Eternal Matters–A Look at Eastern Philosophy

14 May

One of my philosophy professors in college said that he had once asked an Indian man about how the Hindus answered the questions of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. The man looked back at my professor and said, “We wouldn’t ask those questions.”

Eastern and Western philosophy, as well as Eastern and Western religion, are miles apart. Not long ago I gave my youngest brother one of the poems in the Tao Te Ching to read, after he demanded why I was looking at “Chinese stuff.”

He began: “Heaven goes on forever./ Earth endures forever.” He made a face. “No it doesn’t!”

“Keep reading,” I said.

He started again. “There’s a reason heaven and earth go on enduring forever:/ their life isn’t their own/ so their life goes on forever.” He scrunched up his nose again. “That’s not true!”

I told him to save his comments for the end. He finished reading and repeated his objections. I then had the pleasure of trying to explain Taoist beliefs to an American ten-year-old. He liked the idea of having the same essence as his dog (he loves animals), but telling him the same thing about girls did not go over well.

If the Tao Te Ching can be believed, there were at least a few Chinese adults who had a similar reaction. At any rate, the idea of a life force that encompasses being and non-being seems like something that almost has to be intuitively grasped. A rational explanation can only carry you so far.

When I was ten or so, I read a magazine article about the yin-yang symbol. The article explained that is symbolized there was always a little bit of bad in the good, and a little bit of good in the bad. It was a children’s magazine; and, based on my brother’s reaction, a full explanation would have probably confused most of the eight-to-twelve-year-old readers. Still, the explanation he got was probably a little more accurate. In Taoism, everything, whether good or evil, existent or nonexistent, shares the same essence.

The most interesting thing about Eastern philosophy (at least to me) is that it doesn’t really conflict with a naturalistic view of the universe. Someone could easily hold to Taoism and atheism at the same time. From both points of view, there is no ultimate Source of life outside of the world-system.

Another professor of mine described a discussion he had with a group of Chinese students. They contended that believing in an eternal God was irrational. The professor’s response? “I believe in an eternal God. You believe in eternal matter. How is that any more logical?”

That may be the best summary of the differences between Christianity and Eastern philosophy that I have heard.

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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Philosophy


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