Understanding Eastern Philosophy

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A circle allows us to visualise going backwards or forwards for ever, at no point coming up against an ultimate beginning or end. Thinking of time cyclically especially made sense in premodern societies, where there were few innovations across generations and people lived very similar lives to those of their grandparents, their great-grandparents and going back many generations.

Without change, progress was unimaginable.

Differences from Western Philosophy

Meaning could therefore only be found in embracing the cycle of life and death and playing your part in it as best you could. Perhaps this is why cyclical time appears to have been the human default. The Mayans, Incans and Hopi all viewed time in this way. Many non-western traditions contain elements of cyclical thinking about time, perhaps most evident in classical Indian philosophy.

Vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession. How born? O sages, who discerns? They bear themselves all that has existence. Day and night revolve as on a wheel. East Asian philosophy is deeply rooted in the cycle of the seasons, part of a larger cycle of existence. This is particularly evident in Taoism, and is vividly illustrated by the surprising cheerfulness of the 4th century BC Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi when everyone thought he should have been mourning for his wife.

At first, he explained, he was as miserable as anyone else. The qi changed and there was form. The form changed and she had life. Today there was another change and she died. In Chinese thought, wisdom and truth are timeless, and we do not need to go forward to learn, only to hold on to what we already have.

It was to prevent what had previously been known from being lost. A hybrid of cyclical and linear time operates in strands of Islamic thought. T he distinction between linear and cyclical time is therefore not always neat. The reality is more complicated. Take Indigenous Australian philosophies. There is no single Australian first people with a shared culture, but there are enough similarities across the country for some tentative generalisations to be made about ideas that are common or dominant. The late anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis suggested that time in Indigenous Australian culture is neither cyclical nor linear; instead, it resembles the space-time of modern physics.

More important than the distinction between linear or cyclical time is whether time is separated from or intimately connected to place. Take, for example, how we conceive of death. In the contemporary west, death is primarily seen as the expiration of the individual, with the body as the locus, and the location of that body irrelevant. Such a way of thinking is especially alien to the modern west, where a pursuit of objectivity systematically downplays the particular, the specifically located.

That word related is important. Time and space have become theoretical abstractions in modern physics, but in human culture they are concrete realities. Nothing exists purely as a point on a map or a moment in time: everything stands in relation to everything else. So to understand time and space in oral philosophical traditions, we have to see them less as abstract concepts in metaphysical theories and more as living conceptions, part and parcel of a broader way of understanding the world, one that is rooted in relatedness.

He sees this as a form of spirituality. 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. Some have claimed that there is also a definite eastern element within Heidegger 's philosophy.

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.


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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. It 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.

Some Western thinkers claim that philosophy as such is only characteristic of Western cultures. The German philosopher Martin Heidegger is even reported to have said that only Greek and German languages are suitable for philosophizing. 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.

Release from Rebirth

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 by Nishi Amane for describing Western philosophy as opposed to traditional Asian thought.

According to the British philosopher Victoria S. Harrison, the category of "Eastern philosophy", and similarly "Asian philosophy" and "Oriental philosophy" is a product of 19th-century Western scholarship and did not exist in East Asia or India. This is because in Asia there is no single unified philosophical tradition with a single root, but various autochthonous traditions which have come into contact with each other over time.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For the album by Apathy, see Eastern Philosophy album. Aryadeva and Nagarjuna Adi Shankara.

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Laozi and Confucius. Yi Hwang Yi I. Main article: Indian philosophy. Further information: Hinduism and Hindu philosophy. Main articles: Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist ethics. Play media. Main article: Sikh religious philosophy. Main articles: Chinese philosophy , Japanese philosophy , and Korean philosophy. Main article: Confucianism. Main article: Taoist philosophy. Main article: Juche. This section needs additional citations for verification.

Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Over many centuries a fusion of Aryan and Dravidian occurred, a complex process that historians have labeled the Indo-Aryan synthesis. Guseva p. The pew foundation. Retrieved 31 March Perrett Indian Philosophy: Metaphysics.

Sharma Indian Ethics: Classical traditions and contemporary challenges. Harvard University Press. On Hinduism. Oxford University Press. Aachen: Shaker.


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    About time: why western philosophy can only teach us so much

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