Eastern philosophy does not differ from other philosophic teachings in its overall objective. This is to teach us to be wiser individuals and to ultimately provide guidance as to how to live well.
Therefore, Eastern philosophical ideas are no different from Western philosophy is this sense. The distinction lies in how it suggests we can achieve these goals.
You may study the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume or Nietzsche to name a few across various academic disciplines. The teachings of such abide by the central doctrine of western philosophy. It’s about using reason and logic as a means to analyse, understand and think more deeply about our lives. But it can be useful to gain a different perspective to find the answers and guidance in life that we quietly yearn for.
Eastern philosophy places focus on the individual or the self and the individual’s role in society. It explores how to reach inner peace and our relationship with nature and the wider cosmos.
There are many branches of eastern philosophy. But as a whole, it asserts and presents general and useful ideas to us about how to live a good life on the basis of these themes.
These simple ideas have the potential to enlighten and enrich us when we grapple with some of the biggest questions in life that so often seem so elusive.
Here are 7 life lessons learned from eastern philosophy that are still relevant and useful to us today:
Life is full of pain and suffering
This Buddhist sentiment can seem incredibly bleak and dismal and you would only be sane if you were to have this reaction on first being told this. Yet, after a time, such a thought can begin to seem strangely paradoxically comforting to us.
Our lives are full of constant and reoccurring pain, worry and anxiety whether we wish to admit it or not. We may attempt to push away or forget about this fact by seeking happiness in material things. This is especially common in a modern, commercialised media-driven age.
However, not recognising and failing to face up to this fact can inadvertently heighten our sufferings. As a result, we become increasingly unequipped to deal with them.
The sooner we begin to realise this fact, the sooner we will be more prepared to deal with and understand the reality we have. Begin to comprehend the suffering that you are facing currently and the suffering you will inevitably face and you will become more content with your life.
This will allow you to truly appreciate the periods and moments of joy. It will also bring you important comfort in an all too difficult and arduous life. Finally, you will feel the contentment we all deeply ache to achieve.
Confucianism teaches the importance to be humane to one another. We are all enduring the same existence. Everyone else has probably had their heart broken, been grief-stricken or been betrayed at some point down the line. We should be conscious of this fact.
Showing compassion to one another will enable us to partially alleviate the pain of our fellow human beings. This can also help us to maintain a moral character. Often, this doesn’t have to be more than a passing comment to both those we love and those we feel inclined to despise.
Confucius ultimately believed that being humane to one another is crucial for individual morality but also for an ethical society. The thought is that if individuals are ethical to one another, then this will provide a foundation for a moral society.
Let things happen
When things don’t go our way in life, we can frustratingly try to make things happen. We may also try to stop things from happening. Our attempts to try and force this could prove futile and create unnecessary harm in the process. Rather than trying to change or prevent inevitabilities, sometimes it is better to just ride the wave.
These ideas are prominent in Taoism and places emphasis on essentially letting nature run its course. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu believed in the importance of being in harmony with nature and the universe. This is an important trope of eastern philosophy.
We should accept our place in the cosmos and stop resisting the inevitable forces that come our way. Only then can we hope to reach a state of calm.
True fulfilment comes with accepting what is natural and inevitable. So just let things happen.
Life is a state of continuous change
Our lives are always changing in many different ways. We become older, we lose friends and family, we may be offered a job, we may lose a job, our relationships will end and new ones will begin.
Knowing that the past is unalterable and being aware that our lives will head off into differing directions can cause us distress. We may regret our past actions or lament opportunities that we didn’t capitalise on.
Rather than despairing on these matters, we should perhaps gain a different perspective on them. Yes, our lives will scarily and quickly change and moments will pass. But this means our suffering and pain is also impermanent.
Just as the trees around us grow, the plants die and landscapes change, our lives are also constantly altering. We will still bemoan the good that is now in the past. But this change can mark the passing of dark times in our lives allowing us the space to rebuild and prepare for a more prosperous future.
The self is a state of continuous change
It is useful to realise that ‘the self’ is always altering just like life always is. We are often pressured to believe that we must ‘discover who we are’ or have other similar idioms inflicted on us in modern society. But facets of our individual selves can constantly change.
Our dream job can be something of continual development and discovery. The vision of our ideal partner can be subject to frequent amendments. Finally, our political convictions may change over time.
Sticking rigidly to self-imposed or socially imposed constraints can cause us frustration and distress. This happens when we know they will not ultimately provide us with the fulfilment we crave.
Don’t be afraid to embrace your changing ideas, convictions or beliefs. It is a sign that your individual self is constantly developing. It should be exciting to explore such changes and should provide you with the freedom to find true fulfilment in what you choose to do.
Always move forward
Confucius reminds us of the importance of ensuring that we are always moving forward. If you are dealing with a setback in your life or if you are struggling to achieve a goal, it is important to keep on moving in the right direction, however small the steps may be.
Perhaps you have been rejected for several jobs, feel unsatisfied with your personal life or feel stagnated as a result of a job that you are in. It is important not to feel as if you are retreating away from what you think will ultimately fulfil you.
If you appear to reach an impasse then actively change something about your life, however minimal or drastic. Sometimes making a change is what is necessary for your own well being; to ensure you are moving in the right direction towards fulfilment – whatever this may entail.
Gain strength from your suffering
As the Buddha said, and as we have already discussed about eastern philosophy, life is full of pain and suffering. There may be several moments in our existence when we may feel as if we are coming apart at the seams.
It is one of the most important facts about our lives that we should be aware of. But being aware of this fact is only part of the way we should deal with it.
We should not try to forget, disguise or quell our sufferings or failings. Instead, we should recognise, accept and learn from them. As a result, we will be better prepared in the future to rebuild our lives if we need to when they become inexplicably broken or damaged.
We are all deeply lonely and fractured beings. We are all struggling in some way or another, but we can all be healed and repaired. It is important not to fall into bitterness or anger about what has happened to us or neglect the reality of our difficulties. This will only leave our wounds open and intensify the suffering we feel.
If you are resentful over a painful event or a betrayal then you will, of course, for a time, be in despair. Yet, despite our anger as a result of these events, or our deeply held convictions to those who have wronged us, we should accept, learn from the experience and learn to forgive however hard it may be.
Perhaps then we will be able to stitch our lives back up with stronger seams than before.
Why is eastern philosophy relevant to us?
Eastern philosophy is relevant to us because it speaks of the fundamental truths in our lives that we would perhaps struggle to conceive of or even want to avoid. Yet, it can gently remind us and teach us of these facets of our existence in a reassuring and comforting way.
The issues that troubled eastern philosophers and the people of their time were very much the same issues that we are grappling with now. We are all suffering the same, facing the same frustrations and are all faced with difficult decisions.
Eastern philosophy helps to calmly and serenely ease our anxieties to help us get through these things through soothing imagery, poetic words and encouraging us to simply let ourselves run our course with nature.
It is an attractive alternative to western philosophy if we ever pine for a little bit of calm amongst the chaos of our lives.
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