I am sitting on the numbeer 7 train in Queens, New York, listening to a woman sitting across from me talking in Japanese on her cell phone. She sounds like she is trying to reach someone and not succeeding. A few minutes later, a Japanese couple enter the car and talk to each other in a low intense tone. I don’t understand the words, but I can’t help but wonder whether they have lost someone.
I know many people from Japan, and I go there myself from time to time. Of all the places in the world I have been (and I have been to many places), it is the place where people seem to have the greatest sense of inner order, of being perfectly in sync with their daily lives.
In the U.S. we are always engaged in disagreement. The intellectuals, the very religious, the workers, young people, old people, capitalists, socialists, the ardent defenders of the inalienable rights of Democrats, Republicans, animals, New York Mets, workers, women, the planet, children, public television or Jesus, each individual citizen seems to be living in a personal world of argument and opinion, faced off against anyone and everyone.
But in Japan there always seems to be a kind of pulling together, a search for harmony that is built deep into the culture. People work hard to be the best they can be, not to outshine their peers, but as a way to connect with them.
In the roots of Zen lies an understanding that perfection is merely an illusion — that our imperfections are an intrinsic part of the natural order, and that this very juxtaposition of order and chaos leads to beauty and transcendence.
Which is why it is particularly tragic to find this lovely and perfectly meshed culture in the midst of such sadness and turmoil, attempting to endure after an attack by nature itself.