thumbnail of Asia Society presents; 36
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Ther ther. Be Asians who applied to the present. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster league Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. Perhaps some of you don't know this but it came to my attention recently that the memorial to President Kennedy which was built in Britain for
him was based on a Zen Buddhist garden which was built more than 400 years ago in Kyoto Japan and a low it has some Western influence about it is primarily is then Buddhist garden which inspired the memorial. Now why. Why did we in the west turn to the east and why does the thought of Asia in general influence us so much. Whether it's the music of the art or the philosophy what is there about the East which we can keenly respond to in our part of the world. Well I think that our guest on this program is I think perhaps the most qualified person I know of to speak about this. And he's a great favorite of mine and of yours. Nancy Wilson Ross is a student of Asian art and thought She is an outstanding author and novelist written fiction as well as nonfiction. She's a director of the Asia Society and of the Tibetan Foundation. She is the author as I
said of a number of books but two I'd like to recommend on this program because it pertinent to the conversation. Three ways of age and wisdom and the world of Zen. Now about three ways of Asian wisdom. This book was bought by the United States Army to the tune of six thousand copies and distributed to libraries everywhere including Vietnam. Both books are available in paperback now. Nancy I can't say Miss Watts because I feel I know you so well I don't believe you. Nancy why do you think have you heard. Why you of all the designs it could have been chosen for Kennedy's memorial in Britain. They turned to Buddhism for the inspiration. Well I think it's a very interesting point. The fact that they didn't decide to put up a piece of sculpture. President candidate or anything specific that you looked at. But they tried to create a setting an environment in which a certain frame of mind could
be. Achieved by anyone who sat down quietly and looked at the landscape around and tried to think about the significance of the life and death of a young man who had in a sense given his existence to his country. And this is quite pertinent I think to the whole influence of Buddhism on the modern young mind that is trying to force one's consciousness one's thought back into the interior and not to exteriorize everything the way our culture has has I'm afraid being guilty of putting its emphasis for a rather long time and I think this this Runnymede. Copy innocence of this ancient 400 year olds and Mama stray garden is a most significant fact which hasn't been really very much commented on in the press after that first story in The Times which I cut out and I think it's a most interesting point and related to the subject we're trying to talk about today which
is young people I guess. Or let's say people in general whose minds are young enough and open enough to accept new ideas. Not that these ideas and you with the ideas may be new to many people. Now I've heard you say Nancy from time to time you know I'm being quoted on this that you feel you know our roots are Calvinist God and I guess you can deny. Well all my names would indicate and I'm certain out of a certain drawer that he was kind of a Protestant by upbringing. Yes I was brought up as a Presbyterian and now how does one go from being a Presbyterian Calvinist to Presbyterian to a tremendous interest and comprehension of an Eastern religion. But I don't think I was a very good Presbyterian as I don't think my father was either although I came from a long line of Scottish nominees as a dog. But he was a man who really examine live with a very clear and candid eye and he
also was fascinated about the meaning of existence. And his friends were not just Presbyterian ministers they were Jesuit priests and scholars of Swedenborg and so on so I grew up in a very permissive and inquiring atmosphere and I also grew up in the Far West where Chinese and Japanese people were to be seen on every side. And as an observant and sensitive child I actually noticed they went about death in life and things with rather different manners and we didn't I suppose. Quietly see gotcha's doesn't really account for it because my sister didn't have any of it seep into her unconscious someone can beat it. No I mean we explained it on another program that it was a previous state of reincarnation that explained that as well. I also heard you say it and say that if one is infused with Buddhism he has a much better comprehension of why he spoke on purpose of this life and why he is here and where he is going. As if to indicate that the Western philosophies to religion don't really
imbue people with theirs. Well I think without being to that think about it that the difference is that Buddhism and it's true of all used religions philosophies they try to make you do something quite different than we with our Christian upbringing are taught to do they want you to sit Zan in particular in Buddhism emphasize something they call sitting they don't even call it meditating it's almost too big a word but you said you learned to sit down and sit quietly and quiet your mind and wait for the thing to enter from outside or rise from your interior. You aren't always just stuffing yourself stuffing yourself stuffing yourself you're trying to bring out from your own inside the wisdom that is there to be tapped. That is a very different thing from going to that say a Sunday school being dogmatically told ancient stories out of an ancient faith about things that don't
particularly interest you. If you've got a very bright mind and not the Christian faith doesn't have this is profound depths in it but I think we have not stressed them. We have gone away from the mist to go and and even the sounds the practical aspects of Christianity and emphasize some rather foolish old myths. But yeah I want except to ask Which do you think of the myth rejects so much I don't want to get any bombs through the mail but no I don't write I'll have detonated first. Well I just feel that a lot of it it isn't that I think one should care whether it's true that there was a virgin birth or the rising from the grave I don't think that matters if it's a myth or truth it doesn't matter but what does matter is that you shouldn't feel that you have to know the catechism or or. So many hundreds of Hail Marys in order to get yourself through the gate because wherever we're going after Live Buddhism would never say that it would say as you as you have so shall you reap which we say to him Christianity but we don't stick to it.
Buddhism doesn't believe in any intercessor you can't be saved by really anybody because you save yourself you yourself and Bhutto mile from call the first psychologist who lived 500 years before the birth of God you said as a man thinketh so is he that's also a bit ago but we don't stress it. He said A man's life is made up of thoughts. He is his thoughts no matter what happens to him his attitude toward what happens to him is what determines who lives really this is a very profound psychological truth. Yes and we have it as well the thought is the father does the deed etc. but we somehow seem to do side of it. We make many do Grayson's. We know which they are written someplace in a book that we don't follow. Why don't we use it that our culture is such that we operated from doing it. I mean we are forced to emphasize other things small physical mechanical things and we're really denied this privilege. I think it's true I also think one of the reasons that turns a great many young people in particular toward
Buddhism is that it is another it's a fresh vocabulary. I remember once when Aldous Huxley said something I've never forgotten. He said one of the reasons that. Makes it important to study or read about an Asian philosophy is that you have a new vocabulary and in the light of this vocabulary you can study your familiar one and find new interpretations and new stresses and that you haven't seen before and that's something I think can be comforting to people who are afraid that everybody is going to leave the fold of Christianity and get into the this Asian world and one other point that I think very definitely should be stressed is that the homo Asian world with its theory of these vast stretches of time that they call Cowboys are you guys and these great enormous kinds of universes on every side which the Buddhists and the Hindu is both believe in have prepared them for the modern world in the way that Christian people with their rather primitive concepts of a seven day. When you get back to fundamentalists a seven day making of the universe and
sticking to it there's seven days which of course was a metaphor I never should I mean taken literally but the Buddhists have prepared as the Hindus have for the kind of world we live in. Which is a world which certainly stretches our minds to its limits. Yes absolutely. That may be but still don't you think the West in spite of its over emphasis on the physical has provided comfort for more people while we are on this particular plane of existence than for the people in other parts of the world. I mean the health is better the housing is better there's more food I know there are lakhs here and there but still there's no doubt we know more about it. So why should we spend that in the way you want to and we need to spread it. Well I don't want to be running anything you know but what do we can look down upon it a little and speak of the superiority of eastern thought. Well I think we no I don't think many people do in fact I think I belong to a very small minority even though an awful lot of young people are going this way. But I think we've over emphasized. The external aspects of our
faith and have ignored and slighted the mystical aspects and finally that is where the truth lies I don't think it lies and you know better toothbrushes and indoor plumbing and that sort of thing I don't think it lives there at all. I think it lives somewhere else and even in India where you see all the misery and the tragedy and I think I've said this before on this program if you've ever been in the countryside in India and seen people rising and going out to greet the dawn and singing a song I may be carrying a flower to greet the rising of the sun. And you think of the hurly in the belly and the stress and the strain and be sure to brush your teeth and everything that gets us up in the morning and on our way. One has integrate. For my from my point of view great healing great deep earth ancient wisdom and the other is a kind of rush that we've all got caught in doing without making comparisons which I don't believe in and I think we can say something in favor of the other
approach of the morning. Yes now it is paradoxical that the comforts and physical pleasures we have don't seem to make a smile particularly know when they're around how happy we seem very miserable all of us and so the privileges seem to make us grouchy. And I'll cry but you know why you can't look happy if you have a good run like Pollyanna. I mean when if you are teachable very nice and you can too well live that's an advantage. But all of these simple things and more complicated things that we have we just ignore and go around looking completely on a happy and gloomy. What brings that about going on related to our inner sow's all together and we haven't been trying to even think about them as being there you know there is this there are some marvelous things for instance in the Zen Buddhism about the there's a wonderful short poem which says. The cherry tree blooms each year in the Yoshino mountains but split the tree and tell me where the cherries are.
If you think long enough about that you are thinking about the very meaning mystery of where does life and our consciousness come from. Coming from something it seems to me nothing but there it is like you saying that to do of the import religion is in the West. Judaism and Christianity have not given this to people. They have their spiritual concepts and their moral codes in their divine revelations. What failed us. Do you think we know I think we got caught up in the face of Judaism and Christianity got caught up into the whole Industrial Revolution in which you know what worked was God's will and this is a rather tricky concept to start building a culture on. And we got to thinking that if you let a guy in the money and if it made money it was alright and I think there's now no doubt but what there is one God in this country and that is money. It's really true. It's all about I really believe Humes
is America. Well it does seem to take place in the thoughts and motivations no doubt tomorrow except the young who are somehow turning away from it by great in great numbers and I'm for them I think they're wonderful. Well still you travel through the Orient a great deal you've made at least five or six trips to Asia as you noticed a change in the philosophy and attitude of people in those parts of Asia where there has come more mechanical development for example in Japan because you know it's had that all American eyes now that I has this changed the outlook of people and their sense of fulfillment I didn't want to tell I think it's changed and it's going to change even more and I think one of the reasons that Zen is moving so strongly into the American scene is because Zen is moving it is what it is and is moving slowly away into America. I think this is just one of those great cyclic mysteries that we never do understand but as we look back in history we can see these things happening and I think I told you about the Roche priest I greatly admire who was the head of the Soto Zen Center and Sam Cisco and he
said someone asked him what the difference was between a young Japanese. Studying Zen and the young American would be and he said the young Japanese would think why make the effort to learn to set to meditate if you will use that word and to discipline himself and to learn due to garden and clean house and all things they do because they are very proper about the way they live their lives. He was a young Japanese and say why do it if you are going to be a priest but the young American wants to do it to live a better life and understand himself about it well this is a I think very helpful. I would just the opposite of what you would have expected. Very much so. Now how is it then that if you say young people what do you want to limit. Well let's say anybody under 50 would make a big big big category of it because many people like Gary Snyder and Carol walk Ginsburg and so on they're all middle aged but they've been crying out about this watch for years know how is it then that young people any age you want to give
this country that feel and decide to escape from all the materialism which they were infused as they grew up. Doesn't that prove in a way that no matter what your indoctrination you don't necessarily have to stay put. I don't think they so much want to escape. I think they want to. Well they want to know more about you know why they're here and actually a very funny thing was written by a man on the subject of Buddha who was a Buddha who founded Buddhism was a son of a Raj on he gave up all his vast wealth and his estate and his wife and child everything went for determine to find out the meaning of existence. And in this parody on the Buddhist story this modern writer said Botho was really born in Westchester County attended an Ivy League college and he had everything down to itemise parents and he copped out because he didn't want to go that way. He didn't want to go into the street and he didn't want to you know do all the things I've taken for granted on a certain level of American life as the great good life.
When is it since Nature abhors a vacuum and when there's an empty space something is supplied to fill it. And so if people whether they're young or old feel an emptiness in their hearts and their minds I guess something has to arrive which will fill it for them and get them out and get out of. So you think there then is such a disenchantment with Western philosophy and religion that people must turn to the east because they don't find anything here anymore. I think that I think when I think the young people are very tolerant about the faith in which they are most bought up. But I think they feel that there is a way of living something let's say like Zen Buddhism which Christianity doesn't provide for them unless they leave the world. I mean Thomas Merton left the world and became a Trappist monk as he grew older and at the time when he died he was so fascinated by the East and as you know he died in Bangkok and I think this whole turning of the whole Christian world toward the east is a part of a great sort of
exchange. It's almost a kind of great cosmic justice because we did go to that part of the world and try to impose our way of life on them and to say we alone have the word and the truth which I don't believe for one moment. I don't think God if there is a great concept that we can look at and call God a great over. Reaching consciousness if there is such a thing it wouldn't have just one avenue into life and that one avenue would be Christianity that just doesn't make any sense at all when it could certainly have many interpretations and many avenues of approach. Still don't you think it's a good turn of events that many critical people. I mean people of the quote ministry in this country preach and so forth. Turning away from the seclusion they used to practice and even ask you to weigh our civilian coming go I'm going to go and work in communities in ghettos and that's what I think it's all part of a great interplanetary thought as being almost a great a
great world revolution in which people are. So it's a going away but isn't it turning one's back on the withdraw and seclusion and going on with that may be right for them but that doesn't mean that's a law that applies to the whole world I think that the fact that a great Benedictine scholar can write is an Catholicism. That's great. 5 I salute him as I salute Thomas Merton for beginning to be so interested in the plight of it about which he was violently worked up and determined to travel around the world getting permission finally from the trap of this this order of. Really we're all departed acolytes I think that's all fine but I don't think we can lay alone that I may may have to come out of the West may have to leave it retreats. There are all these patterns are all going on at once and I can't think we can pile on a lot of the whole business of this great revolution in which man man is really I think trying for the first time on a world wide scale to understand
what he is and learn what it is to have a brother with him not to take care of him not to me as a brother's keeper and not to take responsibility but to say this is my brother. I am he and he is I may be but that is the enriching development that we do use the east with the West in the West to the east. What is the the greatest. Yes so it would not go on imposing on the other. About the exchanging. Yeah this is so well described in your book three ways of age and wisdom and I hope that people will see it that they get a copy of it since it's in paperback it's not expensive of course. Still if you were to summarize what Buddhism has. For people in the West could you do that. I know that's difficult. Well I think as I say Buddha was the first one of the first psychologists and the other to psychological truth twenty five hundred years ago and he was saying what
is in there would have really drew as a man thinketh and his heart so is he. You have to decide about yourself you have to learn who you are and you have to do it by different ways and just thinking about it. You have to sit down and quiet your mind sit meditate concentrate on the mystery of your own being without doing it self consciously and out of quieting your physical body. There will without any doubt arise certain truths and freedom from anxiety. That's a great thing. That anxiety in a way is the first step and I think anxiety led these young people toward this new way of studying themselves in life. It is the first way toward a step toward enlightenment anxiety so anxiety can be very positive. And that's a good thing to think about because the whole world is terribly anxious that we're sick with anxiety on every level. Lively to put this in and lay a person's anxiety. Well because I think it appeals and again I don't want to say that appeals to the mind because of
Buddhism tries to get you away from the mind somewhat but it is it seems more believable I think to you. Have the power to control in a sense your thoughts and your activities which will make your fate and to think that some intercessor in whom you may not have any faith at all is going to do it for you. You see Buddhism puts it squarely back on you as a person. Would you say that in the east there is a corresponding interest in Western philosophy and religion as we in the west are. Knowing I don't think it is the same. Not in our philosophy but there is an interest in our motorcycles on motorbikes on television and all the rest for material things. This is what's happening in Japan and in a sense it's deplorable but since I think all time and in history is cyclic. I say it just follows as the night the day that we will bring back. From Japan the proceeds of which I think were brought really back to the soldiers after the
war and so are you saying that it's deplorable for the East to enjoy or want to import on motorcycles television sets way of life in general emphasis on cars because this will do something to disturb this serenity and philosophy is that is it. Income I don't think has done much for I don't know. Some of us don't mind some of them do. I can't speak I can't really speak much in favor of motorbikes annoys me and I'm not sure you know this this externalize life that we're exporting is really anything but I think it's there it's a part of history we can't escape it. So because we've had a lot of the east we have become dismayed and confused by what you think. So we do the same thing and if I am. Where will we turn for our missing We'll have to try to get it from you hang on to it. There are some people
the wise the sages and un-American I think you are among them. Well I don't think they were that I got so much appreciate all of this. Ages aside appreciate it whenever you visit our market and I'd like to say that our guest on this program has been Nancy Wilson RockNess as you know was a great student an observer of eastern thought and culture and philosophy. She is a director of the age's society as well as the Tibetan Foundation. She's the author of a number of important books but I'd like to bring to your attention this one three ways of age and wisdom. And another one. The world of Zen. This is Lee Graham saying goodbye and very happy that any program on which we can show you that. Well the east is east and west is west. The time has come for the twain to meet such a thought always makes me very happy. Thank you and goodbye. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with league rail.
This series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a note to join us again next week at this time for another edition of The Asia self-id presents.
Please note: This content is only available at GBH and the Library of Congress, either due to copyright restrictions or because this content has not yet been reviewed for copyright or privacy issues. For information about on location research, click here.
Asia Society presents
Episode Number
Producing Organization
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-1z41wc86).
Series Description
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.
Talk Show
Global Affairs
Race and Ethnicity
Media type
Host: Graham, Leigh
Producing Organization: WNYC
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-6-36 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:26:33
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Asia Society presents; 36,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2022,
MLA: “Asia Society presents; 36.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2022. <>.
APA: Asia Society presents; 36. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from