It’s a shame that I haven’t posted much this school year despite its…colorful events. In any case, here’s the closing message I gave to my students for this year. The actual speech may differ from the following text, which was just my guide. Begin speech.
I know by now you’re finishing up on your projects. I don’t know how you arrived at your answers yet, but I think it’s only fair that if you have to explore the common threads in all of Asian literature, I should give my own explanation too. I don’t want you leaving third year with a sense of “I learned nothing from Sir Joey.” I don’t now if I was inspiring—probably not. I’ve no illusions of being like Sir Martin or whoever your favorite teacher is. Still, I’d like you to at least remember something. Forget all I’ve taught you. Please just don’t forget what I’m about to say.
Indian lit was very strong on one thing. It was not strong about morality; there was justice, yes, but remember the story of the Mahabharata? The good guys and the bad guys all end up in the same place anyway, because this life is an illusion. No matter what story you look at, however, there is always one thing that is clear: Dharma–sense of having a place in the Universe. You are meant for something, you are meant to do something, you were meant to be by a higher power. There is a destiny for you, a great story of your life waiting to be taken.
But what if you don’t want to believe this? What if you don’t believe the universe was meant to be and that it’s all random? What if you believe that there is no divine authority?
There was this article I read in our own library once. I forget which magazine it is exactly, but I came across an interesting article about the nature of humanity in light of biology.
What do you have a lot on inside your intestines? What helps you digest your food? Bacteria. Microbes, lots of them. The average human body has ten trillion cells, and guess what. Your guts contain more microbes than that Your body is more microbes than it is human. They start multiplying there when you are born. You carry them around you wherever you go. When you die, they consume your body from the inside out. The article I read proposed that maybe, just maybe, humanity evolved only because it was the ideal carrier for bacteria. Talk about being higher life forms. You’re simply a complex, intelligent, self-preserving life-support system for your own excrement.
If you truly have no place in the universe, if there is no divinely-appointed destiny, all you are is a vehicle for the propagation of bacteria. You are a cradle and a vehicle in life, and in death, you’re a snack. Everything you did in life was meaningless, because no matter what you did, you carried bacteria. Your suffering is meaningless, and so is your joy. Your suffering does not hamper your intestinal microbes (sometimes may be caused by them), and your joy simply dulls your senses and takes your mind off your purpose–kind of like in the Matrix, where humans are just batteries for robots and their life experiences are merely fed into their brains so that they don’t perceive reality.
If there is neither destiny nor divinity–whether you’re suffering in Africa or enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle in Hollywood or burying yourself in science or philosophy or religion or video games—all you are is a life support system for your own feces. If you can actually live with that, then well and good. I wonder if people can live with you treating them like the bacteria vessels that they are.
We move on to the second quarter. In China there is a tension between Confucianism and Taoism. One proposed rigid rules, while the other proposed creative non-action. No matter how you slice it, they propose ways of looking at the universe, ways of making sense of life, ways how we should treat each other. Whether you’re strict in upholding Goodness or you’re going with the flow, there is right a way of doing things, there is a sense of morality.
Morality is a sense of right and wrong. But what if we get rid of it? “Sir, I want to do whatever I want. I am free to do whatever I want. Sir, everything is just shades of gray. Everything is right in some way. Being an jerk is fun and makes my day.”
If you throw morality out, it ends up in one of two ways. I take you back two years to your first year readings. What were your second and third quarter novels? The Giver and Lord of the Flies.
In The Giver you have a sense of law and order forced on people, but is there morality guiding that law and order? Emotions are outlawed, procedures are taken to ensure conformity, choice does not exist and freedom is but a bygone thing. There is no compassion in the law; it is but a cold and clear cut system that has predetermined responses to behavior. But why did Jonas escape with a baby? Why did the Giver practically sacrifice himself to allow Jonas to escape? Because even beyond the law, there was a sense of right and wrong that had to be upheld. There was a greater code than the law of society.
Then you go to the opposite extreme. In the beginning, Ralph and Piggy put their rules into place. But then the desire for savagery comes out and it comes to the point where Jack and his hunters—who were ironically choirboys, the ideals of pious innocence—go out and hunt not for survival but for the sake of bloodlust. “KILL THE PIG CUT ITS THROAT SPILL ITS BLOOD” was their battlecry, nay, their law. They started doing things just because. Again there were rules, but this time they were thrown away and their own passions enslaved them. Innocence was lost.
Without morality, whether you go the way of dystopia or savagery, you end up sacrificing your humanity. This goes back to the first point, however. If there is no God, there is no final arbiter of morality, and whatever we can come up with is pointless because it is subjective, based on emotion or feeling or taste. “Oh, kicking puppies is not to my taste, but hacking babies to death is.” That is the kind of morality you will have.
Third quarter. Need I say what Japan’s point was? The material world has an end. It is beautiful and to be enjoyed, but it just vanishes too quickly for us to truly enjoy. It was very clear that the sense of Impermanence is prevalent. We discussed it to death and people even said in their essays that they’re sick of it. But what does Impermanence imply?
Why do the samurai still seek honor even if they know they will die? Why is it that when Emperor Antoku, when he was about to be thrown into the waves by his own grandmother, was comforted with thoughts of the Pure Land? Because there is a yearning for something greater than this life. There is a desire to go beyond what is merely flesh and material, a realization that there IS something beyond it.There is a realization that the world is not enough.
Very quickly now, I’m going to read to you a quote from Malcolm Muggeridge. Although he was from the UK, the editor of Punch magazine, he recognizes that the Western idea of building on the material and the here and now fails utterly.
We look back upon history, and what do we see? Empires rising and falling. Revolutions and Counterrevolutions. Wealth accumulated and wealth disbursed. Shakespeare has written of the rise and fall of great ones, that ebb and flow with the moon. I look back upon my own fellow countrymen, once upon a time dominating a quarter of the world, most of them convinced, in the words of what is still a popular song, that the God who made them mighty, shall make them mightier yet. I’ve heard a crazed, cracked Austrian announce to the world the establishment of a Reich that would last a thousand years. I have seen an Italian clown say he was going to stop and restart the calendar with his own ascension to power. I’ve heard a murderous Georgian brigand in the Kremlin, acclaimed by the intellectual elite of the world as wiser than Solomon, more humane than Marcus Aurelius, more enlightened than Ashoka. I have seen America, wealthier and in terms of military weaponry, more powerful than the rest of the world put together, so that had the American people so desired, they could have outdone a Caesar, or an Alexander in the range and scale of their conquests.
All in one lifetime, all in one lifetime, all gone. Gone with the wind.
I daresay that while all the empires of the West, built on their foundations of science and materialism have become mighty and have shaken the world repeatedly, they all collapsed on their lack of a sense of what is ultimate, a sense of what is beyond material. While if you look back in history two thousand years at an obscure carpenter from a backwater Roman colony—we still know who He is, and his life’s work—three short years—still works in our midst. Why? Because the foundations of Jesus’ work were in Eternity. Politicized Christianity may have been given all the ridiculous and abusive trappings of Western materialism, but if you look back at what it’s all about—you end up with a simple message of the existence of a loving and just God, who in His desire to reach out to us and make our lives worth living He sent His Son to die in our place and take our punishment so that we would be able to have hope in this dark world. That isn’t a Western thought at all. Palestine is, after all, in the last part of the world we discussed.
By the way, I am not knocking on the West in general. We wear their style of clothes, speak their language, use their technology and their scientific methods. What I am saying is that anything based on what is merely physical–whether it be Western or Eastern–will collapse eventually. It just so happens that most examples of the recent collapses are Western.
This brings us to SW Asia. Whether it be Rustem battling the Deev-e-Sepid or Muhammad Zayn frustrating the Devil, there is a clear thread in all of this: There is a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and we are in the middle of it. We may not be superheroes of epic legends. We may not be men or women of awesome power. But there is a point where we can make a stand to do what is good. There is a point where we can decide that we will uphold a cause or defend the truth.
Again this assumes the sense of divinity. If there is no God, and no spiritual reality, then “Good” and “Evil” are but convenient labels given to comfortable and uncomfortable things. But why is Muhammad Zayn suffering for doing what is right, yet doing it anyway? Why do heroes have to slay dragons and demons? Morality isn’t about comfort and discomfort. In fact, being good is often VERY uncomfortable. What did Dumbledore tell Harry? It’s a choice between what is right and what is easy. Good isn’t easy, but people do it anyway. Heroes fight dragons anyway. Why? Because we are in that struggle whether we like it or not.
All in all, where does this bring us? All four of these traditions presuppose the existence of something greater than ourselves, of a divine being who actually cares. Because of there is no divinity, or there is a God but He doesn’t care, then every single one of these is pointless. Your life and mine have no meaning; we are but accidents that happen to be elaborately-designed and intelligent life support systems for the bacteria in our guts. There is no ultimate morality, no right or wrong; everything is to your taste, because we’re all just carriers for bacteria anyway. There is no hope of anything greater than what is material, and what is material is impermanent and transient. There is no destiny in life; we are not part of anything greater than ourselves, all our struggling is in vain.
Studying is in vain. Working is in vain. Science is pointless because truth has no value, and no matter what discoveries we produce, we are still just bacteria breeding pods that happen to be intelligent.
Literature is in vain, because what point is there in understanding abstract truths when we are worthless vessels for microbes. Loving is in vain, because it is only meant to propagate our bacteria vessels, or maybe protect those bacteria vessels that happen to have some minor sentimental value to us. Your intelligence is useless, because it doesn’t make a difference to the bacteria. Whether you live or you die, whether you’re smart or you’re an idiot, whether you’re a slug or a sponge, a tyrannosaurus or a tiger, or a bunny or a monkey or a man, you’re still just a vector for viruses and food for fungus.
Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. THAT is what you are left with.
In closing, I don’t totally buy every single philosophy or idea we’ve learn from Asian lit, and neither do you, I’m sure. It’s pretty clear to you what I believe in, I hope, and I wish to share that with you. Whatever the case, I still think the sense of the divine is what Asian literature brings us, and if we do embrace that—not as mindless puritans but as honest, personal believers—we are set free from the prison of being meaningless mobile microbe farms.
God bless you, and goodbye.
We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone,
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy is OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything is getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in
horoscopes, UFO’s and bent spoons;
Jesus was a good man
just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher
although we think His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same–
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of
creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied,
then it’s compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Khan.
We believe in Masters and Johnson.
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.
Americans should beat their guns into tractors
and the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
and the flowering of individual thought.
“Chance” a post-script
If chance be the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man worshiping his maker.