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Rethinking the East-West Dichotomy

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Rethinking the East-West Dichotomy

Rethinking the East-West Dichotomy

BEIJING - According to the universal historians Arnold J Toynbee, Samuel P Huntington and Ji Xianlin, the world's states form 21, 23 or 25 spheres, nine civilizations, and fall into four cultural systems: Arabic/Islam, Confucian, Hindi/Brahmin and Western/Christian, with the former three forming the Oriental cultural system and the latter one the Occidental cultural system. The main difference between the Orient and the Occident, so what people say lies in their different mode of thinking: The East is more inductive, the West is more deductive.

Henceforth, the Orient's search for universal formulas describing balance, harmony or equilibrium: for example, in Chinese philosophy, the two lines in the Chinese character 'er' meaning weight and counterpoise. Similarly, we find 'ru-ru' (enter-enter) meaning equal weight on both sides, or the Chinese character 'liang' that represents scales in equilibrium, or yin and yang meaning two primal opposing but complementary forces.

There is also Japanese Zen and sunyata, (or "emptiness'), meaning everything is inter-related; in India we find seva-nagri (the universe and I are one and the same) and tat tvam asi (thou art that) meaning that the soul is part of the universal reality.

By means of continuously inducing the universal, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism and Buddhism -- as a rough guide -- all ultimately arrive at the universal concept of "the One", "Oneness of heaven and men", the "divine law" behind the Vedas, the "merger of Brahman and atman" or "ultimate reality", the underlying inductive principle being that:

All observed things are connected, therefore all things are one.

In inductive reasoning, one induces the universal "all things are one" from the particular "all things" that are "observed". The conclusion may be sound, but cannot be certain.

In the Bodhicaryavatar, a key text of Mahayana Buddhism, Santideva (c 650 AD) teaches us that the fate of the individual is linked to the fate of others. In the Abhidarma Sutra (The Higher Teachings of Buddha) of the Tipitaka (c. 100 BC), Lord Buddha's says there is no "person", "individual" or "I" in reality -- it is all but one "Ultimate Truth". Nagarjuna (c 200 AD), writer of the Madhyamika-karika, adds: To attain Nirvana is to achieve "absolute emptiness".

For D T Suzuki (1870-1966) "Zen" is about the "Ultimate Nothingness". In Hinduism, the great epic Mahabharata (c 600 BC-400 AD) reads: "Yad ihasti tad anyatra yan nehasti na tat kvachit" or "What is found here, can be found elsewhere. What is not found here, will not be found elsewhere." In the Bhagavadgita (c 150 BC), Krishna says to Arjuna: "The living entities in this conditional world are My fragmental parts, and they are eternal."

In the Book of Changes (c 1050 -- 256 BC) "One" is the supreme ultimate. In the Dao De Jing (c 600 BC), Laozi says "One gives birth to two, two gives birth to three, three gives birth to all things."
Confucius, too, discovered the oneness of heaven (tian) and man (ren) and rejoiced: "At fifty I understood the decrees of heaven," and later: "Heaven produced that virtue in me." We find similar notions in The Book of Mencius: "If you fully explore your mind, you will know your nature. If you know your nature, you know heaven."

Dong Zhongshu seems to have concurred: "Heaven and men are a unit, they form the one," and Laozi again: "Man takes his law from the Earth; the Earth takes its law from Heaven; Heaven takes its law from the Tao. The law of the Tao is its being what it is."

Note the implied universality: In the search for absolute interconnectedness, induction does not rely on categorical (formal) logic, hence the "particular West", by inductive inference, is included in this universal "oneness", or, as Nishitani Keiji once nicely put it: "Western modernity is to be overcome by the Eastern religious mind."

While the vigorously deductive West had to occupy foreign terrain, build churches and spread the Gospel, the inductive East entertained a certain passivity, albeit with a long-term holistic world view:

"We firmly believe, no matter how long it requires, the day will be with us when universal peace and the world of oneness will finally come true." (Ji Xianlin, 1996)

The West, on the other hand, separates God and the world. After all, we are not Him, but created by Him: "Then God said, Let us make man in our image; in the image of God he created him."

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Dr. Thorsten Pattberg, East-West, is a linguist (PhD, Peking University) and the author of 'The East-West dichotomy', 'Shengren', and 'Inside Peking University'. He is also an alumnus of Harvard University, The University of Edinburgh, and The (more...)
 

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