Comparative Philosophy (CP) is a field of inquiry that has been little explored. Indian influence of China was through Buddhism but India remained unaffected. The contact between India and Greece was sporadic and short-lived. Things have changed in the last hundred years. Improved communication and transportation network in the last two centuries led to greater interaction between people but regular cheap communication was a problem. The advent of Internet has changed everything. Inspite of that, people are unable to understand the differences in philosophies of the East and the West. An Indian may have an understanding of Western and Indian philosophies but his knowledge of Chinese philosophies is zilch. An understanding of these philosophies might help us to understand each other better and promote world peace. For the foreign affairs strategists it would provide an insight into the thinking of his counterparts.
The essay is virtually verbatim from Comparative Philosophy by Prof. P.T.Raju. What follows is a comparison of these three philosophies.
1. It is true that every tradition contains many schools and philosophers belonging to it do not regard them as equally true and important, whereas the classical philosophers of India consider all the Upanishads true. Spirit or atman was the starting point. We have seen that starting point determines the subsequent development of philosophies.
Greek philosophy has cosmological and humanistic standpoints. Because man as such
And not spirit was the starting point; it became nation and society conscious, rational
And scientific. To the Greek was added the Jewish tradition which is nationalistic and
tribal. After some struggle, the Greek scientific and humanistic outlook got the upper
In the Chinese case, Confucius started his thinking to solve the problem of human
Institutions. What should be the nature and duties of the rulers, of the subjects, of the
families and its members, so that man & society can have a peaceful, prosperous life.
The theory of ruler and social institutions became the test of every philosophy.
2. What is the end of every philosophy? In India it is the doctrine of salvation. The Mimamsa did not have this theory first but its influence was so strong that it had to adopt it. The Mimamsa of Dharma as action prescribed by the Vedas became the doctrine of karmayoga, or the yoga of action leading up to salvation, elaborated by the Holy Gita.
Western philosophy has got back the humanism and rationalism of the Greeks. Contemporary western man has faith in human reason only. The philosophies of the middle Ages form an exception to the general Greek outlook. Medieval philosophy pushed man and nature into the background explained everything in terms of God, faith and made reason subservient to faith. But the developments in science and technology strengthened their faith in Reason.
The idea of salvation is alien to Chinese thought. It believes that the best and happiest kind of existence is in earth and all that the Chinese want is to be a complete man. China has changed from Confucianism to Marxism. Both are humanistic and concerned with social institutions. The former wanted to reform and purify existing relationships while the latter wanted to revolutionize them.
Unlike the Western, Indian and Chinese philosophies have retained their continuity of
interest and outlook.
3. What is the novelty of each tradition? Chinese philosophy is one of manners and etiquette. So also if we want a political and social philosophy, it is more in the Chinese than in the Indian. But if we want a philosophy of the atman, spirit, it is found in the Indian than in the Chinese. Humanism is common to Chinese and Western philosophies but if we want logic and method it is found in the Western but not in the Chinese. But the Indian mind is not afraid of pursuing a problem to its logical and metaphysical depths. It is unfair to compare modern western philosophy with classical Indian philosophy since the former started from the 16th century while the latter has had little development from that time till recently.
4. The view that philosophy begins in wonder is attributed to Plato. The problems of life are serious issues that are not associated with wonder. Confucius was made to reflect by the chaos and confusion that prevailed in China at that time. The Upanishad thinkers were sensitive to the defects and imperfections of life. Plato wrote his Republic because he was unhappy with conditions in society at that time. With Buddha it started with the idea of suffering. So no philosophy that wanted to show a way of life could have begun with a wonder.
5. Philosophy shows you how to handle life. If life was free flowing with no problems there is no nothing to handle but does life happen that way. It is full of problems, thorns. Philosophy shows us how to face life, its ups and downs with a smile.
6. In Indian philosophy, religious thought always insisted on the experiential and existential nature of the object of religion, because of which it is called mysticism. In simple language, direct experience is one of the essence of our philosophy. God is often spoken about as beyond speech but that is held by Christianity, Islam and Judaism too. But for the Indian thought he is not beyond experience.
The higher experience is not sense experience or reason but is called Intuition. Thus
intuition is only a way of knowing, fills a place in Indian philosophy that is occupied
by Faith in western religious thought. Faith does not know objects but assumes their
reality. Faith in the teacher and scriptures is spoken of in India but it is not in the sense
of a religious dogma, so there is nothing in India corresponding to dogmatics and
In China we find little dogmatics and theology, there is no insistence of faith, no prevention of reason entering any field it can.
As far as religious thought is concerned one gets the impression that the West gives a higher place to its Jewish factor than to its Greek factor. While Greek religion became philosophical and rational Judaism eschewed all philosophy, refused to raise rational questions. Great value is attached to the renaissance of the 16th century but what was revived was Greek philosophy not Greek religion. The contradiction between the rationalism of the West and its religion of faith continue to exist. It has been eliminated by communism only by violently rejecting religion and substituting materialistic faith for the religious.
7. The dogmas of western religion are due to the opinion that one or a few individuals have the revelation of spiritual truth. As the rest do not have it, the mystery grows about what are religious truths and its custodians add their own beliefs to it. However, in India and China all men are capable of having this revelation; thus, there is an in built equality in that sense, equal opportunities to all. Spiritual or religious experience is an expansion and deepening of human experience. If so, Reason must be allowed to enter every religious and ordinary experience. If it is prevented from entering any part of the experience, it will treat the first part as supernatural and next as unreal.
Naturalism rose in the West mainly as protest against supernaturalism. In India, China spirit is considered to be as natural as life, matter. Since spirit is considered to be supernatural naturalism refuses to recognize its reality and explain its way. Religion for most people in the West is an institution organized around a certain set of dogmas but in India, China, it means spiritual life, with reference to the spirit. And there are no unquestionable truths about its relations to our outward experience. This is the reason for the comparative inseparability of religion from philosophy and of philosophy from religion in India.
Thus Indian and Chinese philosophies are ways of life while western philosophy is a mode of thought.
8. But it would be unfair to western philosophy if one overlooked the view often expressed by some leading thinkers of the West that the aim of all philosophies is to suggest and inspire a way of life. Western philosophy is quite practical; it is a theory wanted for social and political practice. If there are metaphysical principles, a man in the East wants to raise the level of experience but the man in the West treats them as theoretical, brings them down to a human level and applies them to his life. Since Indian philosophers did not do the latter, they could not develop social and political theories. The Indians used their metaphysical theories for lifting man to the level of spirit while the westerners used them for applying them in day to day life. Because of a lack of deep metaphysical interest, the Chinese system remained incomplete, though intensely human.
9. Consistent with its theory of equal opportunity to all, India developed a technique with elaborate theories of man, mind, matter and spirit called Yoga. Thus, metaphysics was not meant for mere intellectual satisfaction, but for supporting a theory of the highest reality, which is also the inner most reality in man. The western is occasionally interested in inner reality while the Chinese refused to go deeper than what is considered basic to human nature.
10. One topic that distinguishes Indian philosophy from the Chinese and the western is that of the Atman. Almost the whole of Indian philosophy is atman centric. Most of the Buddhist schools denied the reality of the atman, but they substituted it with Sunya and Nirvana. So much inward interest is not found any where. In China, Mencius started the doctrine that the universe is within mind but this mind is the ordinary mind of the sage and does not correspond to the atman of the Upanishads.
11. The interest of Indian philosophy in the atman made it inward looking. When it explained the outward, it did so with reference to the inward. This characteristic is particularly there in Vedanta and Buddhism. In comparison, western and Chinese philosophies are outward looking. Their interest lies in the object of outwardness. While the West is completely outward the Chinese confined itself to man and his relationship with other men.
12. Compared to Indian and western philosophies, the Chinese is less analytical and intellectual. It contains a few of the puzzling logical complexities of western thought and its logic does not touch great heights like the Indian. Plato would equate the True to the Good and so did the Indian philosophers. But the Chinese were only concerned with the Good and not truth. What is Truth? was not raised seriously enough by Chinese philosophers.
The Indian philosophers gave equal importance to the True and the Good. The question, what is ultimately true is as imp as the? What is the ultimate good? Satyam, sivam and sundaram (Truth, Goodness and Beauty) and Sat, cit, ananda (Existence, Consciousnes, Bliss) are two sets of values regarded as the ultimate. But the Indian philosophers searched only man’s inward reality for the True. That makes it one-sided because it ignored the truth in human relationships and external nature. India, therefore, did not develop social philosophies and philosophies of nature. In this respect, the West has an advantage over India.
13. Regarding social and humanistic thinking, India offers a contrast to China and the West. Indian philosophers analyzed human nature, but not with regard to social relationships. They tried to discover the psychological side of man, but only with reference to the innermost reality and not society. Social ethics, as a result, remained at a level of codes. The philosophers developed the theories of action (karma), made detailed analysis of the concept and expanded it into the doctrine of karmayoga but excluded its social implications. The control of socio-political activity by making it as a part of the spiritual ideal was not considered to be very important, hence the ancient Indian indifference to history.
Western philosophy, from the time of the Sophists, came to be deeply interested in man and society. Thanks to Socrates and Plato, a worldview was made the basis of humanistic discipline. The three ideas Truth, Beauty and Goodness were made to interpenetrate each other without losing reference to man and society.
In Chinese philosophy, truth played a very small part. The philosophy was not started with the intent of finding out the ultimate truth or reality but by men connected with the practical affairs of state and society. Goodness and beauty were ignored too. The importance of music is recognized, but only for training emotions, thus being in the service of the Good. Their main question was: What human virtues make man and society perfect? This explains the strong historical sense of the Chinese and makes their philosophy human and humanistic.
It is usual to divide the East and the West on the basis of the difference between intuition and intellect. But Indian philosophy would not have reached the great metaphysical heights that it did had it not been for its intellectualism. Communication with the Spirit is not possible without intuition, but to recognize this role of intuition is not the same as to develop an epistemology of mere intuition. An epistemology that tries to prove the validity of intuition becomes so theoretical that it becomes intellectual. Intellect proves a theory while intuition confirms it by experience. According to Plato, the forms of intuition are not known through sense perception but through reason. The soul remembers them but for remembering them it must have known them previously, which means it must have intuited them. This must have been not sense or higher but rational, intellectual intuition. The idea of remembering sounded mysterious so Aristotle maintained that the Reason intuits the universals in the particulars themselves. Although intellect and intuition are two functions of the mind, they interpenetrate each other.
Although some Chinese philosophers could be classified as intuitionists the whole of its philosophy cannot be classified as being so.
Compared to Indian philosophy, western philosophy is more varied and has remained purely theoretical in the hands of many and from the hands of a few only has communion with God received specific recognition. But the interest of the majority of Indian philosophers remained spiritual, and this created the impression that Indian philosophy is intuitive in its method. But the intellect plays as important a role in explaining spiritual life as in explaining mundane life.
14. George Misch tells us that, inspite of diversity, all philosophy is unity, in Greece it originated in wonder, in India in sacrifice and in China in political responsibility and the desire to hold on to the right way of life. This is not wholly correct because philosophy could not have started without dissatisfaction about conditions of life or curiosity about the life after death.
There is much in common between Greek and Indian philosophical beginnings. If
The water of Thales is a theological concept to the Greeks, water, heaven, fire are in
the Vedas. Many gods were common to Greek and Indian mythologies. If the Greeks
had the conception of physics as pure matter, the Indians, particularly the non-
Vedantic schools like the Nyaya and Vaisesika. Of the two Vedic schools, Mimamsa
accepted matter as separate from spirit, though, Vedanta, would treat it as the
manifestation of the spirit. If the distinction between matter and spirit is a later
product in India so was it in Greece.
Between Indian and Chinese philosophical beginnings there are similarities. Confucius was interested in establishing Li (manners, etiquette, good behavior, the how in social relationships), but the word Li as are originally told, originally meant sacrifice and still retains the same meaning. If the spiritual ideas in India developed out of sacrifice (yajna), the laws of right living seem to be developed out of sacrifice (li) in China. Sacrifice of animals or of grain, was the method of social relationships nothing else.
The question is what is True Sacrifice? What are the true forms of right conduct? The Chinese said Li is society. The Indians gave different answers. Manu said that it was right conduct in society according to the four stages in life and the four castes. For Jamini it meant action according to the Veda. Both of them used the word Dharma. To the Vedantins, it is surrendering of the whole universe to realize the Brahman. The word Dharma does not mean anything to the Vedantins. But the question raised by Jamini, what is dharma, was taken up by the Buddhists. It is Jamini the activist maintaining the ultimate reality of action, who raised the question about dharma and said it according to the Veda. And it is Buddhism, which denied the reality of action that gave dharma the highest spiritual status. Ultimately dharma is just a way of the universe.
The East was brooding when the West was active, only because the East confined its activity to man’s life and what was inward to it and overlooked the truth that human life extends outward right into matter, the nature of which permits control and manipulation. The East has now recognized this, declaring that material backwardness is not the same as spirituality. While the West is proud of its activism, some of its leaders have begun to realize that what is missing is the significance and meaning of life.
What India needs is a revival of its elemental activism of the early Vedas and the Mimamsa, the reinterpretation and reconciliation of Mimamsa and Vedanta and a philosophy that is both outward and inward looking? What is also required is that the individualistic approach of the Upanishads be changed to include other persons, the universe too. While Buddhism was concerned with the salvation of all human beings, its full social implications were not worked out.
The West needs a more adequate recognition of the inward reaches of man’s being, without which philosophy cannot justify spirituality and freedom of spirit from deterministic matter. Inwardness has been confused with Faith and could thus not play its proper part in philosophy. If contemplation and higher forms of intuition are essential for the deepening of life, then philosophy has to say it in so many words, recognize their truth and study their nature. Faith by itself will not be enough. It can be misunderstood as simply an external aspect of a religious leader and even unreasonable adoration.
China needs to think out the extreme of both the inward and the outward in order to discover the root of man’s being in both directions and then strike a balance.