Western vs Eastern

Back in 1960’s, the famous German psychoanalyst and psychologist Erich Fromm co-wrote a book with D.T. Suzuki and Richard de Martino called “Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis” where D.T. Suzuki’s entry begins with comparation of the Eastern vs Western mind.

As a source for comparation Suzuki gives two poems, one of an Eastern poet and one of a Western. He begins with a poem of the famous Japanese poet from 17th century, Basho:

“When I look carefully
I see the nazuna blooming
By the heghel!

Yoku mireba
Nazuna hana saku
Kakine kana.”

Basho is talking about a country road and how by approaching it nearly, he notices a wild plant unnoticed by the passers-by.  This haiku poem as Suzuki comments, has no special music and feeling in it except in the last sylable ‘kana’ which is a praise of sorrow or joy and in English can’t be no other translated but with some exclamation marks. Suzuki next coments that the Japanese poets were a nature poets, praisers and admirers of the nature, so this short poem is just an exclamation of the inner praise and wonder to the nature. Suzuki then criticizes the Westerners as an alienated people from the nature, like observers of the nature, but not merged with it in a poetical and divine way.

Then as a comparation, Suzuki gives a poem by Tennyson:

“Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the carnnies; –
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is”.

Suzuki notices several points in this poem. First he notices that Tennyson plucked the flower and while holding it in his hand looking at it intently. Both Basho and Tennyson wonder the flower, but the difference is that Basho didn’t plucked the nazuna flower in order to observe it. He just looks at it and absorbs it with his thoughts. Tennyson seeks to understand, to examine it, to put it in a laboratory, while Basho is satisfied with the just being of the flower as it is.

This is actually the Western scientific mind and curiosity, the need to understand, to explain. In general, Easterners do not have this need, at least not to the extent of the Westerners. This was one of my first impressions I had in my first encounter with Hindu astrology, especially those astrologers of the ‘old school’, the astrologers of India do not have this need to explain themselves be it in their books or in their analysis. It is interesting the example James Braha gives in his autobiography. When he examined the charts of his close ones with his Indian teacher, at one point the teacher said to him that his wife is of an artistic nature. Braha replied enthusiastically ‘yes, in a matter of fact she is, but how did you see that in the chart’? And the teacher show to him some chart factors through which he judged the above about his wife. Braha as a Westerner was not satisfied: “But why would this give her the artistic nature?” [I am paraphrasing of course]. The teacher replied simply ‘yes’! : – )

I do not think that in subjects like astrology, not dwelling too deeper into the explanation of why things work or doesn’t work, in other words, into the philosophical background, is so tragic. I mean, I do like philosophy, and as a Western-like educated, I do like explanations, I do like knowing the reasons for something, but in the same time I am satisfied with the mystery of the workability of something, some technique for example, even though I can’t get into the background of the explanation as to why this work or doesn’t work, it just works. Many Hindu astrologers have this approach.  For them it works just because it works, and because they learned it as such from their teachers, their Gurus, they do except it as a fact of the experience and knowledge of the Guru. At first I was resistant to this approach: “But this is not logical to me, there must be some explanation behind” – was my initial reaction. But then after I started working with the techniques, I noticed that this is the Spirit of Hindu astrology, and the Western mind should adapt to it or will never learn authentic Jyotish.

On the other side is the Hellenistic astrology, filled with so much philosophy and metaphysics in it which holds great beauty as such. Not that Hindu astrology doesn’t has philosophy and metaphysics behind it, it has believe me, and it is very deep and meaningful, but this philosophy is not inherently integrated in to the practice of everyday Hindu astrologer. Many of them are working astrology in a very practical manner, to find the problems and give solutions. This is what I like in their approach. I think that we who study Hellenistic astrology, should also bear in mind that we should apply the techniques in very practical manner and make a balance between the philosophical approach and practical astrological approach. When an ordinary client comes to you, you should be able to find the problems and give solutions astrologically, especially if the client is not at all philosophically oriented. Then, if you have someone more philosophically inclined, you can introduce him into the beauty of the metaphysics of astrology and astrological philosophy.

Sources:
Zen Buddhism and psychoanalysis, by Daisetz Teitarō Suzuki, Erich Fromm, Richard De Martino
James Braha, Astro Logos – Revelations of a Hindu Astrologer.

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