Eastern philosophy

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Eastern philosophy refers very broadly to the various philosophies of India, China, Japan, Korea,and, to some extent, of Iran (Persia).

The usefulness of dividing philosophy into Western philosophy and other philosophies, in contrast to the notion that philosophy is universal rather than divided, is open to challenge, partly because it could appear to be condescending to non-Western philosophies. To say this is not to deny that there are important traditions in philosophy that are intimately bound up with historical and geographical circumstances. At the same time however, there are examples of philosophers who are persecuted by the majority in their geographical circumstances and stand against the common opinions and practices of their specific time and place. Many claim that geographical and time notions of "Western" and "Eastern" philosophy is too vague and imprecise, committing the fallacy of overgeneralization.

When the term "philosophy" is used in an academic context, it typically refers to the philosophical tradition begun with the ancient Greeks that provided us with an abundance of manuscripts and archeological sites to study and research. The "Eastern philosophical" manuscripts and archeological sites are often overlooked in many North American and European universities, just as ancient "Western" and monotheistic claims are also overlooked in the last few decades, unlike in the early 1900s.

Major philosophical and religious traditions

The following is an overview of the Eastern philosophic traditions listed in alphabetical order. Each tradition has a separate article with more detail on sects, schools, etc. (c.f.)rencyism


Buddhism is a system of beliefs based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince later known as the Buddha, or one who is Awake - derived from the Sanskrit 'bud', 'to awaken'. 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.

The Buddhist soteriology is summed up in the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Dukkha: All worldly life is unsatisfactory, disjointed, containing suffering.
  2. Samudaya: There is a cause of suffering, which is attachment or desire (tanha) rooted in ignorance.
  3. Nirodha: There is an end of suffering, which is Nirvana.
  4. Marga: There is a path that leads out of suffering, known as the Noble Eightfold Path.

However, Buddhist philosophy as such has its foundations more in the doctrines of:

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.

See also: Buddhism

Chan/Zen Buddhism

Chan (Chinese) or Zen (Japanese) is a fusion of the Dhyana school of Mahayana Buddhism with Taoist principles. Bodhidharma was a semi-legendary Indian monk who traveled to China in the 5th century. There, at the Shaolin Temple, he began the Ch'an school of Buddhism, known in Japan and in the West as Zen Buddhism. Zen philosophy places emphasis on existing in the moment, right now. Zen teaches that the entire universe is a manifestation of mind, and encourages the practitioner to confirm this for themselves through direct insight satori. Zen schools have been historically divided between those which encourage the pursuit of enlightenment as a sudden event (Rinzai), or as a fruit of "gradual cultivation" (Soto).

Zen practitioners engage in zazen (sitting) meditation, as other schools do, but Zen is noted for shikantaza (just sitting) as opposed to following the breath or mantra use. The Rinzai school is noteworthy for the use of koans, riddles designed to force the student to abandon futile attempts to understand the nature of the universe through logic.

See also: Chinese BuddhismBuddhism in Japan & Korean Buddhism


Carvaka, 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.


Confucianism(儒学), developed around the teachings of Confucius(孔子) and is based on a set of Chinese classic texts. It was the mainstream ideology in China and the Sinosphere since the Han Dynasty and may still be considered a major underlying element of Far-East culture. It could be understood as a social ethic and humanist system focusing on human beings and their relationships. Confucianism emphasizes formal rituals in every aspect of life, from quasi-religious ceremonies to strict politeness and deference to one's elders, specifically to one's parents and to the state in the form of the Emperor.


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. It has a great influence on the East Asia including such as China, Japan and Korea. Zhu Xi is considered as the biggest master of Song Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming is the one of Ming's. But there are conflicts between Zhu's school and Wang's.


Taoism is the traditional foil of Confucianism in China. Taoism's central books are the Dao De Jing (Tao-Te-Ching), traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu). The core concepts of Taoism are rooted in prehistoric Chinese mysticism, and linked also with the Book of Changes (Yi Jing or I Ching), a divinatory set of 64 geometrical figures describing states and evolutions of the world. Taoism suggests that we can best harmonize with the natural flow of life by being quiet, receptive and humble. It encourages us to experience the transcendent unity of all things. It is concerned with direct experience of the universe, accepting and cooperating with things as they are rather than with setting standards of morality. Flowing water is a daoist model for being in the world.

Ancient Egyptian Religion

The ancient Egyptian religion, embodied in Egyptian mythology, is a succession of beliefs held by the people of Egypt, as early as predynastic times and all the way until the coming of Christianity and Islam in the Græco-Roman and Arab eras. These were conducted by Egyptian priests or magicians. Every animal portrayed and worshipped in ancient Egyptian art, writing and religion is indigenous to Africa, all the way from the predynastic until the Graeco-Roman eras, over 3000 years. The Dromedary, domesticated first in Arabia, first appears in Egypt (and North Africa) beginning in the 2nd millennium BC. The temple was a sacred place where only priests and priestesses were allowed. On special occasions people were allowed into the temple courtyard.


Hinduism Sanātana Dharma, roughly Perennial Faith) is generally considered to be the oldest major world religion World Faiths - Hinduism and first among Dharma faiths. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in ancient Vedic culture at least as far back as 3000 BC. It is the third largest religion with approximately 1.05 billion followers worldwide, 96% of whom live in the Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism rests on the spiritual bedrock of the Vedas, hence Veda Dharma, and their mystic issue, the Upanishads, as well as the teachings of many great Hindu gurus through the ages. Many streams of thought flow from the six Vedic/Hindu schools, Bhakti sects and Tantra Agamic schools into the one ocean of Hinduism, the first of the Dharma religions. Also, the sacred book Bhagavad Gita is one of the most revered texts among Hindus.

What can be said to be common to all Hindus is belief in Dharma, reincarnation, karma, and moksha (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas. Still more fundamental principles include ahimsa (non-violence), the primacy of the Guru, the Divine Word of Aum and the power of mantras, love of Truth in many manifestations as gods and goddesses, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine (Atman/Brahman) is in every human and living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Truth.

See Also: Hinduism -- Hindu scripture -- Samkhya -- Yoga -- Nyaya -- Vaisesika -- Vedanta -- Bhakti -- Carvaka -- Indian logic

Islamic philosophy

The rise of Islam led to emergence of various philosophical schools of thought. Amongst them sufism established esoteric philosophy, mu'tazilah (inspired from Greek Philosophy) reconstructed rationalism while asharites cast significant impact on the non-reliability of reason and reshaped logical and rational interpretation of God, justice, destiny and universe.

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. In order 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).

al-mu'tazilah (المعتزلة) or Mu'tazilite is another controversial theological school of philosophy in early Islam. They called themselves Ahl al-'Adl wa al-Tawhid ("People of Justice and Monotheism"). They were the first who advocated free will and expanded the (western) rationalism in Islamic society. They also developed Kalam based on Greek dialectic. They ascended dramatically during 8th and 9th century due to support of intellectual and elites, but could not appeal to the masses. Later in the 13th century, they lost official support and most of their valuable works were destroyed.

See Also: SufismSufi philosophyMu'tazilahAsharite


Jainism was founded by Mahavira, a teacher and religious leader who lived around the same time as the Buddha. The word Jaina comes from the title Jina, or victorious one, referring to those who have achieved victory over their own passions. Jainism teaches asceticism - acts of self-discipline, self-deprivation, and self-denial - as the way to enlightenment. The original Jains were among the world's first monks, retreating from ordinary life to devote themselves to fasting and meditation. The Jain population is concentrated in India and has crossed 10 million. Jains are among the most prosperous of business communities in India.

Jewish philosophy

Jewish philosophy is continually shaped by the Torah, Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalistic traditions. Much of philosophy (Hashkafa) is also considered in reference to mussar: self-improvement and education to attain a higher purpose - to become close to the Creator. Luzzato, M.Ch. פרק א מסילת ישרים Philosophical discussions in the Talmud usually center around legal issues, and the legal implications of having a particular philosophy. Midrash and Kabbalah follow a more overarching philosophical style which deal with issues such as ein sof - without end. The main feature is that the Eternal Creator is a given and is One and unique. Rambam (Maimonides) in is classic: Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed), clarifies this principal in Greco terms.


Legalism advocated a strict interpretation of the law in every respect. Morality was not important; adherence to the letter of the law was paramount. Officials who exceeded expectations were as liable for punishment as were those who underperformed their duties, since both were not adhering exactly to their duties. Legalism was the principal philosophic basis of the Qin Dynasty in China. Confucian scholars were persecuted under Legalist rule. Some claim that the party of the Pharisees, in Israel conveyed some of type of monotheisitic legalism.


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.

Many people believe that though the implementation of Maoism in Mainland China led to the victory of communist revolution, it also contributed to the widespread famine, with millions of people starving to death. Chinese Communist leader Deng Xiaoping reinterpreted Maoism to allow for the introduction of market economics, which eventually enabled the country to recover. As a philosophy, Deng's chief contribution was to reject the supremacy of theory in interpreting Marxism and to argue for a policy of seeking truth from facts.

Despite this, Maoism has remained a popular ideology for various Communist revolutionary groups around the world, notably the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, Sendero Luminoso in Peru, and an ongoing (as of early 2005) Maoist insurrection in Nepal.


Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a sophisticated form of animism which 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 in order 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 which are deleterious in this regard. As a faith, Shinto bears heavy influences from Chinese philosophies, notably Taoism and Buddhism.


  • 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 centre; old people's homes; care centres; major world disasters, etc
  • 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: - The 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 which lead the soul closer to God and away from evil. These are: Sat (Truth); Daya (Compassion); Santokh (Contentment); Nimrata (Humility); and Pyare (Love).

See also sikhnet.com

  • Sikhism - Brief account of this religion.

Zoroastrianism and Dualism

Zoroastrianism is the earliest known monotheistic religion, which originated in Iran. Zoroastrianism has a dualistic nature (Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu), with an additional series of six important angel-like 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.

Zoroastrianism may also be known as Mazdayasna ("Worship of Wisdom") by some of its followers after the Zoroastrian name of God, Ahura Mazda ("Divine Wisdom"). A modern Persian form is Behdin ("Good Religion/Law," see below for the role of daena Law). Zoroastrians may refer to themselves as Zartoshti ("Zoroastrians"), Mazdayasni ("Wisdom-Worshippers") and Behdini ("Followers of the Good Religion"), and Zarathustrian.

  1. Rencyism: delpina...The latest known religion in the world....stunaa.. more popularly known as Gogilba... deppa... kaptlaa....

See also: Manichaeism, Mazdakism & Persian philosophy

Arguments against the classification "Eastern philosophy"

Many have argued that the distinction between Eastern and Western schools of philosophy is arbitrary and purely geographic and to certain extent, Eurocentric. It crosses over three distinct philosophical traditions, Indian, Chinese and Persian philosophy which are as distinct from each other as they are from Western philosophy. It could be argued that the idea of some distinct "Eastern" philosophy as opposed to Western Philosophy is simplistic to the point of absurd inaccuracy. It may for example make more sense to include Islamic philosophy within the western tradition, as it is heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. This artificial distinction does not take into account the tremendous amount of interaction within Eurasian philosophical tradition, and that the distinction is more misleading than enlightening.

For example, Indian and Western schools of thought, with their robust mind-body conceptual dualism, share consequent tendencies to subjective idealism or dualism. Formally, they share the rudiments of Western "folk psychology": a sentential psychology and semantics, for example, belief and (propositional) knowledge, subject-predicate grammar (and subject-object metaphysics) truth and falsity, and inference. These concepts underwrote the emergence (or perhaps spread) of logic in Greece and India (In contrast to pre-Buddhist China). Other noticeable similarities include structural features of related concepts of time, space, objecthood and causation—all concepts hard to isolate within ancient Chinese conceptual space. It has also been suggested that the ancient Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Heraclitus were both influenced by ideas that originated in China.

The perception of God and the gods

Because of its origin from within the Abrahamic religions, Western philosophies have formulated questions on the nature of God and His relationship to the universe based on Monotheistic framework within which it emerged. This has created a dichotomy among Western philosophies between secular philosophies and religious philosophies which develop within the context of a particular monotheistic religion's dogma, especially Protestant Christianity, regarding the nature of God and the universe.

Eastern philosophies have not 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 metaphysical tenets of Buddhism without going to a temple and worshipping. Some have worshipped the Taoist deities religiously without bothering to delve into the philosophic underpinnings, while others embrace Taoist philosophy while ignoring the religious aspects. On the other hand, the followers of Hare Krishna sect in western countries give more emphasis to meditation and yoga and tend to ignore other traditional Hindu rituals.

This arrangement stands in marked contrast to most philosophy of 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 religion by philosophy (for example, Nietzsche, Marx, Voltaire, etc.).

Gods' relationship with the universe

Another common thread that often differentiates Eastern philosophy from Western is the belief regarding the relationship between God or the gods and the universe. Western philosophies typically either disavow the existence of God, or else hold that God or the gods are something separate and distinct from the universe. The obvious exception here is the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods and goddesses during ancient times, which is very distinct from the influence of the Abrahamic religions, which teach that this universe was created by a single all-powerful God who existed before and only partially separately from this universe. Some aspects of the true nature and properties of this God would be incomprehensible to us as creations.

Eastern philosophic traditions generally tend to be less concerned with the existence or non-existence of God or gods. Although some Eastern traditions have supernatural spiritual beings and even powerful gods, these are generally not seen as separate from the universe, but rather as a part of the universe, just as Greek and Roman supernatural beings. Conversely, most Eastern religions teach that ordinary actions can affect the supernatural realm.

The role and nature of the individual

It has been argued that in most Western philosophies, the same can be said of the individual: Many Western philosophers generally assume as a given that the individual is something distinct from the entire universe, and many Western philosophers attempt to describe and categorize the universe from a detached, objective viewpoint. Eastern philosophers, on the other hand, typically hold that people are an intrinsic and inseparable part of the universe, and that attempts to discuss the universe from an objective viewpoint as though the individual speaking was something separate and detached from the whole are inherently absurd.

Syntheses of Eastern and Western philosophy

There have been many modern attempts to integrate Western and Eastern philosophical traditions.

German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was very interested in Taoism. His system of dialectics is sometimes interpreted as a formalization of Taoist principles, but it also has similarities to the dialectical method used by Socrates as described by Plato.

Hegel's rival 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. It may even be that Heidegger's philosophy might be read ultimately as an attempt to 'turn eastwards' in response to the crisis in Western civilisation. This however is only an interpretation. There are clear parallels between Heidegger and the work of Kyoto School.

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'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.

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