Many of the cultural
values held by Asian
cultures are based on a sense of unity of being
. Before studying these cultures this term, I was aware of this doctrine
but I had no idea the scope of which it touches all parts of Asian cultural life. This unity of being
is reflected in many ways, but especially in relationship to the environment
. The unity of balance
is based on the Buddha
’s teaching of the "middle path
". In this way Buddhist
religious thought always has permeated cultural standards.
For example, the Chinese tea ceremony is used as an exercise to clear the mind or the inner self. Buddhist monks devised the ceremony in order to make the process of clearing the mind for meditation easier. The ceremony itself focuses on order and symbolizes an uncluttered life.
Another example of unity of spirit can be seen in haiku poetry. Haiku was first created in Japan by Basho and developed by Buddhist monks. Haiku tries to balance language, just as the tea ceremony tries to prepare the mind for meditation. Haiku poetry is based on a strict ordering of syllables in order to reach a state of harmony. The content of the poem, although often focused on environmental scenes or metaphors, can be about anything – it is the balance of the words that makes the poetry unique.
Even in athletics, balance is given great importance. Baseball, an American cultural invention, when transplanted to Japan was ascribed Asian cultural characteristics. Japanese baseball, more so than it’s American counterpart, is about the psychological battle between the pitcher and the batter. In America baseball is very much a team sport. In Japan the game is a contest of wills, where two minds are pitted against each other for control of the playing field. It is only a team game in the sense that after one, one-on-one battle, another is begun by the previous hitter’s teammate and the opposing pitcher.
Baseball also shows other signs of balance – between the individual and the communal. It is interesting to me that the spectators are lead in their cheering. Western religious thought subscribes to the idea that the soul is a paradox. It holds both the individuals’ need to be unique and their need to be communal. This can be seen is Japanese baseball, in that it focuses on the battle of two individuals as described above, yet still has communal properties all well, seen in the coordination of the spectators.
Another cultural attribute that is found in many artistic and social ideas is the Buddhist and Shinto concept of purity. This idea can be seen in several different areas.
In Indonesian culture the left and the right hand are opposites of each other, more than simply one being stronger than the other. In religious thought, the left hand is unclean or impure. Meanwhile the right hand is synonymous with food and money and therefore is cleaner. The Indonesians also hold purification rituals in order to purify themselves.
Another example of the necessity of purification is seen in sumo wrestling. Before the match salt is used to purify the competition surface. Both the area and the wrestlers need to be clean because of the close contact nature that is common with the competition, that is unknown in other areas of Asian society (such as the western greeting of shaking hands) .
As seen in the previous examples, both purity and unity or balance are cultural bedrocks of Asian society. This is probably the result of Buddhist and Shinto teachings, which are important in Asian thought. In other words, I learned in order to understand Asian culture I need to understand eastern religion’s perspective of the world.