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OCCIDENTAL WISDOM | 1999-10-16

I may be a late bloomer, but I didn't know that "occidental" meant "western" until I was in college.

I had known that "Oriental" meant "Eastern" since I was in grammar school. This was because we always heard about Oriental Wisdom. For most of our history, Western scholars accepted the slogan "Ex Oriente Lux," which means, "Enlightenment Comes From the East."

From this base, we got the verb which describes what you must do if you are to discover where you are. In order to find out where you are, your true location, you must "orient" yourself.

Whatever truth there may have been in the past to "Ex Oriente Lux," it has been outdated for centuries. I think we need to get over this idea that true wisdom comes from the Orient. For most of history, the mentality of the Orient has produced stagnation and tyranny.

To me, real wisdom today is almost entirely a product of Western Civilization.

To see wisdom in most of what the Orient has produced in recent times is to fall for the most absurd kind of fraud. Westerners who fall for this sort of thing are usually robbed by some kind of silly guru.

Actually, Japan and other countries have made progress only by learning what the West has to teach. The first thing a country in the Middle East or in Asia must do to get freedom and to feed its children is to "occident" itself.

In a couple of thousand years, the Far East has produced a few really excellent comments. We have all heard, "The longest journey begins with a single step." My favorite, especially as I get older, is, "The palest ink is better than the best memory."

But in the real world, you will find that it is only ignorant, inexperienced people who think that a few quotes and an image makes someone Wise. Actually, the few wise sayings we can get from Eastern Philosophy are tiny gold nuggets pulled out of a vast river of pure, unmitigated crap.

What an ignorant person does not know is how many sayings there are in the Far East, and how incredibly unusual it is to find anything intelligent in these sayings. The Far East is an ocean of double-talk.

One of the major myths of Oriental Wisdom comes from stories of how travelers spent years in Tibetan monasteries, and gained deep and valuable knowledge there. Nothing could be sillier.

In those monasteries in Tibet, where there is supposed to be all that arcane wisdom, the usual discussion goes like this

A young monk walks up and loudly, formally addresses The Old One, who is seated and looking Terribly Wise. The young monk asks, "Master, what is the nature of man?"

And the Wise One answers something like,

"A frog may jump twice, but not three times."

And the young monk answers, "Thank you for your Valuable Answer!"

These crazy exchanges goes on and on. This is the kind of thing these ADULTS actually spend their lives on!

For endless ages, Oriental Wise Men have sat around saying things like, "Meditate upon The Clapping of a Single Hand."

I would answer this with a bit of Occidental Wisdom: "By definition, a single hand doesn't clap."

What if I were to try to sound profound by saying, "Let's all think about the firing of an empty gun." You would think I was being pretty damned silly, and you would be right.

Most Oriental Wisdom can be described this way: "It sounds obscure, but it is actually meaningless."

These guys are sort of like Western bureaucrats. They need to get a real job.