An Enlightened Individual Philosophy Essay

Most of Chinese Philosophy originates from the springs, autumn and the military states periods. "Hundred Schools of Thought" was a known period, which was distinguished by major cultural and intellectual developments (Yu-Lan, 7). In Chinese thought, everybody has the potential to become a god. Moral heroes are not only respected or adored in the ordinary sense, they are in fact solemnly worshipped as if they were gods. Many of them even have been honored by special temples  (Yu-Lan, and Derk, 25). For instance, Kwan Kung is still honored as a god of justice and righteousness in the Chinese business community. He was in fact a human being in the late Han Dynasty. Because of his righteous performance as a military hero, he has been worshipped as a god up to the present. Another example is Lu Tzu, who was a poet in the T'ang Dynasty. Having been spiritually self-controlled his entire life, he became a god in the Taoist religious tradition. According to the religious tradition, he performs a medical function by helping patients who pray to him. In addition, he provides prescriptions in verse or poetic form (Yu-Lan, 19)

Confucianism became the leading philosophical school in China during the Qin Dynasty. Mohism and Legalism were the largest philosophical rivals prior to the Han Dynasty. On the other hand, Legalism, which was a coherent philosophy, had disappeared mostly due to its unpopular relationship with the authoritarian rule of the Qin Shi Huang. Many of its institutions and ideas continued to influence the Chinese philosophy up to the lapse of imperial rule in the Xinhai revolution. Emphasis on brotherly love in the cruel Qin Legalism made Mohism popular. However, due to the efforts made by Confucians in establishing their political stands as orthodoxy, Mohism fell out of favor during the Han Dynasty.

The era of the six dynasties experienced the dominance of the Xuanxue School of philosophy and the maturation of Buddhism that had penetrated China during the late Han dynasties. Five centuries after the arrival in China, Buddhism had transformed into a Chinese religious philosophy which was strongly defined by the school of Neo-Confucianism, Zen Buddhism which became popular during the Song and Ming dynasty due to the ultimate blend of Zen and Confucian Philosophies (Yu-Lan, 19).

Confucianism represented the gathered and synchronized teachings of the Chinese scholars who existed between 479 to 551 BCE. The philosophy of Confucius is concerned with the field of politics and ethics, which underlined governmental and personal morality, the righteousness of social relationships, traditionalism, justice and sincerity. The main Confucian concept include ren, zhengming , zhong, xiao and li. Ren signifies the humanity or humaneness; zhengming signifies the rectification of names; zhong signifies loyalty; xiao signifies filial piety and li represent the ritual (Yao, 57). Chinese people have an interest in admiration for immortality. In fact, the craving for immortality is an essential characteristic of a religious performance tradition. What is unique in the Chinese craving for immortality is the humanistic tendency in its performance. The Chinese concept of immortality, as developed in the Confucian tradition, is very different from the eternal life pictured in Christianity or the Nirvana conceived of in traditional Buddhism (Yao, 61).

Chinese people in general, long for immortality in this natural world. This naturalistic and humanistic immortality is of two different kinds:  having a male heir; and the attainment of a reputation after death. The former appeals to the masses while the latter to the intellectuals. As to the attainment of reputation after one's death, it is a more spiritual type of immortality. But this type of immortality is still developed in a humanistic world. The Chinese gods were originally human beings, and for the Chinese, all human beings can become deities by educational training or the discipline of spiritual performance. For them, the human beings are god-candidates, and the gods are human beings elevated (Anderson, 99).

The Buddha's concept of Dukkha consists of a considerable number of varieties, including the trauma of birth, the pathology of sickness, the morbidity of decrepitude, the phobia of death, the frustration of being tied to what one abhors, and the disappointment of being separate from what one loves. This concept is an indication of a great problem in human life. In order to understand the cause of this problem, Buddha explored this important question reflectively with his knowledge of human nature and came up with the answer that human suffering was caused by egocentric desires. This is just the same answer, which could have been produced by contemporary psychologists.

According to Anderson (99), it is however, important to note that the Buddha lived during a period about five centuries before Jesus Christ, even though his theory is justifiable in contemporary psychology. As he continued his philosophical efforts, he developed a proficient method for the solution of the problem, "The Eightfold Path." It consists of behavioral and mental training in order to establish a new psychological attitude to conquer the problem. These four steps included procedures for problem observation, problem recognition, problem exploration, and problem resolution.

In dealing with the problem, there is the assumption of a philosophical principle of Non-Atman. The term "Atman" has been commonly interpreted as "ego" or "soul". This principle does not mean to deny the existence of something which is universally recognized, however; it is a suggestive correction of a misunderstanding due to the artificial function of human language. According to Buddhism, the so-called "ego" or "soul" is but a coordinated unity arising from the five skandhas. The term "skandha" literally means "aggregate" or "agglomeration."

What the doctrine of the Bodhisattva did was to raise up love ( metta) and compassion (karuna)as central doctrines of Buddhism, transforming Buddhism into a religion that made a place for liberation not only through meditation but also through divine aid (grace or assistance) offered by the many heavenly buddhas who are Bodhisattvas. One of the most popular of these Bodhisattvas is Amida (Amitabha) Buddha. Those who repeat the name of Amida and have faith in Amida will be reborn in the "pure land," a heavenly realm which hastens the day of one's final liberation. Another is Avaloki-tesvara (Chinese Knanivin, Japanese Kanmm)(Yu-Lan, 29).

In China, Kuan-yin was transformed from a male Bodhisattva into a female Bodhisattva; a kind divine mother who looks after her children. The most radical change wrought by Mahayana Buddhists was to transform the Theravada understanding of the cosmic wheel of samsara; the wheel of death and rebirth. The Mahayana tradition stood the view of the wheel of samsara shared by Hindus and Theravada Buddhists on its head. They did this by denying that moksba or nirvana removed one from the wheel of death and rebirth. Samsara and nirvana, they argued, are not two different worlds, and liberation is not going from one to the other. Rather, samsara and nirvana are two different ways of experiencing the Yen, same world. The basis for their interpretation was a radical understanding of the doctrine that all things are empty. According to Mahayana wisdom, the mistake of Theravadins was to treat the dharmas, the continually coming into being and perishing atomic units of energy whose interdependence make up all things, as if each such dharma had its own being. But if all things are empty of their own being (i.e., have no independent reality but are in fact interdependent), then samsara is also empty, and so is nirvana. Even the buddhas are empty (Yu-Lan, 58).

Sunyata The concept of "emptiness" as the true nature of all things is called sunyata, and it is this teaching which is the hallmark of the Madhyamika school of thought.  Sunyata is the absence of svabhava, own-being, in all things, and is experienced through prajna as an ultimate truth of the universe. Nothing can have svabhava, for everything is dependent on other causes and conditions for its existence. Nothing can exist of itself. When all life is understood from the point of view of sunyata, the emptiness of svabhava in all things, then it is senseless to grasp at anything in it and this factor concord with the second of the Four Noble Truths, that craving is the root cause of suffering in life. We behave as if things have permanent, inherent existence and try to grasp at them and keep them permanently in order to be happy (Yu-Lan, 60).

According to Yu-Lan, and Derk, (87), Nagarjuna claimed that regarding sunyata as the true state of all existence is the very wisdom which needs tube acquired in order to cease such craving and grasping, and so realize nirvana. So truth cannot be found in something that is, or something that is not, it can only be found in the middle point between these two dualities. Indeed, this is why Nagarjuna made no assertions of his own and confined his philosophy to demolishing the arguments of others. By gaining knowledge of this middle point between dualities, finite definitions are transcended. The doctrine of sunyata, then, teaches the emptiness of all things in order soiree the mind from its misconceptions about the finite world. This is the key teaching of Madhyamika and a central concept of the Prajnaparamita Sutras. So important is the concept of sunyata to the Madhyamika school of thought that the school was actually known as the Sunyata-vada (Yu-Lan, and Derk, 91).

This emptiness, however, is neither nothingness nor a particular essence characteristic of all things; it is much more the idea that ultimate reality is something which cannot exist in finite things or in ideas, even the idea of emptiness itself. If, then, there is any ultimate truth, it is both inexpressible and inconceivable. It is debatable, however, if sunyata is even emptiness of emptiness, whether it could be regarded as a kind of metaphysical ultimate reality: scholars are divided on this issue (Tang, 22).

Huayan philosophy is more than that. There is a dynamic and optimistic side to it that is not in Tiantai. Scholars are divided on which is the higher philosophy. Tradition grants huayan superiority because Tiantai still accepts the presence of delusion in the mind. Huayan knows only a totally pure mind. But then it is in the nature of Tiantai Comprehensiveness not to dismiss evil, while it is the Awakening of Faith (which Zhiyi rejected) that led Huayan to imagine a radical idealism based on the Suchness Mind. Yet as we queried above in the case of the Awakening of Faith: whence then comes delusion. The defilements are simply accidental and inconceivable (Yu-Lan, and Derk, 101).

However, as Ignorance Tiantai is privation of wisdom with no ontological reality of its own, it can be removed by wisdom. This is the logical Indian answer. The Awakening of Faith, however, has suggested a Chinese answer. This work has taken in the 'substance and function' paradigm that Wangbi pioneered. Calling Suchness substance, it compares it to a body of water. Ignorance is presented as the wind. The idea then has the wind of Ignorance Riffling up the water of Suchness into the waves of samsara (Anderson, 157).

In spite of being unconcerned about having a religion, the Chinese people are still highly religious. Their religious qualities are well presented by some very unique cultural behaviors. The most representative behaviors involve worshipping ancestors and moral heroes, together with the craving for immortality. Nevertheless, in spite of having different behavioral purposes, they share some fundamental qualities common in Buddhism. The ultimate common quality is humanism, a fundamental quality of Chinese culture. The Chinese world of spirits or supernatural beings is very humanistic compared with that of the Western world. For the Chinese, the supernatural world and the natural world are not sharply distinct from one another. The distance between human beings and deities is very narrow.