What is Eastern Philosophy Origin and Characteristics and Major Eastern Philosophies

Eastern Philosophy

We call Eastern philosophy the currents of thought that evolved in South Asia, especially in countries like China, India and Japan, and in the areas of influence of Islam (from the Iberian Peninsula to Indonesia).

These philosophies are very diverse and only have in common the fact that they arose in Asia, in very old and structured civilizations, such as China and India, with little contact with Western thought that arose in the Mediterranean basin.

Religious-philosophical currents such as Confucianism, Taoism or Buddhism, among others, continue to have millions of followers and practitioners in the world, and have influenced thinkers and ordinary people in the West and the rest of the world.

Origin of Eastern philosophy

The oldest philosophical traditions in the East arose in India and China, between 1500 and 1200 BC, associated with religious systems such as Hinduism in India and ancestor worship in China, and spread through the rise of kingdoms. and empires.

In India, Hinduism was imposed after the invasion of the Aryans, in 1500 BC, and the imposition of the caste system and a pantheon with thousands of gods.

In China, as centralized government systems are being created, Confucianism thrives, but also philosophical currents such as Taoism.

In later centuries, philosophies such as Buddhism arose, partly as a reaction to the rigidity of systems such as the Hindu.

Characteristics of Eastern philosophy

Relationship between philosophy and religion

The main philosophical currents are associated with the main religious systems of Asia, or end up drifting towards religious behavior, such as the establishment of monastic orders or the construction of temples.

Relationship between philosophy and state

Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, as well as Islam much later, are closely associated with political systems such as principalities, kingdoms, and empires.

Relationship with everyday life

Eastern philosophy is not part of a strictly academic or intellectual thought, but a way of life, with millions of practitioners in Asia and the rest of the world. Proof of this is the tea ceremony in Japan, through which philosophical foundations are transmitted.

east in west

Interest in Eastern philosophies in the West began in the mid-19th century, among thinkers such as Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), and became massive from the 1960s onwards.

Currently there are millions of followers in Europe and America of Buddhist practices, yoga and meditation, and thousands of readers of the I Ching or the Tao Te Ching ; as well as prominent contemporary physicists –such as Robert Oppenheimer or Erwin Schrödinger–, knowledgeable of sacred Hindu texts, which they have linked to the most advanced scientific thought.

West in East

After the contact, not always desired, between the West and the East, currents of Western thought have influenced Asian countries, especially Marxist philosophy in China, Vietnam and North Korea.

collective over individual

Eastern philosophies do not try to separate the individual from society, but to integrate them into the family, like Confucianism, or into their social group, like Hinduism (with the caste system).

Elimination of the “I” and suffering

Both in India and China, the different currents tend to disdain the ego and propose the search for spiritual liberation, the end of suffering. One of the ways that they promote as a source of illumination is meditation.

Major Eastern Philosophies


Philosophical thought dates back to the appearance of the I Ching (the Book of Changes ), a divination text that also includes beliefs and ideas from the 12th century BC. But the main currents of Chinese thought are Taoism and Confucianism.

  • Taoism

Taoism emerged in the sixth century BC as a search for harmony with nature. It is an individual search that differentiates it from Confucianism. Its main representative is Lao Tse, whose doctrine is collected in the Tao Te Ching (400 BC).

  • Confucianism

The father of this current is Confucius (551-479 BC), who preached the cult of ancestors, family and social rituals. He promotes a political and social ethic that was adopted by the various dynasties of the Chinese empire, and has even survived the current Chinese communist state.

Confucianism is present in other Asian countries and in any place where there is a colony of Chinese migrants.


The Hindu religion dates back to the clash of the Aryan and Dravidian peoples around 1500 BC. The Vedas , Hinduism’s earliest holy books, date from 1200 BC, and other sacred texts, such as the Upanishads , date from 1000 BC.

Hindu philosophy cultivated areas such as ethics, epistemology, metaphysics and soteriology (theology of salvation). They believed in reincarnation and liberation through meditation and religious practice.

Hindu philosophy is present in other countries, such as Nepal or Bhutan, and other Asian nations.

  • Buddhism

It is one of the heterodox branches of Hinduism, which arose in the 6th century BC, from the teachings of Prince Gautama Buddha. Buddhism seeks liberation from suffering through ethical living, meditation, and the pursuit of wisdom through the practice of restraint.

Buddhism spread to other Asian nations, such as China, Burma, Tibet, Japan, and, in the last two centuries, to Western nations. As it spread, it took different forms, such as Tibetan Buddhism, Won (Korean) Buddhism or Zen Buddhism. They also believe in reincarnation.


Japanese philosophical thought, similar to Korean, was highly influenced by philosophical currents from China and even from India, such as Buddhism.

However, it maintains an immemorial religious cult (with some records from the 8th century AD), Shintoism. Shintoism consists of the cult of the ancestors and the kami , divinities of nature.


Beginning with its emergence in the seventh century AD and its rapid expansion throughout Africa, Asia, and Europe, the Islamic tradition developed various schools of thought in the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula.

It should be noted that it was thanks to these centers that the West once again had contact with classical Greek texts, translated from Arabic into Latin, Hebrew and Spanish.

Differences between Eastern Philosophy and western philosophy

Philosophy and religion

Unlike the West, Eastern philosophy never completely separates itself from the religious spirit.

The collective over the individual

Eastern philosophies emphasize the importance of the family, religion, the state, and social life. That of the West tends to individualism.

Philosophy and status

Philosophy in the West eventually adopts a critical stance towards the state and forms of government, while the Eastern ones support governments and systems, such as that of castes in India.

reason and intuition

Western philosophy privileges logical, rational thought, while the Eastern one leans towards intuitive thought, enlightenment.

Academy and daily life

Philosophy in the West has become an academic and specialist activity, while in the East (and even in the West when Buddhism is practiced, for example), Eastern philosophy is part of everyday life.

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