Asian philosophies have very different worldviews and values than mainstream Western philosophies. There are recurring themes of harmony, non-intrusion and finding one’s place and carrying out one’s role in harmony with others. These are very interesting ideas, especially when compared to mainstream American religion and philosophy. Both conservative Christians and democratic liberals, for example, are taking the perspective of individuals, rather than placing importance on collective groups. This is accomplished by providing the rights and the responsibilities of individuals as the basic social values. The Asian philosophies do not ignore the individual, but the individual is always placed in a large context. Confucianism is very scholarly and complicated and seems like a lot of effort to go to when they only result is compliance with Confucianism, however it likely helps to stabilize order in a society when these principles are at play. Unfortunately, they probably also serve to limit a person’s dreams and mobility.
Filial piety, for example, could require someone to respect the wishes of abusive parents who are not considered with their child’s best interests. While it is hard to argue with the need for humaneness, it is more difficult to understand the need for unchanging rituals, and these may hold back a society from advancement. Brahmanism provides interesting explanations for various aspects of human life in the universe, as well as rigid and limiting caste system. Jainism is the most intensely concerned about not causing harm, and this was very interesting to learn about. While Brahminism and Jainism are both still practiced in India, they have very different approaches to the world. In Brahminism there is a structure and hierarchy of importance in the universe, while in Jainism all living things are equal, and equally deserving of ahimsa or non-interference and non-harm. Taoism is the most abstract, and the most difficult to understand. Unlike Western religions, there is no deity or gods that are worshipped. Instead, like Buddhism, it seeks to free the individual from the unnecessary concerns of life. Of these five Asian philosophies, I find Buddhism the most interesting because it has a lot of potential application in the Western world today, in terms of reducing the rampant consumerism and mental illness that creates social and other problems.
Buddhism has some interesting concepts that seem to be exactly contrary to Western ideas about the world. For example, Buddhists seek to let go of material and worldly concerns, which are only temporary as they are tied to the physical state. Instead, the Buddhist seeks nirvana, which is a state of mind where all material needs, ambitions and other mana like pride and arrogance have ceased to cause suffering for that person. What is the most interesting about this is that from a Western perspective, there is a lot of overlap between the condition referred to as depression in Western psychiatric medicine, and the state of nirvana. In both cases, the individual is no longer concerned about or motivated by earthly concerns. While I am not proposing that they represent the same, or similar state of being, I think that the overlap is interesting, and it bears further study and research.
The Buddha is not worshipped in Buddhism. Instead, Buddhists seek to live the Buddha’s advice on how to live a thoughtful life including following the eightfold path and complying with the four noble truths. In this way a person can escape the cycle of rebirth and reincarnation that is caused by the mana. This mana of unnecessary worldly concerns causes dukkha or suffering, and it prevents escape from the endless cycle of samsara. It would seem that a society that is based on Buddhism would have lower consumption, greater concern for the environment, and less stress than what is normal in most contemporary Western societies.