Recently, the city of Portland, Oregon opened an indoor traditional Chinese garden, of all things, smack in the middle of downtown. The objective was to create something that was truly authentic to Chinese gardening, which is radically different from the traditional Western style. Instead of sticking to aesthetically-arranged trees, flowers, and green lawns surrounding the occasional sculpture, this garden is only about one-third greenery. The rest is rocks, wood, and other naturalistic architecture, sometimes decorated with Chinese pictograms, each object's place and position possessing a special and deliberate meaning.
The designers of the garden were still very much American, but because of the significance of each object and even each color, they did their research exhaustively. One of these designers had been responsible for choosing the flowers and had agonized over exactly what color of lotus should be used, finally settling on white. Shortly after the opening of the garden, she saw a clearly Asian Buddhist monk watching her lotuses for a long time, and she decided to go an ask him his thoughts.
The monk said that he was very pleased with the garden. Soon, the designer asked him what color of lotus he would have seen in his native China, and was surprised when he answered "pink."
"Why is that?" the designer asked. The monk answered that in China, pink was the color of happiness. He then asked why the designer chose white, and she replied that she thought that the virtue and purity which the color white represented would be significant and suitable for the garden.
To which the monk replied, in a low voice close to the designer's ear, "You know, I think people would rather be happy than virtuous."
It occurred to me that there could be no single anecdote, no single sentence, which underscored the fundamental differences between Eastern and Western thought than this.