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The commonality in the differences of Eastern/Western philosophy

By: viratbond Posted Feb 04, 2012 Current affairs 802 Views

Our approach to our lifestyles is greatly dependent upon the so called differences between Eastern and Western philosophy. How many times have we heard – “this is typical of the East” or “this is typical of the West”? Our perceived differences towards our way of life define what we feel proud in. If something is peculiar to a place, it becomes a thing to be revered and part of cultural heritage. ‘You will only find this here and this is what makes this such a great place’ – such a statement is not only a recognition of our uniqueness but a reaffirmation of our ego and pride. Even though words such as ‘East’ and ‘West’ can be considered archaic in the 21st century, social stigma is a much slower follower of change in mindset. Somewhere, in the back of our minds, we are extremely conscious of where we live and how we live our lives. We are acutely aware of what makes us different from others. So, even though, ‘East/West’ might be extinct from our vocabulary, it is very much present in our subconscious.

A lot of it has to do with our understanding of what we constitute to be ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ philosophy. It is a common misconception to assume that Eastern and Western philosophies which are largely responsible for governing the lives of its respective citizens are radically at odds with each other. The truth, however, is quite the contrary. In this short excerpt, I will attempt to show just how similar Eastern (or rather precisely, Indian philosophy) and Western philosophy is; both are quite similar in their dispositions and complimentary in their application.

Both, East and the West, traditionally share the consensus that reality and truth are inexpressible in itself and are painted with the colour of our imagination about what we constitute it to be and we communicate our reality around us via newly created conventions which have no intrinsic meaning; meaning which we give ourselves. Trying to comprehend life proves to be beyond our reach, trying to hold on to it proves to be ephemeral, and trying to envision it in totality appears to transcend the understanding of our own conceptual visions.

Greek philosophers such as Parmenides and Plato seem to have been aware of Indic thought. Indian thought has also been taken notice of in Europe by Edward Bysshe (1615-1679), Ambrose of Milan and Sebastian Gottfried Stark. Jacob Brucker (1696-1770) merits in Historia critica philosophaethat “the very best of Greek thinkers deemed it necessary to learn about wisdom and virtue from the Indians”.

The Upanisadic thought of unity within diversity can be rephrased in the words of Greek philosopher Parmenides (circa 6th century B.C.) where oneness can be thought in its manifoldness whereby the manifoldness is but appearance.

Upanisadic thought and enunciations of Sri Aurobindo convey the idea that nature of all things perceived has the mind as its source. New-platonic thinking spoke likewise – in its nature, mind appears in activity, all mind is seen when active, all appearances disappear upon the cessation of mental perception, all reality is therefore mental “energeia”,(i.e. mental activity). Leibniz’s etre capable d’action,also implies the world as a product of cognition. Schpenhauer (1788-1860) pointed to the inapprehensible nature of the mind – which can be traced back to the appreciation of Upanisadic thinking. In Indian and European philosophical as well as natural science circles – the subject, mind, self and consciousness (temporal/non-temporal) is the point of departure and source of all reality constituting knowledge, case in point: body of work of Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel.


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