Where is God?

(This is the Niō on the left side of the main gate of Zenkōji, a large temple in Nagano. Niō are protective gods that come in pairs. This Niō has his mouth open. The one on the other side has his mouth closed. I love the power so many of these sculptures found in temple gates have. The fact that so many of them are hard to see in their dark niches shielded from the birds by chicken wire makes them all the more mysterious and fascinating.)

I’m sorry to have taken my dear time again before I got around to writing a post. I’m currently preparing for a mid-term presentation of my MA thesis. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, though, I wanted to write down a conversation I overheard in a cafe. I was eating my cake and drinking ice coffee (because it’s far too hot to drink hot coffee), when I heard parts of the conversation at the table next to me. Two elderly women were sitting there. One of them was reading from a pamphlet of haiku that the other had given her. She commented that she couldn’t write anything on the same topics after having read these, because they would influence her attempts to write. That, however, is not the conversation I wanted to relate. I’m just setting the scene.

I was trying to read an article for my thesis, but I couldn’t help overhearing the woman who had been reading the haiku. She said, “Where is God? God isn’t anywhere, and he’s not going to take us to him when we die.”

The other woman gave a little laugh, but the first woman continued, “Thinking about that isn’t much use.”

Then she said something that made me smile, because it has to do specifically with what I want to write in my thesis. She said, “It’s inside us, not somewhere out there.”

So, there you have it the two stereotypical points of view of East and West (which are hard to delineate in any case). The West believes that God or the Truth (capitalized like in all good German existentialism as some friends of mine would say) are somewhere transcendent, somewhere separate from the world we live in. The East believes such knowledge and insight are within the individual waiting to be discovered as he interacts with the world. These are stereotypes of course, and if they were really unshakeable truth, then there wouldn’t be much point to my being in Japan right now.

If these stereotypes were true, someone who grew up in the West like me wouldn’t be able to understand Japanese culture or Noh no matter how much they tried. And Japanese people wouldn’t be able to understand European culture or thought. But, I know plenty of Japanese who understand a lot more about European and US culture than I do.

There’s not much else left to do than to trust that intuition and to have faith that I can understand other people and their culture. Or is there another way? . . . hmmm. . .

2 thoughts on “Where is God?

  1. To “trust” and understand, and “Intuition”, that are the key words in your blog this time.
    Hi Hanna, that I found your blog is a miracle, because I connect so much with most what you are saying and it is always so good reading your opinion and your questions. Because we do not have the answers – sometimes it takes a long time and suddenly something becomes clear. I remember when I stepped out of that plane the first time, I had the feeling, I must have been here in Japan already in another time, Everything seemed so natural, I connected with people, I did not even understand by language.
    Maybe other Asian people have been to Europe before they remember, or some
    people who are sensitive enough are permitted to remember somehow. And they know, where they want to be, even if it feels “strange” and has no real reason and doesn’t make sense right now. But it will eventually. Intuition is such a virtue !!!
    I wish you good vibes and thoughts for your thesis and writing and as always, a big
    THANK YOU for letting us be part of the process. And keep listening to other people’s conversations, I am a big believer, that we are let know about ourselves, we just have to listen.
    Take care and much love,

    1. Dear Christiane,

      Thank you for your thoughts as well! I certainly hope we aren’t all hopelessly unable to understand each other as some people (and many grad students) think. I really think that listening and all the other senses need to be used to their utmost if we want to learn about the world we live in. As a philosophy professor said in class this spring, practice is the only way we may learn to feel subtle differences in the world around us. Practicing an art, a craft, a way of life, friendship. . . they all require patience and attentiveness, no? That’s what I’m trying to learn.


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