Editor of The Zen Gateway website and practitioner of Zen Buddhism.
Turning a tap in Adelaide, a downpour in London
While the western approach to changing the outer world may be 'to go out there' and do something about it, in many eastern philosophies the answer lies in changing your own heart first.
There is an old Taoist saying: Man obeys the Laws of Earth; Earth obeys the Laws of Heaven; Heaven obeys the Laws of Tao and Tao obeys its own inherent Nature.
When we compare religions East and West, we notice some quite fundamental differences. For a start all Western religions have supreme deities. The major ones have a creator god who stands outside his creation and acts upon it. In the East some religions may also have deities although Buddhism does not recognise any supreme deity and certainly not a creator. In fact, the Eastern systems posit an impersonal force or ‘Way’ that manifests phenomena without itself being created. This Power is called Tao or Dharma and is likened to the Nature of something inherent within it in the same way as wetness is inherent in water. The Nature of something cannot be seen and yet its qualities are manifest because of it. The Eastern systems see this Tao or Dharma/Nature as underlying all created things whether high or low, light or dark, good or bad. Thus, there is inter-connectedness between all things. The same is true for the Nature of Man who shares the same Nature as the rest of the Universe.
This profoundly affects the world-view and makes for a very different approach to change from the Western way of going about things. For example, everyone is interested in World Peace but how to get it? The Western way means that I must get up and go and do something about it; march on Downing Street or sign a petition. The Eastern Way is to put my own Heart at peace. Because of the interconnectedness, that peace in my own heart ripples out and touches others and affects other hearts.
Buddhism works on this latter principle and is the reason why those more extraverted accuse it of being ‘nothing but navel-gazing’. It is in fact the principle of non-intentional action, in Chinese called wu-wei. A story, often told by the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, illustrates this principle
A certain province in China was suffering a terrible drought. They had tried all the usual magical charms and rites to produce rain but to no avail. Then someone said there was a rainmaker in a distant province who was supposed to be effective in producing rain. The local dignitaries invited him and sent a carriage to bring him to the drought area. In time the rainmaker arrived and alighting from the carriage was greeted by the local officials who beseeched him to help produce rain. The rainmaker sniffed the air, looked around and pointed to a small cottage high up on the side of a mountain. He asked if he could reside there for three days and see if he could do anything. The officials all agreed and he went up and locked himself into the cottage. Three days later storm clouds gathered and there was a torrential downpour of rain. The inhabitants were jubilant and a delegation, led by the officials went up to the cottage to thank the rainmaker. But the rainmaker shook his head and replied “But I didn’t make it rain”. The officials said he must have done as three days had passed and rain had been produced. The rainmaker replied, “No, you don’t understand. You see, where I come from everything happens as it is supposed to. It rains when it’s supposed to rain and stops when it is supposed to stop. It is the same with the people too. We also all do as we are supposed to. . But when I alighted from the carriage in your province I recognised at once that you are all out of harmony and so it was no wonder that it did not rain when it is supposed to. Being here myself, I became infected by your disharmony and I became out of sorts. I knew that if anything could be done then I would have to put ‘my own house in order’ first. And that is all I have been doing for the past three days!
The virtue of generosity, charity or giving. Your donations are welcomed.Learn more