Introduction – The Four Noble Truths of Philosophy.
A lot is said about the differences between Eastern and Western philosophy. A great many people are of the opinion that if we gave equal time to Eastern thought in our education, it would revolutionize our science and/or culture. Of course, such a statement is hard to confirm or deny without waiting for time to pass, but I find that most people who make this claim have no special expertise in any sort of philosophy at all. There is a commonly expressed idealistic preconception of Eastern thought that sees it as being the next level up from Western ideas, such that it seems like foolishness to us Westerners, much like the way that philosophy or science seems like foolishness to the layman. In many cases, this is true, for example Descartes’ famous cogito is quite vulnerable to many Eastern criticisms. However, Descartes is not the last word from the West. Although Buddhism may have been the best challenge to Descartes in his time, there are now better approaches, although Buddhism is still worth a place in the conversation even today.
My approach is heavily influenced by both Eastern and Western thought, and I am not completely sure that I would have reached my current views without heavy exposure to Eastern theory and practice. However, I do think that Eastern thought is for sure not so very far ahead of Western. I do not want to bother with claiming one or the other is better in any unqualified sense, or that one of the two is optional for further progress on our most important questions.
I think that what they share is more fundamental than how they differ. In my view they all share the following four features:
- That there are “Many Things“, that we find in this world.
- The Many Things are Problematic in some way.
- They do not quite make sense.
- They are hard to predict.
- They suffer or cause suffering.
- There is a “One Special Thing”
- under or
- above all the Many Things.
- This One Thing is somehow intrinsically related to all the Many Things, much like God or Natural Law.
- The One Special Thing from step three might be the Solution to the Problem of step two.
As I was writing, the above, I noticed how similar the four points were to the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths”. However, the steps could be filled out with values from numerous schools of thought from all over the world. In the following, we will look at the starting points of the three major sources of philosophy that the world has had in the past.
The Plan of the Treatise.
We shall start with the tradition of China and proceed to Greece and India and see how each of them compare. We shall choose for our examples three ckassic books and under each we list the four headings that we gave above: Many Things, The Problem, The One Special Thing, and the resulting Solution to the Problem:
- The Tao Teh Ching. of China.
- The Ten Thousand Things; Heaven and Earth
- Life out of Balance/Ignorance of the Way
- The Way (Tao)
- True Power (Teh)
- The Bhagavad Gita of India.
- The nature of Maya.
- Complete Illusions
- Relative Delusion
- The Root of Ignorance – Confusion about your self.
- The Immortal Atman. – Your True Self
- The Science of Raja Yoga – Connecting with the True Self
- Study – Jnana Yoga
- Worship – Bhakti Yoga
- Morality – Panca Sila
- Yogic observances
- Meditation – Dhyana Yoga
- Service – Karma Yoga
- The nature of Maya.
- The Metaphysics by Aristotle.
- What are there? – Nature, Good, Forms
- What problems are there?
- Cosmological Decay
- “Frustration” of Nature
- Moral Vice
- The Arche and the Four Causes.
- The Solution:
- Moral Virtue
- Intellectual Virtue
There could be many other choices for these: in each of these traditions, there is a great variety of schools of thought that radically disagree with each other. I do not want to efface the differences with or between Greece, India and China, but I think that what is shared among all of them is something that is very useful to know no matter which tradition you call home.