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Reviewed by:
  • Asian Philosophies
  • James McRae
Asian Philosophies. By John M. Koller. Fourth edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Pp. xxi+ 361.

John M. Koller's Asian Philosophiesprovides an excellent overview of many of the major traditions of Eastern thought. It is divided into three parts, each representing a broad field of Asian philosophy: Indian Philosophy, Buddhism, and Chinese Philosophy (Japanese thought is briefly examined in a chapter on Zen Buddhism in the second section). Each part begins with a historical overview that provides important contextual information for the philosophical systems it examines (a feature added since the third edition).

Part 1, concerning India, gives detailed summaries of the Vedas and Upanishads, Jainism, the Bhagavad Gita, Samkhya-Yoga, Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta (a section expanded since the last edition), and Theism. This section also includes chapters on Islamic thought and modern Indian philosophy. Koller does not simply give a bare-bones overview of these traditions; rather, he takes great care to quote from and analyze the primary sources of the traditions examined.

Part 2, on India, contains chapters that focus on Siddhartha Gautama's life and thought, the doctrine of pratitya samutpada, Sarvastivada (with new material added since the third edition), Mahayana (a new chapter), Madhyamaka and Nagarjuna (also with new material), and Yogacara. A final chapter on Zen Buddhism is included in this section, although no other schools of Japanese Buddhism are discussed.

Part 3, on Chinese thought, contains chapters on Confucianism, Taoism, and Neo-Confucianism, with a final chapter that examines modern Chinese philosophy (Koller uses Wade-Giles romanization for Chinese terms throughout the text).

Asian Philosophiesalso contains many helpful appendixes: maps; pronunciation guides for Sanskrit, Chinese, and Japanese terms; a brief glossary; a detailed bibliography and suggestions for further reading; and timelines for each tradition (added since the third edition).

Koller's book offers a clearly written and well-organized summary of the thought of most of the major Asian traditions. It is accessible to undergraduates, but rich enough to serve as a reference for graduate students studying Asian or comparative philosophy. It would provide a clear, concise introduction to Eastern thought for upper-level undergraduate philosophy courses. However, professors interested in teaching Japanese philosophy would need to supplement the text with information on non-Zen philosophy (such as Shin and Kegon Buddhism) and on modern Japanese philosophy (such as the Kyoto School).