The master went with Uncle Mi to visit Dragon Mountain. The old monk asked, ‘There are no roads into these mountains, so what route did you follow to get here?’ ‘Indeed there are no roads,’ said the master, ‘So how did you get here?’
~ The Record of Tung Shan, Case 23
Sometimes we can better understand how we got here by knowing how others arrived. A recent NY Times article on the travel start-up Airbnb, which matches travelers with private rooms, got me thinking a bit about culture, and about the culture of Zen in the West compared to Zen in the East.
The travel company is perplexed in dealing with Japan. In Tokyo, a city of 13.4 million, there are only 2,500 listings for private rooms and homes, about the same number as in Edinburgh, a city of a half million. An IBM researcher named Geert Hofstede, in comparing cultural traits of different countries some decades ago, found that Japan ranked high on what he called ‘uncertainty avoidance’, which is a desire to control the future. For reasons unique, and wholly valid to their culture, the Japanese are not comfortable with uncertainty. The Times writer cited the 30 pages of directions she was sent to find her way to her Airbnb berth in Tokyo as a ‘vote in favor of control.’
Perhaps not surprising, Hofstede’s research found that countries like the United States and Australia rate high on individualism, indulgence and greater comfort with risk taking. Perhaps to some degree that explains the culture of Pacific Zen. Practice on our mountain is all about taking a little bit of risk, of moving just a bit outside of our comfort zones.
Maybe that is the best way for us to find our way home.