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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 94 two propositions, and between two contending individuals, there is truth on both sides,” was compatible with two other great Eastern religions. One was Taoism, which teaches that “The Tao is conceived as both ‘is’ and ‘is not’ ”; that “Returning—moving in endless cycles—is the basic pattern of movement of the Tao”; and that opposites interpenetrate, as illustrated by the famous yin-yang symbol. The other religion was Buddhism, with its principles of the Middle Way and pratitya samutpada, or dependent origination. The result of this fusion was that folk life reinforced a metaphys- ics (and vice versa) that gave priority to a “both/and” dialectical way of thinking, a sensitivity to interdependence, “the need to see things whole,” and “the mutual influence of everything on almost everything else.” Objects are not in opposition, nor are they static or unchanging. A person was “connected, fluid, and conditional” and not a “bounded, impermeable free agent.” Em- phasis moves to the verb (becoming), not the noun (being). For Easterners, close attention to relationships, attitudes, and the feelings of others gained in importance. Compromise and hostility resolution were highly valued. “There is a strong pre- sumption that contradictions are merely apparent and to believe that ‘A is right and B is not wrong either.’ This stance is captured in the Zen Buddhist dictum that ‘the opposite of a great truth is also true.’ ” (Think of the dialectical logic of Nagarjuna and the Madhyamika school.) And rather than abstractions, “Chinese phi- losophers quite explicitly favored the more concrete sense impres- sions in understanding the world.” A wide-angle view that saw the background (field) was just as important as focusing on the figure. Lest anyone might suspect that Nisbett is trafficking in sweep- ing oversimplifications of East and West, I can assure readers that his book is filled with subtlety and nuance. He readily ac- knowledges that “Independence vs. interdependence is of course not an either/or matter. Every society—and every individual—is a blend of both.” In his research, he finds “that it is the white Protestants among the American participants in our studies who show the most Western patterns of behavior and that Catholics and minority group members, including African Americans and Hispanics, are shifted somewhat toward Eastern patterns,” and also that continental Europeans are intermediate between East Asian and Anglo-American social attitudes and values. But all this background is, says Nesbitt, just preparation for the heart of the book, which is contained in chapters four through sev- en. There, his studies confirm that “Westerners are the protagonists of their autobiographical novels; Asians are merely cast members in While the Greeks cherished agency and thought of themselves as individuals with distinct properties, the Chinese embraced harmony as their social ideal. MAY 80-105.indd 94 MAY 80-105.indd 94 3/7/08 11:30:23 AM 3/7/08 11:30:23 AM