Eastern Approaches to Metaphysics

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has an M.A in instructional education.

In philosophy, metaphysics considers reality and ideas about identity, cause, and related concepts. Review Eastern concepts of monism, Brahman, and views on morality to understand the difference between Eastern and Western perspectives on metaphysics. Updated: 11/03/2021

Metaphysics

My husband's best friend lives in China. Although he is an American, he has spent so many years in Asia that it feels more like home to him than does U.S. soil. When he does come here, he often remarks how different the American thought process is from that of the Eastern world. Several times a visit, he usually mentions how the West seems to value independence and freedom, while the East honors being part of a bigger whole. Rather interestingly, a philosopher would probably tell us this difference is directly linked to the metaphysics of the East versus the metaphysics of the West. Quite fittingly, this is the topic of today's lesson.

However, before we jump into the differences between the East and the West, we should probably define metaphysics. Keeping it simple, metaphysics is the part of philosophy that deals with concepts like being, substance, cause and identity. To really oversimplify, we could say it's the study of how things came to be and what caused them. It answers questions like 'What causes change?', or 'What sort of forces act beyond the world we see?'

Keeping this in mind, the metaphysics of the East and West definitely differ. The main difference is that Western metaphysics tends to hold to dualism, while Eastern metaphysics centers on monism. As a way to help us gain understanding of the East, we'll first look at the West.

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  • 0:01 Metaphysics
  • 1:23 Monism
  • 2:10 Brahman & Morality
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Monism

When discussing metaphysics in the Western world, many philosophers link it to dualism. Trying to keep things simple, dualism is the concept that reality or existence is divided into two parts. For instance, in most Western religions, people think the body is separate from the soul. When someone dies, the body remains in the ground while their soul does not. Applying this to the living, dualism sees you as separate from me. Keeping this in mind, let's use this information to better understand Eastern metaphysics.

Almost the complete opposite of Western dualism, is the East's monism. Again working to keep things simple, we'll define monism as the theory which denies any distinction between the physical world and the unseen world. Putting it even simpler, monism holds that everything is one.

Brahman & Morality

To nail this down, let's take a look at the Eastern concept of Brahman. According to Eastern philosophy, and especially Hinduism, Brahman is the great unchanging reality that makes up everything. Although a very nebulous concept, the East sees Brahman as the highest reality of which we are all a part. Again, everything is one.

Rather than you being you and me being me, we are actually just parts of a bigger whole. Rather than my dog just being an animal and me being a completely separate human, we are both part of a greater something. We are all part of a greater energy that governs the seen and the unseen world.

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