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07 / 07 / 2004
James Heisig, orientalist expert: “For the japanese, universal principles are secondary”

The “141 Questions” of the Forum (59): “Why do the Japanese distrust ethical principles?” James Heisig, professor and researcher based in Japan, explained, “they prefer to choose their own paths because each situation brings with it a spontaneous and correct principal.” He pointed out that the Japanese believe that their culture is incomprehensible for others and that for this reason, they renounce teaching the rest of the world. Heisig described “schizophrenia” the Japanese ideal based on coexisting in their own way with the Western technique that, for example, they apply to the working world, “They have an enormous division in their soul,” he stated.

Today at the Haima stage, James Heisig, an Orientalist expert who has been based in Japan for more than 25 years reflected on the fact that “each situation has its own truth, its own harmony, and this is what is important.” In this fashion, he wanted to explain the main reasons why the Japanese are distrustful of ethical principles, “They prefer to find their own paths because each situation contributes a spontaneous and correct principle.” Heisig, who has Austrian origins, was born in the United States, and expressed his desire to plant a seed of doubt about the universality of ethical principles.” Throughout his participation, he reiterated that “for the Japanese, universal principles are secondary” and stressed the fact that, “they prefer to teach their children a group of virtues that they should practice.” These are virtues exempt from principles, where preference is given to children’s own discovery of these principles. Rules that are practiced in the family are then not applied in other places or environments, “It is difficult to understand the Japanese `passivity.´ They prefer to become a mirror so that the other can see him or herself.”

Heisig, the author of numerous studies and of a series of best-sellers on Japanese learning, named four virtues: benevolence, to do what love requires in each situation; compassion, to share the sufferings of others; “co-happiness” to, forgetting oneself, celebrate the success of the other; finally the absolute virtue that a total distancing from ones “self” supposes.

This Orientalist professor and researcher pointed out that the Japanese believe that their culture is incomprehensible for others and that for this, they tend to renounce teaching it to the world. He acknowledged that, nonetheless, “traditional Japanese culture takes up a smaller and smaller place” and that, with human relationships on the side, the cultural life has hardly influenced the life of the Japanese.

Using the blackboard whenever he deemed necessary, James Heisig described the Japanese people’s identities. In this identity, “that they do not want to “change” because it is their own,” they find an ideal that has been described as “schizophrenic” because it is based on making their own way of being co-exist with the Western technique that, for example, is applied to the work world, “There have a huge division in their souls,” he declared.

The participation of James Heisig is set within the celebration of the Dialogue “East-West” that is being held at the Forum. The master of Kanji, Japanese symbols that have traditionally been out of reach for Westerners, has worked for more than two decades at the Nanzan Institute of Religion and Culture (Nagoya, Japan), and he has worked as director there for the last ten years.