I'm thinking it's time to do an abbreviated tour of Asia's creative class centers - focusing exclusively on China and India - this winter. Reading Alan Watt's excellent, ultra-concise introduction to Taoist philosophy sealed it in my mind. I've also grown tired of speculating about what India and China might be like by reading alone and inquiring of Indian-Americans and Chinese-Americans without my own first-hand knowledge. (Yes, I've been to Asia but never these two countries. And if you blog from either of these countries, please introduce yourself - evelyn [at] korugroup [dot] com.)
Alan Watts clearly states what I have long been thinking. That is, that although we in the West live in a secular society, there are clearly principles evident in nearly each of our institutions - yes, and this would include business - that reflect long-held philosophies, religious thought and cultural myths whether or not these concepts are still believed today.
The problem is that we have been brought up in a religious and philosophical tradition that, to a great extent, has taught us to mistrust the nature that surrounds us, and to mistrust ourselves as well. We have inherited a doctrine of original sin, which tells us not to be too friendly, and to be very cautious of our own human nature - The Way of the Tao, by Alan Watts
One could fill a book on the myth of the Fall (i.e. Adam and Eve being evicted from their rent-free Paradise) and of the concept of original sin - and its effects on Western society today. But I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader - well, at least for now.
It's fascinating that some cultures have an entirely opposite philosophical history and it begs the question: Does one get a different outcome with a fundamentally different philosophy as the underpinning of your society?
There are two great main currents in traditional Chinese thinking: the Taoist current and the Confucian. Both of them agree on one fundamental principle, and that is that the natural world in which we live, and human nature itself, must be trusted. They would say of a person who cannot trust his own basic nature, "If you cannot trust your own nature, how can you trust your own mistrusting of it? How do you know that your mistrust is not wrong as well?" If you do not trust your own nature, you become as tangled up as anyone can be.
Their idea of nature is that which happens of itself so, and that is a process which is not fundamentally under our control. By definition it is that which is happening all on its own, just as our breathing is happening all on its own, and just as our heart is beating all on its own - and the fundamental wisdom behind Taoist philosophy is that this "self-so" process is to be trusted.
Taoist thought is generally attributed to Lao-tzu, who is thought to have lived somewhere around 400 BCE and to Chuang-tse, who lived from 369 to 286 BCE...In its final form, however, it is so similar to Buddhism that Taoist terms are often used to translate Sanskrit texts to Chinese. Once Buddhism was imported to China, Taoism so completely permeated Mahayana Buddhism in general and Zen Buddhism in particular that the philosophies of these schools are often indistinguishable.
When we look to Confucian ideas, which governed Chinese moral and social life, we find a different world that represents the basis of human nature...This word [jen or ren] is symbolic of mankind's cardinal virtue in the system of Confucian morality, and it is usually translated "human-heartedness" or "humanness." When Confucius was asked to give a precise definition of it, though he refused. He said, "You have to feel the meaning of this virtue. You must never put it into words."
The wisdom of his attitude toward defining jen is simply that a human being will always be greater than anything they can say about themselves, and anything they can think about themselves. If we formulate ideas about our own nature, about how our own minds and emotions work, those ideas are always going to be qualitatively inferior - that is to say, far less complicated and far less alive - than the actual author of the ideas themselves, and that is us. So there is something about ourselves that we can never get at, that we can never define - and in just the same way you cannot bite your own teeth, you cannot hear your own ears, and you cannot make your own hand catch hold of itself. So therefore you must let go and trust the goings-on of your humanness. Confucius was the first to say that he would rather trust human passions and instincts than trust human ideas about what is right... - The Way of the Tao, by Alan Watts