THE ORIENT AND PORTUGAL’S FUTURE
Armando Martins Janeira
It was we, the Portuguese, who more than a millennium after Alexander the Great, took Western civilization to the Orient.
History shows a constant polarity between the two extremes in which human civilization has advanced in different, and sometimes even opposite directions; on the one hand the West, with its anxiety to increase man’s material power; on the other hand the Orient, concentrating on fathoming the power of the spirit. In this disparity of orientations there is no conflict and therefore at the end of a long trajectory and delving into a diversity of knowledge, the two poles were destined to converge. This capital encounter is taking place in our day. The neognostics of Pasadena are now arriving, through reason, where Buddha arrived more than two millennia ago by profound intuition. À propos, one may quote the affirmation of Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize for Physics: “In order to find a parallel to the lesson of atomic theory (...), we must go back to that category of epistemological problems with which thinkers like Buddha and Lao Tzu were faced, when we try to reconcile our position as spectators and actors in the great drama of existence”.
And Gary Zukar completes that thought when he says that modern physics “enable us to see the nature of reality in a manner that is similar to the conclusions of Oriental philosophy. The most profound physicists of our time are increasingly aware that they face the ineffable”.
Einstein discovered that space and time are only one; the neognostics of Pasadena deny the subject-object, spirit-matter duality; and astrophysicists affirm that time, before and after the formation of the world, is infinite. As Buddha and Lao Tzu taught two millennia and a half ago. The oscillation between the Western and Oriental civilizations has probably reached its culminating point, and the line of equilibrium is beginning to become apparent.
Nowadays Portugal is the European country which is furthest from the knowledge of the Orient. And so we lack that diversity of values that made our cultural greatness and with which we enriched Europe. It is lack of diversity in the values of its culture that makes a country culturally poor.
All the great creative minds of our day are nourished or inspired by Oriental values: in poetry Ezra Pount and Allan Ginsberg; in romance Huxley, Durrell, Hermann Hesse; in the arts, many besides Van Gogh, Gauguin, Toulouse Lautrec; in science, very many (?!!), from Einstein to Oppenheimer, regarded as the father of the atomic bomb, who quotes Sanskrit in the original. In recent Portugal, Eça, Antero, Camilo Pessanha, Feijó, Wenceslau de Moraes, the last of our great travel writers, Fernando Pessoa, the greatest of our modern poets.
Among our present writers, however, where in prose or in poetry does one find that knowledge of Oriental values that lends to the great foreign writers novelty and the unexpected, gives new angles of vision of man and society, teaches the cosmic rhythm of time, the strength and fleeting beauty of forms, the symbolical poetry of the myths?
Where does one see in Portugal today those universalist spirits who take pleasure in the rich diversity of values? The Orient was a source of inspiration and greatness - the great poets and prose writers of our Golden Age all received animus and enlightenment from the East.
But the Orient of today is different. It is from there that we receive the most modern technologies. Europe, the continent of the great miracle, which gave impetus to peoples and civilizations, nowadays lags behind. And behind a lagging Europe follows Portugal, torn by doubts and contradictions.
The colonial empires of Europe have fallen. “Decolonialization, the fall of empires, has not impoverished Europe. It has enriched it”, writes Servan-Schreiber. Portugal, however, it made poorer. Countries which slacken the pace of their course through history suffer the heavy consequences afterwards.
Abroad there persists a false image of Portugal that is caused by the uncertainties of politics and the instability of the governments that have been in power for a decade.
Anyone who journeys through the country will, however, see a very different picture: villages that take the initiative of building schools, towns constructing water reservoirs, swimming-pools, libraries and even museums. Incessant activities of an active, sound, hard-working, persistent and imaginative people.
PORTUGAL AS INTERPRETER OF EUROPE
Across the vast ways of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Portuguese took the highest values created by European culture. At that time Europe was in the midst of the greatest intellectual revolution in her history. The Europeans had launched into the conquest of man’s inner world through the paths of art, and into the discovery of lands and seas by means of meticulous planning based on the most advanced science of the epoch. Man wanted to know himself and to know the physical world. There appeared a great plead of outstanding painters, poets, writers, in Italy, Germany, France. When Michelangelo was giving the last touches to the “Creation” in the Sistine Chapel, the Portuguese navigators were sailing the distant seas of the Pacific. Art was admired and esteemed by everyone. The rich merchant Pierfranco de Medici, who was the protector of the navigator who originated the name of America, ordered from Botticelli one of the painter’s finest works, “Birth of Venus”, which now honors the Uffizi Museum in Florence.
Science is truly born at that time; in the same year in which the Portuguese disembarked on the first Japanese land, in 1543, Galileo’s book “De Revolutionibus Orbium” was published.
The vast revolution of the mind extended even to religion: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, introduced new ideas into the domain of faith (a heritage whose value the greatest man of our time, John Paul II, has recognized - an admirable example for the timid and excessively conservative churches such as the Portuguese).
Aboard the naos of the Discoveries went letters, arts, science and technology that were the luminous glory of the Renaissance. The three great vehicles of civilization - trade, war and religion - were to transform the face of the East.
Around 1500, Europe and Asia were at a similar level of development. About five centuries before, while Europe was plunged in Medieval obscurity, in the East shone the splendour of the three greatest cities in the world: Constantinople, Chang’an, capital of the Tangs, and Kyoto, capital of Japan in the brilliant Heian era.
From the 15th to the 18th centuries a ‘miracle’ takes place in Europe, a scientific, technical and economic development hitherto unknown in all human history. With an invincible military power, inspired by an ambition for dominion that only two countries in the world - China and Japan - could withstand, Europe with arms and ideas finally dominated the world. The Age of the Discoveries spread the seeds of the great revolution which for more than four centuries was completely to transform all the countries of the world: their way of living, philosophy, political, economic and social structures, religion and even sometimes their very national languages. Western civilization modified the traditional life of the Oriental and African peoples, influenced their art, inspired their literature. But it did not change their moral values, nor did it transform their spiritual conceptions, their way of regarding life and death.
I believe that it is in that guarded treasure of spiritual values that there is today the greatest force for renovation of the world, and it is only there that Western civilization will be able to find its salvation.
In my heart as an European, I accompany the hesitant hope of Werner Heisenberg, Nobel Prize for Physics:
“Our desire is that the spiritual life may flourish here anew, that here in Europe thought may continue to model the face of the world”.
Is Heisenberg perhaps expressing Europe’s last illusion?
THE DECLINE OF THE WEST
Western man, who as a tireless constructor brought to the whole planet the fruits of his intelligence and knowledge, teaching the way to development, to the creation of wealth, curing chronic misery, spreading hope among populations subject to plague, hunger, tyranny, today submits the whole earth to fear of man’s death.
I do not wish to add my voice to that of the somber augurs who announce the early fall of the West. But I cannot help perceiving with anguish that a civilization that has created the material means capable of destroying itself and destroying life, is a sick civilization.
Today all humanity quakes with fear every time that, on one side or the other, the Soviet or American giant hurls threats, and speeches of generals evoke the roll of war drums.
Modern man lives under a constant threat, and in the collective subconscious there gradually settles a layer of fear similar to that which crushed the ancient cave men with terror.
Any civilization that reaches such a deranged state is undoubtedly severely injured. The incessant wars, the genocides, the spreading of crime, the fury of the consumer society, the search for enjoyment and pleasure at any price, above and beyond the just measure which is the proper equilibrium of human life, are other signs of a decadent age.
On all sides prognostications of its collapse increase. We are drifting in the immense ocean of unending Time; man is incapable of seeing beyond the crest of the approaching wave.
T. S. Elliot, in the chorus of Rock, laments:
“Where is the wisdom that we have lost in knowledge?”
The Orient has kept its wisdom. Perhaps that wisdom may later be the ultimate salvation of the West. Just as the West took to the Orient its science, its technology, its method, so now might the East bring to the West its wisdom, its natural realism, its secrets of reflection and intuition so profound that two and a half millennia ago they stated truths which only now modern science has discovered.
Maybe we are witnessing the start of one of those great eras of humanity, for the great eras have been filled with conflicts, instability and restlessness; with the desire to replace the old truths by new truths. And so we are paying the price in uncertainty and anguish. We shall not be able to better our fortune without running the risk of major changes in the real world and in the world of thought. Our epoch is one of wars, business deals, nuclear threats, beyond that dark curtain, what awaits us?
I believe that the salvation of Western civilization lies above all in the profound search for new spiritual dimensions, to be found in their deepest sources - which the spiritual strength of the Orient can arouse, complement and enrich.
But how could Western civilization renew itself and produce new values?
THE LESSON OF HISTORY
History teaches us that every time two great civilizations come into close contact, both of them benefit from that encounter, and there is an inter-fertilization of spiritual and artistic, even material values. This has happened whenever the civilizations of the West and the East have met in that constant historical oscillation of which Karl Jaspers speaks.
The first encounter was when Alexander the Great, in the 4th Century B.C., advanced as far as the River Indus and there left traces of Hellenic civilization. To the artists of the court which accompanied Alexander is due the creation of the image of Buddha, which had until then been represented by a symbol, such as the lotus flower, or the wheel of the law. As so the figure of Buddha, with long ears, which in Asia signifies happiness, and with the fine lines of Apollo, spread from Gandhara over the whole vast Eastern Asia, to Tibet, Laos, Cambodja, Burma, Thailand, Mongolia, China, Japan. And it is not without emotion that in the museums of Kabul or Lahore we contemplate a face in the peace of Asiatic passivity animated by a subtle Hellenic smile.
The second real contact between East and West was experienced by us here in the Iberian Peninsula, when in 711 A.D. Tarik crossed the strait that still bears his name. The Muslims in the Peninsula of over eight centuries. And to the barbarian Visigoths of Hispania they brought a wave of culture, with great poets and architects, men of learning such as Averroes and Avicenna, who enriched the thought of the whole European Middle Ages and left a precious heritage in Mozarabic art.
In these great waves of history, civilizations were renewed, peoples changed their languages and religions, even their historical destiny.
A present-day example of a fruitful cross-fertilization of civilizations is Japan. Japan is the first example of the fecund combination of the values of the Orient with the values of the Occident; faithful to their ancient Asiatic tradition, the Japanese have yet been able to incorporate in their culture, their life, the most modern creations of the West - they are the only people that has been capable of reconciling the machine and the ancient garden, technical things and the human soul.
A century ago Japan was a feudal, backward, poor country, living under a despotic government; today it is one of the freest democracies, and in several aspects the most advanced country in the world.
The proof thus stands there; harmonious combination between East and West, with fruitful results. Through these brief considerations I want only to suggest that at this uncertain moment of Western civilization, closer ties with the Orient might bring that sanity and equilibrium which the West has lost since it chose the path of the Apocalypse.
ON THE WAY TO A UNIVERSAL CIVILIZATION
The world has become too vast to be compressed within the frame of Western civilization.
Hodeki Yukawa, Japanese Nobel Prize for Physics, wrote:
“The rationalist and systematic elements of European thought cannot be the entire yardstick of the value of human life. Elements of thought that are completely strange to those of European culture, or complementary to them, are abundantly preserved in the tradition of Oriental thought (...). In the present world situation, a thorough examination of the possibilities contained in Oriental thought is essential.”
We are thus on the way to a universal civilization, embracing all men. A universal civilization which, we hope, will not efface the strength and richness of the national cultures, but fortify the characteristics and creative individuality of each people, the legends, myths and handcrafts of each region: what in each nation is peculiar to it, vital, renovating in the spirit of creation and peace.
THE FUTURE OF PORTUGAL
What is the role of Portugal in this great revolution of the spirit?
It was through Portugal, Europe’s door open on the world, that Western civilization set out on the great adventure of its expansion. And it was in Portugal that that adventure ended. Portugal was thus the first and last empire.
A people always open to everything that is new, with one of the most universalist cultures, Portugal might again, I believe, be the link, the new bridge that is needed between East and West. In order to attain this it would be necessary to prepare people’s minds, in particular those of the new generations. Nowadays the routes are different - they are knowledge of the Oriental civilizations, tourism, interchange of cultures, international trade, confraternization: with the aim of preparing the fruitful dialogue between East and West.
Today, in the East the great dialogist is Japan. Portugal was the first European country to reach Japan, and created there an exceptional situation during a century of association.
Why not take advantage - and without delay - of this capital of historical understanding, to the benefit of Western civilization and of ourselves?
Our difficult entry into the Common Market begins to be disheartening. When we are admitted, what disillusions await us there?
I feel that the way to the advancement of Portugal lies in turning to the country with the most rapid progress, vitality, the widest prospects of development in the coming decades. That country - and this has been recognized by illustrious Americans - is Japan. (Ezra Vogel, Japan as N.º 1, is an example).
Japan can transmit to us the most advanced technologies, both in industry and in agriculture. Our industrial backwardness cannot be corrected if we try to repeat the phase of evolution that have been covered by others. We have to invent a new process - which can enable us to get round the intermediate phases and leap directly to the phase of micro-electronics and computers, which is the beginning of a new Industrial Revolution. Japan is one of the most advanced countries as regards computer systems, and is certainly the country whose common citizens make most use of electronics.
A country’s policy in relation to other countries is essentially an interchange of interests. We need to study what we can offer in exchange. We already have in our favour the geographical situation (first European point of passage for ships going up the Atlantic); our future position within the EEC, we have a common past that an able diplomacy, which we have never succeeded in developing, could emphasize.
I put forward this suggestion as briefly as the moment requires; I have developed it in some books; I have brought it to maturity in more than ten years of associating with the Japanese. Another alternative is the United States, but this may lead to undesirable bonds.
Portugal is faced with serious problems, the solution of which calls for hard sacrifices. But it is in adversity and suffering that men of courage strive to see further, and to achieve the highest ambition and the greatest dream. And the man who, notwithstanding his daily trials, is unable to raise a hope that surpasses all suffering, is too little for great designs. When Dom Dinis gave order for the planting of the Leiria Pine Forest, he already saw on the horizon the ships to be that only later generations were to sail.
We saw in this admirable Exhibition the like of which has never been experienced in Portugal - and here I pay homage to the General Commissioner and his collaborators - the steady expansion of Europe and the ascending lines of Portugal’s greatness: we saw how the smallest of the continents spread ideas throughout the earth, caused peoples to progress and nations to increase; we saw how a small country opened up routes that had never before been imagined. It is to be hoped that the younger generations have learned here how through hardship and toil, with imagination and audacity, it was possible to achieve what at the beginning seemed an impossible dream.
Navigating to discover is over. “It is not necessary to live”, men said in those days, “what is necessary is to navigate”. The admirable days are gone when of greater worth than a man’s own life were daring, extreme effort, dreams. Navigating to discover is over.
But, in the life of a people, what still has equal worth is hard work, tenacity, courage, the creative spirit of which this Exhibition is a live example.
And note well: it was when Portugal was smallest in territory that it proved greatest in spirit.