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Eastern Philosophy and the Meaning of Life

Published 10 years, Lisa's trip down the rabbit hole began in Phil/101. More classes, and hours of research followed. Why? she was hooked!


The Purpose of Life

When a person thinks about the purpose of life, some questions may come to mind. First, how exactly should each individual go about living their life? Also, what will happen to us, after we die, and is there even any purpose to life? Finally the question, some may argue, is the most important, is there even a God? This article is going to attempt to answer some of these questions from the perspective of four eastern philosophers.

Is There a Right or Wrong Way to Live?

This is a question people have struggled with, since the beginning of time. Some may say, people, must be out for their own selves, and no one else. These people believe, it is the only way to get ahead. Others believe, it is a must, to be peaceful, and let the world just unfold, around them. They have faith, this is the only way, to become a good person.

Let us briefly speak about the word, good. The first question, that springs to mind would be, What is the definition, of the word good? According to Merriam Webster. the definition of good is, "Of a favorable character or tendency." It is hard not to notice, this definition is rather ambiguous. Who is the one whose responsibility it is to decide what is favorable or not?

With that in mind, Is it possible, since what is considered good or bad is subjective, there really is no way, to be a good person? Is this world so chaotic, and crazy, that good actions are not favorable anymore? Is it a “good” idea to sit in constant worry; always in fear of the next great havoc, which is bound to, rain on your life? Should people stand up, and fight for their own selves, and for others? In this crazy world, we live in, is this the only way to survive?

Eastern philosophy claims life is uncertain, yet it will unfold, as it will. When someone tries to change the way life is unfolding, it will only bring pain. Some other important rules that must be followed are: Always look out for others. leave no footprints, and let go of all earthly desires. It is also important to note, that it is a must, to only fight when there is no other choice. If it's possible to step back and talk it out, that is what should happen.

What Happens, After we Die?

Again, this is a question, that has bewildered humanity, for countless years. It is a fact, that people have a natural urge, to question the unknown. Some questions that are common are: Does the soul move on, or is death the bitter end? Are we reincarnated? If so, are we forced to live our lives, over and over, without the chance of escape? Is there an afterlife, or some sort of heavenly paradise, our souls move on to? If there is, do our souls go straight there when we die? If not, how do we get to the afterlife?

Eastern Philosophy, claims our souls may move on to Nirvana. It is also possible, that the soul will be reincarnated, to live another lifetime. When someone is reincarnated, they have another chance, to choose the right path. Every lifetime builds up Karma, both good and bad. The bad Karma must be answered for. Also, the correct path needs to be walked, in the current lifetime, before Nirvana can be reached. Once Nirvana is reached, the soul transcends, into a blissful, and peaceful state. This completes the cycle of rebirth.

What is the Purpose of Life?

This is another question that has baffled society. Some obsess over it, especially in times of tragedy. When the answers are not forthcoming, it is easy to lose faith in love, society, and your God.

Some important questions to consider, when taking on this question, are to follow.Why exactly are we here on earth? Why do people suffer, so much? Why is there so much injustice, so much pain in the world? Can people change their path in life? Should we fight against, What we seem to be destined, to become? When we die, will our whole lives be for nothing? Will we die in vain?

According to some Eastern philosophers, People have distinct paths, they are meant to take. If the correct path is not taken, there will be another chance, to try again, in the next life. It is a fact, that the world is in chaos, and the uncertainty causes people pain. If someone were to, just, let go of earthly desires, it would help lead them, to the right path. With each life" lived, a soul becomes closer to its destiny. One must be self-sacrificing, build up good karma, and find their path, before they can find Nirvana and transcend.

Is there a God?

When speaking about any God, it is important to note, that this can be a touchy subject. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and it is useful to be able to, at least, consider the other point of view. Some questions people may ask are: Is there a God? Is this God, a vengeful God? Is it a God who is okay with all the hate, spread in his name? Is there an angry man in the sky, ready to smite all who disobey? Is this man responsible for making the man, and then making the woman, from the man? Does it even matter, whether there is a God or not?

According to some Eastern Philosophers, the question, of whether there is a god, is answered with a yes. Moreover, this god is not a man or a woman. This God (AKA Tao), is cosmic energy, which is the beginning, and the end. Every action has an opposite reaction. One needs to understand this and build up good Karma before they are able to transcend. Since the world is unpredictable, and everyone has to become, what they are meant to be, judgment is not necessary. If a person takes the wrong path, then the soul will be born again, so that it will have another chance, to do it right.

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Siddhartha Gautama

Siddhartha Gautama was the son of a wealthy king and lived in luxury.

He was extremely sheltered and did not have knowledge of the suffering, in the world. His family tried to shield him, from all human suffering. A Mystic made a prediction, about his fate early on, about the two paths he could take. He was either going to be a powerful leader or a Buddha.

One day he went to the market in the town of, Kapilavastu. Gautama was profoundly affected, by the anguish he saw, on his trip. After that day, he made it his mission, to find the cause of human suffering. He came to the realization, that humans' suffering can be narrowed down, to two main causes.

First, the ambiguity of the world causes suffering, because nothing is predictable. In every single instance, there are always unseen variables at play. The. The second cause of suffering is Karma. As mentioned above, Karma has been building up, over many lifetimes. One may surmise, that karma probably has a major impact on the unseen variables.

The quote that best represents Siddhartha Gautama is: "attainment of nirvana, requires more than merely letting go of selfish desires. It requires understanding, that what is ordinarily thought of as one’s body and one’s consciousnesses are not real, are not the true Self” (Moore &Bruder, 2008 p. 530).

. This quote is a preview of Gautama’s four noble truths, which lead to his, eight-fold path. The eight-fold path, is Gautama’s approach, to ending an individual’s suffering. He believed people could only end the cycle of reincarnation, when they follow the four noble truths, and the eightfold path.

So, to sum up, Siddartha's philosophy it is important to remember, the following concept. Suffering is due partly to the uncertain world, and partly to Karma. Karma means action or deed. it is the intent behind the action, which decides, whether the karma is good, or bad. Karma can last over several lifetimes, and determine where you are placed, in the next life. Human suffering is caused by selfishness and ignorance. Through meditation and self-sacrifice, one can achieve enlightenment and find peace (nirvana) and end the cycle of life (Moore & Bruder, 2008 p.530-535).

According to John Makransky (2005), “Gautama was viewed as someone who became perfectly transparent to the unconditioned reality, nirvana, So as fully to embody its qualities of unconditioned freedom, all-inclusive love, and penetrating insight to disclose the means for many others to realize them” (Para. 2). This coupled with the quote from Gautama sums up Gautama’s ideas perfectly.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu believed, that one should not interfere with the world, because to do so, would be futile. He believed in an energy called Tao, which connects all things together. In his opinion, Tao was indescribable and unchangeable. He believed if one freed oneself of selfish desires, one would achieve the ultimate goal, which is peace. He maintained violence should be used, only as a last resort.

The quote, which best represents Lao Tzu is, “Can you understand all and penetrate all, without taking any action? To produce and to rear them, To produce, but not to take possession of them, to act, but not to rely on one’s own ability, To lead them, but not to master them—This is called profound and secret virtue” (Bruder & Moore, 2008, p. 536).

Lao Tzu believed humans should not, force change on the world. If they try, they will be injured, in the process. He affirmed, that the Tao is the natural order of things. This energy yields the Chi, which is the vital energy, it is the beginning of everything. It gives rise to the opposing forces of yin and yang. It is hidden and indescribable so one should not even try. He believed that gentleness brings victory without effort, and one can win over their enemy by retreating instead of attacking. His way of life encourages open-mindedness, is simple, tranquil, unselfish, and patient. One should sit back, and watch the world unfold, naturally (525-540).

Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu had a lot of the same philosophies as Lao Tzu. He thought that people should accept their lot in life, without constant worrying. He had faith in the Tao, and the fact, that life was unchangeable. He did not place as much importance on political issues, as Lao Tzu. He believed in the equality of everything, through opposites.

The quote that best explains the philosophy of Chuang Tzu is, “Nature cannot be forced or hurried because nature unfolds, according to the Tao: a tree’s fruit must be picked only when it is ripe, not before and not after. If people choose to impose their will on the world, the result is strife, disquietude, and disruption.”

Confucianism: Confucius

The major difference between what Confucius believed, and what Chuang and Lao Tzu, believed is about change. Confucius believed, that one could change their path, if one models themselves after great people, from the past. The quote that best describes Confucius’s philosophies is “A virtuous man wishing to establish himself seeks also to establish others, and wishing to enlighten himself, seeks also to enlighten others; just as nature is built on a principle of reciprocal cooperation rather than strife, so reciprocal cooperation must reign in human affairs” (Bruder & Moore, 2008, p. 546).

© 2012 Lisa Chronister


Akash Kumar from LAKHISARAI on June 25, 2018:

I like your Siddhartha Gautama content most

Mark Tulin from Palm Springs, California on May 06, 2018:

Enjoyed this summary of eastern philosophy. Especially enoyed Hanh’s take on nirvana.

Deborah Demander from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD on March 09, 2016:

Thanks for sharing this interesting article. You touch on some great concepts.


Multi0Verse on August 16, 2015:

Eastern philosophy, or eastern philosophies?

There are more many.

I think you overlooked Sudeten Dharma.

But, I guess, I'm being too critical again ; )

Audrey Howitt from California on March 03, 2015:

What a great article! Sharing this!

Lisa Chronister (author) from Florida on January 15, 2015:

Shinyeyez, Thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment. I am sorry it took so long for me to respond! I just read an article about some new planets that were found outside of our Galaxy that have Earth like attributes...It made me wonder if these planets could have something to do with alternate dimensions...

ShinyEyez on August 27, 2014:

this is awesome!! Can't argue facts. And the fact is even our entire galaxy is small in relativity to the number of galaxies that exist. The sun in our own solar system is a 100 times bigger then our planet Earth. This indicates a higher power to me. Just the sheer size of space.

Lisa Chronister (author) from Florida on June 29, 2012:

The thought of death has always terrified me, since I was a small child. This is one of the reasons I have started looking so deeply into philosophy, I find the subject fascinating. Thank you so much for your kind comment and for the vote and the share!

AE Williams from Atlanta, GA on June 29, 2012:

I learned quite a bit about philosophy because of you. I've asked myself these questions many times. Especially what happens when we die. The thought of death terrifies me. It's just something we'll never be able to show or express... OMGoodness. Awesome and interesting! Sharing! :) Voted up. Always a pleasure,


Lisa Chronister (author) from Florida on June 29, 2012:

I looked it up it is by Benjamin Hoff, I will be going to buy it this weekend. I will let you know what I think. Thanks for the tip!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 29, 2012:

There are actually several of that series by the same author...The Tao of Eeyore I believe....I wish I could remember the name of the author....I think you'll love it.

Lisa Chronister (author) from Florida on June 29, 2012:

Billy, No, I have not read the book, but I believe I will have to find it =). I love doing research on this subject, that is why I have been publishing so many hubs on the subject. Thank you for your kind reply!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 29, 2012:

Have you read "The Tao of Pooh"....great book about Taoism. Anyway, loved your hub; I have done quite a bit of research about these religions/philosophies/theories of life and find them fascinating and full of merit.

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