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Thread: The Eastern Way of Thinking

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    The Eastern Way of Thinking

    I was reading through The Way of Zen by Alan Watts this weekend and he had a nice spiel on the Eastern way of thinking, and the fundamental differences between Western and Eastern style philosophy. I highly recommend the book and without going into a lengthy diatribe wanted to start a thread on it.

    I'll try to sum it up:

    The Western style of thinking identifies the world as an object that needs to be rationalized and rigorously studied to reach a greater understanding about it. The Eastern way of thinking recognizes that treating the world as an object has no resolution, no end. By always working on your environment you become distinct from it and not interrelated with it as a whole. You understand how things work, but you lose the soul of things.

    The Western style of thinking is purposeful, it always has some kind of aim. The Eastern style of thinking seeks to relieve itself of an aim or purpose and enter into a life of pure experience.
    So for those who have, or haven't read any Eastern philosophy, what do you think of those definitions? Are they bunk? Do they make sense?

    “Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.”

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    I think this is a false dichotomy. Have psychologists identified "Western" and "Eastern" ways of thinking?

    I think Kahneman identified two modes of thinking, one instinctual and the other analytical. I think you can find examples of both in both the West and the East, as well as in parts of the world that belongs to neither of those two very broad categories.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tammuz View Post
    I think this is a false dichotomy. Have psychologists identified "Western" and "Eastern" ways of thinking?

    I think Kahneman identified two modes of thinking, one instinctual and the other analytical. I think you can find examples of both in both the West and the East, as well as in parts of the world that belongs to neither of those two very broad categories.
    I think you've misunderstood my definition of thinking as being biological, versus ontological, about the process, not the content. I'd agree with you that physiologically every person's brain functions the same way, this thread is more about the divergence in outlook between those in the West and East. IOW, how the development of their philosophy has led them to view the world in a different ways.

    If you trace both styles of thought back to their roots, on one hand you get the hyper-rationalism of Ancient Greeks, and on the other hand you get the ego-less approach of the Chinese. The West seeks to triumph over unreason, where the East seeks to trumph over reason.

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    I think it's probably wrong to (a) treat geographical zones as monolithic in terms of their philosophies and worldviews ('East' and 'West' are just convenient approximations) and (b) treat those differing worldviews/philosophies as dichotomous (there's probably a lot of overlap).

    With those caveats in mind, it is interesting to compare and contrast. I broadly agree with the things said by Rousseau.

    I have a sneaking feeling that the 'best' approach (assuming there is one) for most people is likely to be a mixture. That generally seems to be the case for nearly everything. I'm going to resist exploring the phrase 'yin and yang'.

    Given the global dominance of what we are calling 'typically western values' in the last few centuries, maybe it is time for what we are calling 'typically eastern values' to come more to the fore.

    I don't know. It's a big subject, and somewhat vague.
    "Let us hope that it is not so. Or if it is, let us pray that the fact does not become generally known."

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruby sparks View Post
    I have a sneaking feeling that the 'best' approach (assuming there is one) for most people is likely to be a mixture. That generally seems to be the case for nearly everything. I'm going to resist exploring the phrase 'yin and yang'.
    That's a good point and I'd agree. Eastern philosophy is great at finding us contentment, Western philosophy makes us better at playing the game. Both goals are necessary and even though they're somewhat contradictory, sometimes we need to hold contradictory feelings and beliefs.

    I can admit that Eastern philosophy is better suited to achieving enlightenment, but an intellectual understanding of the world still helps too. And in some ways it's the intellectual understanding that precipitates itself into fulfilling Eastern ideas like wu-wei.
    Last edited by rousseau; 02-11-2020 at 02:13 PM.

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    People back east in NYC thinka lot differently than we do in Seattle.

    People in NYC think differently that people back east in London do.

    I do not buy the idea that there is some inherent superiority of 'eastern thought'.

    Starting probably on the 30s there was the popular image of the mysterious east. Books an movies. Somerset Mall's book and movie Lost Horizons. It has been restored and is available online I believe. The Kung Fu TV show was nothing like what the Shaolin monks were really like.

    People were rejecting our culture and looking for alternatives. Believe it or not Afghanistan was a destination spot. India was a major place to get enlightened. As Joseph Campbell put it China was closed under communism and that left Indaias a place you could immerse yourself.

    Zen was synthesis of Chinese Buddhism and Japanese warrior Bushido. Zen is a bit more than intriguing mental puzzles.

    In the 60s 70s people became American gurus of mystic, often related to psychedelics. Ram Das. Taking Indian names was common.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_Dass

    You have to understand the context of the times people like Watts came up in.

    Suzuki was the popular Japanese author on Zen.




    You can not generalize, you have to talk specifics about specific cultures.
    Japanese thought led to the Pacific war. Chinese thought led to Maoism,. And so on.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    You can not generalize, you have to talk specifics about specific cultures.
    Japanese thought led to the Pacific war. Chinese thought led to Maoism,. And so on.
    I get the gist of your post, although having studied most religions I'd say Buddhism, and particularly Zen, is on to something, more so than most other religions. I wouldn't call it superior to Western style philosophy, just better at different things. Specifically, I like the Eastern idea that endless intellectualizing never reaches a resolution, it just goes on and on and never satisfies itself. This allows a person to reach an end-point. Where the analytic mind never stops churning until the grave.

    But beyond philosophy human nature is the same, Eastern and Western history is the same. The ontology of actualized people are where they differ.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    I was reading through The Way of Zen by Alan Watts this weekend and he had a nice spiel on the Eastern way of thinking, and the fundamental differences between Western and Eastern style philosophy. I highly recommend the book and without going into a lengthy diatribe wanted to start a thread on it.

    So for those who have, or haven't read any Eastern philosophy, what do you think of those definitions? Are they bunk? Do they make sense?

    “Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.”
    Divide it in two levels of truth.
    Absolute (Paramarthika Satya): No purpose. Nothing ever happened. Even creation is a mirage.
    Pragmatic (Vyavaharika Satya): Sure, there is this world. I am here, my family, my society, my country, etc. So much to do. Study, Work, raise children, vote, participate in all-round activities. Then pass on when our time is over.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rousseau View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    You can not generalize, you have to talk specifics about specific cultures.
    Japanese thought led to the Pacific war. Chinese thought led to Maoism,. And so on.
    I get the gist of your post, although having studied most religions I'd say Buddhism, and particularly Zen, is on to something, more so than most other religions. I wouldn't call it superior to Western style philosophy, just better at different things. Specifically, I like the Eastern idea that endless intellectualizing never reaches a resolution, it just goes on and on and never satisfies itself. This allows a person to reach an end-point. Where the analytic mind never stops churning until the grave.

    But beyond philosophy human nature is the same, Eastern and Western history is the same. The ontology of actualized people are where they differ.
    And my response is always 'whatever floats your boat', IOW whatever makes you happy. For some people it is the endless search for something.

    From the Tibetan Buddhism I read Nirvana is just a resting point, just anythore thought-thing no mre real tan any oter thought.

    In an interview the Dali Lama was asked about Americans who adopt Buhdism, especialy high profile types.

    He said 'Why not practice the one you already have?'. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. You might be said to wandering through Smasara if I remember right. The illusory mind created view of the world.

    Buddhism is not monolithic.

    If you believe something of value to be had and you pursue it, then you have formed an attachment. That leads to karmic chains of thought causality leading to suffering if not fulfilled.

    The idea I got from Buddhism is that is about mental stability. All the yogic exercises and chanting is about quieting mind.

    In Zen there is monkey mind. That chattering screeching part of your mind that you try and keep locked up. And like a clever monkey your mind figures out how to beak the lock from time to time. Zen is of no value unless you can see it in your self.

    Zen is about metaphor. Communication of concepts not reducible to logical descriptions. That is why in Asian traditions the lineage of someone you study under matters. Someone who understands the truths of the system not just the words.

    That is my view of all philosophy and religion. As the Dali Lama inferred it is not what you believe but how you believe it.

    In Asian traditions there are a number of Buddhist sects, Taoism. Confucianism, Zen, Shinto and others I probably have not heard of.

    So if you think there is something to Zen, what is it? And that is always the question. We are conditioned by many things with an expectation bias. Japanese movies with stoic fatherly sounding men with soulful traditional music.

    If you can find them. Old BW Japanese movies about Satoichi, a blind warrior mink wandering about. That is to Japan what cowboy westerns are to the USA. Or the Seven Samurai.

    You need cultural context IMO.

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    Quote Originally Posted by steve_bank View Post
    So if you think there is something to Zen, what is it?
    My two cents - Zen and Christianity approach the divine in a similar way. In the former we have a unified, ego-less whole, in the latter we have a unified whole which is dictated by God. In the former we enter into a life of freedom and creativity - our fate is within our control - in the latter a life of passivity - our fate is beyond our control.

    As religions they both have the same goal - diminishing fear and suffering - but IMO Zen does a better job of describing how the world actually works, which is why I think there's something in it. Fundamentally, it's not falsifiable. And in modern times, from the West, we have the successful Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which takes the same approach, but from a scientific perspective.

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