Japanese Dynamism

From: Waldemar Ingdahl (wingdahl@hotmail.com)
Date: Mon Jun 12 2000 - 12:07:44 MDT

I recently read an interesting book in Swedish. Lars Vargö' s "Leva trångt"
about Japan. There he described his experience with the Yamabushi sect. The
yamabushi is a sect that mixes Shintoism and Buddhism. It is mostly know for
its' strange rituals of fire walking, meditating on nature and climbing up
ladders made of swords. In short it seemed like the usual run of the mill
ascetic oriental cult that Westerner's are so enamoured with. But when he
came to the Yamabushi Center in the north of the island of Honshu he was in
for some surprises. He wasn't lodged in the old 14th century temple complex,
but in a newly built culture center, near the temple complex. He asked why,
and the yamabushi answered him that they otherwise couldn't lodge all the
participants for the one week courses in yamabushi philosophy. He was
surprised that this strict sect accepted that people could try being a
yamabushi- monk "frivolously" for just one week. He got the strange answer
that it was better to be yamabushi for just a week than never in this
lifetime. Grudgingly he tried it on too. Of course he experienced all the
walks in the forest nearby, the meditations and all the other things he
expected. But it was when the yamabushi didn't conform to his expectations
that he reacted. For instance, the participants were told to go to a sacred
mountain BY BUS. He asked how a sect communing with nature could use such a
thing and got a strange answer from the sensei: didn't you hear the Kami
(God) of the bus or the Kami of the concrete speak to you? Another day they
were told to meditate under a cold waterfall, but again he reacted- THE
WATERFALL WAS ARTIFICIAL. It had been built in concrete by the yamabushi.
Again he got a strange answer: so what? Concentrate on the Ordeal! He failed
the ordeal; he didn't even try. It wasn't natural. Afterwards he was shocked
that the sensei bought everybody a round of rice wine and beer at the local
pub to celebrate them coming a bit closer to their "Buddha nature".

I gave this example from Vargö's book to show the differences between the
Western concept of spirituality and the Japanese. The Western concept is
still very much the Christian concept of negation, of asceticism. It is
decidedly much more against integrating new things and concepts into the
spiritual. The Creator will mind if you introduce new things in his
creation. Even today our intellectual leadership is still very much adverse
to dynamism, always quoting the "Frankenstein argument". Perhaps that is why
so few Westerner's have gone to Japan to search "spiritual enlightenment".
It doesn't at all conform to their concept of spirituality. Japan is too
rich, too affluent to really be spiritual. The Japanese spirituality must
have been corrupted. So they go to India, to the ashrams were they can
indulge in anti- materialism (and buy the guru a new Rolls Royce).

In Japan the spiritual and the material are not opposites, they are part of
a whole. The mountain may be a Kami; the river may be a Kami. Why not the
bus too? Why not the robot or the computer?

Sure, Japan has had its' long periods of stagnation- but also its' periods
of very encouraged dynamism. For instance the lightning quick passage from
stone age to iron age in the Yayoi period 300 BCE, and the lightning quick
passage from the middle ages to the industrial age in the Meiji period in
the 19th century.
These rapid developments did become as troublesome as one might expect.

Perhaps the Japanese's concept of spirituality had something to do with
this. And today we notice a much greater acceptance of technology in
Japanese society than in the West. Just look at the huge trend of artificial
pets in Japan. In the West the artificial pets mostly stir emotions of
disgust. Consumption cannot be spiritual!

But sure it can! And I think that perhaps we transhumanists have a bit to
learn from the Japanese in this respect. I' m not advocating a form of
cyber- shintoism, but perhaps a different approach



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