Eastern philosophy, also known as Asian philosophy, encompasses a broad range of philosophical traditions that emerged in East and South Asia, including but not limited to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese philosophies. This summary focuses predominantly on Indian philosophy and its intricate branches.
Indian philosophy traces its origins back to ancient teachings, possibly as far back as the Indus Valley Civilization, and encompasses a broad array of world views and teachings. Hindu thought and philosophy disseminated to regions such as Indonesia and Cambodia, contributing to the growth of the Hindu religion, or Sanātana Dharma ("the eternal way"). Over a billion followers worldwide make it the third-largest religion globally, noted for its heterogeneity rather than a fixed set of beliefs. Hinduism features a wide spectrum of intellectual and philosophical perspectives, including Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism, among others, with an extensive emphasis on karma, dharma, and societal norms.
Indian philosophy has given rise to significant concepts like dharma, karma, samsara, moksha, and ahimsa, and it delves into ontology, epistemology, axiology, political philosophy, and love. The philosophy of love was expounded in the Kama Sutra, while political philosophy was examined in the Arthashastra.
The main schools of Indian philosophical thought are categorized as orthodox or heterodox, depending on their alignment with the Vedas, belief in Brahman and Atman, and belief in afterlife and Devas. The orthodox schools include Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedanta, while the heterodox schools include Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Cārvāka.
Each of these schools has developed its extensive epistemological literature. For instance, Nyaya delves into human suffering's origins in ignorance, and liberation through knowledge. Vaiśeṣika is an atomistic school, holding that the universe is reducible to indestructible and indivisible atoms. Mīmāṃsā emphasizes ritual orthopraxy and the interpretation of the Vedas. It is mainly atheistic, arguing for the non-existence of God.
Vedānta, a significant school of philosophy, emphasizes the "end of the Vedas" and explores the nature and relationship between Brahman, Ātman, and Prakriti. Its sub-schools include Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, Dvaita, and Bhedabheda. Other schools sometimes classified as orthodox include the Śaiva and Raseśvara traditions.
Indian philosophy boasts a rich variety of schools of thought. Beyond the six orthodox schools often recognized, other philosophies are also considered orthodox. These include the Paśupata, an ascetic school of Shaivism founded by Lakulisha (~2nd century CE); the Śaiva Siddhānta, a dualistic Shaivism school that is greatly influenced by Samkhya; the Pratyabhijña (recognition) school of Utpaladeva and Abhinavagupta, a non-dual Shaiva tantra; Raseśvara, the mercurial school; and the Pāṇini Darśana, the grammarian school that elaborates the theory of Sphoṭa.
Heterodox schools are associated with the non-Vedic Śramaṇic traditions, with the Śramaṇa movement fostering a diverse range of non-Vedic ideas from atheism to fatalism and extreme asceticism. Notable philosophies that emerged from the Śramaṇa movement were Jainism, early Buddhism, Cārvāka, Ajñana, and Ājīvika.
Jain philosophy explores metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology, and divinity. It emphasizes a mind-body dualism, denial of a creative and omnipotent God, karma, an eternal universe, non-violence, the theory of the multiple facets of truth, and liberation of the soul. Jain philosophers from Kundakunda to Shrimad Rajchandra contributed significantly to Indian philosophy.
Cārvāka, or Lokāyata, was an atheistic philosophy that rejected the Vedas and supernatural doctrines, offering a skeptical and materialistic viewpoint. It posited perception as the primary source of knowledge and rejected inference. The main texts of Cārvāka, like the Barhaspatya sutras, have been lost.
Ājīvika, founded by Makkhali Gosala, was a Śramaṇa movement rivaling early Buddhism and Jainism. They believed in absolute determinism and rejected the karma doctrine. However, they did believe in the ātman, a central premise of Hinduism and Jainism.
Ajñana was a school of radical Indian skepticism that asserted the impossibility of obtaining metaphysical knowledge or ascertaining the truth value of philosophical propositions. Its key philosopher was Jayarāśi Bhaṭṭa, the author of the skeptical work "Tattvopaplavasiṃha".
Buddhist philosophy, originating with Gautama Buddha, focuses on freedom from suffering, or dukkha, and emphasizes the use of reason to understand the true nature of things. This philosophy spread through Asia via the silk road and encompasses topics like phenomenology, ethics, ontology, epistemology, logic, and philosophy of time. Buddhist concepts include the Four Noble Truths, Anatta (not-self), the transience of all things (Anicca), and skepticism about metaphysical questions. Later developments include the theories of Shunyata (emptiness) and Vijnapti-matra (appearance only), contributing to the concept of 'Abhidharma'.
Buddhist modernism emerged under Western influences, engaging with the dominant cultural and intellectual forces of modernity. This movement includes various forms like Humanistic Buddhism, Secular Buddhism, and the Vipassana movement.
Sikhism, an Indian religion developed by Guru Nanak, centers on the values of spiritual meditation, being guided by the Guru, living a householder's life, acting truthfully, equality of all humans, and believing in God's grace.
Modern Indian philosophy includes Neo-Vedanta and Hindu modernism, which responded to colonialism and Western philosophy by focusing on the universality of Indian philosophy and the unity of different religions. Notably, the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta was influential during this period.
East Asian philosophical thought, primarily Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism, originated in Ancient China. Confucianism, developed around the teachings of Confucius, promotes humanistic values like familial and social harmony, filial piety, benevolence, and ritual norms. Legalism, focusing on laws, realpolitik, and bureaucratic management, emphasizes pragmatic governance and order. Daoism emphasizes harmony with the Tao, the principle source, pattern, and substance of everything that exists. It encourages virtues like effortless action, naturalness, simplicity, and spontaneity.
Modern East Asian philosophy encompasses Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and other Eastern philosophical traditions, which have seen significant evolution and interplay with Western thought over the centuries.
Chinese philosophy is generally rooted in Classical Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Western learning, which emerged during the late Ming Dynasty. The Opium War (1839-42) marked the start of Western and Japanese invasions and exploitation of China, leading to a strong Western influence on Chinese thought. Notable Chinese thinkers like Zhang Zhidong advocated for the preservation of traditional Chinese culture through Western knowledge, leading to a surge of Western learning. Post the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, there was a bifurcation in philosophical trends; one embraced Western learning and the other revived traditional Chinese philosophies. A major influence was also Marxism, particularly through the works of Mao Zedong, leading to Maoism, a variant of Marxism-Leninism. Today, the People's Republic of China continues to endorse a pragmatic form of socialism, known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Japanese philosophy was heavily influenced by Western science and philosophy, with movements like Rangaku (study of Western science) and Kokugaku (study of ancient Japanese thought) during the Edo period (1603–1868). The Meiji period saw the further integration of Western ideas with Japanese culture and values. The Kyoto School of philosophers incorporated Western phenomenology with Zen Buddhism insights, contributing to a unique blend of Eastern and Western philosophies.
Korean philosophy is heavily influenced by the political ideology of Juche or "self-reliance", which is the official political ideology of North Korea.
In the modern era, attempts have been made to integrate Eastern and Western philosophical traditions. Prominent philosophers like Arthur Schopenhauer and Sri Aurobindo have strived to synthesize Eastern and Western thought.
However, these efforts have been criticized, and some Western thinkers claim that philosophy is inherently a Western practice. German philosopher Martin Heidegger even suggested that only Greek and German languages are suitable for philosophical discourse. Despite these criticisms, an increasing number of philosophers are arguing for a more inclusive and global understanding of philosophical discourse, accommodating both Western and Eastern traditions.