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20.06.2013

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The spiritual rewards and intellectual challenges of Eastern Philosophy are revealed in this visually stunning book, illustrated by Joe Lee and with 19th Century engravings. Eastern Philosophy is not an intellectual pursuit, but one that involves one’s entire being. Im interested in all types of religions, and this book gave an easy to understand explanation of different eastern religions such as Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, and separates fact from rumor on what these religions actually consist of and believe.
However, those of us brought up in the West can all too easily slip into the common assumption that philosophy deals only with the validity of arguments, science with matters of fact, religion with personal views and commitments and psychology with the internal workings of the mind. When I first encountered Eastern philosophy, I found it liberating to explore answers to the questions of life that were quite different from those with which I had grown up, and a fascination with Eastern thought, particularly Buddhism, has stayed with me. The Chambers Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, edited by Mark Vernon and published by Chambers in 2009, is mainly concerned with religion, but there are entries on the Eastern philosophical traditions.
Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy by Oliver Leaman (Routledge, 1999) is really clear and straightforward and is particularly useful for revising key terms.
Whereas that distinction does not really hold for these Eastern traditions, for practical purposes most books on Eastern Philosophy explore the ideas of each tradition but their ethical implications, details of cermonies and lifestyle are generally mentioned only in passing. If you are approaching this subject from a Religious Studies perspective, you may therefore want to supplement the philosophy with books on the distinctively religious aspects in order to get a balanced view. In this case, Osborne and graphic artist Van Loon have probably taken on a bit too much - the whole of Eastern philosophy.


In this accessible survey of the major philosophies of India, China, Tibet, and Japan, Jim Powell draws upon his knowledge of Sanskrit and Chinese, as well as decades of meditation. I almost put the book down half way through the part on hinduism because it was all over the place and just too much. So I read this book more like a novel.The book contains summaries for each chapter (entitled "The Least You Need To Know"). Nevertheless, this 176-page picture book provides a sufficient overview of Indian, Buddhist and Chinese philosophy that it will act as a useful guide to those aspects of these traditions that you might want to explore further.
It is therefore wonderfully refreshing to turn to the various Eastern philosophies and enter into a world where the view of human life and its meaning is more holistic.
I wouldnt recommend this to someone inerested in eastern philosophy unless they are going to skim through. Some of my older books are rarely available in bookshops now, but you can generally get used copies from Amazon. The conservatism of the New Indian Right may come to prove very problematic for Western liberals and especially for British liberals who have to cater for these elements in their own Hindu communities and coalitions.Osborne tries to show that the Eastern traditions have more in common with each other than any do with the West. The irruption of Buddhism into China was an alien graft from South Asia that, by the time it reached Tibet and Japan, eventually transmuted into something very different in Tibetan Tantra and Zen with their very different philosophical stances. One value of this book is in showing that there is not much that has been thought of in the West that has not appeared in the East - and vice versa.Nevertheless, there are significant differences in 'mentality'.


The quintessential Western philosophy is Hegelianism with its thesis facing off an anti-thesis to create a synthesis that becomes a thesis. This is the natural way, the flow of a stream around boulders to the sea.The Chinese, despite the incursion of Buddhism, which eventually beaches in two cultures wary of their great neighbour (Tibet and Japan), have their own internal philosophical yin and yang in the competing but also mutually accommodating traditions of Confucius and the Tao.
Both are philosophies of hopelessness about radical reform or change except towards some kingly or monkish ideal but the Chinese does permit the existence of a private life alongside the public, whereas Indian philosophy (in its ideal form)turns a man into simply the body for a travelling soul.
On top of this, the second serious collapse of the old order under Western Imperial pressure saw Marxism-Leninism arrive as a useful appropriation by Mao of the nearest invader philosophy available to the traditional Yin-Yang model that was normal to Chinese thought processes - bringing us back to the essentialism of Hegel by the back door.Today, China is two steps away from its traditional and relatively humane model of balancing individualism and nature (the Tao) and public order and duty (Confucius). It is not that European thinkers are likely to adopt Eastern ways (that is for mystics and New Age types) but that the investigations and techniques of the sages add serious value to the post-modern philosophical questionings of the West - even if the research needs to be mindful that we are looking for diamonds and nuggets of gold in vast masses of ore nade up of Sanskrit obscurity and gnomic Chinese sayings that may mean nothing or everything.At the other extreme of sophistication is the convergence of the creation of the 'new religions', often trying to emulate a pre-text paganism whose records have mostly been destroyed, with the discovery of the pagan reality of modern India and (underneath the modernisation) Tibet, China and Japan.
There will be Easterners who want Western freedoms and Westerners who will want to turn the West into a disciplined Enlightenment Fortress analogous to Neo-Confucianist solutions to disorder. There are Easterners who want more Western technology than the West is prepared to hand over and Westerners with a post-imperialist determination to export values into these rising giants. The room for misunderstanding and conflict is large and this little book is a useful primer on why West and East think about things differently - that this matters should not be a matter for debate.



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