What are the values of a culture?

While I was thinking about Chinese culture, and what may have been lost in modern China, I went back to look at China’s ancient teachings and history. I found the moral teachings and values in a culture can play an important role to sustain and enrich the culture. Today, America has many cultures of immigrant populations that are in the process merging into the dominant culture. I started wondering what are the cultural values of America and what values stand out as the foundation for the cultural integration process? I would like to share a little bit of Chinese culture here. Maybe it can help society look deeper into the subject of race issues and find solutions.

In Taiwan, the family and educational system inherits from three main sources of teachings, Confucius, Laozi (Taoism) and Buddha. Their influence appears in language, literature and history, even popular TV shows. These teachings have sustained cultural values in all levels, and maintain the social order.

Confucius is the greatest teacher in Chinese History, because he made the ancient Chinese teachings systematic and promoted it as the basis of education to make it available for everyone, through schools or shared in the community by storytelling. The significant contributions he made include several I would like to point out here.

  1. He set the moral standards for Chinese. He taught that it is not a man’s social standing that makes him noble or abased, but his virtues.
  2. He taught five relationships (between the government and citizens, between parents and offspring, between husband and wife, among siblings, and among friends). Through establishing the right relationships, social order is established. In each relationship he pointed out certain responsibilities and ethics for both sides to follow. Each individual needs to recognize his own responsibility for himself, and for the society and country he is in.
  3. He promoted education and made it public for whomever wants to learn, not just for the people in higher positions. He promoted education as a platform to share knowledge. Through the examination system, one’s capacity develops and responsibility for the society is increased.

These teachings continue to be taught, even in the times when country was governed by a different race or different dynasty, such as Han, Mongolians or Manchurians. For some reason, all races found these values were applicable and were influence by them. To me, when the values line up with God’s Will they will continue to be blessed. Maybe the teachings fall short of reaching Divinity in God’s creation, but overall, they provide values which strengthen a spirit in the world. With that spirit, the culture is enriched over time, and the diverse races become components to make the culture rich. These values have been given to society through ethical teachings (or spiritual teachings if you prefer to call them that). They are the foundation of the process of racial integration that occurred in China. Of course, God’s teaching is not just the moral teaching. Spiritual education can help mankind to reach the realm above which the human mind can’t comprehend. But with God’s bestowals, the power of divine intellect, man can discover the mystery of the Kingdom of God.

The values which Confucius promoted in China twenty-five centuries ago, today Baha’u’llah, the divine teacher of this age, also taught us, and more. He taught that mankind needs to seek for God and have a relationship with Him. He told us we have been endowed with the capacity, spiritual power for acquiring ideal virtues which can help us to discover divine science and reach divine unity. The spiritual education is even more needed than ever, in order for mankind to discover how many gifts they have been given and how lofty they have been created.

…… how he (a man) is the image and likeness of God and what is the standard or criterion by which he can be measured and estimated. This standard can be no other than the divine virtues which are revealed in him. Therefore, every man imbued with divine qualities, who reflects heavenly moralities and perfections, who is the expression of ideal and praiseworthy attributes, is, verily, in the image and likeness of God. ……The spirit and intelligence of man is essential, and that is the manifestation of divine virtues, the merciful bestowals of God, the eternal life and baptism through the Holy Spirit. ……The standard of divine measure and judgment is his intelligence and spirit. Therefore, let this be the only criterion and estimate, for this is the image and likeness of God. — Abdu’l-Bahá, The promulgation of world peace, 4/30/1912 talk

Regarding our responsibility to the world, Abdu’l-Bahá said,

we must arise to service in the world of morality, for human morals are in need of readjustment. We must also render service to the world of intellectuality in order that the minds of men may increase in power and become keener in perception, assisting the intellect of man to attain its supremacy so that the ideal virtues may appear. — Abdu’l-Bahá, The promulgation of world peace, 9/20/1912 talk

In order to establish a just social order in a diverse culture, society needs to have the same values from God’s teaching as foundation. The Baha’i teachings tell us that whether a man acts nobly or not is due to the ideal virtues he has acquired and the responsibility he has taken on for the world. God desires mankind look at the world as one country and care for his brothers as one family.

To understand the problems and how to address them, let’s look at two verses from Lao Tzu’s Dao De Jing. Lao Tzu said,

When the great Dao is abandoned, charity and righteousness are only in appearance. When intellectualism arises, hypocrisy is close behind. When there is strife in the family unit, people talk about brotherly love. When the country falls into chaos, politicians talk about patriotism. ~ Dao De Jing, 18th chapter

This is what we see in the world, when the teaching of God has been forgotten and the values of our existence becomes weak, then the charity is publicized, righteousness is self-righteousness and justice is for show, knowledge become business, love become desire…These are the sign spiritual education needed. Lao Tzu also said,

Forget about knowledge and wisdom, and people will be a hundred times better off. Throw away charity and righteousness, and people will return to brotherly love. Throw away profit and greed, and there won’t be any thieves. These three are superficial and aren’t enough. To keep us at the center of the circle, so we must also embrace simplicity, put others first, desire little. ~ Dao De Jing, 19th chapter

When material value overpowers the spiritual value in the heart of man, people make knowledge profitable, instead of treating it as the grace of God to share. Profit turns into greed, injustice, and thievery. A sense of security is lost. The charity work is connected to name and fame. People glorify themselves instead of God, the source of everything. Competition and discord arise when man seeks self-benefit. He puts his need before righteousness and brotherly love. When everything is valued by a price tag, knowledge and charity lose their true value and become superficial. People don’t possess a pure, kindly, and radiant heart anymore. This is the value that materialism has today. Away from God’s teaching, we have lost the true value of living.

O SON OF SPIRIT! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting. — Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, part one 1

Can we see how material values overtake spiritual values? Can we measure the spiritual values which provides us a sense of security and is what we urgently need in this world? Do we know by what values we live our life? Do we value spiritual education more than we value this contingent world? Maybe when we come back to these fundamental questions and look into human history, we can see the problem more clearly and know where to start to make changes. Without the right values as a foundation for the individual body, or the body of humanity, it has no living spirit. We desperately need the spirit in our life. And this is what God’s new teaching, Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching, bring for us. This allows us to understand more our own reality.

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