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