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Eastern Thought, Western Thought, Determinism, Free Will, The Self.. And Water.

February 17, 2021

Water has no mind. Water has no choice. Water does not determine its course. Water is subject to greater natural laws. A creek evaporates. A river flows into the ocean.

Water does not choose.

Is being like water really.. good?

Being formless, “you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup,” and so forth. That is a quote from Bruce Lee, but he was just parroting the writers of the Tao Te Ching.. ancient Chinese thought.. at least 3,000 years old.

Is being like water good?

Water has no identity.

From an Eastern perspective, this is good.

From a Western perspective, this is inconceivable, and can lead to madness.

But for Easterners, deep within them..

“The nail that stands up is pounded down.”

This is an old Asian proverb.



Part of the whole, the individual diminished, destroyed.

That is the goal of Eastern thought and religion.


Die, finally without rebirth, and merge into all that is. That is the ultimate. Not only ultimate in the literal sense, “ultimatus” Latin.. “to come to an end,” but also, in our more Western and Modern definition: The Best.

To lose our individuality is the opposite of trying to be, and being, The Best, according to Western Thought.

The best is Ego.

Individual Glory.

The Super Bowl game-winning touchdown pass caught by the wide receiver, having outwitted multiple defenders, just over the line of the end zone.

One who achieves true rock star legendary status.

The individual who has made his or her first billion dollars. Who has reached the perceived pinnacle of financial success.

Or just the first middle class person on the block to purchase a luxury German-made automobile, whether he or she can afford the monthly payments or not.

We cannot relate to the Eastern.

Is the Eastern any better?

To be an individual, is that truly worse than to work and work at being the best completely nondescript, unnoticeable worker bee in the hive?

For we in the West, this is Anathema.

So it is also for those in the East who have adopted our Western ways, and who have become even more extreme than we are. Or rather, they have tried to adopt our Western ways, and have failed. They have unwittingly fallen back into conformity. Consider the Japanese “salaryman” (both men and women). The person who dresses the same as everyone else, fills one of endless middle management positions, and who cannot cope with his or her existence except by, after finishing the working day, getting off the subway and heading straight to the bar. Getting drunk until the small hours.

Stumbling home, and upon arrival, without a kiss for the spouse or acknowledgement of the child, falls into fitful sleep, for too few hours, only to repeat the experience again. And again. And Again. And.

That is the Eastern version of Western individuality, only to be turned into another form of Eastern conformity and Loss of Self.

The Eastern mind was not suited for this form of modernity. Some adopted this Western mindset, and have gone even more mad than we in the West.

Is free will an illusion?

What does religion tell us?

Even the Islamists have a saying, “It is Written!”

The Hindus, and the Buddhists who piggybacked onto the Hindus.. The promoters and self-appointed expositors of the messages of Christ, or rather, their myriad interpretations of it, who piggybacked onto Judaism, as Christ did (for how could he not.. as Buddha was a Hindu, so was Christ a Jew.. reformers never forget their hometowns, even though there, a prophet is without honor) do they have a denunciation of free will?

The Christians..

They are divided. Some, those holding with iron-fisted grip onto Calvinist tradition, say that there is no freewill, there is only Predestination. That God, in His “infinite mercy,” before the beginning of time, predestined some of we pathetic humans, we dust dwellers, to be lifted up, glorified, transformed into heavily creatures, so privileged as to enjoy God’s company forever, while the rest, the hapless and damned masses.. burn.

No wonder some Christians have a problem with ego.

But getting back to the Easterners..

To Taoism, where Bruce Lee found his inspiration for his “be like water”..

For the Hindus and Buddhists, who believe in karma..

For those whose ultimate goal is to shed all individual identity, and merge with the One, or the Nothing, depending on one’s interpretation of what nirvana even means.. (Maybe the One and the Nothing are the same? The One is Nothing?)

Is this lack of self any better than glorification of the self?

Or is it just…


I do not know.

I was raised Christian, but could not help (determinism, not free will, seems to me) but abandon that path.. no matter how obsessed with it..the way of Christ, the apostles, the saints, the Church, the thousands of denominations, breaking down to even more infinitesimal expressions of ego: the tiny, non-denominational “churches” polluting our strip malls and office parks.. this path that, no matter how strongly and miserably compelled…

I Cannot Walk.

And so I have, in the past, this path, or rather, this wandering of faded or too heavily-trodden paths of Christianity, tried to abandon. And in so doing, have become even more confused, perhaps even more severely agitated and insane.

There is a saying, “Putting one’s right foot in a canoe, and one’s left foot in another canoe, does not give one the ability to walk on water.”

For me… having studied Buddhism for years, and having dipped my toes into Taoism and Hinduism..

I am trapped between East and West.

Better to be one or the other?

I do not know. I have not the experience of being only Western or only Eastern. It is too late for me now, for that.

But maybe, this.. both this and that and yet neither.. gives me a little insight..

Perhaps at least the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism is correct:

Life. Is. Suffering.

And maybe that is the only Noble (perhaps.. not so noble, but.. blatantly obvious).. Truth that is accurate.

Whether we have free will or not, whether we reach a glorified state of egoism, that of the Western Mind, or attempt to lose ourselves entirely into the Eastern Mind.. mired in the attachment of striving to attain non-attachment..

Do we not suffer?

That is all we are guaranteed.

I do not know if free will is illusion or not.

I partook of well-crafted wine and dark beer tonight, ate much tasty food, and finally, after much thought, somehow came up with an idea for something I thought was actually worth writing down..and editing, and revising, as the hours passed. For writing is like sculpting stone. It is a pain-staking task of creating and refining. As none of us are perfect beings, if indeed any such beings exist at all, mistakes always remain. Some visible only to the sculptor or author, and some, tragically, visible to all.

I came downstairs, to my small room, in a hurry, in a semi-inebriated state.. (Was this truly an act of free will?)

And typed these words. And slaved over this post, which I am still uncertain of, and which, for better, worse, or neither, you now read (and do you not find yourself in doubt, wondering if your time was well spent just now?)

For what you have found..

Is.. at best..

Yet more scribble about infinite and unanswerable questions we all deal with.

For most people their religion (whichever it may be, I care not) provides at least a semi-satisfactory answer.

For some of these people, politics is the new Faith, the new Creed, in which they all too happily drown themselves.

But regardless..

For all of us, we who are Eastern or Western, it is the self we cannot bear.

And if we truly have free will, we cannot bear that either.

Succumbing to addiction.. social media, the next episode of the show we are binge-watching, religion, politics, sex, substance abuse, mindless entertainment…

It seems to me this perverse aberration of nature called the Self is something we cannot bear.

So it may be that Bruce Lee, and the Taoists from thousands of years ago, were truly wise.

Be like water.

Water does not think.

Water does not choose.

Water has no self.

© Tom Meninga. Yes, putting my name on here is a sign of egoism, but I don’t care, or if I do, does it really matter?

One Comment leave one →
  1. DiosRaw permalink
    February 17, 2021 1:29 AM


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