Swinging bridges are not my thing but on this vacation they kept occurring. It seems if you want to get to anywhere in Vancouver or Chengdu you have to cross a swinging bridge. A total of five swinging bridges. And yes they were the kind where your feet feel as though they are going to be swept out from under you. But bridges are always hard to cross when there is something valuable on the other side.
If I am not crossing a bridge I am climbing a mountain. They do not understand that in Savannah the highest mound we have has a cluster of red ants underneath it. So we avoid mounds here. But if you want to see the head of a Buddha built into the side of a cliff then climb you must. If you want to see a Buddhist temple then climb you must. Hell if you want to pick tea they have a ‘hill’ you must climb. Then you can see rolling hills of a tea orchard. Picturesque they say. Of course all of this is ultimately good for you. My soul is better and my health is a little more robust.
So the metaphor is no pain no gain. But I have never liked that metaphor. Pain of course comes from exerting yourself in ways to which your body and soul are not accustomed. But I find the pauses from activity are when I feel the most gain. In Chinese painting there is no one perspective with which to look at the painting. There are many ways to look at a Chinese painting. Likewise in their landscaping it is not on the typical western grid but includes few straight paths. Much of traditional Chinese music is atonal meaning it has no central tone to which the music must adhere. The Chinese in their arts do not necessarily have one way in which to hear and see it.
The pain I often feel in China is the many ways to experience one thing. Of course not every famous Buddhist temple is found at the top of a mountain. Not every river is crossed by a swinging bridge. Not every path is the traditional zig zag. Having said that the Chinese pride themselves on their traditions and their traditional ways. This contradiction probably comes from the formal Confucius teachings of customs and ceremonies and the Taoist teachings is about living in harmony with the universe and bending and stretching with the way things come to you. These two great ways of being are evidenced in the Chinese people.
Much of modern American religion is one sided. It is based on the following of traditions and laws. It does not have the flexibility of Taoism to bend with the wind but stands as an oak against the wind. The ability of religion to look from different perspectives is lost. Thus we are quite comfortable with the Joel Osteen and others gospel of wealth. Their teachings do not include pain only gain. Different perspectives leave us for the most part in pain. But the pain leads to a deep gain. We learn to love those who do not think like us. And with this love comes a desire to change, to be not so judgmental and be more open to the other.
Of course all of this is in the teachings of Jesus. But our cultural eyes interpret them differently. We view ourselves as a land of individuals and they as a land of a people. Both perspectives have good and bad to offer. America is being pushed into developing a new perspective with the changing of the guard from white, heterosexual, Christian to something new. The minorities are gaining a bigger voice. And they insist that their perspectives be heard. Our country is going through a lot of pain adjusting to the new reality we find ourselves in. One can only hope that we garner gain from this.
We are not so different. We tend to look at life through the eyes of the individual. They through the eyes of community. These emphases have their good and bad. In the end it is not the traditions that matters but the love of which the tradition is reminding us. In the end it is not the holding onto that matter what but letting the way guide us to wherever that may be that does.