Eastern vs. Western Philosophy – Free Ebook

Let’s start in an unusual place with an Australian supermodel called Miranda Kerr. She’s pretty, successful and very rich. She’s been named 3 years in a row as the sexiest woman on the planet. She’s also deeply interested in developing her mind. And so she’s become very involved with yoga, chanting, meditation and Japanese Buddhism. She recites “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” twice a day, invoking the mystic law of the Lotus Flower, which asserts that Miranda and the cosmos are two sides of the same coin. Kerr has had some real difficulties with loneliness and loss: her first boyfriend died in a car crash, a later lover turned out to be a crook, she married Orlando Bloom but it all fell apart pretty quickly. Her needs are real and she’s turned for comfort and help to the east. She might have looked elsewhere. She might have found that Plato and Tolstoy had things to teach her. Maybe she could have been touched by Bach or medieval architecture. It’s not as if the West doesn’t also have a deep and long engagement with the sorrows of life but like so many spiritually curious people she didn’t end up engaging with its culture. Instead she joined the Soka Gakkai Buddhist movement. How has it happened that Western Culture has largely bypassed Miranda and so many others seeking enlightenment? It’s not their fault, they needed something and the West wouldn’t give it to them, so they went elsewhere and their decision tells us something hugely important about how the Western World handles or more accurately mishandles its culture. You’d imagine that Western University philosophy departments would be natural places one might go in search of wisdom and consolation. But they aren’t interested in these things: they’re trying to define Ontological Naturalism, Situate Wittgenstein and his proper historical perspective, footnote a volume of late Heidegger and compare Plato’s Phaedrus with Aristotle’s ethics. It’s not a bad way to spend the time but it isn’t arguably very helpful to anyone with anything resembling a real problem. Academic institutions have turned culture, which should help us to live and die well, into abstract scholarship. Buddhist philosophies are not like this: they’re on a mission to help you find your way through the challenges of existence. That’s why it would be extremely strange to hear at a middle-class dinner party that the person next to you had found solace in Hegel or Aristotle but totally unsurprising to learn that they’d been to Nepal and were entranced by its traditional wisdom. We are missing out on a crucial resource. The great figures of Western cullture almost all wanted culture to function as an instrument for the pursuit of a wiser life. Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Schiller, Tolstoy and Proust: all wanted culture to be not an obeject of academic study but a living resource that could offer council and direction, for when a boyfriend has died or someone has been fired, much as the Eastern Western tradition has always believed. It’s time to return Western Culture to its rightful ambitions not in order to win out over the East but in order to stand as its legitimate equal. In the pursuit of a path to human flourishing.

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