When examining and comparing religious traditions, there are always plenty of things to be found in common. Many religions are united by a savior figure who is central to the religious story. Many are connected by a common belief in the reality of suffering and an escape from that suffering. Still others are connected by similar moral codes that seem to united the differing beliefs. However, how can one distinctly connect Asian traditions? Perhaps one of the most obvious connections is that Asian traditions are united by an emphasis on still, quiet independent search for truth. While other religions may be more communal in nature, Asian traditions seem to have a similar focus on a lonely, beautiful path towards the search for truth.
This lonely path can first be witnessed as central to Hinduist ideas. Bowker brings this to light when observing the ways in which release from rebirth is possible in Hinduism. He lists the major ways as “jnana-marga…karma-marga,…and bhakti-marga,” noting that all three “embrace many applications, such as yoga or the way of individual holiness” (Bowker 2006, 21). While other religions focus on holiness as a community, Hinduism embraces a unique sense of individual holiness.
We cannot deny that Hinduism is also a communal religion, but a personal search for holiness is central to the religion’s narrative. As discussed in class, Shiva, upon eating nectar of immortality, teaches yoga disciplines that produce immortality (Lidke 2/6/17). With this concept, we see that immortality is connected to personal discipline and belief, rather than the basis of the community.
This lonely and beautiful path is even more prominent when we look at the Buddhist narrative. When we analyze the story of Siddhartha, it is obvious that he does not believe in souls for individual human beings (Bowker 2006, 61). Despite this, we still see Siddhartha wrestling for enlightenment underneath a Boddha tree. He clearly fights to control his own personal ego and suffering before entering into a community environment, showing us the importance of being alone before being together.
This belief becomes formalized in Buddhist teachings as one of the watches of the night. As mentioned in class, the very first watch of the night is the law of Karma, which was specifically referenced as “individual destiny,” focusing on the destiny of specific individuals (Lidke 2/15/17). While the third watch embraces the interconnectedness of all things, there is a sense of personal ownership that is required before one can embrace the interconnectedness of the world. Clearly, a personal journey towards enlightenment is central to Buddhist teachings.
While Hinduism and Buddhism show the importance of independent journey towards holiness and enlightenment, the best example of this pursuit is found in the Seven Taoist Masters. From the beginning of the book to the end, we see a continued focus on each individual finding their own journey to the Tao. As Immortal Lu points out to Wang at the very beginning of Seven Taoist Masters, the search for the Tao is an individualized one, he notes that “Every person has a true heart…Every person has a true intention…Every person has a true feeling…” (Wong 2004, 11).
The focus is not on group Tao achievement, but an individual journey through each person’s true emotions and feelings. Master Wang begins to grasp this principle, and proceeds to share it with his own followers. He outlines explicitly how one attains the Tao, noting that “The mystery of the Tao is in the emptiness of the mind…….if you are unable to still your mind, then you can accomplish nothing and the Tao will be farther away than ever” (Wong 2004, 72). One must control his own mind, will, and ambition to achieve the Tao, and this becomes central to the narrative.
As Master Wang’s followers establish their own paths, they follow this same mentality that was taught to them. Interestingly, when Master Wang Ch’ung-yang dies and his followers are discussed how to proceed next, they decide to disperse, rather than live in community together, hinting again at the independence of their beliefs (Wong 2004, 92). His followers begin to establish their own journeys, and even as they find their own places in community, they continue to emphasize the need for individual ownership of the Tao.
For example, in founding a Taoist Monastery, Ch’iu Ch’ang-chun still embraces this idea. He says as much, stating that, “You must seek the Tao naturally. Do no force yourself. Do what you can do. Do not attempt what is beyond you at the moment…” (Wong 2004, 162). Seven Taoist Masters is focused on the individual journey, and each master does just that.
Beyond these main text examples of the journey towards truth, we also see this journey in the film Hero. Towards the beginning of the film, we see Nameless battled the first enemy warrior with his mind early on in the film, leverage his inner strength against that of his enemy. (Zhang Hero, 2002; 13:54). There is so much description and color to the personal walk of Nameless in his Wu Wei beliefs. The film’s constant emphasis on water in battle reminds us of the “moving force of still waters,” and the need for internal personal calm (Lidke PPT 11, 12). Certainly, there is a sense of connection in Taoist principles.
As mentioned in the PowerPoints, “All things are in their unity,” but we are still called to an intense individual focus of our own wills in the Wu Wei journey (Lidke PPT 11, 10). This intense focus of the whole being almost seems to culminate in Hero as Nameless splices an arrow down the center, proving his ability to complete the job of killing the Emperor. (Zhang Hero, 2002; 59:59). As Nameless focuses his internal systems, he begins to achieve a Tao-like internal stillness.
To conclude, in each of the four narratives discussed in this unit, the path towards truth is independent and breathtaking. It does not depend or rely on the beliefs of anyone else—the journey is entirely to each his own. While Muslims may gather at Mecca to celebrate their faith, Asian religious traditions are tinged with a sense of alone. While Christianity begins in Acts with apostles breaking bread, fellowshipping, and sharing doctrine, Asian traditions begin in the still, empty, lonely space of one’s individual heart and beliefs. They are united by a quest to discover what makes the human human, and what it takes to overcome the human constructs we are so often bound within. The path to truth may be lonely, but it will forever be beautiful.