When Did Eastern Philosophy Begin? A Timeline

eastern philosophy

Most of the Western world is influenced by the philosophy of the Ancient Greeks, the theology of Christianity and science and rationalism of the Enlightenment.

The Eastern philosophy of many Asian civilizations offers us another perspective on the world. Many of the concepts and ideas of both Western and Eastern thought have its origins in the writings of key figures throughout history.

It’s important to understand how the history of Eastern thought has influenced contemporary Asia and the rest of the world.

Let’s take a look at the beginning of Eastern philosophy and how it compares with the development of Western thought.

1. Lao Tzu

Around the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great and the philosophical writings of the Greek thinker Plato, Lao Tzu was living in turmoil in Ancient China.

The exact timing when Lao Tzu lived is highly debated, but it’s widely believed that he lived through the Warring States Period in 4th Century B.C. China.

Lao Tzu is the founder of Taoism, also known as Daoism. Most of his philosophy is written down in his famous book the Tao Te Ching.

His most powerful concept is the notion of the Tao. No intro to Eastern philosophy can do the idea of the Tao justice. But here it goes!

The Tao roughly translates as “the way.” It’s an invisible structure which governs the universe.

The goal of life, for Lao Tzu, is to live in oneness with the Tao. This contrasts significantly with the Western tradition, which argues that we should either resist or dominant nature.

2. Siddhartha Gautama

You might not have heard of Siddhartha Gautama. After all, Siddhartha Gautama is much better known by the name of Buddha. He is the founder of the worldwide contemporary religion and spiritual movement of Buddhism.

The Buddha was an Indian prince who is thought to have lived around the 6th and 5th century B.C.

A contemporary of the founder of Western philosophy Socrates, Buddha has an important influence on the origins of Eastern thought.

Buddha’s Four Noble Truths remain a significant part of the Buddhist teachings. The concept of Nirvana features heavily in Buddha’s teachings. The idea approximately translates to the Western idea of enlightenment and liberation.

Buddhism also has deep links with meditation and other spiritual practices.

3. Confucius

Confucious is one of the most influential figures in Chinese philosophical traditions. He lived in the 6th to 5th century B.C., which means he lived around the same time as the Buddha and Socrates.

But what marks Confucius as different to the two of them is that he was a prolific writer. In addition to the famous Analects, we have poetic, historical and political works by this Chinese sage. Much of Confucius writings concentrate on the importance of rules, rites, and law.

There are also clear parallels between his ideas and Western ideas. For instance, his famous phrase, “do not do to others what you do not want to be done to yourself”, echoes Christian teachings.

4. Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu is the author of one of the most important books of all time. It’s called the Art of War.

Also a figure of the 6th and 5th century B.C., he was a general in the Wu province. Along with the Renaissance writer Machiavelli, Sun Tzu regularly features the essential reads of CEOs and other high-flying people.

While Confuscious commented on almost every aspect of life apart from war, Sun Tzu exclusively wrote about war.

However, his writings on the battlefield can be transferred to many other fields of life. For example, his wisdom can be found in profound quotes such as, “Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

5. Rumi

Rumi was a Persian philosopher, poet, and Sufi Mystic. His ideas resulted in the establishment of the ‘Mewlewi Sufi Order‘ by his followers in the 13th century. Rumi’s writings present a deep exploration of spirituality in which faith rather than doctrine was of primary importance.

This makes Rumi a contemporary of the influential Italian theologian St. Thomas Aquinas. While Aquinas was crucial to the formation of many modern ideas of the Roman Catholic Church, Rumi had an even greater impact on the Islamic world.

But Rumi has also had a profound impact on European and American poetry and literary traditions. This has seen Rumi described as “the best selling poet” in the US.

6. Guru Nanak

Although he lived hundreds of years after the other thinkers of Eastern philosophies, Guru Nanak has been described as “one of the greatest religious innovators of all time“. It’s influential life and works make it easy to see why.

Guru Nanak was the founder of the contemporary world religion of Sikhism, which is currently followed by 24 million people around the world. In 1499, he went on a spiritual adventure in which he returned with the belief that Muslims and Hindus were mistaken.

He produced the sacred text of Guru Granth Sahib and believed that Sikhs should worship one deity. He promoted honesty, simplicity, and devotion to God. There’s nothing quite like Guru Nanak in the Western philosophical tradition.

Learn More About Eastern Philosophy

By studying the wisdom and truth of Eastern philosophy we can learn how to see the world differently.

You don’t have to be a scholar of philosophy or theology to engage with the writings of many of the most influential thinkers of all time. All you need to do is pick up a book and start your journey.

Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Would you like to learn more about Eastern philosophies? Check out the rest of our blog posts on Eastern thought and much more.

Speak Your Mind