A degree in philosophy might not be on the list of things people most want to do, and when I was facing my first philosophy classes I don’t mind saying I was somewhat intimidated beforehand. Philosophy books were never on the most read shelf of my bookcase, however, I soon came to realize that eastern philosophy in particular had everything to do with how I want to live my life. It doesn’t take a phd in philosophy or any other discipline to understand how living a virtuous life and learning respect for nature, and other people, can only be of benefit, in every way conceivable.
Lao Tzu’s philosophical ideas placed a major emphasis on peace. His idea was that a virtuous lifestyle was advantageous to all mankind, and those who adhered to such a life could ultimately reach a point of contented self-realization and inner harmony. Similarly, Confucius and Yamamoto Tsunetomo regarded inner peace as something to strive for, however, for Confucius and Tsunetomo, being well furnished with aggressive know-how was also an asset.
Perhaps the most significant view for Lao, though, was that being ignorant was not only acceptable, it was a profound part of the journey to enlightenment. Lao thought that no man could be wise to every fact about life, nature, and the universe, and fully understanding the Way (Tao) completely, was not possible because it is the nature of all men to possess some level of ignorance. I think that Lao’s key contribution to philosophy was his promotion of humility. He maintained that being virtuous and kind was not for the benefit of oneself; rather, it was to foster the same traits in others for the benefit of all humanity.
Lao’s strategy for conflict was “not to advance an inch, but to retreat a mile” (Moore & Bruder, p.539). Lao thought that by retreating from possible conflict before it began, he could gain victory using a more peaceful resolution, and without bloodshed. Confucius, on the other hand, had vastly different thoughts about the acceptance and merits of ignorance and conflict resolution.
While Lao Tzu said that mankind should be content to accept all situations and consequences with grace, patience and dignity, Confucius’ idea was that ignorance was detrimental to one’s quest for self-fulfillment. He thought it could be dangerous, particularly for governments who should lead by example. During unrest, ignorance of oneself and of one’s enemy could mean the difference between life and death. About the Way, Confucius said “it is man that can make the Way great, not the Way that can make the man great” (Moore & Bruder, p.545). This is contradictory to Lao’s philosophy. Confucius’ prescription for life-long learning is significant today, and has been for many centuries. Yamamoto Tsunetomo also proposed a life of constant learning, and this philosophy is referred to in society today, especially in the competitive arena (Moore & Bruder, p.565).
Tsunetomo’s philosophy on peace and aggression was similar to Confucius’; his key contribution was the art of self-discipline. He emphasized total focus as a necessity for life, and that ignorance was in no way beneficial to mankind. Tsunetomo said that man must be skilled in peace, knowledge of oneself as well as others, and just as importantly, he should be able to attack or defend himself with the utmost conviction, and at a moment’s notice. Tsunetomo also spoke of the here and now as being vitally important, and is quoted as saying “there is nothing other than the single purpose of the present moment” (Moore & Bruder, p. 567).
Having been a warrior himself, Yamamoto reasoned that any lack of understanding of the self or of another person, or any hesitation may well result in death, therefore, man must also contemplate his own death in meditation, because of its inevitability. The discipline necessary for distinction in the martial arts is still practiced today. If for no other reason, learning Karate or Judo can help to develop skills necessary to excel in fields of business or personal life. In an article by Michael Sams, it was stated that confidence and the ability to cope under duress were some of the benefits of martial arts. Sams says the “main tenants of martial arts are discipline, honor, confidence, and perseverance” (Para 4)
All three philosophies have differences, but the attainment of inner peace, humility, and the betterment of mankind are notably universal skills we should all strive to master. Lao Tzu’s philosophy is most significant with reference to peace; however, much can be said for a government who is willing to lead by example with virtuous activity (Confucius) and the Samurai philosophy of learning about self-esteem, confidence, and respect for others.
If after reading a little about this subject and you decide that it is something you’d like to pursue further, an online philosophy degrees can be obtained through many accredited colleges, or alternatively, you can incorporate a philosophy class into your current schedule by taking philosophy as an elective. I have found the information to be more inspirational than confusing now that I have a better understanding of the concepts of both eastern and western philosophy. Leadership philosophy and/or political philosophy might be something to consider too, if you have any interest in business and politics.
Axia College of University of Phoenix. (2010). Eastern Religious Philosophy. Retrieved January 20, 2010, from Axia College, Week Seven reading, aXcess, PHI105— INTRODUCTION TO PHILOSOPHY Web site.
Sams, M. (n.d.). Discipline: How Martial Arts Helps our Kids . Retrieved January 20, 2010, from NATKD: http://www.natkd.com/discipline.htm