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East & West

Treasures of the East
Ironically, the West has just discovered the Eastern culture and the value of what we once so foolishly discarded


June 22, 2005

You can tell a lot about a nation and their culture by their stories, legends, and the proverbs they use in their daily conversations. Among the nations who overdo the use of old sayings, we may come second only to people of the Far East. Recently, as I hear Americans use some of their bywords, I think about the long stories behind them. My favorite American story is “The Stone Soup". I heard this story at my daughter's second grade when -- being a room mother -- I served them cup cakes; however, the details are a bit fuzzy:

During war times, with food shortages and the threat of starvation hovering over people's heads, someone made a fire in the middle of their village square and put a huge pot of water on with only a couple of rocks in it and started stirring. As people passed by and asked what he's making, he simply replied, “Stone soup.”

“Is it any good?” the hungry witnesses asked.

“The best!”

And, when they ask if they might have some, he replied, “Only if you have an ingredient that we can use.”

“But all I have at home is some potatoes.”

“Great! That's exactly what we're missing!”

As more hungry people heard about the delicious stone soup that was being prepared, they each brought their own small offerings: an onion here, some seasoning there and a variety of grains. In the end a delectable soup with all sorts of nutritious ingredients fed the entire hungry village. That was how the teacher taught my seven-year old daughter about cooperation, unity and teamwork.

I was reminded of the many great legends I had heard while growing up. As children, who had limited access to modern entertainment, we grew up and drew wisdom from similar stories. They came to us from many sources, be it in school through Persian masters such as Sa’adi, or the little tales told by an illiterate nanny -- who did not hesitate to mix-in some poetry. Unfortunately, as we grew up, they lacked the glamour our young hearts desired and soon we were drawn to the Western culture and, even dazzled by it, and forgot what we could have used the most as food for the long road of life.

Ironically, the West has just discovered the Eastern culture and the value of what we once so foolishly discarded. Today, not only are many people familiar with the philosophy of the East, but it has become the latest fashion. Could it be that people have seen the shallow side of modernity, thus turned to the depth of ancient world in search of the true meaning of life?

Their first inclination was toward the Far East, the wisdom of Dalai Lama, Buddhism, Zen, even down to the fine rules of Feng Shui. This was in part because when one thinks of “Ancient wisdom,” these come to mind. But, more importantly, it could be due to the fact that they were available in a translated form. In fact, as far as the wealth of Persian literature and poetry is concerned, until a few decades ago, most people had nothing but Fitzgerald’s translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam.

Today, you can ask any intellectual about Sufism, Shahnameh or the poetry of Rumi and you'll get an earful! Little by little the gems of this treasure, which for centuries remained hidden, are being discovered. Then why are we not thrilled with the prospect? Alas! Once more we can easily be cheated out of our wealth!

We live in a world where “Wisdom” is in dollars and cents and your worth is measured by the size of your home and the brand of car you drive. While many young Persians are desperately seeking “fast money,” the wisdom of Rumi is selling records, T-shirts and calendars to benefit others.

There are those who are making a fortune out of a bad translation, pamphlets, and  “Rumi sessions” while our youth learns about the “” business. Indeed it's back to what my grandmother once said, “Someday we'll buy water for a higher price than what we get for our oil.” Here is a bottle of Perrier to your good soul, Nanjoon!

There are many disadvantages to aging, but sometimes I wonder if all those negative aspects aren't worth the wisdom it brings. You get to a point where money doesn't matter, glitter and glamour lose their magnetism, and all you want is health and peace, but unable to find either, you turn to books and memories.

As I sit in my backyard to spend a little time with the wisdom of Rumi, a nagging thought disrupts my concentration. I can't get over the fact that, like many of us, Rumi is also an immigrant with a green-card. What I'm most concerned about is that, unless that green-card is used regularly, it may become invalid!

Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site

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Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani



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