Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Friendship and Memories - an Afterthought.

One's character can always be seen by the type of friends he mixes with. It is in fact a reflection who he is, what he aspires to be and where he has desired to head for.

In short, it is a direct, symbolic and personified entity of his life.

Thus we would always consciously or unconsciously delve into the comfortable zone of deducing or even judging what kind of person is one from the types of friends he stays close with.

From the types of friendship he forges, or relationships in the context of a wider and more complex setting, we would be able to catch a glimpse of how this person comes to view, weigh or even value friends. It is in fact the heart of this person that we are attempting to read.

In the world of frienships, my mentor Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, President of SGI, has this to say:-

"You cannot judge the quality of another's friendship by superficial appearances, especially when things are going smoothly. It is only when we have experienced the worst, most crushing of times—when we have plumbed the depths of life—that we can experience the joys of genuine friendship. Only a man of principle, a woman of resolve—a person who stays true to their chosen path—can be a trusted and true friend, and have real friends in turn."

While many would request others to be truthful and genuine to them, my mentor single-mindedly pointed out that the truest core of a human friendship lies in the inner resolve one has built and constructed, a towering citadel of hope and strength, that rightfully attracts the same degree of calibre of like-minded people. It is certainly from one's inner depth of life that wells forth the determination and courage so needed in facing any crisis in life that these exact elements are the ones that call forth others of the same soul and nature to come together, lending support and illuminating each other's path toward the uphill battle of victory and happiness.

This, in the eyes of my mentor, would be a true, genuine friend who would not retreat even in the face of a deadliest test. It is a relationship that transcends life and death.

I have met one long-time friend James Ng KY earlier today. He has put on a little weight, and is now a father of a beautiful girl. As of all meetings of long-lost or -time friends, I have always felt that there seems a presence of a mystical pair of hands taking two parties to come together. It is never by coincidence or of meaningless event that two persons, having made friends with each other and departed to their own paths later on, come and meet after a long period of disconnectedness.

James is of the same age as me. However he has gone through and encountered some obstacles in his earlier part of his life. The major test of his faith and life came when he was the captain of the Singapore Navy ship 'RSS Courageous'. On the fateful night of 3rd January 2003, he together with a co-captain, were on board the ship when it collided with a 52,000-tonne Dutch container ship ANL Indonesia. Not only was the Navy ship totally wrecked but three navy officers were killed instantly as a result of the collision, with another body never found.

James was thereafter wrought of guilt and pain. He could not avoid the unspoken verdict of him being the cause of his four fellow subordinates, while at the same time he would not wish to relent to the mounting pressure from all sides to have him placed on the stand for an explanation of what had exactly happen. It was a fearful tug-of-war between the official responsibilities and moral obligations he has held closely to his heart, as a captain as well as a good friend, colleague and supervisor to the officers.

Along that unforgettable path, he has been at times unforgiving, and other times uncompromising, both to himself and others. It was truly a hard-fought battle to pull through, for him and his family, with every ounce of his strength and resources utilised to have the case concluded, and finally leaving everything behind. A bitterest winter storm is over, and the warm light and fresh cooling air of Spring has finally arrived.

In our short conversation we have talked a little of everything about ourselves, but just not this matter. It is a deliberate attempt on my part to not bring up a matter so tragic and unfortunate to him, whom I have lost contact for a long period of time. Our conversation, regardless of the duration, should certainly be allocated for a more joyous and meaningful talk. It is, after all, a happy occasion to meet a long-lost friend.

No one knows how a seed would struggle to survive and whether it blossoms in the end; likewise no one in this world can tell how a friendship would come to evolve, and where it will ultimately lead the two persons to. In this aspect, as many would often remark, "only time can tell," we shall let it pen down every single episode of our living and pulsating friendships we have come to plant and nurture. At the end of the day, when one looks back to all that he has sowed and harvested in his life, the rewards are certainly the unseen yet tangible 'fruits of life' that he can savour on. It is certainly a life filled with splendid flavours and unforgettable memories.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Infinite Space and Eternal Life (Part I)

I have received a set of pictures via my e-mail sometime ago. They were forwarded from my colleague, where I have come to acknowledge them as 'casual mails' - mails which are not of importance, but are informative and entertaining nevertheless.

In the midst of a hectic or lethargic schedule of the day, receiving such mails do awaken one's senses to read them with interest and attention. Given my curiosity for the wondrous and mystical aspects of astronomy and cosmology, receiving such attachments of pictorial images certainly captured and captivated my whole conscious mind instantly.

The stars are not unfamiliar to me. In my much younger days as a child, I had been fascinated with our galaxy, and with every book that describes the details of these heavenly entities that came along, I had attempted to not only grasp the knowledge of recognizing them but also the inheriting of pure, simple and innocent joy in reading about them. Till this very day that excitement still reverberates in me whenever I come across news about or information of discoveries of our galactic heavens.

In viewing these pictures, however, I was not only fascinated or joyful. I was overwhelmingly awed by the sheer amount of difference between the largest star in our solar system, i.e. the Sun, and Antares, a Red Giant, expanding in its final stage of life and ranked 15th by brightness in our Universe. No one can possibly ever imagine, without the assistance of astronomical knowledge, a planetary entity of such magnitude and mass. As one scrolls down, one picture at a time, Earth shrinks further and further and ultimately, it is lost in sight, in space. In this simplest and most direct presentation, man's existence is faced with a most upfront confrontation of his significance and presence. Till the end, we humans are nowhere to be found.

Buddhism, which was originated from Hinduism, incorporated the latter's time system to substantiate its own Buddhist cosmology. From the period of formation, continuance, declination and disintegration, our Universe is believed to go through these four stages, each lasting 20 small kalpas. Humankind is originally born with a lifespan of 84,000 years, whereupon after every 100 years one year is deducted from it. This cyclical occurrence will repeat itself till mankind reaches the lifespan of 10, where for every 100 years passed, one human year is added back till they reach the age of 84,000 years again. The length of this total incremental and decremental shifts is considered 'one small kalpa'. A rough calculation of this one single shift came to a numerical figure of about 8 million human years. A small kalpa thus is about 16 million human years.

Inclusively a medium kalpa is made up of 20 small kalpas, while a total of four medium kalpas make up one major kalpa.

The concept of kalpa is further elaborated in other sutras with the following similes: a kalpa is longer than the time needed for one to remove all the seeds, one seed per 100 years, that filled a city of one cubic yojana (about 7.4 cubic km). Similarly, it is longer than the required time for one to brush a piece of rock measuring 40 ri (one ri about 450 meters) on each side, once every 100 years, with a piece of soft cloth until the rock is completely worn off. The scale of space and time as expounded by our forefathers of ancient civilisations certainly reveals the deep relationship between the eternal, compassionate wisdom residing in one's life and the infinitely grand, spatial dimensions of the Universe existing in the external realm of our galaxy.

In the sixteenth chapter of the Lotus Sutra, a famous revelation by Shakyamuni of his own enlightenment presented to us a concrete concept of space and time, where thousands of years later, scientist Einstein came to expound his famous space-time relativity theory.

Suppose one is to take five hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million nayuta (10 to the power of 11) asamkhya (10 to the power of 59) major world systems, with one major world system equivalent to one Universe, and grind them into dust, which are atomic particles by modern definition. Moving eastward, he would drop each particle after passing five hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million nayuta asamkhya worlds. He would continue this journey until the last particle is dropped, where he would then gather all the worlds he had passed, regardless whether they received the grain of particle or not, and grind them all into dust again. If one is to let each particle be one kalpa, Shakyamuni's enlightenment is five hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million nayuta asamkhya kalpas more distant than the immeasurable number of kalpas generated.

In detailing this extraordinary simile, Shakyamuni successfully opened the eyes and minds of the assembly to the great, boundless state of the Universe's life, as well as his own free state of joy and will. Not only did they, for the first time, realised that Shakyamuni was not just a Buddha who gained his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree but aeons and aeons far back than anyone's imagination, the great assembly of bodhisattvas and arhats came to be enlightened that beyond the gigantic scales of space and time, there lies an immovable entity grander than the two aspects, and originating moment-by-moment every phenomena in the Universe. For once they could visualise that Shakyamuni's distant enlightenment had originated from a concrete and tangible source.