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Security for a Failing World

by Stanwood Cobb

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Chapter 12


Occident and Orient

OF ALL the prejudices which separate peoples of the world, the most deep-seated and difficult to remove are those which still create a barrier between the Orient and the Occident.

Ever since the dawn of history this barrier has existed. The Greeks, who initiated civilization within the continent of Europe, created a very different culture from that of the Orient. They laid the foundations of the scientific-realistic trend of Occidental thought. They laid the foundations also of democracy both social and political, and of the rights of the individual. These distinctions between the Orient and Occident have remained and grown even stronger as centuries have added to the civilization built up in Europe.

From the time of the Renaissance Europe has made tremendous headway in science, far outdistancing the Orient. The scientific energy of the Western World eventuated in the discovery of steam and the invention of machinery, creating the industrial revolution and that technological civilization which today places the West a millennium in advance of the East so far as practical arts of living are concerned.

The East, meanwhile, has continued along the even tenor of its way, content with the same customs,

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practices, and utensils that were known when history first dawned. Travel through Asia and you will find people plowing with the same kind of plows, reaping with the same kind of reapers, sailing in the same kind of boats, and eating out of the same kind of dishes as they did five thousand years ago.

Yet in the realm of the spirit Asia has created a wealth such as the West seems incapable of achieving. It is significant that all the great world religions have been born in the Orient. The Occident has contributed nothing creative in the way of religion. Its energies seem to be more practical, more materialistic.


From the time when the Greeks repulsed the Persians in the latter's endeavor to extend their world empire into Europe, the Bosphorus has remained an impassable gulf separating Asia from Europe. This gulf has been crossed at times, but figuratively speaking it has remained a barrier separating the world into two very different compartments.

In spite of Rome's conquests and rule in certain Asiastic countries, at the fall of the Roman Empire civilization in the Near East relapsed into the ancient Asiastic folkways. On the other hand, the barbarous tribes of Europe which were conquered by the Romans permanently assimilated the practical scientific civilization which the Greco-Roman world evolved.

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No religion, even, has succeeded in bringing about a unity between the Orient and Occident. By some peculiar destiny Christianity, although born in the Orient, has flourished only in the Occident. This Occidental trend of Christianity was not due to any lack of opportunity for penetration into the Orient. The message of Christ was carried eastward as well as westward from the birthplace of its founder. In the same century that it was converting whole tribes of Germanic, Slavic, and Celtic races it was penetrating with early missionary zeal into Persia, India, and China. It took strong hold and eventually won complete success among the races of Europe; but it only languished in Asia, even where it managed to get a slight foothold. And thus, although Christianity became a powerful factor of unity between European peoples, it has failed to become the means of uniting Europe and Asia.

Buddhism, on the other hand, spread only eastward from the birthplace of its founder. Thus, although it created a great and unifying civilization in eastern Asia, it has done nothing toward uniting Asia with Europe.

Muhammadanism, rising later in the stage of history, has proved a powerful unifier of Asiatic and African peoples but has failed in its attempts at the conquest of Europe.[1]

    [1. The history of the spread of the world's chief religions would almost seem to indicate an affinity and destiny of certain religions for certain races.]

On the basis of past history and present probability,

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it is seriously to be questioned whether any one of these great world religions can ever hope to bridge the gulf between the Orient and Occident, uniting all in one fold.

Yet nothing short of religion can possibly unite the Orient and Occident. So different are these two concepts of life, and so deeply founded in the religious temperament is the whole ideology of the Orient, that no wholesale rapport can be expected except under the tutelage of religion.


For over two centuries Europe, by reason of greater racial energy and greater military power due to the application of science to warfare, has subdued and ruled most of Asia. But this imperialistic rule, beneficent as it has been in many ways, has not tended to unite the East and West. Enforced contact between Orientals and Occidentals, though it has interjected Occidental customs and standards of living into Asiatic urban life, has not succeeded in changing the Oriental ideology. It has left the vast country-side, the village life of Asia, untouched. And Asia is ninety percent rural and only ten percent urban.

As for the unifying effects produced by commercial relations between the Occident and Orient, present conditions show a weakening even of these ties. There has been a great change in the psychology of Asia toward Europe and America since the World

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War. A situation which has been going on for many generations and was apparently capable of remaining forever in status quo, suddenly has changed. All foundations of Occidental rule and domination of Asia are crumbling. No longer are Orientals submissive in spirit toward Western militarianism and imperialism. No longer do they hold a friendly attitude toward Occidental culture and civilization. There is throughout the world's largest continent a great Asiatic Renaissance, a rise of intense nationalism, a growing hostility to Westernization, an immense folk movement of "Asia for the Asiatics."

Hence it is apparent that the mere course of events is not bringing about unity between the East and West. The trend of evolution, though it points in the direction of eventual world unity, gives no evidence of any immediate unity due merely to the intercourse and contact of peoples. In fact, the present situation is less promising in this direction than was the situation of two decades ago.


Now one of several things can happen as between the Orient and the Occident. The Occident may continue to dominate the Orient as it has in the last few centuries, ruling it by force but not reaching its heart or changing its pulse. No unity would be established in such a situation. But it is highly improbable that such a situation can continue. Asia will not long be ruled by any force applied from the outside.

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Secondly, there is the idea in some quarters that Asia might in her turn become imperialistic and embark upon vast enterprises of world conquest. There is a possibility in this direction, but not any great probability.

Thirdly, the Orient and the Occident might continue each in its own way, segregated from each other as in the past. This, however, seems an untenable hypothesis because of the speed and efficacy of intercourse and communication; because also of the pressures due to economic and cultural interdependence. No, the world cannot go on existing as two isolated groups, one of which is technological, materialistic, and progressive; and the other illiterate, primitively agricultural, and non-aggressive. There is no possibility of world harmony and world stability in such a situation.

A fourth possibility, and this seems to be the only solution of the problem, is the coalescence of the two civilizations, their merging to form one world culture. This seems not only wholly desirable, but inevitable.


The truth is that each civilization needs greatly what the other has to give. Neither is perfect in itself. In temperament the Orient has many of the so-called feminine qualities — intuition, patience, emotionality, love of beauty; while the Occident has the so-called masculine qualities — aggressiveness,

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practicality, kinetic energy. Just as neither man nor woman is self-sufficient nor perfect as a separate human being, but only when their qualities merge and coalesce, so the East and the West will reach their highest fruition only in a union of their qualities.

The West is in sore need of the spiritual teaching and stimulus which the East has to give. Where would the West be today without the benefits of an Oriental religion conferred upon it two millenniums ago? The most admirable fruitage of contemporaneous Occidental civilization may be traced directly to seeds planted by Christ. The Orient has many riches of a spiritual nature to give us. Its whole philosophy of life, its practice of living, is superior to our own.

The Oriental knows how to wrest happiness from life, regardless of circumstance. But the Occidental, seeking insatiably to exploit environment and circumstance for the purpose of procuring happiness, seems ever unsuccessful in his attempts. True, he wields a remarkable power of molding external forces to his will and has conquered everything in the world external to himself; but he has not learned to control and sublimate his emotions to the point of securing that joyousness of life which is normal to the Oriental. Perhaps the Orient can teach us the secret of its happiness.

On the other hand, the Occident has rich gifts to convey to the Orient. The deliberate continuous search of Nature; the discovery of laws by which

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man can dominate the physical universe and reform it to his pleasure and convenience; the development of technology and of modern industrial skills, these are things that the East greatly needs to learn.

The present economic adversity has struck the world just in time, it would seem, to save the East from a too hasty adoption of modern industrialism, with all its faults. What a pity it would have been had Asia succumbed to the mad Occidental chase after material goods, abandoning its age-old wisdom and serenity of living. But now the East has the laugh on us. "Where is your vaunted prosperity?" it can say. "To what has your industrialism led? Your superhuman efforts, your exhausting toil, your stress of life, your mad rush on subways and elevateds — where have they got you to? What have you done with all your vaunted machinery and your speedy methods of transportation? Have you arrived at the land of happiness and contentment?"

America today is much more ready to accept the simple philosophical life of the East than ever before in its history. There will be from now on enforced if not voluntary leisure, and more distinct limits to personal fortunes. The future will see us more happy with less toil; contented with fewer things; dwelling joyously on our own simple homesteads; cultivating gardens of flowers, vegetables, and fruit where we spend some of our leisure time to the advantage of health and happiness.

In the portended change of the American tempo and acquisitive habits of life, the Bahá'í Movement

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is destined to play a leading part. The effect of its spiritual teachings and of that fragrance of the Orient which it exhales will serve to ameliorate and dignify the life of Occidentals. Indeed, it is already evidencing this power.


All Occidentals who have lived long in Asia testify to a certain striking effect produced in their character and development by contact with the Oriental mind and temperament.[2] Conversely, Orientals who go to the Occident for education and culture gain inestimable benefits in the way of a development which they could not obtain in the Orient. A marvelous civilization will arise when these two cultures are fused into one. Then will come the perfect civilization which the world has long waited for.

[2. My own personality, I feel, was inestimably benefited by a sojourn in the East, and I am growing hungry for Eastern ways of life again.]

But how is this to be brought about? Only by the power of a world religion which can control the heart and consciousness both of Orientals and Occidentals. In the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh we find just such a power. We have here a movement that is capable of uniting the Orient and Occident. The Oriental who becomes a Bahá'í finds it enjoined upon him by the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh to acquire knowledge, to develop science to the utmost, to progress along the most modern lines. Thus

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millennial barriers of prejudice against Occidental civilization are swept away.

Universal education is enjoined as a religious duty. Girls are to be educated as well as the boys; for, as 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, the female, due to the contacts of motherhood, exerts more influence over the growing generation than does the male. The Persian Bahá'ís, wherever in sufficient numbers, establish schools for boys and girls. In many such villages the only girls' schools existing are those conducted by Bahá'ís.

The feminist movement in Persia is progressing chiefly under the impulse of Bahá'í precept and example. Other movements of progress in Persia rely for their furtherance upon Bahá'í leadership; for the Bahá'ís of Persia are, as may be supposed, the group best educated and most imbued with principles of progress.


The Bahá'í Movement, therefore, tends to make both Oriental and Occidental more universal in type as it fuses them together into a conscious love and brotherhood.

"In the western world, material civilization has gained the highest point of development, but divine civilization was founded in the land of the East," said 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912 in addressing the Church of the Ascension in New York City. "The East must acquire material civilization from the West,

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and the West must receive spiritual civilization from the East. This will establish a mutual bond.

"When these two come together, the world of humanity will present a glorious aspect and extraordinary progress will be achieved. This is clear and evident; no proof is required. The degree of material civilization in the Occident cannot be denied; nor can anyone fail to confirm the spiritual civilization of the Orient, for all the divine foundations of human uplift have appeared in the East. This likewise is clear and evident. Therefore you must assist the East in order that it may obtain material progress. The East must likewise promulgate the principles of spiritual civilization in the Western world. by this commingling and union, the human race will attain the highest degree of prosperity and development. Material civilization alone is not sufficient and will not prove productive. The physical happiness of material conditions was allotted to the animal.

"But the honor of the human kingdom is the attainment of spiritual happiness in the human world, the acquisition of the knowledge and love of God--we pray that God will unite the East and the West in order that these two civilizations may be exchanged and mutually enjoyed. I am sure it will come to pass, for this is the radiant century."

The dynamic spiritual power of the Bahá'í Movement will, it is anticipated, sweep away in course of time all barriers between these two great divisions of the world and fuse them into one living unity.

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Thus Bahá'ís the world over look forward to the inauguration of a noble culture upon this planet — a culture based upon foundations of science on the one hand and beauty, joyousness, and spirituality on the other. "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." This apt line of Kipling has become universally known. But not so many know the second line of his couplet-"Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat." Is it possible that the Earth and Sky so stand today?

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