Philosophy buffs need to look beyond the more familiar “Western” perspectives if they want develop a more global worldview.
These 8 “Eastern” philosophers have had a huge impact on the ideas of the world, leaving their mark on philosophy and culture. There’s of course many more philosophers worthy of your attention, but this is a pretty good start.
The founder of Taoism outlined his globally popular philosophy in the Tao Te Ching between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C. — and some even debate whether or not he was a real or apocryphal individual. In his most influential work, he touts the concept of the Tao, an invisible structure which drives all things, and believes enlightenment comes from attaining oneness with the surrounding universe. Harmony with nature as opposed to working against its will forms the crux of this religious and philosophical approach, making it ideal for anyone hoping to reduce stresses in their lives.
The prince Siddhartha Gautama probably lived around the 6th or 5th century B.C., but even today his spiritual guidance inspires millions of practitioners globally. Although details of his life will likely remain disputed for a while yet, the Four Noble Truths Buddha taught stay largely static. The philosophy and faith encourages the pursuit of these principles through as many lifetimes as it takes to finally achieve perfect bliss and knowledge in Nirvana.
In his Analects — and, some theorize, the Five Classics (Spring and Autumn Annals, Classic of Poetry, Classic of Changes, Classic of Rites, and Classic of History) — this 6th and 5th century B.C. thinker promoted ancestor worship, strong filial bonds, and considerate living. Many of the parables and maxims shared in Confucius’ writings espouse humanistic ideologies, placing the well-being of all over the needs of the few. Li, an ethical framework encouraging the populace to behave appropriately, serves as the best introduction to his philosophies for beginners hoping to learn more.
Rumi’s poetry and philosophy regarding Sufi mysticism directly led to the establishment of the Mewlewi Sufi Order, known to most of the “Western” world as the “Whirling Dervishes,” following his passing. During the 13th century, lush lyrical works such as the collections Matnawiye Ma’nawi and Diwan-e Kabir explored spirituality so intensely, so provocatively, much of the Islamic intellectual and creative world at the time found him absolutely inspiring. For him and his followers, faith stood as a deeply personal journey with minimal adherence to a rigid doctrine.
The Art of War sits on the shelves of colonels and CEOs alike because its details of successful psychological strategies hold applications far beyond the battlefield. Although, of course, militaries across Asia — especially those in China, Japan, and Vietnam — used it to dictate the direction of everything from small skirmishes to the revolution against French colonials. Unlike most (but not all!) of the other major “Eastern” philosophers, Sun Tzu’s advice and aphorisms never touched upon spiritual matters, but remained largely planted in terra firma.