The Novelty of Eastern Thought

I found this post while browsing through Less Wrong a few days ago.

In it, Eliezer Yudkowsky writes about how his writing on rationality has been influenced by Zen and Eastern philosophy in general. He spends a lot of time talking about how his writing is different than the Eastern religions (such as Buddhism and Taoism). But he comes back with saying that the concepts that he is attempting to get across are similar to what Eastern philosophies are attempting to convey.

I feel the same way. Many of my posts have talked about this duality. Just last week. Here. And here.

However, he does describe a possible reason for why his writing (and, in turn, my writing) is influenced by the East. Eastern philosophies are different than what he was raised to believe in. Eastern philosophies are new.

In his post, Yudkowsky writes “If I had grown up in Taiwan, my writing would probably sound far more Buddhist and Taoistic; and perhaps I would talk of the inspiration (though not advice) I had received from reading some Taiwanese book about Greek philosophers, and how I often felt closer to Judaism than my forgotten childhood Buddhism.”

I probably notice the influence of Eastern philosophies more because they are different and new to me. But that does not make their influence or similarities any less meaningful. There are important lessons to be learned from the East. And while the religions that surround these philosophies are filled with gods, worshiping, rituals, suffering, sacrifice, etc., the concepts and practices are very useful and enlightening.

One such practice is mindfulness. In the East, it is surrounded by thousands of years of ritual. This combined with its novelty to Westerners makes it off-putting to many. But I have found it and the practice of thinking rationally the two most effective methods of controlling my thoughts.

So, (just like Yudkowsky mentions in his post) it does not matter how these methods are dressed up and presented to you. If they work, they work.

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