Eastern Philosophy


Eastern Philosophy Essay, Research Paper

Philosophers of Eastern Religions

Does anybody have any answers to the question of what is our purpose? Is there life after death? What do we need to accomplish while we are alive? What is real or moral? Is there a God? These are main philosophical questions that the human race has been trying to answer. Religion is an explained philosophy and be it divine or a practice, it is a way of life. It is not surprising to see that religion of the Eastern World had a few people stand out as important intellectuals. Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva were great intellectuals that interpreted the Upanishads, the philosophy of Hinduism, and taught their own interpretations. Buddhism started with Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, and later, Nagarjuna, a follower of Buddhism, offered his philosophy. (Oxtoby) Together, their teachings have been trying to answer the main philosophical questions as a basis for human faith.

In Hinduism, Sankara taught a form of thought called the Vedanta philosophy. Sankara’s main position is that the soul of humans, atman, and the Ultimate Reality, Supreme Being, or God, Brahman, is non-dualistic. Each is a separate reality but tied together. “The deepest part of our being, is one with the essence of the world” (Radhakrishnan 507). Sankara also believed that ignorance was just illusion or maya. The absence of maya can be learned through the Brahman. (Basham) Moksa is knowledge that maya is illusion and to be free from it, one must learn truth. The way to learn truth is through devotion and ethics. (Radhakrishnan) Once a person knows the truth, then the life cycle of reincarnation or samsara ends. “The soul redeemed from reincarnation return[s] forever into the Brahman at the end of the world period” (Schweitzer 163). People caught in maya will continue false ethics although Brahman does not differentiate between good and evil. A better way of life and good ethics is a fight against samsara but is not going to end it. Action or karma of moral ethics and truth will. (Schweitzer) Sankara strongly believed in the teacher student role. Ignorance is illusion and the student not knowing the truth of Brahman remains in samsara. (Radhakrishnan)

Ramanuja is on the opposite side of non-dualism. Ramanuja believes that reality is dualistic. The Atman and the Brahman are separate. The main reason is maya is contained in atman and can not exist in the same reality with Brahman. The Ultimate Reality is infinite and maya is finite. How can a world of ignorance be contained in a world of all knowing. (Oxtoby) Ramanuja’s analogy of how a “jug contains water” was in support that Atman and Brahman are not connected. (Van Buitenen 114) There will always be a Supreme Being to the Atman no matter how devoted or free the soul is. (Radhakrishnan) Through devotion of God, a person must do the good, be non-violent, truthful, and must know that the atman is contained in the body and not connected to it. Another form of ignorance is prakrti. The soul that is connected is by will of the senses, instead of the devotion towards Brahman. Ramanuja believed Hell was in the individual. It depended on the person’s karma in their current state. If individuals are able to renounce all desires, practice bhakti (devotion)-yoga, and have good karma then they will reach Brahman. (Van Buitenen) Ramanuja teaches that “God is not bound by his acts” (114). He explains that God creates with prakrti but it is “supervised by God Himself” (115). The major concept here is Ramanuja tells us the atman does not overpower or control the Brahman. God creates and what is done with his creations are in the actions of the atman. Brahman is the Ultimate power and with what one does with what It gives decides the actions, of individuals.

Madhva another teacher in Hinduism believes in a dualistic reality. Everything that exists in the reality of life on earth is different state of reality in which God controls life on earth. Samsara continues due to previous karma. Since the body of the atman can be changed, “no two selves are alike” (Radhakrishnan 509). Since both realities are different and God is the controller, the atman can never see God. In order to be free the atman must follow God and not desire the material world, for good karma. Devotion to God is necessary. It deviates on from maya and ends suffering. (Radhakrishnan)

Out of India came Buddhism and the primary philosopher, the Buddha, was not a God but was a human, Siddhartha Gautama. He wanted to find a way to end human suffering. He believed that if man has no desires, then there is no suffering. His teachings apply not only to monks but also to all laypeople or common people who do not give up all material things like monks. (Carmody) “The five precepts of sila [ethics] are simple and negative: not to kill, not to steal, not to lie, not to commit unchastity, and not to take intoxicants” (41-42). The idea of unchastity is the most complex. Monks take a vow of celibacy but for the laypeople, they do not understand that impure thoughts cause bad karma. (Carmody) “The greatest impurity is ignorance. Free yourself from it. Be pure.” (Byrom 95) Humans as individuals are the only ones who can free themselves. Others can not free others, they can only help. It is up to the individual to perform the karma that is necessary to achieve nirvana or eternal bliss. Because Buddhism is not a divine doctrine, acts are not sins, they are acts upon ignorance of truth. (Rahula) Doubt is an example but “the root of all evil is ignorance and false views” (Rahula 3) One needs to also understand truth not just accept it. Misunderstanding is not logical. (Rahula)

Some karma can lead an individual to heaven or hell in the spiritual self. The Buddha also teaches that violence is evil and is strongly against it. (Rahula) “He who harms the harmless [. . .] He shall rise in hell” (Byrom 50). Buddha’s beliefs of the spiritual heaven and hells came from Hindu Gods and Goddesses. (Carmody) Since, the Hindu Gods and Goddesses were worshiped, Buddha looked it at as karma by the individual. Buddha’s spiritual realm is not as to worship a God but to achieve Nirvana. People do not need to experience another form of reality non-existent to Earth but to achieve freedom from desire to achieve enlightenment. Buddha was not to be worshiped, but his way of life and practices given consideration. He taught people because he wanted to help people and rid the world of feeling pain and suffering. (Carmody)

The Four Noble Truths are his main practices. The First Noble Truth is that all life is suffering. “People have been mislead into regarding Buddhism as pessimistic” (Rahula 16). The Buddha teaches neither pessimism nor optimism. He teaches truth objectively, desire is the reason for suffering. The Second Noble Truth is just this. Desire is the cause of suffering. (Rahula) “If you are filled with desire Your sorrows swell” (Byrom 128). This truth is plural in a way that peoples desires are all relative. The Third Noble Truth is to eliminate and be free from the suffering by not desiring anything. To know absolute Truth, material things are all experienced by the sensual body. Once an individual can deny desire, they are able to experience Nirvana. (Rahula) “Human language is too poor to express the real nature of the Absolute Truth [. . .] which is Nirvana” (Rahula 35). The Fourth Noble Truth is the way of the Eightfold path. Also known as the Middle Path, it teaches truth about nature, beauty, and insight to lead one to Enlightenment. This path and truth was the main and most important to the Buddha. (Rahula) When one is on the right views of all eight paths they are stable and at peace with nature. They also achieve a spiritual awareness that does not need to desire anything. The first two right views, understanding and thought, deal with wisdom. The next three, speech, action, and livelihood, deal with Morality. The last three, effort, mindfulness, and concentration, deal with meditation, how to concentrate on one focus point. (Facter)

Nagarjuna was a Buddhist who took the philosophical view of the Middle way and used it to develop a view known as Emptiness. It developed a new form of Buddhism known as Zen. “Zen is something enigmatic, beyond intellectual analysis” (Abe 3). Sayings in Zen are empty thoughts designed to empty the mind of useless thoughts. Emptiness comes from the Buddhist teaching that everything is in a constant change. Time does not stop. Nagarjuna taught that everything is a concept and ideas are imaginable, Ultimate Reality, take on nothing called animitta, meaning no form. (Abe) “The eye does not see and the mind does not think; this is the highest truth [. . .] that cannot be preached in words” (Zimmer 520).

Being from a Western World, the main philosophers of Hinduism and Buddhism are parallel in thought. Religions that teach truth or practices to do good moral deeds have parallels also. Raised Christian but not believing in an organized religion, delving into the Eastern Religions they appear to be right on with being able to relate to certain things. We as humans, conditioned during life about doing wrong acts such as killing, stealing, and lying, need a faith no matter what side of the Earth it comes from. Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhva believing in divine principles sometimes did not agree with each other or Buddhism. Nagarjuna’s emptiness does exist. Nothing does exist, it is something, and this is a contradiction in Nagarjuna’s beliefs. All these roads lead to the same path and the only thing that is for sure is death from this reality, not as we, but as individuals, because faith is plural.


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of Hawaii Press, 1985.

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Zysk. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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Books, 1976.

Carmody, Denise Lardner, and John Tully Carmody. In the Path of the Masters. New

York: Paragon House, 1994.

Facter, Dolly. The Doctrine of the Buddha. New York: Philosophical Library, 1965.

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Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957.

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Gallery Limited, 1959.

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Van Buitenen, J.A.B. Ramanuja on the Bhagavad Gita. Dehli, IN.: Motilal Banarsidass,


Zimmer, Heinrich. Philosophies of India. Ed. Joseph Campbell. Princeton: Princeton

University Press, 1951.

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