Japanese and Novaryan Culture – The Way

tea-ceremonyRayati and welcome to class!  Today’s topic is The Way, and I would like to start with a quotation from our own dear and wise Sushuri-chara.  She is talking about Novaryan culture here but I think what she says is very applicable to Japanese culture as well:

Herthelani – and particularly Novarians – tend to be “passive” in the sense of looking for the “right” thing to do and expecting a consensus of some sort . . . There tends to be a “way things are done” rather than a “way I do things”.

. . . Being a “passive subject” sounds negative from the Western – or the Westernised – Tellurian point of view. From a Novarian perspective it is reassuring. It is the surety of following the right way rather than having to invent a way for oneself that will probably be wrong. Ultimately, it is the sense of acting in harmony with the universe and its Creatrix rather than against it. Of treading the steps of the Cosmic Dance laid down from eternity rather than ambling in one’s own random fashion.

In describing The Way, Dr. Condon [John C. Condon, the author of With Respect to the Japanese] gives the example of U.S. and Japanese teachers’ responses to children’s requests for help in drawing their families:  “The Japanese teacher would usually assist the child, not infrequently taking the child’s hand and guiding the crayon . . . In the American schools, the teachers encouraged the children in words:  ‘Just do your best.’  ‘It’s your father and your picture and you should try to draw him the way you see him.’”

Condon continues:  “The Japanese teacher’s direct guidance of the child’s drawing, in contrast to the American’s encouragement to ‘draw your picture the way you want it,’ suggests another important part of Japanese life:  learning the proper form.

“The suffix ‘-do‘ as in judo, kendo, bushido means ‘the way,’ but the idea of a correct ‘way’ extends far beyond traditional martial arts or flower arranging or calligraphy in Japan.  There is a right way to exchange condolences, a right way to greet one’s superior and a right way to greet the new year, and a right way to offer a drink, accept a gift and decline a compliment.  The way to learn the way, of course, is to be taught by those who are older and wiser, more experienced.  One’s elders and superiors command respect in part because they know a lot.”

In fact, the right way to do these things often involves a set phrase; in other words, the very words that are appropriate to say in a situation are often fixed.  In practice I found this to be surprisingly liberating.  It is something like participating in the Sacred Year:  there is a certain joy that comes from obediently following the way of thamë, and as our own Sushuri-chara has said, “while this CAN be ritual, it also, when things are going as they should, represents the reality of the situation.”  In other words, when thamë is achieved, the “right thing to say” is also precisely what one is feeling at that moment–it is truly magical!

The Way can also be tied in to our last topic of Collectivism.  In the last lesson I suspect it sounded like I was equating Individualism with selfishness, and indeed the two are not seen as separate in Japan, where the word for “selfishness”–wagamama–literally means “my way.”  To do things in one’s one way, instead of The Way, is a sign of autonomy in the U.S., where it is considered a good thing, but in Japan it is athamë at best and selfish at worst.  In fact, there in an expression, katte ni suru, which might be translated “do whatever you want,” and is quite a scathing insult as it implies that the recipient is no longer a member of the group due to being unwilling to follow The Way.  In a Collectivist culture, there could hardly be anything worse.

Is this simply a matter of different perspective?  Are there legitimate but differing traditions in the East and West?  It is possible, especially given that what we currently observe in the U.S. is something like hyper-individualism, or atomization, instead of whatever would be the legitimate culture.

Another perspective would be to associate Collectivism with the pole of Essence and Individualism with the pole of Substance.  Recall that in our last lesson I said that to a Japanese person, the feelings of one’s friends are “more concrete” than food.  And from a Déanic perspective, that is entirely true:  all of the manifest universe (including food, of course) is an illusion, and only Dea is real.  Our maiden’s souls are fragments of Dea’s Spirit, and therefore the only real things that we know.  So if we had a choice between creating harmony with our sisters or eating our own preferred food, clearly our sisters’ souls are the weightier consideration.  I shall expand on this subject more in our next lesson on External and Interpersonal Realities.


Avatar of Sushuri-chei

Honored Clovender-sensei – I am so adoring this series, even though it makes me blush to see myself quoted!

The part about “draw your own picture the way you see it” fascinated me as it touches not only of the question of individualism, but also on that of tradition in art. The traditional artist never believes she is “expressing herself”, but is simply expressing the True Form as her mistress has taught her to do.

But we know that styles of art do change over time even in the most traditional cultures, and that is because a maid cannot help bringing a little of herself, and of the particular sensibility or her generation, into her work, even though that is not her intention. Her intention is to express the pure Archetype in accordance with the Way she has been initiated into.

These two things, the vertical Way and the horizontal variations of time and person play, on a lower level, the role of Essence and Substance respectively, and the symbolism of weaving (where the still, vertical threads represent Essence and the moving, horizontal threads Substance) is often used to describe this twofold nature of all creation.

In A South Kadorian Romance, Destrine Roder expresses this doctrine in a somewhat bolder way than a traditional Estrenne artist would. She is something of a “modern” in Herthelan terms – in contrast to the North Arkadyan consevatism of Miss Kashnevya’s family, and indeed even her own brunette mother:

“That’s Miss Jilver-Mai Tarling there with the fiddle. She’s goin’ to play for us, I reckon. She makes her own tunes. They ain’t half bad either.”

“Her own tunes? How clever. Where I come from everyone plays the old tunes.”

“Nothin’ wrong with the old tunes. Sometimes, though we think there is something new that needs to be sung.”

“My ‘nettie says if it hasn’t been said by our great mothers then it can’t be true.”

“Yeah. My ‘nettie says that too. But y’know each age has its own art, its own music, its own life. It doesn’t replace the old ones – we still tell the old stories and sing the old songs – but we also feel new feelin’s and have new things to say.”

“Do you think so? Isn’t the old wisdom the true one?”

“O’course it is. But we live in time. The warp of life never moves – it descends down from Heaven to earth like the light-beams o’ th holy angels. But the weft is always moving across them, changing, turning, weaving in and out. You can’t live with only the warp or with only the weft. If you said everything is change and development and nothing is absolute, you’d be wrong. You’d be denyin’ the very Source of our existence. But if you said nothin’ ever changes and new things don’t arise, you’d be just as wrong. Then you’re denyin’ the weft and actin’ as though we don’t live in time.”

“If you said everything is change and development and nothing is absolute, you’d be wrong.” But that, of course is exactly what the modern West Tellurian doctrine says. That is what its creation myth, the “theory of evolution” means, and all its associated social and cultural beliefs. The denial of the vertical threads and the belief that nature and culture are created by the horizontal threads alone is the fundamental doctrine of modern West Telluria. No wonder its fabric is falling apart!

It is interesting to see how the balance between tradition and innovation that is necessary to all art and culture that is deployed in time precisely mirrors a balance between individualism and collectivism, or between the Way and certain new directions which, in the very nature of time, must emerge.

To say that traditional society is purely collective or purely traditional would be to misunderstand the necessarily “bipolar” nature of manifest existence – it only seems so in relation to the aberration of West Telluria which really does deny the dual nature of being trying to reduce everything to the material/horizontal/individual dimension.


Avatar of Petite Sorcière

When Sushuri-chara speaks of the material/horizontal/individual dimension of existence, it may be initially a little unclear why “individual” belongs in this set as a synonym of the others. We know that explaining everything in terms of physical matter is equivalent to reducing everything to the horizontal or substantial side of existence, while ignoring the vertical or Essential side – but why is individualism SO closely connected to this?

The answer to that is that, as the logical corollary of materialism, West Tellurians must believe that the only consciousness in the universe is individual consciousness, locked up inside individual biological brains. That consciousness is not a part of any greater consciousness, nor is there any non-biological consciousness. It is for this reason that doctrinal materialism and extreme individualism have to go hand in hand.