“The wise person in the mountains” might sound like a cliché, and if you add the words “Asian” and “philosopher” it sounds even more so.
But if we slow down and look at each word, we might find some meaning that could help us:
What comes to mind with the word “mountains”? Hard to get to; hard to stay in and live in; far away from noise, distractions, money. Also surrounded by birds, plants, animals, trees (often big trees or old trees). A place where people can be in direct contact with the seasons. Perhaps, too, “hardiness.”
Now: “wisdom.” How can we define it? The capacity to make good choices, speak deeply, to understand our existence in a way that is connected to the larger, more-than-human world.
Is there some connection between living in the mountains and wisdom? I do think that mountains might be a conducive place where wisdom can develop.
How about “philosopher”? Here’s a quote from the book, in the chapter about Wakako Oe:
As a university student in the 1960s she wanted to study philosophy, but was alienated by the abstract, theoretical approach of the teachers. “Philosophy is the study and act of thinking, isn’t it?” she says, asking me. “I went to university to decide what way of life I should choose. I thought that’s why everyone studied philosophy!” She laughs again embarrassed by her misunderstanding. “But it wasn’t useful to me. I could think on my own, and at least it would be connected to reality.”
And indeed she did find a way to think, and believe and to understand reality by her listening to the life world in the mountains.
And what about “Asian”? As you will see in the book, many of the ways of living, and ways of thinking that are much less harmful than our European-derived mercantilist, materialist culture have a deep basis in Asian philosophies such as Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
So to me, it is the fusion, the artful fusion, the very beautiful aesthetic of putting all these elements together—wisdom, mountain living, and Asian philosophy—that makes the people I was so lucky to meet and to write about in a Different Kind of Luxury so worthy of emulation . Indeed, there are wise people living out a good philosophy, doing it today, and they can, I think, show us the way, or at least one way, of doing it ourselves.