Eastern And Western Philosophy


Eastern and Western Philosophy

Eastern and Western Philosophy


The cultures of India and China can be distinguished as follows. In China, it was a 'Culture of the State', while in India it was a 'Culture of Sages'. The early interpreters of Confucian teachings were literal and interested in historical facts. It changed under the impact of Buddhism and later in the 12th century with the Neo-Confucianists represented by Chu His (1130-1200) the Confucian Way became principle, more philosophical and more subjective. Confucius idolized the legendary sage-emperors. He had served as an official and later travelled to advice rulers for reform. A basic Confucian classic The Book of History is a collection of documents from the time of the legendary Emperor Tao (3rd millennium BC) to early Chou (1111-249 BC) (Whitbeck 2001).

Yao and Shun were sage-emperors. The Doctrine of the Mean says that Confucius transmitted the ancient traditions of Yao and Shun. To all ancient Chinese philosophers, the ideal human being was always a historical person. Confucius and Mencius idolized Yao and Shun. In India, the Culture of Sages was of the forest. The hermitages were on the banks of rivers. The hermits occupied no positions in government, did not reside at the court, lived away from urban centres, and in fact shunned the ways of the world. Theirs was a life of thought, of knowledge of the super-mundane. While Chinese value-system leaned heavily on the King or Emperor as the fountainhead of virtue, the sage or monk in India formed the essence of the highest values in divine abstraction.


The Chinese term ju means a 'scholar, a man of learning' rather than 'a man of books'. Writing in China goes to the third millennium. The Indus script also belongs to the same millennium. Written documents have existed in both cultures for the last five thousand years. In India, the sages lived on rivers. India's thought arose on their banks, and it was a constant flow, a flux. For the water to flow, a river needs banks. It there are no banks, the water would spill all around into marshy land. Likewise the thought of India was a perennial flow, a philosophia perennis, whose two banks were sruti and sm_rti. Sruti was the eternal, and sm_rti the ephemeral. The two constituted continuity and change. This prevented all dogma, every rigidity. The mind remained free to respond to time and space. Sruti is from the root sru 'to hear', but it refers more to fame, glory, praise. The parallel world sloka is the voice of the gods, hymn of praise. The cognate word slava in Russian means 'glory'.

Thus sruti is the glorious, meritorious aspect of the tradition which lends patina of timeless time to the sm_rti the ever-changing ethos that governs human society. In India, personal audience with the Master and leaning his words was a qualitative 'leap'(Slote 2000). It was not due to the absence of the written word. It was not merely physical seeing but visualization, not only hearing with the sense organs but the essence of perception beyond the phenomenal, an indefinable becoming...
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