Asia Society presents; 8
Age As a society of presidents. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. You're a host on this transcribed series of the noted author and award winning broadcaster Ligue Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. There was a time when Western missionaries went to the Far East Asia I should say to proselytize the people and convert them to Christianity. It seems a reverse trend is set in and today many Western Christians are going to the Far East in order to do more about that philosophy and perhaps bring it home to the west. We hear people like me afar when the Beatles or you may scoff at that but I have a feeling that they must be sincere in their quest. Well they wouldn't go that far to find some meaning for their lives. On our program today we are very privileged to have as our guest. Nancy Wilson Ross. Because I think of all the Americans that I have come across she probably
knows more about Asian philosophy and art than any other and maybe another but I can't think of one right now. Nancy Wilson Ross may be better known to you as a novelist. Among the books on the left hand is the dreamer ancestor and the return of Lady brace. As she branched off into eastern philosophy as the years went by she wrote a book called three ways of age in wisdom and I recommend that book very highly. Another book of hers the world of Zen is now available in paperback so I think anybody can afford it. Nancy Wilson Ross is also a trustee of the Asia Society and she managed to combine the east and west in a most amazing manner and that is something that I must ask you again how do you manage to be so Western and Eastern all at same time. Why didn't realize that I did combine this still amazing Lee I don't suppose I think it's very difficult it seems quite natural to me. I'm always being asked to account for my interest
in Asian thought philosophy art and so on and I have sort of made up a pat answer which I use not being sure that it's the right one but I do say I was born in the Pacific Northwest and I grew up among Chinese and Japanese people and I used to observe their ways is rather different from our own and they seemed to me extremely interesting and as I grew older they seemed to me equally valid. And I always offer this as an explanation but as I say I'm not quite sure it's the right one I think perhaps I was born interested in it and I picked up the comparisons as I my eyes open to the world within as people in all parts of the world have this interest perhaps not to the degree you have but since they do have it it must be something about Asia which speaks to people of the Occident in terms which they may not completely understand but want to explore. Do you think that the West is that much of an impact on the east in religion in philosophy or is each just absolved it and really almost ignored it.
Well I feel that we've had an impact on the east but I think it's been another aspect I feel that we have brought to them many of our great materialistic discoveries and ideas and these are valuable and I would NEVER decry them or make light of them. But I also think that they have accepted all of this perhaps almost unquestioningly up until the present time and we have proselytize so to say with our own philosophy and curiously enough knowledge by the back door. Asia has entered our lives through young people who are turning so markedly toward Zan or toward the meditation practices of the down into the Beatles as you mentioned and Mia Farrow and other young people toward the philosophy and the meditative techniques of Maharishi Mahesh. There's no doubt but what young American people are drawn toward the eastern thought in a way that is quite extraordinary. Except that having read a good deal and recently read rather more than I have in a long time on our early ancestors in New England the
so-called transcendental ists like Emerson and Thoreau and others I realize that this interest was here once before and very strongly and I've even thought as I read how much Emerson and some of his behavior and thorough and a good part of his behavior resemble many of the hippies today by withdrawing from what they thought of as the corruption of the city's getting out into nature. Learning to meditate talking about things like the over soul or Brahma whatever that the that was the terminology the transcendentalists but is very comparable to what's going on with young people today. And I suppose this really interests me because I don't feel that our idea about time in the West is the correct one. I think we think of time as linear we think it past from present. Past that say then present and future. A linear direction. I don't believe that's a truth about time I think time is a spiral and it moves in a spiral
form. And so the east side has always believed in this power form of time somehow now begins to connect in the most remarkable way with our most advanced scientific theories. There are certain trends which as the post prevail wherever people live no matter what religion they practice. If we could begin with some similarities between east and west before we think of the differences. Would you say that one of them is the principle of comma in that what you sow as you sow so shall you reap whatever you do in this world will come back in some way to you in the next world or even in this world while you are still in it. Would you say that that is a verity. It seems to apply everywhere and practically every religion. I think it shows and I think that we are saying it in our Christian scriptures Hebrew Christian scriptures but that we have so often. In a sense denied it at least we haven't given it full weight. The theory of karma reincarnation the idea you've been here before and are going to come again
was I understand a part of Christian theology until one of the great conferences meetings of church fathers a long way back in which they decided to omit it from Christian theology. But I think it is a basic idea in the mind of man and somehow has a certain curious sense to it and the Asians have made this a basic tenet of all their faith is that you were here before. Maybe not in just the same personal sense of it but your atoms let's say your particular wavelength or whatever was here before and that in that sense you are carrying on from where you were last left off. And if your life is good or bad it reflects rather strongly the kind of life you led before. Do you think people want to be what they call more scientific. They could say just point to what psychiatrists will tell their patients that if you do something about what you feel guilty you can never suppress the guilt and it comes out in certain forms to haunt you and Bonnie Whew. This is quite right and I think there are so many marvelous connective lines
between the theories of the unconscious and even the collective unconscious and in the West and the theories that the Eastern people have developed about gods which are just forms of energy after all that we haven't explored enough. I think Carl Jung did a lot of it and he's given us some marvelous clues but I feel in this direction there are wonderful things that one could go into and think about right about of one have the time energy and whatnot to do it well in your book three ways of age and wisdom which I have read twice now and the second things which I didn't see when they were first time so I'm I'm sure I'll have to read it at least once more if not I'll hear that one of the things I read was that a psychiatrist whose name escapes me now said that more than twenty five hundred years ago in the east certain psychological crews would discover in which we now reach discovering that. The East seemed to. I suppose because the civilization is older had thoughts which
we seem to ignore in trying to impose all our thoughts and which we are now beginning to absolve. Would you say Miss Ross that the. Well let's say that the similarity between east and west is much stronger than most of us realize. I feel that's true and I think you are referring to the Buddha who was after all I suppose the first of the great psychologists if one wants to use that term in that he said. Going back to the idea of karma or your fate which is in a sense determined by what happened to you in a former life from the Asian point of view. But he came along and made karma sound like an opportunity which is in a way it was he said if you are lucky enough to be born at least that's what the debate and God is say you have a tremendous opportunity and you must not fritter it away you must make the best of it in every possible aspect of your lives. And the Buddha said in essence a man's thoughts determine his life. And of course this is the most modern kind of thinking. And this is what psycho analysts have been able to dredge up out of all those experiences of people lying on the couch
and trying to recall of things that are affecting their lives. Invisible on Lost in the basement mind that we now know are really the most powerful forces. Yes that's a better turn debasement mind run a much better time than unconscious. Well yeah I suppose. That's a very good price. I was wondering Mr. Ross though if you could perhaps distinguish between Buddhism and Hindu Western force. Would you say that Hinduism is the oldest and the more embracing faith and Buddhism as a kind of reform movement. I prostituted a mosque within the Catholic Church yes in a way that's true. That's a little simplified as you know but Hinduism actually is an all embracing face and it's great it's great fundamental tenet is tolerance you know anybody can worship God and come to salvation by his own route no matter what it is he can he can get to God if he wants to by where shipping really literal figures of gods dressed in
the costumes of kings and queens and taking them out for rides and swinging them and swings and feeding them special food and so on. If he's on that childish level in his personal development as a human being the Hindu priest wouldn't think any the less important that's where he is and let him do it. Then on the highest level you get men like Dr. Radhakrishnan who was the great Oxford scholar and Vice President of India who was of a down test and a great philosophic. A teacher and thank you. Well as I say Hinduism has this great embrace But along came the Buddha and the Buddha chose to put his emphasis on the human being himself he said. I'm not going to waste my time you mustn't waste your time in trying to saw the meaning of the universe or the mystery of the great first cause we're never really going to know what really. We may arrive at some conclusions about it by sitting in meditation and and dwelling on it but the thing I want to emphasize to you is to live your own daily life with a certain kind of good sense and and absence of bad
karma so that you won't have to come back and enter into the dark side of life again. When you say that you are the main differences then between Hinduism and Buddhism is that in Buddhism it was more of an emphasis on one's daily life on one's ability to do something with oneself whereas in Hinduism there is a kind of passive fiftie an acceptance of yeah you can call it art fair. And I think the branch of Buddhism that's best known on this country which is a Zahn which so many young people now I'm turned toward does emphasize this pragmatic thing that you must really live your daily life in such a way that you. In the sense you worship God all the time whether you're peeling a carrot or riding in a subway or reading a book or hoeing a row in the garden or whatever you are with your very body and whatever you're doing with it. Worshipping God and he's not separated from you in some special realm. And today I feel even the young theologians who are talking about the death of God theory which is now so much in the public presence on are really saying the same
thing they're saying there is not. They're going away from this Heber a Christian God of the transcendent deity with man down here and God transcendent. They're coming to the idea that God is here imminent in all of us and that we live God out. Well however one wishes to think about this the fact is this is becoming a modern part of theology. And here we come there. Very strongly toward eastern views and I feel that scientists are doing the same thing and I was tremendously interested in even put it in my book when I read on the front page of The Herald Tribune about three years ago that Fred Hoyle who's the greatest astronomer of England had said that after many years of supporting something he called the steady state theory which was that the universe was in a practically steady state and remained that way that he now had to retreat from this position and say that modern findings have convinced him that the universe is really expanding and went on expanding time for billions of
years. It's then going to contract into a dense ball of matter and this is the way the universe works. Well this is what the Asians have been saying forever and forever. They call it the sleeping and the waking of Brahma on the great first cause this invisible indescribable first cause. They say that first he breathes out and as he brings out the world's coming into being and then when he draws in his breath for his final sleep the worlds I would draw on and condense. Well this is about three to 5000 years old as a theory and now along comes Fred Hoyle and says Out of all his experimentation and thinking he's come to this theory and he doesn't call it the inbreeding and outbreeding of Romani cause it. I'm moving away from the steady state idea of the universe. These people use different words but who seem to go in cycles say it was our universe and then they're lost and then they rediscovered another point which I felt was an important one. This was about Buddhism. Once that is closer to the Western idea of democracy
and Hinduism that a man's worse is determined by what he does here not by his ancestors were as in India as him with the caste system a man is condemned at birth depending upon what his parents did unmoored his grandparents did. This is true and I feel that that was one of the great things the Buddha accomplished he said a man the Brahma Rahman's as you know are the top of the caste ladder in Asia in India rather he said Brahman is not a Brahman by virtue of his inherited position he is a Brahman by the way he conducts himself and lives his life and this was to put the emphasis on a totally different kind of. Psychology This is one of the great contributions of the Buddha to eastern thought. I think it was a most emancipating idea at a time when just like an idea was must been dangerous. Yes indeed he had the courage to come out with it. Surely he would have been put in prison in the modern time. This was I heard you say at a very wonderful luncheon we had preceding this program today
that you like the hippies very much you understood them you believed in them you admired them. You feel that they are somehow continuing the Eastern tradition in much of what they do. Would you explain explain that a little bit more. Well I feel that they are I don't know that I would say continually if I use that word I'm not sure I would abide by it but I think they are exploring the Easterner position they are trying very hard to. Live a new attitude toward life. I'm not sure one could say it's more Asian than Christian if one thinks of the early roots of the Christian faith for instance turn be an A and a long piece he did recently in a national magazine spoke about that part of the hippies called the diggers as early Christians because they share everything they don't keep anything to themselves and they are really dispensing charity in its purest sense without any any sort of bad connection around it and so whether they're Christians or Asians
I'm not sure about of course they are interested in Asia. And we have only again to go back to the Beatles and and other people that are enormously well known unkind who have gone to Asia and I agree with you Miss Graham and I haven't gone just to get more publicity have gone out of it than see a desire to search for something real to themselves as they go to state in the West and maybe I'm not alone I had it all they don't need to know and I was interested in something that one of the Beatles said that Maharishi Mahesh and said to them than giving them a rose this use of the flower is so interesting to me we haven't got time to go into it today but I've I've done a lot of research into it the idea of the flower as a way of teaching. And he said that Maharishi Mahesh had given them a rose and said Here is the rose here its petals hears it stock and so on its leaves. This is not the rose the real rose the real mystery the Rose is in the sap that rises through it this mysterious invisible force. And these are quite the words of whatever Beatle it was but he made the point that this is the search for this mysterious invisible sap was what the Beatles were going out to
find out in spite of the influence and the power of the eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism and Zen which is an offshoot of Buddhism isn't it. Yes there is an impact that Christianity has made upon the East. I wondered whether you would say that the borrowing back and forth has been equal. Or is Christianity made less of an impact. Because I think you said it but a third of the people in India are Christians. No it's the third largest group. Well I'll give you a hint No. That is a little confusing. No the great majority of Indians are Hindu. They've even gone away from what ism which was not quite apparently in the Indian grain so they were able to move away from it. But as they moved away from N word ism went throughout all of Asia. So long Vietnam Burma China Korea Japan and became the great force for. For philosophic and cultural exchange I'm only doing all that part of the Muslim religion which is second in
popularity in India which yes the Islamic thing which of course is very powerful as you go to in the other day you see all the relics that were left by Muslim and Asians which are really very powerful invasions were leaving behind the marvelous architecture of monuments. Why don't people in the east feel that there are many points of similarity between what Jesus said and what I believe I think they're much more willing to see this. You know ya we've got an idea unfortunately I think it's disappearing now but that we had the truth we were the only people who had the truth this is a terrible form of arrogance. And I feel it's done us enormous harm and I think the fact that we went out Asia with this idea and instead of really listening to them to find out how we couldn't connect. There were certain people who did but on the whole people went out with the idea that we had the answers and that we were to tell them the truth and then they would go our way. I think it has been a disaster. Tremendous import that we don't really even know how tragic it's being.
I've often said that one of the reasons my book three ways of age and wisdom was such a success was because alas so many Vietnamese people began to to jump into fires and bring them south. People began to say well what is Buddhism. Because they were Buddhists. But you see we have a very curious attitude we think that we can go out to Vietnam or wherever and we can kill any number of thousands of people. It doesn't seem to us terribly distressing not in that you know in an affronting way we think we're doing it for a good cause or many people do alas. But if someone just used to kill themselves like the kamikaze pilots of the Second World War off over the Pacific then we consider it something so really terrifying and dreadful that we we shrink back from it. But the Buddhist has a different idea about life and death he thinks of it as a great continuum and. He doesn't offer up his life with a feeling we all have our lives with he just gives it. He was going to do any good he offers it. There it is and. It isn't really my idea of what I would call militant militant faith because we were a militant faith
for instance Christians when we set out on the Crusades and we went out and said Do you all jolly well got to believe our way are you going to burn forever in eternal flames. This is kind of an absolutely fantastic point of view which the east has never had. Well actually the first militant of our civilization it was Christ who gave his life so that men might be saved. I mean people who do you think that's a very good point he gave his life he let himself go to the ground that many saints that follow those people will give their lives for a cause in which they believe and that's not of the East no way no it's universe and not even necessarily militant. It's just a way. Fulfilling what you consider your destiny. Well though our topic was primarily to be the universe how likely of Eastern philosophy and religion and culture. Oh no Wouldn't you say that there was universality which goes beyond east and west and there were certain tenets which apply to all people who are looking for something. I think we should look for the similarities but I also think we should be perfectly willing to embrace the
differences. In fact I think that's the way people learn by seeing things that you know differ from the way they've been taught to believe and think all their lives this I think is a great way to find out something about the world in which we're all alive. If I could ask you an impossible question and you're the only person who can answer it but most of the questions Miss Well what would you say is the attitude that most westerners have about the East and the attitude that most Easterners Asians have about the West that is different. Well I do think that Asians consider that when I began with us I think we consider with our wanting to or not we really consider Asians backward and not quite as bright as we are because they haven't got indoor flash Johns and and toothbrushes and all around you know we really can't have it we believe this. We don't know how short a time we have had indoor flash Jons we forgot it or toothbrushes nonresident So we look on them and say well poor backward people. I think that's the greatest stumbling block in our relationship to Asian our feeling of measuring everything by the materialistic ruler.
What they think of us now I feel is alas that we are we are really pretty much barbarians. They base that on our warlock I give my software has done us no good. But aside from that do they think that of us in general the Chinese always thought it was you know they really thought the barbarians. We really were barbarians then we didn't have their. Elegance and cultivation that goes back then. Miss Ross this is an eternally fascinating subject one can never tire of exploring but that's all we can do for today. But I hope I'll have the privilege in our audience with you but you're right because I was being interviewed as we said intelligent question. Thank you I like to say that our guest on this edition of the ages society presents has been Nancy Wilson Ross. You can well understand why Miss Ross is among very few women who were invited to be on the board of trustees of the age's society Miss Ross is a distinguished novelist used the left and is the dreamer ancestor
of Lady brace. She is an authority certainly on Asian philosophy and art. One of the book's three ways of age and wisdom we have discussed today. And also I recommend the world of Zen which you can now get in the paperback edition. And Mrs Lee Graham saying goodbye with a reminder that although East is East and West is West we do think that the time has come for the twain to meet. You have just heard the age as a society presents with Lee Graham. This program is produced by members of the staff of the edge of society. This transcribed feature of your city station comes to you through a public service grant of the age of society. If you would like to comment on this program or would like further information about the work of the ages as I do you are how you can become a member. Please write to Mrs. Lee Graham WNYC New York 100 0 0 7. We hope you enjoyed this broadcast and we invite you to join us again next week at the same time for another edition of the Asia Society presents.
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- Asia Society presents is a series of programs from WNYC and The Asia Society. Through interviews with experts on Asian affairs, the series attempts to strengthen listeners understanding of Asian people and ideas. Episodes focus on specific countries and political, cultural, and historical topics.
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Host: Graham, Leigh
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- MLA: “Asia Society presents; 8.” 1969-01-31. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 6, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-00003m6p>.
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