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FAITH BEGINS WHERE REASON ENDS
LIUNG CHEONG POH,Upper Six B Two
Reason is the most precise instrument the intellect can utilise in the apprehension of Truth. Because it entails logical analysis and excludes wild fits of passion, it is also accepted as the most reliable mental equipment. "Pure Reason," says Kant, is the power by which we become possessed of principles. In its infantile form, it is mere common sense; in maturity, it is a patterned entanglement of the mind.
In his book, The Descent of Man, Darwin expresses the general consensus of opinion on the place of Reason in human affairs:
"The perfection of man rests in the mind and in its chief and purest state, which is reason and intelligence."
The progress of man from magic and myth to rational thought has resulted in a cult of reason-worship for its own sake.
However, even greater songs of praise have been sung to the elusive, mysterious powers of Faith. Poets and scientists alike marvel at this miraculous gift. But it is in the great religions that we find true revelation of faith's divine possibilities:
"We walk by faith not by sight."
- New Testament, II Corinthians V. 7
"If ye have faith as a mustard seed,
ye shall say unto this mountain,
Remove hence to yonder place,
and it shall move."
- New Testament, Matthews, xvii, 20
"By faith we perceive that the universe was fashioned by the word of God, so that the visible came forth from the invisible."
- New Testament, Hebrews, xi, 3
What then is Faith?
"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
- New Testament, Hebrews, xi, 1
In the context of our present discussion, Faith will be defined as 'belief in the truths of religion; belief in the authenticity of divine revelation and acceptance of the revealed doctrines.' It is a belief proceeding from reliance on testimony, a belief that seeks no rational justification. However, this definition is quite inadequate as we shall see later when we synonymise 'Faith' with 'Intuition'. It then becomes not only the belief in, but the actual spiritual apprehension of divine truths, of realities beyond the reach of sensible experience.
If Reason be the most powerful tool of the intellect, where then are its limits defined? If it is truly our most potent mental asset, how then can it submit to yet another faculty? The answer is that Reason meets its defeat when it enters another realm of human experience, a totally new sphere of understanding - the spiritual realm. Here, the powers of Reason are nullified against the oppressing odds of a new reality, and has to yield to a higher faculty......... "On thy knees, powerless Reason," commands Pascal.
As one plunges into almost unfathomable depths of experience, strange new phenomena are revealed. Thought itself reaches a point where it negates Life; Reason collapses in the face of unknown truths. Even the philosopher of the 'Superman', Friedrich Nietzche, with his Will to Power was familiar with such moments of total defeat when he felt that ideas negated existence. H. G. Wells, too, in his Mind at the end of its Tether admits that "there is no way out or round, or through". To him, knowledge had become an impasse. This may sound alien to us as we have not shared such deep experiences common to many great men. Thought, to us, is in complete unity with Life: they cannot possibly contradict each other. Yet, even in our trite everyday experiences, we must admit to having caught glimpses of a vanquished Reason. These are moments of loneliness and desolation, of futility and depression. These are moments when Reality becomes unreal, when the unreal becomes real. We sense an acute lack of understanding, as though Time and Space and Life have deserted us. In such moments, Reason and thoughts forsake us and we are rendered hopeless.
"There are two extremes," says Pascal, "To exclude reason; to admit reason only." Both ways inevitably leave the inquirer stranded.
Even Baruch Spinoza, the 'God-intoxicated' philosopher, has to admit to such a defeat. In his Ethics he attempts a discussion of God in logical language, laying down definitions, axioms, and propositions. Yet at the end of reading this treatise, God is just as distant from us as before. Semantics and Logic have failed to bring us any closer to an understanding. What then is the new language we must arm ourselves with in entering this realm?
It is the language of faith, of utter submission and dedication to a Reality. But why this language and not any other? This is because so long as the Divine cannot be ascertained by logical evidence, intuition offers the only way out of this dilemma.
In truth, there is no fundamental difference between Faith and Reason; it is only a difference in degree. Men often call different degrees of one and the same thing by diverse names and begin to see fundamental differences where there are only differences in degree. The Russian philosopher, mathematician and mystic, P. D. Ouspensky, in his masterpiece Tertium Organum says, "Between intellect and emotion, there is no sharp distinction. The intellect considered as a whole, is also emotion." He adds, "In reality, in the soul of man, nothing exists, save emotions." Thus we see the kinship between Faith and Reason: they are both emotions. Why, then, does one begin where the other ends?
Reason as an emotion is isolated and divorced, cold and hard; it lacks the EMOTIONAL ELEMENT. It is an emotion robbed of its proper status by unwarranted exclusion of feeling. It is this delimited reason that falls. If allowed to expand, if incorporated with the emotional element, it will reach new frontiers. Faith may be conceived as Reason heavily coated with the emotional clement. This element is the real conquering force; it is this that gives Faith the edge over Reason.
In the spiritual realm, a basic feeling is involved - a desire to know God. But Reason cannot conquer feeling because feeling can only be conquered by feeling. Spinoza saw this quite clearly when he said that "Emotion can be mastered only by another more powerful emotion, and by nothing else." Reason is a weakling of an emotion. But faith - complete belief in God - surpasses the desire to know God. "Spirituality," says Ouspensky, "is not opposed to intellectuality. It is only their HIGHER FLIGHT."
Its greater emotionality makes Faith a stronger conquering force than Reason but what makes it a superior faculty for the apprehension of truth is the INTUITIVE ELEMENT it contains. Reason has emotionality, but is completely devoid of intuitive insight. Intuition is the power to understand without reasoning; faith, belief without reasoning, has its reward in understanding also.
"Understanding is a reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand."
- St Augustine: On the Gospel of St. John
Faith is therefore, an instance of intuition; all true faith must necessarily be intuitive. If the validity of intuitive understanding be established, then truths perceived through faith must also be valid.
The distinguished Indian philosopher, S. Radhakrishnan, solves the age-old dilemma of faith versus reason by giving intuition the central role as mediator. His ideas on the subject are parallel to Ouspensky's. He does not deny Reason a place in metaphysics; nor does he glorify intuition as the sole arbiter. For him, intellect and intuition are not in antithesis: they complement each other. It is intellectual reflection based on intuitive insights that gives us knowledge in the full sense of the word. All religion is, for Radhakrishnan, reason plus meditation.
Kant demonstrated that it was equally possible to prove the existence and non-existence of God through logical reasoning. Beyond a certain point, logic cannot reveal anything not already known.
Ever since Kant demolished the fallacy that reason is a sure guide to metaphysical thought in his Critique of Pure Reason, attention has been drawn to a source supposedly higher - Intuition. But is Intuition reliable? Can it tell us more than Reason? Can it be verified or refuted by Reason?
To R. W. Emerson, Intuition is the "primary wisdom". He writes poetically of Intuition:
"....... that source, at once the essence of genius, the essence of virtue, and the essence of life…. In that deep force, behind which analysis cannot go, all things find their common origin. .....Here is the fountain of action and the fountain of thought. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth men wisdom…"
- Emerson: Self-Reliance
and affirms its superiority:
"The spontaneous or intuitive principle is always superior over the arithmetical or logical. The first always contains the second, but virtual and latent. ...... By trusting it to the end, it shall ripen into truth, and you shall know why you believe."
- Emerson: Intellect
In his Short Treatise, Spinoza realises that intuitive knowledge does not consist in being convinced by reasons but in an immediate union with the thing itself. He declares in Ethics:
"From intuitive vision arises the highest possible peace of mind."
Radhakrishnan expresses the same faith in intuitive wisdom. Writing in An Idealist View of Life, he says explicitly that absolute knowledge in its concreteness is more in the form of effortless insight or intuition:
"........we have to remember that the rationalisation of experience is not its whole truth. The great truths of philosophy are not proved but seen."
And in the following lines he dispels all fears and doubts about the validity of intuitive truths:
"In moving from intellect to intuition, we are not moving in the direction of unreason, but are getting to the deepest rationality of which human nature is capable.... Even if intuitive truths cannot be proved to reason, they can be shown to be not contrary to reason, but consistent with it."
At this juncture it is necessary that we make a distinction between two kinds of faith. The layman is only aware of the first kind: irrational or implicit faith. From our foregoing discussion, it is obvious that there exists another kind: rational or speculative faith - the more intellectual assent to religious truth. How then are these two 'faiths' related and wherein do they operate?
All thought, all argument, all reasoning, if traced with the skepticism of Hume to its infinitesimal origins, will be found to be based on irrational faith. That this is so is undeniable. All arguments, from the most complex to the most naive, are based at their barest foundations, on certain non-verifiable assumptions which must be accepted without question if we are to start reasoning it all. The core of all scientific reasoning is based on the assumption that the physical phenomena around us as perceived through the five senses constitutes Reality. This means that we must accept without question the assumption that our senses do not deceive us. Logic can help us to know something additional, something new, only when its premises are rooted in faith.
This Reason guided by insight is the Vernunft of German Kantian philosophy - the power by which first principles are grasped a priori. The Reason that is further removed from intuitive insight becomes the pure rational intellect - the Verstand of Kantian philosophy.
From the simple roots of irrational faith sprouts the huge intellectual forests which we call Reason. And when Reason makes its departure, its immediate successor, rational faith, still warm with the memories and rationality of reason, makes the scene. This transit from Reason to faith is Descartes' "leap in the dark". However, as rational faith plunges itself into the imponderables of the Universe, it becomes more and more intuitive in nature, until it becomes irrational faith again. The latter is distinguished from the former in its subtler, transcendental nature. Therefore the sequence in the drama of human understanding runs thus:
Irrational faith -> Reason -> Rational Faith -> Transcendental irrational faith
There are different types of knowledge: perceptual, conceptual and intuitive, each revealing a particular face of Reality. Thus both intellectual and intuitive inquiries are justified and have their own rights. However, it is clear that there are gradations of knowledge: "sense perceptions are below us, logical reasonings are with us and spiritual apprehensions are above ." (Plotinus)
In man, the growth of consciousness consists in the growth of the intellect with the accompanying growth of the higher emotions - esthetic, religious, moral. As the intellect becomes more and more intellectualised, while simultaneously assimilating emotionality, it ceases to be 'cold' and merges into intuitive awareness.
But we must not overlook the fact that intuitive insight can only be achieved through the aid of the intellect. The tree of Intuition grows on the soil of Reason, but is not created by it. However, without the earth, the seed can only lie dormant. The interdependence of Intellect and Intuition finds expression in Indian Philosophy:
"Without rational inquiry, faith will degenerate into credulity. Without the material supplied by faith, logical reason may become mere speculation."
(From The Principal Upanishads)
Reason and Faith are like two rivers fed from the headwaters of the same mountain. Meandering along a grassy plain, river Reason soon runs dry. At exactly the same point, however, river Faith is reinforced by the torrents of two other rivers - river Intellect and river Intuition – and, thus rejuvenated, flows powerfully on. In like manner, where the force of Reason wanes, Faith begins an enriched life.
NO PLACE FOR DANNY
R. PATHMANATHAN . Lower Six B One
"Danny boy," the old man wailed, "Danny, come to me. Danny!" He raised his voice, "Danny, where are you'?" He broke off suddenly as he was seized by a coughing fit. His broken, effete body crumpled and rocked in uncontrolled spasms as his weak, diseased lungs pumped for air. His fingers clawed at his thin, narrow chest in agony. When the fit passed, he was panting and trembling. He brought up a thick mess of blood and phlegm. He knew that his time had come.
Somewhere in the rear of his shack, a chair crashed down and a tin was sent spinning. Round and round went the tin clanging noisily.
"Yes Danny, I want you. Here, come stay beside me now. I want to look at you."
"Wa nanny nanas" whimpered Danny.
"Later Danny. I'll go get some. Come here."
The old man raised himself off the floor, and tried to get up; but he could not, and his legs gave way when he was half way up. He fell down and knocked his head hard against the wall.
Danny immediately broke out in laughter, long and loud the noise rang, his frail boyish body bending double, tickled by his grandfather's fall. He laughed and laughed; then Danny jumped and fell too, just to show old Shem, his grandfather, how funny it all was. Danny's face attempted to show how ridiculously comical Shem had been when he fell. But Shem was too tired to laugh. He was dying.
Shem turned to look at Danny, rolling on the floor, helpless with laughter. How like his father he looks, thought Shem. The same eyes, nose; the same laugh. Shem remembered his son Joel's laughter well. And now Joel's son, Danny, was laughing just like him. Shem's heart bled as visions of long ago and far away swept across his mind.
Outside, the sea snarled gently, like a sleepy lion.
The last rays of the setting sun broke through the window and illumined the interior of the room with pale, gold light. Danny was fourteen years old. He was an idiot, and when he was born, his mother refused to accept him as her son. That monster, that monster, she had screamed, when she saw his hare-lip, his great big ears and mangled body. That same year, his father, Joel, died in the war. His mother ran away with a dustman. Shem was all the father and mother Danny ever knew. And now Shem was dying of tuberculosis. Shem was seventy and penniless. They had nothing left in the world.
Shem remembered how, the previous week, he had parted company with his only luxury - an ancient watch. Weeping, Shem had taken the six dollars which the dealer offered him. But, oh, he recalled how it had warmed his heart so when he saw Danny prancing about the street with his new Bata shoes, shouting for joy at the top of his voice. Shem vividly remembered how Joel, too, had danced for joy when Shem bought him new things. All Shem wanted was for Danny to be happy in this world. But he knew that this would not be possible for long. Who would care for Danny when Shem was gone? Who would clothe, feed, and love an ignoramus?
Shem remembered how he and Danny had roamed the town trying to look for a place where Danny would be taken care of. Everywhere they went they were turned away.
"Me, Shem, I got nine mouths to feed. I got my own problems."
"Take that . . . that gibbering idiot into my house? You must be crazy! Get lost before I call the cops!"
Even the country priest had turned them away.
"Why, he can't even ring the church bell properly. What work can he do?"
(Danny answered "Dingey-dong! Dinge-dong!")
People everywhere are the same, Shem realised. Everywhere man is vile. He remembered how once he and Danny had stopped to rest at one of those open air cafeterias along the Arcade. The proprietor promptly called: "Whattya want, huh?"
"Nothing. We sit here because we are tired. Our legs hurt!"
"So gowan home. Move along, pops!"
Sighing, Shem and Danny had moved on. It was no use.
And now, it was closing in, Shem knew. He was going, and he feared for Danny. What could Danny do? Where could he go? Danny was so helpless he could never live alone. Shem even recalled how, once, Danny had almost drowned in the sea. He was helpless without anyone's help. Shem was in despair.
The sinking sun sent its dying rays over the rim of the world. Shem felt an intense warmth envelop him, and his breath left him as air from a balloon. Danny laughed hollowly.
Death had been.
Night marched with silent feet over the tiny inlet; the angry sea roared at the moon, yellow and supreme, a polite hole in the diamond studded cloak of night. The rush and sudden hiss of water, as on a hot surface. Thunder as rocks shriek in agony.
Solitary footsteps in the sand. A being alone on an endless horizonless strand. Unarmed against Nature. He trembles, aghast, awed by the fury of the elements. Fear that is actually overstimulation of courage derived from scorn of the inorganic.
Run, run, run, stumble and fall . . . .
the seas claim all . . . .
The rubber shoe on the storm lashed beach read BATA when turned over.
THE WAY THE CLOCK TICKS
KOK CHEW LENG, Lower Six B Two.
How we cling
To the last vestige of childhood,
To the never-never land of no responsibility,
To Paradise lost.
Fearing, dreading to enter
A stern-faced world
Disapproving and judging
Unforgiving, and yet
As hypocritical as it tries not to
to be -
People with little integrity, yet
Good and pure; well-loved by all.
People with bright eyes and clever words
People with hearts hardened with corruption
- Whom the world yet applaud
For their own material gain.
Child, they say,
This is the way the clock ticks
Would you even change the wheels of Time?
SOME THOUGHTS ON EDUCATION
LIUNG CHEONG POH, Upper Six B Two.
"By education most have been misled;
So they believe because they so were bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man."
- John Dryden: The Hind and the Panther.
In these lines, Dryden speaks of the evangelical siege of education on our minds. After 300 years the words of this 17th century English poet are still alarmingly true. In spite of automated sophistication and other phoney embellishments, education today is still oppressive, suppressive and misleading. Freud, Laing and a host of others have not succeeded in changing the psychology of education.
And in our time, prominent educators are also voicing their alarm at the state of educational affairs. Herbery W. Armstrong writing in "The Plain Truth", (June, 1971) states, "Today we have assembly-line educational production. The Student loses his identity, becomes a virtual nonentity, blending into the uniform collectivism. Many recognize the evils and dangers - yet confess their utter helplessness to brake the drift or change the direction."
"The most deadly of all possible sins," Erik Erikson suggests, "is the mutilation of the child's spirit." It is appalling what goes on around us: the mutilation of spontaneity of joy in learning, of pleasure in creating, of sense of self. The educational institution has become, for the sensitive student, a grim, joyless place, governed by oppressive and petty rules and enveloped in an atmosphere intellectually sterile and aesthetically barren.
The education Dryden and Armstrong speak of produces unthinking stereotypes, whose thought is no different from and no more than that of their teachers. A community of standardised individuals without personal originality and personal aims would be a poor community without the possibilities for development. On the contrary, the aim must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals, who see in the service of humanity, their highest life function. "Better to be untaught than ill-taught," so the proverb goes. The dangers of "false education" are innumerable and cannot be over-emphasized.
The greatest shortcoming in the educational system is its failure to recognise that EDUCATION IS NOT ONLY A PREPARATION FOR FUTURE LIVING; IT IS A PROCESS OF LIVING IN ITSELF (John Dewey) - and the quality of its experience must be regarded as important in its own right. We spend an average of 12 years in school and yet both student and faculty treat this length of time as subsidiary and subservient to something ahead. We come to school to live a life: a creative, humane and sensitive life. The sooner we realise this, the sooner will we achieve a spontaneous, productive and self-generating educational system where both student and faculty are living, and not merely preparing.
The sacred thoughts which form the true abode of the scholar has been profaned: Education has become a business transaction, the gifts of the scholar being turned to marketable use, and not to his own sustenance and growth. To this end, the intellect is developed in isolation, to the total neglect of human and spiritual cultivation. The modern scholar is acutely aware that behind his skilled tongue, his power of wit and poetry, his social grace and manners, lurks a dreadful emptiness - for no amount of book-learning can bring him inner peace or beneficence. The system does not realise that "what we do not call education is more precious than that which we call so." (R. W. Emerson: Spiritual Laws).
Schools must provide a liberal, humanizing education inculcated with moral and ethical guidance so that the talents of the student will find not only expression and development, but also direction and fruition. "Educate men without religion and you make them but clever devils," warns Arthur Wellesley. Appallingly enough, our education is sadly wanting in ethics and completely devoid of religion. Religion and Education have become mutually exclusive, the student being told that religion belongs within the confines of the church only and must not trespass the unsanctimonious atmosphere of the school. The result is that, year by year, schools are unleashing upon society at large, a race of "clever little devils" - a menace all the more dangerous because they are thought to be a blessing. The universities and other places of higher education proudly play their part in this subversion but they, being more educated, are cleverer and more devilish and threaten to eat up even the little educated devils. This state of affairs (where big fish eat small fish) would not exist if schools, instead of being "desecrated, were sanctified."
Ironically enough, education in the past has almost always meant moral or religious education. In pre-Communist China, the Scholar Gentry was thoroughly versed in Confucian Classics: in the India before European Influence, education was synonymous with the wisdom of the sages, and in the Europe of Thomas A. Kempis, the schoolroom was a place of prayer and scripture study. In fact, in the beginning of the sixth century, the only schools that existed in Europe were monastic schools; these later evolved into the present universities. Thomas Jefferson founded the first State University - the University of Virginia - in 1819 with the motive of divorcing education from religion. This is probably the starting point of the materialistic trend in Western education and its accompanying evils.
"Nothing in education is so astonishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of inert facts," wrote Henry Adams. That our education is a mad rush to complete a prescribed syllabus in readiness for an examination, to the exclusion of the more important items of true education is a well-known fact. And in this case, familiarity has, unfortunately, bred acceptance. We have grown so exam-conscious as to be completely blinded from seeing the original objectives. "I lay my eternal curse on whomsoever shall make me hated, as Shakespeare is hated. My plays were designed not as instruments of torture," pronounced George Bernard Shaw, a generation ago. This curse is upon us now. Literature, like the other subjects, is associated with bookish pedantry, and is now studied in the same manner as Biology or Geography. True the pedant may pass an examination on the subject, but he has also passed unaware of the savoury joy that subject has to offer.
"Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know," wrote Ruskin. "It is not teaching the youth the shapes of letters and the tricks of numbers, and leaving them to turn their arithmetic to roguery and their literature to lust." Knowledge that is the mere juggling of numbers and facts can be Power, but it is a power which produces intellectual snobbery and corruption.
Three and a half years of study of the American system of education commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation of New York has resulted in a report "Crisis in the Classroom." (Reprinted in the Atlantic Monthly - June, July and August issues of 1970). In it, Charles Silberman reports with penetrating insight and first-hand accuracy, the "mutilation of minds" which occurs in the elementary and high schools in the United States and follows up with very practical suggestions for reform and improvement. The report bears an urgent message for all true educationists in this country as the mutilation it warns of may be nearer home than many of us suppose.
A piece of work may owe its origin to fear and compulsion, ambitious desire for authority and distinction, or loving interest in the object and a desire for truth and understanding. The latter, that divine curiosity that every child possesses, is so often weakened early in life by the compulsions and enticements of the system to give way to the first two.
The old idea was that children could not possibly learn and could only be compelled to learn by terror. But this idea has now largely been abandoned (though not completely) with the advent of Freudian psychology. "The fundamental idea is simple," says Bertrand Russell in his book On Education. "The right discipline consists, not in external compulsion, but in habits of mind which lead spontaneously to desirable rather than undesirable activities."
"Education consists in the cultivation of instincts, not in their suppression," says Russell. As is nearly always the case, Western Education has, in many instances, swung to extremes, in their gross misinterpretation of Freud and Russell. Many Western educators quite insanely advocate free play and complete expression of the student's instincts, desires and urges to 'prevent traumatic experiences which may lead to various complexes and manias.' The present state of much of Western society speaks for itself. The old dictum was "Spare the rod and spoil the child." The dictum for today is: "Spare the Freud, and save the child." Let us bear this in mind when we introduce Freud to our schools.
The most important motive for work in the school and in life is the pleasure in work, pleasure in its result and the knowledge of the value of its results to the community. The awakening and strengthening of these psychological forces in a young man belongs to true education; the weakening of them is criminal. Fear, force and artificial authority destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity and self-confidence of the pupil.
The distribution of prizes and other awards are but educational enticements and intellectual bribery. Sloth is the fastest developing vice; and the student soon loses his ability to do diligent, creative work in the absence of easy incentives. "To make your children capable of honesty is the beginning of education," writes Ruskin. We are educating our children to be intellectually dishonest by succumbing to bribery. We have not even begun their education.
The path towards true education is steep and one of growing labours and endless heights. Our educational system as it stands now is already one of the finest architectural masterpieces of the human mind, for it has overcome many stumbling blocks and stands to fulfil one of humanity's noblest occupations. The fact that we are able to educate and be educated is in itself, a remarkable gift. But that the human mind is wondrous goes without saying. What needs to be said is that it can be even more wondrous than most of us realise. No doubt we have already attained great heights in education but –
"Those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of the lengthened way,
The increasing prospects tire our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!"
(Pope: Essay on Criticism).
What then marks a man of true education? Dr. Arnold wanted "humbleness of mind"; Aristotle speaks of the "magnanimous man"; Russell emphasizes the inculcation of four basic virtues: vitality, courage, sensitiveness and intelligence. In short, he is one who defies Dryden's lines by "drinking deep from the Pierian spring." Such man has both the desire and capacity to learn for himself, and to independently judge what is worth learning. He has the capacity to think about his own nature and his place in the Universe - about the meaning of life and of knowledge and of the relations between them. He is sensitive to the experience of beauty, if not in the sense of creating it or discoursing about it, then in the very least, in the sense of being able to respond to it.
"The aim of education," says Alfred North Whitehead "is the acquisition of the art of the utilisation of knowledge." Indeed, "a merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth" - the beginnings of the clever devil. Rather, he must know how to be ready to apply his knowledge selflessly and intelligently, not only in his own life but to the service of mankind. The truly educated man is UNIVERSAL, his field of vision being unlimited and boundless. In this all-embracing universality, he is a tranquil, serene and spiritually abiding resident.
How short of this we all fall! Yet our educational system must revise itself so that it has, as its aim, the "man of true education" and nothing less than that. It is in striving for the highest our minds can conceive, that seeming impossibilities turn wondrous, credible miracles.
WONG KHOON MENG, Form Five B One
The velvety leaves waved their moist reflections about as the soft drizzle of the rain echoed through the forest, the clinging leaves and stems that rose to the sky quivering as the chilly wind cruised among the trees, which in turn silhouetted themselves against a dim weeping sky. The crickets were quiet, so were the other insects, for the forest knew that it must only awake when the wet darkness revealed a glowing sun. Only then would the sounds of life begin to join the rustling foliage in their idle dances. The clouds still hid the sun, as though they feared its presence over the morning dew. Slowly, from a distance a rumbling rose, as if to beckon the day - the whole forest seemed to contain an anxiety that caused the leaves to shuffle more noisily.
Then suddenly the sky lit up, the fork of lightning rushed through the heavens as if it preceded a God of eternity - the thunder that followed it burst through with a vitality that shook the skies to such a state of inconstancy that the clouds which had previously restrained the sun decided to release its glorious rays that now penetrated the dying drizzle. The day had broken through; yet the sun was still not fully revealed as it presided over the awakening wilderness. The last drops of rain sounded themselves with such a soft hush that they seemed to abandon the forest to such a strange, newly discovered tranquillity - one that saw only the quiet trees and whispering leaves in reign. The sun began to rise higher in the newborn freshness that accompanied the morning - the smell of greenery that pervaded the air seemed to enhance the peace of the land.
With the coming of light, life in the forest was aroused to a new chapter. The characteristic chirruping of the crickets grew in harmony and the whole forest was drowned in this hushed atmosphere that was interrupted only by the calls of birds and insects. In the places where the trees had interlaced their foliage in their strife for light, the sun's rays broke through only in streaks that settled eventually on the sodden ground. The rays were golden and they came through without any other purpose but to bring life and light - it was thus that they shone, and they were pure - the streaks of light did not illuminate any dust in the cool pure air.
In this manner the forest awoke - the trees with their own sense of homeliness that made up the habitat for nature's other creations. The tall trees in the forest proper were ever eager in their pursuance of height, while they became to other plants a support in their endeavour for sunlight. Certain parts of the forest afforded clearings and where nature was more graceful, plains. The plains were devoid of thick vegetation of any kind and the turf ceased in certain spots. From the open, the dampness and sound of the forest seemed foreign at its edge - there was a contrast between the quiet, open plains and the chirruping among the shadowy trees within the forest; yet there was a sameness in one aspect in that both were bathed in similar radiation from a bright ball of fire that took up a governing position as it glided over one end of the horizon to the other.
On a gentle slope that overlooked the plain a slim, brown figure crouched, as though in contemplation, as his eyes searched the fringe of the forest and then wandered across the plain. The morning sun did not appear to bother him in the least - he had been through much adverse conditions, and it had been a plight for his ancestors to sustain the perpetuation of their tribe in the event of any mishaps. They were a people of hard determination, a people who had survived under the sun for such a long time, fending for themselves in the best manner as the heavens above showed mercy or when the weather expressed the deep displeasure of the gods. He looked at his grazing cows amidst the sparse pasture; it was a dull life. But the cows were all they had, he and his family, and they depended on them.
He could remember once, when their lives were hunted by the great floods - the children had nothing but fear then, the women and older folk shared a deep and dark pessimism. It rained hard for days and the water rose, higher and more threateningly each time they saw the sun growing out of the horizon. But they stayed, because the old hut was all they had and their cows were there and their life was there. They passed the nights damp and wet and watched the river swelling the valley with its tears. The old people refused to vacate the small farm, claiming that they must receive what was given. They would have to accept the flood; the river was angry and the gods had turned away - the old hut and its people were left there, their hopes desolate as their loneliness fossilized itself against the gloom. Finally, the flood reached its cruel desire: at a final burst of the river bank the hut was smashed up.
The hut was gone. The farm was gone. Everything had gone after the flood, leaving a muddy landscape and three Africans lost in shock and defeat. They had faced nature and they had survived her test. But what of the old people? They were gone - the bent, frail figure of a mother clutching at the swaying supports as the sudden clash of water came in torrents, down upon everything in its path, the brave old man attempting desperately to reach his wife and two-year-old grandchild as his son clung on to wife and daughter - the pitiful screams of a child in hopeless fear while its elders watched, knowing that it would die. And they would die, too, and when they did their souls would be separate. But they would die as it was and as it was willed.
The survivors went, leaving behind memories of old and the decaying skeleton of a house. They would find a higher place even if it meant a longer walk to the river, for the thought of losing further lives brought their gloomy moods out to a precaution. To the hurt valley: 'we are leaving..... you don't need us.' Life was better and brighter and the family survived on the small hill. The two cows left were well-bred and gave them milk in the mornings and labour in their plots. It was, however, less merry without the old folks - the days when they all used to sit the evenings under the twilight were gone. Now only the little girl provided the cheer as she ran about the place. Then there was that mean lion who crept in at the still of the afternoon when he was out gathering the corn. It stole away a cow and the frightened mother clasped her arms around her daughter as she complained unceasingly to him about their daughter's safety. He complained to her about the cows.
That was practically the last problem that had bothered him to any marked extent as they led a peaceful life in their new home. And thank God for it, it had been four years since. How his cows had increased their numbers, he thought, racing his mind back to the present. And he was proud, too, as the husband of a hardworking woman and the father of three children, not forgetting the one taken away by the flood. One might say that he has prospered, looking at his small flock of cows.
He rose. Uttering orders to his docile animals, he grouped them and guided them back to the hill. There were chores to do and the traps had to be reset and the skins beaten. On and on, the evening approached. The first star of the night set in without anyone noticing, for the African family was offering their prayers to their god. The hymn hummed its way among their lips, their hearts together thankful for their existence - it was a simple life they wanted and a simple life it had been to them, another day of it passing as they knelt in a circle, their heads bowed. The lamps near them flickered, dancing to the beguiling tune of the evening prayer.
The sun had gone down and the moon was slowly rising, accompanied on its journey by the guarding stars scattered all over a clear blue night sky. The lonesome but contented strains of an African bamboo flute sounded from the hut as the crickets slowly lowered the intensity of their chirrups, as though finally tamed by the music set to moonlight. The air was quite still; the night that was growing on would be a peaceful one. In the open spaces the moonlight cast an impression of vastness and freedom in the black forests - the natural abode of the animals and the birds and the insects, among the low croaks of the competing toads who were joined occasionally by several insects and the yawns of tired animals. Nevertheless, it was still peaceful. And the peace existed throughout the forests of that Black Continent.
[Inspired by Tap Root Manuscript by Neil Diamond].
Goh Chat Leng, Upper Six B One
The distance, the dark, the damp.
The dim, the flicker, a lamp.
The clang and clash, a pan.
Three wheels and a hawker.
One man, two customers.
One man, one child, one cradled.
A scene suspended. In the dark.
So musty. So esoteric. Aroused.
The mind ponders, and wonders.
The meaning, the scene, the people.
The mee fried.
The mee wrapped.
The man left.
The pan scraped.
One man, one mind, one scene.
Many shades, many things, very dim.
PART ONE: THE TROUBLESOME MASK
I am an angry young man!
Do not ask me why, I am not too certain why.
It could be because I have never had things like the importance of morals, decency, fear of a Supreme Being, respect for 'superiors', a love for society, short hair, neat clothes, shiny leather shoes with socks, well combed-down hair, a highly self-disciplined mind, and an ambition for a successful social life flavoured with success ironed into my mind deep enough and firm enough. I have only a little of my parents' beliefs in morals and decency left in me. What is left is dying out as I sit here at my table writing this revelation. My fear of a God died out with my youth about a year ago. Any respect for my 'superiors', which I used to have before I entered this phase of living decay, turned into indifference or hate of them an eon ago - about 11 months.
My love for society was something in me which I had mistaken as a love of life. I had kept it alive by feeding it with books on careers, crime, lives and autobiographies of men and women once respected by me and all the rest of the dishes on the menu of a society sponsored life..... I now look on society as a bloated reptile, clumsy and disgusting, stuffing itself to breaking-point.
Let me tell you about my 'irrational' views of society. Society is a swamp where mangroves known as corporations or companies flourish. There are a lot of tiny living things in the swamp known as swamp fauna. This consists of those active social animals who are unable to manufacture food for themselves and who either devour each other or the defenceless flora of this merciless swamp. The flora are those honest living organisms who live their lives manufacturing food for themselves and oxygen for others. They are, however, only made use of and devoured or else live out their full lifetime and are left to die unappreciated. The decay of flora and fauna give rise to an unbearable stench from the swamp. Lately the swamp has been the victim of a disease known by its scientific translation as "self-destruction". At present no organism has yet grown immune to this disease. But there have been plants from the swamp that have taken root elsewhere. These plants are very young and are very fiercely set upon by the fauna from the swamp. They are more resistant to the disease "self-destruction" but all of them have a disease known as "confusion".
I am one of them.
I suffer for what I am. My parents find me a problem child. I also have guilt feelings because I know I am causing my family pain. The people in my school look upon me as a rebel. One of my subject teachers is my enemy and I find it hard to get along with any of my acquaintances because I cannot converse with them on the level at which I think. They are young fauna in the swamp and have yet to master the way of their elders. When I am with them, I have to speak the same obscenity, talk about sports news or at the very best discuss simple philosophy of life which I have done away a year and half ago. I find this way of life a great strain on my tolerance of their beliefs. To give foundation to my act, I even study (and got into a good class) and participate in such things as games. But I have to limit to the things I do and as I abstain from being a member of any society.
Sometimes I ask myself, what is the purpose of all this that I am doing? I shall be dead in a short matter of only 50 years. Why waste my life by getting frustrated with my classmates? Why waste my breath trying to get across a little of what I think to a friend? Why do I even bother to write this? Maybe this is all because of a wish to let all of you know that I am not one of you! But I was born a coward (by society's standards). Therefore, I shall refrain from putting my name after this to prevent some of you from mocking me. Let it be sufficient for you - society's children - to know that I am in Form 4.
Earlier on I stated that I was angry. I still am. But I think that you have probably seen that I am also confused. I can see that a part of social life is good and that some of radicalism is bad but when you get down to it all, one might wonder, what is the purpose of all this achievement, all these emotions and actions when there will come a time when all of the present generation will be decaying in wooden boxes. Bits of their flesh and brain falling off and decomposing. And Death shall still hit Man until he has inflicted on himself some form of 'Ultimate Death' which he is by no means incapable of doing. Perhaps this is why, some people turn to religion for some semblance of an answer. But where would any religion be it not for Man? What is so lovable and just about a godly despot? Is religion worthy of Man? Why is that all religions assert that only their particular belief is the Single Truth? Religion is just another jungle in which the creepers known as Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc. vie for a place in the Light of a sun formed from Human Faith.
PART TWO: THE SPEECH
A Fourth Former
Scene: A Form 4 Classroom.
Mars, Pluto, Jupiter.
Pluto - Radical, Philosopher, Victim of Disillusionment,
Jupiter - Reader of Pluto, Fellow Philosopher.
MARS: Say, Pluto, this thing you've written - "The Troublesome Mask" - it's not too bad, you know, I like your presentation. Man, like you're one of the coolest cats around the scene, baby. I've been doing a little writing myself, but it’s all a hunk of rubbish, but, after reading your philosophy I got to thinking; like to hear what I think?
PLUTO: Why not? Hey, Jupiter! Come over here you slob! Mars' got something to say which might interest you.
JUPITER: What could 'be', say, that could interest Me?
PLUTO: It concerns my work - the Mask jazz.
JUPITER: 's that so? Hold it a second, will ya?
MARS: All right you guys, listen.
I've thought your stuff through and through, and a lot of it makes sense to me. Like, what's the use of slaving away in this rat-race? Man, like he said, we'll all die in a coupla of years, what we worry what's gonna happen to us now or to our descendants when they are going to have the same fate as us? They'll die after they served their natural life span or whatever years that may be taken or added to it, even if we invent something good for the world, it won't do us or them any particular good since there is no real good or bad in the kind of existence that we are presently leading. Let me clarify. By working efficiently to give your wife and children what luxuries you can afford, you might be doing harm to some other person, who is out of job, by your stubbornness to keep your job and get promotion. If you make it to the top then it is a great injustice to all those who did not make it even though they worked and sweated just as much or more even. It is only a reward for your own suffering while they are left with nothing and are also derived from Newton - to every action there are both good and bad results which cannot be measured physically as those people who study ethics ought to know. Therefore, actions are all void of meaning since the good or bad resultants are never noticed by any particular person and appreciated totally by all. Allow me to explain, one person might appreciate you doing the job of rubbing the blackboard for your friend, but the teacher and some classmates may not like it since they think that your friend is being lazy and irresponsible. Thus reciprocating feelings for even such a small, and, at first look, simple action, exist. Thus it is really meaningless to do anything because it won't have any particularly great effect on anything that we hold to be connected to the meaning of life - if one exists - since we ourselves are at a loss to singularly point out the meaning in an unquestionable and fully proofed manner. Thus to repeat myself, actions are all void of meaning since all are neither good nor bad. A paradox arises from this - "Actions are Pointless Necessities of Life". This, therefore, justifies my belief to put an end to this world by total annihilation of life in any form. Then, when our planet ceases to exist, as a nucleus for a thin covering of life, all such good things as good and bad, crime and justice, etc., etc., will end. The dead universe will be hastened into completion. What I've just said, when I think it over, reflects hysteria and psychological traumatism. Am I mad?
PLUTO: I feel neither Jupiter nor I are qualified to answer that question nor the world neither for that matter, since, who knows what sanity is in this insane and violent world.
PLUTO: But, frankly, your "end to the world" just isn't my idea of mental stability. I think that you are just badly confused and just got carried away.
JUPITER: Mars baby, you've got it all wrong man. Like, you don't really want to end the world do you? Think of what you'll be putting an end to as well as crime and all that jazz. You'll be putting an end to things like love, passion, joy, laughter, green hills, knotted boughs, rains and soft water coverings formed on the surface of lakes, birds and butterflies, fishes of every colour, mysteries which only living minds can ponder over and solve, and a myriad of things which can only be enjoyed by those who are said to be alive. Think of that, man.
MARS: What's the use? We'll be dead anyway as I've said and….
JUPITER: I know what you said, you don't have to repeat yourself. Let me put out my ideas to you in a way that even you might understand. Look, by some freak of Nature, God if you like, it doesn't matter; anyway, somehow, they grew more upright in posture, more mellow of complexion, softer in features and became the beautiful people they are today. When they found escape from the need for materialism which they used to have, they stayed home more and thought more, just like we are doing now. At first, thinking was on other things like religion, all that, because they were still unfamiliar with the world and not in control of anything. They could be compared to the storm tossed twigs hither and thither, with no idea of where they are going. But in our generation, we have found people are not all that helpless and we have started to think in different veins. Some, like Pluto, went for things like radicalism because he was not very firmly influenced by his parents. People like you, messieurs, are still primitive at heart and like violence. Your life centres on violence no matter how you try to hide it. Then, there are also people like me who abhor violence but are neither pro-hippies nor pro-establishment. We are the ones who look on as the two extremes of society glare at each other, I feel that the hippie is right in escaping from society. He wants to be free and love openly without any of the everyday tensions we put on our own backs. In that, he has every right. But he is also a parasite because he would not work for his living if he could help it. He is not a great help to world progress. This is neither good nor bad as I see it, we are better off if we know and can do less harm to ourselves. Then, there is the person who works a six-day week and gets regular paychecks. He owns a car, a house, has a wife and children, and is obligated to his parents. This man is right in what he is doing. To him, his job, his family and his parents and everybody should strive according to him. His obligation to relatives should be all treated as important because they have worked to raise him and he owes his own existence to their sacrifice. Thus he pays them back in the way that his parents would understand, he gives them money to spend and either lets them stay in his house or do something else to ensure that they are safe from need. His right in doing that is a reflection of his humane self. But, then once his children find they think differently from him and show it openly, a war starts. He does not see any virtue in what they want, he never questioned the right of the Establishment, why should his children? His children don't see why their father should support a society that breeds hate, violence, ills and dirt when all it has done for him is to make him its slave. From these two factors do I emerge. Neither of the right nor the left, but of the Middle Way. Therefore, I suggest that society allows its members more individual freedom and reduces the importance it has placed on efficiency. For a comfortable life, we need a society, for a good life we need freedom. We live in the Age of Compromises.
TO COMFORT YOU, MY FRIEND
Cheng Bing Ying, Lower Six B Three
all voices from within
beyond your window
and see not
in the yellow glow of sunlight
the bird raised for flight
into the blue
and the scarlet flowers
shouting their joy
for being alive
and the blazing yellow orb
you are unseeing, uncaring now
but you will heal
and you will see again
and the voices from within
will one day
IF GOD SHOULD ASK, TELL HIM I AM ALIVE AND
WELL AND HIDING IN HELL/ARGENTINA
Wong Swee Min, Upper Six A Two
the voices of the prophets falter, they fade away
as this gyra period moves to a halting stop and stare.
Yet the yearnings of a generation hunger for the past
of old religions and ancient greying mystics long forgotten:
their temples, once so silent, burst with fire
from the ashes of god's prophets.
their priests are no longer holy bards
but bewildered children who rediscover
new gospels from the everness that's past.
they sing their songs at soul-revival meetings,
gather in their chanting spirituals, the soap
that scrubs their torment spirits clean of sin
and wonder at the truths that they discover
now that the magic of mass on christmas eve has worn so thin.
"for the priests of god have failed our trust
and for the bones of men which turn to dust
we fly away to regions new;
bid us not stop. we must.
for the voice of god that speaks in us
that burns us from the temple; church,
what we seek lies not without
but within ourselves we all must search."
this rhythm has placed me in its thrall
tasting of old wine in new bottles, thrilling - exciting,
and i have courted it
by the evening hours in quiet gardens that speak,
and i have greeted it
by the way-fare of kindred souls who swim its backwaters,
made love to it
in silent rooms where we lay in hushed meditation.
and i have broken its bread.
"when the rains did come
and hid the sun
and floods that broke the bunds
and filled the plains with life
with earth, rich earth
that plainsmen did survive
them brothers of the hills and plains
will sing their songs and plant their crops
until them floods they come again
when one will starve
the other laugh
and many will die in pain"
cry not why.
no answer comes from rich-clad altars
or from the eager lips of tongue-tied priests,
the answer lies within
the stirrups of the ancient gospels
in the music that beats so hard and fast
that once had sprung from simple hearts
when god and man were one.
Last update on 19 March 2000.