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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 November 2009
Eastern Philosophy by Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, UK, 2005, 256 ff.

An introduction to eastern philosophy
By Howard A. Jones

The author is a Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies of Lancaster University, UK. The book explores the commonalities and differences between the various religious philosophies of the East, and compares them at various points with corresponding ideas in the West.

The book begins with an exploration of metaphysics or, as the author puts it, Ultimate Questions and Answers, and goes on to discuss the Self, Language, Knowledge, and Logic, and how eastern philosophies view The Good. The author comments on the fact that early Indian and Chinese cultures did not seem to talk to each other, so many different schools developed in the countries of the East without a common thread. Even when Buddhism spread eastward from India, it took on various forms compatible with the philosophies of Daoism and Shinto already existing by then in China and Japan. While the Bible is a core scriptural text for all of the most widespread western religions, there is no one shared scripture in the East.

Though westerners tend to regard eastern beliefs as heathen, for Daoists the "dao" is an all-encompassing spirit, and the 11th-century Neo-Confucian Chengao postulated a "ren" that `regards all things in the universe as one body . . . and feels "ren" (benevolence) for all things, as he considers them part of him' - a rather pantheistic view of the divine as spirit, similar to that of the God of the Trinity as Holy Spirit and the views of the Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

Trends in the focus on subjects of interest in the West can be seen also in the East. The author defines metaphysics as `the investigation of the structure of reality'; and goes on to point out that while this was a central concern of the earliest Greek philosophers, and of much western philosophy since, the focus of Confucianism and Daoism `is on action in this world, not on knowledge of it', as in many of Plato's dialogues. The early Sankhya school of thought in India posited a dualistic view of reality made up of spirit and matter, which parallels not only Plato's notion of the material world as a pale imitation of the world of Ideas but the much later Cartesian dualism of mind and body.

The book comes with an excellent Glossary of Names and Schools, a short list of Further Reading, and a detailed Index. This is a very informative and thought-provoking book.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

Eastern Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto
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