East, West

I recorded the Charlie Rose Show from the other night and watched Aung San Suu Kyi interviewed via Skype at a Clinton Global Initiative event. She said, “Some people say that democracy is a Western concept . . .” Obviously those people are in her country and using that line as a way to legitimatize maintaining the very non-democratic status quo there.

It mirrors expressions I often hear in the Buddhist World: “this or that is confusing for Western interpreters of Buddhism”, “Westerners putting a negativistic spin on Buddhism”, “the teachers of Western Buddhism will ignore most of this. . . “. And then, “Why are Eastern Buddhists condescending to Western Buddhists”, “Eastern Buddhism needs to catch up to the 21st Century” and so on.

East, West – What does it matter anymore? We’re one world now.  East and West are just hands on the one world body. If you are right handed, you don’t dismiss things done by your left hand, do you?

Sure, there are Eastern customs that may be archaic, just as there are some concepts from the West that are incompatible with Buddhism, like those from Christianity. But we seem to be stuck in a general mode of thinking that still looks for differences. At times, we sound like relics from 150 years ago, “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet . . .”

That comes from a poem by Rudyard Kipling, and the remainder of the verse has often been overlooked: “But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,/ When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

We’re one world.  East and West are just hands on the one world body.

In response to a question about the recent Arab Spring, Aung San Suu Kyi replied, “Of course, our societies are very different. But in the end, we’re all human beings and I think we can all understand each others hopes and fears . . .”

You can see the interview here. Desmond Tutu, it seems, has a bit of a crush on Aung San Suu Kyi. This I can understand. She is beautiful inside and out.

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