Found this quote last night, while reading a book called “Poems that Touch the Heart” — “Civilization is just the slow process of learning to be kind.”

What is “civilization”? We all have different ideas. Such differences lead to conflicts, often deadly ones. The Native Americans have one version — it is to be one with all of Creation. Confucius had a different version. He put a high premium on “ren(仁),” literally meaning “human,” but also meaning kind and humane to others. To the modern mind, civilization often means still another vision — to conquer nature, to “develop” the land …

I had a conversation with a Facebook friend on this very topic. To her, the Native American way is perhaps the antithesis of civilization. It seems to her that such lifestyle is close to being animal. It is a kind of backwardness. The Chinese Taoist way too is close to nature. The Tao Te Ching says “the Tao follows nature.” Joseph Needham, a sinologist, once asked this very interesting question — why didn’t China have science? I have tried to answer that question myself years ago. My old answer is that China did not develop science because modern science is based on debates and arguments. But the Chinese mind prefers harmony. Only today that I came up with a different answer — China did not develop science because the common motivation for doing science is to conquer nature. It is also a kind of rebellion. It represents man’s refusal to remain part of the animal world.

I recall the time when Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization. His answer was politely shocking. It points to a key difference between East and West, the modern and the pre-modern.

There are two tendencies — the will to harmonize and the will to fight and conquer. They represent the Yin and the Yang. Both are manifestation of the Tao. The key lies in the balance.

There is duality and there is non-duality. The interaction between the two makes the world go around.

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Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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