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Tapping Eastern wisdom to discover my self

Updated: 2023-08-18 07:58 ( CHINA DAILY )
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In 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche stated that "god is dead". The era that followed could be described as a collective philosophical panic attack in the West. It led to attempts to understand and experience the self and find meaning through logic, reasoning and mathematics. These methods weren't exactly aberrations; Socrates and Plato made similar attempts millennia before. Modern philosophers were standing on tried and tested lines of thinking in order to address the largest philosophical questions. Still, theirs were not the only paths toward enlightenment. After all, the Beatles found Buddha.

Eastern religions and philosophies have been tackling material existence for longer and, in this writer's humble opinion, more successfully. As a budding existentialist, I find many wonderful similarities between that broad field of philosophy and Buddhism. Both seem to emphasize that suffering is at the very essence of existence, and that the work of being involves striving to understand that suffering. Both seek to define the self and its relationship with the material world, though not all through the same lens. Making these sorts of connections reminds me that the experience of existence — if not, at least, the illusion of it — is shared.

From a Buddhist perspective, the "individual self" and its surroundings are one and the same; any attempt to separate them would be an illusion. This reminds me of the British moral philosopher Derek Parfit, who argued that people don't exist apart from their components. In his view, the brain, the body and the identity are entirely inseparable. In fact, he also claimed that his views would align well with Buddhism. So I was delighted to learn that he was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in 1942, showing me once again that there is not so much distance between Western and Eastern cultures after all.

My first awareness of this fact came when I was in my teens, upon discovering that my quaint hometown of Chino Valley in Arizona, with a humble population of around 10,000, had its very own Buddhist temple just a brief 30-minute drive away. Today, I would not be so surprised. There is a stickiness to Buddhist philosophy that attracts Western audiences, from its notable influence on The Beatles to its growing uses in psychotherapy. In his book, Why Buddhism Is True, Robert Wright details how modern secular philosophy, psychology and neuroscience are uncovering secrets about our identity that Buddha already uncovered long ago, albeit with different terminology. He argues that through meditation and mindfulness, Buddhist practitioners developed an awareness of the self, and the language to describe it. The book is a New York Times Bestseller.

The roots of Buddhist philosophy exist in my life, and I expect that they will continue to deepen. I've only begun to explore my "self" and to attempt to develop meditation and mindfulness. They are, after all, lifelong journeys. I am reminded of an expression I came across when visiting the Big Buddha in Hong Kong: "The greatest journey is one in which you don't travel at all." Whether it be through Western or Eastern philosophy, let us seek inward for the greatest peace.

Haydn James Fogel

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