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18 05 2012 FRIDAY LESSON 612 FREE ONLINE eNālāndā Research And Practice UNIVERSITY And THE BUDDHISTONLINE GOOD NEWS LETTER by ABHIDHAMMA RAKKHITA through http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org Dhammapada: Verses and Stories Dhammapada Verse 170 Observe The Impermanence Of Life
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05 2012 FRIDAY
Research And Practice UNIVERSITY And THE BUDDHISTONLINE GOOD NEWS LETTER by ABHIDHAMMA RAKKHITA through http://sarvajan.ambedkar.org

Verses and Stories

Verse 170
Observe The Impermanence Of Life


Verse 170. Observe
The Impermanence Of Life

Just as a bubble may
be seen,
just as a faint mirage,
so should the world be viewed
that the Death-king sees one not.

Explanation: Look at a bubble. How
impermanent is it? Look at a mirage. What an illusion! If you look at the world
in this way, even the king of death will not see you.

Dhammapada Verse 170
Pancasatavipassakabhikkhu Vatthu

pubbulakam passe
yatha passe maracikam
evam lokam avekkhantam1

maccuraja na passati.

Verse 170: If a man
looks at the world (i.e., the five khandhas) in the same way as one looks at a
bubble or a mirage, the King of Death will not find him.

1. evam jokam
avekkhantam: one who looks at the world in the same way, i.e., looks at the
world as being impermanent as a bubble and as non-material as a mirage.

The Story of Five
Hundred Bhikkhus

While residing at the
Jetavana monastery, the Buddha uttered Verse (170) of this book, with reference
to five hundred bhikkhus.

On one occasion, five
hundred bhikkhus, after taking a subject of meditation from the Buddha, went
into the forest to practise meditation. But they made very little progress; so
they returned to the Buddha to ask for a more suitable subject of meditation.
On their way to the Buddha, seeing a mirage they meditated on it. As soon as
they entered the compound of the monastery, a storm broke out; as big drops of
rain fell, bubbles were formed on the ground and soon disappeared. Seeing those
bubbles, the bhikkhus reflected “This body of ours is perishable like the
bubbles”, and perceived the impermanent nature of the aggregates

The Buddha saw them
from his perfumed chamber and sent forth the radiance and appeared in their

Then the Buddha spoke
in verse as follows:

Verse 170: If a man
looks at the world (i.e., the five khandhas) in the same way as one looks at
a bubble or a mirage, the King of Death will not find him.

At the end of the discourse, those five hundred bhikkhus attained

Philosophy and Comparative Religions;



Buddhism and Comparative Religion

and other Essays


Prof. Dr. Helmuth von Glasenapp

Professor of Indology, Tubingen (Germany)

Buddhist Publication Society

Kandy • Sri Lanka

The Wheel Publication No. 111

Copyright c Helmuth von Glasenapp-Stiftung, Wiesbaden (Germany)

First BPS edition: 1967

Reprinted: 1974

BPS Online Edition c (2008)

Digital Transcription Source: BPS Transcription Project

For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted
and redistributed in

any medium. However, any such republication and redistribution is to be
made available to the

public on a free and unrestricted basis, and translations and other
derivative works are to be

clearly marked as such.


Buddhism and Comparative

The Influence of Buddhist

The Buddha’s Place in Indian


Buddhism and Comparative Religion1

Ever since the 17th century when the first news about Buddhism reached
Europe, that religion

has always been an object of special interest to all scholars who occupied
themselves with the

comparative study of the world’s great creeds. And this, for several


The biography of the Buddha has always possessed a special human touch
which appealed

strongly to the imagination and the sentiments of persons susceptible to
heroic deeds and

moving feelings. The noble principles of Buddhism have at all times won
admiration from those

who believe in the inherent good in man. Historians felt particularly
attracted by the changing

fate of a creed that had in the course of time won so many adherents in
many countries of

Southern Asia, but disappeared again from many places where it had
flourished for centuries. It

is of special interest to see what changing forms this religion assumed
during the two and a half

thousand years of its existence and to observe how it adjusted itself to
the requirements of

nations, the very names of which were not even known to its founder. If one
considers the many

features in which Buddhism exists today, one cannot help saying that in
this one system almost

all ways of religious life have found their expression: from the stern,
sober, calm thoughts of

ascetic seekers for salvation to the highly emotional fervour of ardent
worshippers of world redeeming saviours and from the lofty speculations of
mystics to the elaborate rites of magicians

who try to banish evil spirits with the help of their spells.


From the point of view of the philosophy of religion, Buddhism deserves a
special interest

because it makes dubious Kants assertion that belief in God, in the immortality of the soul, and

in the freedom of the will are the three great essential parts of the
dogmatics of every religion of

a higher order. Of course, the Buddha was a partisan of the kiriyavāda (belief in the moral

efficacy of action) and a strong opponent of teachers who like Gosāla
Makkhaliputta said,

“There is no such thing as exertion or labour or power or energy or human
strength; all things

are unalterably fixed.”


But concerning the other two questions, Buddhism takes a stand quite of its
own contrasting

entirely with that of Hinduism, Christianity, Islam and other faiths; for

acknowledges neither the existence of permanently existing souls nor of a
creator and ruler of

the universe. This is a logical outcome of its fundamental philosophical
conception. As a

doctrine of becoming and uninterrupted flux, it cannot accept the idea of

substances; just as, according to Buddhism, there is no matter which in
itself is eternal though it

may change its forms over and over again, so there cannot be an individual
soul of everlasting

life which takes on a new material clothing in the course of its
reincarnations. And just as there

is no everlasting personality, so there can be no personal god, who remains
as an immovable

pole in the midst of changing phenomena. The only permanent force that
Buddhism believes in

is the law that rules the universe, and from elements of existence forms
lumps of transitory

character which dissolve again and again to be replaced by others.


Although Buddhism denies the existence of permanent souls, it does not deny

continuation of individual life after death. The basic idea of its
conception is that death means

the end of a certain individual A, because the component parts which had
united to form it

dissolve, but the moral forces which a man or some other being had produced
during his life

become the cause of a new individual B who is, so to say, the heir of the
actions of A, so that B

earns compensation for his good and punishment for his bad deeds. It is,
therefore, that the new

individual B is neither identical with the old one, A, nor is it different
from A, because it

1 Reprinted with permission of the Helmuth von Glasenapp-Stiftung,
Wiesbaden (Germany), from

Buddhism and Comparative Religion. emerges from it, just as the fire of the second part of the night is the
uninterrupted continuation
of the fire that burnt during the first part of it. It is not our task here
to deal with the different
theories of the antarābhava,2 etc. which have been
devised to explain or to prove this theory. In
this connection it is sufficient for our purpose to establish the fact that
Buddhism is in full
accordance with many other religions in the supposition of a life after
death in which all acts are
requited. The only difference between Buddhism and other Indian religions
consists in this that
Buddhism gives a different philosophical interpretation. In practice it is
in complete harmony
with all systems that accept metempsychosis. Instead of the theory of an
immutable permanent
soul which forms the nucleus of the individual A in this existence and of
the individual B in the
next existence, it offers a different view: every individual is a stream of
evanescent dharmas
(physical and mental factors of existence) arising in functional
interdependence. Every new
individual existence is the flowing on of this stream.


This doctrine of reincarnation without the adoption of the belief in a
persistent soul-substance

has always puzzled scholars, and it has been called a logical impossibility
because it denies the

identity of the man who has done an action and of another man on whom it is
rewarded. But in

truth it has quite the same metaphysical value as the theory of a wandering
permanent soul.

Professor T. R. V. Murti 3 rightly says: “How does the acceptance of the ātman, the unchanging

permanent entity, explain kamma, rebirth, memory or personal identity more
plausibly? As the

permanent soul is of one immutable nature, it cannot have different
volitions when different

circumstances call for different actions. … A changing ātman (soul) is a contradiction in terms.

No ātman-view has accepted or
can accept a changing self; for once we accept change of the

ātman, we have no valid
argument to confine this change to definite periods i.e. it remains

unchanged for an appreciable stretch of time and then changes. This would
mean two different

ātmans. Nor can we admit
that one part of the
ātman changes while the other part is permanent.

If the changing part does belong to the ātman as integrally as the other part, then we would be

having a supposedly unitary entity, which has two mutually opposed
characteristics. This does

violence to our conception of an entity.”


When the Buddha replaced the theory of a permanent soul substance with the
theory of a

“mind-continuum,” he tried to avoid the difficulties inherent in the
doctrine of
ātman. That his

theory also conceals knotty points is evident. For, no sufficient
philosophical arguments can be

adduced for things which transcend the human faculty to demonstrate
rationally matters that

are not accessible to our limited comprehension. The belief that there is
no continuation of any

sort of life after the death of an individual is also not strictly
demonstrable; for the theory of a

matter out of which everything is produced is as equally an outcome of
speculation and of a

certain “Weltanschauung” as the different hypotheses concerning the soul or
the mindcontinuum.

Stranger still, it appears to most observers that Buddhism denies the
existence of a creator

and ruler of the world because for many religious minds, especially in the
Occident, religion is

synonymous with the belief in God. For this reason many theologians have
said, “Buddhism is a

philosophical or ethical system but no religion.” This view, however, is a
very superficial

subterfuge. For, judging from its outward appearances as well as from its
inner attitudes,

Buddhism exhibits all the marks observed in other religions. It has places
of worship, rites, and

monasteries, and with its adherents it calls forth purely religious
feelings of devotion, piety, tranquillity of mind, etc. It has its legends,
relates wonders, tells of visions of heaven and hell,

etc. It even acknowledges a great number of celestial beings who, although
they have no eternal

life, exist for centuries and may give their worshippers worldly comfort
and happiness. All this

makes it evident that to Buddhism the appellation religion cannot be
denied. This shows that

2 Intermediate existence between two lives; a conception developed in later
schools of Buddhism.

3 T. R. V. Murti, The Central
Philosophy of Buddhism
, London 1955, p. 32.
the restriction of the term “religion” to the different kinds of theism is too
narrow. The ancient Romans, to whom we owe the term “religion,” were no theists
but adored a great number of gods and did not differ in this respect from the
Buddhists of former times or today. One can therefore only infer from this fact
that theism is one of the forms of religion and that the term “religion”
embraces a great number of varieties of beliefs. As Mohammedans and Christians
and a great part of the Hindus are theists, some historians have thought that
Buddhism, being a religion of the highest order, must also be in one way or the
other theistic. The President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, Prof.
Malalasekera, writes, in his article “Buddhism and the Awakenment of Man” in
Listener (London, 7th January
1954), that a Buddhist does not believe in a creator of the Universe. “If asked
’How did Life begin?’ he would ask in return ’How did God begin?’,” and the
late Professor Takakusu, a great scholar and a pious Mahāyānist, said in his
Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy (2nd edition, Honolulu 1949, 45) “Buddhism is atheistic. There is no doubt
about it.” That the Buddhists of bygone ages were also atheists can easily be
ascertained from the great doctrinal works of the Pāli Canon and from the
writings of the philosophers of the Great Vehicle. I may refer the reader to
the article “Atheism” (Buddhist) by L. de La Vallee Pousin in the
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 2:184, and to my
(German) book
Buddhism and the Idea of God 4where I have collected passages from Hinayāna and Mahāyāna works.5 To the
quotations given there may be added the
Isvara-Kartrtva-nirākrti published by Prof. F. W. Thomas (JRAS 1905, 345–349).


So there can be no doubt whatever about the fact that Buddhism has been
atheistic for at least

two thousand years. The stalwart champions of theism eager to uphold their
thesis that every

highly developed religion acknowledges the existence of God are not
troubled by this fact. They

maintain the assertion that the Buddha did not say anything against the
existence of God. But

this is clearly wrong. For, in the Buddha’s dialogues reported in the Pāli
Canon there are several

passages in which he criticizes in a most outspoken way the opinion that
the world may have

been created by God or may be governed by Him. So he said according to the Aguttara Nikāya

3, 61 (Vol. 1, p. 74): “People who think that the will of God (issara-nimmāna) allots to men

happiness and misery, must think that men become murderers, thieves etc. by
the will of God.”

A similar argument occurs also in the Jātakas (No. 528, V, p. 238; No. 543,
VI, p. 208). In the

Brahmajāla Sutta (Dīgha-Nikāya 1, 2, 2 Vol. I, p. 17) the Buddha propounds
even a theory as to

how the wrong belief in a creator has arisen. When the god Brahmā was born
at the beginning

of a new age of the world in a heaven prepared for him by his kamma,
unconscious of his

former existence, he wished to have companions. When other beings came into

because of their kamma he imagined that he had created them by his will.
The beings, in their

turn, noticing that Brahmā existed before them thought that he had created
them. So a sort of

primordial monotheism originated at the beginning of the world by the error
of Brahmā and the

first men.


The likelihood that the Buddha was a religious teacher but did not
acknowledge the existence

of God is further corroborated by the fact that his contemporary Mahāvīra,
the Tittha
kara of

the Jainas, took a similar attitude. In India the Mimasa philosophy and the classical Sākhya

propagated also the Anīsvara-vāda (i.e. a non-theistic doctrine). But
religious beliefs of this kind

are not confined to India. The Neo-Confucianism of Chu Hsi also denies that
a personal God

rules the world, as did those ancient Greeks, Romans, and Teutons for whom
Fate or Necessity

reigned the cosmos and the life of man. 4 H. von Glasenapp, Buddhismus und Gottesidee, Abhandlungen der Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur in Mainz,
Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Klasse
1954, Nr. 8
(Wiesbaden 1954).

5 See Buddhism and the God Idea. Selected Texts edited by Nyanaponika Thera. The Wheel No. 47. Buddhist Publication
Society, Kandy, Ceylon (Editor).


The thoughtful reader may ask how it is possible that so many religions
dissent from an

opinion cherished by so many religious heroes like Moses, Christ, Mohammed
or the great

Vaishnava and Saiva saints. The answer is that the idea of God is a very
complex one. It

combines the ideas of a creator, ruler, and destroyer of the universe with
those of an author of

moral laws, of a just judge, of a helper in need and a saviour of mankind.
In Buddhism the same

ideas are distributed among several factors. The creation, rule, and
destruction of the universe

are ascribed to the Universal Law as are the allotment of reward and
punishment according to

the automatically working kamma. As this Law is immanent in the cosmos
there is no need of a

Lawgiver. The revealers of this Law are the Buddhas, who for this reason
are venerated. The

transitory devas (deities) function as helpers in worldly troubles. Concerning
the question of

salvation the Buddhist schools differ: for some of them it can be reached
only by man’s own

endeavours; for other schools the grace of the Buddha Amitābha is the
expedient for salvation.

The feelings of devotion and reverence, which the theistic religions
concentrate upon God, are

turned towards the Buddhas as the sages who have shown the way to Nirvāna.

So the same ideas, impulses, instincts, longings, and hopes which determine
the theistic

religions are equally alive in Buddhism, and they are, above all things,
the most essential feature

of all religions: the conception of awe-inspiring holiness and the sense of
the holy which is

different from everything profane.


The Influence of Buddhist Philosophy


On the occasion of the two previous meetings of our Symposium, the
Contribution of Buddhism

to Art and Letters was dealt with. We proceed now to our discussion on

Contribution to Philosophy. Making use of a simile employed by
Ānandavardhana on poetry I

may say this: Art is the beautiful corporeal frame of Buddhism, literature
is its
a or lifebreath,

philosophy is its mind; so that the topic of our deliberation is, as it
were, a task of

penetrating gradually more and more into the depth of the inner core of the
great spiritual

movement which has given so much to the world.


I feel deeply honoured by having been asked to preside over this session. I
take it as a

distinction not so much for my own humble endeavours to fathom the
profundity of Buddhist

philosophy but as an award of honour bestowed upon my country, because
especially in

Germany, philosophers have for a long time shown great interest in Buddhism.

The first Germans who had heard the name of the Buddha were probably
theologians who

had read the works of St. Hieronymus, one of the fathers of the Christian
Church. For, this saint

mentions the miraculous birth of the Buddha. But of Buddha’s doctrine,
nobody seems to have

had any detailed knowledge during the Middle Ages. It was not until the
17th century that a

German philosopher obtained some knowledge of Buddhism. It was Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz

(1646–1716) who took a very keen interest in China, whose philosophy had
just been made

known to Europe by the works of French Jesuits. Leibniz drew from their
books some points of

the Buddhist doctrine as taught in the Chinese Empire. In his most famous
book, the

he speaks of Fo, as the Chinese call the Buddha, and refers to the
Madhyamika-System and its

doctrine of Emptiness.


A wider range of knowledge we find with Immanuel Kant (1724–1806). It is
not much known

that Kant at the University of Konigsberg delivered not only lectures on
Philosophy but also on

Geography. Without ever having left his native town he had acquired a considerable

of all the parts of the globe by reading books on travel. He therefore in
his lectures speaks about

Buddhism in Ceylon, Burma, Siam, in China, Japan and Tibet. He draws a very

picture of the Buddhist monks in Burma. He says, “The Talapoins of Pegu are
praised as the

world’s kindliest men. They live on the food which they beg at the houses
and give to the poor

what they do not need for themselves. They do good to all living beings
without making any

discrimination on the grounds of religion. They think that all religions
are good which make

men good and amiable.”


Kant already knew that Buddhists do not believe in a creator and ruler of
the universe who

judges men after death, for he writes; “They reject the idea of divine providence,
but they teach

that vices are punished and virtues are recompensed by a fatal necessity.”
Kant did not yet

know anything about the Buddhist doctrine of Kamma and Rebirth, and his
philosophy has in

no way been influenced by Buddhist ideas. But the doctrine of
metempsychosis appealed to him

in several periods of his life. Even shortly before his death, when asked
by his friend Hasse

about the future of the individual after death, Kant expressed himself in
favour of the doctrine

of transmigration. On another occasion he called it one of the most
attractive teachings of

Oriental philosophy. He himself taught a pre-existence of the soul before
man is born and he

6 Presidential Address delivered at the Fifth Session on “Buddhism’s
Contribution to Philosophy” of the Symposium on “Buddhism’s Contribution to
Art, Letters and Philosophy” arranged from November 26th to 29th,
1956, in New Delhi, by the Working Committee for the 2,500th Buddha Jayanti,
Government of India, in collaboration with the UNESCO, to commemorate the
2,500th Anniversary of the Parinirvāna of the Buddha. Reprinted from
The Mahā Bodhi, Vaisakha Number 1957.
was of opinion that after death man has to continue his way to perfection in
infinite progress.


His ideas have, therefore, in this point much in common with Buddhism.

Kant lived at a time when Buddhist texts had not yet been studied and
translated by

European scholars. It was only after his death that English and French
scholars began to occupy

themselves with the Buddhist scriptures. In contradistinction to Kant, the
German philosophers

of the beginning of the nineteenth century were better informed about
Buddhist philosophy.

Thus we find with Schelling and Hegel some more detailed remarks on
Buddhism, and in later

times with Nietzsche and many other philosophers. An enthusiastic admirer
of the great

religion of the East was Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). Since he was
introduced to Indian

Wisdom as a young man of 26 years of age until his death at the age of 72
he read almost every

book published on Buddhism and came to the conviction that Buddha, together
with Plato and

Kant, was one of the three great illuminators of the world. He was much
influenced by Buddhist

thought in framing his own system of metaphysics. He believed in a strong
conformity of his

doctrine with that of the Buddha. So he wrote: “If I were to take the
results of my philosophy as

a yardstick for the truth, I would concede to Buddhism the pre-eminence of
all religions of the

world. In any case I can be happy to see that my teaching is in such great
harmony with a

religion which has the greatest number of adherents on earth.” There are,
indeed, many points

in which the German philosopher agrees with Buddhists: they both deny the
existence of a

personal God; they teach that neither a beginning nor an end of the cosmic
process can be

established; they both assume the existence of a plurality of world
systems; they see no essential

but only a gradual difference between men and animals and are therefore
ardent advocates of

the protection of animals against cruelty; they do not believe in permanent
immortal souls and

metempsychosis, but in a rebirth caused by the will (sasāra), which manifests itself in the

doings of the previous existence; they both acknowledge a moral law (dharma) as the moving

factor in the universe. Though they both have a pessimistic outlook on
life, they are optimistic in

so far as they are both convinced of the possibility of a liberation from
the trammels of existence.

Just as for Buddha, so for Schopenhauer too, the state of deliverance
cannot be explained with

the help of terms and words belonging to our world of phenomena.
Schopenhauer’s system,

being an original and independent outcome of his own thinking, differs, of
course, in many

other points from Buddhism. This partly finds its reason in the fact that
at the time of

Schopenhauer Buddhism was not yet sufficiently known in Europe.


Schopenhauer was the greatest herald of Buddhist wisdom ever arisen among

philosophers of the Western world. His works had a deep influence on many
other thinkers

rendering them in their turn, very keen on studying the sacred writings of
the Buddhist faith at

least in translation. A remarkable witness of the overwhelming impression
that Buddhism made

on him are the following words of a great musician, the famous composer,
Richard Wagner

(1813–1883). He wrote: “Buddha’s teaching is such a grand view of life that
every other one

must seem rather small when compared to it. The philosopher with his
deepest thoughts, the

scientist with his largest results, the artist with his most extravagant
imagination, the man with

the most open heart for everything that breathes and suffers—they all find
their unlimited

abode in this wonderful and incomparable conception of the world.”

It is an uncontested fact that Buddhism has played a role in the realm of
Indian philosophy

during the one thousand five hundred years of its existence in the
sub-continent, not only

because it produced a great variety of metaphysical systems many of which
belong to the most

elaborate and sublime ones the fertile Indian mind has ever created. But
the contribution of

Buddhism is still greater. Through its very existence it has compelled the
Brahmanic and Jaina

philosophers to defend their teachings and to improve and remodel them. The

kindled by the struggle waged between Buddhist philosophy of permanent flux
and the

Upanishadic philosophy of unchangeable being have raised Indian
metaphysical thought to that

high level which has earned for it the admiration of the world. Since the
celebrated passage in

the Majjhima Nikāya 22 where Buddha argues controversially against the
doctrine of the

Vedanta, and the Kathaka Upanishad 4, 14, where the Brahmins reject the
Buddhist theories of

dharmas, the antagonism between the Vedanta and Buddhism permeates the
whole history of

Indian philosophy, just as the fight between the conception of the world of
Heraclitus and

Parmenides dominates Greek philosophy. As so often in similar cases, each
of the two

opponents has learned much from the other and taken over some of the
other’s ideas. To my

mind the monistic Mahāyāna shows the deep influence which Vedanta has
exerted on later

Buddhism. On the other hand the lofty idealism of Yogavasishta of Gaudapada
and Shankara

are indebted to Nāgarjuna’s and Asaga’s theories on the unreality of the world.


But the contribution of Buddhism to philosophical thought is not confined
to India.


Buddhism has been the originator and promoter of philosophy in many
countries that had not

yet developed a philosophy of their own when the doctrine of the Buddha
reached them.

Buddhism has stimulated the intelligentsia in Ceylon, Burma, Siam, Kamboja,
Laos, Korea,

Japan, Tibet and Mongolia, to philosophical endeavours. In China, too,
which already possessed

a philosophy of a high level, Buddhism has greatly developed the indigenous

thought. It is well known that Taoism, at least in its later phases, has
been influenced by

Buddhist theories. But Confucianism too is indebted to it. It seems to me
that the founder of the

Neo-Confucian school, the celebrated Chu Hsi (1130–1200), though a staunch
opponent of

Buddhism, has learned much from Buddhism. Idealists such as Shao Yung
(1011–1077) and

Wans Yangmin (1472–1528) too have drawn deeply from the fountain of

Buddhism having had such an enormous direct and indirect influence on

thought in the whole of Southern and Eastern Asia proves that it must have
appealed greatly to

Asian mentality.


It is noteworthy, that in contradistinction to the overwhelming importance
Buddhism has had

in the East, it has till now not been able to fertilize, in a comparable
way, thought in the West.

The reason for this fact may have been that its sublime doctrines were not
easy for Westerners to

understand, though the emperor Ashoka had already sent missions to the
Greek kings.

As far as our present knowledge goes it was only gradually that Buddhism
unveiled its

essence to the Occident. The Greeks already knew of the name, Buddha. They
also knew of his

supernatural birth and they were aware of the fact that the Samanaioi (śrāmaa) were different

from the brahmanical ascetics. In the Middle Ages the story of Buddha
leaving his home was

known in the Christianized form of the legend of Barlām and Josaphat. Marco
Polo (1254–1323),

the famous Italian traveller, paid his tributes to the saintly life of
Gautama when he wrote in his

Travel Diary: “lllec fist moult grans adbstinences, ainsi comme
s’il eust este crestien. Car s’il I’eust este, il feust un grand saint avec
notre Seigneur Jhesucrist, a la bonne vie et honneste qu’il mena.
” “He lived a life of grand
abstinence as if he had been a Christian. For had he been, he would have been a
great saint with our Lord Jesus Christ,
considering the good and honest life he led.” The first
European I know of who mentions an important
doctrine of Buddhism, which distinguishes it
from the other great religions of the world was the French traveller, La
Loubere, who wrote in
his work Du Royaume de Siam, published in 1691, (Vol. 1, p. 395), “I think that one can establish that Buddhists do not believe in a world-ruling
deity.” We are indebted to the great English
indologist, Henry Thomas Colebrooke7 for the first interpretation of the
Buddhist theory that
there is no transmigrating soul but nevertheless a rebirth caused by karmic
influence. In the

lecture “On Indian Sectaries,” read at a public meeting of the Royal
Asiatic Society, February 3,

1827, he said, “There is not an eternal soul, but merely succession of thought,
attended by

7 H. Th. Colebrooke, Essays on the
Philosophy of the Hindu (
1829). New edition of
his works by E. B. Cowell, London 1873, Vol. 11, p. 419. individual
consciousness abiding within body.” Colebrooke also explained the
“concatenation of causes and effects” which link one existence with another.
Though many European scholars have dealt with this crucial point of Buddhist
metaphysics, it took many years of investigation before the true basis of this
doctrine was elucidated. The two Russian scholars, Theodore Stcherbatsky, and
his pupil, Otto Rosenberg, have shown that the doctrine of the “dharmas,” i.e.
impersonal soul forces, is the central philosophical conception which is at the
bottom of all Buddhist philosophical thought. The great Belgian indologist, La
Valle Poussin, has dealt more minutely with the problem in his magnificent
translation of Vasubandhu’s
a. We understand now
why the celebrated stanza “
Ye dharma
hetuprabhāvais the credo of all


It is to be regretted that most European indologists in former times have
continued to occupy

themselves less with the doctrines of living Buddhism as they have been
taught for over at least

2000 years than with speculations on the doctrine that the Buddha may have
taught. Many of

these scholars have tried to show that Buddha’s own doctrine differed
greatly from the

doctrines that today form the basis of all Buddhist philosophy. It seems to
me very improbable

that Buddha was no philosopher at all, as some scholars think. For in a
time in which the texts

show a very highly developed philosophical life was going on in Ancient
India, Buddha would

not have been able to win adherents from the philosophically trained
Brahmans and Kshatriyas,

if He had not propounded a doctrine which could hold its own in view of

dialectics of materialists, agnostics, sceptics, and the very elaborate
systems of Brahmans and

Jains. Other scholars are of opinion that Buddha’s teaching was a special
form of Vedanta and

that the monks later on changed it to its present form. I do not think that
this is probable. For to

maintain this assertion it would be necessary to show in detail how the
anātma-doctrine of the

Buddhists has developed out of the alleged ātma-doctrine of the Buddha. It
will not do to quote

some sayings of the Buddha unconnected with their context and to interpret
them in the said

manner. Nor is it to be understood that on the one hand the texts at our
disposal should be so

reliable that the so-called true original Vedantic doctrine of the Buddha
may be surmised

therefrom, and on the other hand they should be so unreliable that most of
their metaphysical

contents have been fabricated by the monks of a later time. Nor do I
understand what necessity

there may have been for the Buddha to teach a particular new doctrine, when
it was only a rehash

of the Upanishadic teachings of His time. One may ask with Professor T. R.
V. Murti, in his

excellent book on the Madhyamika system, “If the ātman had been a cardinal
doctrine in

Buddhism, why was it so securely hidden under a bush that even the
immediate followers of

the Master had no inkling of it?”8 In my opinion, from the point of view of
objective scholarship,

we may acknowledge that the real doctrine of the Buddha cannot be
ascertained today because

we do not possess manuscripts from His own hand nor were His teachings
taken down on

records. All we know of Him was taken down in writing only four centuries
after His Nirvāna.

If we cannot identify with absolute certainty the original Doctrine of the
Buddha, we may ask,

“What may it most probably have been?” I think it most likely that His
doctrine was, at least in

its most essential points, a predecessor of what all Buddhists of today
agree in. I can see two

reasons for the Vedantic explanation of Buddha’s teachings. One is an
emotional one: the

Vedantist has the natural inclination to harmonize the teachings of the
great Gautama with a

system which he thinks to be the must sublime in the world. I myself having
written several

works on Vedanta have the greatest esteem for it. I consider Vedanta to be
one of the most

grandiose philosophical conceptions ever originated in the world of
thought. But this

admiration for the Vedanta does not carry me, as an historian of Indian
Philosophy, so far as to

interpret Vedantic ideas into the Buddhist texts. The other reason why many
scholars have tried

to interpret the teachings of the Buddha in a Vedantic fashion is one of a
view of history. It is an

8 T. R. V. Murti, The Central
Philosophy of Buddhism,
London 1955 p. 17.


undoubted duty of an investigator of the history of Indian thought to show
the dependence of

every new system on older ones preceding it, and to trace its very roots to
contemporary ideas.

Now, there is no possible doubt that the sublime teachings of the
Upanishads were in existence

before Buddha. As Buddha’s Nirvāna in some respect resembles the Brahmā of
the Vedanta, it

seems plausible to believe that Buddha was a sort of Vedantist. But this,
in my opinion, is a

delusion. For Buddha’s Nirvāna is in no way like the Brahma, the absolute
being, which is the

very foundation of the world, or out of which everything that is has
developed and come into

existence. It is only that Nirvāna is a state of peace, of rest, of calm,
in which it may be compared

to one of the aspects of the Brahma. But there are many different systems
in the world the

ultimate aim of which is such a state of redemption. But the several
systems as such differ

widely from Advaita Vedanta because they have a theistic basis, as the
Mohammedan and

Christian mysticism, or as Jainism, which denies the existence of a world-ruling deity. For this

reason the reference to Vedānta carries no weight. One may, of course,
argue that a similar need,

or requirement, is deeply rooted in many religious minds, but there is
neither a necessity nor a

possibility to trace all kinds of quietism to the same source.

There is yet another deliberation which speaks against the exclusive
dependence of Buddha’s

teachings on that of the Upanishads. The Buddhism of the Theravādins and
all the older schools

is a pluralistic system. Now a pluralistic interpretation of the world was
very common in

Magadha, for Jainism was spreading there just at Buddha’s time. As far as I
know, nobody has

ever tried to deduce Jainism from the Upanishads or to interpret its
doctrine in a Vedantic

manner. I cannot therefore see any reasonable ground for assuming that
Buddhism must have

sprung from an Upanishadic fountain. In my work published in 1940 on the
stages of

development of Indian thought, I have tried to trace the Buddhistic
dharma-theory to

antecedents in the Vedic time; for, the Brahmanas and the Vedic texts teach
a pluralism of

substantial factors which have a strong similarity to Buddhist dharmas, for
in that remote

period of Indian thought qualities such as love, hatred, knowledge etc.
were considered as

substances which had their own quasi-independent existence, and were not
regarded as

inherent in any substance. Of course by this I do not mean that the dharmas
of Buddhism are in

any way identical with these archaic concepts of the epoch of the Brahman
texts. What I would

suggest is only this: that the Buddhist theory of dharmas may have arisen
out of ideas that have

their precursors in the Brahmana-time. Between the comparatively primitive
and crude concepts

of this archaic mode of thinking and the highly refined means of the
Buddha, there lay centuries

of philosophical development. It may be that between these two periods,
other thinkers were

active in shaping and perfecting these ideas, and in this respect, the
Buddhist doctrine that there

were Buddhas before Gautama may not be without foundation.

I have tried to show the contribution of Buddhism to philosophy. I have
tried to show how

the knowledge of Buddhism has developed step by step in the realm of the
mind of European

scholars. I have tried to show some of the problems which European thinkers
have tackled, and

I have taken the liberty of pointing out how I myself stand in this
respect. Far be it for me to

maintain that the solutions I have tried to offer are in any way
definitive; nor do I want to force

them upon others who many have more knowledge than I have. But perhaps the
thoughts I

have tried to expound here may form a basis for a discussion which may
bring to light new

facets of thinking and may serve to elucidate some problems of Buddhist


The Buddha’s Place in Indian Thought


The Buddha is the greatest personality that India has produced in the many
millennia of her

history. For the people of Asia’s wide expanses, today as centuries ago,
the Buddha is the great

exponent of the spirit of India. His name is known to the uncivilized nomad
in the icy steppes of

Siberia as well as to the cultured son of China. To him turn in homage the
gentle Sinhalese of

tropical Ceylon and the war-like Japanese of Nippon’s moderate climes. When
early last century

scholars of the West began to study the spiritual life of Asia, the Sage of
the Sakyans, as no other

genius of the East, became the prime focus of interest. No other has been
so often mentioned,

praised and blamed. No other has exercised, even 2500 years after his
death, such a significant

influence on the philosophy of Western thinkers. Among them I mention only
Schopenhauer as

an example.


When searching for the cause of this extraordinary phenomenon, we ask
ourselves why just

the Buddha could make such a strong and long-lasting impact, while many
other Indian

thinkers and prophets who at their times were equally popular, did not
penetrate beyond

India’s borders and were even forgotten in their own home country. In
looking for the reasons

we find that in the personality of the Buddha several features are united which
only in their

totality were able to produce that universal effect which the founders of
other India religions

could not achieve. The first among the features is the fact that in the
course of his preaching the

Buddha summarized the results of prior philosophic thought and did so in a
form that was

precise and yet intelligible to the unlearned; secondly, the fact that the
Buddha himself practised

and embodied up to the highest point the ethical principles which he
taught; and thirdly, he

made his way of salvation quite independent from the limitations of Indian
tradition and its

caste system and therefore offered it to the whole of humanity.


Like all great teachers of mankind, the Buddha was also a child of his time.
From his

predecessors he took over the teachings of Kamma, rebirth, the
sorrow-yielding transience of all

craving, asceticism, liberation through knowledge and Nirvāna.10 But by
giving these teachings

a distinctive philosophical character that took them out of their
connection with brahminical

tradition, the Buddha created a teaching of deliverance that was meant for
all men. Unlike them,

he did not speak of sacrifices or of Brahma, but he may be called a
phenomenologist who,

restricting himself to the actualities of the inner and outer world as
perceived by man, explained

9 Translated from the German, with permission of the publishers, Verlag I.
C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tubingen (Germany), extracts from Helmuth von
Indisches Leben im Wandel der Jahrhunderte (Bd. 177, Sammlung gemeinverständl. Vorträge).


Certain doctrines are common features of religious thought because they are
truths, or reflections of truths, similar to the natural laws discovered, often
independently, by scientists. Thus it is a fact that some predecessors of the
Buddha had discerned the truths embodied in the teachings of Kamma, rebirth,
the sorrow-yielding transience of all craving or rather, of all existence,
asceticism, liberation through knowledge, and Nirvāna. But not all the
religious teachers of the Buddha’s time accepted them and those who did so,
interpreted them in different ways. It was left for the Buddha to penetrate
them further than his forerunners had done, and to see them in a clearer light,
stripped of all adventitious preconceptions.


To say that the Buddha ’took over’ those doctrines as Hegel, for example,
took over Kant’s doctrine of the categories, or as Plato took over the central
ideas of Socrates, is to place his thought on no more than a progressive
philosophical basis. But in fact the doctrines the Buddha taught were the
result of his own unique, independent confrontation with reality, his own
supra-mundane insight (
bodhi) carried beyond the range of intellectual speculation. In some respects,
the Buddha confirmed his predecessors’ partial realizations. In others he
corrected them; but his teaching was not in any sense a mere development of
something that already existed. It was the vision of one who sees clearly what
others had glimpsed with eyes clouded by various forms and degrees of ignorance
avijjā). (Editor). the
nature of suffering, its cause, its cessation, and the noble eightfold path
leading to Nibbāna.


Similarly as his contemporary, Heraclitus of Ephesus, he taught the Panta Rhei, the eternal flux

of all phenomena. The Brahmins taught, as Parmenides did, a state of being,
abiding and

eternal, in which every individual self, has its roots. The Buddha
proclaimed the very antithesis

of it: there is no abiding Being, no immutable Self; there is only a
becoming, a flux. Only by

understanding the nature not only of the external world but also of the ego
is it possible to

attain to the highest selflessness that brings about Nirvāna, the
dissolution of the imaginary



The Buddha’s teaching could not have had such an enormous success in India
and beyond its

borders if not for his so very attractive personality. The Buddha was not a
theoretician who

offered good counsel to others, but he was one who by his own example put
the final authentic

seal on the ethical teachings he proclaimed. Aged 29, he left the luxurious
court of his royal

father at Kapilavatthu (in the Himalayas) and donned a mendicant’s robe for
seeking after

salvation. In vain he searched for ultimate wisdom among other teachers; in
vain he undertook

the severest ascetical self-mortification for many years. Finally, after
seven years of spiritual

struggle, the Eye of Understanding opened within him, under the holy fig
tree (the Bodhi Tree),

which can still be seen at Bodh Gaya. Thus he became a Holy One, an
Awakened One, a

Buddha. For over forty years he then walked through the northern parts of
India, in ascetic’s

garb, living on collected alms food, and preaching his doctrine. Up to his
death at eighty, he did

not shirk the hardships of the fatiguing peregrinations on foot, for the
sake of spreading his

message. The texts describe him as a majestic personality, a man of
self-abnegation and of a rare

kindness of heart, the embodiment of passion-free serenity. Pious faith may
have later glorified

the Buddha surrounding him with a divine aura and with a dense overgrowth
of legends and

miracles, but below that sacral over-painting of the original picture there
remains the image of a

man of rare equipoise and serenity; the figure of a Saint who has
transcended the world and

whose features radiate the perfect stillness of his mind.


The Buddha was no revolutionary in the Western sense. Though he was opposed
to the

Brahmins’ arrogance, his aim was not a revolution against the social order
as represented by the

caste system in India. A graded structural organization of society appeared
to him, the

aristocrat, a necessity by natural law, as natural as the gradation of
beings in general, starting

with the lowest animals and rising, through men and spirits, to the gods;
because, according to

the Buddha, even gods are subject to Kamma as are men, and therefore enjoy
their present

position only for a limited time. What he challenged was the claim of
Brahmins to be superior to

the other castes, by virtue of being the guardians of the sacred Vedic
tradition. For the Buddha,

no class or caste privileges existed as far as salvation was concerned.
Hence his emphatic

statement, “Not by birth is one a Brahmin, but only by knowledge and moral
conduct.” It is

only the moral qualities that determine an individual’s rank in the stages
of his gradual progress

towards deliverance. Hence also members of the lower castes were admitted
to his monastic

Order. So we find among his disciples, side by side with Brahmins and
warriors, those who had

been scavengers or had other despised occupations, even a converted robber
chief. For the

Buddha neither noble birth nor wealth was decisive, but solely a man’s
understanding and his

moral conduct.


The monks and nuns who, withdrawn from worldliness, lived, either singly or

communities, a life of renunciation and of active loving-kindness for all
that lives, had always

been only a minority among the Buddha’s followers, as they represented only
the upper ranks

of his disciples. Below them were numerous lay devotees who, at various
stages of dedication

and inner development, observed only a part of the rules binding on monks;
and finally there

were the still larger numbers of those who were in sympathy with the
teaching and participated

in its rites, but who, without exclusive allegiance and with the Indian’s
typical tolerance, were devoted also to other religious cults. Hence, from the
Buddhist point of view, the teaching of

deliverance can be understood and practised by different people to a very
different extent,

according to their inclinations and capacities. The “road to enlightenment”
starts even as far

down as on the level of animals. We hear, for instance, of pious elephants
and hare, or of a frog

that as reward of homage paid to the Buddha, was reborn in a devout human
family and,

progressing steadily, finally gained deliverance. If one wishes to have a
correct idea of the

Buddhist Weltanschauung and outlook on life, one has to familiarize oneself
with the Buddhist

conception that an incalculably large number of living beings, through
thousands of years, in

thousands of lives, proceed on their way to the light, slowly, though not
without relapses. The

Western concept that salvation depends on the moral quality of one single
life must not be used

as a basis for judging Buddhist ethics. Hence the widely spread opinion
that because the

Buddha taught renunciation to his monks, he wanted all men to be monks, is quite erroneous

and so also the idea derived from it, that Buddhism is averse to culture.
Because only a few

among the countless beings will reach Nirvāna after slow progress,
therefore Buddhism, from

its very start, has provided less stringent ethical precepts for those who
only gradually can

achieve that maturity required for final liberation. Hence, in Buddhist
countries, art and sciences

have always been cultivated, and it is not by chance that Buddhists have
been among the

founders of Indian medicine, as it was one of their foremost endeavours to
help suffering

humanity. For the great majority of Buddhists, and this I found also in
present-day Burma,

Siam, China and Japan, Nirvāna is only the ultimate, distant goal to which
practically only the

monk is devoted. Buddhism when it flourished, was certainly not a
pessimistic and life-denying

religion. This can be seen from the fact that some of the greatest rulers
of ancient India, Ashoka

(250 B.C.), Kanishka (100 A.C.) and Harsha (650 A.C.), were Buddhists.


Buddhism did not establish in India an organized Church in the Western
sense, and it had no

central ecclesiastical authority laying down what was the true faith and
what was not. Hence

there arose many schools and sects who differed from each other in several
doctrinal issues,

though all of them revered the Buddha as their Master. As enforced
conversion is alien to

Buddhism and as it did not demand exclusive allegiance nor a formal
repudiation of other

religions, the total number of Buddhists underwent strong fluctuations.
Buddhism was never

the dominant religion of India, and it was always only a section of the
population that professed

it. Even at periods of its widest dissemination on the Indian subcontinent,
Brahmanism always

remained a strong force. When, since about the 8th century A.C., Brahmanism
came to the fore

again and vigorous religious movements arose in its midst to which an
ageing Buddhism was

no match, Gautama Buddha’s teaching almost vanished in India. Similarly, as

which in present-day Palestine counts only very few followers but instead
had conquered a

large part of the world, so also Buddhism found in the Far East and in
South-East Asia rich

compensation for the loss in India. In Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos,
in Tibet, Sikkim,

and Bhutan almost the whole population is Buddhist; in Ceylon it is a large
majority; and in

China, Korea, and Vietnam, Buddhism has a large number of followers, while
in Japan it is the

predominant religion.


Within the long history of Indian religion, the one and a half millennia of
Buddhist history on

Indian soil are only an episode; but it is an episode of a significance
that can hardly be rated

highly enough. Buddhism has amalgamated the currents of Indian thought in a
system of

ingenious synthesis which decisively influenced minds at a time of India’s
political and cultural

greatness. It was through Buddhism that Indian ideas became known in most
parts of Asia, and

this was an achievement of cultural propaganda of a vast extent. But also
in contemporary

India, the impact of the Buddha, his teaching and his community of monks is
still very much in

evidence. The formulations given by the Buddha and his disciples for
fundamental concepts of

the Indian world-view have partly been adapted by the opponents and made
parts of their systems. This applies, for instance, to formulations connected
with the law of moral causality

(kamma), the teachings on a gradual path to enlightenment, liberation by
knowledge, and

Nibbāna. Also the towering personality of the Buddha could not be
overlooked or by-passed:

hence they gave to him, the great heterodox, rank of an incarnation (avatār) of God Vishnu.


The Buddhist Publication Society


The BPS is an approved charity dedicated to making known the Teaching of
the Buddha, which

has a vital message for all people.


Founded in 1958, the BPS has published a wide variety of books and booklets
covering a great

range of topics. Its publications include accurate annotated translations
of the Buddha’s

discourses, standard reference works, as well as original contemporary
expositions of Buddhist

thought and practice. These works present Buddhism as it truly is—a dynamic
force which has

influenced receptive minds for the past 2500 years and is still as relevant
today as it was when it

first arose.


For more information about the BPS and our publications, please visit our
website, or contact:

The Administrative Secretary

Buddhist Publication Society

P.O. Box 61

54 Sangharaja Mawatha

Kandy, Sri Lanka

E-mail: bps@bps.lk

Web site: http://www.bps.lk

Tel: 0094 81 223 7283

Fax: 0094 81 222 3679


Comparative religion

For other uses, see Comparative religion

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Map showing the
prevalence of “
Abrahamic” (purple) and “Dharmic” (yellow) religions

Comparative religion is that branch of
study of religions concerned with the systematic comparison of the doctrines and practices of
the worlds religions. There are many benefits to such a course of enquiry but
in general the comparative study of religion yields a deeper understanding of
the fundamental philosophical concerns of religion such as
ethics, metaphysics and the nature and form of salvation. A person who has undertaken such a course of study has a much richer and
more sophisticated understanding of human beliefs and practices regarding the
sacred, numinous, spiritual and divine.[1]

In the field of comparative religion, the main world religions are generally classified as Abrahamic, Indian or Taoic. Areas of study also include creation
and Humanism.


  2 Indian and Indo-European religions

  3 Taoic religions

  4 Comparing traditions

  5 See also

  6 References

  7 Further reading

  8 External links

Abrahamic religions

Main article: Abrahamic religion

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disputed. Please see the
discussion on the
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In the study of comparative religion, the category
of Abrahamic religions consists of the three
monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism, which claim Abraham (Hebrew Avraham
אַבְרָהָם ; Arabic Ibrahim إبراهيم ) as a part of their sacred
history. Other religions (such as the
Bahá’í Faith) that fit this description are sometimes included but are often omitted.[2]

The original belief in the One
of Abraham eventually became present-day Rabbinic
. Christians believe that Christianity is the fulfillment and continuation of the Jewish Old
. Christians believe that Jesus (Hebrew Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ) is the Messiah (Christ) foretold in the Old
prophecy, and believe in subsequent New Testament revelations based on the divine
authority of Jesus in Christian belief (as the
of God
). Islam believes the present Christian and Jewish
scriptures have been
corrupted over time and are no
longer the original divine revelations as given to
Moses, Jesus, and other prophets, which Muslims believe were all prophets of Islam, not
of Judaism nor Christianity. For Muslims, the
Qur’an is the final, complete revelation from God (Arabic الله‎ Allah), who believe it to have been revealed to Muhammad, who is believed by Muslims to be the final
prophet of Islam

Comparing Abrahamic

Main articles: Christianity and Judaism, Islam and Judaism, and Christianity and Islam

See also: Judeo-Christian, Supersessionism, People of the Book, Tahrif, Biblical narratives and the Qur’an, and Judeo-Islamic philosophies (800
- 1400)

Christianity and Judaism are two closely related Abrahamic religions that in some ways parallel each other and in other ways diverge in
theology and practice.

The historical interaction of Islam and Judaism started in the 7th century CE with the origin and spread of
Islam. There are many common aspects between Islam and Judaism, and as Islam
developed, it gradually became the major religion closest to Judaism. As opposed to
Christianity which originated from interaction between ancient
Greek and Hebrew cultures, Judaism is very similar to Islam in its fundamental religious
outlook, structure, jurisprudence and practice.
[3] There are many traditions within Islam originating from traditions within
Hebrew Bible or from post-biblical Jewish traditions. These practices are known
collectively as the

The historical interaction between Christianity
and Islam connects fundamental ideas in Christianity with similar ones in
Islam. Islam and Christianity share their origins in the Abrahamic tradition,
although Christianity predates Islam by centuries. Islam accepts many aspects
of Christianity as part of its faith - with some differences in interpretation
- and rejects other aspects. Islam believes the
Qur’an is the final revelation from God and a completion of all previous revelations, including the Bible.

Indian and Indo-European religions

Main articles: Indian
, Vedic
, Proto-Indo-Iranian religion, and Proto-Indo-European religion

The term “Indian religions” refers to a
number of religions that have originated on the
Indian subcontinent tracing their origins through Proto-Indo-Iranian religion ultimately to Proto-Indo-European religion. They encompass Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.

Other largely extinct Indo-European religions closely allied to the Indian religions, sharing a common history, include Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek, Celtic, Roman, Hittite, Slavic and Norse
.[citation needed]

“Dharmic” religions



The Rig Veda is one of the oldest Vedic texts. Shown here is a Rig Veda manuscript in Devanagari, early nineteenth century.

Main articles: Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism, and Jainism and Sikhism

Further information: Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu, Gautama Buddha in world religions, and God in Buddhism

Buddhism and modern Hinduism are both post-Vedic religions. Gautama Buddha is mentioned as an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranic texts of Hinduism.
Some Hindus believe the
Buddha accepted and
incorporated many tenets of Hinduism in his doctrine, however, Buddhists
disagree and state there was no such thing as Hinduism at the time of Buddha
and in fact, “Indeed, it absorbed so many Buddhist traits that it is
virtually impossible to distinguish the latter in medieval and later Hinduism.”
[5] Prominent Hindu
reformers such as
Gandhi[6] and Vivekananda[7] acknowledge Buddhist
influence. Gandhi, like Hindus, did not believe Buddha established a non-Hindu
tradition. He writes, “I do not regard Jainism or Buddhism as separate
from Hinduism.”

Taoic religions

Main article: East Asian religions

Further information: Tao and De



The Chinese
depicting Tao, the central concept in Taoism.

A Taoic religion is a religion, or religious
philosophy, that focuses on the
concept of Tao (”The Way”). This forms a large group of religions including Taoism, Confucianism, Jeung San Do, Shinto, Yiguandao, Chondogyo, Chen Tao and Caodaism. In large parts of East Asia, Buddhism has taken on some taoic features.

Tao can be roughly stated to be the flow of the universe, or the force behind
the natural order. It is believed to be the influence that keeps the universe
balanced and ordered and is associated with nature, due to a belief that nature
demonstrates the Tao. The flow of
Ch’i, as the essential energy of action and existence, is compared to the
universal order of Tao. Following the Tao is also associated with
a “proper” attitude, morality and lifestyle. This is intimately tied
to the complex concept of
De, or literally “virtue” or “power.” De is the
active expression of Tao.

Taoism and Ch’an Buddhism for centuries had a mutual influence on each
other in China, Korea and Vietnam. These influences were inherited by
Zen Buddhism when Ch’an Buddhism
arrived in Japan and adapted as Zen Buddhism.

Comparing Taoic

Comparing traditions

Further information: Eastern religionsWestern religionsprehistoric
of the Ancient Near East
, and Proto-Indo-European

Bahá’í Faith







Paganism and Neopaganism




See also



Eastern philosophy

Eastern philosophy includes the various
philosophies of Asia, including Chinese philosophy, Iranian/Persian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Indian philosophy and Korean philosophy. The term can also sometimes include Babylonian philosophy and Islamic philosophy, though these may also be considered Western philosophies.



(Plato, Confucius, Avicenna)










Part of a series on
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This box:



  3 East Asian philosophies

  4 Indian philosophies

  5 Iranian philosophy

  5.5 Avicennism

  5.6 Iranian Illuminationism

  5.7 Transcendent Philosophy

  5.8 Bahá’í Philosophy

  6 Babylonian philosophy

  7 Islamic philosophy

  8 See also

  9 References

  10 External links


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Conceptions of God

























Eastern philosophy
includes the various philosophies of Asia, including Indian philosophy, Chinese
philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Japanese philosophy, Korean philosophy, Arab
philosophy and Jewish philosophy. The division is not purely geographic but
also stems from general hermeneutic and conceptual differences that lay between
Eastern and Western traditions.

Supreme God and the demigods

Because of its origin from within the Abrahamic religions, some Western philosophies have formulated questions on the nature of God and his relationship to the universe based on Monotheistic framework within which it emerged. This has created a dichotomy among some
Western philosophies between secular philosophies and religious philosophies
which develop within the context of a particular monotheistic religion’s
dogma, especially some creeds of Protestant Christianity, regarding the nature of God and the universe.

Eastern religions have not been as concerned by
questions relating to the nature of a single God as the universe’s sole creator
and ruler[
citation needed]. The distinction between the religious and the
secular tends to be much less sharp in Eastern philosophy, and the same
philosophical school often contains both religious and philosophical elements[
citation needed]. Thus, some people accept the so-called metaphysical tenets of Buddhism without going to a temple and worshipping. Some have worshipped the Taoist deities religiously without bothering to delve into the theologial
underpinnings, while others embrace the Taoist religion while ignoring the
mythological aspects.

This arrangement stands in marked contrast to some recent philosophy in the
West, which has traditionally enforced either a completely unified
philosophic/religious belief system (for example, the various sects and
associated philosophies of
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), or a sharp and total repudiation of some forms of religion by philosophy
(for example,
Nietzsche, Marx, Voltaire, etc.).

Comparative religion

Main article: Comparative religion

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A common thread that often differentiates Eastern
philosophy from Western is the relationship[
clarification needed]between the gods (or God) and the universe. Some
Western schools of thought were
animistic or pantheistic, such as the classical Greek tradition, while later religious beliefs,
influenced by the
monotheism of the Abrahamic religions, portrayed divinity as more transcendent.

Much like the classical Greek philosophies, many
Eastern schools of thought were more interested in explaining the natural world
via universal patterns; without recourse to capricious agencies like gods (or
Syncretism allowed various schools of thought such as Yi, Yin yang, Wu
and Ren to mutually
complement one another without threatening
traditional religious practice or new religious movements.

Syntheses of Eastern
and Western philosophy

There have been many modern attempts to integrate
Western and Eastern philosophical traditions.

Arthur Schopenhauer developed a philosophy that was essentially a synthesis of Hinduism with Western thought. He anticipated that the Upanishads (primary Hindu scriptures) would have a much greater influence in the West than they have
had. However, Schopenhauer was working with heavily flawed early translations
(and sometimes second-degree translations), and many feel that he may not
necessarily have accurately grasped the Eastern philosophies which interested

Recent attempts to incorporate Western philosophy
into Eastern thought include the
of philosophers, who combined the phenomenology of Husserl with the insights of Zen
. Watsuji
, a 20th century Japanese philosopher attempted to combine the works of Søren Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger with Eastern philosophies. Some have claimed
that there is also a definite eastern element within
Heidegger’s philosophy. For the most part this is not made explicit within
Heidegger’s philosophy, apart from in the dialogue between a Japanese and
inquirer. Heidegger did spend time attempting to translate the Tao Te Ching
into German, working with his Chinese student Paul Hsaio. It has also been
claimed that much of Heidegger’s later philosophy, particularly the sacredness
of Being, bears a distinct similarity to Taoist ideas. There are clear
parallels between Heidegger and the work of Kyoto School, and ultimately, it
may be read that Heidegger’s philosophy is an attempt to ‘turn eastwards’ in
response to the crisis in Western civilization. However, this is only an

The 20th century Hindu guru Sri
was influenced by German
and his Integral
is regarded as a synthesis of Eastern and Western
thought. The German
phenomenologist Jean
’s writings on the history of consciousness referred to a new planetary consciousness that would bridge this gap.
Followers of these two authors are often grouped together under the term

Swiss psychologist Carl
was deeply influenced by his interest in the I Ching.
The I Ching (Book of Changes) is an ancient text in China, dating back to the
Shang Dynasty (Bronze Age 1700BC-1050BC), and utilizes a system of Yin and Yang
which it places into Hexagrams for the purposes of divination. Carl Jung’s idea
synchronicity moves towards an Oriental view of causality, as he states in the foreword to Richard Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching (Book of Changes).
He explains that this Chinese view of the world is based not on science as the
West knows it, but on chance.

East Asian philosophies

Main articles: Chinese philosophy, Japanese philosophy, and Korean


Main article: Confucianism

Confucianism(儒學), developed around the teachings of Confucius(孔子) and is based on a
set of
Chinese classic texts


Main article: Neo-Confucianism

Neo-Confucianism is a later further
development of
Confucianism but also went much more differently from the origin of Confucianism. It
started developing from the
Song Dynasty and was nearly
completed in late
Ming Dynasty. Its root can be found as early as Tang Dynasty, often attributed to
Xie Tian
. It has a great influence on the countries of East Asia including China, Japan and Korea as well as Vietnam. Zhu Xi is considered as the
biggest master of
Song where Neo-Confucianism and Wang Yangming is the one of Ming’s. But there are
conflicts between Zhu’s school and Wang’s.


Main article: Taoism

Taoism (or Daoism) is traditionally contrasted with Confucianism in China. Taoism’s central books are the Dao De Jing (Tao-Te-Ching),
traditionally attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), and the
Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).


Main article: Shinto

Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. It is a sophisticated form of animism which holds that
spirits called
kami inhabit all things.
Worship is at public shrines or in small shrines constructed in one’s home.
According to Shinto practice, relationship with the kami that inhabit this
world is foremost in a person’s duties; the kami are to be respected in order
that they may return our respect. Shinto further holds that the
“spirit” and “mundane” worlds are one and the same. Of all
of the tenets of this philosophy, purity is the most highly stressed. Pure acts
are those that promote or contribute to the harmony of the universe, and impure
acts are those which are deleterious in this regard. As a faith, Shinto bears
heavy influences from Chinese religions, notably Taoism and Buddhism.


Main article: Legalism (Chinese philosophy)

Legalism advocated a strict interpretation of the law in every respect. No
judgment calls. Morality was not important[
]; adherence to the
letter of the law was paramount.


Main article: Maoism

Maoism is a Communist philosophy based on the teachings of 20th century Communist Party of
revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. It is based
partially on earlier theories by Marx and Lenin, but rejects the urban
proletariat and Leninist emphasis on heavy
industrialization in favor of a revolution supported by the peasantry, and a
decentralized agrarian economy based on many collectively worked farms.

Indian philosophies

Further information: Indian

Hindu philosophy

Main article: Hindu

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Hinduism (सनातन धर्म; Sanātana Dharma, roughly Perennial Moral Duty) is one of the oldest major world religions. Hinduism is characterized by a diverse array of religious
systems, practices and scriptures. It has its
origin in ancient
Vedic culture at least as
far back as
1500 BC. It is the third
largest religion with approximately 1.05
billion followers worldwide,
96% of whom live in the
Indian subcontinent.

Hinduism rests on the spiritual bedrock of the Vedas, hence Veda Dharma, and their mystic
issue, the
Upanishads, as well as the teachings of many great Hindu gurus through the ages. Many streams of thought flow from the six Vedic/Hindu schools, Bhakti sects and Tantra Agamic schools into the one
ocean of Hinduism, the first of the
Dharma religions. Also, the sacred book Bhagavad
is one of the most revered texts among Hindus.

What can be said to be common to many theistic
Hindus is belief in
Dharma, reincarnation, karma, and moksha (liberation) of every soul through a variety of moral, action-based, and meditative yogas. Still more fundamental principles include ahimsa (non-violence), the primacy of the Guru, the Divine Word of Aum and the power of mantras, love of Truth in many manifestations as gods and goddesses, and an understanding that the essential spark of the Divine (Atman) is in every human and
living being, thus allowing for many spiritual paths leading to the
Unitary Religious Truth
(which Hindus call Brahman). This acceptance of various paths leading to the same truth, is also a
foundation of Hindu philosophy. However, since the term Hindu is more of an
umbrella term for dharmic traditions arising from the Indian subcontinent,
there may be persons who believe in none of the above concepts and yet consider
themselves Hindu.

See Also: HinduismHindu scriptureSamkhyaYogaNyayaVaisesikaVedantaBhaktiCārvākaIndian logic

Buddhist philosophy

Main article: Buddhist philosophy

Buddhism is a system of religious beliefs based on
the teachings of
Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, one whose tenets are not especially
concerned with the existence or non-existence of a God or gods. The Buddha
himself expressly disavowed any special divine status or inspiration, and said
that anyone, anywhere could achieve all the insight that he had. The question
of God is largely irrelevant in Buddhism, though some sects (notably
) do venerate a number of gods drawn in from local indigenous belief systems yet this
practice has taken on different meanings and has become a skillful mean within
the Tibetan Buddhist practice.

Buddhist philosophy has its foundations in the
doctrines of:

Most Buddhist sects believe in karma, a cause-and-effect relationship between all that has been done and all
that will be done. Events that occur are held to be the direct result of
previous events. One effect of karma is rebirth. At death, the karma from a
given life determines the nature of the next life’s existence. The ultimate
goal of a Buddhist practitioner is to eliminate karma (both good and bad), end
the cycle of rebirth and suffering, and attain
Nirvana, usually translated as awakening or enlightenment.

See also: BuddhismOutline of BuddhismSchools of Buddhism

Sikh philosophy

Main article: Sikh religious philosophy



Diagram showing some
of the important Sikh beliefs.

 Kill the Five
- The Sikh Gurus tell us that our mind and spirit are constantly being attacked by the Five
Evils –
Kam (Lust), Krodh (Rage), Lobh (Greed), Moh (Attachment) and Ahankar (Ego). A Sikh needs
to constantly attack and overcome these five vices; be always vigilant and on
guard to tackle these five thieves all the time.

 Positive Human Qualities - The Sikh Gurus taught the Sikhs to develop and
harness positive human qualities which lead the soul closer to God and away
from evil. These are
Sat (Truth), Daya (Compassion), Santokh (Contentment), Nimrata (Humility) and Pyare (Love).

See also Sikhism - Sikh Beliefs - Basic Tenets of the
- Sikhism Primary Beliefs
and Principles


Main article: Jain

Jain philosophy deals extensively
with the problems of
metaphysics, reality, cosmology, ontology, epistemology and divinity. Jainism is essentially a transtheistic religion of ancient India.[1] It is a continuation of the ancient Śramaa tradition which co-existed with the Vedic tradition since ancient times.[2][3] The distinguishing features of Jain philosophy are its belief on
independent existence of soul and matter, denial of
creative and omnipotent God, potency of karma, eternal and uncreated universe, a strong emphasis on non-violence, accent on relativity and multiple
facets of truth
, and morality and ethics based on liberation of soul. Jain philosophy attempts to explain the rationale of being and
existence, the nature of the Universe and its constituents, the nature of
bondage and the means to achieve liberation.
[4] It has often been described as an ascetic movement for its strong emphasis
on self-control, austerities and renunciation.
[5] It has also been called a model of philosophical liberalism for its insistence that truth is relative and multifaceted and for its
willingness to accommodate all possible view-points of the rival philosophies.
[6] Jainism strongly upholds the individualistic nature of soul and personal
responsibility for one’s decisions; and that self-reliance and individual
efforts alone are responsible for one’s liberation.

Throughout its history, the Jain philosophy remained unified and single,
although as a religion, Jainism was divided into various sects and traditions.
The contribution of Jain philosophy in developing the Indian philosophy has
been significant. Jain philosophical concepts like
Ahimsa, Karma, Moksa, Samsara and like have been assimilated into the philosophies of other Indian religions like Hinduism and Buddhism in various forms.[8] While Jainism traces
its philosophy from teachings of
Mahavira and other Tirthankaras, various Jain
philosophers from
Kundakunda and Umasvati in ancient times to Yaśovijaya Gai in recent times have
contributed greatly in developing and refining the Jain and Indian
philosophical concepts.


Main article: Cārvāka

Cārvāka, also frequently transliterated as Charvaka or Cārvāka, and also
known as Lokayata or Lokyāta, was a materialist and atheist school of thought
with ancient roots in India. It proposed a system of ethics based on rational
thought. However, this school has been dead for more than a thousand years.

Iranian philosophy

Main article: Iranian philosophy

See also Ancient Iranian Philosophy


Main article: Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion, which originated in Iran. It has a dualistic nature (Ahura
and Angra
), with an additional series of six important
divine entities called the
.[9] In modern Zoroastrianism they are interpreted as aspects or emanations of
Ahura Mazda (the Supreme Being), who form a heptad that is good and
constructive. They are opposed to another group of seven who are evil and
destructive. It is this persistent conflict between good and evil that
distinguishes Zoroastrianism from monotheistic frameworks that have only one
power as supreme. By requiring its adherents to have faith and belief in equally
powers Zoroastrianism characterizes itself as dualistic.

The teachings of Zarathustra (Zoroaster) appeared in Persia at some point during the period 1700-1800 BCE.[10][11] His wisdom became the basis of the religion Zoroastrianism, and generally influenced the development of the Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian philosophy. Zarathustra was the first who treated the problem of evil in
philosophical terms.
[11][12] He is also believed to be one of the oldest monotheists in the history of religion. He espoused an ethical philosophy based on the
primacy of good thoughts (pendar-e-nik), good words (goftar-e-nik), and good
deeds (kerdar-e-nik).

The works of Zoroaster and Zoroastrianism had a significant influence on Greek philosophy and Roman
. Several ancient Greek writers such as Eudoxus of Cnidus and Latin writers such as Pliny the Elder praised Zoroastrian
philosophy as “the most famous and most useful”.
Plato learnt of Zoroastrian philosophy through Eudoxus and incorporated much of
it into his own
Platonic realism.[14] In the 3rd century
BC, however,
Colotes accused Plato’s The Republic of plagiarizing parts of Zoroaster’s On Nature, such as the Myth of Er.[15][16]


Manichaeism, founded by Mani, was influential
North Africa in the West, to China in the East. Its
influence subtly continues in Western Christian thought via Saint
Augustine of Hippo, who converted to Christianity from Manichaeism, which he passionately
denounced in his writings, and whose writings continue to be influential among
Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox
theologians. An important
principle of Manichaeism was its
dualistic nature.


The religious and philosophical teaching called Mazdakism which was regarded by its founder, Mazdak, as a reformed and purified
version of
Zoroastrianism[17][18] displays remarkable
influences from
Manichaeism as well.[17]


Zurvanism is characterized by
the element of its First Principle which is Time, “Zurvan”, as a
primordial creator. According to Zaehner, Zurvanism appears to have three
schools of thought all of which have classical Zurvanism as their foundation:

Aesthetic Zurvanism

Aesthetic Zurvanism which was apparently not as popular as the materialistic kind,
viewed Zurvan as undifferentiated Time, which, under the influence of desire,
divided into reason (a male principle) and concupiscence (a female principle).

Materialist Zurvanism

While Zoroaster’s Ormuzd created the universe with his thought, materialist Zurvanism challenged the concept that anything could be made out of nothing.

Fatalistic Zurvanism

Fatalistic Zurvanism resulted from the doctrine of limited time with the implication that
nothing could change this preordained course of the material universe and that
the path of the astral bodies of the ‘heavenly sphere’ was representative of
this preordained course. According to the
Middle Persian work Menog-i Khrad: “Ohrmazd allotted happiness
to man, but if man did not receive it, it was owing to the extortion of these


The Persian polymath Avicenna wrote almost 450 treatises on a wide range of subjects. Many philosophical
works, among them
The Book of Healing, have survived.


The Philosophy of
founded by Sohrevardi argued that light
operates at all levels and hierarchies of reality. Light produces immaterial
and substantial lights, including immaterial intellects, human and animal souls
and even ‘dusky substances’, such as bodies. Sohrevardi’s works display
extensive developments on the basis of
Zoroastrian ideas and ancient
Iranian thought.


, developed by Sadr Shirazi, is one of two main
disciplines of
Islamic philosophy that is currently live and active.

Bahá’í Philosophy

Concepts of Bahai Philosophy are portrayed in the work Divine
by Abdul-Baha, the eldest son of
the founder of the
Bahá’í Faith, Bahá’u'lláh.[19]

Babylonian philosophy

Babylonian literature: Philosophy

The origins of Babylonian philosophy, in the popular sense of the word, can be traced back to the wisdom of early Mesopotamia, which embodied certain philosophies of life, particularly ethics, in the forms of dialectic, dialogs, epic poetry, folklore, hymns, lyrics, prose, and proverbs. The reasoning and rationality of the Babylonians developed beyond empirical observation.[20]

It is possible that Babylonian philosophy had an influence on Greek philosophy, and later Hellenistic philosophy, however the textual evidence is lacking. The undated Babylonian text Dialog
of Pessimism
contains similarities to the
agnostic thought of the sophists, the Heraclitean doctrine of contrasts, and the dialogs of Plato, as well as a precursor to the maieutic Socratic method of Socrates and Plato.[21] The Milesian philosopher Thales is also said to have studied philosophy in Mesopotamia

Islamic philosophy

Main articles: Islamic philosophy, Early Islamic philosophy, and Modern Islamic philosophy

The rise of Islam and the influence of classical Greek thought, especially Aristotle, led to
the emergence of various philosophical schools of thought. Amongst them
Sufism established esoteric philosophy, Mu’tazili (partly influenced by Hellenistic philosophy) reconstructed rationalism, while Ash’ari reshaped logical and
rational interpretation of
God, justice, destiny and the universe.

Early Islamic philosophy was influenced by Greek
, Hellenistic philosophy, Iranian philosophy, Judaism, Christianity and Indian philosophy, and in turn, Islamic philosophy had a strong influence on Jewish
, Christian philosophy, Western philosophy, Iranian philosophy and Indian philosophy, hence many consider Islamic
philosophy to be both an Eastern philosophy and a Western philosophy.

Al-Mu’tazilah (المعتزلة) or Mu’tazilite is a popular theological school of philosophy during early Islam. They called themselves Ahl al-’Adl wa al-Tawhid
(”People of Justice and Monotheism”). They ascended dramatically
during 8th and 9th century due to the support of intellectuals and elites.
Later in the 13th century, they lost official support in favour of the rising Ash’ari school. Most of their valuable works were destroyed during the Crusades and Mongol invasion.

One of the most influential Muslim philosophers in
the West was
Averroes (Ibn Rushd), founder of the Averroism school of philosophy.[22]

It is said that other influential Muslim philosophers include al-Jahiz, a pioneer of evolutionary thought and natural selection; Ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), a pioneer
phenomenology and the philosophy of science and a critic of Aristotelian natural
and Aristotle’s concept of place (topos); Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī, a critic of Aristotelian natural philosophy; Avicenna, a critic of Aristotelian logic; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, a critic of Aristotelian logic and a pioneer of inductive logic; and Ibn Khaldun, considered the
father of the
philosophy of history and sociology and a pioneer of social philosophy. However, not very
much credible evidence to support such claims is forthcoming, at least in the
field of Arabic-English translation methodology, with regards to the exact
sciences of semantics and hermeneutics.

See Also: Mu’taziliAsh’ariSufismIlluminationist

Sufi philosophy

Main article: Sufi

Sufism (تصوف taawwuf) is a school of esoteric philosophy in Islam, which is based on
the pursuit of
spiritual truth as a definite goal to attain. In order to attain this supreme truth,
Sufism has marked Lataif-e-Sitta (the six subtleties), Nafs, Qalb,
Sirr, Ruh (
spirit), Khafi and Akhfa.
Apart from conventional religious practices, they also perform Muraqaba (
meditation), Dhikr (Zikr or recitation), Chillakashi (asceticism) and Sama (esoteric music and dance).

See also

  Japanese philosophy




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