Thursday, May 26, 2005

Night of the Living Reds

Night of the Living Reds

I'm obviously still in a daze after Liverpool's fantastic triumph in the Champions League final against AC Milan. I don't think one can witness a more remarkable cup final in recent history: 3-0 down at half-time but coming back to level at 3-3 and subsequently winning the match on penalty kicks!

I've been very frustrated with Liverpool's performance in the English Premier League throughout the entire season, but all is forgiven now with this massive cup final victory. It wiped away the disappointment of finishing fifth in the league and gave us back a bit of the pride that we had been accustomed to as Reds supporters in the 70s and 80s.

For a football club, there's no bigger glory than winning the Champions League. To me, it's alright if Liverpool do not play in the Champions League next year because it'll allow them to focus more on the Premier League title--which is the other honour that Liverpool has to win to put Rafael Benitez's team's on par with Liverpool's legendary greats of the past.

Football is such an unpredictable game: often, only a fine line separates victory and defeat. On early Thursday morning Malaysian time, Liverpool looked as if they would have been condemned to the most miserable of defeats. But what a remarkable turnaround it was!

Looking back, it is interesting to see what lessons we could learn from Liverpool's Champions League campaign this season. First of all, belief in oneself. Tackling one thing at a time. Doing your homework before every match. Plus the old-fashioned qualities of hardwork, grit and determination--qualities which manager Rafael Benitez himself set so brilliantly by example. He has become such an inspirational figure to all Liverpool supporters.

We can all learn to apply these lessons in our daily lives. If we keep on trying, we can only improve. To give up is to surrender to degeneration and decay. The road taken by Liverpool to reach victory in the cup final was a long and arduous one. They had to conquer some of the biggest names in European football, like Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, Chelsea and AC Milan along the way. How did they manage to overcome all these incredible hurdles? For a Liverpool team that has been deemed as one of the weakest ever (also no thanks to the long injury list), one would have thought that it was a mission that's close to impossible.

But the impossible was achieved in a night that will be talked about for as long as football is played. It was a night when the Mighty Reds were dead and buried at half-time but by some inexplicable miracle was able to come alive again to conquer their more illustrious Italian opponents and claim the title of European club champions.

It was a night when the dead rose to walk again and walk they did, into Liverpool's glorious hall of fame. And as the strains of Liverpool's anthem rang across the Attaturk stadium, Reds supporters all around the world felt and understood what it really meant to never walk alone again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Thralldom of Money

The Thralldom of Money

My philosophy on money has already been well-expounded in many entries in my blog. I try to steer clear of people who talk about money all the time. Many of them are dangerous--they'll not hesitate to sacrifice friendship for money. You can sense these people from miles away. They are dangerous simply because they associate so much emotion with money.

But then again when it comes to money, we are all emotional to a certain extent. If you suddenly find that your life's savings in the bank is gone, being "emotional" would be an understatement. We spend our entire lives involved in the acquisition of wealth, hence it should be no surprise that money is such a sensitive matter to most of us.

Like everyone else, I'm happy when my cash register is ringing all the time. But I try not to let money take a hold over me. I will charge my clients what I think I'm worth and drive a hard bargain if necessary. In the end, money should be our servant and is only a means to and end. Nothing more. Of course, all of us know that but how often do we forget this simple fact in our daily lives!

When I take on a project, my main preoccupation is always quality. I will not take up a project unless I know I can deliver quality results. I try not to think of what I do as being a means to make money, instead I see it more as an opportunity to perfect my technique and methodology. And on the spiritual side, it is also an avenue to "work out my karma".

I've written before that rewards are always assured if we deliver good work. Money alone does not provide enough motivation for me. When we can make decisions without having to consider money, we are truly free. Having lots of money does not guarantee freedom. Some people are even imprisoned by their wealth, because they find pleasure in flaunting it and end up being slaves to other people's opinion. Why should we even need to place so much importance on wealth and status? We have to ask ourselves: Whose approval are we actually seeking?

It is a challenge indeed to go out into the world everyday to pursue wealth but at the same time remain unattached to it. But like what I've also said before, to be free from the spell of money, one must learn to acquire it, without giving it too much fuss or importance; and then when the time comes, one must also be ready to relinquish it. Only then can one be considered truly free from the thralldom of money.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Guru of Interfaith Understanding

The Guru of Interfaith Understanding

I didn't realize that two books by one of my favourite authors Karen Armstrong, A History of God and Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet have recently been banned in Malaysia, until a friend mentioned it by chance the other day. I have both of these books in my library, and for the life of me I cannot understand what the authorities found so objectionable about them. Furthermore The History of God has been selling in our bookstores since 1993! I bought my paperback copy at the Times bookstore in Parkson Grand, Damansara Jaya on August 20th, 1994 (as noted down in my handwriting on the title page).

An ex-Catholic nun herself, Karen Armstrong is an internationally acclaimed scholar of religions. Her works have also been recognized by international Muslim groups as contributing towards promoting greater understanding between the major faiths of the world.

I read The History of God ten years ago and it helped me a lot in understanding the history and significance of God throughout the ages. I even bought an audio version of the book and listened to it repeatedly over the years. Since then I've tried to read everything that she has written, including Through the Narrow Gate, which is an autobiographical account of her abortive attempt to pursue a vocation as a Catholic nun.

No reasons were given by the Malaysian authorities for the ban. I'm not even sure if it was the Christian or the Muslim scholars who objected to her two books. The authorities have always lamented the fact that Malaysians don't read enough books; so why even bother to ban them at all? And these are not even popular books like the Da Vinci Code that appeal to the mass reading public. Whatever it is, banning these books will only result in stirring up more public interest in them. Maybe it's a good thing :-)

I am glad to have read many of Karen Armstrong's works and have learnt immensely from them. Her books taught me a lot about the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Her impeccable scholarship and her deep empathy towards the social, historical and spiritual significance of religions have been a great source of inspiration to me. I try not to miss any books from Karen Armstrong. And needless to say, bibliophiles like me will always insist on buying both the hardcopy and the audio version (read by the author herself) of her works.

I certainly look forward to reading more books from Karen Armstrong in the future. To me, when it comes to the subject of interfaith understanding, there is no better exponent than Karen Armstrong. She is truly the guru of interfaith understanding.

Intelligence and Intuition

Intelligence and Intuition

All of us take pride in being intelligent. We see it as a big insult if anyone calls us stupid. But at the same time, we do not hesitate to label people whom we don't like, "stupid".

But why the big fuss about intelligence? It is but only one aspect of the mind. People who take too much pride in their intelligence often develops an inflated ego. They look down on people who worship idols or other forms of personal gods; they latch on to certain pseudo-philosophical theories about spirituality and religion and then refuse to investigate further. That is the greatest pitfall to spiritual progress for "smart" people like this. They trust their logical brains so much that they have forgotten how to use the intuitive aspect of their minds.

A person with a keen intelligence, if he knows how to harness this talent correctly, possess a great tool towards developing spiritual wisdom. Intelligence alone however is not enough to give a person insight into the greatest mysteries of life. To penetrate the ultimate secrets of the universe requires a mind that fuses instinct, intelligence and intuition.

The mind is vast, like the ocean. A lifetime is not sufficient for us to master this powerful instrument. The more we sit down quietly and observe our thoughts, the more we realize how little our everyday intelligence amounts to. It is superficial and trivial. And yet, we take so much pride in it; we allow it to reign supreme, filling our minds with ego-driven opinions and assumptions--as illustrated so well by the Zen parable of the overflowing cup.

Intelligence is but a tool and no doubt a necessary one. It dispels darkness, cuts through muddle and helps one to forge a logical path forward. At some point, intuition has to be awaken for one to move on to the next level of spiritual development. Initially intuition is unreliable, and often contaminated by emotional influences. But once one has mastered the clarity of mind needed for intuition to surface, we begin to feel its power.

Although the power of insight comes in momentary bursts, it is these flashes of intuition that elevate us to the next level of spiritual evolution. Intelligence brings us to the launching pad. But it is intuition that ultimately propels us into wondrous new realms which we did not even know existed.