2010年11月30日 星期二

The Circle of Life

I have often thought about life: what it is, what its basic features are like, what governs its incessant movement and where it may be heading to and where I am in relation of all such elements and in particular whether I can detect any rules, any regularities in what I am thinking and what I am doing and in the process how I may discover the meaning of my life. 

The Christians have found one model, which they claim has been revealed by God to his prophets. To them, everything is created by God: the sun, the moon, the stars, the night, the day, the earth, the ocean, all the trees and the plants, the birds in the air, the fishes in the water and the animals on land and finally human beings themselves. God has endowed us with a body and a soul and the purpose why he created all these is that he wishes to share with us his perfection. He is the embodiment of creativity acting through the internal dynamic of the inherent laws of motion of this everlastingly self-creative Godead. Our purpose in life is to co-operate with him and to join that feast of life that he has prepared for us because in thus displaying his own creativity, we are given a chance to participate in that creativity. God wants us as an exteral manfiestation of his own creativity. God wants to look at himself through his creatures. His creation is the self-manifestation of his absolute freedom as God. Therefore the acknowledgement of this eternally self-creating God and our freely given consent to participate in this great enterprise is in our highest interest. Our virtue thus consists in assisting God to accomplish and to realize this grand project of creation. God loves himself. It is part of  his self-love that he creates something other than himself. He wishes to look at himself, through his own creation. The force which propels God to create is love. As his creature, we will thrive only if we too, follow the principle of God. That God-principle is the principle of love itself. Our virtue consist in living out that God-principle and our sin consists in departing from that principle. If we live according to the way God has taught us to live, we shall enter heaven. If we depart from that principle, we shall be cast into hell. Our life is therefore a journey from birth to earthly life, to earthy death and then resurrection or birth into another eternal life, in God. It is a linear model.

The Buddhists have a different world view. They think of the world and everything in it as the provisional result of the operation of certain causes and effect. How they came into being, no one knows. But we do know how the laws of cause and effect operate: they operate relentlessly and nobody and nothing is exempt from its operation. But ultimately everything is based on Emptiness: the stars, the sun, the moon, the plants and animals, human being. Everything that we see, hear, feel, touch, taste, smell and feel are transient and have no permanence. They will all pass away, sooner or later. They will never last for any substantial period of time and in that sense unreal. The Buddhists are concerned with understanding the causes of human suffering and of finding ways to live in such a way as to be above such sufferings, a state which they call nirvana. They can do so through different ways each according to the inherent tendencies of their own personality which themselves are the result or effect of the operation of prior causes. To them there are two basic methods, those of Theravada or the small vehicle and the Mahayana or the big vehicle the only difference between which is to that the latter will aim more at the salvation of other suffering souls and not just one's own suffering soul which they think are somehow constantly being re-cyled until those souls have attained nirvana when the cycle will grind to a halt for such  souls. Our life is therefore a journey from one cycle of our spirit as embodied in another life as a human being or animal or plant etc to more of the same until we rise above it or escape from this cycle of endless suffering in greater or lesser degree. It is a spiral model.

Last night, I read another chapter of Moore's book Original Self in which he proposes a view very much like the one that I have discovered long ago in my own reflections: the Circle of Life. He says that life is a circle, a cycle and constantly turns around. This view is very different from that held by most people, who tend to think of life as constantly moving forward in a more or less straight line. They like going forward but don't feel good about going backwards. Moore's view is in fact also very much like the view of the alchemists, to whom life is a process of constant refinement of the same material, from one of lower purity to one of higher and higher purity. Even the shape of the beaker is a symbol of what they are doing: it is shaped like a patridge with its beak turned towards itself as if it were grooming its own feathers. This particular form of the beaker enables the materials to be constantly recycled. Moore's view is more akin to the view of the Chinese Taoists, who merely assume the existence of the Tao and its operation through the laws of Nature and does not purport to explain how that eternal Tao first came  into existence. The Tao simply is. It is its own explanation: it is self-caused. Our task in life is therefore to recognize this eternally self-repeating cycle and to act in accordance with it, if we wish to have a "good" life. This is a circular model.

Moore sees manifested in himself all the peculiar fetishes, the strengths and weaknesses of the other members of his own family. His hands look like the hands of his father. His tendency towards introversion and his sensitivity resmble those of his mother. He also finds in himself the sense of humor of his grandfather and that patience and endless toleration of his uncle and his shyness about matters of sex are like the attitudes of his parents. And in his practice as a pyscho-therapist, he has encountered numerous men and women whose emotional life show a constant repetition of the same pattern of attraction, passionate love and then quarrels and break-ups with more or less the same type of people who cause them pain in the past. He feels that such people would do better to understand that such desires and conduct originate from their own basic nature rather than to try escaping from their own nature. Some people think that we do progress, not linearly but in spirals. Moore does not think so. He thinks that things constantly repeat themselves in circles and cycles rather like the seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, winter. He shares the German romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke's view that life is a constantly expanding circle. To Moore, we ought to realize that certain things in our lives will constantly repeat themselves and that we may do better to accept them instead of trying to eliminate them. Our tasks is rather to learn about them and to turn them into sources of our own triumphs, celebration and glory. That way, we will know who we are, what our true nature may be. We do not "develop". We merely exist. The changes we experience are merely different phases of the operation of our own basic nature, our true "self". We must abandon the curse of our belief in radical transformation and development. 

I share Moore's view. I find many people around me: my family, my friends, a few relatives, colleagues and acquaintances, coming to me with their problems, their complaints, their sighs, their cries of anger and pain. All of them seem to share one thing in common. They do not understand themselves. Hence their constant mistakes, their frustrations, their sufferings and their pains. They seldom sit down to reflect upon who they are and what they are and what is good for themselves and what is not. They merely live like sleepwalkers, buffeted by their desires, their needs, their fortunes without really knowing why they are the way they are and why they constantly repeat the same mistakes over and over again. They have disobeyed that ancient admonition over the portal of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the site for his oracles : Know thyself.

2010年11月29日 星期一

Some Reflections on the Soul

As I was baptized a Catholic when I first entered a middle school run by Irish Catholic "brothers" and  been subjected to its influence throughout my school years and I still continue to attend church, the question of what some have called the human "soul" is naturally something of great interest to me. Although I now have quite a different understanding of what that term may mean, I continue to find what some deeply spiritual people have to say about it. One of such people whom I like enormously is a psycho-therapist and former relgious called Thomas Moore, quite different of course, from the Sir Thomas More the English Lord Chancellor, political philosopher and a saint, who died a martyr during the reign of Henry VIII for opposing his marriage to Anne Boleyn and the English Reformation and the author of the book Utopia. According to the Wikipedia, when young, he joined the lay Catholic order of the Servites, where he studied philosophy and music and later got a BA from dePaul's University of Chicago, an MA in musicology from the U of Michigan and an MA in theology from the U of Windsor, Ontario and in 1975 a Ph. D in religion from Syracuse U and later taught at the Glassboro State College and then the Southern Methodist U and then became a writer. His most famous work is Care of the Soul (1991).

To retain my interest in the care of my own soul, I try to read a little about spiritual subjects every week, especially during the weekends, to balance out a little my almost entirely secular life during the week. Last night, I read a the introductory chapter of a Chinese translation of his Original Self: Living with paradox and originality (2000) as I could not find the English original. The chapter is entitled The Soul's Journey.

Moore starts off with the remark that the direction in which our soul wanders is the opposite of the direction in which our secular life wanders. To him, the adventures of the anti-hero Odysseus in Homer's epic are in fact, not secular adventures but a spiritual adventure. In that sense, it is an adventure into the sacred, a journey back to where everyone longs to return, his spiritual home. 

He complains that in the modern world, we stubbornly hold on to the details of a man's journey in the external world to establish the meaning of his life and we judge a man by external and objective standards and expectations e.g what he did and what happened to a man etc. There was an exception, however. It is the life of Jung's "Memories, Dreams and Reflections"  which to him , is the story of a soul. 

To Moore, we often ignore what the internal world of our psyche is trying to tell us or the way it expresses itself  in the form of the poetry of our actions and the events of our lives and the symbolic meaning fo such events in the economy of our psyche. Our neglect of them will not however, make such desires disappear: they merely go underground and there gather force, quietly, in the silence of our soul. Because we are unfamiliar with the ways in which such desires express themselves, we sever our links with them. We try to control such amorphous and ambiguous feelings through drugs and other forms of medication instead of answering to the deepest needs they seek to express by making appropriate adjustments in the way we live.

Moore thinks that rhythms of the life of our psyche may be very different from those of our waking life: they follow its own time table and certain familiar motifs re-appear over and over again in cycles in which the past may seem more important than the future, and death may be as important as life and feelings and meaning seem of paramount importance: our joys may be more profound and our pains may reach to the roots of our existence.

The way we detect signs of what our psyches are telling us is to observe our dreams and to treat the hidden messages of our dream language more seriously. Paying attention to them will enable us to focus more on our internal than our external needs. We read them to get hints of what our psyche may wish to tell us: our deepest hopes, fears, atttiudes, mindframe, and the secret influences moving our interior life. We must reflect upon, discuss and familiarize ourselves with them and the complex and unexpected ways they express themselves.

But generally, people nowadays try to avoid having to deal with what they most deeply desire. More often, once they sense signs of problems, they rush to see their pharmacists or therapists and hope to deal with their problems through the language of everyday experience, behavioral methods and drugs. They prefer to deal with the symptoms, not the disease. They do not really know what is going on because they have allowed themselves to be estranged from their psyche. Their soul has become so strange and unfamiliar to them that they know practically nothing about it. We no longer write any detailed diaries. We seldom correspond with each other by writing long letters or have any deep conversations. We abandon such methods as outdated, as something overtaken by our latest technological methods.

To Moore, poetry and profound works of literature may often tell us more about how we are than scientists because they are often filled with very meaningful symbols. The progress of our souls is not something linear: certain themes repeatedly play themselves out and they progress by spirals towards our spiritual home. The Gnostics tell us that we always return to where we started and where we started is not usually this world. The journey or odyssey of our soul usually involves drifting in the sea of emotions towards our home and not some ideal of perfection. 

Moore is right. Modern life has become too external. All our attentions are placed on attaining externally defined targets: in job, in mating, in our concept of what constitute "success". Sucess is no longer harmony of ourselves with ourselves, the satisfaction of our deepest emotional needs for peace, serenity, for emotional bonding with others, for friendship, for love, for unity with others and with the world. It is how much money we got in our bank accounts, how many holiday homes we have, how many cars, how expensive are our clothes, our furniture or how renowned are their designers. Everything is measured in material and monetary terms. We seldom concern ourselves with music, poetry, literature, art and other things which answer to our deeper need for unity with others and with this world and with the ultimate questions of value of man's existence and what gives meaning to our lives. "We haven't got time", we tell ourselves. Is that so?

2010年11月28日 星期日

A Lesiurely Sunday Stroll

Originally, I had wanted to go home immediately after having had my favourite carp-ball rice noodles following the Sunday service. I was walking down towards Central from Caine Road. I lifted my head. All above me, I saw nothing but the purest blue. There was sunlight on all the walls of the buildings around me. Although there were any autumn or winter breezes, it didn't feel hot at all.The temperature was just right for a hike. But I didn't want to hike alone, especially when I didn't have a camera. So I decided on a compromise. I would take a stroll along the Central to Sheung Wan harborside.

I walked past the carefully laid out displays of ladies and men's fashion, shoes, watches, jewelry etc behind the shiny surface of the tall shop windows of the IFC. There weren't too many people. But you don't see the kind of tense faces, hunched shoulders and hurried steps of the people that you normally find on a weekday. There might not be smiles on the faces of all the people walking past me, at least I didn't see any frowns, or knitted brows and tight lips. It was pleasant.

I strolled lazily past the busy CitySuper with its sausages, hams, roast beef, turkey, cheeses, olives, pickles, marmalades, breads, pastry etc in a confusing assortment of colors and shapes. Once outside the IFC, my eyes were greeted by the flaming reds of rows of thorny azaleas whose flowers were waving gently upon those tentacle-like branches behind those burnished steel tubes and glass panels and dotted here and there by balls of tiny yellow and orange bouquet like flowers whose name I don't know. Below the pedestrian walkway to my right was something which you would rarely see amidst expensive commercial real estate in Central: a patch of lawn whose green displayed in silence its pride under the sun, having no competition except that in front of the Hong Kong Club, to the right of the Mandarin Hotel. I don't know why. One feels a strange, almost mysterious sense of serenity and ease whenever one's eyes meet a smoothly mowed lawn. Perhaps in days when our ancestors first climbed down from the trees in the African savannahs, the order and uniformity of a carefully manicured lawn signalled the final victory of human will over the otherwise indifferent or unruly forces of nature. Whatever might have been the cause, I felt overcome by an inexplicable sense of peace in my heart. 

When I looked towards the harbor, I noticed to my surprise a huge gift box in red whose sides were circled by curls of gold. When I took another look, I discovered that the box-like top of the pier to the island where I lived for two years after my return from the UK had been taken over for advertrisement by Cartier! A most clever idea. It was an almost perfect fit for the shape of that otherwise simple rectangular superstructure of Lamma Island Pier.

I stepped on to the escalator going down to the ground at sea level. I remember how often I stood there facing the sea amongst the shades of the palms during lunchbreaks, taking in the sea air, relaxing my eyes upon the surface of the sea,  watching the graceful figures of 8 described by the occasional sea hawks which would ride on the hot updrafts and would only give a few flaps of their wings to bring themselves up again into the air whenever they feel any loss of force in the air curents below, away from those tense and oppressive faces of the Central lunch hour crowd. Now I no longer had that luxury. Blogging is time consuming! There is a price to be paid for everything. Bloggers are not exempt!

Once on the ground, my eyes were met by an assortment of people gathered there for different purposes. Groups of Filipinas and now Indonesian maids were sitting here and there in groups of 4 to a dozen, eating their MacDonalds French fries, oily chicken wings, curries, or other special Filipino or Indosian dishes or snacks to get a brief reprieve from their homesickness, exchanging tips on where to get what at the lowest prices, displaying gifts they got from or even stole from their bosses, wearing or using discarded clothes and hangbags, purses etc, leaning against each other for comfort, grooming each other's hair or nails, playing cards, listening to songs in Tagalog, dancing or simply engaging in that universal female habit for relieving stress: gossipping. It was their day. And Central is their weekly paradise. Then against the flagstone steps with trees and flowers as background were dozens of couples in long white embroidered bridal gowns and young men in black suits, collars and bows together with their bridesmaids, best men, friends, parents and relatives, hair all gelled and even sprinkled with gold dust, all specially dressed up and managing awkwardly to walk in their unusual attires which they probably would never wear again the rest of their lives, contorting their faces into the accepted shapes of big "sunny" smiles expressly for the now almost obligatory marriage albums included as part of the all-in-one marriage celebration package whilst nearby I could see the waiting black bridal cars, with a gauze bouquet over each of the car door handles and some with a bigger gauze bouquets at the nose of the front bonnet of the car or 14 seater vans painted pink and white to take the photo party specially there for the pictures and with smaller or bigger Chinese words "double happiness" in plastic stickers stuck over each flap of the folding door of the vans. The girls were the happiest. They must look their very best. How could they not? I can imagine them poring over the photographs for hours on end with inteminable chit chats amongst giggling girls trying to figure out which to include and which to reject when the photos are ready. Then there were people waiting listlessly for the next ferry,  reading their newspapers, books, smoking, talking on their cell phones or simply feeling bored, Then finally you found those tourists who wished to see the harbor at close quarters and from the way they dress, mostly from the PRC. They were siting on the benches, a plastic bottle in their hand and some munching some snacks or other whilst others profited from the sunlight and the beautiful sea to take a few snapshots or videos. 

Further down towards the embankment fronting the sea, I could see numerous fishing rods leaning obliquely over the steel tubular bars over the parapets at higher or lower angles from the ground. Behind them, I could see their owner's little plastic pails in blue or red a short distance from where the handles and wheels touched the ground. The anglers came all prepared, each with a cloth or canvas hat or cap over their head. What's more. Each had figured out ingenious ways of covering their neck and faces to prevent being sunburnt. An old lady used a most peculiar but most economical way. She wrapped a cheap white face towel around her neck which she tucked under the collar of her shirt, with the upper edge of the towel over her entire nose, just below the level of her sun glasses, as if she were wearing a gas mask! If she were not sitting there staring intently at the sea, I could swear I would have taken her as a robber hiding her identity! One had several metal clips, the type that we use to clip one or two pieces of foolscap paper in the office together and others used staples to clip their handkerchief to the bottom rim of their caps to provide the needed cover. The most professional type of such covers I found was one used by a 60-ish man. He had the cover sewed on to the lower rim of his cap so that it looked like those handkerchiefs hanging over the back of caps to about three or four inches beneath the nape of the neck spread over their back, like those one see on the heads of Japanese soliders in those old time black and white war movies about the Japanese invasion of China. It looked a bit shiny under the sun. So I think it's probably made of plastic or plasticised cloth. From the oily black skin of some of the anglers, some of them must have been former fishermen, itching to test their skill against the cunning fishes. They could not bear to desert the sea, not for long, anyway, after having spent their whole lives doing so. It's in their blood!

It appeared to be high tide today. It's probably close to the middle of the lunar month. I didn't check. Can't be bothered. The water was clean. There were none of those foamy ribbons of tiny dirty yellowish-white bubbles on the surface of the sea nor dirty plastic bags with frayed edges floating up and down amongst the ripples of the gently swaying sea as far as I could see. The blue sky added a bit more green to the water, though to be honest, it could have been a bit clearer still. The sea still looked a bit murky. But then, one shouldn't be greedy. It was a most pleasant walk. I didn't make a turn home until after I passed the Shun Tak Centre. Before going home, I made several stops to buy some croissants, some French bread and my weekly supply of fruits.

I haven't done such a stroll for a while. I remember I used to walk all the way from Central or Sheung Wan to Wanchai and sometimes back again after a Saturday lunch or a dinner with one of my friends whom I first came to know when I was still a freshly qualified solicitor in a legal firm and he was then a trainee, then called an "articled clerk".  I saw him qualify as a solicitor, get married ( about which he had some serious reservations) after he consulted me, have his child, open his own firm. Now his son is a final year university student at the U of Melbourne and he is already happily retired in Melborune and teaching tai chi! He would return to Hong Kong from time to time because he bought several houses here for renting out as investment income. Each time he comes back, he would call me up. We would meet for old times sake and discuss everything under the sun: movies, novels, legal gossips, family life, tai chi and religion. He used to be an atheist. Now he has been converted to Christianity, whilst I am going in the opposite direction. Whilst we were still working together, we would often have lunch together every day after which we would walk to the antique shops of Hollywood Road where we would look at old jades together and had endless discussions about their authenticity and the reasons why we held the opinion we did. I don't how many we had bought. But that was a really long time ago. As I was walking, all such memories flooded back to me of their own accord. I am lucky. These are all good memories.   

2010年11月27日 星期六

Yu Guangzhong's "Rush Tangerines of Engchoon (余光中的『永春蘆柑』)

Whilst on the tunnel bus from Sheung Wan to the Kowloon City Magistracy yesterday morning, I leaved through one of the early poem collection of Yu Guangzhong "The Lotus God" (藕神). I was surprised to find there a poem about a fruit from my native county which I never knew before. It's called "rush or reed tangerine" (蘆柑). It reminds me of a Spanish poem by Neruda on the orange I previously translated. It has a very different feel though. So I took out my note pad and started the translation. The following is the result.


     永春蘆柑                      The Rush Tangerines of Engchoon 


一對孿生的綠孩子         A pair of twin laddies in green

鄉人送來我手中             delivered into my hands by villagers              

圓滚滚的肚皮                 their roundish bellies

釀著甜津津的夢            filled with sweety sweet dreams


夢見天真的綠油油        I dreamt that sheen of guiless green

熟成誘惑的金閃閃        has ripened into the alluring glitter of gold

把半山的果園                heating half a hillful of orchard              

烘成暖洋洋的冬天        into a warm and cosy winter 


向山縣慷慨的母體       From the bounteous mother earth of the hill county

用深根吮汲乳香 with deep roots, they're sucking at the perfume of its breasts

爬上茂枝,密葉          climbing up thriving twigs, dense leaves

向高坡索討陽光          seeking sunlight from the steep slopes


輕的變重,酸的變甘  Light turning heavy, sour turning sweet

直到脹孕的果腹          until the bulging bellies of the fruit        

再也包不住                 can no longer hold 

蠢 蠢不安的瓤瓣        those unruly portions of their pulp


於是村姑上梯來         then up come the village lassies in  ladders

來採滿筐的金果        to pick basketfuls of the golden fruit

去引清垂涎的饞客    to lure drooling gluttons

安慰乾喉與燥舌        soothing dry throats and parched tongues

Translating this poem has been a very special experience for me. Through learning about the ethnic origin of the poet Yu Guangzhong and the Engchoon tangerine, I have started on a different kind of journey. It's a journey to trace my own roots in China. 

Engchoon or Yongchun is a hilly county somewhere in the Fujian Province of South China. I was told by my father that that was where our family originally came from and that it was a very poor mountanous country and that was why my grandparents emigrated from there to Malaysia. I have never been there. To me, that place has no reality and appeared to be just a mysterious name which I heard my father mention once or twice when I was small. They appear to be just two Chinese characters which I had to fill in whenever there were any school or other official application forms which required me to write those two characters in the spaces reserved for putting in my "place of origin". It is the first time that I learn, from reading this poem, that our county is famous for this type of rush or reed tangerines. I was told by my father that he was born in Penang, Malaysia and that my grandfather went there from Yongchun for in late 19th century, before the 1911 Revolution and worked first as a Chinese herbalist and then as an insurance broker and that he contributed almost his entire lifesavings towards the cause of the Chinese Revolution when Dr. Sen Yat Sen went there to seek donations from overseas Chinese for the Revolution. I still remember a photograph hung high against the wall of of a rectangular pillar separating the sitting room from the verandah of the house in which I was born. It was a photograph of my grandfather, a man with a high rounded forehead, short hair. with a Charlie Chaplin or Groucho Marx style thick moutache above his lips, seated in a stately posture on a mahogany chair, looking straight into the camera with a pair of eyes which appeared to be staring at us wherever we were in the sitting room. He was wearing a Chung Shan style suit. There were all kinds of medals pinned below his upper left breast pocket and together with him were a number of important looking people and one of the people in the photograph was Dr. Sun Yat Sen. As a child, I was always wondering why he was given those rows of medals.  I remember having been told by one of my elder brothers by one of my father's wives that he had been to a village in Engchoon in which all its inhabitants bore the same surname as our own. 

According to the Wikipedia:

Yongchun County (永春县) is a county of Fujian province with 桃城鎮 as the seat of its  county government. Many overseas Chinese in south-east Asia have ancestors from Yongchun. The largest Yongchun population outside of China is at Muar town at Muar district at the northwest of Johore Bahru in southern part of Peninsula Malaysia (right above Singapore) with approximately 150,000 people. Besides Muar, Malaysians/Singaporeans of Yongchun (Engchoon) origin are also scattered all over other parts of Malaysia. Yongchun (Engchoon) Associations ( 永春会馆) can be found throughout many parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

The rush tangerine is the specialty of Engchoon or Yongchun, which is also famous for the "buddha hand melon" and a kind of incense called 篾香 and woven paper painting which ranks. along with Soochow embroidery and Hangzhou silk embroidery and the bamboo painting of Szechuan, as one of the four most famous types of woven or embroidered painting in China. In Taipei, there is a famous high school called Taipei Municipal Yongchun High School which has French as one of the compulory foreign languages in its curriculum. There is also a metro station by the name of Yongchun Station in Taipei, evidencing the importance of the Yongchun people in the city.

The poet probably went there some time and was brought these roundish fruit in gold which are members of the citrus fruit family. The sight of the tangerine started the motor of his imagination running and we have this rather sensuous poem of the roots of the tangerine tree sucking at the breast of mother earth and ripening into these marbles of gold to tempt thirsty throats. Below is a photograph of the tangerine tree.



Time for Saturday Fun

Satruday again. Had another extremely busy week. About time for some fun. The omens are good. The sun is up. Hardly any clouds. A bit of smog. Not too bad though. The joke is good, perhaps better for the men than the ladies, unless they've got a sense of humor. You'll see why.  As I'm still a bit tired, so it'll be short. It's a story about something women are most sensitive about. Their age! So here it goes. It's called...

                    A woman's life cycle

What is the difference between girls or women at 8, 18, 28, 38, 48, 58, 68 and 78? Here they are: 

At 8?   You take her to bed and tell her a story.       

At 18? You tell her a story and take her to bed.

At 28?  You don't have to tell her a story to take her to bed.

At 38?  She tells you a story and takes you to bed.

At 48?  She tells you a story to avoid going to bed.

At 58?  You stay in bed to avoid her story.

At 68?  If you take her to bed, that'll be a story.

At 78?  What story??? What bed??? Who the hell are you???

2010年11月26日 星期五

Yu Guangzhong's "Magic Mirror" (余光中的『魔鏡』)

Got a little time after the Spanish lesson yesterday. Finally the new textbooks have arrived. I was so fortunate, one of our fellow classmates was so considerate that she bought extra copies for the other students, knowing that some of us may be so busy that we may not have time to go to that only bookstore in Tsimshatsui with whom the college has made arrangements for the books to be delivered to Hong Kong direct from Spain. So I got my copy without even having to budge from my seat in class! I'm so grateful to her.  Since I got a little time, I did another one of Yu Guangzhong's poems.

It just so happen that fellow blogger Michelle Chi has just posted another one of her videos cum poetry set to music in which a sunset figures at its conclusion. And yesterday, I posed a question on what is love and another fellow blogger SuperBrother posted numerous answers in his blog. I'm so lucky! Somehow, the gods must like me!

            魔鏡                                             The  Magic Mirror

落日的迴光,夢的倒影             Dying rays of sunset, reflections of dreams  

掛得最高的一面魔鏡                 The highest magic mirror ever hung

高過全世界的塔尖和屋頂         higher than the tips of all towers and roofs of the world

高過所有的高窗和窗口的遠愁  higher than the distant sorrows of all tall windows and  its opening

而淡金或是幻銀的流光            and the fleeting glow of light gold or magical silver 

卻温柔地俯下身來                     bowing down softly

安慰一切的仰望                         soothing all hopes 

就連最低處的臉龐                   even of the lowliest faces


高不可觸,那一面魔鏡             Unreachabably high, the magic mirror

掛在最近神話的絕頂                  hangs upon the summit closest to myths

害得所有的情人                           forcing lovers

都舉起寂莫的眼睛                      to lift their lonely eyes

向著同一個空空的鏡面             towards the same surface of the mirror all bare

尋找各自渴望的容顏                 each seeking the faces they thirst after

不管是一夜或是一千年             for a night or a thousand years

空鏡面上什麽都不見                 nothing appears on the surface of that mirror all bare


除了隱約的雀斑點點                But for the specks of half hidden freckles

和清輝轉動淡金或幻銀           and the clear light churning light gold or magical silver

卻阻擋不了可憐的情人           nothing can stop the poor lovers

依然痴痴向魔鏡                        from doting on the magic mirror

尋找假面具後的容顏               seeking faces behind the masks

從中秋找得元夜,就像今宵   from Mid-Autumn Fesitval to the Festival night of the first full moon, as tonight

對似真似幻的月色                     facing the moonlight now real now irrreal

苦尋你鏡中的絕色                    seeking the perfect beauty in your mirror in zeal.. 

To the poet, the moon is a magic mirror. It is empty and bare perhaps even vacuous. But since it is empty and bare, it can be the vessel of the dreams of all lovers from the mid-autumn festival to the mid-month festival of the first full month of the Chinese lunar calendar. All lovers long to see the faces of their beloved under the moon. In China, the moon is the abode of the Lady Sheung. The empty mirror may also be the poet's symbol for the illusion which lovers endlessly project on to the void of the universe. There, he highlights for us, not the empty moon hanging high in the empty sky, but the ultimate emptiness or illusions of all lovers. Yet as I say repeatedly to my friends, all human beings are experts in one thing. They are all specialist in fooling themselves in finding things where there are none: they are all dreamers. They dream of love!

2010年11月25日 星期四

Gibran on Love. 2

Yesterday was an extremely busy day. I had to work until almost 8 p.m. and then I had to have dinner with my relatives. I did not have much time. So I just picked up a small book. It was a real pocket book:  4 by 6 inches. It's called "The Little Book of Love". I opened it at random. The following is what I found.

Yesterday I stood at the temple door interrogating the passers-by about the mystery and merit of Love.

And before me passed an old man with an emaciated and melancholy face, who sighed and said: "Love is a natural weakness bestowed upon us by the first man."

But a virile youth retorted:" Love joins our present with the past and the future."

Then a woman with a tragic face sighed and said: "Love is a deadly poison injected by black vipers, that crawl from the caves of hell. The poison seems fresh as dew and the thirtsy soul eagerly drinks it, but after the first intoxication the drinker sickens and dies a slow death."

Then a beautiful, rosy-cheeked damsel smilingly said: "Love is a wine served by the brides of Dawn which strengthens strong souls and enables them to ascend to the stars."

After her a black-robed, bearded man, frowning said: "Love is blind ignorance with which youth begins and ends."

Another, smiling, declared: "Love is a divine knowledge that enables men to see as much as the gods."

Then said a blind man, feeling his way with a cane: "Love is a blinding mist that keeps the soul from discerning the secret of existence, so that the heart sees only trembling phantoms of desire among the hills, and hears only echoes of cries from vociceless valleys."

A young man, playing on his viol, sang: "Love is a magic ray emitted from the burning core of the soul and illuminating the surrounding earth. It enables us to perceive Life as a beautiful dream between one awakening and another."

And a feeble ancient, dragging his feet like two rags, said, in quavering tones: "Love is the rest of the body in the quiet of the grave, the tranquility of the soul in the depth of Eternity."

And a five-year-old child, after him, said laughing: "Love is my father and my mother, and no one knows Love save my father and mother."

And so, all who passed spoke of Love as the image of their hopes and frustrations, leaving it a mystery as before.

Then I heard a voice within the temple: "Life is divided into two halves, one frozen, the other aflame; the burning half is Love."

                                                                     from Thoughts and Meditations

Is love as Gibran said, the image of people's hopes and frustrations or a mixture of fire and ice? What is your version, your understanding of this mysterious and yet endlessly fascinating emotion?


2010年11月24日 星期三

Economic Models

Originally I had wanted to write another blog on some topics which I started but for one reason or another have never quite finished like continuing the series on lifting the veil of mystery of mysticism, the solitudes of Chiang Hsun or the thoughts of Gibran or Krishnamurti or continuing the translation of some of the Spanish or French poets or those of Yu Guangzhong. But when I clicked into my hotmail, I found something rather more educational and definitely more interesting. So like a wise man (actually closer to a shameless euphemism for being a "lazy bone"), I changed my mind. I got to thank my good friend for this godsend! So without further ado, here it is.

      Economic Models Explained


        You have 2 cows.
        You give one to your neighbour.


        You have 2 cows.
        The State takes both and gives you some milk.


        You have 2 cows.
        The State takes both and sells you some milk.


        You have 2 cows.
        The State takes both and shoots you.


        You have 2 cows.
        The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then
          throws the milk away.


        You have two cows.
        You sell one and buy a bull.
        Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
        You sell them and retire on the income.


        You have two cows.
        You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
        Later, you hire a consultant to analyse why the cow has dropped dead.


        You have two cows.
        You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.


        You have two cows.
        You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'Cowkimon' and market it worldwide.


        You have two cows.
        You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month and milk themselves.


        You have two cows, but you don't know where they are.
        You decide to have lunch.


        You have two cows.
        You count them and learn you have five cows.
        You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
        You count them again and learn you have two cows.
        You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.


        You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
        You charge the owners for storing them.


        You have two cows.
        You have 300 people milking them.
        You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
        You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.


        You have two cows.
        You worship them.


        You have two cows.
        Both are mad.


        Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
        You tell them that you have none.
        No-one believes you, so they bomb the crap out of you and invade your country. 
        You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.


        You have two cows.
        Business seems pretty good.
        You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

2010年11月23日 星期二

A Musical Heaven with Jack Cater?

I had great expectations Sunday evening. The St. Petersburg Phiharmonic Orchestra was in town! I was so afraid that the technician whom I had arranged to come to my house to upgrade my internet processing speed by my service provider would not arrive on time so that by the time he was done, I would be late for the concert. It had happened more than once. They usually overbook their technicians. But fortunately he arrived at 5 p.m., when the appointment was for 2 p.m.! Better late than never!

When I arrived at the Cultural Centre, I went to the wrong entrance. I just assumed that I would have the same seat as the one I had the previous night. Only at the entrance did I discover my mistake. But I was in time. Mr Chu booked a seat at the right hand side of the stage. It's both good and bad. It's good in that we could listen to the orchestra at really close quarters and would be able to hear even the tiniest changes in the sound of the oboes, the flutes, the clarinets, the bassoons, the horns and the tiniest pizzicato of the violin etc. It's bad in that there is less balance in the sound. We were facing the double basses and the cellos and the sound of the piano was obstructed by its front panel and the angle of the raised sound board was not coming to us in quite the right direction. But then, we got to take what we had! But we got compensated because we got the chance to see all the subtle movements of the hands and fingers of the conductor Yuri Temirkanov as he tried to coax from the orchestra those magical sounds that we heard because he was just about 15 feet to 20 feet from us. Temirkanov was the artistic director and chief conductor of the Kirov (later Marinsky Theatre) in 1976. He later worked with the Royal Philharmonic, The Dresden Philharmonic, Danish Radio Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony and then of the Bolshoi Theatre. 

The evening's programme was an all Russian affair: Rimsky Korsakov's Overture Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh and the Maiden Fevroniya written in 1905; Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor, Op. 30 and finally Stravinsky's The Rites of Spring Part I The Adoration of the Earth & II the Sacrifice.

It was the first time I heard the first work but I do not know how many times I have listened to the second and third. The first work was about the story of Ferroniya a lady living in a forest with his woodman brother who met a stranger, fell in love with him and only later learned that he is Vsevolod, the son of Prince Yury of Kitezh. Their city was attacked by the Tartars and Vsevolod was killed and Fevroniya was abducted by the Tartars. She wanders through the forest, dies, magically transformed and rejoins the ghost of her husband, as foretold by a prophet-bird, to enjoy eternal life. The Overture describes her journey through the woods, communicating with the birds and beasts of the forests. In the music, the sound of birds are beautifully captured by the flute, the piccolo and the sound of the beasts by the bassoon, oboes etc. It was a most hauntingly beautiful piece of music, played with great delicacy by the orchestra.

The next piece was the highlight of the evening. The piano soloist was Denis Matsuev who won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1998 and has since played with world class orchestras in Chicago, Berlin, London, Leipzig, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, Cologne, La Scala, Paris, Toulouse, Budapest, Rotterdam etc.  Rachmaninoff's No. 3 has the most dreamily romantic first movement that I ever heard. And the magic starts with the first bar, a melody which the composer traced to Russian orthodox liturgy! The Intermezzo which opens wistfully and almost contemplatively with the strings, develops some real power play in its scherzo at the end, the piano moving like wild beast with the piano being ferociously hammered to produce thunders of  notes and chords and the finale also starts with off very strongly and moves ahead in a kind of chopping and accelerating rhythm until close to the end, a little of the tenderness of the first movement is replayed, as if it were a distant reminder of what once had been, before it plunges forward again towards a fiery conclusion. Rachmaninoff has got some passages in it that matches the most romantic piano sound of a Schumann but is infinitely more powerful in other parts. When I was listening to the music, it appeared that I was no longer on earth but was bathed in the soft empyrean waves of a sonic paradise where I like to remain forever, never ever to return to earth but in the strong passages, it felt like I was being plunged right into the vortex of a raging frenzy of passion of the wildest abandon. I was not alone. The applauses lasted more than 5 minutes. We got two encores where he delighted us with his humor and dazzled us with his lightning fast fingerwork. He was simply superb!

The final piece of the music displayed the creative power of spring with exquisite vividness, its primitive bleakness, it sudden movements, its power, its delicate delights, its mystery and its magic. I never heard it like that before. Perhaps where we sat might have contributed in no small part to the immediacy of the music and the intensity of the emotions evoked in me.

The conductor appeared a real gentleman. He was never in a hurry, always calm and composed, evident from the way he moved on to and left the stage. He conducted without a baton. Everything was indicated with the smallest movement of this fingers which moved with precision, pointing, curling up, darting out, making wavy movements, suddenly rising and making bigger movements with his hands etc. They were so supple, so versatile. It was a show all by itself. I took full advantage of where I was sitting and was regaled to a kaleiscopic display of his subtle movements. One does not always have to have big movement to produce great sound! He was so generous. He gave us two encores including an excerpt from the Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Reed Flutes of Nutcracker Suite.. As I observed his subtle conducting and his facial expressions, I could not stop my mind from associating what was before my eyes with the face and a former top civil servant: Jack Cater! They look so remarkably alike they might have been twin brothers!.

The concert was a marvellous experience. I always thought the HKPO very good. St. Peterburg Philharmonic is definitely better in the control of the tiniest sound. Their co-operation and sco-ordination of sound are perfect. They all know the imporance of musicality not just accuracy. Everything is just right so that we have nothing but pure music: music as it should be. Its sound will remain long in my mind where it will be replayed over and over again. Even now as I am writing, I can still feel its magic!


2010年11月22日 星期一

An Alternative Type of Christianity

On Saturday afternoon, I attended an interesting talk. It was organized by the UUHK. The speaker Chan Chi Chai 陳子齊 is a senior lecturer in philosophy and religion at the Baptist College. He is one of the contributors of a book entitled the Religious Right (宗教右派) edited by 羅永生 and 龔立人 He wrote an interesting article on the rise of the middle class in Hong Kong, their characteristics and how they may have affected the development of Christianity in Hong Kong called 香港中產階級的冒升. His talk will be first of a series of similar talks by various authors of the book.

He introduced himself to us as a member of the middle class himself. He said the middle class of Hong Kong shares a number of characteristics. To him, the middle class in Hong Kong first started to emerge under British rule. Initially they were comprised of senior Chinese civil servants, who read and write English, with quarters in prime luxury flat locations,with a liberal sprinkling of doctors, lawyers, teachers, all educated under the English education system. From the 1960s to the 1980s, education was the most direct stepping stone of the poor for rising up the ladder of social and economic status. It was then a "meritocracy". However, since the 1980s´s, with more and more children of the poorer classes being educated, the status of the traditional middle class was subjected to some severe challenges, challenges which the older middle class tried to resist. To Chan, it was definitely an elitist system which favoured students of the Christian or Catholic schools. What he finds most surprising is that the values of the elites were shared not only by the elites but by the non-elites amongst the middle class as well. Those who did not make it were hoping that one day they could rise too. 

To Chan, the middle class in Hong Kong do not really have what can properly be called "class consciousness", only certain "ways of thinking". To him, they are very different from the traditional educated class of China, because the Chinese "gentleman" places great emphasis on honour and integrity(氣節) and strong moral values like benevolence and justice whereas the middle class in Hong Kong values only the good form of the English gentleman, more than anything else.  This is shown in the restraint of their criticism of those who hold views which differ from those held by themselves. Thus they are very much against those who use abusive or vulgar language. But after 1997, a new kind of grass root politicians arose, speaking grass root language, like Wong Yuk Man. This has affected the style of politiking after 1997.

The second characteristics of the Hong Kong middle class according to Chan is that they have very strong professional views but such views tend to be conservative and insufficiently critical. They hold on very much to their own professional standards but there is often little communication between the members of different professions. Thus, he finds that, not only are they not self-critical enough about their own values, they are seldom able to effectively critique government policies on many of issues which really touch, concern and seriously affect the lives of the lower classes.

Whereas people in the PRC may pursue western products, the middle class in Hong Kong value more Western cultural taste. The traditional Hong Kong middle class are usually quite ignorant of traditional Chinese culture like The Tao of Tea, antique Chinese furniture, Chinese calligraphy and Chinese ink painting etc. When developers wish to promote high class residential development sales, they prefer to project the image of European lifestyle. However their understanding of such lifestyle tend to be completely superficial, concentrating more on form than content. They ape only the indices of European lifestyle like style of dressing, doing one's hair, wining and dining in mock Western architecture etc.

The middle classes in Hong Kong have certain requirements of life-style. They like to go to hotel restaurants or restaurants which have been classified as "excellent" by the media. Thus the media in Hong Kong has great influence in moulding their taste. Once a restaurant has been written about as good, it does not have to worry about the number of its customers because everybody will jump on to the band wagon. The middle class will simply flock to them. Again, form and image more than substance. They seldom go to the neighborhood restaurants like tai pai tong's, tea-restaurants (茶餐廳) except when they got written about.

To Chan, not only do the Hong Kong middle class lack social insight, many of them hold what he calls "snobbish" values. They do not dislike those who are rich and famous.(But here, I cannot see why that should be a cause of complaint. Do we have to hate or dislike anyone?) They worship them! Our social stratification is predominantly hierarchical even within the ranks of the middle class: thus teachers rank after doctors, lawyers and engineers. Previously doctors held the highest social status but recently senior counsels seem to have overtaken the status previously occupied by our doctors. Thus whenever senior counsels join in any social protests, the crowds will follow suit but when only teachers take the lead in social marches and protests, the crowd may not necessarily follow in such numbers. Thus middle class values are not based merely on money and wealth but on taste, education, and knowledge. 

Next, the middle class in Hong Kong are extremely concerned about the education of their children. They rely heavily on their old-boy old-girl network to perpetuate their social and economic status. But they seldom teach their own children. They send them to the "brand-name schools" to be educated. They pack their after school hours with private tuition and would force them to learn music, piano, violin, ballet, painting but little else. There is a very strong pragmatic element behind their enthusiasm for "culture". Everything is geared towards getting their children to be admitted to the "brand name schools" and colleges. They are not really concerned about the intrinsic value of art and culture. Thus Hong Kong is one of the biggest profit centres of the Royal Academy of Music. But the judges are often astounded by the complete lack any real interest in music of even those students who score the highest marks in all kinds of tests and examinations. Chan criticizes the Hong Kong middle class as superficial.

He says that although they worship western values, the middle class in Hong Kong seldom value the Western spirit of constant questioning of the values of their previous generation and their emphasis on such universal values as social justice, environmental protection, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake in short, the values of the western Enlightenment. In the West, political participation is taken for granted but in Hong Kong, very few middle class people are members of any political organizations. Their social participation and interaction with other members of society is confined to their interaction with other members of their own churches. But their social action is confined to matters of concern only to their own church organizations, much less on tackling structural problems associated with poverty. Even if they enter politics, they seldom fight for the rights of the poor.

To Chan, the middle class in Hong Kong lack the kind of class consciousness of the intellectual class in the west. All their thoughts are focused on making money and on the values of unbridled capitalism. The market is worshipped as a god. To Chan, this is a truly terrfiying kind of thinking style. He thinks that the Hong Kong middle class lacks critical thinking and lacks political organization. He does not agree that after "7.1", the middle class in Hong Kong has become a political  force to be reckoned with because they lack any political party to act as their spokesman. They remain largely unroganized.

Chan feels that government policies seem to favor sharing the governing of Hong Kong with the other existing social and political and religious organisations. This appear in the spheres of education, medicine, social welfare and care of the poor and the underprivileged. The government outsources various services required by society by giving subventions and grants to NGOs but in return, for the purposes of control, it wants the NGOs to write frequent reports and thus increase their adminstrative burdens so that they are forced to devote more and more of their resources to dealing with the required bureaucratic procedures like accounting, assessment reports important for getting continual financial support, instead of doing what they are supposed to be doing viz. to provide the necessary services to the public.

To Chan, Jesus treated the poor and the people at the margin of society e.g. widows, the poor, the sick, the outsiders as the principal objects of his mission but today, the church is largely a middle class church, not a working class church. The protestant churches in Hong Kong, heavily influenced by their American home churches simply import and translate their books into Chinese and thus such "imported" Christian values heavily influence the thinking of those in charge of the Hong Kong protestant churches and Chinese theologians seldom do any independent thinking of their own and reflect on how Christianity may flower on native Chinese soil and be a faith relevant to the lives of the poor. 

Chan asked: why it is that Chinese Christian churches have become a bulwark for family unity, marital stability, emphasis on obedience and the status quo. To him, what mattered to Jesus: care of the poor, criticism and redress of social injustice, being faithful to God instead of being faithful to earthly government, cherishing freedom and not mere moral conformity, seem of little concern to the middle class Christian churches in Hong Kong. Jesus was a revolutionary. What he finds most suprising is that to the Christian fundamentalists or the Christian right, reform is simply not on their agenda. To him, their values are a radical reversal of Christian values! Such reversal has everything to do with the class values of the middle classes. Chan wants a really Christian church, one which cares for social justice and one which helps those most in need of help: the poor people of Hong Kong. 

2010年11月21日 星期日

G. B Shaw at the Podium?

I look forward to Saturdays. The thought of the kind of delight I may sample in the evening at the Cultural Centre is often an enjoyment all by itself. I am seldom disappointed. Last night was no exception. 

It was an all classicial program. We had two works by Haydn: his Symphony No. 98 in B flat and also his Sinofonia Concertante in B flat and then one of the most popular works by Mozart, his Symphony No. 40 in G minor

The No. 98 was part of what some have called his London symphonies. After the death of his patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, he moved to Vienna after 30 years and thence to London where he promised writing a number of works for his patron including an opera and 6 symphonies. Symphony No. 98 was the fifth in the series, written in 1792. It was in commemoration of the death of his good friend Mozart and he used certain of the motifs of Mozart's Symphony No. 41. It was the first time he used the B flat horn with the timpani and to please the English, he used a theme from the English national anthem in the slow second movement upon which he played some variation. In the third movement, he used a menuet, giving the a very light hearted lilting feel in a kind of trio. But I like the last movement best. It has a very upbeat Presto rhythm and ended in an explosion of joy.

The next piece was the Sinfonia Concertante, which is a type of music intermediate between a quartet and a full symphony with parts for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon, played respectively by Jorja Fleezani, of the Minnesota Orchestra and U of Minnesota's School of Music, U of California, Juillard School etc, who doubled up as guest concert master; our own Richard Bamping, Michael Wilson and Benajmin Moermond. All of them were excellent. The piece was full of verve, as one solo instrument after another competed for attention with its own variation of the main theme and with full support for the baroque size orchestra. The main theme is endlessly repeated but always never quite the same. It was another happy piece.

The final piece was a Mozart favourite. I don't think it's possible that anyone who likes classical music could have failed to have listened to it before. Ton Koopman kept the orchestra small just like the time when it was performed in Mozart's time. The piece was completed in late July 1788, just one year before the French revolution. The first two movements are in typical sonata form whilst the third took the form of a menuet and he reverted back to the sonata form in the fourth and final movement. The first movement was lively and elegant, the second a bit sad, the third reverted to restrained delight and the final a wonderful blast of undiluted joy. I like it although some of my friends said it lacked just that little sparkle which they have come to expect from Mozart's music. They were expecting the kind of sound from Europa Galante of Fabio Biondi. But to me, it is good to listen to a new treatment of a familiar piece. 

What delighted me most during the concert was the obvious joy Ton Koopman took in playing the music. He would march on to the platform and walked about in his big energetic steps and when he conducted, you could see the back of his long head with closely cropped dark hair mottled with white bobbing up and down in abrupt motions, his shoulders all hunched up, with his arms in almost mechanical up and down movements and moving always with great verve. And when he acknowledged our appreciative applauses, he would hold both his arms up towards particular sections of the orchestra and let them stay there high above his head for half a minute, constantly making lifting motions with his hand and fingers in a kind of permanent welcoming gesture in the air to ask the relevant members to stand up to share in the glory, as if he were opening his arms to God. When he turned around, I thought for a moment that I was seeing the ghost of George Bernard Shaw suddenly making a guest appearance of the Cultural Centre Concert Hall under false pretenses as Ton Koopman! I love him for his almost comical and child-like enthusiasm for what he was doing. Somehow, it made the music far more enjoyable. Perhaps enthusiasm is infectious! I have nothing to say about the performance of the HKPO except that it's uniformly excellent. It's an infinitely malleable orchestra. Everything depends on the conductor. Another very satisfying musical evening indeed. I'm so grateful.  

2010年11月20日 星期六

Two Ladies in Heaven

When I woke up this morning, the first thing which met my eyes was a clear blue sky. It felt good. Then when the thought that it was already Saturday occurred to me, it felt even better because as a fellow blogger reminded me, it's time to relax. And to joke a little. So here is a relaxing conversation overheard by some angels in heaven.

lst Woman:    Hi! My name is Lydia.

2nd Woman:  Hi! I'm Sylvia. How come you're here?

lst Woman:     I froze to death.

2nd Woman:   How horrible!

lst Woman:      Wasn't so bad. After I stopped trembling from from the cold, I felt sleepy and then I passed out. What about you?

2nd Woman:    I died of a massive heart attack. You see, I suspected that my husband was fooling around with some chick or other, so I came home early hoping to catch him in the act. But I found him all alone in the den watching TV.

lst Woman:        So what happened?

2nd Woman:      I was so sure there was another woman there somewhere. So I started running all over the place to find out. I ran up to the attic and down the basement.  I went through every closet and checked under every bed and I moved everything which could be moved. But I still couldn't find her! I got so frustrated and angry and exhausted that my heart could take it no more. So here I am.

lst Woman:          Too bad you didn't look in the freezer. We'd both still be alive!

2010年11月19日 星期五

Lfiting the Veil of Mystery from Mysticism. 3

To Alper, the religious instinct is evolutionarily selected because it satisfies a number of functions conducive to the survival of the human race as a species. Man has the ability to reason and to be aware of themselves, of self-reflection. When people start to think " if we exist, then is it not conceivable that one day we may cease to exist, ie die?" and with this, man experiences his first existential crisis. We realize that after birth, we grow, get sick, we grow weak and then we die.

Freud wrote: "We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body, ...doomed to decay and dissolution and which cannot do without pain and anxiety as warning signals; from the external world which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction and finally from our relations to other men."

Pain is a negative sensation experienced by an organism when specific receptors are triggered in the brain: usually when we are exposed to the risk of being injured by some force inimical to our continual existence or health e.g excessive heat, cold, weight, sharpness, hunger for food or for sex.. Our natural instinct in the face of pain is to avoid it. In humans, sexual deprivation involves both physical and psychological tension and discomforts. Sexual intercourse releases or relieves us of normal sexual tension, which release is experienced by us as a pleasure. But it may be more accurate to describe it as a freedom or relief or diminution of pain or painful tension.

But we may also experience another kind of psychological discomfort or tension or pain e.g loneliness. When isolated from the community, we feel vulnerable because no one can survive without help, care, assistance and the protection of others. Hence we have a social instinct to seek the company of other fellow human beings. Thus we may suffer from what some psychologists have called "separation anxiety" e.g when we are separated from our romantic partners. Like relief of sexual tension, the joy of the company of our lovers and friends is more accurately described as a relief from the pain of separation.

Anxiety is merely a specific kind of painful response ( heart palpitation, muscular tension, hyperventilation, trembling, perspirations) intended to alert us to avoid potentially hazardous circumstances. We remember painful situations in the past and the kind of symptoms or hints  associated with the arrival of such previously painful situations in order that we can take speedy or timely steps to avoid such potentially dangerous or harmful situation in future. Anxiety is our body's early warning system of the risk of future harm or dangers. Thus damage to our amgydala, (which helps us to code and to retrieve previously emotionally painful responses ) may result in loss of our capacity to retrieve memories that contain emotional contents, as shown by Joseph LeDoux (The Emotional Brain NY Simon & Schuster 1996). 

Anxiety or fear of death is a most basic, universal and agonizing existential emotion. We realize that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we work to provide ourselves with food, shelter, plan and generally prepare for our future, with imagination,with ingenuity and foresight, we will all eventually die and our lives on earth is an inexorable march towards our ultimate extinction and  our death. This awareness strips our anxiety of its efficacy for survival! All will eventually be rendered futile or useless. Everything will be reduced to nothingness again! We have the capacity to appreciate the working of time, an ability normally of great assistance in our planning because we can anticipate what may happen a week, a month or even years in advance and will thus enable us to have much more time to make provisions for the anticipated events. But this capacity is not an undiluted boon. We may also see our eventual and ultimate demise too! No other creature on earth has our capacity to look so far into the future as to contemplate our eventual and inevitable death and our non-existence! All the other animals live only in the perpetual present. We alone, of all creatures, know our mortality!  Not only are we aware that we will die one day, we also know with clarity that death can come any moment! We live constantly under the threat of death and annihilation. Each day may be our last! Death hangs over our head at every moment! There is no escape! We also live under the constant threat that those we love may be claimed by death any moment too! 

As social animals, not only is our physical survival threatened, our emotional and social survival is threatened too, by the prospects of death! And for many, we place more value on our love for our beloved and their love for us than our physical lives and survival: hence people may even kill for love. Just as there is no escape from death, there is equally no escape from the anxiety of our mortality.  Death is an enemy we cannot see, from whom we cannot flee and an enemy we can never conquer. Before death, we stand naked, exposed, alone, vulnerable,defenceless, unprotected by any higher force or being. As Kierkegaard says, we are afflicted by this "sickness unto death". We may even become neurotic as a result of this awareness because when the full impact of this realization hits us, life suddenly takes on a new sense of futility, of meaninglessness. It's as if everything is suddenly covered by a pall of ashes which looks upon us in mocking silence and that silence thunders upon our ears the apocalyptic message that we are nothing and shall always be nothing: an absolute zero!

We must find a solution, or we shall not want to live any more. Our solution is our desperate belief in some kind of afterlife, some kind of spirit or god which defies the otherwise inevitable and invincible destructive power of time: we hardwire our brain for such beliefs! If we cannot change the objective environment, we change our way of looking at and dealing with that external and objective environment and otherwise unpalatable reality! We start to believe in an alternative reality, a "spiritual" reality, immune from the all devouring action of time, a transcendental reality, a supernatural "reality"! As this has survival value, evolution has allowed it to be further developed by favouring those individuals whose brain were thus wired for belief in this kind of "imaginary" and ""ïllusory"  brain generated "reality" which cushioned them from the fate of being overwhelmed and destroyed by such fear of their own demise and which enabled them to view themselves as somehow immortal and to believe in an all powerful and protective God. According to Freud, "The derivation of religious needs from the infant's helplessness and the longing for the father aroused by it seems to me incontrovertible, especially since the feeling is not simply prolonged from childhood days but is permanently sustained by fear of the superior powers of fate. I cannot think of  any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." Hence the need for the concept of an almighty God. And when there is a need, we can be sure there will always be people who are ready to supply it. These are our medicine men, our shamans, our prophets, our holy men, our saints, our religious writers, our theologians! To make their effect more permanent, we build up institutions to support their views. We establish churches. We build temples! We build seminaries and schools.

2010年11月18日 星期四

Lifting the veil of mystery from Mysticism.2

To E. O. Wilson, an evolutionary socio-biologist, "Religious belief is one one of the universals of human behavior, taking recognizable form in every society from hunter gatherer bands to socialist republics. Its rudiments go back, at least, to the bone altars and funerary rites of Neanderthal man." and thus may serve as evidence that beliefs in some kind or other of being more powerful than man and governing him may be an innate instinct. According to Mircea Eliade, every world culture from the dawn of our species has maintained a dualistic interpretation of reality: the physical (tangible, corporeal, something which can be seen, tasted, smelled, heard or felt, subject to birth, growth, decay and death, subject to constant change, flux and transience) and spiritual (immune to the laws of change, flux, permanent, eternal, indestructible, everlasting but invisible, intangible).

If we do really have an evolutionarily based religious instinct, where is the site of such religious beliefs? To Freud, our primal but hidden or repressed drives or instinct, its personality components, the memories of our early childhood together with all hidden conflicts reside within our personal unconscious.but to Jung, who studied the  myths, fables, legends, mythologies of various cultures,beneath that personal unconscious, there is an even deeper layer of the unconscious which forms the foundation of the personal unconscious: the collective unconscious. He found that the collective unconscious, which expresses itself in what he calls archetypes, common to and identical in and shared by all humanity from the remotest times and which embodies their social and spiritual norms in their rites, customs and moral standards. evidenced in such books as Old and New Testaments, Zaroastrian Avestas, the Norse Eddas, the Icelandic Sagas, Urartian (Armenian) cuneiform, Islamic Koran, the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the Dead, Hesiod's Theogony, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Celtic Sagas, the Japanese Kojiki (records of ancient masters) and Nihongo (Japanese Chronicles) Babylonian tales, the Ugaritic myths of Palestine and Syria, the Chinese Shan Hoi Ching, the Hindu Rig Veda, Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Theravada Buddhist Vinanatthu, and the myths of Africa, Polynesia, South and Central Americas, the manuscripts of the Medieval Alchemists. 

Man expresses this collective unconscious in their rites, performed at special sites and places of worship eg. Catholic and Protestant churches, Jesish syangogues, Islamic mosques, Buddhist and Taoist temples, Shinto shrine, Babylonian ziggurat , ancient Aztez, Greek or Egyptian temples built specially for offering sacrifices, prayers to invisible gods. Part and parcel of such belief in supernatural, transcendental, spiritual beings and its corollary is our belief that in some way, we too are possessed of a soul and because the supreme being is eternal, we think that if we do certain things, comply with certain rules, our souls too may share in that permanence, that eternity and that immortality. We believe that death is not the end but the beginning of another lease of life in a kind of transformed existence. Hence we bury our dead in special ways and perform special rites to speed them on their way to that other world. At important stages of our lives, we have special rites performed eg. baptism at birth, initiation rites or confirmation upon adolescence, matrimonial rites at weddings, funeral rites upon death. All the socio-historical, anthropological and sociological studies point to the expressed need of all humanity for some form of religion, for some form of worship, dedication and surrender to something higher, bigger, more transcendental which they believe will bring them luck, fortune and may offer them guidance and assistance and may require some form or other of atonement and punishment for our failings. All such practices are predicated upon certain beliefs in the existence of a spiritual realm, some kind of god or God, the human soul and the possibility of a life after death. Why?  Is it possible that our concepts of God, gods, human soul, afterlife etc are merely products not of the implantation of such ideas into our brains by God or of their objective existence but the products of the particular way our brain processes certain information and interpret certain features of our external and internal reality?

However, here we must be careful to distinguish between two different kinds of impulses, one of religiosity and the other of spirituality. The religious impulse may drive us tp participate in certain shared ritualistic behavior such as attending churches, adhering to certain behavioral and moral codes and customs. This serves to provide and reinforce certain common mores, beliefs, values, motivations and thus builds up group unity and promotes social and cultural cohesion and is thus evolutionarily beneficial in that it helps us to stay together as a community and to take advantage of our strength in numbers and the relevant economies of scale and provides an individual with a sense of common purpose. The impulse towards spirituality is one which drives us to achieve an altered state of consciousness, one which evokes feelings of awe, serenity, ecstasy. The two are closely inter-related because certain religions encourage contemplation, chant, prayer and performance of certain rituals to help us along the path of communication with their god or God in such spiritual experience. But it is as likely for someone to be completely religious and yet aspiritual as for another to be highly spiritual without being at all religious.

In the same manner that language is found so universally amongst people of different races and cultures and in different historical periods that scientists posit the existence of a language instinct in man, Alper thinks that we may posit the existence of a religious instinct in mankind because we have found extensive evidence of people of differnet cultural levels at all historical periods engaging in pratices which are not explicable except on the basis of certain beliefs in a supernatural world of spirit, of gods, of soul, of afterlife. In addition, he thinks that in the same way that there exists linguistic or musical aphasia as a result of accidental or disease originated damage to certain parts of our brain, it is possible too that damage to certain parts of our brain may cause loss of the ability of a person to experience himself as a self and of his ability to believe in the presence of a protective spiritual force or entity e.g a priest suffering from Alzheimer may thus lose his ability to be conscious of the presence of God along with the loss of his other sensibilities, his ability to pray or preach the gospel with lucidity. Thus spiritual consciousness may be just as integrally linked to our neuro-physiological makeup as is any of our other cognitive capacities.

Michael Persinger, a Canadain psychologist of Canada and Dr. Arnold Sadwin of the U of Pennsylvannia have found that people with head injuries may change from being extremely religious before the injury to being indfferent to religion after such injury. Dr. Sadwin has also found that as a result of head injury, some people may become hyper-religious. This suggests that "God  doesn't exsit as something 'out there', beyond and independent of us, but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of an evolutionary adaptation that exists exclusively within the human brain....that there is no actual spiritual reality, no God or gods, no soul or afterlife" and that such spiritual concepts can be explained as "manifestations of the particular manner that our species has been 'hardwired' to perceive reality. Consequently, human kind can no longer be viewed as a product of God but rather God must be viewed as a product of human cognition.".

Alper thinks that just as Kant suggested that we are born with spatial and temporal modes of perception, two means through which our species is "wired" to perceive reality, spirituality represents yet another one of these inherent modes of perception and that consequently, our spiritual perceptions do not represent any absolute truth but exist solely as a consequence of the manner our species is programmed to interpret reality! If so, our spiritual perceptions and beliefs must originate not from information acquired from external sources via our physical senses but from information generated from within our own brain! In other words, all our spiritual "cognitions, perceptions, sensations and behaviors" must be the manifestations of inherited impulses generated from neural connections in the brain and thereforre not indicative of any actual spiritual reality.

What is surprising is that this spiritual function not only transform our perception of reality, it appears to be able to override our capacity for critical reasoning: though there is no physical evidence to support the existence of any spiritual reality in that we cannot see, feel, taste, smell or touch God or gods or spirits, every culture has believed in their existence! Yet each society will develop its own set of holy people, gods, its own unique religious places, objects, customs, rites, religious language, its own unique mysthologies in accordance with its own peculiar geographical, environmental and historical circumstances and religions are merely the social medium through which our spiritual and religious impulses are given form and expressions.