Tuesday, August 28, 2007

28.08.2007

The clock in my computer showed 1.08. Morning, on this day of 28/08/2007.

As I quietly welcomed my birthday, I looked back at this road that I have traveled for the past 32 years.

How time flies, one would often hear another exclaims. Indeed, if I am to roll out my life's past events on a film, everything would seem to be blurrish and faded, some colourless, some fresh with sights and sounds, but mostly they move in slowed speed and fragmented episodes.

Have I become so old that I couldn't recall an incident with full entirety and clarity? Or have I become too involved with my daily rushes and pushes for me to forget something so easily? Between the jagged lines of memories and sentiments, I search quietly for an inner calmness to tame my unsettled heart.

It has been quite a few days, or perhaps weeks, that I ponder the arrival of this day - my birthday. This age of 32 has aroused quite a substantial amount of affection and yearning within me. Shakymuni was said to have attained enlightenment at 32 while Jesus was believed to have passed away in his early thirties. Nichiren Daishonin, the founder of my belief, invoked the phrase to the rising sun on 28th April 1253 "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo" at this age, while my beloved Mentor Dr. Daisaku Ikeda determinedly assumed the role of the third president of Soka Gakkai at the age of 32 as well.

On a different note but of the same date, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, delivered his historically significant and culturally earth-shattering speech of his dreams and heartfelt desires on 28, August 1963. To a crowd of 200,000, he declared, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." These words certainly rang through the tunnels of history and echoed resonantly in the lives of those who received this declaration, until this very day.

Though decades and centuries have passed, and time and space have all shifted and evolved, this almost mystical significance of this date seemed branded in my life.

It was also in the midst of looking back at my own life, against the gigantic canvass of history and life that I asked myself: what have I done in the 32 years of this journey? That question is followed almost in a splitting moment by the very next: what have you done to realise your dreams and fulfill your aspirations, in this world and lifetime, which you have hold so closely and dearly to your heart?

These are questions that certainly drive a pain in my heart, for they all question my innermost being, of who I am, of what I have done, and of where I am going. They call forth my basest and barest emotions in viewing and reviewing myself in securing a concrete answer to these piercing inquiries.

But for what reason do I wish to submerge myself in this seemingly sorrowful emotions? It can only be due to the fact that I have let down too many people too many times. Far too long, I have made mistakes that I shouldn't have, took turns where I was not supposed to, set decisions which I shouldn't have. In short, I have thrown away the fortune that was endowed upon me since birth, time and again, and till this day, this time, I have not secured a triumphant victory that would me look back with pride. All the more so that I have to shamefully admit that I truly have let my Mentor down. Alas! All the promises I have made to him, in my heart, carved in my life; they all seemed to have been washed away. Would I be able to recover and actualise them? I do not know.

I have always cherished the enlightenment that everyone born into this world is of a mission, for a purpose. It is still so in my heart. But what have I done to make this enlightenment a concrete entity in my life, carrying it along as I travel in this world and through my life?

My Mentor is already old. He's now 87 year-old, tirelessly working for the sake of humanity, never resting for even a single day while I, young and able but fixated at the crossroad of 32 years of determination and delusion, struggling to keep my faith and belief ahead of me, disappointed that I have yet to live up to my own inner cries.

"For what purpose should one cultivate wisdom? May you always ask yourself this question." As I proceed to venture into unchartered 32 years, I brace myself in engraving these words into my heart. In fulfilling my own destiny, in showing the correctness of my belief, and in proving the greatness of my Mentor. As the night seeps through the web of darkness, I travelled deeper into my own inner self in search of that pure conviction, joy and light I once possessed.

As the world sleeps soundly, awaiting gently for the the golden rays of a brand new morning, I settled myself in preparing for a fresh embarkment of a brand new history. Like a Lotus flower blossoming fiercely in the muddy pond, I pray to rise from the Earth.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bullying Reflects Problems in Adult Society

SGI President Daisaku Ikeda wrote an essay of the above title sometime in February this year. It was first published in The Japan Times, and later re-printed in April in my local mainstream paper.

Three months later in July, the Singapore Children's Society conducted a random, door-to-door survey that targeted children from private and public housing estates with regard to bullying. The survey, carried out in the society's 'Bully Free Week' campaign, collected responses from a total of 519 students, of which 129 responded to having had experienced bullying before. Amongst the 129, 37 were bullies themselves, with 10 of them attributed to their past, victimized experiences as the reason of turning into bullies.

Common tactics excercised by bullies are: vulgar language, name-calling, spreading rumours, insulting victims in front of others, throwing things at victims and making things up to get victims into trouble.

In a world supposed to be filled with friendships, trusts, mutual respect, sunshine-like smiles and joyous laughter, anger, sadness, taking revenge, loss of appetite and concentration on studies, and development of anti-social behaviour took over, as listed out by the survey to be reactions of victims to bullying.

Here is the essay my Mentor has written (copied from SGI's website):

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Disturbing incidents of bullying continue to make the news. We hear daily of the tragedy of children who, unable to endure the harassment and violence inflicted on them by peers and classmates, are driven to suicide.

It is heartbreaking to think of the pain and despair that would cause a child to take his or her life, the devastating grief and regret of their families.

Bullying is not a sickness unique to Japan. But the kinds of extreme bullying that can lead even to suicide have as their background the closed and insular nature of Japanese society. People of strong individuality, who have some quality that shines or stands out, are often the target of jealousy, branded as different and strange.

As such, they may be subjected to an organized effort to ignore and ostracize them, leaving them feeling as if their very existence has been denied. Such isolation can be accompanied by threats, extortion and physical violence. Some children may become active supporters of the bullying while others, fearful that they will be targeted next, remain passive bystanders.

This dynamic reflects a deep-rooted pathology within Japanese society. It is rare for parents and teachers to muster the courage and solidarity to confront such bullying.

What would also appear to be unique to Japan is a particular quickness to blame the victim. There is a widely if unconsciously held notion that the victims of bullying are themselves at least partly responsible for their plight. This way of thinking acts to justify bullying as well as the indifference that allows it to continue.

How could anyone imagine there are people in the world who deserve to be bullied? Bullying is a base and vicious act that can never and must never be legitimated.

People are not bullied because they are weak. Rather, bullying reflects the inner weakness of the perpetrators, their inability to resist their own ugliest impulses. As Mahatma Gandhi pointed out, violence is ultimately born of cowardice.

The first step in dealing with bullying is to transform the cultural attitudes that permit it. This requires that we state clearly that the blame for bullying rests 100 percent with those who bully.

This further requires that adults--whether parents or teachers--who become aware of bullying speak up, demonstrating a model of courage and action to children. Equally crucial is the effort to become the kind of person that a child being victimized by bullying can turn to with confidence. We need to be able to discern the often silent pleas of such children.

Bullying came to light as a serious social problem in Japan in the 1980s. The various forms of violence that had plagued schools in the 1970s had been brought under control but, it has been suggested, the forcefulness of the measures used to achieve this left the underlying issues unresolved, pushing violence underground and inward. The aggression once directed against teachers and the schools themselves was turned against classmates.

The rapid changes in society have left children exposed to intense forms of stress. The cold and unforgiving logic of the adult world is applied unmediated to the lives of children, who are subjected to excessive degrees of competition, selection, ranking and standardization.

The dysfunction so evident in school bullying today thus mirrors the state of adult society, which is replete with insidious forms of bullying--detached cruelty stemming from cynicism and self-involvement, abuses of people's rights by the media, television programs that poke fun at the vulnerable, prejudice and discrimination in its various forms. To surround children with such realities while expecting them to adhere to idealized forms of behavior is hardly fair.

Urbanization and the collapse of the extended family have deprived children of the physical and social spaces where they are affectionately enfolded and can comfortably develop friendships. And parents are often so pressed for time and stressed by work that they cannot fully engage or interact with their children.

Many children who become violent carry a deep-rooted sense of being neglected and ignored. The healthy growth of children requires that they feel accepted and embraced for who they are. When children can feel acceptance, they develop a natural awareness of their own unique and irreplaceable value. They come to treasure and care for themselves. At the same time, this awakens feelings of trust and respect for others.

In the end, children desire but one thing--to be loved. This is why the family must be a haven of security and protection for children.

Rosa Parks once shared with me her mother's words: "There is no law that people have to suffer." Her mother also taught her the value of self-respect, to respect both herself and others. In these childhood lessons I think we can see the deep sources of courage and dignity behind her crucial role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott that marked a historic turning point in the American civil rights movement.

Every child has the right to move proudly into the future, head held high. The horror of a society permeated by different forms of bullying is that it tramples children's sense of self-worth, robbing them of the light of future hope.

All young people need to be clearly assured that when we are suffering, although it may feel like the darkness will continue forever, that is absolutely not the case. Night always yields to dawn. Though the cold of winter may seem to last forever, it is always followed by spring. And those who have suffered most are best able to understand people's hearts. They have a unique and vital contribution to make.

Children are our only future, our sole, irreplaceable hope. Children are urging us--literally at the risk and cost of their lives--to become aware of the distortions of the adult world. Our response to their silent cries holds the key to healing the desperate illness of our times. Only by turning to directly engage with children, their feelings and their needs, will we redeem our own humanity.