Monday, January 30, 2012

Word vs. Zen

After reading the following paragraphs from Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig, I got a sort of enlightenment:
"[...]The term logos, the root word of ``logic,'' refers to the sum total of our rational understanding of the world. Mythos is the sum total of the early historic and prehistoric myths which preceded the logos. The mythos includes not only the Greek myths but the Old Testament, the Vedic Hymns and the early legends of all cultures which have contributed to our present world understanding. The mythos-over-logos argument states that our rationality is shaped by these legends, that our knowledge today is in relation to these legends as a tree is in relation to the little shrub it once was.
[...]One finds that in the Judeo-Christian culture in which the Old Testament ``Word'' had an intrinsic sacredness of its own, men are willing to sacrifice and live by and die for words. In this culture, a court of law can ask a witness to tell ``the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God,'' and expect the truth to be told. But one can transport this court to India, as did the British, with no real success on the matter of perjury because the Indian mythos is different and this sacredness of words is not felt in the same way."
Suddenly so many things became clear. I could finally find an explanation for some of the most puzzling cultural differences between West and East (especially where the mythos is mainly of Hindu, Buddhist and Taoist origin). For those aspects whose existence I've known for so long but for which I couldn't find a root. We - I mean westerners - give great importance to our word, our promises, the truth. Asians value these things as well, of course, but in a different way. And they probably value other things even more. Else, how could we explain the never say no culture, or all the incongruent behaviors that Asians can naturally adopt so that no one is forced to lose face?

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