An admirable quality of the Japanese is their unwillingness to show off. This manifests in many ways, most notably in home architecture. The outside of their houses is rarely ostentatious. A McMansion in Japan would stick out like a sore thumb. But go inside, and although there is a tendency toward minimalism, costly ceramics and lovely wall scrolls will adorn the interior. The lovely inside contrasts sharply with the bland exterior. I noticed the same tendency in Morocco. One of my meditation brothers is the scion of a well-known French couturier family. At last count he owned eight houses, apartments, or farms around the world. For my honeymoon in 2011, he gifted my new wife and me with a two-night stay in his mansion in Marrakesh. His house, inside the walls of the old city, was as modest and nondescript as its neighbors. But go inside, and it’s like moving from blurry black-and-white to sharp, glorious color. After meeting the staff of eight, who would be at our beck and call for the next 48 hours, we were taken by the head housekeeper on an extended tour. We learned that the current king’s sister had sold this mansion to my friend in appreciation for his funding of an orphanage in the nearby mountains...
But this blog has nothing to do with international architectural styles. Rather, it derives from my discovery of a new Spanish word for me in a 1,000-page history of Christianity. The word, señores y señoras, is alumbrado(s). Now alumbrar, the verb, means “to illuminate.” The noun, alumbrado, means “lighting” as in the phrase alumbrado electrico, “electric lighting.” The phrase in the history book, in the plural, Alumbrados, the Illuminati, was a pejorative term for groups of mystics in 16th-century ultra-Catholic Spain. Now mystic have always been problematic for the established church since they go direct to Source and will tell you so. Moreover, these particular Illuminated Ones got messages that sounded a lot like what Martin Luther in Germany had been saying, a definite no-no in that time and place. Ignatius Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus, was often thought by Spanish church leaders to be one of these dangerous folks and as a result had to make a quick departure from his native land. Here is another case of a prophet being without honor in his own country. But in defense of the Spanish clerics, individuals and groups that say they go direct to Source can sometimes act in public in ways that seem crazy to ordinary people. Jesus himself criticized his countrymen, and they were men, who would go to the Temple when they were fasting and make a great show of their pious suffering. When you fast, he counseled, look as if nothing special is going on with you. Interestingly, a modern Spanish slang expression for being drunk is alumbrado, which on second thought is not so different from our saying that an inebriated person is “all lit up.”
Which brings us back to Japanese and Moroccan houses. The better way for us human beings, I think, is to be, like those houses, ordinary on the outside but extraordinary on the inside. Not outward show but inward value. The good we do will come out better and be more effective if we refrain from touting our virtues. Let who we are and what we do speak for themselves.