Eastern Philosophy 101

By Edward Carr

Eastern Philosophies such as Buddhism and Taoism and Hindu have much to offer the west even though their way of perceiving the world and the Universe is completely different from western philosophy and thought. Western thought is full of dualism and dichotomies, but eastern thought and philosophy is based on the principle of oneness.

Western Philosophy traces its origins back to the Greeks, specifically Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Socrates often said that he did not really know anything, so he always asked questions to find truth. Socrates wrote nothing down, his student Plato wrote about Socrates and Plato also wrote his own thinking. Plato was an Essentialist, which basically means that he believed all knowledge resided inside his own being, in his soul if you will. For example, Plate believed that if you wanted to change your own tire on the highway and you did not know how, that by asking certain questions inside your own self like what do I need to get the car off the ground to change the tire, you would quickly determine that you need a lever of some point and thus a car jack. Plato also wrote about morality and knowledge.

Plato, in writing about Atlantis believed that with philosophy should come a certain morality. Plato’s moral tale of Atlantis, a culture with much technological know how that turned to decadence and was destroyed by the gods and their wrath for being so decadent is still popular in religious right thinking still to this day. As a matter of fact, Western Philosophy traces much of its origin to Church philosophers of the Medieval time period such as Saint Augustine, who derived much of his thinking from Plato. The Church borrowed much from the Greeks and incorporated their thinking into the Medieval Church and their thinking is still very much alive in religious right thinking today in America. The dichotomies of good versus evil and free will versus God’s Will and God on the outside or in Heaven while one exists separate from God is all in Western thought and philosophy.

Another contrasting school of thought to Plato’s Essentialism is the philosophy of existentialism, which is also Western in thought and was born out of the crisis of World war Two and the Holocaust. After the aftermath of those two horrific tragedies, many Atheists were born and threw out Plato’s Essentialism and the philosophy of Existentialism was born. Existentialism holds some precepts in that one: life is essentially meaningless and the only meaning it has is that which the person ascribes to his or her own life; two: we are all mortal and death always stares us in the face driving us to to do what we must do before we die; three: one always finds himself or herself alone in the world with his or her own thoughts and feelings and there is a form of isolation from others. There is a fourth powerful precept but this author cannot recall what it is. Existentialism is exactly the opposite to Plato’s Essentialism in the West.

Eastern Philosophies however, are a great alternative to Western Philosophy and thought as well as Existentialism. Eastern Philosophies basing their birth in Buddhism, Taoism, and Hindu hold that everything is One. Oneness is the driving principle in Eastern Philosophy. There is no God separate from human or animal existence. True their is a Higher Power, God with different names than “God” or Buddha or the Tao, but in eastern philosophy you are a part of a cosmic whole. In other words you are a part of God or you are Tao or you are a little Buddha with a small mind while the cosmic whole is Big Mind. Eastern Philosophies do have differences, even in the different schools of similar thought like schools of Taoism and Buddhism.

One common thing in Eastern Philosophies along with the concept of Oneness which can be translated into “where do you let off and the Universe begin?” is the concept of energy. Taoists call it chi, hippies call it energy and vibrations, Hindus believe in Chakras which are powerful seats of energy within the human body. Taoists believe the same thing and believe that energy is neutral and that it flows through everyone and everything. This correlates very well with Western scientific thought in that Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, that it just changes shape and form. Common to western thought is the belief that humans are not perfect and God is. Humans in this way of thinking have faults and imperfections or character defects or flaws. Eastern philosophies do believe the same thing to an extent.

Certain parts of a persons character can be harmful to self and these need to be worked against, such as laziness for an example. However, other “flaws” are simply both assets and defects at the same time. For example, what a western thinker might call lust, an eastern philosopher might say that all marriage begins with lust. Also a perfectionist for example might have difficulty allowing himself or herself too make mistakes which can hinder one’s personal as one learns from making mistakes, but perfectionism can also be an asset in the workplace or as an artist or writer. So from eastern philosophy point of view assets and flaws can be simply the same thing it only matters how they are addressed and applied in one’s daily life. Similarly contrasting to western belief in free will is the eastern philosophical view of Will. The west sees that we are all individuals which is really an ego that says “I” and “I” have choice and free will. Eastern philosophies hold that the ego serves as a division between yourself and the Universe or Tao or the Nameless One or Big Mind. In this way of thinking there really is no free will their is simply Will. You are Tao or small mind or a part of the Universe and what you do is simply a further extension of Universal Will.

To sum up, eastern philosophy and thought is drastically different from Western thought which is full of dualism and dichotomies. Eastern philosophies hold to the principle of Cosmic Oneness with the Universe and derive their way of thinking from certain religious and spiritual traditions such as Taoism, Buddhism and Hindu much like the west derives its way of thinking from Christianity and Judaism. Eastern philosophies also see the ego as a division between a self that thinks it exists apart from the Whole while western thinking holds that self is all there is. Eastern philosophies hold that the Universe or “God” IS while western philosophies see that individuals exist apart from a God who lives in a Heaven.

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