Asian (Non-Islamic) Thought


Central and East Asian thought has several well-known, well-documented, and well-understood mainstream traditions of dialectic, most of which are extremely rich and complex. Most are also "religious" traditions, but they are so different from Western religions that fundamentalist Christians might not consider Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc., to be religions at all. I will not attempt to explain this extremely voluminous material in detail here. For each tradition, I will summarize some particularly interesting points and compare to Western systems. Many of these traditions are grounded in religions; Hinduism, especially, is often referred to as a "theosophy" – in the sense of an amalgam of theology and philosophy – but I think that word is also appropriate for the majority of these systems.

Some broad characterizations of Central and East Asian thought vis-à-vis West Asian (Islamic) and Western thought can be made:

1. Western thought (I include Islamic thought with Western thought) is far more focused on individual persons. For example, Western thinkers argue over whether individuals achieve personal immortality, whereas the whole point of the cycle of karma-samsara in Hinduism is to lose one’s individuality altogether. Individuality permeates Western thought, especially in the modern period with the rise of the concept of individual rights.

2. The ethical and religious role model is quite different in West and East. Western religions tend to view humans as "hearing" the word of God through a prophet. Humans require this hearing; by themselves, they are irretrievably ignorant. Thus, humans are conceived of as essentially passive in the search for ultimate truth; they cannot find the answers inside themselves.

3. The prophet – an individual man chosen by God, conveying an unfamiliar, often unpopular message and thus often finding himself at odds with authority – is the archetypal ethical and religious model in Western religions. The prophet is active, even aggressive, and often rather young. Elijah, Jesus, Moses, and Mohammed come to mind. Thus, Western ethical systems that are influenced by Western religion tend to be activist; one must do specific things in the world in order to be considered a good person. And it is always a struggle to be good; you can’t be good if you just let go or let be, because you’ll fall into forgetfulness (Islam) or sin (Christianity). You have to "watch yourself". Asian ethical systems, in theory, tend not to be so focused on self-conscious action, because they are much more ambivalent about the nature of the self. They are also far less rule-oriented, at least in theory, although popular forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism are full of rules and ritual. The point is, an Eastern moral exemplar, like a Christian contemplative, might well adopt an attitude of passivity and withdrawal from the world; s/he might not do much for the world or other people. This is hard for many Westerners to comprehend, and contributes, along with the other elements above, to the typical Western notion that Eastern people "don’t care" about the quality of life, or life itself.

4. The model of time is rather different in some Asian systems. Hindu thought, for example, has had a cyclic notion of time; Buddhists think time is an illusion; Western time is linear. The different conceptions of time lead to very different basic attitudes about change and death, which are reflected in the art works of Eastern and Western cultures. For example, it’s hard to feel really tragic about death when you think you’re coming back, and so Hinduism has no concept of "tragedy" in the Western sense.

5. Christianity and Islam are eschatological religions; that is, they posit that God created the universe from nothingness, and will end it all someday. Hutchison calls the eschatological perspective the "linear-dramatic view of history". (478) There is a beginning and end of time itself, and there are "last things" – a last judgment, heaven, and hell. The eschatological perspective is absent from most Eastern thought. There is no concept of a last judgment (or indeed any judgment per se), and thus Eastern religions either lack a concept of "sin" altogether, or have a much more vague and untroubled conception of it and its consequences.

6. Much Asian thought is monist; there is really only a single reality, e.g., the Tao or Brahman. The typical Western notion that there are lots of separate things is an illusion, from the Asian point of view. Interesting philosophical and practical consequences follow. For example, if you think everything is one (Brahman), then it’s hard to worry too much about the relation between mind and body, or free will. Similarly, it’s hard to feel too indignant about evil if you believe God is "trans-moral" (equally present in good and evil) or if you believe in karma. Furthermore, monism leads to rather different concepts of the relation between humans and the natural world, and different conceptions of sexuality.

7. "Holy wars" (e.g., Crusades, jihads) are particularly prevalent in the West.

8. Asian thought is by and large not interested in providing naturalistic causal accounts of the natural world or social phenomena.

9. Issues of social and economic justice are not very important in traditional Asian thought, which tends to view one’s economic or social status as unimportant in the struggle for personal liberation. Some systems, e.g., Hinduism and Confucianism) even advocate rigid social hierarchies.

Hinduism

Most striking in Hinduism is the complete acceptance of unity in diversity. Hindus recognize different human spiritual types, distinct stages of each individual life, distinct stages of lives, distinct gods, but the differences are seen as part of an unfolding unitary process. For example, Hindus, at least in theory, do not look down on people who pursue pleasure or worldly success; these pursuits are natural stages in soul-development, just as childhood is a natural stage in the individual life. Since different souls are at different stages of soul-development, and since there are different spiritual types (thinker, lover, doer, scientist), different spiritual paths are appropriate for the different types. There is no single "right" path, and thus no dogmatism. Many alternative lifestyles are acceptable (for men).

In Vedanta, the leading Hindu school, each soul or self (Atman) is seen as identical to God (Brahman). Everything is part of Brahman. Brahman can be viewed personally or transpersonally. So Hindus do not object to praying to other or lesser gods, since all gods are part of Brahman. Thus there is general religious tolerance.

Hinduism describes appropriate activities for different stages of life. It is especially striking that in Hinduism, retirement (the period of life after the birth of the first grandchild) is an extremely important time of life, one that promises far more spiritual reward than youth (the period of maximum bodily pleasure) or middle-age (the period of maximum worldly power). The retired person is a "forest-seeker"; he or she gives up all worldly interests, and undertakes deliberate poverty and solitude to find the true Self. The Hindu view of one’s later years contrasts greatly with the view portrayed in popular Western culture, where an older person, especially an older woman, is often thought to have nothing more to look forward to. Older people in the West often try in vain to re-enact the sorts of activities that brought them happiness earlier in life; they continue to acquire things or power, or get plastic surgery in vain attempts to retain a youthful appearance, etc. – activities that they themselves may find somewhat ridiculous. Like Confucianism, Hinduism confers acceptance, dignity and respect to older people that is often absent in the "youth culture" of the West.

A soul at death can transmigrate to many levels of being. It is a common misunderstanding that a soul must go to another body (the word "reincarnation" suggests this, so it’s not the best word). A soul can become a demi-god also. Mormonism has a similar concept.

The concept of caste is problematic for many Westerners. It has also been criticized in India itself for centuries. Buddha (563-483 BCE), for example, was a major critic. Philosophy classes dealing with Hinduism should address the caste system and its religious foundation in connection with the theme of "class". I think, for critical thinking purposes, we should analyze the many arguments orthodox Hindus give (even today) in favor of the caste system. Their arguments are in line with the Hindu acceptance of diversity: Hindus have absolutely no problem saying people are unequal, since the inequalities are due to karma and the stage one’s soul has reached in previous lifetimes of spiritual development. Some people – those whose souls are young or undeveloped – belong in the lowest social classes. There is no shame in it, because everyone starts as a spiritual child. Furthermore, there is equality in the long run, over many lives; the child usually grows up. Such child-like people are capable of devoted service under supervision, but it would be folly to grant them the same civic responsibilities as more capable people. People in the lowest class (shudras) "are better off, and actually happier, working for others than being on their own." (Smith 56) Smith comments, "We, with our democratic and egalitarian sentiments, do not like to admit that there are such people, to which the orthodox Hindu replies: What you would like is not the point. The question is what people actually are." (ibid)

This is certainly a sensitive issue, and one we should think carefully about. The argument that some people should be segregated or controlled because they are not "on our level" (or because the common good is thereby enhanced) can easily be abused. Women in most societies have been considered "the other", "not quite fully human", etc., and their mistreatment thus justified. Southern slave-owners said their African slaves could endure beatings because "they don’t feel pain like us". Jews have been similarly slandered. The argument clearly can be an instrument of oppression. Obviously the argument should not be used as a rationale for injustice.

Nevertheless, Hindus think it obvious that people are different, that different people have different abilities, and that a well-ordered society must take these different abilities into account. Whether we like it or not, there seem to be people who are chronically irresponsible, short-sighted, shiftless, and generally incapable of doing good work without supervision. (Since my husband and I have recently remodeled our house, we call them "contractors".) Even Marx, the champion of egalitarianism, recognized such people: he called them the lumpenproletariat, and declared them useless for the revolution. Now, how exactly do we reconcile the apparent fact of the existence of such people with our desire to treat all persons "equally" and to grant all persons equal rights and dignity? I would like our students to ponder these issues, and appreciate the enormous cleverness of the Hindu solution. Naturally, the Hindu solution rests on the concept of reincarnation; death is not "the deadline" for Hindus. There is room for a bit more philosophical maneuvering if you change fundamental assumptions about human lifetimes.

Both these unusual and problematic concepts – reincarnation and a rigid system of social classes – appear in Plato. The arguments in the Republic are much like those in Hinduism. Note that there has been speculation of Indian influence on Plato.

Another area of great interest and contrast is the problem of evil. It is a grave problem for Christianity to reconcile God’s supposed total goodness, omnipotence, and the existence of evil. The Hindu notion of reincarnation together with the law of karma solve this problem in a far more satisfying way than Christianity provides. For Hinduism, people cannot escape karma; and if their misdeeds are not punished in this life, they will be punished in the next – another example of a Western philosophical problem solved easily by simply altering basic assumptions about time.

Skepticism and Naturalism

Westerners often think Asian thought is all religious. They are unaware that there have been several naturalist, scientific, logical, and atheist schools of Indian and Chinese thought, although these schools never became deeply-rooted. These include the unorthodox darshanas of India, (Jainism, Carvaka), and the philosophies of Wang Ch’ung, and Wang Fu-chih.

Confucianism and neo-Confucianism

Confucianism, like Buddhism, is arguably not a religion, but rather a moral philosophy, since Confucius himself spoke agnostically about gods and afterlife. Confucianism features little discussion and no doctrine regarding personal immortality, for example. (Confucianism is like Judaism in this respect.) Most Confucian thinkers construe the divine as impersonal; some (e.g., Wang Ch’ung) even see divine as hostile to humans.

The most distinctive feature of the Confucian way of life is respect for authority and for elders, especially one’s ancestors. There is much emphasis on diligent performance of rituals and duties ("good form in all things"); little attention is paid to human emotions (I am reminded of Kantian ethics, springing from a similar rule-oriented society, eighteenth-century Lutheran Prussia). The rule-oriented nature of Confucianism spawned two famous reactions: one emphasizing spontaneity (Taoism), and the other emphasizing compassion (Buddhism).

Confucianism is unascetic and this-worldly, while Buddhism is relatively ascetic (actually Buddha thought of his as a "Middle Way" between extreme asceticism and worldliness). Confucians emphasize specific duties to one’s parents, for example, that involve furnishing them with the comforts of life. The aged parent has the warmest place by the fire, the best food, the softest bed, etc. Confucians accuse Buddhists of being unfilial because their asceticism denies the importance of these things.

The view of human nature expressed in Confucius and Mencius is much like that of David Hume: human nature is basically good. People have a natural impulse towards compassion, although that impulse can be diverted or corrupted by bad moral training. Thus, like Aristotle, Confucians emphasize the importance of good upbringing for a happy individual life and a happy society. Discipline and practice in virtue are necessary for formation of good character.

Fundamental to Confucianism is the notion of Tao (way, nature). Tao is thought to consist of elements of yin (passive, dark, cold, wet, feminine) and yang (active, bright, warm, dry, masculine). The I Ching (Book of Changes) elaborates and interprets the various permutations of yin, represented by a broken line, and yang, represented by a straight line. Confucianism claims that yang elements are superior to yin. A good person is one who is active in the world, performing one’s duties faithfully and conscientiously, without regard for one’s personal inclinations. Taoism diverges from Confucianism in emphasizing the interdependency and equality of yin and yang.

"Great Learning" – investigating the world, doing science – is a worthwhile and important human activity in Confucianism. Confucians emphasize calling things by their correct names. Learning makes one see rational patterns in everything, and this insight into the order of the universe is thought to lead to good order in heart, home, and society. It is thought to make one more "sincere", i.e., truthful and honest and humble.

Social relations in Confucian society are built on inequality (very unlike modern West and a good springboard for discussion of this issue). Social duties are not necessarily reciprocal, and not based on implicit contracts. The son has duties to the father (but not vice-versa), the wife is not equal to the husband, the younger brother is not equal to the older brother. Thus, "Confucius’ ethic is that of a well-ordered feudal hierarchy, where goodness consists in finding one’s station and doing its duties." (Hutchison, 224)

Mencius has a kind of social contract theory in terms of which people may rebel against a bad king (one who has lost the mandate of heaven) – a view similar to Locke, Rousseau, Hobbes.

 

Taoism

Huston Smith says Confucianism is "classical", Buddhism "spiritual", and Taoism "romantic". Taoism developed against the backdrop of Confucianism. Taoism emphasizes yin, passivity, spontaneity, wu-wei ("action without action"), and cooperation with nature (Tao). In its emphasis on feeling and spontaneity, it is a "romantic" reaction to urbane, rule-oriented, duty-oriented, activist, yang Confucianism.

Taoism’s supposed founder was Lao-Tzu, born between 600 and 400 BCE, one of the great figures of the Axis Age. Many legends evolved concerning him. According to legend, he did not preach or write or organize, though Taoism grew into a full-fledged church with a priesthood, sacred documents, and sacred authorities. According to legend, he did not try to "found" a faith, and did not think of himself as anyone important. Unlike Buddha and Jesus, Lao-Tzu had no conception of himself as a "world-redeemer. But interestingly, a historical individual named Lao-Tzu may in fact never have existed. The name just means "Old Fellow" or "Old Master".

One legend is that Lao-Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching, the basic text of Taoist thought, at the request of the gatekeeper when he was leaving his native land to abandon civilization altogether. The book has fascinated people throughout history. There are currently over 40 translations in English alone), and it has been translated more frequently than any work except the Bible.

Like Zen, which it influenced heavily, Taoism encourages wit and laughter. It is solemn without being serious. I’m sure Taoists find it funny that Lao-Tzu might be altogether legendary. Good contemporary examples of Taoist-influenced writers and the Taoist "voice" include Benjamin Hoff, the storyteller of The Tao of Pooh, and Raymond Smullyan, a philosopher-magician-mathematician who does logic and loves tales and paradox and jokes. Some of Smullyan’s books have amusing self-referential titles like What Is the Name of This Book? and This Book Needs No Title. Smullyan is a rarity, I think, among contemporary American philosophers, because he writes entertainingly for ordinary people about profound subjects. There are no comparable Christian writers that I know of; I love C. S. Lewis but I would not say he is funny.

According to Archie Baum, Tao is the most fundamental concept of Chinese thought, but it is a concept that is almost untranslatable because it is similar, but not identical to, concepts found in all cultures. "When one first encounters a foreign word with unfamiliar conceptual overtones, he immediately looks for analogues in his own culture", but for Tao, "nothing quite fits". Tao is not "God" or "Jahweh" or "Allah" or the Stoics’ "Logos" or Plato’s Form of the Good or the Hegelian "Absolute" or the Emersonian "Oversoul", etc. It is something like "ultimate reality", and Baum also would allow "way" or "path", though these are misleading because they give the impression that it is something to be trod upon. Baum himself chooses "Nature".

The 25th chapter of the Tao Te Ching, as translated by K. L. Reichelt (in Smith, 218), explains Tao this way:

There is a being, wonderful, perfect;

It existed before heaven and earth.

How quiet it is!

How spiritual it is!

It stands alone and it does not change.

It moves around and around, but does not on this account suffer.

All life comes from it.

It wraps everything with its love as in a garment, and yet it claims no honor, it does not demand to be Lord.

I do not know its name, and so I call it Tao, the Way, and I rejoice in its power.

Baum’s translation of the same verses is rather less poetic (Baum, 29):

There exists something which is prior to all beginnings and endings,

Which, unmoved and unmanifest, itself neither begins nor ends.

All-pervasive and inexhaustible, it is the perpetual source of everything else.

For want of a better name, I call it "Nature".

Gia-Fu Feng provides yet another version (Feng and English):

Something mysteriously formed,

Born before heaven and earth.

In the silence and the void,

Standing alone and unchanging,

Ever present and in motion.

Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.

I do not know its name.

Call it Tao.

Two other interesting concepts of Taoism, which seem to have affected much New Age thought and pop-psych and deconstructionist rhetoric, emphasize power: ch’i, the individually-felt power or vital energy of the Tao; and te, the power of Tao generally. Philosophical Taoism gives advice for managing and maximizing one’s personal supply of ch’i through wu-wei, the non-effort or inaction that is actually pure effectiveness; religious and other forms of Taoism try to amplify te and ch’i overall.

Versions of Taosim called "vitalizing Taoisms" or "energizing Taoisms" employ a variety of practices to maximize ch’i. These practices are very familiar to us: diet, programs of bodily movement such as t’ai chi chuan, and acupuncture. The objective in all these practices is to remove blockages to the free flow of ch’i.

Like Native Americans, Taoists respect nature. "On the whole, the modern Western attitude has been to regard nature as an antagonist, an object to be squared off against, dominated, controlled, conquered. Taoism’s attitude is the opposite of this. There is a profound naturalism in Taoist thought, but it is the naturalism of a Rousseau, a Wordsworth, a Thoreau, not that of a Galileo or Bacon. ... Nature is to be befriended. Taoism seeks attunement with nature, not dominance." The emphasis on effortlessness in Taoism influenced Chinese painting, while "the ecological approach of Taoism has inspired many Western architects, most notably Frank Lloyd Wright. Taoist temples do not stand out from their surroundings. They nestle against the hills, back under the trees, blending in with the environment. At best, human beings do likewise. Their highest achievement is to identify themselves with the Tao and let it work its magic through them." (Smith, 212 f.)

Like the Western Romantics, Taoism emphasizes the "natural", and identifies civilization as the source of human alienation and unease; the primitive and simple are idealized, while artifice, ceremony, and calculation are rejected.

In social philosophy, Taoism rejects the Confucian hierarchy of social classes; however, Taoism retains the Confucian love of peace and harmony in society, and emphasizes peaceful and orderly resolution of conflict. Both Confucianism and Taoism rank the life of the soldier low, unlike, say, Islam or some forms of Japanese Buddhism. Taoists favor leaders who "rule with stillness", doing their job and inspiring obedience effortlessly. Government should not be large and relatively laissez-faire, according to the famous line from the Tao Te Ching that "Ruling a big country is like cooking a small fish" (too much handling spoils it).

Taoism is especially interesting philosophically, because it rejects absolutes: there is no absolute certainty in any judgment about reality or moral values. For Taoists, the important truths of life are represented in the well-known yin/yang symbol (the circle within a circle with light and dark halves separated by a wavy line, and dots of the opposite color embedded in each side). "This polarity sums up all of life’s basic oppositions: good/evil, active/passive, positive/negative. light/dark, summer/winter, male/female. But though the halves are in tension, they are not flatly opposed: they complement and balance each other. Each invades the other’s hemisphere and takes up its abode in the deepest recess of its partner’s domain. And in the end both find themselves resolved by the circle which surrounds them, the Tao in its eternal wholeness. In the context of that wholeness, the opposites appear as no more than phases in an endless cycling process, for each turns incessantly into its opposite, exchanging places with it. Life does not move onward and upward toward a fixed pinnacle or pole. It bends backward upon itself to come, full circle, to the realization that all is one, and all is well." (Smith, 214-215) Thus, Taoism rejects sharp dichotomies. Even good and evil, life and death, are not opposites, but complementary parts of a single whole.

 

Buddhism

Like Islam, Buddhism is named after the characteristic it most enjoins in its followers. The Sanskrit root budh means "to awaken" or "to know". Buddhists strive to be awakened.

Like Islam and Christianity and Jainism, and unlike Hinduism, Buddhism has a personal founder. Legends about Buddha ("the awakened one") resemble those about Jesus and Osiris – the supposedly miraculous birth, and miracles worked through his influence. Buddha’s mother, according to legend, was impregnated by a heavenly white elephant with a lotus flower in its trunk. Like Osiris, and unlike Jesus, Siddhartha Gautama was rich, well-born, married, a father, destined for a life of power and influence. Like Jesus, Buddha was thought to be a "world-redeemer".

Buddhism must be understood against backdrop of Hinduism. Buddha was from Nepal, and took his first spiritual education from Hindu masters. In fact, he was so immersed in Hinduism that although Hindus considered him a heretic, they also "claim him as their own, holding that his criticisms of the religion of his day were in the order of reforms and were less important than his agreement." (Smith, 85) By 1000 CE, Mahayana (popular) Buddhism had been pretty much swallowed up into Hinduism in India; this is why in India today there are few Buddhists, but many Buddhist beliefs.

Buddhism is a "middle way", neither ascetic nor hedonistic. The biggest human problem, according to Buddha, is ignorant craving, not sin. The goal is extinction of desire (nirvana), which can be achieved in this life. Smith equates nirvana with "God-head", in the sense that both are simple and beyond definition. Buddha is said to have achieved nirvana himself in his great awakening under the Bo tree. The great division of Buddhism into Mahayana and Hinayana (Theravada) forms results from the question of what one should do if one does happen to achieve nirvana in this life. Should one just repose in it (on the theory that undifferentiated reality imposes no ethical obligations), or should one leave it to return to the world and enlighten others, as Buddha did? The Hinayana school says nirvana itself is the highest goal; the Mahayana school urges the life of the bodhisattva. The difference is one of emphasis: on detachment (Hinayana) or compassion (Mahayana). Buddha in his life achieved a synthesis of both.

Most distinctive about Buddhism from a Western philosophical perspective is the absence of the sort of metaphysical speculation that usually accompanies religion. Buddha simply refuses to answer questions about the existence of God or gods, miracles, immaterial souls, and personal immortality. "When his disciples asked him whether the world was eternal or not, whether there exists a substantial soul independent of the body or not, whether this soul exists after death, and whether there are gods or not – questions, be it noted, which others have regarded of religious significance – he replied that these were questions "which do not edify"." (Hutchison, 123) In fact, Buddha denies the existence of a personal creator God, since "personality requires definition, which nirvana excludes" (Smith, 114). Buddha’s approach is, in Smith’s phraseology, always more psychological than philosophical, and can hardly be called religious at all. Buddha is a kind of physician or scientist; he simply sees human suffering and attempts to cure it using a definite method (the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path).

Nevertheless, there are controversial metaphysical assumptions in Buddha’s teaching: for example, dharma (the way), and karma-samsara (a version of the law of the deed). Even more fundamentally, human craving is ignorant craving; but ignorance of what? Two quite specific and controversial metaphysical assumptions: anatta (no soul) and anicca (no substance).

Anatta, or no-soul, is the denial of what Hindus at the time called Atman (atta is Pali for Atman). Ignorance of anatta leads people to place too much importance on the self and its cravings. Atman at the time signified a spiritual substance that retains its separate identity forever. For Buddha, the self is a temporary combination of five elements (skandas, or threads), which disperse at death. Buddha’s views thus have much in common with those of Hume in the West. However, Buddha nevertheless maintains a notion of reincarnation according to the laws of karma. Later lives are to preceding lives as the flame that is passed from candle to candle. Is the flame on the final candle the same as the original flame? Yes and no. The specific desires and spiritual challenges that I face in each new life are not accidental; they are the result of my choices in previous lives.

Buddha’s notion of life after death, although vague, clearly differs from Hinduism. "The standard Hindu doctrine attributed rebirth to karma, the consequences of actions set in motion during previous lives. As these actions were innumerable, innumerable lives were assumed to be needed to work off these consequences. Characteristically, the Buddha took a more psychological view. Rebirth, he maintained, was due not to karma but to tanha. As long as the wish to be a separate self persisted, that wish would be granted. It follows that since desire is the key, it is possible to step permanently out of the cycle of rebirth whenever one wishes wholeheartedly to do so." (Smith, 151)

The notion of anicca (no substance) also is intended to liberate people from ignorant craving. Anicca has the sense of "transitoriness". Anicca doesn’t mean idealism in Berkeley’s sense (the complete denial of material substance). I.e., it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything at all, but rather that everything is changing all the time. The view can be compared to that of the pre-Socratic philosopher Heracleitus in the West. For Buddha, reality is radically impermanent, and "we are freed from the pain of clutching for permanence only if the acceptance of change is driven into our very marrow" (Smith 117).

Here we find perhaps the most fundamental difference between Buddhism and the Western tradition: Buddhism sees change as embedded into the very nature of things, a fact that must be accepted "in our bones" in order to achieve personal liberation. The Western tradition. by contrast, encourages attitudes of resentment and scorn toward change. The Platonic-Aristotelian-Christian tradition rejects the Heracleitean picture. It sees change as a sign of imperfection, something bad by its very nature; in the Western tradition, the best and most real entities are unchanging (e.g., Plato’s Forms, the Aristotelian and Christian Gods). Western thinkers hold this position because of an argument dating from the Greeks: if a perfect being changes, then presumably it gets better, which contradicts the original supposition that the being was already perfect (i.e., as good as it could be). Thus a perfect being that is subject to change isn’t really perfect (i.e., is a contradiction and thus impossible). And thus perfect beings (such as Forms or God) must be immutable.

Like Mahavira (the founder of Jainism), Buddha espouses egalitarianism, and criticizes orthodox Hinduism for the caste system. Buddha "parted company from the hardening lines of Indian orthodoxy in his teaching that a person of any caste can experience an awakening of heart so complete as to destroy karma and thus effectively, at one stroke, eliminate future rebirth." (Hutchison, 123)

 

 

 

 

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