from the world's big
7 essential Eastern philosophy books
Discover the holistic and all-encompassing philosophies of the ancient East.
- Taoist philosophy teaches its adherents the paradoxical action of non-action.
- Over three thousand years ago, the I Ching conceptualized binary code and influenced major asian religions
- Ram Dass and Herman Hesse synthesized western scientific and philosophic views with traditional eastern religions to inform their teachings.
All cultures in the world have sought to develop an understanding of themselves, their realities and seek deeper truths. While the scientific and reductionist worldview of European thought has labored to formulate and postulate on the world, a divergence of thought also flourished throughout the East with a more holistic view of existence. These ideals and differing thoughts have certainly pollinated and crossed one another throughout the years. Today, the old dichotomy and division of Eastern and Western thought has largely dissolved or converged. In the past century or so, these views of the world were more alienated from one another.
In a more seemingly rapid paced world without sanctuary or peace of mind, it's time we return to these books on Eastern philosophy. Discover what has been lost and what can be found again.
Tao Te Ching
This influential and widely known Chinese text is attributed to the great sage Lao Tzu. Short and whimsical, the "Tao Te Ching" reads more like folky Aesop's fables than fundamental religious doctrine. It's a slim book and a quick read, but leaves behind new profundities on the nature of being and reality. Stephen Mitchell's poetic translation keeps the wisdom intact.
Considered the foundational text for Taoism, the "Tao Te Ching" leads its reader into a newfound, harmonious way of existing in the world. Taoism is the paradoxical concept of non-action or "doing not-doing". Mitchell writes in the introduction that: "The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can't tell the dancer from the dance."
"Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity."
– Lao Tzu
"The Analects" are a collection of Confucius' sayings after the fact; they were written sometime after his death in 497 BCE. Confucius' goal was to create and uphold the ideal vision of what a man should be. He wanted to perfect one's moral character and develop the methods toward pursuing such a grand goal.
Drawing from many different ancient Chinese texts and philosophies already in existence, the philosophy or religion of Confucianism has gone through many iterations. It shares a similarity with Christianity and the works of Socrates as both these philosophies and religions had the words of their leaders written after their deaths by their devotees.
One of the great classics of world literature, "The Analects" have to be read firsthand to be truly understood.
"Not to discuss with a man worthy of conversation is to waste the man. To discuss with a man not worthy of conversation is to waste words. The wise waste neither men nor words." – Confucius, "The Analects"
The I Ching
"The I Ching" has had an immense influence on the world. It's influenced Chinese thought for thousands of years and radically changed notions of mathematics and psychology in the West within the past few centuries. As the basis for binary code and a whole slew of other interesting phenomenon, "The I Ching" is one of the oldest efforts to try to reconcile the human mind into the greater cosmic scheme of things.
Richard Wilhelm's translation is the definitive book on "The I Ching", serving as both a reference, commentary and faithful rendition of the original text. The book can be used in a number of ways, and it stands as both the source for Confucianist and Taoist philosophy.
The Bhagavad Gita
Nowhere is there a more full picture of the rich spiritual realm and world of the Hindu faith. Considered to be a masterpiece of Sanskrit poetry, "The Bhagavad Gita" is one of our best sources for ancient Hinduism. It's part of a larger epic called "Mahabharata", but stands alone as a cornerstone of the religion.
The story describes a battle between two great armies as the god Krishna comes down mid-battle to enlighten the warrior Arjuna. The epic is non-linear and a long running philosophical treatise on the notions of freedom, understanding, meaning of life and the nature of reality. Concepts of the cyclical nature of time and cosmic oneness of the universe are all expressed in this book.
"The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed." – "The Bhagavad Gita"
Herman Hesse's classic has resonated with countless generations and remains an inspiring novel. The story is written in simple verse and follows a wealthy Indian Brahmin as he leaves a life of privilege and religiosity to try to find true spiritual fulfillment. Hesse's treatment of the religious enlightenment is diverse as he weaves into classical Eastern thought, Jungian psychology and existentialism.
Siddhartha leaves home with his friend Govinda and journeys through the many iterations of enlightenment seeking. He is not confined to any piety or guru worship as he joins the ascetics, follows the Buddha and even rejects him before going on to become a rich man and experience the pleasures of the world. Soon he understands that all experience is provisional and dependent on himself. Only the individual can find their own enlightenment.
"Words do not express thoughts very well. they always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish. And yet it also pleases me and seems right that what is of value and wisdom to one man seems nonsense to another." – Herman Hesse, "Siddhartha"
Be Here Now
This is the recounting of a lifetime of experience and spiritual seeking from the man who would begin his journey as Dr. Richard Alpert and transcend into Baba Ram Dass. Both a biography, exploration of mysticism and period piece of the 1960s counterculture, "Be Here Now" is a riveting and unconventional book. It's a book to be experienced. There are many illustrations and wonderful poetic distillations of the many religions of the world.
Ram Dass has a simple message and that is to live in the present moment.
"Early in the journey you wonder how long the journey will take and whether you will make it in this lifetime. Later you will see that where you are going is HERE and you will arrive NOW... so you stop asking." – Baba Ram Dass, "Be Here Now"
The Way of Zen
Alan Watts wrote and lectured on Zen Buddhism for much of his life. He had an incredible way of explaining its practices and principles to early curious Western readers in the mid-20th century. Watts considered Zen to be "one of the most precious gifts of Asia to the world." He wrote:
"Since opposed principles, or ideologies, are irreconcilable, wars fought over principle will be wars of mutual annihilation. But wars fought for simple greed will be far less destructive, because the aggressor will be careful not to destroy what he is fighting to capture. Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life." Alan Watts, "The Way of Zen"
Watts explains the concept of Zen as far as he can take it before that switch clicks and you're in on the cosmic laugh. Although Zen is one branch of Buddhism, it is more concerned with the ideals of spontaneous action and thought. Emptiness, detachment from desire and even renouncing the idea of enlightenment are all tenets of Zen that Watts lays out in a playful and profound way.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
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