Friday, August 05, 2005

Navigators of the Karmic Sea

Navigators of the Karmic Sea

I'm actually relieved that I don't have to be travelling again next week, as was originally planned. It gives me a chance to work on other things. There's a pipeline of tasks that I have to deal with. But as usual, I will tackle things one at a time.

Certain things cannot be rushed. They have to unfold at their own pace. I've mentioned before that there's a natural rhythm to everything in the universe. As you get older, you know how to sense this natural rhythm better; you learn to flow along with it instead of pushing or forcing things to go through. Everything will unfold in its own time.

The river cannot flow faster than it already does because its present rate of flow is determined by the dynamic equilibrium of the forces that are present in nature. The river follows its optimum path, effortlessly to the sea. It cannot choose any other way because its path to the sea is already determined by "fate"--the cummulative effect of all natural forces.

We, like rivers, are also "predestined" to lead a certain kind of life because of our own natural tendencies that are already present with us at birth and the peculiarity of the environment which we are cast into. From a macroscopic perspective, there will be certain "patterns" that will emerge in our lives, even though the actual details of their unfoldment will vary, depending on how we exercise our free will.

Yes, I do believe we all possess free will and we can be free from the circumstances of our fate. But we have to understand the macro-currents of fate that are present in our lives so that we can nagivate through them safely. These macro-currents are generated by the intersection between our in-born impulses and the forces that are present in our environment. They cannot be prevented. It is our karma.

The river's karma is to flow to sea, roughly along a predetermined path. Our karma is more complex, for the forces involved in determining the path that we follow exists in four dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. The free will that we can exercise modifies these forces--sometimes neutralizing and at other times, augmenting them.

Are our lives predestined by fate? The answer is: to a certain extent.

If we do not know how to exercise our free will, then our lives will definitely unfold as predetermined by this nexus of natural forces. But if we choose to exercise our free will, based on our reading of the forces around us, then we have a chance to flow along these macro-currents with a lot less friction, and perhaps even be able to harness their energy. The macro-currents of karma are neutral--they are neither good nor bad. It is only our reaction to them that brings about such value judgements, and ultimately pain or pleasure.

We must therefore, in our lifetime, learn to be skillful navigators of this karmic sea. The alternative is, to be like the mass of humanity out there, allowing ourselves to be carried away helplessly, like flotsams on its mighty currents.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Least Vulnerable Spot

The Least Vulnerable Spot

RICK (played by Humprey Bogart, threatening Capt Renault with a gun):

And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart.


That is my least vulnerable spot.

- from Casablanca, one of the best movies of all time

A lady friend asked me an interesting question today: Why are you not a womanizer?

The first thought that popped into my mind was: What makes her so sure that I'm not? That's precisely why they end up as victims of womanizers--they are so guillible!

Well seriously, she was right about me not being a womanizer, but I think the real question that she wanted to ask was: Why are so many men womanizers?

Let me attempt to answer the original question first: I don't womanize not because I'm not attracted to women (hey, I'm definitely straight, OK?) but because it does not make "business sense" to do so. What I mean is that it's simply not worth the price that one has to pay for it. And I'm not talking about the money which inevitably has to lavish on the women, it's also the other resources that have to be consumed: the time, the energy and all the attendant troubles that such a pursuit would surely bring.

And furthermore, there are definitely more important things in life to pursue than chasing skirts. Think of all the fruits of human civilization--all that knowledge, art, music, science, literature and culture that one can spend an entire lifetime enjoying. Surely they are more lasting and satisfying than the transient pleasures of the flesh?

But I'm also certain that many womanizing men would claim that they cannot help themselves because they are merely responding to their natural biological instincts. Are not men supposed to spread their seeds everywhere to propagate the species? It's in our DNA!

Yes, I don't disagree that a great deal of human behaviour is hardcoded in our genes--it is man's "duty" to spread his seeds. But I also believe that as you move further up the evolutionary ladder, you transcend your animal nature and begin to function more on the intellectual and spiritual planes. Therefore the seeds that you should be spreading are not only physical but intellectual and spiritual ones too: you spread memes--thoughts, ideas and insights. And they are so much more potent.

So instead of womanizing, I'd rather blog :-)

Seriously, there's another more important reason why not all men can be womanizers. I have quite a few womanizing friends, so the conclusion that I've come to believe is that to be a real Cassanova, one needs to have a heart like Captain Renault's--it has to be your least vulnerable spot.

One cannot let one's heart fall for a woman if one's only intention in mind is to bed her. If your heart is vulnerable to the emotional charms of a woman, then you are better off being a faithful life partner to one woman--one whom you truly love--and forget about leading a philandering life. Believe me, you'll suffer less that way.

A "professional" philanderer--if he is to remain true to his profession--must never allow himself to fall in love. He must be skillful enough to seduce, and ruthless enough to discard. ("It's beyond my control"). If he allows himself to fall in love, then he must be prepared to pay the price for it.

The womanizer treats women as play-things or sex objects. He gets his pleasure from satisfying his lust for sex and conquest. However the price that he has to pay is onerous: it's a life full of lies, deceit, turmoil and ultimately, loneliness. Simply a ridiculous price to pay for such petty pleasures. Makes no business sense.

"Successful" philanderers I know have a very cold heart. They do not give in to their women's crying, pleading and sulking. If the women choose to leave, let them. If they continue being a nuisance, dump them. There are always an abundant of women out there who are dying to be showered with cheap attention (which they mistake for love) and money (which they can so easily get used to).

Can you be someone like that? Check your heart first. Is it your least vulnerable spot?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Youth and Age, Vice and Virtue

Youth and Age, Vice and Virtue

Young men make wars, and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage, and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution.

- Prince Feisal, played by Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia, one of my favourite movies.

The young have courage and are ever-willing to take risks. They want to dive deep into life and experience it to the fullest. Never mind if life becomes a wild rollercoaster ride of intense pain and pleasure; it is the destiny of the young to immerse themselves completely in every experience that life has to offer and to take whatever consequences that come their way, bravely.

Ah, but when one is older, one looks back and begins to question such foolhardiness. Was it worth it--to waste one's youth away in such recklessness?

Our lives progress in stages, like rivers--from a fiery and tempestuous youth, to a slow meandering old age. When we are young, we don't think that much. We are all-action. When we are old, we are full of reflection and caution, and even regret.

It is a sad thing that energy and wisdom are seldom present together during one's lifetime. You have to trade one for the other. When you are older and full of experience and knowledge, you have already depleted the vigour of your youth ("The days of our youth are the days of our glory; and the myrtle and ivy of sweet two and twenty are worth all your laurels, though ever so plenty"--Byron).

So all of us out there--the young and the old; what are we to do? Is it possible for the young to learn a bit of the "mistrust and caution" of the old and the old themselves to reacquire a taste for adventure with a renewed sense of "courage and hope"?
Sherif Ali: There is the railway. And that is the desert. From here until we reach the other side, no water but what we carry with us. For the camels, no water at all. If the camels die, we die. And in twenty days they will start to die.

Lawrence of Arabia: There's no time to waste then, is there?

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Fulfilling Life

A Fulfilling Life

It has been a good "break" for me in Colombo, even though I'm now in the thick of another complex project. I'm finally back in KL, for at least a week, and as usual I'll have to spend a couple of days to get my regular life in order again.

I had a lot of good conversations with taxi and limousine drivers in Colombo during the past week. The driver who sent me to the airport on Friday evening was Vije. Vije has been doing his present job for the past 17 years and is happy with it. As usual, all these working class people that I meet are happily married with kids.

Vije himself is blessed with four children. He expressed surprise that I'm still single and as expected, started extolling all the virtues of married life. (Come to think of it, the only people I know who are constantly complaining about their married lives are middleclass professionals who are earning good money but are somehow finding their lives inexplicably empty).

I told Vije that I agree with him that married life can be very fulfilling and do not dismiss the possibility that perhaps someday, I'll also be happily married like him. At the meantime, there are "more important" matters for me to attend to...

Vije, like the majority of Sri Lankans, is Buddhist. So we ended up talking about Theravada Buddhism--the main school of Buddhism there--and the kind of religious education that children in Sri Lanka has. Most of them go to Sunday school for Buddhist classes and are taught very early on basic meditation techniques--so central to the practice of Buddhism.

Vije himself practices Anapanasati--or breath meditation whenever possible. In Sri Lanka, every full moon day is a day of worship ("poya") and is a public holiday--so there's at least one public holiday every month. Religion is very much an integral part of Sri Lankan life and I admire that very much, even though I'm not a very religious person myself. Well, at least not in the conventional sense.

Like every other driver I meet in Colombo, Vije also offered to take me on a day tour to Kandy--that ancient cultural capital of Sri Lanka, located at an altitude of over 1500 feet above sea level in a scenic mountaineous region not too far away from Colombo. I'll probably make a trip there someday but at the moment, I feel that I need to know Colombo better first. After about four trips there, I am beginning to feel more at home, and even look forward to my next visit.

I am fortunate that I get to meet nice people wherever I go, and Vije is typical of Sri Lankans that I've met here: warm, friendly and hospitable ("Are you from Japan/China/Korea/Singapore?"). Whenever I tell them I'm from Malaysia, they will always have good things to say about it and will never fail to mention that their largest cellular operator, Dialog Telekom--which went public recently--is owned by TM.

Over the hour-long trip to the airport, Vije and I chatted about everything related to Sri Lanka from the Tamil Tigers to Arthur C. Clarke. As usual, I get to learn so much about the country I visit from taxi drivers. It is one of the pleasures of travelling alone--when you have no one else to talk to, you just talk to strangers you meet on the road. When you don't feel like talking, you just read. You are educating yourself all the time. Now, who said single life can't be fulfilling?