Western philosophy is a vast intellectual tradition, the product of thousands of years of revolutionary thought built up by a rich collection of brilliant minds. When most of us study philosophy, we're focusing only on the Western intellectual tradition brought about by people such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Nietzsche. But to understand the Western intellectual tradition is to only get half of the story.
Just as important, and just as valid a contribution to philosophy, is the Eastern intellectual tradition. Eastern philosophy is also the product of thousands of years of thought and was also built up by a distinct group of brilliant thinkers. Among these are
- the Buddha,
- Gandhi, and
Their ideas demonstrate fascinating, wholly different ways of approaching, understanding, and solving the same fundamental questions that concerned the West's greatest thinkers, such as
- the existence of God,
- the meaning of life,
- the nature of truth and reality,
- the organization of government and society,
- the significance of suffering, and
- the roots of a well-lived life.
To explore Eastern perspectives on these issues is to embark on an illuminating journey into the heart of grand, but often unfamiliar, civilizations. It's also a thought-provoking way to understand the surprising connections and differences between East and West, and to strengthen your knowledge of cultures that play increasingly important roles in our globalized 21st-century world.
Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition is an epic, comprehensive survey of the East's most influential philosophers and thinkers. In 36 lectures, award-winning Professor Grant Hardy of the University of North Carolina at Asheville introduces you to the men and women responsible for molding Asian philosophy and for giving birth to a wide variety of spiritual and ideological systems, including Hinduism, Daoism, Confucianism, Sufism, and Buddhism. By focusing on these key thinkers in their historical contexts, you'll witness the development of these rich traditions as they shaped and defined Eastern cultures through the rise and fall of empires, the friendly and hostile encounters with each other and with the Western world, and the rapid advancements of the modern age.
Eastern Philosophy Made Clear
When compared with the West, Eastern philosophical thought is much more inextricably linked with spiritual concepts and beliefs. To help you make sense of the unfamiliar nature of Eastern philosophy and its strong ties with spirituality, Professor Hardy has organized this course into four basic parts.
- Part One traces the origins of Eastern philosophy in the cosmological and theological views that arose in India and China beginning around 1200 B.C., including Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, and Daoism.
- Part Two explores the famous developers of legalism, Mahayana and Chinese Buddhism, yoga, and other intellectual schools that emerged during the age of early Eastern empires and built on the foundations of the past.
- Part Three focuses on the great thinkers who flourished starting in the early 12th century, many of whose schools of thought—including Sikhism, Vedanta Hinduism, and Neo-Confucianism—revolutionized cultural notions of society, aesthetics, and faith.
- Part Four delves into the modern era, when the convergence of East and West spurred the development of philosophical beliefs that became even more politicized and blended with independence movements and that reacted to ideologies such as Communism and capitalism.
In most lectures, Professor Hardy focuses on two key individuals, often taking a comparative approach to their lives, their views, and their legacies on various schools of thought. The result is a learning experience that makes a seemingly intimidating stretch of time and a diverse cast of characters approachable and understandable.
Throughout your chronological journey, you'll spend a majority of time among the three major countries that form the core of the Eastern intellectual tradition, exploring their unique philosophical themes and spiritual paths.
- India: The concepts of reincarnation, cosmic justice, and liberation; a focus on logical analysis and direct insight (often achieved through yoga or meditation); the union of religion and politics; and more.
- China: A constant appeal to the past in guiding the present; practical views that highlight harmony, balance, and social order; a keen appreciation of the cycles of nature; a form of politics that balances legal constraints with personal ethics; and more.
- Japan: The adaptation and transformation of Confucianism; a distinct philosophy of aesthetics; a focus on group identity and consensus; an openness to adaptation from the Western world; and more.
You'll also travel to places like Korea, Tibet, and Iran, exploring their own contributions to the East's grand philosophical dialogue.
Meet Familiar—and Unfamiliar—Geniuses
So who exactly are the greatest minds in Eastern philosophical thought?
While there are probably too many to count, Professor Hardy focuses on several dozen major figures who have had the greatest impact on Asian intellectual history, and whose influence has often extended beyond cultural borders.
"I am confident that the great minds who have been included in this course will give you a basic understanding of Asian intellectual history and a good foundation for further studies," he says.
Among the many sages, mystics, poets, revolutionaries, critics, novelists, politicians, and scientists you encounter in Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition are some you may have heard of before but have never gotten an in-depth introduction to.
- Zarathustra: This ancient Persian priest was the father of Zoroastrianism, a belief system that spread throughout the near East and parts of the West. Zarathustra's greatest insight was that the universe is characterized by dualism, with good and evil locked in a cosmic conflict in which individuals must choose one side or the other.
- The Buddha: Born Siddhartha Gautama around 563 B.C., the Buddha achieved a profound state of enlightenment after meditating under a bodhi tree. Although he retained classical ideas from Hinduism, he sharply differed from it when he taught that nothing has a soul and that any grasping at permanence ends in suffering and failure.
- Confucius: A contemporary of the Buddha, Confucius is the most significant philosopher in Chinese history. He developed a program for lifelong moral growth that would influence the culture for more than a thousand years. Confucius saw the answer to the increased violence and lawlessness of his society as rooted in the social standards of sages, not revelation.
- Gandhi: Best known for the concept of satyagraha (nonviolent resistance), this Indian independence fighter changed his philosophical ideas over time in response to particular situations. His overarching goal, however, was a more humane way of life based on self-government, self-sufficiency, and a deep connection to one's community.
Many of the great minds in this course will undoubtedly be new to you, but despite their unfamiliarity, you'll learn that their lives and views held just as profound an influence on the course of Eastern philosophy and history. Four of the many figures you'll come face to face with are
- Ashoka, the Indian ruler and Buddhist convert whose role in the spread of Buddhism is similar to that of Emperor Constantine's in Christianity;
- Prince Shotoku, one of the most admired individuals in Japan and author of a 17-article constitution that, unlike the U.S. Constitution, was a list of moral injunctions on leadership;
- Patanjali, the Indian philosopher who developed yoga as a means not for stress reduction or flexibility but for people to escape life's suffering and achieve spiritual liberation; and
- Nanak, a contemporary of Martin Luther who became the first Sikh guru and taught that salvation comes when the soul, after cycles of reincarnation, is finally united with the One God.
A Powerful Gateway into Eastern Thought
Professor Hardy is renowned for his expertise on Eastern culture and his passionate teaching skills. The University of North Carolina at Asheville honored him with its distinguished Teacher Award for the Arts and Humanities Faculty, and named him to a prestigious Ruth and Leon Feldman Professorship. Whether he's describing the tiniest evolutionary change in Japanese philosophical schools, unearthing the hidden pearls of wisdom in ancient Chinese koans and poems, or breaking down the complexities of the Hindu pantheon, Professor Hardy is an authoritative guide who will no doubt intrigue and enlighten you.
Often regarded as impenetrable, Eastern philosophy is surprisingly more accessible (and sometimes more familiar) than you may have imagined. And Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition is a powerful gateway into a unique collection of customs, ideas, beliefs, and attitudes—and the brilliant individuals responsible for them.