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Being Human

The Chinese character for man (male and female) is 人 (ren)

In Chinese culture, ren (人) does not refer to the biological understanding of man. Rather, it refers to what a man ought to be – what makes a man a fully human person. One big difference between Western and Chinese philosophy is that in Western philosophy, the major question is “What is man?”, whereas in Chinese philosophy, the major question is “How to become one?” (为人)

And so, it is essential for a every single person to learn how to be a man (为人), so that he/she can become one (成人).

This is realised/fulfilled through his relations with others. Hence, the importance of ren (仁, also translated as humanity or benevolence). The etymology is quite simple. It just means two (二 er) persons (人 ren).

When two people can live in harmony with each other, only then can both fully realise what it means to be a man (二人为人 eren wei ren).

In Memoriam – Josephine Teo (RIP)

Of the many Catholics that I know, only a handful of people have lived such inspirational lives – so inspirational – that they have made a huge impact on me.

One such person is Josephine Teo.

I first got to know her about ten years ago through the Legion of Mary. What struck me about her was her devotion to the Legion.

Legion was not just any ministry that you would join and leave after some time: it was not some group where you would come in as and when you would. No, for her, Legion was her life.

Among all the Legionaries that I’ve known in my entire life, she was one of the few who knew the handbook – it’s rules, principles, and spirituality – almost inside out. And she lived them. She lived it so devotedly that her life was almost inseparable from it.

Even as a mother, and a full-time nurse, she had been so dedicated to the works of the Legion, going overseas to carry out missionary works, and works that I would term, “diplomatic relations”, with the Legionaries around the region. The amount of time and effort that she gave to the Legion was so much, one would have thought that she was single and/or working part-time. I was very surprised when I found out much much later that she had a daughter (maybe more? Am not sure) and was working as a nurse.

Truly, she gave her all.

What also impressed me is that she was a great planner and leader. She handled large-scale events so well: in leading, planning, and executing. So professionally was it done, it just leaves me with awe and respect. She did all that despite work and family commitments.

Amazing.

More amazing would be that despite her battle with cancer, she still continued to be very active in her services in the Legion, doing everything well, as always, and making sure that everything was going smoothly.

I suppose this was her remarkable sign of holiness. People mistake holiness to mean doing holy things (and being very dull and boring). Rather, holiness is in being disciplined and regular, especially in doing the small things. Indeed, she took up many big projects. But those big projects would not have been a success had she not, in the first place, been successful in keeping faithful to doing the small little tasks well. In fact, for her to be able to copy with family, work, and her duties in the Legion is indeed a sign of the effects of supernatural graces at work. Did she possess a great love for God? Presumably so (I can’t say definitely since I don’t know her that well) from all that commitment and dedication made towards serving the Church through the Legion.

If there’s one thing the Church needs most, it’s people like Josephine, to constantly inspire others with her love, faithfulness, dedication, and holiness. To be like Our Blessed Mother, in saying, “Let it be done according to Thy word”, with such great faith and love, that enables the Holy Spirit to work with and through her in all that she does.

The usual mantra of today is that we have no time to do great things for God. And yet Josephine has shown in her entire lifetime, that despite family and work commitments, she was able to do so much for the salvation of souls.

We need more people like her to give testimony by the example of their lives. To show to other Catholics that such dedication is possible. That agreeing to co-operate with God’s Divine Will, allows Him to perform the supernatural through ordinary natural hands. We need more people like her to inspire more people to live good Catholic lives.

She had indeed been a source of great inspiration for me. And I pray that many more will come to be a source of inspiration to others.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master!
(Matthew 25:21)

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine.
Et lux perpetua luceat ei.
Requiescat in pace. Amen.

One’s Words Should be Substantial

言之有物 (yan zhi you wu). One’s words should be substantial.

This applies to both writing and speech. This was something the professor for the History of Chinese Philosophy taught us on our first lesson.

I must admit that I am indeed very guilty of just blabbering lots of nonsense, especially when I talk. But I think there is great wisdom in the above phrase.

In my first semester, one professor mentioned that in the digital age, we take our words for granted. Very little thought goes into the sentences that we construct thanks to the invention of the backspace key. We write something, we don’t like it, we delete the character(s) or word(s), and we start again: perhaps until we are satisfied.

Without much thought spent on the idea that we wish to convey in the sentence, the words have been expressed. This is very much different from the way people used to write in the past. They thought carefully and deeply about the subject and had great clarity of mind such that a page (and even more) could be written or typed out with no error whatsoever.

Even in speech, we are often in a hurry to say something. Before seriously pondering on what it really means, the implications, validity of the statement, etc., words flood out of our mouths like the Merlion. And more often than not, we end up with regrets over what had been said.

There is a proverb that I heard in the past that goes along the lines of: The man of wisdom is one who speaks few words. In the sense that the wise man knows when and what exactly to say, while the fool is one who blabbers away.

言之有物. What an important lesson to learn!

Contentment (樂)

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樂 (乐) has always been understood to mean joy or happiness.

Most people would never link 樂 with trials, tribulations, and difficulties.

However, later Confucians have a saying: You can cry and have sorrow, and yet still have 樂.

There seems to be a contradiction. But, I soon found greater depth in this word when attending a talk on Confucianism.

To the Confucians, 樂 does not mean joy. Rather, 樂 means contentment. While I may be going through a tough time, I can still be experiencing 樂 (contentment).

Holding on to 樂 is very important because it is essential in keeping one’s mind clear like a clear mirror or still water. By being detached from things, one can then be content with life, and be able to respond calmly to things/situations.

Love (愛)

Here’s my second try of the word, 愛 (love). This time, I’m using a calligraphy brush instead of the calligraphy marker.

There’s a more authentic feel to it when using a brush. It’s not easy getting the strokes right, but it takes a lot of practice. I think it might be a good idea to buy an instructional book on calligraphy. Saw one the other day, but it was terribly costly. Hmmm… I’m sure there are more affordable alternatives out there.

Ganbatte!

ganbatte

GANBATTE!!!

It’s Japanese for: Do your best!

I don’t know Japanese, but only a few nice phrases like this one.

Today has been an ultra-productive day, so much so that I have the word, “GANBATTE” repeating through my mind.

I’m very tempted to make a funky head band with that word on it, and then tying it around my head as I work.

The next semester is starting soon, and I’m really excited. Have started reading philosophical works, and have also resumed the contemplation of philosophy in my mind. All systems are up and running once again!

I’m a philosopher! And I’m loving it!

GANBATTE!!!

The Beauty of Chinese Art

The one thing I greatly admire in the two great chinese arts – calligraphy and martial arts – is the skill of applying pressure, and yet be relaxed at the same time.

To be forceful and yet relaxed? Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction?

Initially, yes. How can one be relaxed, yet be able to apply some amount of force? Being relaxed suggests that there is zero force/pressure that is intentionally applied.

That’s where the Chinese Arts come in and show that these two concepts are not contradictory but consistent! It is the skill of self-mastery – of knowing how much force to apply, and yet to be relaxed while doing so at the same time.

Not too much, and not too little, and yet enjoying every single moment of serenity that passes by.

Take calligraphy for example. To write well, one must hold the brush with just the right amount of pressure – too much or too little, and the results will be terrible. Yet, for most people who start out at it, it seems impossible to be relaxed while trying so hard to apply just the right amount of force on the brush. But the lack of this relaxation results in bad calligraphy as well. The hand becomes too stiff for fluidity of action in writing. It is only when one’s hand becomes relaxed while still applying just the right amount of pressure on the paper that beautiful calligraphy is produced.

This is something that I really hope to master. To know how much pressure/force to apply in everyday things, and yet be relaxed and calm so that there is fluidity in one’s motion and thinking, rather than stiffness due to tension.

It kind of reminds me of bamboo.

On one hand, it is stiff and hard, yet on the other hand, it is flexible. The bamboo knows very well when it needs to be firm, and when it needs to be flexible.

Perfect Haven

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I found the perfect haven that I can go to escape from the hustle and bustle of life.

The view is perfect. It’s high up in the sky, shaded from the sun. As I lay back, resting my head, before me is the full view of the sky and the clouds in the day, and the moon and the stars in the night. There, I can lie back and enjoy the refreshing breeze.

This is definitely one place I can see myself visiting very often when the University semester commences. I can picture myself reading notes, and even planning essays.

Beautiful Sunrise at East Coast Park

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Had insomnia the entire night. Couldn’t sleep as much as I tried.

So, what do you do when life gives you lemons? You make lemonade out of it!

Called two other friends who were awake at 4am, and we shared a cab down to East Coast Park for a wonderful MacDonald’s breakfast out in the open, enjoying the fresh morning air, as we marvelled at the beautiful rising of the sun.

Wisdom (智)

Another piece of calligraphy written from my little calligraphy pen!

This means wisdom. The full word for it is 智慧 (zhihui). I love wisdom – so much so that I am therefore studying philosophy (love of wisdom).

zhi

The etymology is quite cool too.

智 has evolved from the following words:

  • 知 (to have knowledge), which is made up of:
    • 矢 (arrow)
    • 口 (mouth)
  • 白 (white, clear)
  • 亏 (fortunate)

I can’t seem to find what it means on the internet, but my guess is this:

To have wisdom is to possess knowledge (知), but not just any kind of knowledge – it is knowledge of survival, which in this case is to have the knowledge on how to use the arrow (矢) for food (口).

But it’s not just about knowing, it is also to understand it so clearly (白). And indeed, to possess such knowledge is to be most fortunate (亏) indeed.

Over the centuries, it has evolved to look like two words stacked above each other: 知 (knowledge) and 日 (sun).

In a very poetic way, wisdom is to have the kind of knowledge (知) that surpasses even the sun (日).

So, in short, wisdom (智) is to be fortunately (blessedly) endowed with a clear understanding of the necessary knowledge for survival in the world.

The Challenge

Taxi drivers are, by far, some of the wisest people you can ever meet. Sure, some of them might be obnoxious. But many of them, with their age and experience from meeting a wide variety of people every single day, have lots of really good insights to share. That’s why I really enjoy chatting to them whenever I take a taxi.

A couple of months ago, a taxi driver challenged me to brush up on my Mandarin. Many just tell me how ashamed I should be for not being able to speak Mandarin well.

I told him that it’s too difficult a language to learn. In response, I got rebuked by him.

He said, “No matter how difficult something is, if you really want to learn, you’ll learn it anyway. I never knew English, but I learnt that and Thai just from my many years of driving this taxi. Don’t you dare tell me that it’s difficult to learn.”

Do I want to learn? Oh yes I sure do. And Cantonese too! My love for Chinese culture and the desire to immerse myself in it has been hampered for years because of the obstacle for language.

I don’t think I should procrastinate any further. I’ll be learning Chinese Philosophy soon, and this would really prepare me greatly.

Love (愛)

ai

Just wrote this with my brand new calligraphy marker. It’s like a 毛笔 (maobi, calligraphy brush) but it’s a marker with a brush-tip.

My all-time favourite chinese word is 愛 (ai, love). I don’t like the simplified version. The traditional one is the most meaningful of all.

愛 (love) is made up of three words:

  • 受 (to receive)
  • 心 (the heart)
  • 夊 (to walk slowly)

Therefore, to love (愛), is to receive the heart of one’s beloved and to walk slowly with her. Beautiful!