Shogun and cross cultural understanding

I have been reading James Clavell‘s book Shogun. The novel and later film are both loosely based upon a real character named William Adams.

It has been said that Clavell’s book is the best ever written on the complexities of cross cultural communication, its hazards and its rewards. As a former US citizen now living my life in Turkey I can seriously relate to what Blackthorne, the main character in the book, goes through. Learning the subtleties and nuance of a new culture, especially if not learned yet in the language, can be fun, serious and possibly dangerous. Certainly that was the case in 16th century Japan where a person could literally lose their head for breaking a cultural rule or taboo. Only those who learned fast lived long.

Zen and Buddhist philosophy heavily influences the main character, an Englishman who came by luck to Japan. His struggles to understand the Japanese undergirded by their Zen philosophy and customs are sometimes hilarious to the reader, often dangerous to the Englishman and always serious to the Japanese.

Some of Clavell’s passages are pure poetry. I was especially struck by both the simplicity and the complexity in the following passages.

Karma is Karma. Be thou of Zen. Remember, in tranquillity, that the Absolute, the Tao, is within thee, that no priest or cult or dogma or book or saying or teaching or teacher stands between Thou and It. Know that Good and Evil are irrelevant, I and Thou irrelevant, Inside and Outside irrelevant as are Life and Death. Enter into the Sphere where there is no fear of death nor hope of afterlife, where thou art free of the impediments of life or the needs of salvation. Thou are thyself the Tao. Be thou, now, a rock against which the waves of life rush in vain…

Karma is the beginning of knowledge. Next is patience. Patience is very important. The strong are the patient ones. Patience means holding back your inclination to the seven emotions: hate, adoration, joy, anxiety, anger, grief, fear. If you don’t give way to the seven, if you’re patient, then you’ll soon understand all manner of things and be in harmony with Eternity.

I recently came across another quote from Nichiren Daishonin which I thought enlightening:

Suffer what there is to suffer, enjoy what there is to enjoy. Regard both suffering and joy as facts of life, and continue chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, no matter what happens.

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