Sickness and enlightenment are within
This writer recently heard an interview with Erica Jung, the well – known author of a number of books that have been influential on the thinking of some people. During the interview she said that “this society is sick” in referring to the United States. Later she went on to praise the family values of Asia, implying that it is these family values that make the societies of Asia somehow more harmonious or less sick then the society of the United States.
We sometimes see this kind of thinking, to varying degrees, among some individuals from the west.
There seems to be a feeling of distaste for their own cultures and societies, while at the same time, a feeling for admiration or an idealization of the societies and cultures of Asia. We sometimes also see this when individuals profess an idealization and admiration for the Native American cultures that ruled the continent of North America before their subjugation by the white man. Certainly there have been wise people and words of wisdom put forth in all of these cultures, Native American, Asian and Western.
Those who are interested in and looking for wisdom, insight and strength from the study and practice of Yoga or Buddhism know that these philosophies and disciplines originated in that area of the world that is known as the Indian sub – continent.
However, we may be making a mistake in thinking that other cultures and societies are superior or more enlightened then the one that we come from. Sometimes our criticisms of our own country, culture and society are based on our own dissatisfactions and frustrations in our own life.
On the other hand, we can be so blindly attached to the superiority of our own country, culture and society that we can not admit to any weaknesses or imperfections in it or respond in a mature way to any observations or criticisms about it. Our attachment to an idea may consist of some negative feeling about our culture and society, or some idea of superiority about our culture and society. Perhaps there is some delusion in both these kinds of thoughts and feelings.
Having lived in Asia for 20 years, 17 of which have been spent in a slum like environment in Bangkok, Thailand, this writer has had the opportunity to visit some of the countries and cultures of Asia and met many families and people. Among these cultures and societies and the people that make them up, there is much suffering and confusion, just as there are among peoples of the west.
Though one may think that because a country has a lot of Buddhist temples or a strong Buddhist or Yoga heritage that the teachings of these disciplines have filtered down to the people who make up the country. This is not true.
There is individual and family suffering among all people and all countries and cultures, regardless of their history, social – economic and religious factors.
Many times, among various individuals, there will be a tendency to blame their problems on others. In Asia, we frequently hear arguments that both modern and ancient problems were somehow caused by or overly influenced by the west and their capitalist and imperialist tendencies.
But a closer examination of history shows us that among the Native Americans of North America and within and between the various countries and cultures of Asia there has always been much greed and bloodletting.
We are not all people who are morally depraved, but we can become morally confused. The things that cause us to be overly lustful, greedy and angry are within us. They are based on attachments, thoughts and feelings rooted in the ego and a need to think that we as individuals are special, unique and somehow superior to others.
Sometimes we take these thoughts and feelings as being natural, not realizing that they are conditioned and lead us on a path of both internal and external conflict and disharmony. Maybe part of the mistake is that in our confusion we need to identify with something, our culture, our country and this need to identify is in conflict with our individual search for spiritual enlightenment.
Individual sickness is within each one of us and it is hard to see. And individual enlightenment is in each one of us and it is hard to attain. These sicknesses and states of enlightenment are in each one of us. At times, as individuals, as families and as countries and cultures we show these sicknesses. And at times, as individuals, as families and as countries we show these states of enlightenment.
I have met and stayed with balanced individuals and families in Taiwan and China, Japan and Korea, Indonesia and The Philippines, Nepal and Bangladesh, and Thailand, Australia and The United States. And I have also met and stayed with confused and unhappy individuals and families in these same countries.
This sickness, this darkness is in each one of us, as is enlightenment, this light is also. It is not a society or a cultural thing.
When we idealize a country or culture because of what we perceive to be their Buddhist or Yoga heritage, we may not be fully aware of other forces in the country or culture that are working in opposition to these paths and practices, things such as corruption, greed, and nepotism. We do not always see how members of the country and culture relate to and abuse each other on a daily basis.
If we stop seeing the world in terms of them and us, and understand that there are problems and the potential for problems among all, we may be better able to deal with the conflict, disharmony and confusion that exists among so many individuals and families, in the west, in Asia, in Africa and throughout the world.
Certainly, personal paths and practices such as Yoga or Buddhism can offer a way to better health and living and weaken and alleviate many of these internal and external conflicts.
©2007 John C. Kimbrough
John is a volunteer teaching Yoga and Buddhism and providing other health and educational resources for men and women in a local provincial prison in Cambodia. He has lived in Asia for twenty years.