Chapter 5: Metaphysics, “religion” and the decline of empires (200–500)
What would later be called Hinduism, Buddhism, neo-Taoism, neo-Platonism, and Christianity emerge at this time. These are now seen as “religions” but such a label is anachronistic because they were first and foremost life and political philosophies that developed in response to the failure of the major empires. Key sections of the Mahabharata set out what was to become Hindu political theory and Buddhist thinkers such as Vasubandhu created the basis for later Buddhist political thought. Similarly, Neo-Taoism in East Asia and Neo-Platonism in the Roman empire developed sophisticated metaphysical approaches that eventually re-emerged in neo-Confucianism and later Christian and Islamic thought. In East Asia, Buddhism was initially in conflict with the state, as seen in the work of Hui-Yüan but by the time of the writing of the Humane King S_tra, accommodation between traditional Literati political thought and Buddhist philosophy was being reached. The rise of metaphysics was the response to the failure of the early forms of political thought in the major empires.
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