Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Two Worlds

In Joseph Campbell's "Myths To Live By" he discusses the difference between religious worldviews of the Orient and Occident. I don't have the book in front of me to give exact references, but I'll do my best to summarize:

ORIENT - All of life is a divine manifestation. There is one Godhead beyond all forms that drives the cosmos, is within all of Creation, perhaps even IS all of Creation. Individual lives are as the seasons of nature - they come and go in cycles. There is no real "ego" of the individual, in fact, one tries to separate oneself from any traces of "personal identity" or "ego" so that one can be simply a piece in the beautiful, organic, living organism of God called this Universe. Personal choice isn't what it's all about - which is detrimental to our Western ears. When making decisions, one would think in a much more holistic manner - not "What do I want?" but "What is my duty?," "What is good for the world?", or "What is the Way of Nature?" There is therefore no need for attatchment to any forms (your things, your relationships, even your life) in this world. All of it will end in a very brief time - or rather will RENEW in a very brief time. One may certainly enjoy those things (relationships and life), but only with the realization that one must enjoy them in the NOW, because the way of nature is change and soon those things will end. Constant cycles... all of which diminish the role of the personal self but exalt the idea of an interconnected, powerful, beautiful Intellegence behind the whole show. ALL of our names for "God" (God, Vishnu, Allah, Christ, Spirit, Tao, Shiva) are symbols that point to the undefinable Godhead. They are not "wrong" names, all are partially right, they just hold a fraction of the whole truth (like one personality trait of an infinite being).

OCCIDENT - All of life is separate from God. God is up there. We are down here. God can send his spirit to live within those whom he chooses (or those who choose him) but the rest are utterly separate. Creation is broken. Man vs. God. God vs. Nature. Man vs. Nature. All in all a very conflict-heavy situation. Individual lives are what its all about. We work our whole lives to secure and enhance our ego. We try very hard to distinguish ourselves from others as we build upon our personal identity. We spend our time competing with separate others at the job we've chosen so that we can buy the toys that we desire to have. The end of one's life then is very tragic as one has spent 80 years as a separate personal identity and now it is all slipping through ones fingers. Of course there's the afterlife in this view, but because man is separate from God, there's only a fraction of a chance that it will be a favorable outcome. Finally: Our God is the only God. There is no other way. All other ways are wrong.

Wow. Utterly and completely opposite sides of the spectrum. I stand in awe at the mystery of the whole thing. Perhaps in the end it is not "either-or" it is "both-and." Both are right... somehow. Or both are partially right. Or one is wrong...



kev said...

wow. so, talking about the orient here, what is the eventual outcome brought about by death? if it all ends, or renews, what is the common view? is it all just part of the mystery and not specifically identified, or do most who are orient-oriented believe in a certain afterlife? the blog creates thought, thank you for letting us enjoy the challenges.

lydiarunner04 said...

Interested in thoughts of a blonde?...
Ok this brought a lot of questions up in my head, just some thoughts ...
1. Should man be recognized as a whole or individually? Jesus saved mankind as a whole but entered earth as an individual. I hope we are recognized individually otherwise I am going to hell.
2. Should man act accorddingly to the previous question? I don't know. I think there are times where man (women) should act both as a whole and individually.
3. Is God seperated from man as a whole or individually? Jesus died on the cross for man as a whole, but it's up to us individually whether to embrace that idea....and the wheels continue to turn.

Jon said...

Hey, Trev,

Just a cautionary note about these simplified generalizations. There's a lot of truth to it of course, but it's probably more true to say it's a difference between the mystical world-view and the non-mystical worldview.

It's easy, especially when first coming to appreciate Eastern religions, to romanticize them a bit. But the truth is that most Taoists care a lot more about burning incense to the Eight Immoratals for prosperity than contemplating the Tao. Most Joe-Blow Indians have fairly literal interpretations of the Mahabharata and Gita, and don't seek mystical union with God. It's enough to pour ghee on a statue of Nandi at a festival.
Most Buddhists go to temples, sing some chants, listen to a dhama talk, and give offerings to the monastery, and go home to watch the soccer game.

As for violence--well, India has had some of the most horrible wars, and the T'ai Ping rebellion in China vies with the Thirty Years' War as the third worst in human history. Brian Victoria's book Zen at War describes how Zen monks and priests throughout Japan sold out to support World War II, with any no voice of dissent anywhere.

What is different is that the Scriptures of the East, and their teachers of the path are much more in tune with the mystical reality. When we in the West come to those Scriptures and teachers for wisdom, we are amazed and say, WOW! This is really different... But it's almost as hard for the man in the street to "get it" over there, as it is here.