Philosophies of the Eastern world

The Eastern hemisphere of the world harboring more than half of the worlds population, is rich with its history of culture, heritage, religion and philosophies. The Eastern way of life is closely welded with religious and philosophical teachings, which pertains to how the morality and well being of life is to be achieved. Eastern philosophies are so widespread and inculcated in these societies that they are in fact adopted and practiced as religions. Of such philosophies, most wide spread are the Buddhism,  Jainism,  Hinduism,  Confucianism,  Taoism  and  the Shintoism. While Buddhism,  Jainism  and  Hinduism are  mainly  practiced  in  the  Indian  subcontinent, Confucianism,  Taoism  and  the  Shintoism  are practiced in China and Japan. Hinduism is one of the most ancient philosophies, which is still strongly practiced in the Indian subcontinent, and followed by over 700 million people. One of the main differences  between  Hinduism  and  other  philosophies of  the  world  is  that the  belief  that  people  are not  created  equal.

  Most  Hindus  believe  that  man  was  created  by  the  Great  one-Brahman,  and  that  the  people who  sprung  from  the  Great  one’s  head  are  higher  than  the  people  who  were  created  of  the  lower  extremities.  Also underlying this religious philosophy  is  the  belief  of  karma  and  reincarnation  (rebirth).  It  is  the  aggregate  of  the  good  or  bad  karma  that one has  amassed  that  decides  the  next “bhava”  that one get  to  be  reborn  in. The  Hindu  religion  is  mainly  polytheistic  which  means  that  the  followers  of   Hinduism  believe  that  there  are  many  Gods  (nearly 33,000,000 different  Gods)    as  opposed  to  the  omnipresent,  omnipotent One  God.

In contrast  to  Hinduism, which  emphasizes  the  importance  of  God or  Gods, the  Buddhist  philosophy founded by Lord Buddha in the 500 B.C. gives  main  importance  to  the individual and the discipline  of  the mind.  Buddhist philosophy is based on the  rejection  of  all  that  is  bad (which  stems  from  greed, anger  and  ignorance); and  the  embracing  of generosity,  knowledge  and  the  total discipline  of  actions,  words  and  thoughts  which is the path to ultimate  release  of  all  that  is  suffering.   The  failure  to  achieve  this  leads  to  the  rebirth  of  the  soul  (comparable to  the  same  theory  in  Hinduism)  over  and  over again  in  the  cycle  of “Samsara”.  This  ultimate  state  of  release  is  known  as “Nirvana”.  In  Japan  philosophy of Shintoism is widespred, where the followers  are  dearly  in  love  with  nature. The  force  that  they  worship  is  called  the  Kami;  which  is  manifested  in  topographical  features  of  nature  such  as  mountains,  streams,  trees,  stones,  springs,  caves  and  so  forth. Followers of this philosophy in the past, believed  that  the emperor  of  Japan  is  directly  related  to  the  Sun Goddess Ameraterasu-Omi-Kami  and  is  given  the  title  Mikado (Joseph  Gaer 1954).  Shinto  focuses  on the  main  values  of  purity,  devotion  to  nature  and  sincerity and blends  a  high  degree of  nationalism  with  religious  philosophy. The focus is more on the current life and how to harmonize the life with nature to achieve peace and well being.

From the three philosophies considered, Buddhism can be considered the most persuasive in terms of its teaching. It promoted space  for  personal  growth  and  spiritual  upliftment  through  understanding  the  world  and  self. Buddhism is not a strictly adhering code of practice but a way of life to be adopted on a persons own free will and be inculcated within ones spiritual being. Buddhism teaches kindness, and compassion and this is of great importance for living in harmony with others. Buddhism does not promote blind faith and Buddha has stressed the need for individuals to understand and analyze the philosophy and see its truth before adopting it. Unlike the other two philosophies discussed, there  is  no  ambiguity  involved  in  the  teachings  of  Lord  Buddha and it does not breakdown in the face of new scientific knowledge. Rather the new scientific breakthroughs can be used to explain some of the teachings, which seemed far-fetched to understand in past centuries. It would be difficult for today’s modern persons to accept that different body parts can give birth to persons, as in the case of “Maha Brahma” of Hinduism, unless you resort to blind faith. In the same manner, today’s modern society in Japan no longer accept that their emperor is a deity related to the Sun Goddess. Buddhist philosophy breeds  inner  strength  to  face crisis  without  having  to  depend  on  anyone  but  oneself. Self-discipline,  an  integral  part  of  the  Buddhist  philosophy,  lets individuals mould  themselves  into  the  best  that they can  be  in terms of thought,  speech  and  actions. Buddhists believe that all are created equal and what set a person apart are his or her thoughts and actions. Buddhism should not be seen as a fatalistic philosophy where life takes place as per Karma, but rather that ones destiny is in ones own hand, through ones own actions and thoughts.

In conclusion, it should be noted that while Buddhism can be considered most persuasive it its teaching, other philosophies hold its own appeal, specially in countries where its wide spread. Religious philosophies  aim to provide explanations of problems faced by human lives and people hope for relief from these problems though adhering to the teachings. In Japan,  where  most  of   the  serious  national  tragedies  occur  due  to  nature (earthquakes  and  Tsunamis)  it  makes  sense  to  worship  the  nature. In  India  where there  are  too  many  people  to  be supported through the limited resources, and no  way  of  distributing  resources equally, there  is  a  need  for  a  system  of  segregation  so  that  need  was  also  in cooperated  into  the  religious  thinking. Buddhism  concentrates  on  the  personal  tragedies  that  befalls  all of  us  at  all  times  of  our  lives  and  shows  us  a  way  to  get  out  of  this  painful  existence.

Reference:

Gaer, J. 1954, How the Great Religions Began, The New American Library of World Literature Inc., New York.

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