Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wisdom of the East

One of the things that's been striking me reading upon Japanese history and culture is surprise that Bhuddist/Shinto/neo-Confucian philosophy doesn't seem like a more appealing alternative to Christianity and the Western intellectual tradition. One hears so much about "wisdom of the East" that I expected to find some very compelling alternate ways of thinking of things.

Now admittedly, I'm coming from a very Western set of assumptions. Individuality, rationality, empiricism, etc. are very important to me. And they don't necessarily have a lot of place in the traditions of Japan. It's not a howling wilderness, to be sure. There's some stuff there of great aesthetic appeal, and although I don't find the communalistic and fatalistic elements of their traditions appealing, I think there are some interesting things to be learned from the emphasis on balance found in the culture as a whole and in past-times such as Go.

There are some books that have been recommended to me specifically on Japanese aesthetics and thought that I haven't got to yet, so maybe there's still more to find. But overall, I've got to admit that I keep finding myself to be terribly, terribly glad that I live in modern America rather than feudal Japan.

In comparison, while there are many things I'm glad of (from modern food preparation to anti-biotics and the computer I'm writing on now) about modern society, I don't get nearly the sense of relief at not being from that place and time when reading about the ancient Greco-Roman world or about Europe during the last two millenia. (Not to say that I wish I'd lived in the past. I'm glad enough to be where and when I am. But I don't get the sense of profound relief not to be living in that time when reading about the history of Europe that I do when reading about the history of Japan.)


Anonymous said...

"Know the masculine,
Keep to the feminine."
--Tao Te Ching, chapter 28

I dunno, there might be something in this "Eastern wisdom" stuff . . . ;-)

Darwin said...

Would that mean knowing how to kill large bugs, but refusing to do so anyway?

Anonymous said...

Exactly. And then coercing your convenient male relatives into doing it for you.

The Tao Te Ching also says, "Have done with learning, and you will have no more vexation." As we were studying for our Asian Philosophy midterm, my friends and I all agreed that this was indeed a book of much wisdom.

(The word verification for this comment is "eoxdssov." It's like the mad lovechild of Russian and Anglo-Saxon!)

Anonymous said...

would you recommend any particular books or authors who you think shines a better light on feudal Japan and it's beliefs than others? i've got a bit of an interest in certain japanese things, such as the samurai, ritual suicide, and all that sort of thing... call it a... guilty pleasure perhaps? ; )

also, some of my interest comes from what you pointed out, the way that people often talk about or mention 'the wisdom of the east'. after hearing that enough you eventually get to the point where you say, 'alright, enough; lets see it.' or, i do, anyway.