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Philosophy is an interesting discipline as it tries to find answers to several challenging aspects of man and the processes of nature. Since time immemorial, man has been in a quest to find the self and understand the surrounding in which they reside. In the West, realism and romanticism were two competing cultural thoughts and artistic styles aimed at communicating the interactions/relationships between mankind and nature.
Romantics associated with Plato emphasized on individual heroic achievement, power of emotions and mysticism dominating the European intellectual life while realists associated with Aristotle focused art and literature to more tangible matters with the intention of glorifying real individuals and promote social justice. Realist emerged after romantics and they intended to express people's real experience what does it take to be a powerful individual in the society. In the East "Siddharta" is a text by Herman Hesse published in the United States 1951 and describes the self-discovery spiritual journey of a man during Gautam Buddha's time.
The book proved influential in the 1960s. The word Siddhartha refers to an individual who has found meaning for his existence. The west and East have differed on a number of philosophical issues even in the present world citing the different ideology orientations of different nations across the globe. This discussion, citing the western views of the self-represent by realist and romantics and the East perspective illustrated by Siddhartha explores what both have in common and the manner in which they contrast in the contexts of society and nature.
It is clear that both ideologies have controversial issues citing wealth acquisition as an example, leading to different directions in the cultures of the West and East. The difference is attributed to the criteria adopted by the individuals using the diverse cultures. The emergent issue is the difference and evolution of eastern and western philosophy that reflect on the dominant concept of reality, life, and the self. Based on history, Islamic and Asian states constitute the East while the United States, Australia, Europe and Canada have been regarded as the West.
Romanticism begins with the internal world of the self and denies the existence of the material world while realists uphold that the mind is independent of the surrounding world whose phenomenal qualities are intrinsic in themselves. William Wordsworth (177-1850) a realist poet operated on the principle that “The infinite variety of natural appearances” an implication that there are various forms of matter in the universe each independent of each other.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) is an example or a romantic author since she hails poets as “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” an illustration that she acknowledges that poets obtain their authority from nature and it is a source of inspiration. Both traditions although different try to formulate a monistic account of reality by reducing the same to materialistic substance. The aspect of nature is different or contributes to human processes which together constitutes both exist in the universe.
To provide a general characterization of Buddhism and distinguishing the traditions of Mahayana and Theravada calls for the statement that Theravada maintains a dualistic view where Nirvana is something different that from everyday world and can be perceived by senses while Mahayana upholds a non-dualistic view holding that Samsara and Nirvana are same reality experiences perceived from different standpoints. Although the ideology does not advocate elimination of phenomenal experiences, it emphasizes on the non-conceptual nature of reality where the notion of phenomena are a product of illusory thoughts.
Romantics wrote literature that were passionate about their nation’s victories and perceived themselves as part of grand peoples destined to reshape the globe. This may be the reason many westerners feel they possess superiority of knowledge and feel the need to spread the same knowledge to the rest of the globe especially in nations that are termed as underdeveloped. Art by realists illustrated real situations such as individuals who had accomplished selected victories in the society or people involve in different activities known in the community such as festivities or farming.
Romantic literature is characterized by characters that were not of our conscious kin and no development is shown, the universe is incomprehensible, uses formal language, the plot is crafted around a crisis moment and narration that offers a description of the scene. They questioned science and even though their work portrayed superficial powers, troubling questions still emerged such as what are the consequences of having superficial powers and being considered as “different” from the rest of the population.
The 19th century also known as the romantic era was characterized by the west transforming from an agricultural to an industrially based economy, application of science to practical inventions-production of goods shifted from homes to manufacturing factories-stimulating the development of urban centers and giving the west dominion over the rest of the world, population growth and nationalism-individuals patriotically identified themselves with a territory that embraced a common history and language.
As recorded by history books, the west quickly gained popularity across the globe and in acknowledging their recognition, the west are known to have colonized several states in the view of spreading civilizations. It is through the works of romantics that the capitalism ideology was born since every individual struggled to attain wealth and be powerful; a form of status in the society. The East was not left behind in the era of industrialization however; the socialism ideology seemed to prevail in that in wealth creation, one was not supposed to do so by destroying nature or acting superior on their counterparts.
Romanticism refers to a story that is improbable and adventurous in nature citing the chronicles of Narnia as an example. The romantic era refers to the cultural and literary movements from 1770 to 1860 in Europe, England, and America. The authors of this era celebrated imagination versus reason, subjectivity versus objectivity and individualism versus socialism. They wanted to revive spiritual values in an era dominated by institutional religion. They considered people as gods who were ruined and were only able to regain their spiritual birthright if they attended to what was divine within them. Nature inspired self-discovery, and it was the medium that united man's soul with God.
The west romantics tend to adore nature as a hut where the self can achieve its full potential. After all, if all conditions are deemed conducive what is meant to grow will thrive and give fruits. Furthermore, they advocate self-reliant individualism. This culture is characterized by destructive, futile and egotistic aspects as the heroes' quest for victories. In most cases, these characteristics clashed with conventional religious and social dogma whereby people were supposed to live as a community to promote individual well being. In the social aspect, romantics are politically progressive and radically egalitarian. There literally techniques utilized symbols and fantastic elements to illustrate mental processes themes. This style is usually considered as original.
The United States culture is characterized by prioritization of egalitarianism and individuals. This is similar to the primary feature of romanticism-celebration of and with obsession of individualism. Democracy is a situation that elevates all individuals of a situation to the same level (status). This implies that that each person has an opportunity to optimize their own worth; pursue their aspirations without interference. But the same is also disadvantageous following the sense of isolation among community members. Everyone is busy concentrating in their own endeavors forgetting the need to socialize and be concerned about their friends and family well being. In as much as, we adopt new ideologies, forgetting the traditional contexts leads to insecurity about values arising and people begin to concern themselves with what their counterparts are doing.
Although Asian authors anticipated the romantic engagement with nature, their style considerably differed with the west. They described nature’s moods using carefully chosen words, suggesting the subtlest of analogies between human condition and natural landscape. The East recorded natural appearance with some immediacy. Using Siddhartha as a literary example of the East, several themes emerge in an effort of the individuals to find themselves. Siddhartha and Govinda travel the world in search of having a clear understanding of life (Nirvana) through spirituality.
"He wore his gown and walked along exactly like the other monks, but his face and his step...spoke of peace, spoke of completeness, ...an unfading light, an invulnerable peace."(28). The characters establish that an unrelenting search for truth is essential for establishing a harmonious relationship with the world. The conclusion is that finding Nirvana is possible and should be the end goal that every man aspires to reach. "Truly, nothing in the world has occupied my thoughts as much as the Self, this riddle, that I live, that I am one and am separated and different from everybody else, that I am Siddhartha" (38). There is a difference though on how or what both individuals are willing to engage in as they search for the truth. Siddhartha is willing to abandon a path that he suspects would lead to a dead end including departing from his spiritual teachers and associating with Kamala and Kamaswani.
It is clear that before he arrives at Nirvana, Siddhartha would not relent in his search and would follow any path that leads him there. Began to walk quickly and impatiently, no longer homewards, no longer to his father, no longer looking backward" (42). Govinda, on the other hand, is less flexible and restricts himself to the spiritual world and persists in his desire and need for teachers. The situation described makes it impossible for Govinda to see the truth around him following the limitation of his belief that the truth will reveal itself only in the form that he has been taught by his teachers. Siddhartha established the fact that the truth can only be found from within.
Self-realization does not come from imparted wisdom but rather via internal connection the river, which he finds contains the whole universe. Govinda gets to see the nature of existence after kissing Siddhartha's forehead. In as much as, he relies on lessons from Siddhartha he gets to make his own interpretation of nature existence. This implies that Nirvana comes from within, and exterior paths only act as a guide. Taking an indirect direction towards finding the self is characterized by many challenges taking into account all elements of the world as is therefore viewed as a better avenue to offer an individual the distance with which to perceive the unity of the world.
Despite the differences both cultures address an enduring theme; the importance of nature in liberating human beings from the confines of the material world. This suggests that human life processes are an extension of the rhythms and patterns that govern the universe itself. This implies that in the quest for self in both East and West individuals are at the liberty to explore the universe and find themselves in terms of the roles they play in the universe.
In summary, conditions that facilitated romanticism in America includes the search for new spiritual roots, immigration that brought about development of new perspectives and culture, industrialization, spirit of optimism appealed by the promise of an uncharted frontier and frontier promised opportunity for freedom and growth. The era of Buddhism involved the natural landscape and nature being the dominant feature in literature of the East, embraced nature as the only source of private meditation and solitary joy, perceived nature as symbolic of the oneness with nature and man and the changes in nature (changing seasons and mountainous landscapes) are metaphors for human feelings and moods. Philosophical inquiries of the western culture have either been romantic or realist.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha (unabridged Start Classics). Lanham: Start Publishing LLC, 2013. Internet resource.
Over the years the category of "experience" has contributed in a big way to the modern study of Buddhist. The notion of Buddhist monastic practice has been intended to cultivate specific religious experiences in the practitioners' minds. Very few Scholars have bothered to study the notion of meditation. A wide variety of terms which are related to Buddhist are used to describe the various stages of the path of meditation. They are then tested against phenomelogical hermeneutic which happen to be interpreted like well designated states of consciousness that have been experienced over the historical meditative practice.
The thesis of this paper is to put the role of experience under the test of deep analysis in order to establish its credibility or demonstrate its exaggeration. According to both the history and ethnography evidence, the understanding of the concept of meditation may be traced to a certain twentieth-century during which there were Asian reform movements, especially those which urged a return to meditation of the zazen nature. The reforms were influenced by the developments of the West. Even in the cases of the contemporary Buddhists schools which do not exalt the meditative experience, ethnographic data belies in the assumption that the meditative states function existed. Some of the adepts are likely to experience altered states in the cause of their training. Critical analysis has shown that states do not necessarily constitute the points of reference for the elaborate discourse of Buddhists that pertains to the path.
Sharf argues that, "The importance that most of the scholars tend to attribute to the religious experience may not necessarily be commensurable with the practice of Buddhism throughout the spaced of ages." Sharf gives a practical example of currently having the most influential meditations traditions that is discussed in the West shows far less influence within their own homelands. Sharf explains this phenomenon to be a very comprehensible occurrence citing that ,"The partisans of both Zen as well as vipassana have in a large way been responsible in perpetuating the image of Buddhism as that of a rational, contemplative creed as well as humanistic in nature and emphasis on magic and empty ritual. "According to Sharf[ Sharf, Robert H. "Mr." Buddhism Modernism and Rhetoric of meditative Experience (1995). Most of the scholars were actually attracted to Buddhism due to the image of enlightenment as opposed to the faith of Buddhism.
Sharf continues to arguing that most of the accounts of meditational experiences are not first-person reports. On the contrary, most of the authoritative texts, among them Budhaghosa are just interpretations which are textual in nature and never attest to the experiences of the owners themselves.Sharf continues disapproving some of the concepts held to be true in Buddhism. He particularly nullifies the belief that meditation played a very important role in monasteries, but rather it is a trait which can only be traced back in the 19th century.
Before such concepts, the practices were particularly more akin with devolution practices among them the practice of rehearsing and reciting the verse. This argument is in line with the Theravada traditions which perceive experiences as natural obstacle. The same concept is applied to the Zen monks most of which prefer to just have the necessarily training over the shortest period possible before they are able to go back to their families and practice what they had been trained.
Researchers have been found to fail because of supporting prescriptive ideology with descriptions that are phenomelogical in nature.Silk states that, "The accounts of the austere Zen monk desperately looking for illusion as an ideal of the Zen are attributed to false accounts that were held in the twentieth century." Everything including the ability for elaboration of monks to be able to visualize some of the most complex pictures in the minds of the eye is all scripts for recitations and not what most have believed to be instructions of practice. Takeuchi states that monks therefore recite these pieces rather than engaging in the practice which has been described in the text itself. In fact, very many ethnographic accounts have revealed that the biggest number of monks is interested in the ceremonies as opposed to the inner experiences which they are thought to be committed to. The conception of Zen in contemporary culture has been attributed to the establishment of a new level and kind of Buddhism. This has been viewed as an attempt to resurrect Buddhism which was fast fading in Shinto in Japan. The effort presents Zen to inquire into one's own nature rationally by having various writings on D.T Suzuki as well as Kitaro Nishida. This way the caters for the critics imposed on the Enlighten on religion.
Sri Lanka as well as Burma has reclaimed their national identity through vipassana meditation on a spiritual level. The Mahasi technique is likely to spread. Mahasi offers a very simplified method that may not require practice of the Shamata first the same in which they were requested traditionally. In addition, Mahasi also proposed the establishment of meditation centre which were not there in the past. According to Sharf, such ideas were conceived due to the encounter as well as mingling with Western model of religion. Therefore meditation was now availed to everyone.
It is important to point out that the traditional goals of the practice were framed in a similar manner as cultivating, physical as well as physiological health and resulted in reduction of stress, increasing people's handling their issues concerning relationships as well as businesses.. According to Sharf, Buddhism could be later reconfigured into psychotherapy. The aim of Buddhism is therefore a rational attempt to change the order of the world so that the perception and response to the world is felt. Rather than having a magical approach of changing the world.
Sharf continues discrediting the role of experience through his statement that there exists no consensus as to the referent of the descriptions of the phenomenological of the different stages of consciousness between wide arrays of the schools of thought.
Sharf has done a number of surveys whereby a number of meditation masters criticize and condemn each other's meditation technique and whatever the meditation postulates. The concepts of experience which are described by Sharf preclude the inquiry into processes that involve the construction of the subject matters. Questions are not raised concerning the various issues that arise due to deeper analysis. The authority which is linked to the power of knowledge is measured using the method of elimination of anything known of the speaker.
Dreyfus states that, the motivation behind the reduction of Buddhism into an experience that is non-discursive in nature continues to gain relevance and increase as other legitimating sources fail to surface. This needs an understanding of people from different geographical locations. For instance, when various East-Asian traditions come into contact with cultural relativism, the main issue that Sharf points out which resulted in the said interaction is that of rhetoric of non-discursive, ineffability for various reasons is not applicable in the undermining of the conception of Buddhism as a means to attaining the experience. Therefore when the experience is pronounced ineffable, it thus becomes immune.
From the accounts and analysis of Sharf's critics', there is a clear deliberate suggestion that as a result of the inability to correlate states with the practices. Therefore Buddhism could be seen as the reutilization of experience. Infarct, it does not engender any specific experiential state more than it enacts sit. Sharf is therefore does not find the role of experience as being as strong and fundamental as what the Buddhists would probably do. Change in the focus as well as the philosophy of history, from one which has a bent naturalization experience to a belief which is more of the unmediated between the words and the things. The history of such concepts then easily becomes the evidence through which experience is easily grasped and a relation to the past that the historian could be writing on can be articulated.
Silk, Jonathan A. 2008. Managing monks administrators and administrative roles in indian Buddhist monasticism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Conze, Edward. 1959. Buddhist scriptures. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books.
Dreyfus, Georges B. J. 2003. The sound of two hands clapping the education of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press.
Takeuchi, Yoshinori, and Jan van Bragt. 1993. Buddhist spirituality: Indian, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, and early Chinese. New York: Crossroad.
Gard, Richard A. 1961. Buddhism. New York: G. Braziller.
Sharf, Robert H. "Mr." Buddhism Modernism and Rhetoric of meditative Experience (1995).
The person who came to be known as Buddha was born Siddhartha Gautama. His father was a King of an impoverished clan called the Shakyas in the region of Lumbini (modern-day Nepal – India). From a young age, his father isolated him from the realities of life by raising him in a palace exclusively built for him. One day he went beyond the palace walls and what he saw—a very old man, a diseased person, a decaying body and an ascetic—overwhelmed him. He had never experienced these things and thus begun his journey of exploration. He left behind his privileged life and chose an ascetic life which he believed would unearth to him the reason for universal suffering – a trait he now considered to be one of the defining characteristics of human existence (Biography.com Editors, “Buddha Biography”).
Buddha’s teachings were anchored on the concept of moderation; it is believed he received his Enlightenment while living a life that was neither too austere nor too luxurious. Subsequently, Buddha’s “Middle Way” is seen as espousing the nobility of living life in moderation and avoiding the extremes. It is also along these principles that his central teachings, i.e., the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Noble Eightfold Path” were structured.
The Four Noble Truths
The first noble truth according to Buddha was that illness, old age, and death are forms of human sufferings but that there are many other ways in which humans suffer (Chogyel 12). He also preached about Karma and the Vedic idea that people were reincarnated after death. He postulated that reincarnated life was characterized by suffering commensurate with either the good or bad deeds that a person committed during a previous lifetime. In his Second Noble Truth, Buddha argued that there existed a close link between human suffering and desires – desires which he believed started from birth until death and involved mortality, illness, and aging (Chogyel 12). He also contended that some human desires were not possible to realize during one’s lifetime. And thus, according to his Third Noble Truth, a vast majority of sufferings could be dispelled by abandoning all desires (Chogyel 13). This could only be achieved by adhering to the guidelines outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path (Fourth Noble Truth) (Chogyel 13).
The Noble Eightfold Path
To abandon all desire, one had to have the right belief, intentions, behavior, speech, livelihood, effort, contemplation, and concentration (Pearls of Wisdom, “Core Beliefs In Buddhism”). In collaboration with the Four Noble Truths, these teachings provided the basis for Buddhism as one of the most philosophical and significant movements in Eastern Asia. The religion’s worldwide appeal stems from the fact that some of the teachings espoused by Buddha are also present in other religions like Christianity (“Buddhism vs. Christianity”). For example, Christians like Buddhists are always implored to speak the truth, behave in a manner that glorifies God, and avoid evil deeds. In this regard, one can argue that there is no much difference. However, while Buddhism embraces living in moderation as the key to Nirvana, Christians believe that material blessings are a sign of one receiving the full acceptance of God.
Buddhism as a religion proposes that life is a series of sequences where what one does in one lifetime determines the type of life that they will lead in the next life (Chogyel 22). Eventually, if one can live according to the teachings of Buddha, then the implication is that they can attain an enlightened life— a life free of suffering. This is similar to the Christian view that life after resurrection will be one without pain, illnesses, and death (Thompson 250)
Buddhism vs Christianity. 2018. 22 September 2018. https://www.age-of-the-sage.org/buddhism/buddhism_christianity.html
Chogyel, Tenzin. The Life of Buddha. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 2001.
Core Beliefs In Buddhism. 2018. 22 September 2018. http://www.sapphyr.net/buddhist/buddhist-core.htm
Editors, Biography.com. "Buddha Biography." 19 March 2018. Bibliography. A&E Television Networks. 22 September 2018. https://www.biography.com/people/buddha-9230587
Thompson, Ross. Buddhist Christianity: A Passionate Openness. New York: John Hunt Publishing, 2010.
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