Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Nectar of the Material World

The Chinese Lunar New Year eve, when screeching fireworks blaze the skies and the blasts of firecrackers punctuate the silence of the night heralding another round of gaudy crimson celebrations, is my usual time for some self-reflection.

I have some Beethoven sonata playing in the background to put me into a reflective mood. Beethoven always brings me back to my childhood days, of bright morning sunshine bustling with birds, of thick jungles and citadel-like rubber trees where we played our childhood games--ah, that wellspring of innocence and happiness that has sustained me throughout my life.

When I was an engineering student at a local university here in PJ, I spent a lot of time reading and writing poetry. My bible, which I kept on my bedside, was Palgrave's Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in the English Language--a small hardcover volume which I inherited from my father. It was this volume of poetry that introduced me to the world of poetry; my favourite was the Romantic poets--Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats. I still have the volume with me, even now, beside me as I type these lines on the computer. It remains my most prized possession.

I've been nourished by so many books that I've read. Reading has been and continues to be the greatest pleasure of my life. I make no apologies nor pretensions for being a bookish person. I'm as hedonistic as any one of my friends who chase the pleasure of material things and of the flesh--only that my pleasures are those of the mind. I find pleasure in learning, and that pleasure, to me, is an end in itself.

Let me make it clear: the pleasures of the mind are not superior to the pleasures of the flesh. All pleasures contain the seeds of pain. (or they wouldn't be called pleasures, would they?) You just need to know where these seeds lie and deal with them wisely when they sprout.

There should not be a conflict between the mind and the body, between saintliness and worldliness, between intellectualism and pragmatism. Everyone is born with a tendency towards one, or the other or if one is lucky, an aptitude and appreciation for both.

The spirit of the Chinese New Year is growth, abundance and a hopeful positive attitude towards what's ahead. It is an unabashed celebration of the material life. The school of the material world is where one hones one's mastery of karma yoga. The pleasures of the material world are explicit and beguiling; the painful lessons, unrestrained and merciless.

In the material world, one learns quickly but one also learns the hard way. We must never be blindsided by its pleasures, nor be deterred by its pain. It is the interplay of pain and pleasure that creates wisdom.

Let's all celebrate the coming Year of the Horse, let's wish ourselves great wealth, health and abundance. Let's reflect again at the end of the year and see, how much wisdom we have distilled from our life experiences, and drink the intellectual pleasure of its nectar.