A Facebook friend recently asked me a good question: Why does the Indian mind want to transcend nature while the Chinese mind doesn’t?
This is just my theory. Nature is closely related to women, pleasure and sex. Certainly, women are much closer to nature than men. They bleed every month according to the cycle of the moon. Women are much more directly involved with the creation and nurturing of new life. At the same time, there is a basic wildness about nature. The forces of nature are very powerful, yet nature defies control. Something that is powerful yet uncontrollable is fearsome.
Women, just like nature, are powerful, due to their beauty and sex appeal. When patriarchy arose in the Neolithic Age, there was a strong tendency for men to dominate women. Yet, many men felt totally powerless when encountering a beautiful woman. Women made them lose their sense of control. The temptations were just too strong. Consequently, men turned against women and sex, as a way to regain self-control. The attempt to dominate women is therefore due to men’s sense of insecurity. This, I believe is the origin of the tradition of celibacy in various religions.
In Buddhism, particularly the Theravada tradition, monks avoid coming in contact with women, due to the fear of temptations. In the Pali Canon, the Buddha taught that one should guard oneself against sensuality: “So one, always mindful, should avoid sexual desires. Letting them go, he will cross over the flood like one who, having bailed out the boat, has reached the far shore.” Thus, sexual desire is considered as a serious obstacle to deliverance. The Pali Canon records at least one incident when a disciple of Buddha gave in to desire — he had sex with his wife at the suggestion of his mother. When Buddha found out, he was furious. He severely reprimanded his student, saying:
“Worthless man, it would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a poisonous snake than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into the mouth of a black viper than into a woman’s vagina. It would be better that your penis be stuck into a pit of burning embers, blazing and glowing, than into a woman’s vagina.”
Of course, if you truly understand Buddhist meditation (or Vipassana), you will know that the genuine Buddhist practice is very gentle. It is not based on brute force or suppression. Still, the fear of sex is recorded in the Pali Canon, probably due to the fact that early Buddhism is primarily monastic. It is easy to see how the fear of the sexual power of women can turn into misogyny. After all, women possess this power that men find almost impossible to resist. There is definitely this attempt to suppress sexual desire through will power and brute force in the Buddhist tradition, although we may argue whether this is truly what the Buddha taught. Such attempt to suppress sexual expressions and sensuality represents a desire to conquer nature. Generally speaking, Hindu spirituality tends to be less sex-negative and less otherworldly than Indian Buddhism. There is, for example, the Kama Sutra, which gives instructions of erotic love.
Patriarchy is a global phenomenon. In China, however, nature is not seen an enemy or something to be conquered. The Chinese see themselves as an integral part of nature. Thus, an important goal in life is to live harmoniously with nature, not to fight it. It is in this aspect that the Chinese mind is distinctively different from the Indian mind and the Western mind. When you look at a Chinese landscape painting, you never see man dominating the landscape. Rather, man is a part of the landscape, often as a tiny figure. Love of nature is part of the Taoist heritage.
Another gift of Taoism to the Chinese mind is to see the mutual dependency of the polarities. The world is a dualistic one which is full of polarities — yin and yang, masculine and feminine, weak and strong, etc. But the polarities are partners, not mortal enemies. The yin and the yang do not try to destroy each other. They rely each other for their own existence. They are complementary. It is for this appreciation of the complementary nature of opposites that the Chinese mind is much more holistic. It is about balance, not domination. We see that in ecology too. The predators and preys seem like enemies. But they also rely on each other in a delicate balance.
Confucian values also come into play. Although the Chinese society is hierarchical, a key virtue in Confucian culture is harmony. Not domination. Not hegemony. Not subjugation of one gender over another, one human being against another. The Chinese firmly believe that with harmony, there comes prosperity. Harmony between men and women, husband and wife, parents and children, teachers and students, superior and subordinate. This harmony is another expression of balance and peaceful existence.
Thus, the Chinese mind does not fight nature or attempt to conquer nature. It seeks harmony with nature because it is through harmony comes prosperity and the good life. This is a unique Chinese perspective.