What is Far Eastern Thought?

As you think about the worldview that dominates much of the Far East, you may be thinking that this is something you don’t personally need to pay much attention to. You may have run across a few folks from India, China or Japan who have Hindu or Buddhist roots, but that is hardly something which significantly intersects your circle of relationships, right?

 

Well, you may want to think again. While you might not know too many people who come directly out of this worldview, you certainly know people who have been significantly influenced by it. In fact, you may have some of its influence in your own life without even realizing it.

 

If you know people who claim to follow New Age practices or have gotten into Transcendental Meditation, you interact with this worldview. If you know anyone who believes in reincarnation or karma, you deal with this worldview. If you know yoga devotees, you know people who are influenced by Far Eastern Thought. If you deal with people who believe that all of life is connected by a universal life force, you are dealing with this worldview. If you enjoy the Star Wars movies or TV shows like Babylon 5 and Kung Fu, you are seeing pantheistic beliefs being literally pumped into society through images which bypass the intellect.

 

Whether you like it or not, we live in a world where transportation and communication technology has spread every worldview into every corner. It is essential that Christians understand the basics so we can live out our own faith and stand up for the real Truth.

 

Basic Premise

The reason we call this worldview Far Eastern Thought is because it originated, and is most prominent, in the Far East. The ultimate end of the most prominent forms of Far Eastern Thought is the absorption of individuals into an all-encompassing, impersonal cosmos.

 

The most basic belief of Far Eastern Thought is that all of life is composed of a single substance and is all interconnected. Adherents believe that in our earthly existence it may seem like there are independent and individual life forms, but that is merely an illusion of our physical existence. In truth, our life form is part of a larger whole which manifests itself in numerous forms. We are connected at an essential level with every other living thing.

 

When our life on this earth ends, it is asserted that this is not the end of our essential essence. Our part of the web of life is slowly but surely working its way to a point where the individual form we now experience merges with the whole, and we lose our individual identity. So, when this current life cycle ends, we will reincarnate into a different form and go through the cycle again, always working toward our final unity with the cosmos.

 

In Far Eastern Thought, the thing that determines our progress on this path toward oneness with the whole is karma. Karma relates to the deeds a person does in their current life. If a person does right, this goodness is applied to their lives and allows forward movement. Wrong actions apply to the life force and generate backward movement. Karma is not only applied to the present life, but also to reincarnated states. Living rightly in this life allows a person to move to a higher level in the next life, and thus closer to the point of unity with the whole.

 

History

Far Eastern Thought has its foundations in Hinduism which, through the centuries, has split off into related offshoots. It actually originated with the Aryan peoples who moved from what is now modern day Iran. They immigrated to the Indus Valley in northwestern India somewhere around 1500 B.C. Over the next several centuries they conquered the entire subcontinent and brought with them the religion that was common in Iran at that time. The Aryans were polytheistic and had an elaborate system of sacrifices which led to the formation of a priesthood (the Brahmins). This later evolved further into the caste system.

 

Prior to that arrival of the Aryans, the people of India had a somewhat Animistic religious tradition. This early time is usually called the pre-Vedic period. At this time the people were polytheistic and worshiped a Mother Goddess and a horned god.

 

The Vedic period began around 1500 B.C. when the Aryans invaded northern India and imposed their Vedic civilization and religion on the Indians.

 

Around 600 B.C. came the Upanishadic period when Hinduism became a more philosophical religion and developed into the popular religion of the masses. During this time, the Vedic religion boiled all the gods down into a single pantheistic principle (the absolute universal soul, or Brahman) with the belief that the universe is god and god is the universe. This completed the process of evolution from which the major tenets of Hinduism emerged.

 

There were three basic ways that the underlying themes of Far Eastern Thought morphed and spread throughout the Far Eastern world. One was through various individuals who saw hypocrisy and decline in the religion and created reform movements which were slightly different than what they left. These reform movements caught the imagination of many people and spread widely throughout that region of the world. Another cause of its spread happened as elements of the religions of conquered peoples became syncretized into the Hindu ideas. This made them more acceptable to the conquered masses. A third way was that certain individuals actually created new religious forms as a means of making the beliefs more appealing to people in other countries or regions. These various conditions ended up creating a diversity of religions and groups all based on the underlying themes of Far Eastern Thought.

 

Belief Systems Which Come from Far Eastern Thought

There are a number of different religious traditions which have Far Eastern Thought as their core worldview. These include:

∙     Hinduism

∙     Hare Krishna

∙     Transcendental Meditation

∙     Buddhism

∙     Taoism

∙     Jainism

∙     Sikhism

∙     New Age (though there are other elements here, as well)

 

How Far Eastern Thought Answers the 7 Worldview Questions?

1. What is the nature of ultimate reality?

Ultimate reality is impersonal, pantheistic (god is everything and everything is god), and monistic (all of reality is composed of different forms of a single substance).

2. What is the nature of material reality?

Material reality is impersonal, illusory, and seeking oneness.

3. What is a human being?

Personality and individuality are illusions. Humans are simply a life force striving toward oneness.

4. What happens to a person at death?

At death, the life force recycles (reincarnates) into another form.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?

Knowledge is an illusion. Nothing exists as it appears.

6. How do we know right and wrong?

The cosmos is perfect at every moment. Good and evil are an illusion.

7. What is the meaning of human history?

Time, as we experience it, is an illusion. Reality moves in cycles.

 

Practical Implications of Far Eastern Thought

The ultimate impact of Far Eastern Thought on culture is to promote a type of passivism concerning ones place in life. It is asserted that when a person (or any life form, for that matter) reincarnates into this world, it is the direct result of the way that their life essence lived in its previous incarnation. As a result, their place in life is fixed and there is nothing that they can, or should, do to move to a different station. Moving up in ones life station only happens at the next incarnation.

 

So, if you are born in this life as a peasant, you should become the best peasant you possibly can. If you were born a Christian or Muslim, be the best one you can. If you do, you might possibly move up into a good Hindu culture, or a higher level in a Hindu culture, the next time around, and become closer to the ultimate goal of being absorbed into the impersonal “One.”

 

In Far Eastern Thought there is an essential unity between all of life. There is no distinction between the secular and the divine – everything is god and god is everything. All of reality is composed of, and reducible to, a single substance. Everything that exists is simply a different form of the same basic material that is ever moving toward an ultimate unity.

 

Another implication of this worldview is that no one is able to take seriously any kind of objective reality – whether knowledge or sensory experience. It is acknowledged that there is such a thing as objective reality, but it goes on to assert that the nature of that reality is quite beyond our ability to comprehend. The goal of life, therefore, is to simply recognize that reality cannot be known and to passively live life as best we can within our current state of existence. This attitude frees a person from all of the personal sense of suffering that “seems” to be all around. When the state of total passivity is achieved, individuals are freed to simply let life come as it will.

 

There are two huge problems, though, with this kind of worldview system.

 

First, it asserts an understanding of reality that cannot be backed up. Where is there any objective indication that reincarnation actually happens? Where is there any objective evidence that karma actually operates the way they say it does? All that exists is anecdotal evidence which cannot be substantiated outside of the Far Eastern Thought worldview. And since ultimate reality is understood to be impersonal, rather than personal, there is no higher intelligence which is available to pass this information on to mankind through revelation.

 

The second problem with Far Eastern Thought is that in order to follow it consistently, a person must disavow an indispensable part of human existence. The most essential aspect of human existence is a self-conscious personality. Far Eastern Thought asserts that this is an illusion, and that our ultimate essence is impersonal. They maintain that when we reach the ultimate place in existence, we will lose the sense of self-consciousness and be absorbed into the impersonal unitary cosmos.

 

How Does Far Eastern Thought Deal with Specific Culture War Issues?

Life Issues – Abortion, Euthanasia, Suicide, Genocide, Murder, “Right to die,” Terrorism, War

These issues would typically be considered wrong. Every creature is moving on a path that takes them through successive lives toward the goal of uniting with the impersonal “One.” No one has a right to disrupt this process, and those who do will find themselves moving backward rather than forward in their next incarnation.

 

Sexual Issues – Adultery, Bigamy, Polygamy, Exhibitionism, Fornication, Homosexuality, Pedophilia, Pornography, Bestiality, Prostitution, Rape

Far Eastern Thought basically promotes a conservative attitude concerning sexual matters. It teaches to observe celibacy when single and promotes faithfulness in marriage. This attitude is founded on a basic passivity that promotes restraint. There is a basic order of the universe which includes traditional ideas about sexuality, and humans should try to live within it. Moving outside of those parameters goes against the flow of the universe and puts a person in a position to inhibit progress toward his or her proper ultimate destiny.

 

Personal Integrity Issues – Cheating, Fraud, Greed, Lying, Profanity, Revenge, Theft

These issues would all be considered wrong as they go against the natural order of things. Contentment with one’s place in life is a central value, and each of these integrity issues steps outside of that principle.

 

Physical Health Issues – Alcohol abuse, Drug abuse, Gluttony, Obesity, Smoking, Overwork, Lack of exercise

These issues would typically be considered wrong. Each of them are an indication that a person is putting physical pleasure over inner serenity. The ultimate goal is to completely put aside physical expressions of the human condition and move toward oneness with that which is beyond the physical.

 

Industriousness Issues – Gambling, Hedonism, Laziness, Begging, Mooching

Self-absorption is completely contrary to the tenets of Far Eastern Thought. The goal is to put personal desires aside, not revel in them.

 

Relationship Issues – Bigotry, Child Exploitation, Domestic Violence, Hatred, Divorce, Prejudice, Slavery, Torture

These issues would typically be considered wrong. Every creature is moving on a path that takes them through successive lives toward the goal of uniting with the impersonal “One.” No one has a right to disrupt this process, and those who do will find themselves moving backward rather than forward in their next incarnation.

 

Church-State Issues – Posting of Ten Commandments, Religious symbols on public property, Praying in school, Praying at public institutions, Government money to religious schools, Government money to religious charities, Religious organizations meeting on public property, Religious symbols included in public symbols, Religious words in the pledge of allegiance

Church-state issues are virtually meaningless to people who adhere to this worldview. The very institutions of state, as well as any other material expressions in the world, are considered to be temporary and illusory. Thus, getting involved in arguments about them has no significance. There is also no sacred-secular divide. All parts of religious and secular life are integral to one another.

 

Summary

Elements of Far Eastern Thought have become very prominent in modern Western societies. It is not at all unusual to find the ideas of reincarnation, karma and the essential unity of all life put forth as the truth about how reality is organized.

 

Of course you will, from time to time, run into people who adhere to more traditional Hindu or Buddhist beliefs. In fact, you may actually know people, even native Westerners, who are followers of one of the religions based on Far Eastern Thought. But there are an even larger number who have simply tried to incorporate various elements of Far Eastern Thought into their own religious philosophy. For example, Transcendental Meditation has been touted as a completely secular meditation technique which can be used by people of any religion, though it is actually nothing more than a way to introduce Hindu ideas without using the word Hinduism. Another example is New Age beliefs. New Age is not a singular belief system, but it is full of doctrines based on various tenets of the Far Eastern Thought worldview. There are many others who simply pull elements of this worldview into their life philosophy as it is introduced by popular movies like Star Wars.

 

It is essential that we understand the Far Eastern Thought worldview so that when we bump up against it, we will be able to discern what is false. Only then will we be in a position to share the real truth of Jesus Christ.