The conversation touches on many diverse themes but always circles back to who we are and how our purposes are intertwined, for it is only when we see that our personal desires are perfectly aligned with the destiny of humanity as a whole that we will give ourselves full permission to enjoy the most exquisite experiences life has to offer.” 14.
The Two Tribes (Part 2) Even when they were not looking for something new, the running tribe was no longer sitting still on the island of Allandon. Running itself had become the main activity, allowing them to advertise the virtues of their new-found way of life by yelling out loud as they ran in and out of every corner of the island. Those who remained in the sitting tribe believed there was no point in running, because one inevitably ended up back where one started.
They could not fathom the foolishness of the running tribe. Every time the running tribe passed by them, the sitting tribe enjoyed collective amusement at the loud spectacle.
The members of the running tribe, on the other hand, truly felt they were getting somewhere.
They were proud of their quest to run faster and longer, and felt their efforts were improving the quality of their lives.
They thought the sitting tribe must be lazy, or were just a bunch of simpletons. As they raced by the sitting tribe every day they laughed and jeered at them.
The leader of the running tribe was always selected through a competition that determined the strongest and fastest member. He was held in the highest esteem, and was decked with all the honor and glory one could imagine. In the sitting tribe, no such honor was ever handed out, for everyone seemed to be able to sit with equal ability.
The leader of the running tribe gazed upon the sitting tribe with pity and would often endeavor to educate them on the superiority of a running life. Sometimes members of the sitting tribe were coerced into joining, and sometimes they came of their own accord. Either way, the running tribe continued to get bigger and stronger, and became the de facto rulers of the island. It is asking a lot from any culture or group bound by their own worldview to completely validate the divergent worldview of another. It certainly hasn’t happened very often in our neck of the woods. While many of us in the West studied the colonization of America in our history classes, it is unlikely that we were given the opportunity to fully appreciate the perspective of the Native Americans, as elaborated by Chief Seattle earlier. Somehow, his words didn’t make the final cut in our high school textbooks. Now it’s fairly understandable that most of us who went to school in the West ended up with an education that had a particularly Western slant; however most of us didn’t realize that there was a Western slant at all. We were led to believe that we were simply getting the facts about the past. In my first year of university my three core liberal arts courses formed a multidisciplinary study of politics, literature, and art through history.
The three courses were coordinated to study the developments of each discipline within the same historical time period each week.
The only thing was that the history started with Classical Greece, which not coincidentally marked the beginning of Western civilization. But I had no issues with that at the time. I was part of the consensus among university types that the only history worth talking about was the history of the Western world, and that everything else was literally ancient history, a term that continues to connote past events that don’t have any practical relevance to our present lives. To penetrate more deeply into this requires a brief introduction to the prevalent Western view of history itself. Please bear with me through this bit of heavy discourse since it sketches a very important distinction for our ongoing conversation.
The highly influential 18th Century German philosopher of history G.W.F Hegel believed that history was an account of the evolution of human consciousness, which brings progressively greater freedom to humankind. Hegel saw all significant historical events following a pattern that he called the dialectic. Any belief, which he calls a thesis, eventually gives rise to an opposing belief he calls the antithesis.
These opposing ideas eventually come into conflict, and only through the resolution of the conflict can consciousness evolve. He calls the resolution of these opposing ideas the synthesis, a new idea that is formed which in some way incorporates both the thesis and antithesis and thus is a more complex belief.
The synthesis becomes the new thesis and the pattern is repeated (figure 2). There are numerous examples of the dialectic in all facets of human life. At a time in history when we believed the world was flat, the thesis was that it must be finite, with ‘edges’.
The antithesis came when we realized through experience that we could never reach these ‘edges’, implying that the world was infinite.
The synthesis came with the realization that the world is round, combining qualities of being both finite and infinite. It is through the dialectical struggle that the West has made progress by breaking away from older traditions and practices. This mindset believes that there can be something new under the sun, that man is here to explore, to discover, to invent, to make his mark on the world, to build something original rather than settling for more of the same. By all appearances, the rest of the world has succumbed to this kind of thinking. Most cultures have slowly abandoned many of their traditional ways in favor of Western practices.
The Western modernization machine has been spreading its influence far and wide across the surface of the globe like a tidal wave.
The globalization of the economy that is occurring in our world today is spearheaded by modern Western laws and business practices, and many traditional societies are now in the process of trying hard to catch up so they can be part of it. It is an interesting thing to observe this shift in the everyday life of more traditional cultures. While it is obviously a slow process for a culture to fully adopt a divergent mindset, nations like Korea appear to have embraced the West and have rapidly implemented its principles of modernization. Still, during my time living there, I did notice remnants of the holistic thinking on which their civilization was founded.
The reaction of my adult students to the 1998 financial meltdown in Korea, dubbed the ‘IMF Crisis’, stands out for me. While the crisis was a result of inefficient and corrupt business practices by the country’s financial elite, most of the students were willing to own their society’s problems rather than standing apart from them. “We have gotten ourselves into trouble,” they would say, and “We have to work hard to get back on track.” When Koreans were asked to go to the banks to sell their gold so that the government would have some hard currency, they did so en masse, helping Korea emerge from the crisis more quickly. If the same kind of financial crisis hit in the heart of our Western society, we would scarcely be so ready to feel that it was our problem. Instead, we would likely place blame and point fingers at our politicians and business leaders: “How are they going to fix things?” or “Are they going to get punished?” In the Western world, for better or for worse, people stand apart from each other more. In elevating the Ego Self to the highest stature it has ever enjoyed, we have brought the physical world into sharper focus and weakened our connection with the invisible world of the Dao where we are all One. As a result we favor the individual over the community, and we have less of a sense of kinship and belonging than more traditional societies enjoyed. We have grown and moved apart from each other as the family structure itself has seen a slow disintegration. It is ironic that we live in a time where technologies like satellites, cell phones and the Internet make us think that we are more connected, because in actual fact there has never been a time in history when we have been so cut off from each other, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually.
The more strongly a society is grounded in the physical world, the more it will be fundamentally materialistic, concerned more with matter in its various forms than invisible spirit. It will invest its energies into material gains and comforts rather than spiritual satisfaction. While it’s true that Western civilization has made huge advances in the improvement of the physical conditions of living, there has been a cost. We are forced to survive in a society founded on separateness, which has spawned dog-eat-dog competition and survival of the fittest. For all our material success we are left wanting for a deeper sense of fulfillment, one that make us feel that we belong. Although I had started to become aware of these issues during university, it was only after I graduated that a feeling of separateness and alienation really impacted me. I needed money and so I had to find a job, but the prospects were far bleaker than I would have ever imagined. I couldn’t find any job, let alone something pertaining to my field. Potential employers and government employment agencies made me feel that it was probably better if I didn’t even mention that I studied philosophy. I had to go back to school and get a degree in computer programming before I was finally able to be productive and fit in to society, albeit a round peg in a square hole. During the next several years I harbored a growing discontent with the Western paradigm. I came to regard it as exploitative, arrogant and far too linear. I became quite drawn to traditional Eastern philosophies such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Daoism, particularly by their gentle, humble, holistic nature. Many of the New Age writers I was reading at the time made regular and glowing reference to Eastern doctrines. I came to firmly believe that these ideas were more profound and ultimately more truthful than what I had grown up with and followed in school. Perhaps one of the reasons I went to live in East Asia in 1996 was because of the desire to get a taste of Eastern life and holistic thinking. I was anxious to see and experience some of what I had been reading about. It strikes me as ironic that one of the main things that I took from my three years in East Asia was actually a new respect for the Western mindset. I saw how a life more closely tied to tradition had its moments, but it did not engender as much critical thinking, ingenuity, and initiative. When I would ask my university students what their future plans were, their responses were generally quite vague and unoriginal. Many seemed to be waiting for someone to tell them what they should do. Students that I met who had gone over to the West for a period of time generally stood out as having a better idea of what they wanted from their lives. And that is really what the Western mindset does, it encourages individuals to stand out, to be independent, responsible, and to believe that they could do and be anything they wanted. Hegel believed that the freedom that individuals felt and exercised was the measure of how advanced a society was. It should come as no surprise that in recent times human rights have become increasingly important in the West. We have heard about and witnessed the barriers on human freedom and expression tumbling one by one in our recent history.
The abolition of slavery.
The right of women to vote.
The elevation of the status of the disabled.
The protection of children.
The acceptance of homosexuality. In more advanced societies a person is not just part of a collective, a person is suddenly a world unto themselves, equal, whole and valued for their uniqueness. What would have happened if Western man had followed Chief Seattle’s plea to end its domination of nature and learn to live completely in harmony with it? Well, we would probably have stopped making material advancements and our society would still be without electricity, airplanes, computers, and all the other wonders of the modern world.
The fact that you have this book in your hands at this moment is made possible by a mindset that broke away from the cycles of nature and did things differently from how they were done in the past. Let’s be clear: I believe Chief Seattle’s words are stirring and provocative for many of us, and shall remain a timeless petition for maintaining respect and appreciation for the beauty of our natural world. At the same time, I believe very few of us would endorse wiping out all the technological progress we have made in the last few hundred years so that we could live today in a state of nature as the Native Americans did.
The Eastern mindset sees life itself as part of a cycle. Humanity is not seen as moving forward as such but rather simply returning to the One from whence it came.
The Western mindset, on the other hand, holds that man is on a mission, both individually and collectively.
There is a move to what is new, to undiscovered territory and unthought ideas. To the Western mind, the idea that human life is fundamentally cyclical is a real problem. If this were true, then what would be the point of striving to do anything? Why would we need to have choice? What would be the value of freedom? The Western paradigm believes that we very much have things to learn and uncover, to create and invent. Where there is no possibility of progress or evolution, life becomes devoid of meaning. And so, when Westerners evaluate traditional Eastern history they tend to note simply that not much significant progress was actually made, and the only reason that Eastern cultures have shown any progress today is because they have been strongly influenced by Western ideas. Without this, they would have continued to plod along with their ancient traditions to guide them in their inertia. And so Western culture tends to consider itself great and judges Eastern culture to be somewhat backwards. It does not credit Eastern culture with making much of a contribution to the evolution of mankind. When I was in India recently a funny thing happened that got me thinking. My wife had just finished drinking a bottle of water and asked a young Indian man where she could throw it away. He took the plastic bottle from her hand with a smile, and simply tossed it on the ground. “It’s OK,” he said, continuing to smile. He seemed fully unconcerned about material things, perhaps because for many Indians material things are part of maya, the illusion of the material world, and we should always be focusing beyond the illusion to the world of spirit. I like the idea, but that does not remove the fact that we have to live in the material world, and address problems like pollution, disease, and hunger. Perhaps this is the very challenge facing India and other traditional cultures today.
The paradigm of Eastern culture has not demonstrated an ability to master material life and overcome suffering from material poverty. Turning a back on Western modernization is no longer possible. Spiritual leaders from these nations look to the West with some regret for the preoccupation with materialism and lack of spirituality, but they still retain a measure of respect for the quality of life advances that the West has made. In some way or another their own lives have benefited from these advances. So while there is something very precious that the East can offer the West, there is also something precious that the West can offer the East. We have not yet arrived at a point where East and West can easily appreciate the value of the other’s bounty in order to facilitate a worthwhile exchange.
There is a mutual desire to have the best of both worlds, but our respective paradigms don’t currently show us how to manifest it.
The West can bring the East a better life.
The East can bring the West a life of greater meaning. Perhaps it is indeed time to have a conversation. Due to the pressure of mass censorship, we now have our own censorship-free, and ad-free on demand streaming network! It is the world's first and only conscious media network streaming mind-expanding interviews, news broadcasts, and conscious shows. Click here to start a FREE 7-Day Trial and watch 100's of hours of conscious media videos, that you won't see anyw.
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