Saturday, May 28, 2011

How Other Cultures Bless

A recently passed Arizona House Bill 2281, which bans from the public schools ethnic studies that promote race consciousness or promote the overthrow of the United States government or promote resentment toward a trace or class of people.

So an Arizona state representative wants to cut out foreign study programs from universities. As a former Asian Studies Program director I disagree with his lack of curiosity and vision.

Americans need to learn more about the people of the world, not less. Our culture grew from the cultures of immigrants. We can’t stop learning about our ancestor’s heritage, then and now.

“The Way of Chuang Tzu” is Father Thomas Merton’s personal versions of the writings of Chuang Tzu, the most spiritual of the ancient Chinese philosophers.

Chuang Tzu, the greatest of the Taoist writers of the Way (“The Tao” misspelled with a “t” in the West, now spelled as it is pronounced, “Dao”). Chuang Tzu’s historical existence is verified. He lived during the Bible times of Ezra and Nehemiah, 5th century B.C..

The word “dao” is the same word used in the Chinese Bible where Jesus says, “I am the way (dao)…” Just as the Christian “dao” is vital to Christian thought, so the spirit of Chuang Tzu’s subtle, sophisticated, mystical “dao” has left its mark on all Chinese culture. Chuang Tzu’s dao should not be confused with Western interpretations (superstition, magic or health) with the philosopher and his philosophy.

Among other things Merton reminds us that Chuang Tzu brought humor to the Indian religion of Buddhism as it was introduced into Chinese culture. He did not hesitate to ridicule Confucianism and other Chinese schools of thought. He did not begin a religion, though it has become the largest religion in China, many more believers than Buddhists or Communists.

The secret of the Way was not the accumulation of things like virtue or merit, but wu-wei, the non-doing or non-action, which does not depend on results or chest-thumping. "Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness."

Daoist philosophy attempts to illuminate the interdependency of all things, including life, art, and language. Its simplicity is baffling to non-Chinese.

John C.H. Wu, in his book “A New Appraisal,” writes: “To Chuang Tzu the world must have looked like a terrible tragedy written by a great comedian. He saw scheming politicians fall into pits they had dug for others. He saw predatory states swallowing weaker states, only to be swallowed in their turn by stronger ones. Thus the much vaunted utility of the useful talents proved not only useless but self-destructive.”

When Chuang Tzu was about to die, his disciples began planning a splendid funeral. To them he said: “I shall have heaven and earth for my coffin; the sun and moon will be the jade symbols hanging by my side; planets and constellations will shine as jewels all around me. … What more is needed? Everything is cared for.”

Buy they said: “We fear the crows will eat our Master.”

“Well,” said Chuang Tzu, “above ground I shall be eaten by crows, below it by ants and worms. In either case I shall be eaten.” With a twinkle in his eye, he asked his disciples: “Why are you so partial to birds?”

What do we learn from foreign lands? Not just Asia, but Hungry, Spain, Scotland, and Bolivia all have ideas, views and ways thatπ could benefit us. Foreign cultural studies broaden perspectives; deepen insight; expand vision; increase understanding of others. There is little joy compared to learning new “stuff” from all corners of our blue marble.


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