Eastern Philosophy vs Western Philosophy

Do you prefer Eastern or Western Philosophy?


  • Total voters
    33

Yôḥānān

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
3,888
Portugal
Tammuz, I said "gnom like Kant". He was 1m40 and the talk was about martial arts ... just another bad joke of mine.
Actually it was a good point as martial arts were never elevated to a path of self-knowledge or mystical pursuit in Europe untill recently, unless maybe in some ancient shamanic practices (assuming religious military orders are not exactly coming from the same perspective).
First of all physical exercise, including dance, was considered beneficial by some schools of philosophy in Ancient Greece for self development at some point of the person's education, and probably the closest link to a philosophical practice would be found in the Cynics. The Cynics however were pacifists and the greater Greek exponents of the movement lived in poverty, so they practiced basic exercises like runing or ascetic physical exercises like Diogenes embracing statues naked in winter or rolling over hot sand in the summer. Accustoming the body to cold was a practice found in several schools and followed by Socrates himself. There were also philosophers with military experience like the last or professional soldiers like Xenophon or even a former boxer like Cleanthes. However apart from this physical exercise was at least considered something that should not be practiced beyond what was necessary to keep the body healthy.
In the East we see people like Ueshiba and Sun Lutang pursuing martial arts in connection with self knowledge and mysticism, and a traditional teacher being as much a teacher of philosophy as a physical trainer with the school being similar to a sect. Maybe we could say that these developments in the East were relatively recent and by then philosophy as a widespread path of self-knowledge had been almost eradicated in the West, or that Christianity had the effect of compartimenting disciplines.
Nevertheless this elevation of the martial arts to a path of self-knowledge and mystical pursuit also came with dilemas, as removing the violent and competitive side of fighting renders the art inefective for fighting purposes and thus misleading people which obviously does not come from a position of sincerity and self-knowledge. The money spent in tutoring, eating and medical bills in modern times could also be seen as inadequate for the plain and simple way philosophers of the main Greek traditions were supposed to live in.
 
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Yôḥānān

Ad Honorem
Feb 2012
3,888
Portugal
By the way adding to the above and to show the parallel debate about martial arts is considerably old and did not skip the attention of ancient philosophers in his dialogue Laches Plato mentions the exhibition of the "man fighting in armor" and wether it is "a useful subject for young men to learn" and here is part of Laches response:

if this skill in arms is an accomplishment, as they say who teach it, and as Nicias terms it, it ought to be learnt; while if it is not an accomplishment, and those who promise to give it are deceiving us, or if it is an accomplishment, but not a very important one, what can be the good of learning it? I speak of it in this way from the following point of view: I conceive that if there were anything in it, it would not have been overlooked by the Lacedaemonians, whose only concern in life is to seek out and practisewhatever study or pursuit will give them an advantage over others in war. And if they have overlooked it, at any rate these teachers of it cannot have overlooked the obvious fact that the Lacedaemonians are more intent on such matters than any of the Greeks, and that anybody who won honour among them for this art would amass great riches elsewhere, just as a tragic poet does who has won honor among us. And for this reason he who thinks himself a good writer of tragedy does not tour round with his show in a circuit of the outlying Attic towns, but makes a straight line for this place and exhibits to our people, as one might expect. But I notice that these fighters in armour regard Lacedaemon as holy ground where none may tread, and do not step on it even with the tips of their toes, but circle round it and prefer to exhibit to any other people, especially to those who would themselves admit that they were inferior to many in the arts of war. Furthermore, Lysimachus, I have come across more than a few of these persons in actual operations, and I can see their quality. Indeed, we can estimate it offhand: for, as though it were of set purpose, not one of these experts in arms has ever yet distinguished himself in war. And yet in all the other arts, the men who have made a name are to be found among those who have specially pursued one or other of them; while these persons, apparently, stand out from the rest in this particularly hapless fate of their profession.
He goes on a gives an account of the performer in action:

Plato, Laches, section 182e
 
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Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,937
Korea
Eastern vs Western thinking: Sun Tzu 'Art of War' is still relevant for humanity while no one cares about Aristotle or Plato ideas ( what the hell is 'active intellect'?!!! How can you use it practically ? ).
On the other hand, when I look at the way in which national discourse is held in a place like the United States of America, I can't help but think upon Plato's Gorgias and see how a sincere consideration of the discussion within might be of value. It is probably true that very few people today (relatively speaking) care for the likes of classic philosophers, but that is not necessarily to their credit. I suspect the average person -- western or eastern -- would benefit more from reading Plato than Sun Tzu, although it's likely the case that they'd have cooler quotes to post on their social media page after reading Sun Tzu.
 

Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,937
Korea
As for the OP, I voted both. Recently I've become drawn to Buddhism (an "eastern," philosophy) and maybe more specifically to what some people call Secular Buddhism, and I notice many similarities to Stoicism (a "western," philosophy.) So, I don't think it's a good idea to say that one is better than the other, treat it like a salad bar: pick and choose what suits you regardless from which camp it may have come from.
I've seen it argued that the Greek tradition of Skepticism ultimately shares some roots with whatever intellectual tradition eventually became Buddhism. Whether it's genuinely true or not I do not know, but I do see a certain plausibility in it.
 

Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,937
Korea
In short, at the ultimate level Yogacara accepts Nibbana as something existing, while Madhyamika treats it as non-existing (many later Madhyamika schools are influenced by Yogacara and also treats the Tathagatagharba as existing). At the mundane level, Yogacara treats some dharmas as real and existing, while Madhyamika treats all dharmas as fake and non-existing.
Could you recommend a book or online resource that considers these views in comparative terms, discussing how proponents of either view respond to the claims, arguments, or perspectives of the other?
 

heavenlykaghan

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
4,487
Could you recommend a book or online resource that considers these views in comparative terms, discussing how proponents of either view respond to the claims, arguments, or perspectives of the other?
To be honest, I haven't seen any. Yogacara is the most complex system of Buddhist philosophy (if not Asian philosophy period), yet it is such an understudied philosophy in the west, that most introductions are very basic. Translation alone is a tedious task as there are no standard in English of translating Buddhist terms and its nuances (which are important); some terms doesn't even have an English or western philosophy equivalent. I recommended Paul Williams in the past, but his introductions are very rudimentary and doesn't cover much of what I just posted.

There are however, many published essays comparing Yogacara and Western Idealism (in English too). The best works are probably in Japanese (where not only do they describe Yogacara concepts, but also compare them to Western philosophy terminologies and compare and contrast their respective strengths and weaknesses). There is also the traditional monastic education in Tibetan (and to a lesser extent Classical Chinese), where you read explanations and hope you'll get it. The problem with Yogacara (and Buddhism in general in fact), is that a good introduction textbook by modern standards doesn't really exist. Traditional explanations are still too tedious and hard to comprehend, and also often too verbose; dwelling on topics modern people probably don't care about.
 
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Nov 2016
1,280
Germany
Could you recommend a book or online resource that considers these views in comparative terms, discussing how proponents of either view respond to the claims, arguments, or perspectives of the other?
To be honest, I haven't seen any.
I wrote something about that in another place in the forum. Here it is:

Around 300 CE the Yogacara school (also called ´Vijnanavada´ = teaching of consciousness) was founded by Maitreyanatha and elaborated by Asanga and Vasubandhu, placing ´consciousness´ (vijnana) and ´mind´ (citta) in the center of its theory. This school went into competition with the older Mahayana school called ´Madhyamika´ (Middle Path), founded by Nagarjuna in the 2nd century CE, which gave ´emptiness´ (shunyata) a central theoretical position.

Common to both schools was their goal of qualifying their followers to obtain Buddhahood, differing only in the theoretical approach. While the Madhyamikas thought ´emptiness´ to be an optimal conceptional beacon for truth-seeking trainees, the Yogacaras considered ´consciousness´ to be the better choice.

As to phenomena, for example, early Buddhism takes them for really existing but transitory and causing pain, what corresponds to Buddha´s dualistic view on the world, dividing it into two spheres of reality, the positive and perfect ´Nirvana´ and the negative and imperfect ´Samsara´. The Mahayana, however, transcends this dualism by uniting all aspects of reality in all-embracing nondualistic concepts, e.g. ´emptiness´ and ´mind´/´consciousness´.

For the Madhyamikas, phenomena are ´empty´ in the sense of having no inherent self-nature, that is, no reality. Hence the Nirvana and the world of phenomena, the Samsara, are both empty of self-nature, from what follows that they are identical.

For the Yogacaras, phenomena are unreal and illusionary, too, but they are mental constructions, produced by the absolutely real ´citta´ (mind) resp. ´vijnana´ (consciousness), both concepts being coextensive. Individual consciousness is founded in sort of a universal consciousness called ´alaya-vijnana´ (storehouse-consciousness) which is largely unconscious to non-enlightened people. The relation between the Alaya and conscious mental activities can be analogized by the picture of an ocean (Alaya) and the waves on its surface which represent the activities.

Here we see Sigmund Freud´s theory being anticipated by almost two millennia, of course with the difference that the Freudian unconscious is individual and the Alaya-vijnana universal. However, there is a Freudian aspect also in the Yogacara concept insofar as the mentioned ´waves´ on the surface of the Alaya are effects of unconscious previous ´seeds´. These seeds were produced by the subject´s experiences and actions in the past and then sunken into the Alaya; from there (that is, from a kind of individual unconscious) they influence the way the subject is feeling and acting in the present (what corresponds to the concept of Karma).

In short: the waves are individual but the Alaya, from where the waves emerge, is universal.

So, while the Madhyamikas consider ´emptiness´ to best describe the ultimate reality, the Yogacaras for that purpose favor the concept of consciousness resp. mind (what is expressed in the Yogacara concept of ´cittamatra´ = mind-only).

Of course, both schools mutually criticized their approaches. In the Madhyamikas´ view, the Yogaraca idea of consciousness as the only reality means to ascribe a kind of substance (mind) to reality, what appears to completely contradict the Madhyamikas´ teaching of emptiness = non-substantiality. The Yogacaras, on the other hand, considered the concept of ´emptiness´ to be top-heavy and to tend towards nihilism, that is, to describe reality as consisting of nothing, what appears illogical to the Yogacaras since enlightenment shows the ultimate reality to be anything but empty, moreover, without consciousness this reality could not be experienced at all. It goes without saying that both parties knew that their disagreement concerned only the means of theoretical approach to the ultimate reality, on the empirical nature of which they did not disagree, in the sense that there is only one Rome but many paths to it.

Here are some quotes from one of the main texts of the Yogacara school, the ´Lankavatara Sutra´:

Suchness, emptiness, the limit, Nirvana, Dharmadhatu, variety of will-bodies - they are nothing but Mind, I say.

What appears to be external does not exist in reality, it is indeed Mind that is seen as multiplicity; the body, property, and abode - all these, I say, are nothing but Mind.

Free from the faults of the philosophers and Pratyekabuddhas and Sravakas is the truth of the inmost consciousness, immaculate, and culminating in the stage of Buddhahood.

The Buddha, together with the sons of the Buddha and the wise men, accepting the offerings, discoursed on the truth which is the state of consciousness realised in the inmost self.

In addition:

´Self-nature´ or alternatively ´own-being´ correspond to the Sanskrit term ´svabhava´ what refers to the supposed substantial existence of an entity, or in other words, to the supposed essence of an entity. ´Substantial´ means that an entity is existing largely independent from its environment, having an indivisible core of identity that makes it unique. The conventional conception of ´reality´ implies that reality is composed of such substantial entities.

For example, this big guy ´is´ Sheldon and that bang girl ´is´ Penny. However, in the Buddhist view Sheldon as well as Penny are materially composed of transitory material dharmas and mentally composed of transitory mental dharmas, thus being dissoluble into components without any essence. This is true for every entity: they are like onions without a core (of identity). In the human sphere, Buddhism calls this ´an-atman´ (non-self), what of course is already known to you. The said components of an entity are called ´dharmas´.

To the Theravada school, these dharmas are ´real´ as already mentioned by me when referring to “early Buddhism”. However, the Mahayana goes a step further by denying even the existence or reality of dharmas, the Madhyamikas by deeming them ´empty´ and the Yogacaras by deeming them to be mere mental constructions out of the universal mind (alaya vijnana) which is, in the Yogacara view, the only reality.
 
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Fox

Ad Honorem
Oct 2011
3,937
Korea
To be honest, I haven't seen any. Yogacara is the most complex system of Buddhist philosophy (if not Asian philosophy period), yet it is such an understudied philosophy in the west, that most introductions are very basic. Translation alone is a tedious task as there are no standard in English of translating Buddhist terms and its nuances (which are important); some terms doesn't even have an English or western philosophy equivalent. I recommended Paul Williams in the past, but his introductions are very rudimentary and doesn't cover much of what I just posted.
I am fluent in Korean and passable (but somewhat slow) at reading both Classical Chinese and Mandarin Chinese if you could recommend any in those languages either (I believe you also speak at least Chinese? Classical with commentary in Mandarin would be great were it available; that's my preferred format for the Confucian Classics as well.). My Japanese is totally worthless for anything serious as things stand, unfortunately.
 
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