Eastern Thinking Versus Western Thinking

Say you don’t love something or hate something but instead that you have a whole range of feelings towards it ranging from love to hate to everything in between, and most Westerners will either look at you in awe like you are a Godhead or condemn you as a crazy person, with the latter reaction being the norm.

Most Westerners are silly Manicheans, so that sentence is seen as insane. But any intelligent Asian man would just nod his head. Long ago, they figured out that everything’s a grey area. Remember what Mao said about Stalin? “Stalin was 70% good and 30% bad.” That makes complete sense to any intelligent Asian.

To a Westerner, perhaps especially to an American, that sentence is “insane.” And most Westerners would describe it exactly as such. Westerners don’t do grey areas. Neither do Muslims. Nor Jews. Must have to do with those Abrahamic religions, where things are either good or evil and no ifs, ands or butts about it.

The Jews do try to get away from that with their Talmud, which is 13,000 pages of a bunch of rabbis sitting around debating this or that and never really coming to much of a conclusion about anything. Except most Jews never read one page of the Talmud. Tell a Jew about the evil and sick stuff in that book and they will yell at you. Except you’d be right.

Hinduism tried to get away from that too but mostly by deciding that there wasn’t really such a thing as evil, except the only evil being not fulfilling your Dharma, that is, taking care of your loved ones, tribe, caste, etc. And if you have to do that by stealing millions of dollars, Hinduism says that’s a-ok.

Of course Buddhism tries hardest to get away from this the most to the point where Zen will hardly admit that much of anything is true or even worth pondering about. Instead, as Candide wisely opined, one should simply cultivate one’s garden. Do that, think of nothing but what precisely you are doing, and there you will find satori.

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4 thoughts on “Eastern Thinking Versus Western Thinking”

    1. I think they may believe this. I remember that Nixon asked Chou En Lai what he thought of the French Revolution that had taken place 200 years before. “It’s too soon to tell,” he said. They think long term on the order of centuries instead of decades. And yes, they have figured out that “everything’s a grey area.” That’s sort of Taoism right there.

  1. Russians are pretty good with gray areas.

    An illustration. A Russian emigrant mathematician and psychologist Vladimir Lefevre was an adviser to Reagan on how to conduct negotiations with Gorbachev. He had a theory that the Western and Eastern European (in this case, Soviet) ethics were completely different.

    In Western thinking, there is a clear difference between Good and Evil, one should confront evil, yet compromise with an enemy is a good thing

    In the Eastern approach, there is no Good and Evil, everything is gray, and the ends justify the means., but one should not compromise with an enemy.

    The advice was to conduct negotiations in such a way that the Soviets would not look like compromising to the domestic constituency. Make negotiations mostly informal. Avoid formal deals that might be seen as defeats by the ordinary Russians.

    I would not say that Russians are Easterners, having nothing in common with the Chinese or Indians, yet the ethical systems are obviously different.

    Oh, and Lefevre was the guy who coined the term Evil Empire

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