Eastern & Asian philosophy. READ: the text below
Podcasts: Eastern philosophy 1, Eastern philosophy 2
1. Who said “You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?”
2. What does "Tao" mean?
3. Which 'ism says "soul" is like a drop of water in a stream?
4. What is the first "noble truth" of Buddhism?
5. What leads to the end of suffering, in Buddhism?
6. Nishida Kitaro insisted on the philosophical starting point of experience, a priority he shared with American philosopher _____.
Other QQs, posted in comments?
1. Is it possible to harmonize with nature and one's own nature, in a disharmonious society? Is society necessarily harmful? Could you live a good life independently from governments, institutions, laws, and other people?
2. Do you possess "filial piety," automatically respecting your elders as esteemed and experienced authority figures? Or do you agree with Henry David Thoreau's youthful statement that he'd never received a single useful word of advice from an older person?
3. How do you think of "soul"? Is it something IN you, is it something that marks your distinct individuality or does it transcend separateness? Is it mortal or immortal, finite or infinite? Or is it just a word that names a quality of spirit or personality but that does not survive embodied existence?
4. Is it possible for a person to become "enlightened" through a process of meditation and ritual? How do you know when you've become enlightenend? What's the point of enlightenment?
An old post from Jan.2010-
We’re talking about classic Chinese philosophers in Intro today,Confucius (the sage, not the biopic that bumped Avatar), Lao Tzu and many others whose names can be harder than Greeks’ to keep straight.
But The Tao of Pooh should be simple enough…
Owl of course is the opposite of Pooh, the Knowledge for the sake of Appearing Wise, the one who studies Knowledge for the sake of Knowledge, and who keeps what he learns to himself or to his own small group, rather than working for the enlightenment of others. That way, the scholars can appear Superior, and will not likely be suspected of Not Knowing Something. After all, from the scholarly point of view, it’s practically a crime not to know everything. But sometimes the knowledge of the scholar is a bit hard to understand because it doesn’t seem to match up with our own experience of things. Isn’t the knowledge that comes from experience more valuable than the knowledge that doesn’t?
Oh, yes. Ask any pragmatist. Or ask Bob Solomon: For the Confucian, the personal is the social. For the Taoist, the personal is the relation to nature. For both, the goal is harmony in human life and a larger sense of the “person” than the mere individual.Experience preferred.
Or ask Simon Critchley, who reports this Socratic jab from Confucius (aka Kongzi): “You do not understand even life. How can you understand death?” His rival Lao Tzu thought he understood his body to be the source of all his suffering. That’s blaming the victim, if you ask me. Both are now asteroids, nominally at least. Presumably their suffering (and understanding) is no more. Same for Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi), who– like Freddie the Leaf— saw death as “just like the progression of the four seasons.”
“We all fear what we don’t know, Freddie. It’s natural,” Daniel reassured him. “Yet, you were not afraid when Summer became Fall. They were natural changes. Why should you be afraid of the season of death?”
“Does the tree die, too?” Freddie asked.
“Someday. But there is something stronger than the tree. It is Life. That lasts forever and we are all a part of Life.”
“Where will we go when we die?”
“No one knows for sure. That’s the great mystery!”
“Will we return in the Spring?”
“We may not, but Life will.”
“Then what has been the reason for all of this?” Freddie continued to question. “Why were we here at all if we only have to fall and die?”
Daniel answered in his matter-of-fact way, “It’s been about the sun and the moon. It’s been about happy times together. It’s been about the shade and the old people and the children. It’s been about colors in Fall. It’s been about seasons. Isn’t that enough?“
The Japanese Zen monk haiku masters (like Mabutsu) would say it is, if they said anything propositional at all. You never know just when the bottom will fall out. So true.
It was enough for Walt Whitman, too, who sang of “the beautiful uncut hair of graves” and would not be “contain’d between my hat and boots.”
Pooh, for a bear of very little brain, has sure made his mark amongst academics and intellectuals. In Pooh and the PhilosophersJohn Williams says Whitehead got it wrong: all those post-Platonists were really annotating our ursine hero. In Pooh Perplex and Postmodern Pooh, Frederick Crews discovers a humanist role-modeland skewers the pretensions of literary critics in the process: two acts of public service we can all be grateful for.
An old post from February 1, 2010-
With today’s Passion for Wisdom assignment we have another go at classical Chinese philosophers and the pre-Socratics, and Buddhists and Jains and Sophists. Then, Socrates himself (who was not “permanently pissed,” after all).
Buddhists reject the Hindu self, leaving some doubt about what it is that could possibly cycle through successive incarnations or reap the weal or woe of karma. But Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains all exalt the quest for a trance-like blissful experience, and resist what they see as western “over-intellectualization” of the sort Pooh’s friend Owl seems to exemplify.
And of course Buddhists are known for the “Noble Truths” of suffering and the “Eightfold Path” to Enlightenment which begins with seeing* (the very meaning of the Sanskrit word for philosophy) and seeks Nirvana— not happiness in the western sense, but an ego-displacing perspective that looks very alluring to some western neophytes who wish they could twinkle and glow like the current Dalai Lama too.
*(Visual metaphors are big in the history of western philosophy too. See Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.)
Also very appealing to many of us is Buddhist compassion, exemplified for me (though I can’t quite explain why) in a particular photograph of the DL with a certain former heavyweight champion; and the DL’s forthright “faith in science“. There’s a strong Socratic element in Buddhism’s claim that the “illusion of understanding” blocks our way to enlightenment… as there is in the scientific method and its ethos offallibilism.
Less appealing to me is the concept of “renunciation” and the judgment of the everyday world as itself a grand illusion. I like the response of the logically-minded Nyayayikas, who “rejected the notion that the everyday world was an illusion.” Transitory yes, but unreal? No.
(Here’s the DL in London in 1997.)
One of the most striking images here clarifies the Taoist conception of “soul” as an impersonal part of nature. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, by contrast, one is holy insofar as one is not part of nature and is outside of time… The Christian soul is an intact bit of eternity in everyone. The Taoist soul is more like a drop of water in a stream. Again: Taoists believe that to be wise is to realize one’s unity with nature and to live in conjunction with nature’s rhythm, the Tao… The personal self may die, but the Tao with which the sage identifies lives on.
Speaking of water… Thales of Miletus (634-546 BCE) said water was the nature, the archê, the originating principle of all reality. With his olive presses he resisted the charge of “unworldliness” so often lodged against philosophers.
Earth, air, fire, and water, hot and cold, wet and dry… Opposition is often basic to Greek philosophy, whereas the Chinese would rather talk about ‘harmony’…
The ancient Greeks referred to all other peoples as barbarians (whose unintelligible speech sounded to them like “bar-bar-bar”). Herodotus: “the Greeks have been from very ancient times distinguished from the barbarians by superior sagacity and freedom from foolish simpleness.” This cultural chauvinism persists, apparently, and was delightfully exemplified by the proud Greek father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (finding uncredited Greek origins for everything, including Japanese kimonos).
But they do have plenty to be proud of, including Hippocrates’ (c.460-377 BCE) naturalism: “Men think [a disease] divine merely because they do not understand it. But if they called everything divine which they do not understand, why, there would be no end of divine things.”
Democritus (460-370 BCE), “The Laughing Philosopher,” expanded the atomic theory of Leucippus and agreed with Pythagoras: “the Cosmos can be understood because it obeys certain laws that are the same everywhere in the universe.” This proposition is the foundation of science. Carl Sagan thought a lot of him (and Steve Gould thought a lot of Sagan).
With Democritus the attempt to deanimate and demythologize the world was complete. Greek “soul” was insubstantial except when embodied, and then was a “mere breath.” Something like this view, incidentally, led the Egyptians to mummify their dead, and the early Christians to emphasize physical resurrection as necessary for salvation. The ancient Hebrews mostly restricted their concern to the concrete human being, not soul. Similarly, the Chinese related soul to social identity without specific metaphysical expectations. (Buddhists, again, thought soul was either an illusion or– as the Taoists said– was one with the rest of the universe, rejecting the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation or rebirth.) As for the modern scientific take on soul, it looks a lot like Democritus’s… but Michael Shermer says the soul of science is substantial enough.
Protagoras (c. 490 – c. 420 BCE ) said (1) that man is the measure of all things (which is often interpreted as a sort of radical relativism) (2) that he could make the “worse (or weaker) argument appear the better (or stronger)” and (3) that one could not tell if the gods existed or not. He and his peers were sophists, and are at least partly responsible for giving it a bad name. Sophistry, or subtly deceptive reasoning or argumentation, leads to the cliche that a “good” philosopher (or lawyer) can prove anything.
But the philosophy of Protagoras does not have to be read as sophistry, mercenary argumentation offered for a fee. It might be seen as confidence in our ability to know the world because we view it in human terms– a view later associated with the German Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Or, it could be viewed as a precursor to pragmatism and an attempt to render thought practical and useful.
Another old post, from 2011-
It’s misleading to say that there’s a strong tradition of doubting God in Asian philosophy, since that would imply a strong antecedent tradition of not doubting God. It may be difficult for westerners to wrap themselves around the idea of these ancient traditions, exempt from the gaze and regulation of God or Gods… or the idea of godless traditions whose greatest aspiration is to leave the world behind, on a road to nowhere. “Release,” renunciation, and no regrets? How does that work, training oneself out of humanness while at the same time dissolving into the wide unhuman universe?How does a drop rejoin the ocean without remorse or fear?
The Carvaka, the first doubters we know about, seemed too eager to leave and too quick to judge the uncivilized ignorant fools who imagine that spirit is something different from body. I happen to share their view that spirit cannot hang from nowhere, and I see the point of the Stoics’ imperative to cultivate an attitude of tranquil acceptance. But I’m not thrilled about it. Honestly, I’d rather stay a little longer. Or have somewhere to go. Then again, I’ve long resonated to Emerson‘s very similar statement: “Other world ! there is no other world. God is one and omnipresent ; here or nowhere is the whole fact.”
Our challenge: if the whole fact excludes God from our world, can we still be as sanguine about it as the Carvaka? Or as “spiritual” as the Buddha? We should in any case reject the nihilism of proclaiming that no morality could have any meaning because the whole system [has] no purpose. Pleasure is a fine goal, but it’s not the only good one. Bertrand Russell was right to repudiate this kind of thinking when he pooh-poohed the whole notion that an ultimately-pointless universe condemns us to meaningless lives. And he was right, in Conquest of Happiness, to advise lives full of outward interest. We should turn our attention away from the end and from self-absorption, to the intrinsically meaningful persons, places, and things whose potential meanings are inexhaustible. (BTW: if you’re at war with the self, aren’t you still self-absorbed?)
A materialist (or Philip Pullman fan) has to love the Jains‘ materialistic version of karma, a fine dust of atoms that gets on your jiva, your spirit, and keeps your cycle of birth and re-birth spinning. It’s a reminder that spirit can lodge in and on matter, and in fact it does. Recall William James, on this: “To any one who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious form, ought to make matter sacred ever after… That beloved incarnation was among matter’s possibilities.” Enough said, from my perspective.
The Buddha (the original one, Siddhartha) sought freedom and enlightenment in the forest (where we hung our “Home Sweet Home” sign), and found “blissful clarity” there under the Bodhi tree, waking at once to the ubiquity of suffering and the possibility of rightly seeing (the first step on the 8-fold path). He saw beyond the rupture between our feelings and desires and the vast, unresponsive universe. What did the Buddha see? Not much. No God, no karma (or any other universal justice), no dependence on community for meaning… He invited us to use our human consciousness to realize that we are not a part of nature, we are all of nature. But this is not pantheism, the whole show is too ephemeral. The point is that there are no definite boundaries between our particular fields of experience and the totality of them all. Looking to belong to something larger than yourself? Here you go. It’s another secular version of the trans-end-dance.
Buddha claimed to see nothing, literally nothing in the place where others imagined they saw a substantial ego. Our self-referential feelings exist, as sensations– but not as coherent, enduring, loci of meaningful existence. Can this be true? Granted, there’s no little homunculus-doppelganger of you at your control-switch. But does it follow that, where selfhood is concerned, there really is no there there? Can’t we accept an alternative definition of “self” that dispenses with such naive literalism about consciousness, but still acknowledges an organizing subjectivity whose memories and plans and dreams converge on a stable singular identity and “a name I call myself”? A self that’s as real as the time and space it chooses to attend to, no more and no less? Well, I hope so. I’ve certainly invested a lot of words in the project of defending the self— and not just mine.
Robert Thurman says Buddha had a humanizing and naturalizing influence on Hinduism, and on us: we can all be the Buddha.* (Or, at least more compassionate TEDsters.) Worldly, war-mongering energies were diverted to paradoxically-personal pursuits: when people are responsible for their own salvation, a great deal of their time and effort is required. That’s time not spent making public mischief, but it’s also “me”-time, isn’t it?
Finally, Confucius left God out of it, and heaven. We don’t know yet how to serve men… We don’t know yet about life… Originally, Taoism was as atheistic as Buddhism and Confucianism before the rise of Asian superstition and “social magic,” the real effect that human beings can feel from their community and its emblematic leaders.
My favorite Asian naturalist is the autodidact Wang Ch’ung, who educated himself while standing in bookstores. Me too.
“If the heavens had produced creatures on purpose, they ought to have taught them to love each other, and not to prey upon and destroy one another.” Looks like we’re going to have to teach ourselves. See you at Borders. (My birthday card just arrived.)
*Robert Thurman, like me, likes the Beatles. Like a good Buddhist, he also likes the Stones.
Buddhism is a religion to about 300 million people around the world. The word comes from 'budhi', 'to awaken'. It has its origins about 2,500 years ago when Siddhartha Gotama, known as the Buddha, was himself awakened (enlightened) at the age of 35.
• Is Buddhism a Religion?
To many, Buddhism goes beyond religion and is more of a philosophy or 'way of life'. It is a philosophy because philosophy 'means love of wisdom' and the Buddhist path can be summed up as:
(1) to lead a moral life,
(2) to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions, and
(3) to develop wisdom and understanding.
• How Can Buddhism Help Me?
Buddhism explains a purpose to life, it explains apparent injustice and inequality around the world, and it provides a code of practice or way of life that leads to true happiness.
• Why is Buddhism Becoming Popular?
Buddhism is becoming popular in western countries for a number of reasons, The first good reason is Buddhism has answers to many of the problems in modern materialistic societies. It also includes (for those who are interested) a deep understanding of the human mind (and natural therapies) which prominent psychologists around the world are now discovering to be both very advanced and effective.
• Who Was the Buddha?
Siddhartha Gotama was born into a royal family in Lumbini, now located in Nepal, in 563 BC. At 29, he realised that wealth and luxury did not guarantee happiness, so he explored the different teachings religions and philosophies of the day, to find the key to human happiness. After six years of study and meditation he finally found 'the middle path' and was enlightened. After enlightenment, the Buddha spent the rest of his life teaching the principles of Buddhism — called the Dhamma, or Truth — until his death at the age of 80.
• Was the Buddha a God?
He was not, nor did he claim to be. He was a man who taught a path to enlightenment from his own experience.
• Do Buddhists Worship Idols?
Buddhists sometimes pay respect to images of the Buddha, not in worship, nor to ask for favours. A statue of the Buddha with hands rested gently in its lap and a compassionate smile reminds us to strive to develop peace and love within ourselves. Bowing to the statue is an expression of gratitude for the teaching.
• Why are so Many Buddhist Countries Poor?
One of the Buddhist teachings is that wealth does not guarantee happiness and also wealth is impermanent. The people of every country suffer whether rich or poor, but those who understand Buddhist teachings can find true happiness.
• Are There Different Types of Buddhism?
There are many different types of Buddhism, because the emphasis changes from country to country due to customs and culture. What does not vary is the essence of the teaching — the Dhamma or truth.
• Are Other Religions Wrong?
Buddhism is also a belief system which is tolerant of all other beliefs or religions. Buddhism agrees with the moral teachings of other religions but Buddhism goes further by providing a long term purpose within our existence, through wisdom and true understanding. Real Buddhism is very tolerant and not concerned with labels like 'Christian', 'Moslem', 'Hindu' or 'Buddhist'; that is why there have never been any wars fought in the name of Buddhism. That is why Buddhists do not preach and try to convert, only explain if an explanation is sought.
• Is Buddhism Scientific?
Science is knowledge which can be made into a system, which depends upon seeing and testing facts and stating general natural laws. The core of Buddhism fit into this definition, because the Four Noble truths (see below) can be tested and proven by anyone in fact the Buddha himself asked his followers to test the teaching rather than accept his word as true. Buddhism depends more on understanding than faith.
• What did the Buddha Teach?
The Buddha taught many things, but the basic concepts in Buddhism can be summed up by the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
• What is the First Noble Truth?
The first truth is that life is suffering i.e., life includes pain, getting old, disease, and ultimately death. We also endure psychological suffering like loneliness frustration, fear, embarrassment, disappointment and anger. This is an irrefutable fact that cannot be denied. It is realistic rather than pessimistic because pessimism is expecting things to be bad. lnstead, Buddhism explains how suffering can be avoided and how we can be truly happy.
• What is the Second Noble Truth?
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving and aversion. We will suffer if we expect other people to conform to our expectation, if we want others to like us, if we do not get something we want,etc. In other words, getting what you want does not guarantee happiness. Rather than constantly struggling to get what you want, try to modify your wanting. Wanting deprives us of contentment and happiness. A lifetime of wanting and craving and especially the craving to continue to exist, creates a powerful energy which causes the individual to be born. So craving leads to physical suffering because it causes us to be reborn.
• What is the Third Noble Truth?
The third truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness can be attained; that true happiness and contentment are possible. lf we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time (not dwelling in the past or the imagined future) then we can become happy and free. We then have more time and energy to help others. This is Nirvana.
• What is the Fourth Noble Truth?
The fourth truth is that the Noble 8-fold Path is the path which leads to the end of suffering.
• What is the Noble 8-Fold Path?
In summary, the Noble 8-fold Path is being moral (through what we say, do and our livelihood), focussing the mind on being fully aware of our thoughts and actions, and developing wisdom by understanding the Four Noble Truths and by developing compassion for others.
• What are the 5 Precepts?
The moral code within Buddhism is the precepts, of which the main five are: not to take the life of anything living, not to take anything not freely given, to abstain from sexual misconduct and sensual overindulgence, to refrain from untrue speech, and to avoid intoxication, that is, losing mindfulness.
• What is Karma?
Karma is the law that every cause has an effect, i.e., our actions have results. This simple law explains a number of things: inequality in the world, why some are born handicapped and some gifted, why some live only a short life. Karma underlines the importance of all individuals being responsible for their past and present actions. How can we test the karmic effect of our actions? The answer is summed up by looking at (1) the intention behind the action, (2) effects of the action on oneself, and (3) the effects on others.
• What is Wisdom?
Buddhism teaches that wisdom should be developed with compassion. At one extreme, you could be a good hearted fool and at the other extreme, you could attain knowledge without any emotion. Buddhism uses the middle path to develop both. The highest wisdom is seeing that in reality, all phenomena are incomplete, impermanent and do not constitute a fixed entity. True wisdom is not simply believing what we are told but instead experiencing and understanding truth and reality. Wisdom requires an open, objective, unbigoted mind. The Buddhist path requires courage, patience, flexibility and intelligence.
• What is Compassion?
Compassion includes qualities of sharing, readiness to give comfort, sympathy, concern, caring. In Buddhism, we can really understand others, when we can really understand ourselves, through wisdom.
• How do I Become a Buddhist?
Buddhist teachings can be understood and tested by anyone. Buddhism teaches that the solutions to our problems are within ourselves not outside. The Buddha asked all his followers not to take his word as true, but rather to test the teachings for themselves. ln this way, each person decides for themselves and takes responsibility for their own actions and understanding. This makes Buddhism less of a fixed package of beliefs which is to be accepted in its entirety, and more of a teaching which each person learns and uses in their own way.
Nishida Kitarō was the most significant and influential Japanese philosopher of the twentieth-century. His work is pathbreaking in several respects: it established in Japan the creative discipline of philosophy as practiced in Europe and the Americas; it enriched that discipline by infusing Anglo-European philosophy with Asian sources of thought; it provided a new basis for philosophical treatments of East Asian Buddhist thought; and it produced novel theories of self and world with rich implications for contemporary philosophizing. Nishida's work is also frustrating for its repetitive and often obscure style, exceedingly abstract formulations, and detailed but frequently dead-end investigations. Nishida once said of his work, “I have always been a miner of ore; I have never managed to refine it” (Nishida 1958, Preface). A concise presentation of his achievements therefore will require extensive selection, interpretation and clarification.
This article presents his work in a roughly chronological order. We may understand his philosophical project overall as an attempt to restore to experience and consciousness the rigor, necessity and universality accorded to logic. This project developed in a direction quite opposite to that of psychologism, which would reduce logic to the contingencies of the individual mind or brain. It also differed from efforts to establish pure logic as a self-explanatory realm in that Nishida insisted on the starting point of experience, a priority he shared with Husserl's phenomenology and William James' radical empiricism. We might characterize his philosophy in general as a phenomenological metaphysics or an ontology of logical forms, but with one qualification: although he proposed a unitary source of such forms, that source is neither exclusionary nor positive; in other words the source itself cannot be described monistically as a single, more basic form or thing. Nishida eventually called this source MU (nothingness), a notion he found particularly prominent in the traditions of the East. His interests led him to develop a philosophy of culture, and his status as Japan's premier philosopher led government officials to call upon him for justification of Japanese expansionism in the late 1930s and early 40s. His last work recapitulated his non-dualistic account of world and self, but also reinterpreted the meaning of death. (continues)