Lecture 2



1.  Origin of philosophical thought. Eastern and western types of cultural development.

2.            Philosophy of Ancient India (Vedantic philosophy, Buddhism).

3.           Philosophical conceptions of Ancient China (Confucianism, Taoism).


1.                          Origin of philosophical thought. Eastern and western types of cultural development

Philosophy originated in controversy with religious - mythological ideas that existed for many centuries before. Mythological thinking was based on reflection of nature and man in the light of the tribal relations. On the contrary, philosophy introduces the system of knowledge that is based on reason. It appeals not to instructing and retelling, but to thinking, logical reasoning and critical comprehension of the conventional ideas.

Philosophy originated in the following three centers of the ancient civilization: in ancient Greece, India and China, what happened almost simultaneously in the middle of the 1st millennium BC. Breaking its ties with mythology, philosophy as the "self-consciousness of culture" doesn't loose its deep connection with the cultural tradition. Thus, up till nowadays, philosophy is a manifestation of either eastern or western type of culture.

The first aspect to consider discloses specific features of reference to nature. Development of the west civilization implies active transformation and mastering of nature by man. Achievements in the realms of techniques, technologies and science are its typical features. On the contrary, the eastern cultural tradition emphasized careful and religious reference to nature and everything alive. It is oriented not at change of the external conditions of the human existence but at development of the very nature of man – at the moral-spiritual improvement of a personality, its physical and psychological abilities and at harmony and integrity of its inner world.

The second distinctive feature reflects peculiarities of the social life and the system of the social values. On the one hand, the western cultural tradition stands for the idea of historical progress, development of society in the line of ascent. In this connection, the values of democracy, legal state, freedom and sovereignty of an individual are its main achievements. On the other hand, it is not typical for the societies of the eastern cultural tradition to have an intention of progress. On the contrary, they try to preserve their culture as it is. What is more, the conservative character of the social relations is connected with orientation on the values of a community and limitation of the individual freedom in the name of the interests of society.

The third aspect discloses spiritual-psychological features of man of this or that type of culture. A man of the western type is characterized by the rational-logical style of thinking, definiteness, consecutiveness, cold mind, sober pragmatism and practicism. The determining principle of European thinking is "divide and rule" that originated in the time of the Roman Empire. The division of the world into the natural and human ones is caused by intention to master and rule nature. Consequently, such notions as good and evil, science and religion, emotions and thoughts are clearly differentiated as well. It is typical for the eastern culture to realize the relative character of these opposites. A deep feeling of unity and indivisibility of everything substitute the western cult of individuality. For the people of the East, development of science and knowledge was not end in itself, for they never believed in power of science to make man happier. The eastern thinking is rather intuitive and mystical than rational one. It is filled with feelings, emotions, and elements of the religious and artistic world-perception. Unlike, the West, which development is grounded on the scientific knowledge and science, the East stands for eternal truths and mankind spirituality. Philosophy, as the reflection of culture, bears some distinctive features of a definite cultural tradition. Thus, the western philosophy is oriented mostly at the ideal of the rational knowledge, what makes it stand close to the scientific cognition. The western philosophical text is represented in the form of a treatise, which has clear, logical and consequent structure and presentation system. The western philosophy is characterized by well-developed logic, the notional apparatus, the theory of cognition and methodology.

The eastern philosophical tradition is based on the outlook-oriented knowledge, on such forms of spiritual culture as religion, art and morality. The eastern philosophical texts are represented by parables, aphorisms, and instructions. The humanistic, moral-ethic and religious problems field dominates.

2. Philosophy of Ancient India (Vedantic philosophy, Buddhism)

Indian philosophy, along with Chinese philosophy, is considered to be one of the foremost Eastern traditions of abstract inquiry. Indian philosophy, expressed in the Indo-European language of Sanskrit, comprises many diverse schools of thought and perspectives and includes a substantial body of intellectual debate and argumentation among the various views.

Classical Indian philosophy extends from approximately 100 BC to 1800 AD, which marks the beginning of the modern period. Ancient Indian philosophy also includes the mystical treatises known as Upanishads (700 – 100 BC), early Buddhist writings (300 BC – 500 AD) and the Sanskrit poem Bhagavad-Gita (Song of God, about 200 BC). Classical Indian philosophy is less concerned with spirituality than ancient thought; rather, it concentrated on questions of how people can know and communicate about every-day affairs.

Indian philosophy of the later classical and modern periods (1200 to present) may be distinguished from most Indian religious and spiritual thought. Among the exceptions are philosophies represented by famous advocates of ancient Indian spiritual views, such as mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo Ghose a nationalist revolutionary who opposed British rule of India in the early 20th century – and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, was president of India from 1962 to 1967, within the period immediately following the country's struggle for independence. Indian philosophy is extensive, rich and complex. Scholars analyze not only its significance and its insights, but also its classical teachings about knowledge and language. Meanwhile, the majority of those who study the history of Indian thought have been drawn to its religious and mystical teachings. In spite of a great number of schools and teachings there are the following distinctive features that establish the background of the outlook ideas of Indian philosophy and culture in general. The basis of most of the Indian teachings is that ultimate reality is one-eternal and impersonal Absolute (idea about personal god-creator is not spread in Indian outlook tradition), and that the variety of apprehensions, which comes to us through the senses is illusory and is called mãyã (fr. Sanskrit – illusion). Man must rid himself of his illusion and ignorance if he is to become aware of and partake of reality (brahma). He must come to know that his own individualized self is only a manifestation of the one self (atman), and he must then come to know that the one self is reality. This "knowing" is not a mere intellectual knowledge, but an enlightenment of one's whole being. If one fails to find this "release" (moksa), one is bound by the law of punishment and reward (karma) to return to this world in a further incarnation, still tied to the wheel of rebirth (samsara).

Reincarnation, the view that after death human beings live again in other forms, was held by Plato and is a tenet in Hinduism and Buddhism. In the Hindu Scripture Bhagavad-Gita (500 BC), the Supreme God, Lord Krishna, comforts the unenlightened Arjuna, who is engaged in warfare with his evil cousins, by telling him that there is no reason to grieve over the death of someone we love, for the "eternal in man cannot die". "We have all been for all time: I, and thou, and those king of men. And we shall be for all time, we all for ever and ever". He continues that for the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. It has not come into being, does not come into being and will not come into being. A person's body is different in every reincarnation, but the same mind inhabits each body: "As a man leaves an old garment and puts on the one that is new, the Spirit leaves his mortal body and then puts on one that is new". There are two main interpretations of Gita. They both say that the goal of existence is to end the cycle of rebirths, but the Advaitian (monist) interpretation holds that the goal is to be absorbed into God (or Nirvana), whereas the Vaisnavan (dualist, worshiping Vishnu) interpretation holds that the person retains his spiritual or personal identity in a relationship with God. Reincarnation is typically linked with karma, one more essential constituent element of the Indian philosophy. Buddhism and Hinduism consider karma to the sum total of the acts done in one stage of person's existence, which deteraiines his destiny in the next stage. Jainism treats karma as a form of matter, which can contaminate a soul and postpone its attaining Nirvana. In general, it is the doctrine that whatsoever a man sows, whether in action or thought, the fruits will eventually be reaped by him – if not in this life, then in the next. Thus a person who led an evil existence might be reborn as a lower animal (e.g., a reptile or insect). Evidence cited for reincarnation includes deja vu experiences that they couldn't have had in this life.

The idea of the caste division of society is one of those that are inseparable from the Indian outlook. According to it every man belongs to one of four castes, which are the following:

- Brahmin caste – the first or the highest caste, comprising the priests (fr. Sanskrit Brahman – worship);

-   Kshatriya caste – the second caste, comprising warriors and rulers (fr. Sanskrit kshatra – rule);

-   Vaisya caste – the third caste, comprising farmers and merchants (fr. Sanskrit – peasant);

-   Sudra caste – the fourth and the lowest caste, comprising manual workers (fr. Sanskrit sudra);

Among the main classical schools of Indian thought we can point out the following:

A)     The so-called orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, which include Exegesis (Mimamsa), Vedanta and its numerous subschools, Atomism (Vaisesika), Logic (Nyaya), Analysis (Samkhya) and Yoga;

B)      The so-called non-orthodox systems of Buddhism, the materialist and skeptical philosophies of Carvaka and the religious schools of Jainism.

The eight steps of yoga fall into three main groups:

1)      Moral discipline – against killing, lying, stealing, sexual impurity and possessiveness, and towards purity, contentment, austerity, study and God – centeredness.

2)       Physical disciplines – control over bodily posture, breathing and excitation of the senses.

3)       Stages of meditation – concentration, contemplation and ecstasy (unity).

It was Buddhism to inherit and transform all the traditions of the orthodox philosophical schools.

This is a religious and philosophical system springing from the life and teaching of Gautama Buddha (the Sanskrit word Buddha means awakened), who in the 6th century BC rejected certain features of his native Hinduism, particularly the caste system, animal sacrifice and undue asceticism.


He founded an order of mendicant preachers, including both sexes, and his first sermon to his disciples at Benares is the root of all later developments. In this first sermon he preached the Four Noble Truths:

1) Sorrow is the universal experience of mankind.

2)       The cause of sorrow is desire, and the cycle of rebirths is perpetuated by desire for existence.

3)       The removal of sorrow can only come from the removal of desire.

4)       The desire can be systematically abandoned by following the Noble Eightfold Path, which is the basis of the disciplines of Buddhism and finds its origin in the corresponding yoga system.

The eight steps are not fully consecutive stages, but fall into three main groups:

a)         Right understanding (of Buddha's basic teaching) and right aspirations (toward benevolence and renunciation).

b)       Right speech (i.e. no lying or abuse), right conduct (i.e. no killing, no stealing and no overindulgence) and right means of livelihood (i.e. nothing tending to the use or encouragement of wrong speech or conduct).

c)        Right striving (toward the building up of good and the eradication of evil within oneself), right self-possession (involving self-knowledge and control of thought), and right contemplation (according to the traditional stages of meditation).

3. Philosophical conceptions of Ancient China (Confucianism, Daoism)

Philosophy of the ancient China, as well as that of the ancient India, was tightly connected with the mythological world - perception of the past, which is preserved in the ancient Chinese tutorial books. They disclose ideas about the world and man, and the first attempts of the philosophical comprehension of their interrelation. Three background principles that are initial ones for the whole Chinese culture, and are recognized by all philosophical schools of the ancient China are "Yin" – a symbol of the shadow or the passive, feminine principle of life; "Yang" – the symbol of the sun or the active, masculine principle of life and "Dao (Tao)" – that means the way or the universal force harmonizing nature. The world, according to the Chinese philosophical conception, is perceived as eternal fight of two opposite forces, which do not negate but complete each other. One force potentially includes the other and on a higher level of its development can be transformed into the opposite one. These forces are combined to create a perfect harmonious whole – the decline of one is supported by the rise of the other. Interdependence and interconnection of Yin and yang is called Dao, which is the only universal law and spiritual basis of all things. To follow the Dao or to attain harmony with the world means to find the perfect equilibrium between these two extremes, which are most commonly interpreted as intuition versus rationality.

The following schools represent the ancient China philosophy: "Yin-Yang", "Monism", "Legalism", "School of Names", "Confucianism", and "Daoism", the most important of which are the last two ones. Confucianism and Daoism reflect two opposite poles of the Chinese world-perception. Nevertheless, these two traditions are closely connected with each other. On the one hand, Confucianism, which became the official religion and ideology of China, dominated in the sphere of the social-family relations. On the other hand, Daoism occupied intimate depths of the human soul.

Confucianism originated in the 6th century BC. It was founded by Confucius (551 – 479 BC), who was born in the small state of Lu on the Shandong peninsula in northeastern China. His book the Analects (Chinese: Lunyu) is the basic literary source of this philosophic system. Confucianism is the ethical-political teaching, where the problems of the art of management and upbringing in the spirit of respect to predecessors, state and other people are considered.

The ethics of Confucius is based on differentiation of two social types of people and two styles of behavior in society. These are the junzi (literally, "lord's son", "gentleman" or "profound person") and the xiaoren ("small person"): "The profound person understands what is moral. The small person understands what is profitable".

Some of Confucius' Sayings

"Someone who is a clever speaker and maintains a 'too-smiley' face is seldom considered a person of jen."

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you".

"Each day I examine myself in three ways: in doing things for others, have I been disloyal? In my interactions with friends, have I been untrustworthy? Have not practiced what I have preached?"

"If you would govern a state of a thousand chariots (a small-to-middle-size state), you must pay strict attention to business, be true to your word, be economical in expenditure and love the people. You should use them according to the seasons."

"A young man should serve his parents at home and be respectful to elders outside his home. He should be earnest and truthful, loving all, but become intimate with jen. After doing this, if he has energy to spare, he can study literature and the arts."

"If the Superior Man is not 'heavy,' then he will not inspire awe in others. If he is not learned, then he will not be on firm ground. He takes loyalty and good faith to be of primary importance, and has no friends who are not of equal (moral) caliber. When he makes a mistake, he doesn't hesitate to correct it."

"When your father is alive, observe his will. When your father is dead observe his former actions. If, for three years you do not change from the ways of your father, you can be called a 'real son (hsiao).'"

"When the Superior Man eats he does not try to stuff himself; at rest he does not seek perfect comfort; he is diligent in his work and careful in speech. He avails himself to people of the Tao and thereby corrects himself. This is the kind of person of whom you can say, 'he loves learning.'"

"Ah, now I can begin to discuss the Book of Odes with Tz'u. I give him a hint and he gets the whole point."

"If you govern with the power of your virtue, you will be like the North Star. It just stays in its place while all the other stars position themselves around it."

"If you govern the people legalistically and control them by punishment, they will avoid crime, but have no personal sense of shame. If you govern them by means of virtue and control them with propriety, they will gain their own sense of shame, and thus correct themselves."

"At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts; at fifty I knew the mandate of heaven; at sixty my ear was obedient; at seventy I could follow my heart's desire without transgressing the norm."

"I can talk with Hui for a whole day without him differing with me in any way--as if he is stupid. But when he retires and I observe his personal affairs, it is quite clear that he is not stupid."


Daoism originated approximately at the same time as Confucianism. It does not name a tradition constituted by a founding thinker, even though the common belief is that a teacher named Laozi founded the school and wrote its major work, called the Daodejing (Book about Dao and De)(3rd c. BC). Besides, there is one more influential text that refers to this philosophical tradition – the Zhuangzi (4th – 3rd c. BC), which is a collection of stories and imaginary conversations known for its creativity and skillful use of language. However, this stream of thought existed in an oral fonn, passed along by the masters who developed and transmitted it before it came to be written in these texts. The problem field of Daoism is more concerned with natural philosophy, relations between man and nature rather than with social -ethical and political aspects of human existence.

Dao is the main notion of Daoism that gives answers to all the questions about origin of the world and the way it exists. It is the initial cause and the only law of the universe to which nature, society and man are subordinated. Dao is the process of reality itself, the way things come together, while still transforming. It reflects the deep-seated Chinese belief that change is the most basic character of things. A central theme of the Daodejing is that correlatives are the expressions of the movement of Dao. Correlatives in Chinese philosophy are not opposites, mutually excluding each other. They represent the ebb and flow of the forces of reality: yin/yang, male/female; excess/defect; leading/following; active/passive. As one approaches the fullness of yin, yang begins to horizon and emerge. The essence of Dao is non-being, that is why it can neither be cognized by mind nor determined by means of words. Daoism teaches that humans cannot fathom Dao, because any name we give to it cannot capture it. It is beyond what we can conceive. Those who wu wei may become one with it and thus "obtain Dao." Wu wei is a difficult notion to translate. Yet, it is generally agreed that the traditional rendering of it as "nonaction" or "no action" is incorrect. Those who wu wei do act. Daoism is not a philosophy of "doing nothing." Wu wei means something like "act naturally," "effortless action," or "nonwillful action." The point is that there is no need for human tampering with the flow of reality. Wu wei should be the way of life, because Dao always benefits, it does not harm. The way of heaven (Dao of tian) is always on the side of good and virtue (de) comes forth from Dao alone. What causes this natural embedding of good and benefit in Dao is vague and elusive, not even the sages understand it. But the world is a reality that is filled with spiritual force, just as a sacred image used in religious ritual might be. Dao occupies the place in reality that is analogous to the part of a family's house set aside for the altar for venerating the ancestors and gods. When we think that life's occurrences seem unfair (a human discrimination), we should remember that heaven's net misses nothing and it leaves nothing undone. What is the image of the ideal person in Daoism, the sage? It is obvious that sages wu wei. In this respect, they are like newborn infants, who move naturally, without planning and reliance on the structures given to them by others. Sages empty themselves, becoming void of pretense. Sages concentrate their internal energies and clean their vision. They manifest plainness and become like uncarved wood. They live naturally and free from desires given by men. They settle themselves and know how to be content. They preserve the female (yin), meaning that they know how to be receptive and are not unbalanced favoring assertion and action (yang). They shoulder yin and embrace yang, blend internal energies and thereby attain harmony. Those following Dao do not strive, tamper, or seek control. They do not endeavor to help life along, or use their heart-mind to "solve" or "figure out" life's apparent knots and entanglements. Sages do not engage in disputes and arguing, or try to prove their point. They are pliable and supple, not rigid and resistive. They are like water, finding their own place, overcoming the hard and strong by suppleness. Sages act with no expectation of reward. They put themselves last and yet come first. They never make a display of themselves. They do not brag or boast and do not linger after their work is done. They leave no trace. Because they embody Dao in practice, they have longevity. They create peace. Creatures do not harm them. Soldiers do not kill them. Heaven protects the sage and the sage becomes invincible. The sage should follow the three aims: to live long, to overcome the state of enlightenment and to become immortal.

Indian Philosophy




Indian Philosophy, along with Chinese philosophy, one of the foremost Eastern traditions of abstract inquiry. Indian philosophy, expressed in the Indo-European language of Sanskrit (see Sanskrit Language), comprises many diverse schools of thought and perspectives and includes a substantial body of intellectual debate and argumentation among the various views.

Among the main classical schools of Indian thought are (1) the so-called orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy, which include Exegesis (Mimamsa), Vedanta and its numerous subschools, Atomism (Vaisheshika), Logic (Nyaya), Analysis (Samkhya), and Yoga; and (2) the Buddhist (so-called nonorthodox) schools of Madhyamika, Buddhist Idealism (Yogacara), and Abhidharma (which includes numerous subschools). Indian philosophy also comprises the materialist (see Materialism) and skeptical (see Skepticism) philosophies of Carvaka and the religious schools of Jainism.

Classical Indian philosophy extends from approximately 100 bc to ad 1800, which marks the beginning of the modern period. Ancient Indian thought, which is also philosophic in a broader sense, originated as early as 1500 bc and appears in scriptures called Veda. Ancient Indian philosophy also includes the mystical treatises known as Upanishads (700 bc to 400 bc), early Buddhist writings (300 bc to ad 500), and the Sanskrit poem Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord, 200 BC to 200 AD). Classical Indian philosophy is less concerned with spirituality than ancient thought; rather, it concentrates on questions of how people can know and communicate about everyday affairs.

Indian philosophy of the later classical and modern periods (1200 to present) may be distinguished from most Indian religious and spiritual thought. Among the exceptions are philosophies represented by famous advocates of ancient Indian spiritual views, such as mystic philosopher Sri Aurobindo Ghose—a nationalist revolutionary who opposed British rule of India in the early 20th century—and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was president of India from 1962 to 1967, within the period immediately following the country's struggle for independence.

Indian philosophy is extensive, rich, and complex. Scholars analyze not only its significance and its insights, but also its classical teachings about knowledge and language. Meanwhile, the majority of Western students of Indian thought have been drawn to its religious and mystical teachings.




Indian and Western civilizations have maintained some form of contact for at least 2500 years. In the 4th century bc, for example, the Greek emperor Alexander took troops across the Indus River, which borders the western edge of the Indian subcontinent. Even so, while trade contacts seem to have been ongoing, political contact between India and the West was largely insignificant until the 16th century. Western philosophical and religious views were carried by political emissaries and traders during voyages in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some scholars have argued that Platonism (the philosophy of ancient Greek thinker Plato) and neo-Platonism (a 3rd-century movement based on Platonism) were greatly influenced by Indian thought. Nevertheless, the traditions of Indian and Western philosophy developed largely in ignorance of one another, and, until modern times, showed few signs of influencing one another.

Despite this, it is possible to discern common interests and intellectual positions between Western and Indian philosophy, such as positions concerning logic and epistemology (the study of knowledge). Furthermore, when Indian philosophers ask the question “What is real?” (the subject of metaphysics) and respond by directing their attention to everyday experience and discourse, other interesting parallels to Western traditions become evident.

On the other hand, contrasts between Western and Indian thought dominate the arenas of religion and religious philosophy. For example, there is a certain type of Indian theism that shares similarities with the monotheism of the West. But the nirvana (enlightenment) goal of Buddhism, the mystical monism of Advaita Vedanta (the idea that all reality is a single spiritual being), and the theorizing that forms the foundation of polytheism (belief in the existence of multiple deities) in Hinduism are instances of Indian philosophy that have no, or at best minor and incomplete, parallels in Western philosophy.

Most ethical teachings in Indian philosophy are found in Indian literature but are influenced by religious association. Western types of ethical propositions (“one should behave in a certain manner because of [argument X]”) do occur in Indian philosophy—for instance, the famous Jaina argument that since animals are capable of pain, humans have an obligation not to harm them—but there is little wrestling with the question of the criteria of ethical norms (standards), unlike in the West. Indian classical philosophers often think about ethics in connection with Indian views about actions, or habits (karma), and rebirth (the belief in reincarnation; see Transmigration). Nevertheless, Indian philosophy is characterized by a highly refined ethical sensibility (common among Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism), along with standards of character and conduct that are common to many other cultures.




In ancient Indian philosophy (before 100 bc), philosophy and religion cannot be meaningfully separated, primarily because of the cultural integration of religious practices and mystical pursuits. For example, ceremonies celebrating birth, marriage, and death, performed with recitations of Vedic verses (mantras), were important for bonding within ancient Indian societies. Later in classical Indian philosophy, different social practices developed. Thus, the orthodox classical schools of thought are distinguished from nonorthodox classical schools by their allegiance to established forms of social practice rather than to the doctrines of the Veda. Buddhism, for example, constitutes much more of a break with Vedic practices than with the ideas developed in Vedic traditions of thought. In fact, the Upanishads, mystical treatises continuous with the Vedas, foretell many Buddhist teachings. In ancient India, religion did not entail dogma, but rather a way of life that permitted a wide range of philosophic positions and inquiry.

Mysticism, the claim that ultimate truth is only obtainable through spiritual experience, dominates much ancient Indian philosophy. Such experiences are thought to reveal a supreme and transmundane (beyond ordinary experience) reality and to provide the meaning of life. Mysticism shapes much classical and modern Indian thought as well. Through meditation and the meditative techniques of yoga, it is believed that one discovers one's true self (atman), or God (Brahman), or enlightenment (nirvana). The presumed indications of mystical experiences, such as atman or God, were especially debated in the ancient period and influenced much subsequent Indian philosophy, including the reflections of professional philosophers of late classical times.

In some schools of classical Indian philosophy, such as Nyaya (Logic), neither religion nor mysticism is central. Rather, the questions of how human beings know what they know—and how they can mean what they say—are given priority.




The oldest literature of Indian thought is the Veda, a collection of poems and hymns composed over several generations beginning as early as 1500 bc. The Veda was composed in Sanskrit, the intellectual language of both ancient and classical Indian civilizations. Four collections were made, so it is said that there are four Vedas. The four as a group came to be viewed as sacred in Hinduism.

Most of the poems of the Veda are religious and tend to be about the activities of various gods. Yet some Vedic hymns and poems address philosophic themes that became important in later periods, such as the henotheism that is key to much Hindu theology. Henotheism is the idea that one God takes many different forms, and that although individuals may worship several different gods and goddesses, they really revere but one Supreme Being.

Indian philosophy was more decisively established with the Upanishads (secret doctrines), the first of which may have been written in the 7th century bc. Early Upanishads, which dominate the late ancient period (475 bc to 100 bc) of thought, were key to the emergence of several classical philosophies. In the Upanishads, views about Brahman (the Absolute, or God) and atman (one's true self) were proposed.

Buddhism, now a major world religion, also appeared in the ancient period of Indian philosophy. The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, lived during the 6th century bc. He preached a goal of a supreme personal good—enlightenment (nirvana)—that may be compared to the later mystical so-called Brahman-knowledge of Upanishadic philosophy. In the reign of the Buddhist emperor Ashoka (3rd century bc), an enormous canon of literature, sometimes called the Southern Buddhist Canon, or the Pali Canon, was compiled. Other scriptures, eventually key to a Northern or Mahayana tradition, were composed later.

Most of the great classical schools of Indian philosophy, seven or eight in number, were first articulated in texts dating from as early as 100 bc. The founders of these schools are largely unknown except by traditional names—such as Gautama, with the Logic (Nyaya) school, and Badarayana, with Vedanta. Early classical Indian philosophy is expressed in aphoristic (sutra) texts complete with elaborate commentaries. The Sanskrit word sutra means thread and, by extension, an “aphorism” that captures a philosophic tenet in a succinct statement. The sutra texts, usually accompanied with commentaries made by a second great thinker of a tradition, express world views, or philosophies, organized around reasons and arguments.

The most outstanding individuals in subsequent classical Indian philosophical writing include Buddhist Idealist Dharmakirti, who lived in the 7th century; Advaita Vedantin Samkara, of the 8th century; and Logic philosopher Gangesa, of the 14th century. The writings of these thinkers represented a steady advance in persuasiveness over previous arguments. As a whole, Indian philosophic reasoning and reflection advanced—both in overall sophistication of argument and in the volume and scope of new texts—by the gradual effort of numerous authors.








The Mimamsa-sutra of the Exegesis school appears to be the oldest text (100 bc) of an emergent philosophic sastra (craft or science). Exegesis is primarily concerned with questions of Vedic interpretation. Broadly philosophic questions—such as, “Why is the Veda sacred?”—come to be addressed, and, in general, a realist (see Realism) view of nature (the belief that a world exists independent of the mind) and a common-sense view of knowledge (human beings know things by directly perceiving them or by deducing from other known things) become part of the basis of the philosophic system. Exegesis arguments about dharma (Sanskrit for “duty” or “the right way to live”) have been the focus of philosophic efforts through most of the many centuries of this school. In the later classical period, Exegesis philosophy focuses less on dharma, and more attention is given to technical issues in the philosophy of language. The school continues into the modern period.




Vedanta also has a long and distinguished history, as well as a bewildering number of subschools. Vedanta models itself after the philosophy of the Upanishads. For purposes of study, Vedantic philosophy may be said to fall into two subschools: (1) Advaita (monistic or nondual) Vedanta, and (2) theistic Vedanta. The main point of contention between the two schools is the reality of God, along with the reality of the world that God presumably has created, or emanated. Advaita Vedanta holds that Ultimate Reality (Brahman), which is identical with one's true self (atman), transcends all forms. Thus, God and the world are illusions. Theistic Vedantins disagree, holding that God and the world exist separately from one's self. The early 8th-century Advaitin philosopher Samkara is the most famous classical Vedantin. Vedanta extends through all periods of Indian philosophy and remains important among present-day philosophers in India, as well as among Hindus throughout contemporary society.





Vedanta (Sanskrit veda,”knowledge”; anta,”end”), one of the six orthodox philosophies of Hinduism, chiefly concerned with knowledge of Brahman, the universal supreme pure being. Vedanta is based on the speculative portion of late Vedic literature, primarily the treatises known as Aranyakas and Upanishads.

Differing Indian traditions ascribe the first truly Vedantic manuals, the Vedanta sutras (also called Brahma sutras), to two semilegendary figures: the philosopher Badarayana (circa 4th century bc), and a vaguely identifiable sage named Vyasa. To the latter these same traditions also ascribe definitive compilations of the Vedas, as well as a compilation of the later epic poem Mahabharata. Most modern scholars, without totally rejecting the traditions, state that the Sanskrit name Vyasa (“arranger” or “collector,”) has been applied to many ancient Hindu authors and compilers.

Whoever first formulated the Vedanta set down its teachings in aphorisms so pithy that they are virtually unintelligible without the aid of interpretation. Different interpretations have given rise to numerous schools of Indian philosophy, the most important being Advaita, or nondualism, founded by the Hindu philosopher and theologian Shankara.




The central problem in Shankara's system of interpretation is the nature of the relation between Brahman and atman, the individual self, breath, or soul. According to Shankara, the two are identical. The individual self, however, is prevented by avidya, or ignorance, from understanding the nondual universal nature of pure being (Brahman). Thus it perceives only separate selves and things (that is, the whole world of material, temporal existence), and never realizes that all separate existences are essentially unreal (these being phenomena produced by maya, the power of illusion mysteriously inherent in and projected from Brahman). As long as the individual self remains without real knowledge, it will blindly look for its true self in the phenomenal world. It remains enmeshed in that world, again and again experiencing samsara, or the series of existences, deaths, and rebirths each unenlightened soul undergoes as a consequence of its karma (its good and evil actions in past existences, which determine the form of future existences). Through the proper knowledge of Vedanta, however, the individual soul recognizes the limitless reality forever existing behind the cosmic veil of maya, realizes that its own true nature is identical with Brahman, and through this self-realization achieves moksha (release from samsara and karma) and Nirvana.




Later modifications of this philosophy were introduced by the philosophers Ramanuja and Madhva. In modern times, Vedanta has received attention outside India through the work of Vivekananda, the Indian interpreter of the work of the Hindu mystic Ramakrishna. In the U.S., for example, in the early 1980s some 1000 members were claimed by the Vedanta Society of America, affiliated with a group with international headquarters at Belur Math, the Ramakrishna Mission chapel near Kolkata.





Like much Vedanta philosophy, Buddhism is concerned with mystical experience. Buddhist thinkers commonly compare enlightenment (nirvana) experience to awakening from a dream. (The Sanskrit word buddha means awakened.) Buddhists have contributed significant ideas in epistemology and metaphysics to Indian philosophy, and have exerted a complex influence on its overall history. Buddhist philosophies were prominent in the earlier classical period (100 bc to ad 1000). The 2nd-century Buddhist Nagarjuna and the 7th-century Buddhist Dharmakirti are two of the greatest thinkers in classical Indian philosophy. Nagarjuna was an advocate of skepticism and mysticism, and his arguments continue to influence a majority of Indian philosophic schools. Dharmakirti was an astute logician (see Logic) and pragmatist (see Pragmatism) who worked largely on idealist premises, such as the idea that appearances are dependent on the mind, or consciousness. Dharmakirti taught that everything is, or is directly dependent upon, Buddha Mind or Buddha Body (awakened mind or awakened body).





Buddhism, a major world religion, founded in northeastern India and based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who is known as the Buddha, or Enlightened One. See Buddha.

Originating as a monastic movement within the dominant Brahman tradition of the day, Buddhism quickly developed in a distinctive direction. The Buddha not only rejected significant aspects of Hindu philosophy, but also challenged the authority of the priesthood, denied the validity of the Vedic scriptures, and rejected the sacrificial cult based on them. Moreover, he opened his movement to members of all castes, denying that a person’s spiritual worth is a matter of birth. See Hinduism.

Buddhism today is divided into two major branches known to their respective followers as Theravada, the Way of the Elders, and Mahayana, the Great Vehicle. Followers of Mahayana refer to Theravada using the derogatory term Hinayana, the Lesser Vehicle.

Buddhism has been significant not only in India but also in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and Laos, where Theravada has been dominant; Mahayana has had its greatest impact in China, Japan, Taiwan, Tibet, Nepal, Mongolia, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as in India. The number of Buddhists worldwide has been estimated at between 150 and 300 million. The reasons for such a range are twofold: Throughout much of Asia religious affiliation has tended to be nonexclusive; and it is especially difficult to estimate the continuing influence of Buddhism in Communist countries such as China.




As did most major faiths, Buddhism developed over many years.



Buddha’s Life

No complete biography of the Buddha was compiled until centuries after his death; only fragmentary accounts of his life are found in the earliest sources. Western scholars, however, generally agree on 563 bc as the year of his birth.

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, was born in Lumbini near the present Indian-Nepal border, the son of the ruler of a petty kingdom. According to legend, at his birth sages recognized in him the marks of a great man with the potential to become either a sage or the ruler of an empire. The young prince was raised in sheltered luxury, until at the age of 29 he realized how empty his life to this point had been. Renouncing earthly attachments, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment, seeking release from the cycle of rebirths. For the next few years he practiced Yoga and adopted a life of radical asceticism.

Eventually he gave up this approach as fruitless and instead adopted a middle path between the life of indulgence and that of self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree, he meditated, rising through a series of higher states of consciousness until he attained the enlightenment for which he had been searching. Once having known this ultimate religious truth, the Buddha underwent a period of intense inner struggle. He began to preach, wandering from place to place, gathering a body of disciples, and organizing them into a monastic community known as the sangha. In this way he spent the rest of his life.



Buddha’s Teachings

The Buddha was an oral teacher; he left no written body of thought. His beliefs were codified by later followers.



The Four Noble Truths

At the core of the Buddha’s enlightenment was the realization of the Four Noble Truths: (1) Life is suffering. This is more than a mere recognition of the presence of suffering in existence. It is a statement that, in its very nature, human existence is essentially painful from the moment of birth to the moment of death. Even death brings no relief, for the Buddha accepted the Hindu idea of life as cyclical, with death leading to further rebirth. (2) All suffering is caused by ignorance of the nature of reality and the craving, attachment, and grasping that result from such ignorance. (3) Suffering can be ended by overcoming ignorance and attachment. (4) The path to the suppression of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right-mindedness, and right contemplation. These eight are usually divided into three categories that form the cornerstone of Buddhist faith: morality, wisdom, and samadhi, or concentration.




Buddhism analyzes human existence as made up of five aggregates or “bundles” (skandhas): the material body, feelings, perceptions, predispositions or karmic tendencies, and consciousness. A person is only a temporary combination of these aggregates, which are subject to continual change. No one remains the same for any two consecutive moments. Buddhists deny that the aggregates individually or in combination may be considered a permanent, independently existing self or soul (atman). Indeed, they regard it as a mistake to conceive of any lasting unity behind the elements that constitute an individual. The Buddha held that belief in such a self results in egoism, craving, and hence in suffering. Thus he taught the doctrine of anatman, or the denial of a permanent soul. He felt that all existence is characterized by the three marks of anatman (no soul), anitya (impermanence), and dukkha (suffering). The doctrine of anatman made it necessary for the Buddha to reinterpret the Indian idea of repeated rebirth in the cycle of phenomenal existence known as samsara. To this end he taught the doctrine of pratityasamutpada, or dependent origination. This 12-linked chain of causation shows how ignorance in a previous life creates the tendency for a combination of aggregates to develop. These in turn cause the mind and senses to operate. Sensations result, which lead to craving and a clinging to existence. This condition triggers the process of becoming once again, producing a renewed cycle of birth, old age, and death. Through this causal chain a connection is made between one life and the next. What is posited is a stream of renewed existences, rather than a permanent being that moves from life to life—in effect a belief in rebirth without transmigration.




Closely related to this belief is the doctrine of karma. Karma consists of a person’s acts and their ethical consequences. Human actions lead to rebirth, wherein good deeds are inevitably rewarded and evil deeds punished. Thus, neither undeserved pleasure nor unwarranted suffering exists in the world, but rather a universal justice. The karmic process operates through a kind of natural moral law rather than through a system of divine judgment. One’s karma determines such matters as one’s species, beauty, intelligence, longevity, wealth, and social status. According to the Buddha, karma of varying types can lead to rebirth as a human, an animal, a hungry ghost, a denizen of hell, or even one of the Hindu gods.

Although never actually denying the existence of the gods, Buddhism denies them any special role. Their lives in heaven are long and pleasurable, but they are in the same predicament as other creatures, being subject eventually to death and further rebirth in lower states of existence. They are not creators of the universe or in control of human destiny, and Buddhism denies the value of prayer and sacrifice to them. Of the possible modes of rebirth, human existence is preferable, because the deities are so engrossed in their own pleasures that they lose sight of the need for salvation. Enlightenment is possible only for humans.




The ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is release from the round of phenomenal existence with its inherent suffering. To achieve this goal is to attain nirvana, an enlightened state in which the fires of greed, hatred, and ignorance have been quenched. Not to be confused with total annihilation, nirvana is a state of consciousness beyond definition. After attaining nirvana, the enlightened individual may continue to live, burning off any remaining karma until a state of final nirvana (parinirvana) is attained at the moment of death.

In theory, the goal of nirvana is attainable by anyone, although it is a realistic goal only for members of the monastic community. In Theravada Buddhism an individual who has achieved enlightenment by following the Eightfold Path is known as an arhat, or worthy one, a type of solitary saint.

For those unable to pursue the ultimate goal, the proximate goal of better rebirth through improved karma is an option. This lesser goal is generally pursued by lay Buddhists in the hope that it will eventually lead to a life in which they are capable of pursuing final enlightenment as members of the sangha.

The ethic that leads to nirvana is detached and inner-oriented. It involves cultivating four virtuous attitudes, known as the Palaces of Brahma: loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. The ethic that leads to better rebirth, however, is centered on fulfilling one’s duties to society. It involves acts of charity, especially support of the sangha, as well as observance of the five precepts that constitute the basic moral code of Buddhism. The precepts prohibit killing, stealing, harmful language, sexual misbehavior, and the use of intoxicants. By observing these precepts, the three roots of evil—lust, hatred, and delusion—may be overcome.




Shortly before his death, the Buddha refused his disciples’ request to appoint a successor, telling his followers to work out their own salvation with diligence. At that time Buddhist teachings existed only in oral traditions, and it soon became apparent that a new basis for maintaining the community’s unity and purity was needed. Thus, the monastic order met periodically to reach agreement on matters of doctrine and practice. Four such meetings have been focused on in the traditions as major councils.



Major Councils

The first council was held at Rajagrha (present-day Rajgir) immediately after the Buddha’s death. Presided over by a monk named Mahakasyapa, its purpose was to recite and agree on the Buddha’s actual teachings and on proper monastic discipline.

About a century later, a second great council is said to have met at Vaishāli. Its purpose was to deal with ten questionable monastic practices—the use of money, the drinking of palm wine, and other irregularities—of monks from the Vajjian Confederacy; the council declared these practices unlawful. Some scholars trace the origins of the first major split in Buddhism to this event, holding that the accounts of the council refer to the schism between the Mahasanghikas, or Great Assembly, and the stricter Sthaviras, or Elders. More likely, however, the split between these two groups became formalized at another meeting held some 37 years later as a result of the continued growth of tensions within the sangha over disciplinary issues, the role of the laity, and the nature of the arhat.

In time, further subdivisions within these groups resulted in 18 schools that differed on philosophical matters, religious questions, and points of discipline. Of these 18 traditional sects, only Theravada survives.

The third council at Pātaliputra (present-day Patna) was called by King Ashoka in the 3rd century bc. Convened by the monk Moggaliputta Tissa, it was held in order to purify the sangha of the large number of false monks and heretics who had joined the order because of its royal patronage. This council refuted the offending viewpoints and expelled those who held them. In the process, the compilation of the Buddhist scriptures (Tipitaka) was supposedly completed, with the addition of a body of subtle philosophy (abhidharma) to the doctrine (dharma) and monastic discipline (vinaya) that had been recited at the first council. Another result of the third council was the dispatch of missionaries to various countries.

A fourth council, under the patronage of King Kanishka, was held about ad 100 at Jālandhar or in Kashmīr. Both branches of Buddhism may have participated in this council, which aimed at creating peace among the various sects, but Theravada Buddhists refuse to recognize its authenticity.



Formation of Buddhist Literature

For several centuries after the death of the Buddha, the scriptural traditions recited at the councils were transmitted orally. These were finally committed to writing about the 1st century bc. Some early schools used Sanskrit for their scriptural language. Although individual texts are extant, no complete canon has survived in Sanskrit. In contrast, the full canon of the Theravadins survives in Pali, which was apparently a popular dialect derived from Sanskrit.

The Buddhist canon is known in Pali as the Tipitaka (Tripitaka in Sanskrit), meaning "Three Baskets," because it consists of three collections of writings: the Sutta Pitaka (Sutra Pitaka in Sanskrit), a collection of discourses; the Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline; and the Abhidharma Pitaka, which contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications.

The Sutta Pitaka is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya (Collection of Long Discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (Collection of Medium-Length Discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (Collection of Grouped Discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (Collection of Discourses on Numbered Topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya (Collection of Miscellaneous Texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (Religious Sentences), a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.

The Vinaya Pitaka consists of more than 225 rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rules are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation.

The Abhidharma Pitaka consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary. Although technically authoritative, the texts in this collection have little influence on the lay Buddhist. The complete canon, much expanded, also exists in Tibetan and Chinese versions.

Two noncanonical texts that have great authority within Theravada Buddhism are the Milindapanha (Questions of King Milinda) and the Visuddhimagga (Path of Purification). The Milindapanha dates from about the 2nd century ad. It is in the form of a dialogue dealing with a series of fundamental problems in Buddhist thought. The Visuddhimagga is the masterpiece of the most famous of Buddhist commentators, Buddhaghosa (flourished early 5th century ad). It is a large compendium summarizing Buddhist thought and meditative practice.

Theravada Buddhists have traditionally considered the Tipitaka to be the remembered words of Siddhartha Gautama. Mahayana Buddhists have not limited their scriptures to the teachings of this historical figure, however, nor has Mahayana ever bound itself to a closed canon of sacred writings. Various scriptures have thus been authoritative for different branches of Mahayana at various periods of history. Among the more important Mahayana scriptures are the following: the Saddharmapundarika Sutra (Lotus of the Good Law Sutra, popularly known as the Lotus Sutra), the Vimalakirti Sutra, the Avatamsaka Sutra (Garland Sutra), and the Lankavatara Sutra (The Buddha’s Descent to Sri Lanka Sutra), as well as a group of writings known as the Prajnaparamita (Perfection of Wisdom).



Conflict and New Groupings

As Buddhism developed in its early years, conflicting interpretations of the master’s teachings appeared, resulting in the traditional 18 schools of Buddhist thought. As a group, these schools eventually came to be considered too conservative and literal minded in their attachment to the master’s message. Among them, Theravada was charged with being too individualistic and insufficiently concerned with the needs of the laity. Such dissatisfaction led a liberal wing of the sangha to begin to break away from the rest of the monks at the second council in 383 bc.

While the more conservative monks continued to honor the Buddha as a perfectly enlightened human teacher, the liberal Mahasanghikas developed a new concept. They considered the Buddha an eternal, omnipresent, transcendental being. They speculated that the human Buddha was but an apparition of the transcendental Buddha that was created for the benefit of humankind. In this understanding of the Buddha nature, Mahasanghika thought is something of a prototype of Mahayana.




The origins of Mahayana are particularly obscure. Even the names of its founders are unknown, and scholars disagree about whether it originated in southern or in northwestern India. Its formative years were between the 2nd century bc and the 1st century ad.

Speculation about the eternal Buddha continued well after the beginning of the Christian era and culminated in the Mahayana doctrine of his threefold nature, or triple “body” (trikaya). These aspects are the body of essence, the body of communal bliss, and the body of transformation. The body of essence represents the ultimate nature of the Buddha. Beyond form, it is the unchanging absolute and is spoken of as consciousness or the void. This essential Buddha nature manifests itself, taking on heavenly form as the body of communal bliss. In this form the Buddha sits in godlike splendor, preaching in the heavens. Lastly, the Buddha nature appears on earth in human form to convert humankind. Such an appearance is known as a body of transformation. The Buddha has taken on such an appearance countless times. Mahayana considers the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, only one example of the body of transformation.

The new Mahayana concept of the Buddha made possible concepts of divine grace and ongoing revelation that are lacking in Theravada. Belief in the Buddha’s heavenly manifestations led to the development of a significant devotional strand in Mahayana. Some scholars have therefore described the early development of Mahayana in terms of the “Hinduization” of Buddhism.

Another important new concept in Mahayana is that of the bodhisattva or enlightenment being, as the ideal toward which the good Buddhist should aspire. A bodhisattva is an individual who has attained perfect enlightenment but delays entry into final nirvana in order to make possible the salvation of all other sentient beings. The bodhisattva transfers merit built up over many lifetimes to less fortunate creatures. The key attributes of this social saint are compassion and loving-kindness. For this reason Mahayana considers the bodhisattva superior to the arhats who represent the ideal of Theravada. Certain bodhisattvas, such as Maitreya, who represents the Buddha’s loving-kindness, and Avalokitesvara or Guanyin, who represents his compassion, have become the focus of popular devotional worship in Mahayana.




By the 7th century ad a new form of Buddhism known as Tantrism (see Tantra) had developed through the blend of Mahayana with popular folk belief and magic in northern India. Similar to Hindu Tantrism, which arose about the same time, Buddhist Tantrism differs from Mahayana in its strong emphasis on sacramental action. Also known as Vajrayana, the Diamond Vehicle, Tantrism is an esoteric tradition. Its initiation ceremonies involve entry into a mandala, a mystic circle or symbolic map of the spiritual universe. Also important in Tantrism is the use of mudras, or ritual gestures, and mantras, or sacred syllables, which are repeatedly chanted and used as a focus for meditation. Vajrayana became the dominant form of Buddhism in Tibet and was also transmitted through China to Japan, where it continues to be practiced by the Shingon sect.




Buddhism spread rapidly throughout the land of its birth. Missionaries dispatched by King Ashoka introduced the religion to southern India and to the northwest part of the subcontinent. According to inscriptions from the Ashokan period, missionaries were sent to countries along the Mediterranean, although without success.



Asian Expansion

King Ashoka’s son Mahinda and daughter Sanghamitta are credited with the conversion of Sri Lanka. From the beginning of its history there, Theravada was the state religion of Sri Lanka.

According to tradition, Theravada was carried to Myanmar from Sri Lanka during the reign of Ashoka, but no firm evidence of its presence there appears until the 5th century ad. From Myanmar, Theravada spread to the area of modern Thailand in the 6th century. It was adopted by the Thai people when they finally entered the region from southwestern China between the 12th and 14th centuries. With the rise of the Thai Kingdom, it was adopted as the state religion. Theravada was adopted by the royal house in Laos during the 14th century.

Both Mahayana and Hinduism had begun to influence Cambodia by the end of the 2nd century ad. After the 14th century, however, under Thai influence, Theravada gradually replaced the older establishment as the primary religion in Cambodia.

About the beginning of the Christian era, Buddhism was carried to Central Asia. From there it entered China along the trade routes by the early 1st century ad. Although opposed by the Confucian orthodoxy and subject to periods of persecution in 446, 574-77, and 845, Buddhism was able to take root, influencing Chinese culture and, in turn, adapting itself to Chinese ways. The major influence of Chinese Buddhism ended with the great persecution of 845, although the meditative Zen, or Ch’an (from Sanskrit dhyana,”meditation”), sect and the devotional Pure Land sect continued to be important.

From China, Buddhism continued its spread. Confucian authorities discouraged its expansion into Vietnam, but Mahayana’s influence there was beginning to be felt as early as ad 189. According to traditional sources, Buddhism first arrived in Korea from China in ad 372. From this date Korea was gradually converted through Chinese influence over a period of centuries.

Buddhism was carried into Japan from Korea. It was known to the Japanese earlier, but the official date for its introduction is usually given as ad 552. It was proclaimed the state religion of Japan in 594 by Prince Shōtoku.

Buddhism was first introduced into Tibet through the influence of foreign wives of the king, beginning in the 7th century ad. By the middle of the next century, it had become a significant force in Tibetan culture. A key figure in the development of Tibetan Buddhism was the Indian monk Padmasambhava, who arrived in Tibet in 747. His main interest was the spread of Tantric Buddhism, which became the primary form of Buddhism in Tibet. Indian and Chinese Buddhists vied for influence, and the Chinese were finally defeated and expelled from Tibet near the end of the 8th century.

Some seven centuries later Tibetan Buddhists had adopted the idea that the abbots of its great monasteries were reincarnations of famous bodhisattvas. Thereafter, the chief of these abbots became known as the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lamas ruled Tibet as a theocracy from the middle of the 17th century until the seizure of Tibet by China in 1950. See Tibetan Buddhism.



New Sects

Several important new sects of Buddhism developed in China and flourished there and in Japan, as well as elsewhere in East Asia. Among these, Ch’an, or Zen, and Pure Land, or Amidism, were most important.

Zen advocated the practice of meditation as the way to a sudden, intuitive realization of one’s inner Buddha nature. Founded by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, who arrived in China in 520, Zen emphasizes practice and personal enlightenment rather than doctrine or the study of scripture.See Zen.

Instead of meditation, Pure Land stresses faith and devotion to the Buddha Amitabha, or Buddha of Infinite Light, as a means to rebirth in an eternal paradise known as the Pure Land. Rebirth in this Western Paradise is thought to depend on the power and grace of Amitabha, rather than to be a reward for human piety. Devotees show their devotion to Amitabha with countless repetitions of the phrase “Homage to the Buddha Amitabha.” Nonetheless, a single sincere recitation of these words may be sufficient to guarantee entry into the Pure Land.

A distinctively Japanese sect of Mahayana is Nichiren Buddhism, which is named after its 13th-century founder. Nichiren believed that the Lotus Sutra contains the essence of Buddhist teaching. Its contents can be epitomized by the formula “Homage to the Lotus Sutra,” and simply by repeating this formula the devotee may gain enlightenment.




Differences occur in the religious obligations and observances both within and between the sangha and the laity.



Monastic Life

From the first, the most devoted followers of the Buddha were organized into the monastic sangha. Its members were identified by their shaved heads and robes made of unsewn orange cloth. The early Buddhist monks, or bhikkus, wandered from place to place, settling down in communities only during the rainy season when travel was difficult. Each of the settled communities that developed later was independent and democratically organized. Monastic life was governed by the rules of the Vinaya Sutra, one of the three canonical collections of scripture. Fortnightly, a formal assembly of monks, the uposatha, was held in each community. Central to this observance was the formal recitation of the Vinaya rules and the public confession of all violations. The sangha included an order for nuns as well as for monks, a unique feature among Indian monastic orders. Theravadan monks and nuns were celibate and obtained their food in the form of alms on a daily round of the homes of lay devotees. The Zen school came to disregard the rule that members of the sangha should live on alms. Part of the discipline of this sect required its members to work in the fields to earn their own food. In Japan the popular Shin school, a branch of Pure Land, allows its priests to marry and raise families. Among the traditional functions of the Buddhist monks are the performance of funerals and memorial services in honor of the dead. Major elements of such services include the chanting of scripture and transfer of merit for the benefit of the deceased.



Lay Worship

Lay worship in Buddhism is primarily individual rather than congregational. Since earliest times a common expression of faith for laity and members of the sangha alike has been taking the Three Refuges, that is, reciting the formula “I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the dharma. I take refuge in the sangha.” Although technically the Buddha is not worshiped in Theravada, veneration is shown through the stupa cult. A stupa is a domelike sacred structure containing a relic. Devotees walk around the dome in a clockwise direction, carrying flowers and incense as a sign of reverence. The relic of the Buddha’s tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka, is the focus of an especially popular festival on the Buddha’s birthday. The Buddha’s birthday is celebrated in every Buddhist country. In Theravada this celebration is known as Vaisakha, after the month in which the Buddha was born. Popular in Theravada lands is a ceremony known as pirit, or protection, in which readings from a collection of protective charms from the Pali canon are conducted to exorcise evil spirits, cure illness, bless new buildings, and achieve other benefits.

In Mahayana countries ritual is more important than in Theravada. Images of the buddhas and bodhisattvas on temple altars and in the homes of devotees serve as a focus for worship. Prayer and chanting are common acts of devotion, as are offerings of fruit, flowers, and incense. One of the most popular festivals in China and Japan is the Ullambana Festival, in which offerings are made to the spirits of the dead and to hungry ghosts. It is held that during this celebration the gates to the other world are open so that departed spirits can return to earth for a brief time.




One of the lasting strengths of Buddhism has been its ability to adapt to changing conditions and to a variety of cultures. It is philosophically opposed to materialism, whether of the Western or the Marxist-Communist variety. Buddhism does not recognize a conflict between itself and modern science. On the contrary, it holds that the Buddha applied the experimental approach to questions of ultimate truth.

In Thailand and Myanmar, Buddhism remains strong. Reacting to charges of being socially unconcerned, its monks have become involved in various social welfare projects. Although Buddhism in India largely died out between the 8th and 12th centuries ad, resurgence on a small scale was sparked by the conversion of 3.5 million former members of the untouchable caste, under the leadership of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, beginning in 1956. A similar renewal of Buddhism in Sri Lanka dates from the 19th century.

Under the Communist republics in Asia, Buddhism has faced a more difficult time. In China, for example, it continues to exist, although under strict government regulation and supervision. Many monasteries and temples have been converted to schools, dispensaries, and other public use. Monks and nuns have been required to undertake employment in addition to their religious functions. In Tibet, the Chinese, after their takeover and the escape of the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist officials into India in 1959, attempted to undercut Buddhist influence.

Only in Japan since World War II have truly new Buddhist movements arisen. Notable among these is Sōka Gakkai, the Value Creation Society, a lay movement associated with Nichiren Buddhism. It is noted for its effective organization, aggressive conversion techniques, and use of mass media, as well as for its nationalism. It promises material benefit and worldly happiness to its believers. Since 1956 it has been involved in Japanese politics, running candidates for office under the banner of its Kōmeitō, or Clean Government Party.

Growing interest in Asian culture and spiritual values in the West has led to the development of a number of societies devoted to the study and practice of Buddhism. Zen has grown in the United States to encompass more than a dozen meditation centers and a number of actual monasteries. Interest in Vajrayana has also increased.

As its influence in the West slowly grows, Buddhism is once again beginning to undergo a process of acculturation to its new environment. Although its influence in the U.S. is still small, apart from immigrant Japanese and Chinese communities, it seems that new, distinctively American forms of Buddhism may eventually develop.



Analysis and Yoga

Analysis (Samkhya) and Yoga are relatively minor philosophies, compared to others discussed in this overview. Both emerged before the 2nd century bc, but neither spawned a continuing philosophy comparable to that of the schools already mentioned. Neither school participated significantly in later classical debates. The Analysis school subscribes to a metaphysical dualism (the claim that two types of things ultimately exist) of individual souls and nature. The school is devoted to the analysis of nature, in order to aid one's knowledge of oneself as liberated from karma and rebirth, and as pure and blissful, self-conscious, and aloof from nature. Yoga takes a similar metaphysical stance, though it also pursues a psychological and yogic-practice dimension that the Analysis school lacks. Although few modern philosophers find substantial merit in Yoga's metaphysical claims, many find profound psychological wisdom in Yoga literature.



Logic and Atomism

Logic (Nyaya) and Atomism (Vaisesika) are schools that specialize in questions of epistemology (nyaya means critical inquiry) and of what sorts of objects and generalities we experience every day. Both schools have extensive literatures, and later Logic (after 1400) is known for its professional techniques of cognitive analysis. Founded in the early classical period, both schools relied upon early sutra texts, and their literatures are distinct for almost 1000 years. However, the traditions became combined with the great 11th-century innovator Udayana, and became known simply as Logic. From the inception of both schools, reflection about knowledge in Logic was matched, roughly, by Atomist views about what is known (the objects of knowledge).




The Carvaka school, a classical school of materialism and skepticism, is known for its attacks on religious practices, and, from a Western perspective, provides evidence that not all classical Indian philosophy is religiously or mystically oriented. The Logic school also rejects the influence of religious beliefs. But Carvaka, unlike Logic, goes beyond advocating knowledge based on natural experience by ridiculing what it sees as superstition, including the belief in rebirth widespread among all of the major Indian schools of thought.




Most of the classical Indian schools present veritable world views—comprehensive philosophies formed by interlocking positions of the main branches of philosophy (metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics). Although systematic philosophies are intended to stand as whole bodies of thought, it is often desirable to separate and delineate issues within them, particularly in study and debate. In the case of Indian philosophy, examining specific classical arguments and general philosophic views also facilitates comparison with Western philosophy. This section is devoted to a broad contemporary perspective of classical Indian thought on some of the great issues of philosophy.




Religious, or spiritual, metaphysics, a field that currently receives little attention among philosophers in academia in the West, considers the question of the nature of a Supreme Being and its relation to the world. Indian Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, and theistic Vedanta all have contributed to this debate. Within spiritual metaphysics, an insistence on spiritual monism (only one spiritual being ultimately exists) is probably the most important consideration that Indian thought upholds, though with numerous variations: Much Buddhist philosophy promotes the idea of the interdependence of everything; theistic Vedanta finds no gap between the world and God (the world is God's body); and Advaita Vedanta insists that everyone's true self is nothing other than Brahman, the Absolute.

The field of analytic metaphysics, which examines everyday experience and language, is currently more prominent among Western philosophers. The Indian school of Logic offers a complex theory of generality (What is the reality of general ideas? For example, what is it to be a cow? What is a cow's essence?) The problem of generalities, or universals, has long been debated in Western philosophy.




One of the more active branches of philosophy in the West is epistemology, which attempts to answer questions involving the nature and limits of knowledge. In epistemology, too, the Indian Logic school has much to offer for contemporary analysis, as does the school of Buddhist Idealism (Yogacara). Logic lays out, with detailed elaboration, four methods of personal knowledge: perception; inference; analogical acquisition of vocabulary; and authoritative testimony. Logic also challenges skepticism, the view that true knowledge is impossible to obtain. According to Logic, even though humans are fallible, they may assume that they are justified in their established beliefs. Any doubt of those beliefs has to be reasonable or has to have its own grounds for consideration. Much Western reflection assumes that any and all doubts can undermine established claims of knowledge. Meanwhile, Buddhist Idealism takes a pragmatic middle ground between skepticism and Logic's defense of everyday beliefs. For the Buddhist Idealist, the test of truth and justification is whether humans actually get what they want—and avoid what they do not want. Thus, human concepts are shaped by human desires.

With a vast wealth of mystical literature and philosophic defenses of mysticism, Indian thought has much to offer the epistemology of religious belief. In particular, several Indian philosophers, of different schools, have over time advanced the argument that mystical experience has objective epistemic value in revealing a spiritual reality. These philosophers find a parallel between this value of mystical experience and the value of sense experience in revealing physical reality.




Another major branch of Western philosophy is ethics, which examines human actions. Classical Indian thought presents little philosophic ethics in the Western sense (for example, concern with the fundamental criteria of ethical norms). On the other hand, Indian interest in ethics—from the ethical teachings of enlightenment, to the caste system of society, and to Mohandas Gandhi's (see Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand) political philosophy of noninjury (ahimsa)—is much more widespread than interest in metaphysics or epistemology. Noninjury, properly qualified, is a persuasive candidate for a universal ethical prescription, transcending boundaries of culture as well as religion.

Indian philosophy also considers the ethical implications of the Indian classical theories of karma (action or habit). These theories usually presuppose rebirth—that is, reincarnation in a human or animal form, in this or in other worlds. Since, on the presumption of karma, the nature of one's deeds determines one's future state, the universe includes laws of moral payback. Indian classical philosophers weave numerous variations on such views into their overall stances, including Buddhist, Vedantic, Logic, and Carvaka views.




There is comparatively little original philosophy still being written in Sanskrit. Philosophers in India now write in modern Indian languages and in English. Moreover, the advent of scientific thought and of the modern university has altered the Indian intellectual community. Classical philosophy survives mainly in the influences it exerts among its students.

Many philosophers, particularly in India, have discovered and championed important philosophic theses of classical Indian thought, and these individuals may eventually bring a global standing to classical Indian philosophy comparable to that of classical Greek philosophy. Prominent 20th-century Indian academics include K. C. Bhattacharyya, professor of philosophy at the University of Calcutta and the teacher of many important succeeding philosophers; T. M. P. Mahadevan, professor of philosophy at the University of Madras and the author of several books on classical Advaita Vedanta; and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the former President of India, vice chancellor of Banaras Hindu University (1939-1948), and chancellor of Delhi University (1953-1962), who was known for his deft comparisons between Western and Indian thought.

Some of the great names of modern Indian spiritual thought are also great names of modern Indian history. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, sometimes referred to as the father of modern India, founded the Brahmo Samaj (Church of Brahman) in 1828 and was the first to articulate, in English, a synthesis of Western and Indian religious views. The late-19th-century spiritual leader (guru) Swami Vivekananda was an elegant writer in English on broadly philosophic and psychological topics. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission and gave it a modern version of Vedanta. Mystic and guru Sri Aurobindo Ghose also wrote elegant arguments in English. He originated a new Brahman-centered evolutionary world view sensitive both to science and mysticism.

Academic philosophy in India is deeply conversant with Western philosophy and addresses many of the same issues and methods. The Indian intellectual environment extends beyond the universities, where continuation of India's spiritual philosophy is influenced by religious and mystical practices, such as yoga, that are distinct or much more prominent in Indian culture.

Chinese Philosophy




Chinese Philosophy, collective designation for the various schools of thought originated by Chinese scholars and sages. Chinese philosophy has passed through three distinct historical stages: the classical age, a creative period from the 6th to the 2nd century bc; the medieval age, from the 2nd century bc to the 11th century ad, a period of synthesis and absorption of foreign thought; and the modern age, from the 11th century to the present, a period of maturation of earlier philosophical trends and introduction of new philosophies from the West. Throughout all these periods, Chinese thought has tended toward humanism rather than spiritualism, rationalism rather than mysticism, and syncretism rather than sectarianism.




The classical age of Chinese philosophy occurred in the late years of the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, which lasted from about 1045 bc to 256 bc. During this era of political and social turmoil, feudal states long subordinate to the house of Zhou gained economic and military strength and moved toward independence. When their power eclipsed that of Zhou, feudal bonds were broken, and widespread interstate warfare broke out in the 5th century bc, developing into political anarchy in the 4th and 3rd centuries. Meanwhile, the social and economic changes resulting from new currents of trade and commerce were disrupting the simple agricultural society. In this climate of political anarchy and social upheaval a new class of scholar-officials emerged, consisting of men who aspired through their learning and wisdom to reunify the empire and restore order to society.



Confucius and Later Disciples

The most important of these scholars was Confucius, a minor aristocrat and official of the state of Lu, in the present Shandong Province, who spent most of his life in the late 500s and early 400s bc as an itinerant scholar-teacher and adviser to the rulers of various states. To reestablish order and prosperity, he advocated a restoration of the imperial government, social and family organizations, and the rules of propriety prescribed in the classical literature of the early Zhou dynasty. The most important element in his system, however, was the individual. Confucius taught that each human being must cultivate such personal virtues as honesty, love, and filial piety through study of the models provided in the ancient literature. This would bring harmony to the graded hierarchy of family, society, and state. The most important individuals were the ruler and his advisers, because their standards of virtuous conduct would set an example for the realm.

Confucius did not speak directly on such basic issues of his day as the nature of human beings, the rights of the people against tyrannical rulers, and the influence of the supernatural in human affairs. Two of his 4th and 3rd century bc disciples, Mencius and Xunzi (Hsün-tzu), did much to clarify these issues. Mencius asserted that human nature was basically good and that it could be developed not only by study, as Confucius had taught, but also by a process of inner self-cultivation. Like Confucius, Mencius accepted the hierarchically ordered feudal society in which he lived, but he placed far greater stress on the responsibilities of the ruler for the welfare of the people. The Zhou rulers held their position under a doctrine known as the Mandate of Heaven; Heaven was thought to be the impersonal authority governing all the operations of the universe. Mencius held that the Mandate of Heaven was expressed by the acceptance of a ruler by the people. If the people rose up and overthrew a tyrant, it was proof that Heaven had withdrawn its mandate. In the name of Heaven Mencius claimed for the Chinese people the right of rebellion. Xunzi took an exactly opposite view of human nature; he asserted that rebellion was fundamentally evil. Xunzi, however, was sufficiently optimistic to believe in people's unlimited capacity for improvement. He taught that through education, the study of the classics, and the rules of propriety, virtue could be acquired and order could be reestablished in society. Xunzi thus endowed Confucianism with a philosophy of formal education and a tendency toward rigid rules for the regulation of human conduct.



Daoism and Other Important Schools

The second great philosophy of the classical age was Daoism (Taoism). The philosopher Laozi (Lao-tzu), who probably lived during the 6th century bc, is usually regarded as the founder of this school. Whereas Confucianism sought the full development of human beings through moral education and the establishment of an orderly hierarchical society, Daoism sought to preserve human life by following the Way of Nature (Dao, or Tao) and by reverting to primitive agrarian communities and a government that did not control or interfere with life. Daoism attempted to bring the individual into perfect harmony with nature through a mystical union with the Dao. This mysticism was carried still further by Zhuangzi (Chuang-tzu), a Daoist philosopher of the late 4th century bc, who taught that through mystical union with the Dao the individual could transcend nature and even life and death.

Among the other important schools of this period were Mohism, Naturalism, and the Dialecticians. Mohism, founded by Mozi (Mo-tzu) during the 5th century bc, taught strict utilitarianism and mutual love among all people regardless of family or social relationships. During the 4th century bc, naturalism offered an analysis of the workings of the universe based upon certain cosmic principles. The best known of these were yin and yang, which represented the interacting dualities of nature, such as female and male, shadow and light, and winter and summer. Also in the 4th century bc, dialecticians moved toward a system of logic by analyzing the true meaning of words so as to avoid the logical pitfalls inherent in language.




Legalism emerged as the dominant philosophy in the state of Qin (Ch’in) during the chaotic years of the 4th and 3rd centuries bc. Two disciples of Xunzi, Han Fei (Han-fei-tzu) and Li Si (Li Ssu), were respectively, the leading philosopher and the leading practitioner of Legalism. Basing their ideas on Xunzi’s teachings that human nature was incorrigibly evil and that strict controls were needed to regulate human conduct, the Legalists developed a political philosophy that emphasized strict laws and harsh punishments in the control of every aspect of human society. All personal freedom was subordinated to their objective of creating a strong state under a ruler of unlimited authority.

Legalism proved an effective instrument in creating a powerful and totalitarian military and economic machine in the state of Qin. By 221 bc, Qin had succeeded in conquering the other feudal states and establishing the first imperial dynasty of China, a unified, centrally-administered empire characterized by strict laws, harsh punishment, rigid thought control (for example, the burning of all nonlegalist books in 213 bc), government control of the economy, and enormous public works projects, such as the Great Wall, accomplished with forced labor and at great cost in human life.

It was not long before the oppressive rule of the Qin dynasty drove the Chinese people to rebellion. In 206 bc a rebel leader of plebeian origin proclaimed the Han dynasty. The Legalist-inspired centralized administration was retained (it endured in principle until 1912), but government controls over the economy and ideology were relaxed. Numerous beliefs that had flourished during the late Zhou dynasty were resurrected and reexamined with a view toward establishing a system of thought of adequate compass and sophistication to serve as a philosophical basis for the new and vastly expansive Han empire.



Han Confucianism

Basing their ideas largely on Xunzi’s concept of the universe as a triad of heaven, earth, and humanity, the Confucian philosophers of the Han welded a system of thought that incorporated the yin-yang cosmology of the naturalists; a Daoist concern for perceiving and harmonizing with the order of nature; Confucian teachings on benevolent government, rule by virtuous leaders, and respect for learning; and Legalist principles of administration and economic development. They hoped that this all-encompassing philosophy would give the ruler and the government the knowledge to understand the heavenly and earthly sectors of the triad and the means necessary to regulate the human sector so as to coordinate it with heaven and earth and establish perfect harmony in the universe. The rationalistic systematization that prompted this formulation eventually led to farfetched notions and superstitions to explain the mysterious workings of heaven and earth. Although Han Confucianism was supported by the government from 136 bc and subsequently became the required learning for government service, its excessive superstitiousness produced a camp of opposition during the first several centuries ad, and the school divided over questions of the authenticity of classical texts.




During the 2nd and 3rd centuries ad, a variety of social and economic causes brought the downfall of the Han dynasty, leading to political disunity and foreign invasion. The philosophical void created by the collapse of Han Confucianism was filled by Daoism and also by Buddhism, a philosophy then new to China. One group of Daoist philosophers attempted to reconcile the Confucian teachings of social responsibility with the naturalness and mysticism of Daoism; a second group sought escape from the troubled environment through the belief in pleasure as the only good.




Buddhism filtered into China from India and central Asia from the 1st to the 6th century. Language difficulties at first hampered the Chinese in their attempts to grasp the philosophical subtleties of the Indian system. Between the 3rd and 8th centuries, however, Buddhist doctrine was translated and disseminated through all levels of Chinese society by Chinese pilgrims returning from India and by the great Central Asian translator Kumarajiva. The teachings of Buddhism were basically religious, offering escape from the sufferings of life and the endless reincarnation caused by human desires into an indescribable state of no desire known as Nirvana. Buddhism was also of great philosophical importance, because the formulas for achieving Nirvana that it brought to China included sophisticated metaphysical explanations of the nature of existence.

The development of Buddhism in China was shaped by the Chinese predilection for syncretism, the reconciliation of opposing religious creeds. Indian Buddhism was divided into sects, some holding that the basic elements of existence were real (realism) and others that they were unreal or empty (idealism). Neither of these extreme positions could satisfy Chinese Buddhist philosophers of the Tiantai (T'ien T'ai) sect, who formulated the “Perfectly Harmonious Threefold Truth” to explain the nature of existence. This doctrine held that although things are fundamentally empty, they have a temporary existence, and this is the true nature of all things in the universe. The syncretic metaphysics of the Tiantai sect made the greatest doctrinal contribution to Buddhism; but the Meditation sect that taught the direct intuitive method of penetrating the true nature of the universe had far broader appeal and permanence in China. This sect is better known in the Western world under its Japanese name of Zen Buddhism.



Syncretistic Period

The reunification of China under the Sui dynasty from 581 to 618 and the Tang (T’ang) dynasty from 618-907 ushered in several hundred years of religious and philosophical syncretism involving Daoism, Buddhism, and resurgent Confucianism. Although Buddhism was dominant initially, Confucianism alone among these three schools offered a political and social philosophy suited to the needs of a centralized empire. Consequently, it was reestablished as the basis for the education of prospective officials, and the educated official class became increasingly Confucian. This fact, as well as fear on the part of the government regarding growing church power, resulted in persecutions of Buddhists and Daoists and their ultimate decline. Daoism, however, lived on as a philosophy espoused by many educated Chinese in their personal lives and in their relationships with nature.

It was not until the Song dynasty, after China had undergone another period of political disunion from 907 to 959 known as the Five Dynasties, that Confucianism was reinstated. Neo-Confucianism grew out of the renewed study of the classics required for the imperial civil service examinations, and attempted to reinforce Confucian ethics with a metaphysical foundation. In so doing, it unconsciously took over some of the forms of Buddhism and Daoism, although in substance it was quite different. Neo-Confucianism taught that a principle existed for all things in the universe; it sought to discover the principle and held the knowledge of principle would unite the individual with the universe and guide him or her in personal, social, and political relations. Buddhism, on the contrary, had taught that all things in the universe were ultimately empty; it sought to enlighten its followers to this and held that enlightenment would lead the individual to reject mundane affairs. Daoism did not regard the universe as empty, but it sought to lead the individual away from human society and even to transcend life and death.




Neo-Confucianism found expression in three schools. These schools were the School of Principle (rationalism), the School of Mind (idealism), and the School of Practical Learning (empiricism).



School of Principle

The metaphysical speculation of the 11th century was synthesized in the 12th century by the great Neo-Confucian Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi), who developed the doctrines of the School of Principle. In the 14th century these doctrines were adopted for the imperial civil service examinations, remaining the same until 1905. This school asserted that all things were composed of two elements: principle (li), which was a reflection of the Great Ultimate (Daiji), and matter (qi). Through the “investigation of things,” which came to mean the study of human affairs as recorded in the classics, and through self-cultivation, one could penetrate matter and perceive principle. This study would result in an understanding of all things and at the same time accentuate the principle (the fundamentally good human nature), and minimize qi (the physical propensities) in one's mind. Thus enlightened, the individual could comprehend the affairs of the universe and regulate them through the power of personal virtue.



School of Mind

The Neo-Confucian School of Mind originated in the 11th and 12th centuries, but it was not until the late 15th century that it found a formidable spokesperson in the scholar-statesman Wang Yangming. Following the early teachings of the school, Wang held that the mind was not a combination of li and qi but pure li, or principle. Because the mind was pure principle, unencumbered by qi, it had the essential goodness of human nature. All people therefore possessed innate good knowledge and need only look within their minds to find it. Wang held, moreover, that truly good knowledge must have a practical consequence. This led him to conclude that knowledge and action formed an inseparable unity. He advocated a philosophy that started with discovery of principle, or knowledge of the good, in one's mind and carried the promptings of the mind into virtuous actions beneficial to society. After Wang's death, the School of Mind veered toward the practice of Zen-like meditation to achieve enlightenment. Eventually this led one group of his followers into subjectivism, a kind of spontaneous response to all natural urges. This trend was associated with the weakening of Chinese government during the latter years of the Ming dynasty, which ended in 1644.



School of Practical Learning

During the early Qing, or Manchu, dynasty, beginning in 1644, Confucian philosophers reexamined the Ming civilization in an attempt to discover the weaknesses that had led to the downfall of that dynasty. The School of Practical Learning rejected both the metaphysical speculation of the orthodox School of Principle and the subjective idealism of Wang Yangming's followers. They called for renewed study of the classical texts of the Han dynasty to rediscover the true ethical and sociopolitical doctrines of Confucianism. This study produced a highly critical spirit and precise scientific methods of textual verification. The greatest philosopher of this school was Dai Zhen (Tai Chen), who, during the 18th century, objected to the Neo-Confucian teaching that the truth or principles of things existed in the human mind and that they were attainable by mental discipline. He believed that this teaching had resulted in excessive introspection and mysticism. In addition, he rejected what other Neo-Confucianists had determined to be truth or principle as no more than their subjective judgment. He went on to assert that principle could be found only in things and that it could only be studied objectively through the collection and analysis of factual data. Such scientific methods, however, were never used by the empirical school for a study of the natural world; this school concentrated instead on the study of human affairs as they were dealt with in the classics. The result was distinguished scholarship in the fields of philology, phonology, and historical geography but very little new knowledge and no development of the natural sciences.



19th- and 20th-Century Speculation

The shortcomings of Neo-Confucianism became abundantly clear in the 19th century. Metaphysical speculation provided no explanation for the changes that the impact of the West necessitated in China, and traditional ethics seemed only to impede, if not entirely frustrate, Chinese attempts to modernize. In the 1890s, however, the brilliant young philosopher Kang Yuwei made a radical attempt to adapt Confucianism to the modern world. In his revolutionary treatise Confucius as a Reformer, Kang claimed to have discovered Confucian authority for a sweeping reform of Chinese political and social institutions; such reform would be necessary if China was to resist the force of Western imperialism. Kang's Confucian reform program, implemented briefly in 1898, was frustrated by the entrenched power of orthodox Confucianists in the imperial government, and Kang himself was exiled. An attempt to revive Confucian ethics in China was sponsored by the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek in the New Life Movement of the 1930s.

By about 1897 Western philosophy had appeared in China through translations, and in the next several decades many Western philosophical ideas were brought to China by students returning from North America and Europe. Chinese philosophy in the 20th century has adapted a number of systems derived from Western thought while attempting to use ideas from the traditional Eastern schools.

The Western philosophies most influential in 20th-century China have been pragmatism and materialism. The former, illustrated in the writings of Hu Shi, a student of the American philosopher John Dewey, conceived of ideas as instruments to cope with actual situations and emphasized results. It was therefore well suited for a philosophy of reform, and it played an important role in the New Culture Movement (begun in 1917), which sought to modernize Chinese social and intellectual life. By 1924, however, pragmatism began to decline in popularity, probably because it lacked an integrated political philosophy. Materialism in China has consisted primarily of dialectical materialism, as described by Karl Marx, whose works became widely known in China about 1919. Materialism has been the moving power in Chinese economic reconstruction, and since the late 1920s historical materialism (the economic interpretation of history) has gained wide acceptance even among some non-Communist philosophers. Most of the materialists eventually accepted Marxism-Leninism, the orthodox philosophy of the Chinese Communist Party, enunciated by Mao Zedong. Although the Chinese Communists have claimed that Mao's beliefs were a further development of Marxism-Leninism, a careful analysis shows that Mao's originality was not so much theoretical as practical.

The best known of the 20th-century Confucian philosophers is Fung Yulan, who developed and reconstructed the Neo-Confucian School of Principle. Although his conclusions were similar to those of the Song Neo-Confucianists, Fung supplied new and logical arguments and clarified the original system. In the 1960s Fung moved toward historical materialism and revised his work The History of Chinese Philosophy (1931, 1934; supplement, 1936; translated 1948) according to the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.





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