Philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard - Kierkegaard and Eastern Philosophy

Kierkegaard and Eastern Philosophy

Because Kierkegaard read Schopenhauer, and because Schopenhauer was heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy, it would seem that Kierkegaard would have shown an awareness of Eastern philosophy. There is, however, little direct reference to Asian thought in Kierkegaard's writings. Anyone who is familiar with such Asian traditions as Buddhist, Taoist, or Shinto philosophy, will quickly see the philosophical similarities that Kierkegaard shares with these traditions. These similarities perhaps explain the Japanese reception of Kierkegaard and the fact that Japanese awareness and translations of Kierkegaard were appearing at least 30 years before any English translations. There is also extensive Japanese scholarship on Kierkegaard, a scholarship that interprets Kierkegaard's philosophy in terms of Asian thought. This interpretation is understandable when one sees that Kierkegaard's central concerns of subjectivity, anxiety, freedom, despair, and self-deception, are also of central concern to Buddhism and, consequently, that there is nothing exclusively Christian about such concerns. Both Kierkegaard and Zen Buddhism, for example, have seen the predicaments of existence in very similar ways. A specific example of the similarities here can be seen in Purity of Heart where Kierkegaard describes the state of awareness that one must enter in order to partake of confession. Kierkegaard's description of this state is similar to the state of meditation described by Buddhist philosophers. It is distinct, however, in that the aim of confession, for Kierkegaard, is "to center itself upon this relation to itself as an individual who is responsible to God" (cf. Kierkegaard, "Purity of Heart"). Kierkegaard aims to claim back the subject from the "crowd" mentality of Christendom (cf. Kierkegaard, "On the Dedication to 'That Single Individual' ") and reaffirm the absolute responsibility to God, which is our telos (cf. Kierkegaard, "Fear and Trembling"). Kierkegaard's thought, as grounded in the Christian tradition ("Purity of Heart" begins "Father in heaven! What is a man without thee!"), while bearing similarities to Buddhist meditation, assumes the inability of the individual fully to grasp God and seeks to reclaim the individual for personal relationship with God, unmediated by the human "crowd", and so is at its foundation distinct from the foundation of Buddhist philosophies.

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