Most analysis of philosophy has focused on the philosophy of western civilization. Yet billions of people have lived their lives under what can be called an Eastern Worldview. The main catalyst for the Eastern Worldview, which comprises India and much of Asia, is the two most prominent eastern world religions—Hinduism and Buddhism. While distinct from each other, both of these religions are agreed on major aspects of reality.
There are several characteristics of the Eastern Worldview. The first is that time and history are viewed as circular or cyclical. Much like the seasons of the year, history moves in cycles not in a linear fashion as western religions and philosophies have asserted. Thus, with eastern thinking there is no finite point in which the universe began and no finite point in which the universe will end.
A second key belief of the Eastern Worldview is the “cycle of rebirths” or “reincarnation.” According to the Eastern Worldview, the current life of a person is probably not his first. In fact, each person alive today has probably experienced hundreds of previous lives and will experience many more in the future. In a previous life one may have been a bush or a lion or another human being. This cycle of rebirths will continue until a person reaches moksha or “liberation” from the cycle of rebirths. The universal force or law that governs one’s cycle of rebirths is karma. When people do bad things they increase their karmic debt and will have a more difficult time reaching liberation. A person who does good and selfless acts will lighten his karmic debt and put himself closer to liberation.
A third key belief of the Eastern Worldview is that the Absolute in the universe is personless and indescribable. In Hinduism, this Absolute is Brahman. At times, Brahman may manifest itself in various gods such as Vishnu, but it cannot be described as possessing human characteristics. Buddhism borders on atheism in that it does not hold to anything that closely resembles a western conception of God.
A fourth key belief of the Eastern Worldview is the belief that a person’s main goal in life is to rid oneself of all cravings and desires and to merge with the Absolute. In Hinduism, the goal is to merge oneself with Brahman. In Buddhism, the goal is to reach Nirvana, a state in which one is free from suffering. Both Brahman and Nirvana are by nature indescribable and union with them cannot be put into words. With the Eastern Worldview, a person’s life is a like a drop of water that becomes one with the ocean when dropped into the sea.