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Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Korean philosophy. The term can also sometimes include Babylonian philosophy and Islamic philosophy, though these may also be considered Western philosophies.

It is a mistake to put too great an emphasis on the peculiar or unique character of Eastern philosophical thought. For one, it is itself a diverse set of movements and outlooks. Second, particular Eastern thinkers often have affinities with figures in Western philosophy. For instance, Mozi, an ancient Chinese philosopher roughly contemporaneous with Confucius, is the first known consequentialist, a strand of ethical thought typically associated with modern English speaking philosophers, while the ethical work of Confucius has a great deal in common with that of Aristotle. It is a serious error to write off Eastern thought as merely mystical or religious, as evidenced by thinkers such as Confucius and Mozi, but also surprising by early Buddhists, who emphasized the evidence available in experience for their system of thought.


Eastern philosophy includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Indian philosophy, Chinese philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Korean philosophy Arab philosophy and Jewish philosophy.

Many have argued that the distinction between Eastern and Western schools of philosophy is arbitrary and purely geographic and to certain extent, Eurocentric. Certain scholars have argued the distinction is not arbitrary and geographic, but based upon exact linguistic and hermeneutical considerations. 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 was influenced by Greek philosophy and Hellenistic philosophy, and in turn had a strong influence on Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy and Western philosophy. The artificial distinction between Eastern and Western philosophy does not take into account the tremendous amount of recent interaction within modern and contemporary Eurasian philosophical traditions, and that the distinction is more misleading than enlightening. However, the exact distinction, based upon linguistic analysis of traditional Eastern writings is not misleading.

For example, it is claimed by some Asian academics, Indian and Western schools of thought, with their robust mind-body conceptual dualism, share consequent tendencies to subjective idealism or dualism. Formally, in a purely speculative sense, 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 religious concepts underwrote the emergence (or perhaps spread) of logic in Greece and India (In contrast to pre-Buddhist China) but no textual evidence of this influence from the period survives. Other apparent similarities include structural features of related religious beliefs of time, space, objecthood and causation—religious concepts hard to isolate within ancient Chinese religion.

God and the gods

Because of its origin from within the Abrahamic religions, some 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 some Western philosophies between secular philosophies and religious philosophies which develop within the context of a particular monotheistic religion's dogma, especially some creeds of Protestant Christianity, regarding the nature of God and the universe.

Eastern religions 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 contemporary Eastern philosophy, and the same philosophical school often contains both religious and philosophical elements. Thus, some people accept the so-called metaphysical tenets of Buddhism without going to a temple and worshipping. Some have worshipped the Taoist deities religiously without bothering to delve into the theologial underpinnings, while others embrace the Taoist religion while ignoring the mythological 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 some recent philosophy in 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 some forms 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. Some 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 religious 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 religions, 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.

Germanmarker 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 Japanesemarker 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. There are clear parallels between Heidegger and the work of Kyoto School, and ultimately, it may be read that Heidegger's philosophy is an attempt to 'turn eastwards' in response to the crisis in Western civilization. However, this is only an interpretation.

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.

East Asian philosophies


Confucianism(儒學), developed around the teachings of Confucius(孔子) and is based on a set of Chinese classic texts.


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 Dynastymarker. Its root can be found as early as Tang Dynasty, often attributed to scholar Tang Xie Tian. It has a great influence on the East Asia including such as Chinamarker, Japanmarker and Koreamarker. Zhu Xi is considered as the biggest master of Song Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming is the one of Mingmarker's. But there are conflicts between Zhu's school and Wang's.


Taoism (or Daoism) is the traditional foil of Confucianism in Chinamarker. Taoism's central books are the Dao De Jing (Tao-Te-Ching), traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).


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 religions, notably Taoism and Buddhism.


Legalism advocated a strict interpretation of the law in every respect. No judgment calls. Morality was not important ; adherence to the letter of the law was paramount.


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.

Indian philosophies

Hindu philosophy

Hinduism (सनातन धर्म; Sanātana Dharma, roughly Perennial Moral Duty) is one of the oldest major world religion. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of religious belief systems, practices and scriptures. It has its origin in ancient Vedic culture at least as far back as 1500 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) is in every human and living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the One Unitary Religious Truth (which Hindus call Brahman). This acceptance of various paths leading to the same truth, is also a foundation of Hindu philosophy

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

Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism is a system of religious beliefs based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. 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 yet this practice has taken on different meanings and has become a skillful mean within the Tibetan Buddhist practice.

Buddhist philosophy has its foundations 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: BuddhismOutline of BuddhismSchools of Buddhism

Sikh philosophy

Diagram showing some of the important Sikh beliefs - Click here to enlarge
  • Simran and Sewamarker - 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 centres, old people's homes, care centres, major world disasters, etc.
  • The Three Pillars of Sikhism - Guru Nanak formalised these three important pillars of Sikhism.
    • Naam Japna – A Sikh is to engage in a daily practise of meditation and Nitnem (a daily prayer routine) by reciting and chanting of God’s Name.
    • 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 - 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 Sikhism - Sikh Beliefs - Basic Tenets of the Sikhism - Sikhism Primary Beliefs and Principles


Jain philosophy deals extensively with the problems of metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India. It is a continuation of the ancient tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times. The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on independent existence of soul and matter, denial of creative and omnipotent God, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, accent on relativity and multiple facets of truth, and morality and ethics based on liberation of soul. Jain philosophy attempts to explain the rationale of being and existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of bondage and the means to achieve liberation.It has often been described as an ascetic movement for its strong emphasis on self-control, austerities and renunciation. It has also been called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of the rival philosophies. Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal responsibility for one's decisions; and that self-reliance and individual efforts alone are responsible for one's liberation.

Throughout its history, the Jain philosophy remained unified and single, although as a religion, Jainism was divided into various sects and traditions. The contribution of Jain philosophy in developing the Indian philosophy has been significant. Jain philosophical concepts like Ahimsa, Karma, Moksa, Samsara and like have been assimilated into the philosophies of other Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in various forms. While Jainism traces its philosophy from teachings of Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, various Jain philosophers from Kundakunda and Umasvati in ancient times to in recent times have contributed greatly in developing and refining the Jain and Indian philosophical concepts.


Cārvāka, 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.

West Asian philosophies

Babylonian philosophy

Further information: Babylonian literature: Philosophy
The origins of Babylonian philosophy, in the popular sense of the word, can be traced back to the wisdom of early Mesopotamia, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. The reasoning and rationality of the Babylonians developed beyond empirical observation.

It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek philosophy, and later Hellenistic philosophy, however the textual evidence is lacking. The undated Babylonian text Dialog of Pessimism contains similarities to the agnostic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates and Plato. The Milesian philosopher Thales is also said to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia.

Iranian philosophy


Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, which originated in Iranmarker. 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.

Islamic philosophy

The rise of Islam and the influence of classical Greek thought, especially Aristotle, led to the emergence of various philosophical schools of thought. Amongst them Sufism established esoteric philosophy, Mu'tazili (partly influenced by Hellenistic philosophy) reconstructed rationalism, while Ash'ari cast significant impact on the non-reliability of reason and reshaped logical and rational interpretation of God, justice, destiny and the universe.

Early Islamic philosophy was influenced by Judaism, Christianity, Greek philosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, Persian philosophy, and Indian philosophy, and in turn, Islamic philosophy had a strong influence on Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, Western philosophy, Persian philosophy, and Indian philosophy, hence many consider Islamic philosophy to be both an Eastern philosophy and a Western philosophy.

Al-Mu'tazilah (المعتزلة) or Mu'tazilite is a popular theological school of philosophy during 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 rationalism in Islamic society, and developed Kalam based on dialectic. They ascended dramatically during 8th and 9th century due to the support of intellectuals and elites. Later in the 13th century, they lost official support in favour of the rising Ash'ari school. Most of their valuable works were destroyed during the Crusades and Mongol invasion.

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in the West was Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy, and who is regarded as a founding father of secular thought in Western Europe.

It is said that other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer of phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy and Aristotle's concept of place (topos); Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Avicenna, a critic of Aristotelian logic; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, considered the father of the philosophy of history and sociology and a pioneer of social philosophy. However, not very much credible evidence to support such claims is forthcoming, at least in the field of Arabic-English translation methodology, with regards to the exact sciences of semantics and hermeneutics.

See Also: Mu'taziliAsh'ariSufismIlluminationist philosophy

Sufi philosophy

Sufism (تصوف ) 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).

See also


  1. , p.182
  2. , p. 14
  3. ,p. 141
  4. pp.95-96
  5. p.220
  6. Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), p. 35-47.
  7. Giorgio Buccellati (1981), "Wisdom and Not: The Case of Mesopotamia", Journal of the American Oriental Society 101 (1), p. 35-47 [43].
  8. Majid Fakhry (2001). Averroes: His Life, Works and Influence. Oneworld Publications. ISBN 1851682694.

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