This Too, Will Pass ~ NO EAST, NO WEST

THE ORIENT IS— OR WAS, AT LEAST— often termed "The Inscrutable East," as if Orientals were a different species. But is the Eastern mind really different from the Western (or the Southern from the Northern)? There are differences in the way people think, certainly, but are the differences inherent in the mind, or are they not more of culture and conditioning? Is there really an ‘Asian mind’ distinct from a ‘Western mind’?

We love to see differences, often where there are none, or where they are trifling and unimportant; we overlook the essential things that bind us together, or were maybe never even aware of them to begin with. Some years ago, I went to visit a couple near London who I had corresponded with for some time but had never met. When they picked me up at the train-station, almost the first thing the husband said to me was: "I see you haven’t lost your northern accent." I was stunned by his rudeness, but later on understood it when his wife (who was the one I’d been writing to) informed me that he was illiterate; at forty-eight, he didn’t know how to read or write, and he was concerned about my accent!

This kind of thing is quite common. I can think of many countries where there is prejudice on the part of people from one area towards those of another area, without knowing them; it is so in the U.S., Germany, France, Italy, India, Vietnam, Korea, China, and no doubt many others, if not all except the smallest. And most of it comes from ignorance and misunderstanding, which we should be ashamed to display. The world has shrunk, and we are well-into a world-culture now; more people travel to other countries now than ever before; we are able to see things differently than our ancestors did. Without moving from our homes, we see, on TV, how people of other races and places live basically the same as we do. This being so, it is quite amazing how some people can travel abroad on business or vacation and still keep their prejudice intact; it must require quite an effort to do so, and a resistance to what is.

"What is now known about human prehistory ought to be taught as a required course, at least in high schools," to help youngsters realize that "all people are members of the same species, that the cultural differences that separate us— such as our 4000-or-more different languages— can be understood and do not mean that some are superior to others in any significant respect. Babies of any race or population, taken to and reared in any other population would be expected to be indistinguishable from native children mentally and even morally. Superficial physical differences (skin-color, hair-type, body-type and size, facial differences, etc.) are unimportant in comparison with the artificial cultural differences that are acquired from society." (Clyde Davis).

During my primary-school days in England, there was a single black child, the unforeseen result of a liaison, at the end of the Second World War, between a local woman and a black-American serviceman stationed nearby. Because American servicemen had plenty of money in England, which was practically bankrupt after the War, it was not difficult for them to find female company. I grew up with this boy, and when we— the ‘whites’ (it carries a terrible connotation, doesn’t it?)— didn’t think about it or were not annoyed with him for anything, we accepted him as one of us. And why not? you might ask. Yes, why not? But kids are kids, and do not think their own thoughts. I didn’t know then what I later learned through my travels, and so— not surprisingly— noticed the difference about him, as there was a difference, and even writing about it here means that I remember the difference. He lived with his mother, step-father, step-brothers-and-sisters, but bore his father’s surname. Thinking back on it, it must have been hard for him at times, to be different like that. I don’t know what became of him later, but I wish him well wherever he now is.

It is not enough to complacently wait for prejudice to decrease and tolerance to increase; we must push for it because it is right— push for it in the world around us, and inside ourselves. It comes from understanding. Many people struggled and suffered in order to win the freedom and privileges we enjoy; we shouldn’t take them for granted, but should show our appreciation by taking care of them and helping to increase them, as this is what civilization is about. With an understanding of Universal Dharma, we see beyond petty differences.

A lot of twaddle is talked about 'human rights' today, which means we haven’t got the real thing. People rant and rave about it as if they had conceived the idea, but very often, it is just 'hot air,' with little substance (an exception being the very active and laudable organization known as Amnesty International, which does a tremendous amount of good work and sometimes gets severely rebuffed by repressive regimes for it, which shows it is touching sensitive spots). And the ones who spout the most, of course, are those who feel themselves deprived, in some way, of what they consider to be 'their rights.' But would they— one wonders— speak so loudly about 'rights' if they were in positions of authority, or would they conveniently develop amnesia on this point, or come up with endless devious excuses to explain their change of attitude and reluctance to do anything to implement their former 'principles'?

If we dare presume that we have any 'rights'— 'rights' that were won by people whose names we don't know, so that we could benefit from them— we must also recognize that others, and not just ourselves, have 'rights,' too. But do we behave as if we understood this? Or do we behave as if the whole universe exists just for us and our convenience? It would reward us to do some hard thinking on this point, among others.

Is it reasonable to always expect our 'rights' and complain if we are not accorded them? Certainly, I believe very strongly in standing up and fighting for what I think is right. But for my 'rights'? Why do I even think I have any 'rights'? Life is often brutal in its impartiality; who, having been born, can escape from aging, sickness, pain and death? As someone once put it: "Life is a terminal disease; no-one gets out of it alive." What rights do we have in the eyes of natural law? Men's laws come and go and are often bent for those who can afford to pay or who have connections in high places; but natural law, like gravity, is unswerving; it shows no favoritism and cannot be bribed; a rich man gets wet in the rain just as does a poor man; his wealth does not make him immune to that. Moreover, the concept of 'Human-rights,' as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, is relatively new and very fragile, being disregarded whenever it suits governments to do so. Certainly, it is a wonderful thing, and one which we should take care to preserve and develop, but it is just a beginning and there is no guarantee of human-rights being respected in actuality and not just on paper. As to our personal part, however, if we are to reasonably expect to enjoy them ourselves, we must first be prepared to accord them to others. Simple, isn't it? All that is required is for us to put it into practice!

To conclude: East and West, North and South are more mind-made than geographical areas. We had no choice about where we were born, but we do have choice about how we think of the world. We can think Small, Closed, Narrow; we can think Big, Open, Wide.

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