East Is East and West Is West and Never the Twain Shall Meet Essay

Outline:

  • Introduction
  • Differences between the east and the west
  • Is there a meeting point?
  • The need to join together
  • Materialism with spiritualism

The above verse is a quotation from the English poet, Rudyard Kipling. An imperialist to his finger-tips, Kipling believed in the cultural superiority of the west, and in these lines he expresses the view that the Eastern way of life is radically different from the Western, and any attempt to bring about synthesis is doomed to fail.

No one can dispute the differences between the East and the West. They are opposites in character and temper, outlook and philosophy, and the difference goes so deep that they look like two different worlds conceived by’two different gods. This contrast permeates the entire range of their social, moral, cultural and spiritual ideas and ideals. The West, with its materialistic outlook offers a complete contrast to the East with its spiritualistic wealth. The mystical East, though fast changing under the impact of the West, is still largely introversive, given to contemplation and pursuit of wisdom. The West is after strange gods’ the usual gods of a material civilization riches, success, power, pleasure etc. Epicures, one and all, ‘Eat, drink and be merry, is their motto in life. Take a typical Westerner. What is his conception of life? Material advancement through conquest over nature is the be all and end all of his whole existence. He is after a fuller and richer material life, after ephemeral pleasures, and his life is one long pursuit after these. He may be interested in intellectual and cultural pursuits such as art, poetry, literature, philosophy and the like, but his heart lies elsewhere.

On the other side, take a typist Easterner. What a different picture? His standard of values is different. Even today he is far more interested in the contemplative than in the active life, interested for more in the things of the mind and soul than in material pursuits. Money may be an important factor in life, but it is not the god of his idolatry, the sole aim of his endeavors. Following Buddhism or Hinduism, his key thought is the killing of desire. Man can only attain happiness by limiting his desire, nay by ridding himself of them all. The ultimate goal of life is Mukti (salvation), self-realization through meditation and reflection. Yoga is his life breath. Looking beyond the world of sense’, in whatever he does he is conscious of his ultimate destiny. Take anything his art, his philosophy, his literature all tells the same tale. Religion is the warp and woof of his being.

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Are East and West then so different? Is there no meeting point between the two? For long the East and the West went different ways and there was no reconciling them. But it is wrong to think that the gulf is unbridgeable. As a matter of fact they should come closer and closer together. Neither way of life is in itself satisfying. The West, in spite of its material progress, is far from being happy. Even with their enormous wealth, the millionaires of the West are not happy. But the remedy is not to turn to the East with its squalidness and grinding poverty and its doctrine of killing desire, but to combine naturalism with spiritualism. Western civilization pampers’ the body but starves the soul. Man is not all matter; he is soul or spirit too. Matter and spirit cannot live apart. The West and the East must come nearer. Their fusion is “a consummation devoutly to be wised”. Both have to learn a lot from each other; each has a message for the other. Hundreds of millions in the East live forever on the verge of starvation. In its fight against poverty and disease, the East must learn from the west, from its science, its industry, its medicine etc. The West, unadulterated materialism leads nowhere. It is a happy sign that they are coming closer.

There is another reason why the two should coalesce. Science is fast removing the barriers of space, and the world is rapidly becoming one. Wars are daily becoming more and more terrible. Some of its latest weapons, Atom Bomb, Hydrogen Bomb, etc., are the handwriting on the wall. In such a world salvation lies in closer co-operation, in reconciling the two teachings, in reshuffling and reconstructing the standard of values. “The East has a message for Europe and America, if only the West will have humility and patience enough to learn from her.”

This message is the message of peace through non-violence. There are abundant spiritual resources in the East, but these vast resources of spiritual power can avail only if the Westerners “cease to rely upon those material weapons which today in the West appear to be all-powerful” (C.F. Andrews). If the East and the West do not fuse together, Western civilization will lapse into barbarism and engulf the East also.

Mere spiritualism or mere materialism will not do. The East must learn from the West the courage, wisdom and bravery that go to the creation of material progress on earth as much as the West must learn at the feet of the savants of the East the love of spiritual wisdom gathered through the axons. The bravery of pioneers who built up the material progress of the present day in the West will one day confront the bravery of spiritual wisdom, and in the recognition of the greatness of each by the other, the disparity between the East and the West will disappear forever.

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