Religion – Eastern vs. Western Thought


I have been challenged by many people who state that I’m following the wrong spiritual path and that I will end up in an eternal place of torment.  I greatly admire their concern for my soul and thankful that they have taken the time to try to convert me.  However, I do believe that the concept of eternal torment for following the wrong spiritual path is error.  One of the reasons I believe that is because everyone has been raised differently and has different views of life.  I will discuss one of these
differences in this blog.  The difference is Western thought vs. Eastern thought.  I think if we learned from an Eastern mindset when it comes to religion we could learn to be more accepting of our differences and throw out the whole “I’m right, your wrong” attitude that some carry when it comes to their religious beliefs.  These thought patterns are something that has been around sense ancient times and still have a strong influence on society. What you’ll read below is actual part of a college book report I did based on the book “The Geography of Thought” by Richard E. Nisbett which goes into great detail regarding the differences of thought.

Ancient Greek thought.

The ancient Greeks had a strong sense of personal agency and individuality was very important to them. It was normal in their society to have debates whether it was in the market place or at an assembly.  The Greeks were interested in nature of the world and how things work.  Individuality can even be found in Greek music, which is polyphonic.  Singers and Musicians would not always be playing the same notes at the same time.  Attributes of objects including people were important to the Greeks such as an object being blue, hard, heavy, etc.  They saw the world as unchanging.  Greece was a trading center so this caused them to meet more people from various places. This may have played a part in their emphasis on individuality and gaining understanding through debate. Having people from different parts of the world coming and going would have brought in various ideas from different cultures and religions.  Being that the Greeks did not view everything as a
whole, but rather that objects were made up of parts they would practice surgery in their medicine. Classifying objects and giving rules to them was important to
the Greeks.  They were fascinated by the concept of contradiction.  In other words, if one thing contradicted another it couldn’t be true.  This type of thinking brought forth the concept of logic.  A simple example would be if A = B, and B does not = C then A cannot equal C.

Ancient Chinese Thought

The ancient Chinese laid a heavy focus on relationships as they greatly valued spending time with family and friends.  Because of this, individually wasn’t as important to them as harmony.  They tended to avoid debating and would do their best to get along with those around them.  Even when it came to music the Chinese singers and musicians would all play the same notes at the same time.  This does not mean that differences between people were not recognized.  Rather, the Chinese took a more holistic view of things.  Just as there are many parts in a clock that are necessary to make it work as a whole, there are different people who are needed to work as a whole.  Unlike Greek thought they saw the world as in a state of constant change.  They generally didn’t see events as being good or bad.  In other words, if something bad happens, something good can come from it and vice versa.  This could be seen in their religions and symbols. For example, the yin yang symbol of Tao shows the relationship of dark and light and how each is a necessary part of life.  People who worked in China did so to the benefit of the entire family, not just for the benefit of self. A sense of harmony may have occurred early on due to the fact that it was rare to encounter people from other cultures in ancient China.  Therefore, their thinking process became more unified than the Greeks.  Holistic ideas can be found in Chinese medicine such as reflexology and
acupuncture.  In reflexology certain parts of the foot relate to other parts of the body, perhaps massaging an area at the bottom of the foot can relieve a
headache.  The Chinese practice of feng shui takes the relationship of many things into consideration such as the surroundings before a building is being build.  The idea of contradiction was not prominent in China.  Rather thandismissing something because it seemed to be contradictive they would rather seek out middle ground to understand something.


One area where I believe Eastern thought would be better than Western thought is when it comes to religion.  When it comes to religion, Western thought tends to have a more of a right vs. wrong concept.  Or in other words, my religion is right and your religion is wrong.  Many religious people will not associate with other people who do not follow the same religious beliefs.  Families are broken apart because of issues over religion due to Western thinking. In the United States, Christianity is the prominent religion.  One of the teachings of Christianity is that their relationship with their god is more important than their relationship with family, friends, spouse, and even children.  Therefore, some assume that they must forsake people who they feel interfere with their relationship with their god.  History has shown that
when this type of thinking goes to the extreme the results are often bad.  Many people have been executed in the name of Christianity for such things as being
suspected of heresy, witchcraft, etc. even though this wasn’t the behavior of those who originally founded Christianity.  Wars have been fought over people
thinking that their religion was the correct one and others were wrong.  However, Eastern thought puts a heavy emphasis on relationships and coming to middle ground.  To break away from family and friends over religious ideas probably doesn’t happen nearly to the same degree for those with an Eastern mindset.  Middle ground is often sought and one can be associated with different religious beliefs such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity. This kind of thinking is much less likely to produce war and bloodshed.  A Buddhist is not going to bring harm to a Taoist because there is disagreement.  I’m not trying to knock Christianity as a whole, as there are many things that one can learn from the religion. I just think that using an Eastern mindset when it comes to religion may help people to be more accepting of one another and cut down on division over religious area.  No one knows for certain what the correct religion is so perhaps it would be better to find the positive in
various religious and spiritual ideas while throwing out the more negative ideas.