Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Contrast in East and West Thinking

Writing in the Kyeongyang magazine a Catholic philosophy professor cites a passage, from the 10-volume novel, Honbul (Fire of the Soul), which is an ode to earth. The professor feels that its author, Choi Myung-hee  expressed what the earth means to a Korean. Fire of the Soul  points out the importance of being of service to nature and having a respectful attitude toward life. In simple Korean, the professor calls it mental housekeeping. The following is a brief summary of the issues raised by Myung-hee that shows serious differences in outlook toward nature between the East and the West.

Millions of years ago, humanity appeared on earth and lived together with nature, giving humanity a unique vision.  About five thousand years ago words were written down for prosperity.  Both in the East and in the West we have written accounts appearing about the same time in Genesis and in the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu.

The professor contrasts the  thinking of the East with the West. The West has the understanding that humans are to conquer and  subdue the natural world, and he quotes Aristotle being of the same mind: "Humans have been made to perfect nature"-- words similar to those used in  Genesis. However, Lao Tzu in his chapter 25 says:

Man models himself on earth.
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.
In the East, we have a living together with nature: we are to use nature as a pattern, earth as a mirror of life. The professor acknowledges that there is a new way of interpreting the words of Genesis that give new meaning to conquer and subdue, changing them to stewardship and care for nature, though the professor prefers using the word 'housekeeping.' Humanity has been created, he says, to be in rapport with all life, and was given the ability to do the housekeeping.

Korean ancestors saw everything moving, nothing was static being, everything was becoming--a coming into and out of being. Humanity was to keep pace with all of life, which was in constant motion; those who did were living the good life; those who who did not were the losers. 'Becoming' was understood as an emptying of oneself.  Their foundational thinking was not 'being' but emptiness. Everything disappears into no-thing.

Koreans, in contrast to Westerners, see the law of life in nature: sharing oneself, emptying oneself to enable others to live. This is equally true, says the professor, for the amoeba to the plant sprout; they give, in order to grow.  Without sharing there is death, he says. We are all to disappear into the potency of the universe. The last step of this division is emptiness.  In the West, there is a drive to satisfy our personal desires. In the East, there is the ideal of throwing oneself into the emptiness of the universe to receive new life. We take the example of God, in his absence, to share and empty ourselves.

Those who refuse to share, to open to others by emptying themselves, are working against life. It is this sharing and emptying, the professor says, that is  'the housekeeping law of the universe.'

1 comment:

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