Culture

The word culture is commonly used in the following ways:

1. Excellence of taste in the fine arts and humanities.
2. The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes a group of people.

The word culture comes from the same root as the verb to cultivate.

As the Heart's Nature Is Cultivated, the Great Way Arises. -- Journey to the West (one of the four great Chinese classical novels)

Cultivating oneself, means to educate oneself in different aspects of a culture. If one wishes to awaken one`s Higher Self, cultivating one`s heart is essential, which means cultivating the desire to be present. Different aspect of the Japanese culture, such as flower arranging, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, studying a musical instrument or martial arts are referred to as the Way. The Japanese character for do (道)in Shodo (書道, the art of calligraphy), Chado (茶道, the tea ceremony), Kado (華道, the art of flower arranging or ikebana), Judo (柔道, a martial art meaning gentle way), Kendo (剣道, the art of sword fighting), Aikido (合気道, the way to harmonize Ki) and Kyudo (弓道, the art of archery) means Way. These 'elegant pastimes' and martial arts were in the olden days considered very serious pursuits and knowledge about them was frequently transmitted secretly from master to disciple. Most of these ways were connected to Zen Buddhism and studying one of these ways could eventually lead to enlightenment. When the inner meaning was still understood, all these studies were ways to awaken the God within. The Japanese Shinto religion means the Way of the Gods and Chinese Taoism simply translates as the Way.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life,and few there be that find it. -- The Bibe, Matthew 7-13

Torii, creating a pathway, at the Fushimi Inari shrine, Kyoto

A door with a narrow gate at the Tomb of Mehu at Saqqara in Egypt
















"The chief difficulty in understanding the idea of the way," said G., "consists in the fact that people usually think that the way" (he emphasized this word) "starts on the same level on which life is going. This is quite wrong. The way begins on another, much higher, level." -- Peter Ouspensky, quoting Gurdjieff (20th C. Fourth Way spiritual teacher)

The inner meaning of the Japanese character do, refers to The Way to reach Divine Presence, also referred to as the Path or the Journey.

The Sufi is the child of Now. No one on the Way says 'tomorrow`. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic)
The hearts of those at the end of the path are occupied continually with the remembrance of God.
-- Ibn Ata'Allah (14th c. third sheikh of the Shadhili Sufi order )

Nowadays, the spiritual aspect of Ikebana, for example, is still considered very important to its practitioners. Silence is a must during practices of Ikebana. It is a time to appreciate things in nature that people often overlook because of their busy lives. One becomes more patient and tolerant of differences, not only in nature, but also in general. These practices and attitudes were ways, for those who understood their real meaning, to educate the heart to bring about a state of Divine Presence, in which the Higher Self is at peace with oneself and the world.

Ikebana flower arrangement with irises

A coin basin with Japanese characters meaning: the (Higher) Self knows only contentment (Ryoanji temple, Kyoto)
















Sen Soshitsu, the fifteenth head of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea said:

The tea ceremony is not a ceremony or ritual, but a way of life based on the simple act of serving tea with a pure heart.
The heart that is empty of all things is said to be pure, in utter placidity not giving rise to a thought.
-- Journey to the West

To achieve prolonged states of presence, practicing these arts a few hours a week is not enough, they have to become a way of life; every moment contains an opportunity to be present to one`s life. The images below show two heart shaped heads without a mouth, symbolizing a pure heart with no thoughts, which has reached the presence of the Higher Self.

Dogu with a heart-shaped face
(Jomon period,10.000-1000 BC)

African mask (the Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva)

Westerners, who visit Japan for the first time, usually have the impression that Japanese people are emotionally closed and cold, since they do not easily express their opinions and emotions. However, the fact that Japanese do not express their emotions as quickly as Westerners does not mean that they don`t experience emotions. The attitude that expressing strong emotions, whether positive or negative, is not beautiful or virtuous, is deeply ingrained in the Japanese culture.

It was considered unmanly for a samurai to betray his emotions on his face. "He shows no sign of joy or anger," was a phrase used in describing a strong character. -- Inazo Nitobe, Bushido (20th c. Japanese author and politician)

Japanese mothers raise their children with these attitudes. Where do these attitudes come from? Esoteric Traditions teach, that to reach a state of Divine Presence one needs to learn to control the lower self, and thus it is necessary to control one`s emotions and learn to express them consciously instead of mechanically. Therefore one must first struggle with trying to not mechanically express them, especially negative emotions.

A fresco by Giotto showing 'envy' (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy)
Expression of negative emotions is always mechanical, so it can never be useful. But resistance to it is conscious. -- Ouspensky
The essential point in self-refinement starts with controlling anger and desire. The energy of anger is the aberrant fire of the volatile nature, which erupts upon confrontation and is indifferent to life, like a conflagration burning up a mountain, which nothing can stop. If you do not exert effort to quell it, refining it into something without smoke or flame, it can easily obscure reality.
-- Liu Yiming (18th C. Taoist master)
Virtue is the control, the restraint, and the delighting of the mind. And thus the place where all Buddhas cross over. -- Buddha, Pali Tipitaka

The attitude that expressing strong emotions, whether positive or negative, is not beautiful or virtuous, is the remnant of an attitude that came from conscious schools, but since the inner meaning is no longer understood it has become a mechanical attitude. Although one can argue that it is indeed not beautiful or virtuous to express negative emotions, it is the inner meaning that is important. The inner meaning is that one cannot be present when one indulges in one`s emotions, since one is under control of the lower self. Later however, when presence has become strong enough, one can be present and be emotional and spontaneous at the same time.

Starting from effort, you end up in spontaneity, integrating completely with natural principle. However, in this science there are medicinal substances, there is a firing process, there is a course of work, there is intensification and relaxation, there is stopping at sufficiency; you can advance into its marvels only if you practice it according to its laws, and develop it with the appropriate timing. So it is necessary to know this firing process of advancing yang. -- Liu Yiming, The Taoist I Ching
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