Exhibition – ‘Worlds of Wisdom: an Encounter between Eastern and Western Wisdom’July 3, 2014
‘East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet’, is the first and often quoted line from Rudyard Kipling’s The Ballad of East and West (1889), which is too often explained as pointing to the irreconcilable differences existing between the East and the West. In doing so, however, the last two lines of the quatrain, which tell a completely different story, are ignored:
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth
For ‘two strong men’ read ‘equals’, and it is obvious that Kipling meant to say that there are no differences between people. This is certainly true for the wisdom literature of East and West, which wishes to impart insight into divine nature and wisdom by means of stories and parables.
‘Whatever path people may travel, it leads to me in the end’, the Bhagavad Gita declares: ‘wherever they may be, it is always in my path – that of Krishna, who teaches divine wisdom – they go’. The realization that all religions are one, as William Blake put it, that there is an essential unity underlying all religions, Eastern or Western, began to emerge in the West in the nineteenth century, but before that time, there was also a decided interest in non-western religions. This exhibition literally brings together ‘East’ and ‘West’ in private press editions, manuscripts and first editons from the collection of the BPH. Among the works shown are the Hindu Bhagavad Gita in a splendid decorated manuscript on parchment, a selection from the Buddhist Pali canon, also printed on parchment, the first translation (in Latin) of the wisdom of Confucius in the West (1687), the Illustrations of the Book of Job by one of the greatest of British artists, William Blake. Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Sanskrit: many Eastern languages pass by in this exhibition, but also Western languages, such as the first translation into German of the Icelandic Edda (1777) by the now forgotten vicar Jacob Schimmelmann, who traditionally tried to harmonize the non-Christian myths and legends of the Edda with Christian teachings.