THEOSOPHY, Vol. 84, No. 6, April, 1996
(Pages 172-174; Size: 7K)



[Part 2 of a 5-part series]

THE TWENTIETH century has been a revolutionary period in eastern philosophy with regard to interpretations and methodological approach. Of course there are some basic concepts which have not changed and continue to distinguish it from the western mainstream. Eastern ideas emphasize the spiritual aspects of nature and human existence, focusing in particular on the introspective and intuitive, with non-attachment to the purely personal results of action being a goal. However, the expression of contemporary schools has been profoundly influenced by changes in global conditions.

For example, the editors of A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy point out that:

Indian philosophy lost its dynamic spirit about the sixteenth century when India became the victim of outside powers. First the Muslims and then the British assumed control of the country, not only physically but also in the realm of thought ... For a long time, the English-educated Indians were apparently ashamed of their own philosophical tradition, and it became the mark of intelligence as well as expediency to be as European and as English in thought and in life as possible.
The doctrines of the six classical schools of ancient Indian philosophy highlight the general revival of interest among the educated in the richness of their philosophical past. However, this renewal has occurred in an intellectual environment profoundly influenced by modern science, technology and logical analysis. The result has been an integrated expression of Indian philosophy in terms acceptable to western thinkers. Thus, the logical, pragmatic and relativistic Western mind has developed an appetite for the wisdom of the East.

Furthermore, the transformation in eastern philosophy has not been confined to India:

During the twentieth century there has been a revitalization of Confucianism in China and a revolutionary change in the presentation of Zen Buddhism in the modern philosophical schools in Japan. Consequently, Chinese and Japanese philosophy is more accessible and acceptable to westerners.

According to Fung Y-lan, one of the most outstanding Chinese philosophers and historians of the twentieth century, the source of this revitalization of Chinese philosophy has been the influence of the western methods of logical analysis on Chinese metaphysics. He believes that Chinese philosophy has become less mystical to westerners because modern Chinese philosophers attempt to give a more detailed description and analysis of their metaphysical doctrines. Such concepts as the Absolute and the Great Whole, with their application to Ethics, become more enlightening and vital when the traditional Chinese methods are blended with the modern ones (Great Thinkers of the Eastern World).

Another example of the trend towards a synthesis between eastern and western philosophy is seen in the transformation of Zen Buddhism in the twentieth century:
According to Soho Machida, the modern philosophical movement in Japan, known as the Kyoto School, has produced a number of philosophers who have attempted to synthesize the insights of the East and West. One of the most prominent members of this school, Nishida Kitaro, has made a significant contribution by transforming the intuitive, nonverbal and non-rational methods of traditional Zen Buddhism into the western mold of thinking (Ibid.).
We are in a transitional age. Everything in philosophy, religion and science is changing. Thus, the climate appears favorable for comparative study of ancient and modern philosophy. And besides this, there is a growing trend toward the synthesis of eastern and western traditions. Hence, the soil of modern philosophical thought appears to provide remarkably fertile ground for the seeds of truth contained in the universal principles of the Ancient Wisdom Religion.

The rebellion of modern philosophy against religious dogmatism and its subsequent relativism and devaluation created a vacuum in western thought. Anything that even resembled a real Self, an absolute Truth or an unconditional ethical standard was arbitrarily dismissed. But this void in western thought now is being rapidly filled by new expressions of the ancient philosophical traditions of the East.

As stated by William Q. Judge in The Ocean of Theosophy:

....the theosophist sees all around him the evidence that the race mind is changing by enlargement, that the old days of dogmatism are gone and the "age of inquiry" has come, that the inquiries will grow louder year by year and the answers be required to satisfy the mind as it grows more and more, until at last, all dogmatism being ended, the race will be ready to face all problems, each man for himself, all working for the good of the whole, and that the end will be the perfecting of those who struggle to overcome the brute (pp. 50-51).
This study, commencing as an open-ended series on "Ancient and Modern Philosophy," will attempt to confer an awareness, especially among students of theosophy, that the race mind is growing and reaching out for significant answers.

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