Monday, June 22, 2009

The I, the Me, Meets the West

"We have the concept of a "two story" psyche in the west."
--Joseph Campbell

In the view of Joseph Campbell, there is a very divergence of thinking between the East and the West. The thought of a 'Self,' or its absence in the East is possibly the heart of the matter in his view. The subconscious and the unconscious is what Campbell asserts constitutes the idea of the psyche, or the self in the Western mind. "Down below lies the unconscious, while the conscious individual is above." According to others, the I or the Ego is that function which relates an individual to reality as an empirical measure. Ego relates in terms of personal judgments and opinions.

In terms of spirit, traditional churches in the West emphasize personal responsibility for one's own actions; in the East, the focus of Asian religious training tells the adherent to cancel the ego. Why? In simple terms of a society, Asians are to behave in ways dictated to them; there is a strong sense of a dharma, or doing what is one's life work or destiny. "When you turn to Asian systems, and read law books, from India or China for example, it is startling to the Western reader what is proscribed for those who don't follow the rules. Sun-Tzu in The Art of War said, for small faults, there should be great penalties; then there will be no great faults."

Thus the idea of a punishment " fitting the crime" is largely lacking. Since the development of an Ego, or an I is not encouraged, Asians come to adulthood often with a different sense of responsibility. The value of the community is ever important, and individuals often wish not to be singled out for either praise or punishment since this differentiates them from their group.

Like many Asian faith ideals, the Judeo-Christian instruction is towards canceling out the ego, the I. The Christ exhorts his followers to give up all of their personal possessions to come follow him. In doing so, they join into a community that likening to Asian ideals, demands and values obedience to a authority outside of, and higher than the individual self.

The fundamental ideas of a Heavenly Order should be the model for what is life on earth, and that the society is to reflect that same celestial design, may be thought of as the "Great Harmony." If this organization, this society, is successful, then all comes together in one great unit of wholeness. In this system says Campbell, "the sun should not wish to be the moon."

Each person born into the heavenly design has a role, and should not wish to be anything else. His birth is the determining factor for his character, his role, his duty and all other social actions which he may undertake as a member of the community which sustains him. On this point, Asians are often told, ordered, commanded; education is to train one to his proper role.

Alternatively in the West, there are thought to be moments of personal discovery, personal choice and learning. These make conditions for choices which individually and collectively affect individuals in many of life's most intimate moments such as choice of housing, marriage, child bearing, or leisure. Asians do not always make these choices as mature adults. "Responsible citizens in these places are those who perform their jobs perfectly." The society is already defined for them. The ego is erased.

When the buddha said to cancel the ego to cancel suffering, when the Christ exhorted his disciples to believe as he did about the rightness of your Father in Heaven, both are pointing towards an absolute truth, an absolute, transcendent reality based not upon values of the everyday, realities of the world--East or West.

Thus the mere accident of a self, an ego or a psyche is secondary and quite incidental. All that matters is that which supports the Kingdom as the community sees it. "Identity with the transcendent is one's essence."

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