cheap

It’s not that I want it for myself that I begin to focus strictly on this. It’s not out of greed, envy, nor ambition, for I can confidently claim that I’m the least in the neighborhood to have been pursuing such vain yet most agreeable. However, what do I know about vanity, and who am I to judge the rest. Yet, this has turned me into someone I have never imagined before, a greedy, envious craving for ambition to relive the rest of my tired joints. So for this once, I’m willing to let go all the greasy grips I have hold on to during my finite sense of pursuing the truth. Let me just surrender to the invisible, the power that has moved a little space in my heart beyond logic and reason, it’s no longer that difficult anyway being on the downfall side already. I refuse to give in to this situation. Even if this universe or other minor details of one’s life were indeed accidental caused by something tricky, one should in fact obsessively make the best use of his/her trained logic and reason to turn each and everything into (even slightly) meaningful.

before sunset

It’s funny how safe you would feel being in an old bookshop in a foreign city, traveling alone. From all those places you spend money at, an old second-hand bookshop is certainly the one place that won’t rob you blind from buying. On the contrary, you feel everything is a steal.

I found this very lovely bookshop in Malá Strana, an area below Charles Bridge, the Holy Grail of every visitor coming to Prague. I have to struggle with this kind of bookish greed each time I’m at Dussmann as well, but there’s something (lots in fact) you can’t resist from an old bookshop stuffed to the gills with second-hand books and dusty crisp pages of old/odd journals. Its loveliness may be defined as unpretentious, just like the whole Prague is. The humble location indicates its confident status of being a gem. Unlike some soulless chain bookshops run by some corporate firms, this independent local shop gives the impression of being owned by probably some nerd whose main interest isn’t to gain profit from, ironically, selling books. At both sides of the entrance door you would find these two small shelves stuffed with second-hand books that the owner would refill once one or two books are sold (I was there long enough to witness such an insignificant routine). There were Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus and a travel book Indonesia among several other names I wasn’t familiar with. My penny-pinching miserly soul leapt for joy.

With an initial intention of simply looking for some postcards other than the ‘lame’ kind of postcards you normally find at any tourist shops, I stepped into the dimly-lit front room. The front room in which the postcards are also contains new books, consisting of huge collection of authors arranged in alphabetical order, Czech authors, a shelf of self-help books and many others. The guy behind the counter (presumably the owner) was a 30 something wearing black-framed glasses, constantly too busy in front of the computer to even bother looking at visitors entering. Once in a while he would utter furious sounds indicating impatience from some process he was dealing with on the screen. Nevertheless, the absence of hospitality wasn’t a killjoy at all. It’s in fact strangely alluring. You’re completely free, unsupervised and unattended with pretentious greetings or suspicious stare. I felt like expressing my admiration towards the shop and was really going to say it once we made eye contact, but we didn’t. After all, his nature of indifference slightly gestures the lack of needs in receiving compliments (nor critiques) about the place. The rear part of the room was larger than the front one, consisting of great sections of classics Austen to Dickens, an extensive collection of poetry, books on films, politics, world war and children books.

My pupil dilated as I discovered that the shop has an underground part. Larger than the ground floor, this underground lavishly consists of old sofas and wooden chairs. Extensive genres ranging from philosophy, literary critiques, french-language, yoga to cooking books seem untouched yet. This large room was a combination of damp woods, dusty corner, old rugs, and 100 year-old pages all stirred by the summer chill sent through the let-open window.

I was totally alone inside that rabbit hole. Near the open window some wooden long chairs are placed against the wall, above it is a rope with some drawings hanging. A small box in another corner was filled with handmade earrings and green stone pendants, all with a touch of dust that you would instantly doubt whether these were meant to be sold.

 

happily purchased

bookmark from previous owner: a train ticket

 

Growing thoughtless of my first day’s itinerary, I decided to stay longer there til a while before gazing at the sunset on Charles Bridge. Mainly I was just scanning the shelves, took a handful, opened the first few pages, returned them and repeated all over to another different sets. Oh the joy of traveling alone. With that sense of relief, I walked up the stairway, paid for the postcards then walked out. As effortlessly as the smile upon my face, it started to rain. I took out my umbrella and walked searching for the famous John Lennon Wall nearby, unknowing that I would be returning the next day.

passing boats

Captain Morgan
Carola
Oranje Nassau

You wonder what’s behind all those names of boats streaming in the veins of this Spree river. Located outside the south part of the central train station, the river bank grabs the attention of people on their first arrival from behind the glass window of the towering station, yet strangely unnoticed in winter. If you give it a closer look, you’ll find nothing really special about it. You won’t find wild stream of cleanest water, classical street lights, meaningful sacrificial history of any born saints or minutely-crafted statues on the bridge, barren as a cloudless sky. In fact it’s the epitome of Berlin’s touristy face coupled with a grand view of the Reichstag and flooded with bare-chested sun-worshipping Germans.

One may alienate himself to be able to think out loud clearly but not too alone lacking the ordinariness of vanities. For some reasons you still need those accidental sounds, of footsteps on the deck, of growing grass and water splash, of pretty faces and floating birds, of arriving trains from the distance. The city-tour boats at the river bank go offshore hourly. Tourists from all walks of life spend 10 euro for a quick boat ride, a price reasonable enough to pretend that they give a fuss about history of this city and each historical building that the boats pass. They would nod almost simultaneously to every good-to-knows and stick out their fancy cameras almost simultaneously towards all directions and here I am by the river, not more dignified than herd of sun-bathing penguins at a national zoo.

River bank serves as a home for both the joyous or the low in heart. It harbors the festive and the brokenhearted. It provides the ground for the mindful and mindless steps. Only those with peaceful mind would go to a lake, while at one point they wish the lake would remind them of a river. A river flows to a certain direction, some flow more swiftly while some less but it doesn’t really matter, as long as you put your thoughts to sail off-shore. They teach you a kind of flow, to where your unborn thoughts shall meet their ends. Not that they’re drowning, but there’s an edge that the eyes alone can’t follow.

Let me cry in my sleep. But I’m not sleeping. My eyes are wide open and hurt by the merciless sun. A blond boy with a pink-blue cap is standing next to me staring at a boat which he just rode with his parents. Upon his face I sensed a feeling of being stranded for the tour came to an end too quickly. He smells of heat, his inexperienced eyes are the bluest blue at this very hour and you won’t trace any wounds in there. Suddenly I wish it would rain. A sudden quick rain with no warning that tolerates no time to even spell r-a-i-n. A rain terrible and heavy enough pouring down on me, shoving me down to the river that I might cry for help to the passing boats. But all I see is two girls sitting on the grass few meters away with boxed Chinese food shoveled to their mouths using plastic forks, caring nothing about the boy’s blue eyes and names of the passing boats. They prefer nameless things at this flavorless public space. As long as the river flows, everything seems fine. But even if it stops flowing, you can’t expect them to notice. Nobody comes to a river bank to see a river. Nobody ever feels the need to watch a dancing river, with harmless little waves that mirror myriad of crystals from the sun that if you gaze at them long enough, all you see is something else from the back of your eyes and you remember ocean waves.

Spree Lady
Luna
Summerwind
Phönix.

That’s how they named the boats. For everything appearing on the surface of the water should have a name. The fancier the boat is, the more frustrated the passengers’ faces appear. They ride a boat that is too far from the water surface, foreigners carried by the dancing waves, low as asphalt you never notice when you’re in a car. The next boat appeared. The sunglasses-masked tourists disembarked from Kehrwieder. Blue plastic chairs on her upper deck are only half occupied. At the same time Luna passed me for the third time already, not that I’m counting. The voice of the worn German flag and the faceless statues on the bridge are swallowed by the boat engine, slowly disappearing like the unrecognizable shapes of the scattered clouds above. Kehrwieder stopped leaning once it’s filled with another flock of shepherdless tourists, leaving me with a stark smell of diesel.

the postal confessor

You are looking outwards, and of all things that is what you must now not do. Nobody can advise and help you, nobody. There is only one single means. Go inside yourself. Discover the motive that bids you write; examine whether it sends its roots down to the deepest places of your heart, confess to yourself whether you would have to die if writing were denied you. This before all: ask yourself in the quietest hour of your night: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple “I must“, then build your life according to this necessity; your life must, right to its most unimportant and insignificant hour, become a token and a witness of this impulse. Then draw near to Nature. Then try, as if you were one of the first men, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. Do not write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and usual: they are the most difficult, for great and fully matured strength is needed to make an individual contribution where good and in part brilliant traditions exist in plenty.

Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your own everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty — depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory. If your everyday life seems poor to you, do not accuse it; accuse yourself, tell yourself you are not poet enough to summon up its riches; since for the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place. And even if you were in a prison whose walls allowed none of the sounds of the world to reach your senses — would you not still have always your childhood, that precious, royal richness, that treasure house of memories? Turn your attention there. Try to raise the submerged sensations of that distant past; your personality will grow stronger, your solitude will extend itself and will become a twilit dwelling which the noise of others passes by in the distance.

And if from this turning inwards, from this sinking into your private world, there come verses, you will not think to ask anyone whether they are good verses. You will not attempt, either, to interest journals in these works: for you will see in them your own dear genuine possession, a portion and a voice of your life. A work of art is good if it has grown out of necessity.

-Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), Letters to a Young Poet

Buying this book containing collection of 10 letters has been my greatest investment in these past 2 months I would say for an unbelievably low price for a priceless collection of letters by Rilke. I think everyone immersed in art or literature (or life) should at least encounter this piece of beautifully-written advices addressed by Rilke to a distant stranger named Franz Xaver Kappus, who had been corresponding with him for around 2 years. Rilke the solitary great poet in European history, the “hermit”, the “postal confessor” writes in a very humble manner for someone as great as he is. And one thing I can’t bear from reading the very first paragraph, I felt like crying for each sentence offers a slight sense of intimacy and is undeniably powerful, maybe because it’s a personal letter. This is a kind of book that I can possibly read more than once, even twice. Last but not least, following the advice of this great man, I will try as best as possible from now on to decline being endowed with muse coming from such impulse to write lame love poems. Pfft.

And where a great and unique man speaks, small men must keep silence.
-Franz Xaver Kappus.

 

April Showers

If there’s one thing I would not like to dramatize, it would be death of a loved one. Let alone romanticize. But the thing about death is, no matter how prepared you think you are, it always stings you at the back of your neck right at the moment you’re fully-engaged with the thoughts and speculation of how prepared or how unprepared you are. One moment you’re absorbed with yourself, the next moment life was knocking at your door with a grief-stricken news, a definite portion of bitter reality.

Another thing about death, it becomes more and more real by the time it leaves the present. Memory takes shape of everything around you in replacing the absence and loss, easily evoked by fragrance, photographs, a corner of a room, a corner of no room, a song, even a void. It takes form of all the furnitures in a room you used to share with that a particular couch becomes the embodiment you consider to get rid of. You wish you wouldn’t have memory, you wish memory died along with the buried, you wish you died along. You need to hold on to memory although you know it gives you pain, some kind of a strange pain – when chanelled properly through immaculate practice – turns into some kind of pleasure. Pain yet pleasure, pleasure but all pain.

The thing about death maybe, I have to personalize it somehow. It has to be romanticized. I have to make sense of it to no or little avail. A mother of a truly good friend of mine had just passed away today. She bravely fought cancer for years, after being diagnosed with severe cervical cancer several years after her husband died. There must have been a relief well-mixed with grief at the same time. All of a sudden I just felt terribly exhausted that I just drowned myself in bed. As I heard the news, it struck me like lightning. Or maybe there was a lightning, I could barely tell.

an axiom

The idea of leaving someone for his/her own sake. That’s probably the most ridiculous pseudo-sacrifice bulls*it I’ve chosen to have strong opinion against. You leave because you have dreams to chase or a dream which keeps chasing you, you grow tired of staying on the same ground, riding the same unfulfilled desire or simply despising a particular city. You leave because you can’t help but wonder about what the other side of the fence is like. It’s never for other’s sake but your own. You leave because you need to chase, you need to know your limit, you need to gain surprises far from the back of your hand, you need another sphere, you need to stand on your own, you need a slap of a wintry wind. You don’t leave for other’s sake. You just don’t, stop foolishly justifying yourself. Leaving the one who loves you is as selfish as suicide, as well-planned and enjoyable as a picnic, as necessary as a root. You leave because you can and it’s a manifestation of power. Given that option, you’ll do it countless times.

a prayer

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

 

and wisdom, so I don’t ask when I’m supposed to seek, so I don’t seek when I’m supposed to just ask.

After birth and near death

How many times might have been wasted, how many good opportunities could have been overlooked, and perhaps how many souls have been taken for granted just because we fail to decide what we want in life. I would say that there are two points in our lives, on which we know best what we want and persistently get it. They are moments when we’re the most simple, and simple people gain their virtues in that matter. They are moments when we’re the most fragile, after birth and near death.

Babies always know what they want because their needs are purely simple. They’re beyond the power of making decisions, freed from hidden motives and disguise. They’re graceful. A dying person revisits this phase, of wanting forgiveness, making peace with someone, or holding someone’s hand dearly for the last time. The rest don’t matter, no longer do.

A great father he was – a friend who had just lost his father wrote that on his Facebook wall. They hadn’t met for a couple of years and his dad kept calling his name while lying in his sickbed at hospital. As my friend just arrived at the airport, he was told that his dad still kept calling his name as he called the family on the phone. Finally, graceful as a baby whose needs are met, the father embraced a deep sleep.

Pour a Little Salt

My professor once asked this question in one wintry afternoon, “Is genius born or learned?”. “The next few hours will be very interesting,” I remember saying that to myself smiling, lacking an answer.

What makes one a genius? What does a genius have that the others don’t?

Shakespeare, according to Edward Young (1681-1765) (and the whole world), is a genius. He’s considered to have possessed this creative and life-giving power through his proliferate stunning poems, plays and sonnets. He is called “that much more than common man,” which nowadays would refer to the term superman or in German, Übermensch. His works consist of “extraterrestrial” ideas, more than what a normal man could produce, from out of this world or in a more moderate term: original (did not priorly exist). A genius is the one who can create something that did not exist before. Let’s say Einstein with his theory of relativity, Picasso and his cubism, Edison and his “enlightening” light bulb, Darwin and his “ego-smashing” theory which robbed man of his peculiar privilege of having been specially created, and relegated man to a descent from the animal world yet it’s the basis of biology until the present day.

A genius doesn’t only possess a good understanding. Speaking in metaphor, Young says “a genius differs from a good understanding as a magician from a good architect”. A genius is like a magician for he possesses this so-called “powerful imagination” that can create, populate, and also animate new worlds, and thus it’s called a sort of magic.

“Is genius born?”. Edward Young once again asserts that true genius speaks not only of nobility but of divinity. He reaches a conclusion that genius must be born, being a genius can’t be acquired by learning: “Genius is from heaven, learning from man.” A genius has this seed within him/herself, the seed of muse, a powerful ability in creating not based on another object but based on his/her out-of-this-world imagination. Creating something that isn’t there in the first place. A genius is a creator, a magician that speaks “be”, and it exists.

Kant, the german philosopher agrees that the essential characteristic of genius consists of a productive imagination. A productive imagination that drives Oscar Wilde to boldy argue that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. From a scientific or a metaphysical point of view, Wilde argues that Nature is our creation, not vice versa:

“It is in our brain that she (nature) quickens to life. Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it, depends on the Arts that have influenced us. To look at a thing is very different from seeing a thing. One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence.”

He mentions the fogs as an example:

“At present, people see fogs, not because there are fogs, but because poets and painters have taught them the mysterious loveliness of such effects. There may have been fogs for centuries in London. I dare say there were. But no one saw them, and so we do not know anything about them. They did not exist till Art had invented them.”

And that mysterious loveliness of fogs is there in the poet or the painter’s mind as a result of their productive imagination, a productive effect from muse that strikes them. Perhaps the same thing as one would not enjoy or look at the exquisite beauty of a scene when passing an array of daffodils (which in fact is a very ordinary-looking flower) and imagining them to dance in the breeze in a windy spring day before one encounters Wordsworth’s poem Daffodils (1804):

I wander’d lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine

As today’s creative mind might agree with the fact that imitation is inseparately a part of a good creation of art or creativity in general, it’s true. Imitating (in its variety of type/level) is in fact an important process that most of us cannot disengage from, and the great creative fathers aren’t against imitation. But one thing has to be understood first about imitation and original. About good artists and genius.

Oscar Wilde once mentioned that the more perfect art is, the more autonomous it becomes that it frees itself from the burden of resemblance (or imitation). In other words, imitation is lower than original since to imitate one doesn’t require the capacity of powerful imagination, but still, one needs creativity and talent, and don’t forget, learning.

In the context of this perfect art, Baudrillard has another name for it; perfect simulacra: a simulacrum has no relation to any reality whatsoever. It creates a new reality. A perfect simulacrum doesn’t have to resemble anything to be powerful because it no longer works under the logic of representation, it works only for the sake of productivity, its own simulation. An imitation gives credit to the subject it imitates, whereas a perfect simulacrum attracts the whole attention and praise to itself. An imitation might be superficially awesome, while an original is wholly striking. Young describes it as:

“Of that spring originals are the fairest flowers: imitations are of quicker growth, but fainter bloom. [...] But suppose an imitator to be most excellent, (and such there are,) yet still he but nobly builds on another’s foundation; his debt is, at least, equal to his glory; which, therefore, on the balance, cannot be very great. … An imitator shares his crown, if he has one, with the chosen object of his imitation; an original enjoys an undivided applause.”

A genius in authorship produces words in a way that it awakes us to a new reality, it opens our eyes of understanding to a completely new horizon and since then the way we look at things he describes would never be the same again. It has the power to surprise a mind, produces pleasure so great that it inspires to create another pleasure, a pleasure that shelters us:

“we have no home, no thought, of our own, till the magician drops his pen; and then, falling down into ourselves, we awake to flat realities, lamenting the change, like the beggar who dreamt himself a prince.”

While imitation, no matter how excellent they are, are common things, and thus Young calls it as a flower that grows quicker but blooms fainter. The meaning it carries is already carried many times before:

“So thoughts, when become too common, should lose their currency; and we should send new metal to the mint, that is, new meaning to the press. … We may as well grow good by another’s virtue, or fat by another’s food, as famous by another’s thought. The world will pay its debt of praise but once, and, instead of applauding, explode a second demand as a cheat.”

Oddly new to me, the term genius indeed holds a very high standard of exceptional quality more than what I thought at first as I was reading this Edward Young’s Conjectures on Original Composition (1759) . Later on he audaciously calls most of the Latin classics, and all the Greek that receive world’s highest applause are all in fact imitators except for Homer, Pindar and Anacreon. He says “though not real, (they) are accidental originals; the works they imitated, few excepted, are lost.”

To the contemporary new artists and creative (hopefully imaginative) people out there, don’t lose heart. Genius are a minority it is true, but Herder, another German philosopher believes that “every man has a genius, that is, deep in his soul he has a certain divine, prophetic gift, which guides him”

But perhaps this gift may extinct within you, or may never come out of you, without one thing called ambition. Young names the lack of this trait as “how few are awakened by it into the noble ambition of like attempts! Ambition is sometimes no vice in life; it is always a virtue in composition.” This extraordinary ambition is the power that drives a genius to be revealed, and because only few that are willing to strive for this ambition, so few are our originals.

Furthermore, why are originals so few? Why are genius a minority among the minority?

Here’s what’s great, read on.

It’s not that ideas are running out from the earth’s atmosphere that we who live in this 21st Century are left with nothing but imitative creativity (which I’m saying, requires learning and hardwork to succeed). It’s not that the good old era had long gone. Edward Young comes up with what he calls the engrossing, prejudicing and intimidating effects of the great works before us:

“because illustrious examples engross, prejudice, and intimidate. They engross our attention, and so prevent a due inspection of ourselves; they prejudice our judgment in favor of their abilities, and so lessen the sense of our own; and they intimidate us with the splendor of their renown, and thus under diffidence bury our strength.”

Funnily said, he states that those ancient genius shouldn’t be given credit for being originals, because they couldn’t be imitators since there’s nothing to imitate before them. They simply didn’t have the choice even to be imitators. While the modern artists, the modern creative minds all have a choice to make, and therefore may take pride in their power of choosing: to “soar in the regions of liberty, or move in the soft fetters of easy imitation”

It doesn’t mean that we should restrict ourselves from engaging with and being inspired by the great ancient works or great works before us. But the more important thing is, imitate the ambition and give yourself a chance, not to be intimidated that you are hindered from seeing the genius within you, in whatever context it is or whichever fields you’re involved in. But frankly speaking, in this Internet and Information Age, where the biggest crisis takes place when system of communication breaks down, it’s even harder for us not to be engrossed, prejudiced and intimidated by the other great works, thanks to the excessive information on our finger tips on the wild wild web.

So my accurate example of contemporary artists would be the indie genius whose works I’ve been listening to on a daily basis, Justin Vernon with his Bon Iver.

Why? Vernon started Bon Iver’s debut album For Emma, Forever Ago during his solitary living in his father’s cabin in the Wisconsin forests for four months due to a personal crisis. This 4 month-solitary life produces nine excellent tunes for the mentioned album, unlike anything he had ever composed before. This decidedly low-tech recorded album was a breakout hits of 2008, selling more than 325,000 copies for an independent band. It made him an international headliner, LA Times calls him a critics’ darling whose songs landed in hit movies and TV shows like House, Grey’s Anatomy and One Tree Hill.

Come on skinny love, just last a year
Pour a little salt we were never here

The solitary 4 months have definitely awakened a muse, an imaginative creator of tunes and lyrics, a musical genius within him. His enchanting falsetto voice collaborates with ethereal tunes producing a calming effect and contemplative mood, not to mention his rich-imaginative lyrics, they are melodious poetry. Many people that went to his concert would say something similar, of having something so strongly magical and ethereal experience about it. His concert last September in LA was remarked by LA Weekly as “better than Monday Night Football”, with a plenty budget affording nine vocalists, a horn section, and 2 drummers, “it reached new height” and if you just happened to be there, you would feel like “Dorothy stepping into the Land of Oz in all of its Technicolor glory.” Notice something divine here (not just great)?

Now I can relate well between his quality of genius and his 4 month-seclusion of chopping woods. He might not intentionally try to discover that trait, but he accidentally managed to escape from the burden of resemblance and intimidation from the other great works by alienating himself, focusing on his own affliction but at the same time embracing his own strength and buried imaginative genius.

Back to my professor’s question, “Is genius born or learned?”. It’s most probably not learned. But perhaps one would never know until he fully explores himself and strives for the same ambition of the ancient greats. Or to put it simply, Freud taught us that we could be angry and not know it. Similarly, you could be a genius and not know it.

image from here.

If in doubt, wear black.

But first, don’t deny your doubt.

According to Jan Nattier, all religions (in her essay American Buddhism is chosen as a case study) travel in three major ways: as import, as export, and as “baggage”. An example of religion traveling as import would be a college student who puts great interest in Zen Buddhism after reading a book about it then decides to buy a plane ticket and head off to Japan beginning to study meditation in a Zen temple. After years of experiencing Buddhist “awakening”, he returns and establishes a Zen center, teaching this form of Buddhism to other fellow Americans. This kind of Buddhism usually only reaches individuals to whom money is not a problem and leisure time is abundant, where like attracts like, those with higher academic status or in other words, bunch of intellects. As a result of this deliberate preference (usually made up in a settled scene of adulthood), the belief or religion is modified, doubt is made use to uproot the religion then is cultivated into a completely different soil, inclined to parallel one’s own cultural and social “climate”.

The second type, religion traveling as export is normally experienced by potential converts through missionaries coming to their land. Because the initiative belongs to the home institution, the potential convert doesn’t need money, power, or time to come into contact with Buddhism of this sort, only a willingness to listen. This evangelistic “marketing” could take place on a street corner, in the subway or even in one’s home. Nattier notes that this is thus something of a wild card, which means that it can attract a wide range of followers/believers, or it may appeal to no one at all. Doubt is a determining factor in buying into the evangelistic “product”, the take it or leave it attitude.

As someone who grew up in a country where we have to choose one of the five mainstream religions as an obligatory school subject and religion preference is required when filling up any personal information for bureaucracy, I belong to the third group. The “baggage” religion is also a transformation of the second type for this reason: I’ve  never been in a direct contact with the missionaries who try to convert me nor in any relation with those enthusiastic religion “importers”. In other words, my religion had already been “chosen” for me. I have been “brainwashed” as much as those who have been taught the benefits of having no religions (atheism is not included as being “brainwashed” since to be an atheist is a conscious, usually a knowledgeable and well-thought decision, read this). Furthermore, Nattier describes those who belong to this third category as:

Buddhists who were simply born into their faith of their ancestors [...] only in Buddhist groups of this type that ethnicity serves as the primary defining feature.

If only I had been born in a Hindu family or any other mainstream religions in my homecountry, I would have lived up to each of its standards thinking that Hinduism contains the very truth, or even if I’m not a zealot, I would always be tempted to remain content, avoiding from questioning my own long-time traditional faith. That’s what happens when people believe in any religion, they stop questioning it (I don’t mean to generalize). Consequently, when one doesn’t even know much about his/her own religion, it’s justified to assume that one would not even bother to have interest in other religions and thus in any capacity to be tolerant of differences that stand in between. Nattier observes that this ethnic Buddhists:

tend to be deliberately monoethnic in membership at the outset, for they serve not only religious purposes but operate as supportive community centers as well. Such temples may provide language lessons, a place to network for jobs, and above all a place to relax with others who share one’s own cultural assumptions and to whom nothing needs to be explained.

In this case, culture and religion are treated the same. As culture is a social product that doesn’t need to be questioned, neither does religion. It is mostly in this “baggage” religious group that people treat doubt as taboo and reason as obstacle of (blind) faith. All this might have required me to step back for a while from any social status concerning religion, not being ignorant but more because I care too much about this. As much as I want to stick to a blind faith that can “move mountains”, I don’t want to inhabit a self-righteous state above other’s faith to the extent of labelling it as fallacy.

Therefore, why should we panic in the presence of doubts? It’s doubt after all, which stimulates us to discern true faith from sentiment. Let’s not repress doubt for it drives us to seek the truth among everything which confesses as “the” truth. On the other hand, I’m also aware of the potent danger of doubt, when it’s not deployed as a truth-seeking engine but instead being handed the total power and constantly fed to obesity.

About this kind of doubt, nobody says it better than Pi, the Indian teenager obsessed with religions in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi:

I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

I might not move any mountains, but I stand (even if wobbly) on the solid surface of my black Gethsemane.