Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Cycle of Creation

A moment of reflection before the year ends. Stop. No cliche remarks about how fast time flies, please.

That shall be my New Year resolution (if any is needed at all): avoid cliches. It is difficult to be fresh and original everytime in whatever we do or say. But it is the nature of life to be constantly reinventing and regenerating itself.

Life is defined by regeneration. The old withers away to be replaced by the fresh and young, sprouting from seeds of hope. The universe is creative. On one end of the spectrum, it is creativity at the physical level: reproduction and procreation. On the other end, artistic and scientific creations.

To cease creating is to die. To work is to create. Everyday I strife to create something new. The mind continues learning because it is like a tree that draws in water and nutrients from its surrounding to produce new branches, leaves and flowers. Nature is constantly creating and recreating itself.

It is our duty to continue learning and creating. The businessman creates new opportunities for material wealth to manifest; the poet puts new combinations of words and imageries to evoke deep thoughts and feelings; the engineer imagines new structures, to be shaped out of matter and energy to accomplish ever more challenging tasks; the painter fuses colours and forms to unleash fresh visions of the world.

We honour life by creative work. All work is creative. The housewife who cooks and sweeps the floor is an artist whose masterpiece is a harmonious household, filled with happy kids and a loving husband, brimming with a love that is like sunshine.

We welcome the new year, like an artist welcomes the sight of a fresh canvas. Smell the fresh paint on the palette, pick up your brush, mix your colours and apply the first stroke on the blank surface:

Let there be light.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thoughts on Christmas

It's Christmas Eve and I'm spending some quiet moments listening to some Chopin Nocturnes. It's a good time to blog and because it's Christmas, let's talk about Christ.

I must admit that I am a big fan of Jesus Christ. But I've always felt that the true spirit of his teachings has been obscured by centuries of man-made dogma, perpetuated by the Church.

To me, Jesus is a mystical figure; he fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert after being baptized by John the Baptist. John himself lived on locust and wild honey. Both of them were semi-ascetics, probably Essenes or practicing something similar. All religions have mystical roots. The Prophet Muhammad himself was approached by the Archangel Gabriel while he was meditating alone in a cave. Both men, like the Buddha and many other spiritual leaders, gained their insights through solitude--the wellspring of spirituality.

The Gospels emphasize a lot of Jesus' miracles, which I do not find that very interesting. I was more impressed by his charisma, how he taught in parables, which made his teachings easily understood by the country folks, his compassion for the sick and the poor, his non-judgemental acceptance of 'sinners'--adulterers, prostitutes and tax collectors ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone").

He eschewed material riches and famously said that "it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God". And of course, his greatest exhortation was to demand that we, instead of demanding an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth, love our enemies instead, and to "turn the other cheek".

And of course: Forgiveness ("Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"). Forgiveness is the beginning of healing. Forgiveness breaks the endless cycle of karma. Forgiveness dissolves the ego and let Love shine through. Forgiveness is letting go, and allowing the moment to be as it is.

Jesus was a great man, and they have been many more before and after him. The message is the same. But followers who interpret the teachings of these great men tend to hero-worship and focus on rules, rituals and dogmas. All of our religions have so much redundancy--that if we 'zip' their doctrines into their raw, essential bits and bytes, they contain the same kernel of truth.

But we are not interested in that. We love the soap opera of creation, judgement, reward and punishment. We long for the perpetuation of our small selfs--afterlives, better rebirths and eternal lives. We jostle and claim for superiority of our adopted creed.

True religion needs no words. It is there. It is within. It is here. It is now.
Nothing more needs to be said.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Bounty of Knowledge

Listening to Mozart on a rainy Saturday afternoon, sitting idly under my bedroom window, catching shafts of light through its curtains, dipping in and out of a Paul Theroux book--such are the simple pleasures that make life worthwhile. Rare pleasures that I indulge in on weekends.

Weekends provide a much-welcome respite from the punishing exertions of the workday week. However my weekends are often filled with leftover work--work that requires special care and insight from a state of mind unatainable on a typical day at the office.

I'm not in love with work, nor do I indulge in it as a form of escapism. Like a professional footballer who needs to play regularly to be match-fit, I welcome work as an opportunity to keep myself mentally fit at all times. Too much work induces fatigue; too little work makes one mentally sluggish. Like any athlete, one needs to find the right balance.

So much of life is seeking this elusive balance: between work and play; between pain and pleasure--the psychological piston that drives one towards one's goals in life, pulverising obstacles along the way.

Perhaps I work a little bit too much, often with too little rewards. That's fine. I've mentioned it elsewhere in my blog before: my dictum is that no work is ever wasted--one's reward from work comes from the knowledge one gets in the process. It is what keeps me going all these years. It is the bounty of knowledge that I relish in, at the end of a hard week's work.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Quest for Understanding

I've always been interested in science and mathematics. It was my passion in these two subjects that drove me to take up engineering in university, which then led me, quite by accident, to a career in IT.

A career-minded person, I never was. Engineering was sort of a compromise: it gave me an opportunity to learn more of the sciences (or at least the practical side of it) and at the same time, it was a professional qualification that put me in good stead in the job market.

I had chosen electrical engineering because it was, to me, the most mathematical among all the engineering branches. I wanted to understand all the latest discoveries of science in the field of quantum physics. Mastering the applied physics of the electron (which is what electrical engineering is, in essence) was a stepping stone towards my ultimate goal: the fundamental nature of the universe itself.

I first fell in love with science and mathematics when I joined the science stream upon entering Form 4, at the age of 16. At that time we we required to study physics, chemistry, biology, modern mathematics and additional mathematics. I was especially enthralled by additional mathematics. Through "add maths" (as we called it then), I was exposed to the beautiful world of calculus, algebra, trigonometry and analytic geometry.

Mathematics gave me a glimpse of the enormous power of the human mind. I gave me great satisfaction to know that through a sequence of logically consistent steps, one could work out astounding conclusions about the nature of the universe. Mathematics, the language of science, was to me the key towards understanding the universe. If was as if God spoke in mathematics.

Yes, deep down inside, my desire to learn mathematics and science was driven by an existential need: the need to know who we are, where we are going and what is the meaning of our existence. In other words, it was a religious quest.

What others had sought through religion, I responded through a love for mathematics and science. Through these subjects, I endeavoured to catch a glimpse of the beauty that was in God's mind.

Nature never looked the same again after I had the opportunity to penetrate its inner workings through science. The entire universe, to me, was pulsating with with atoms, molecules, light and energy--all dancing in accordance with physical laws that could be beautifully described by mathematics. The knowledge of it gave me such great power and insight--it had the life-shattering fervour of a religious conversion.

 That was the start of my journey, which had continued until this day. My pursuit of scientific understanding led me--through a variety of popular science and New Agey books--to eastern religions and western philosophy. The Tao of Physics, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and A History of Western Philosophy were the pivotal texts that hastened me on my path.

Over the years, I've tried to expound some of the personal beliefs and philosophy that I've gleaned from my spiritual quest on this blog.  The journey is still an on-going one, and it shall be so until the day I cease to exist on this earth.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

A Decade Ago

What a pleasure it is to have finally found the time and space to post this blog entry! How swiftly time passes--without me realizing it, this blog is already 10 years old!  What has happened in my life this past decade? This is probably a good opportunity for me to do some reflection.

I started this blog when blogging was just becoming the latest craze on the Internet. In 2003, the American invasion of Iraq had just begun; everyone in cyberspace was debating about the justness of the war. Everyone was "warblogging".

In Malaysia then, Jeff Ooi and Oon Yeoh were the first serious socio-political bloggers. Jeff Ooi was against the war and Oon Yeoh was on the side of the Americans. Both their blogs had a huge following.

Inspired by the these bloggers, I too started writing, and my first blog entry was posted on the 19th of March 2003. It consisted of only two cryptic lines:

Writing this from my office in Jakarta.
Love the city. Love the isolation.

I was warming up :-)  And yes, I was living in Jakarta then--perhaps the happiest period in my life.  Unlike now, I had time on my hands. Time, which I thought could be put to good use by blogging.

Initially, my blog entries, like everyone else's, were mainly comments on currrent events. Ocassionally, I would be inspired to post some philosophical musings like this entry that was posted on April 16, 2003: A Meditation on Time.  Entries like this were later to become my specialty, mainly because I found that I could write on such topics with reasonable ease. And the writing process itself was curiously therapeutic to me.

Of course, I had a lot to write about my life in Indonesia then: my observations about Indonesian life, especially the delights of Jakarta. I was and still is extremely fond of Indonesia and Indonesians. I found that I could blend in very easily with the locals and I was thoroughly entralled by the history and culture of the country. There was so much to discover and learn. There was so much to savour. Everyday was an adventure. I wrote so many entries like this, this and this, attempting to understand my love for the city and the country. It was a love affair that lingered until today.

I blogged from the office and on weekends, at the cybercafe. I was staying long-term at budget hotel then. Those were the days when Internet access in hotels was still considered a  bit of a luxury and Wi-Fi technology was just being introduced to the market. Internet access was difficult and slow. But for some reason, that was the time I was blogging most prolifically.

My years in Jakarta were like an exile for me. It was an exile from the corporate world of Singapore and Malaysia, from the ceasely barrage of e-mails and con-calls--the lifeblood of multinationals. I wanted some time to reflect, some peace and quiet to look back on my life.  And after that period of exile, I decided to return to Malaysia, to start a different chapter in my life. This new chapter spanned a decade but that is another story for another blog post.