia, including Chinese philosophy, Indian philosophy, Korean philosophy, and Japanese philosophy. Broadly speaking the term can also sometimes include Babylonian philosophy, Jewish philosophy, Iranian/Persian philosophy, and Islamic philosophy, though these may also be considered Western philosophies.
Some Western thinkers claim that philosophy as such is only characteristic of Western cultures. Martin Heidegger is even reported to have said that only Greek and German languages are suitable for philosophizing. On the other hand, Arab and Jewish philosophy, which have been in dialogue with the Greek tradition and, in the case of leading Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Sina or Ibn Rushd, rely heavily on it, are not specifically Eastern philosophies at all. It is still commonplace in Western universities to teach only Western philosophy and to ignore Asian philosophy altogether, or consider only newer Western-influenced Asian thought properly "philosophy". Carine Defoort, herself a specialist in Chinese thought, has offered support for such a "family" view of philosophy, while Rein Raud has presented an argument against it and offered a more flexible definition of philosophy that would include both Western and Asian thought on equal terms. In response, OuYang Min argues that philosophy proper is a Western cultural practice and essentially different from zhexue, which is what the Chinese have, even though zhexue (originally tetsugaku) is actually a neologism coined in 1873 by Nishi Amane for describing Western philosophy as opposed to traditional Asian thought.
Supreme God and the demigods
|Conceptions of God|
Some Eastern philosophies have formulated questions on the nature of God and its relationship to the universe based on Monotheistic framework within which it emerged. This has created a dichotomy among some Western philosophies, between secular philosophies and religious philosophies developed within the context of a particular monotheistic religion's dogma—especially some creeds of Protestant Christianity, regarding the nature of God and the universe.
Eastern religions have been as concerned by questions relating to the nature of a single God as the universe's sole creator and ruler. The distinction between the religious and the secular tends to be much less sharp in Eastern philosophy, and the same philosophical school often contains both religious and philosophical elements. Thus, some people accept the so-called metaphysical tenets of Buddhism without going to a temple and worshipping. Some have worshipped the Taoist deities religiously without bothering to delve into the theological underpinnings, while others embrace the Taoist religion while ignoring the mythological aspects.
This arrangement stands in marked contrast to some recent philosophy in the West, which has traditionally enforced either a completely unified philosophic/religious belief system (for example, the various sects and associated philosophies of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), or a sharp and total repudiation of some forms of religion by philosophy (for example, Nietzsche, Marx, Voltaire, etc.).
A common thread that often differentiates Eastern philosophy from Western is the relationship between the gods (or God) and the universe. Some Western schools of thought were animistic or pantheistic, such as the classical Greek tradition, while later religious beliefs, influenced by the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions, portrayed divinity as more transcendent.
Much like the classical Greek philosophies, many Eastern schools of thought were more interested in explaining the natural world via universal patterns; without recourse to capricious agencies like gods (or God). Syncretism allowed various schools of thought such as Yi, Yin yang, Wu xing and Ren to mutually complement one another without threatening traditional religious practice or new religious movements.
Syntheses of Eastern and Western philosophy
There have been many modern attempts to integrate Western and Eastern philosophical traditions.
Arthur Schopenhauer developed a philosophy that was essentially a synthesis of Hinduism with Western thought. He anticipated that the Upanishads (primary Hindu scriptures) would have a much greater influence in the West than they have had. However, Schopenhauer was working with heavily flawed early translations (and sometimes second-degree translations), and many feel that he may not necessarily have accurately grasped the Eastern philosophies which interested him.
Recent attempts to incorporate Western philosophy into Eastern thought include the Kyoto School of philosophers, who combined the phenomenology of Husserl with the insights of Zen Buddhism. Watsuji Tetsurô, a 20th-century Japanese philosopher attempted to combine the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger with Eastern philosophies. Some have claimed that there is also a definite eastern element within Heidegger's philosophy. For the most part this is not made explicit within Heidegger's philosophy, apart from in the dialogue between a Japanese and inquirer. Heidegger did spend time attempting to translate the Tao Te Ching into German, working with his Chinese student Paul Hsaio. It has also been claimed that much of Heidegger's later philosophy, particularly the sacredness of Being, bears a distinct similarity to Taoist ideas. There are clear parallels between Heidegger and the work of Kyoto School, and ultimately, it may be read that Heidegger's philosophy is an attempt to 'turn eastwards' in response to the crisis in Western civilization. However, this is only an interpretation.
The 20th century Hindu guru Sri Aurobindo was influenced by German Idealism and his integral yoga is regarded as a synthesis of Eastern and Western thought. The German phenomenologist Jean Gebser's writings on the history of consciousness referred to a new planetary consciousness that would bridge this gap. Followers of these two authors are often grouped together under the term Integral thought.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was deeply influenced by the I Ching. The I Ching (Book of Changes) is an ancient Chinese text from the Shang Dynasty (Bronze Age 1700BC-1050BC), and uses a system of Yin and Yang, which it places into hexagrams for the purposes of divination. Carl Jung's idea of synchronicity moves towards an Oriental view of causality, as he states in the foreword to Richard Wilhelm's translation of the I Ching (Book of Changes). He explains that this Chinese view of the world is based not on science as the West knows it, but on chance.
East Asian philosophies
Neo-Confucianism is a later further development of Confucianism but also went much more differently from the origin of Confucianism. It started developing from the Song Dynasty and was nearly completed in late Ming Dynasty. Its root can be found as early as Tang Dynasty, often attributed to scholar Tang Xie Tian. It has a great influence on the countries of East Asia including China, Japan and Korea as well as Vietnam. Zhu Xi is considered as the biggest master of Song where Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming is the one of Ming's. But there are conflicts between Zhu's school and Wang's.
Taoism (or Daoism) is traditionally contrasted with Confucianism in China. Taoism's central books are the Dao De Jing (Tao-Te-Ching), traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the Nan Hua Jing (Zhuang Zi/Chuang Tzu).
Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a sophisticated form of animism that holds that spirits called kami inhabit all things. Worship is at public shrines or in small shrines constructed in one's home. According to Shinto practice, relationship with the kami that inhabit this world is foremost in a person's duties; the kami are to be respected so that they may return our respect. Shinto further holds that the "spirit" and "mundane" worlds are one and the same. Of all of the tenets of this philosophy, purity is the most highly stressed. Pure acts are those that promote or contribute to the harmony of the universe, and impure acts are those that are deleterious in this regard. As a faith, Shinto is heavily influenced by Chinese religions, notably Taoism and Buddhism.
Legalism advocated a strict interpretation of the law in every respect. No judgment calls. Morality was not important ; adherence to the letter of the law was paramount.
Maoism is a Communist philosophy based on the teachings of 20th century Communist Party of China revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. It is based partially on earlier theories by Marx and Lenin, but rejects the urban proletariat and Leninist emphasis on heavy industrialization in favor of a revolution supported by the peasantry, and a decentralized agrarian economy based on many collectively worked farms.
Juche, usually translated as "self-reliance", is the official political ideology of North Korea, described by the regime as Kim Il-Sung's "original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought". The idea states that an individual is "the master of his destiny" and that the North Korean masses are to act as the "masters of the revolution and construction".
Hinduism is the dominant religion, or way of life, in South Asia. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism among numerous other traditions, and a wide spectrum of laws and prescriptions of "daily morality" based on karma, dharma, and societal norms. Hinduism is a categorisation of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a rigid, common set of beliefs. Hinduism, with about one billion followers is the world's third largest religion, after Christianity and Islam.
Hinduism has been called the "oldest religion" in the world, and some practitioners refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, "the eternal law" or the "eternal way"; beyond human origins. Western scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no single founder. It prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, among others.
In the early medieval times, after the rise of Muslim powers, Hindu philosophy was classified by Hindu tradition into six āstika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक "orthodox") schools of thought, or darśanam (दर्शनम्, "view"), which accept the Vedas as authoritative texts, and four nāstika (नास्तिक "heterodox") schools which don't draw upon the Vedas as authoritative texts, and developed independent traditions of thought. Nevertheless, the various schools are in many ways related, and share various strands of though. The āstika schools are:
- Samkhya, an atheistic and strongly dualist theoretical exposition of consciousness and matter.
- Yoga, a school emphasising meditation, contemplation and liberation.
- Nyaya or logic, explores sources of knowledge. Nyāya Sūtras.
- Vaisheshika, an empiricist school of atomism
- Mīmāṃsā, an anti-ascetic and anti-mysticist school of orthopraxy
- Vedānta, the last segment of knowledge in the Vedas, or the 'Jnan' (knowledge) 'Kanda' (section). Vedanta came to be the dominant current of Hinduism in the post-medieval period.
The nāstika schools are (in chronological order):
- Cārvāka, a materialism school that accepted free will exists
- Ājīvika, a materialism school that denied free will exists
- Buddhism, based on the teachings and enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautama
- Jainism, based on the belief in ahimsa or non-violence towards all living beings
In Hindu history, the distinction of the six orthodox schools was current in the Gupta period "golden age" of Hinduism. With the disappearance of Vaisheshika and Mīmāṃsā, it became obsolete by the later Middle Ages, when the various sub-schools of Vedanta (Dvaita "dualism", Advaita Vedanta "non-dualism" and others) began to rise to prominence as the main divisions of religious philosophy. Nyaya survived into the 17th century as Navya Nyaya "Neo-Nyaya", while Samkhya gradually lost its status as an independent school, its tenets absorbed into Yoga and Vedanta.
Buddhism is a system of religious beliefs based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, one whose tenets are not especially concerned with the existence or non-existence of a God or gods. The Buddha himself expressly disavowed any special divine status or inspiration, and said that anyone, anywhere could achieve all the insight that he had. The question of God is largely irrelevant in Buddhism, though some sects (notably Tibetan Buddhism) do venerate a number of gods drawn in from local indigenous belief systems yet this practice has taken on different meanings and has become a skillful mean within the Tibetan Buddhist practice.
Buddhist philosophy has its foundations in the doctrines of:
- Anatta, which specifies that all is without substantial metaphysical identity
- Pratitya-samutpada, which delineates the Buddhist concept of causality
- Buddhist phenomenological analysis of dharmas, or phenomenological constituents
Most Buddhist sects believe in karma, a cause-and-effect relationship between all that has been done and all that will be done. Events that occur are held to be the direct result of previous events. One effect of karma is rebirth. At death, the karma from a given life determines the nature of the next life's existence. The ultimate goal of a Buddhist practitioner is to eliminate karma (both good and bad), end the cycle of rebirth and suffering, and attain Nirvana, usually translated as awakening or enlightenment.
- Simran and Sewa - These are the Foundation of Sikhism. It is the duty of every Sikh to practise Naam Simran (meditation on the Lord's name) daily and engage in Sewa (Selfless Service) whenever there is a possibility, in Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship), in community centres, old people's homes, care centres, major world disasters, etc. "Ek ong kar Satanam" and "Waheguru" are some mantras used for this purpose. "Ek ong kar Satanam" roughly translates to "there is one God un-separate from nature and truth is its name". "Waheguru" is used as a meditative practice on the Lord's name.
- The Three Pillars of Sikhism - Guru Nanak formalised these three important pillars of Sikhism.
- Naam Japna – A Sikh is to engage in a daily practise of meditation and Nitnem (a daily prayer routine) by reciting and chanting of God’s Name.
- Kirat Karni - To live honestly and earn by ones physical and mental effort while accepting Gods gifts and blessings. A Sikh has to live as a householders carrying out his or her duties and responsibilities to the full.
- Vand Chakna - Sikhs are asked to share their wealth within the community and outside by giving Dasvand and practising charity (Daan). To "Share and consume together".
- Kill the Five Thieves - The Sikh Gurus tell us that our mind and spirit are constantly being attacked by the Five Evils – Kam (Lust), Krodh (Rage), Lobh (Greed), Moh (Attachment) and Ahankar (Ego). A Sikh needs to constantly attack and overcome these five vices; be always vigilant and on guard to tackle these five thieves all the time.
- Positive Human Qualities - The Sikh Gurus taught the Sikhs to develop and harness positive human qualities that lead the soul closer to God and away from evil. These are Sat (Truth), Daya (Compassion), Santokh (Contentment), Nimrata (Humility) and Pyare (Love).
Jain philosophy deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India. It continues the ancient Śramaṇa tradition, which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, denial of creative and omnipotent God, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, accent on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of soul. Jain philosophy attempts to explain the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of bondage and the means to achieve liberation. It has often been described as an ascetic movement for its strong emphasis on self-control, austerities and renunciation. It has also been called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of the rival philosophies. Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal responsibility for one's decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one's liberation.
Throughout its history, the Jain philosophy remained unified and single, although as a religion, Jainism was divided into various sects and traditions. The contribution of Jain philosophy in developing the Indian philosophy has been significant. Jain philosophical concepts like Ahimsa, Karma, Moksa, Samsara and the like are common with other Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in various forms. While Jainism traces its philosophy from teachings of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, various Jain philosophers from Kundakunda and Umasvati in ancient times to Yaśovijaya Gaṇi in recent times have contributed greatly in developing and refining the Jain and Indian philosophical concepts.
Cārvāka, also frequently transliterated as Charvaka or Cārvāka, and also known as Lokayata or Lokyāta, was a materialist and atheist school of thought with ancient roots in India. It proposed a system of ethics based on rational thought. However, this school has been dead for more than a thousand years.
See also Ancient Iranian Philosophy
Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, which originated in Iran. It has a dualistic nature (Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu), with an additional series of six important divine entities called the Amesha Spentas. In modern Zoroastrianism they are interpreted as aspects or emanations of Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being), who form a heptad that is good and constructive. They are opposed to another group of seven who are evil and destructive. It is this persistent conflict between good and evil that distinguishes Zoroastrianism from monotheistic frameworks that have only one power as supreme. By requiring its adherents to have faith and belief in equally opposing powers Zoroastrianism characterizes itself as dualistic.
The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE. His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy. Zarathustra was the first who treated the problem of evil in philosophical terms. He is also believed to be one of the oldest monotheists in the history of religion. He espoused an ethical philosophy based on the primacy of good thoughts (pendar-e-nik), good words (goftar-e-nik), and good deeds (kerdar-e-nik).
The works of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on Greek philosophy and Roman philosophy. Several ancient Greek writers such as Eudoxus of Cnidus and Latin writers such as Pliny the Elder praised Zoroastrian philosophy as "the most famous and most useful". Plato learnt of Zoroastrian philosophy through Eudoxus and incorporated much of it into his own Platonic realism. In the 3rd century BC, however, Colotes accused Plato's The Republic of plagiarizing parts of Zoroaster's On Nature, such as the Myth of Er.
Manichaeism, founded by Mani, was influential from North Africa in the West, to China in the East. Its influence subtly continues in Western Christian thought via Saint Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from Manichaeism, which he passionately denounced in his writings, and whose writings continue to be influential among Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox theologians. An important principle of Manichaeism was its dualistic nature.
The religious and philosophical teaching called Mazdakism, which its founder, Mazdak, regarded as a reformed and purified version of Zoroastrianism displays remarkable influences from Manichaeism as well.
Zurvanism is characterized by the element of its first principle, which is time (Zurvan), as a primordial creator. According to Zaehner, Zurvanism appears to have three schools of thought, all with classical Zurvanism as a foundation: aesthetic, materialist, and fatalistic.
Aesthetic Zurvanism—apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind—viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated time, which, under the influence of desire, divided reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).
Fatalistic Zurvanism resulted from the doctrine of limited time with the implication that nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe and that the path of the astral bodies of the 'heavenly sphere' was representative of this preordained course. According to the Middle Persian work Menog-i Khrad: "Ohrmazd allotted happiness to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these planets."
The Philosophy of Illumination founded by Sohrevardi argued that light operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality. Light produces immaterial and substantial lights, including immaterial intellects, human and animal souls and even 'dusky substances', such as bodies. Sohrevardi's works display extensive developments on the basis of Zoroastrian ideas and ancient Iranian thought.
Israelite/Hebrew and diaspora Jewish philosophy
- Further information: Babylonian literature: Philosophy
The origins of Babylonian philosophy, in the popular sense of the word, can be traced back to the wisdom of early Mesopotamia, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. The reasoning and rationality of the Babylonians developed beyond empirical observation.
It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek philosophy, and later Hellenistic philosophy, however the textual evidence is lacking. The undated Babylonian text Dialog of Pessimism contains similarities to the agnostic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates and Plato. The Milesian philosopher Thales is also said to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.
The rise of Islam and the influence of classical Greek thought, especially Aristotle, led to the emergence of various philosophical schools of thought. Amongst them Sufism established esoteric philosophy, Mu'tazili (partly influenced by Hellenistic philosophy) reconstructed rationalism, while Ash'ari reshaped logical and rational interpretation of God, justice, destiny and the universe.
Early Islamic philosophy was influenced by (ancient) Greek philosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Judaism, Christianity and Indian philosophy, and in turn, Islamic philosophy had a strong influence on (medieval) Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy/Western philosophy, Iranian philosophy and Indian philosophy, hence many consider Islamic philosophy to be both an Eastern philosophy and a Western philosophy.
Al-Mu'tazilah (المعتزلة) or Mu'tazilite is a popular theological school of philosophy during early Islam. They called themselves Ahl al-'Adl wa al-Tawhid ("People of Justice and Monotheism"). They ascended dramatically during 8th and 9th century due to the support of intellectuals and elites. Later in the 13th century, they lost official support in favour of the rising Ash'ari school. Most of their valuable works were destroyed during the Crusades and Mongol invasion.
It is said that other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle's concept of place (topos); Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Avicenna, a critic of Aristotelian logic; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, considered the father of the philosophy of history and sociology and a pioneer of social philosophy. However, not very much credible evidence to support such claims is forthcoming, at least in the field of Arabic-English translation methodology, with regards to the exact sciences of semantics and hermeneutics.
Sufism (تصوف taṣawwuf) is a school of esoteric philosophy in Islam, which is based on the pursuit of spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. To attain this supreme truth, Sufism has marked Lataif-e-Sitta (the six subtleties), Nafs, Qalb, Sirr, Ruh (spirit), Khafi and Akhfa. Apart from conventional religious practices, they also perform Muraqaba (meditation), Dhikr (Zikr or recitation), Chillakashi (asceticism) and Sama (esoteric music and dance).
- Babylonian literature: Philosophy
- Indian philosophy
- Chinese philosophy
- Iranian philosophy
- Jewish philosophy
- Islamic philosophy
- Japanese philosophy
- Korean philosophy
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- Narayanan, Vasudha (2009), Hinduism, The Rosen Publishing Group
- Nath, Vijay (March–April 2001), "From 'Brahmanism' to 'Hinduism': Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition", Social Scientist: 19–50, doi:10.2307/3518337, JSTOR 3518337
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- Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press
- Jim Fieser: Intro to Eastern Philosophy
- atmajyoti.org Articles and commentaries on a wide range of topics related to practical Eastern Philosophy
- Kheper Website: Eastern Philosophy