Life, Death, Living, Destiny, Fate, Reality…

Into this universe, and why not knowing,
Nor whence, like water willy-nilly flowing,
And out of it, as wind along the waste,
I know not whither, willy-nilly blowing.

The Rubaiyat, Stanza 29. By Omar Khayyam

My sincerest thanks to my high school classmate and friend, William Tong, for having given me a book, in the early 1960s, on Khayyam’s work.

Life, Death, Living, Destiny, Fate…A collection of quotes and my own thoughts.(Work in progress.)

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?”
Chuang Tzu

庄子 齊物論:

馬致遠: 雙調‧夜行船

道德經 5: 天地不仁,以萬物為芻狗;
“Nature holds no prejudice and cares for all things the same.
It views everything as so many straw dogs, neither loving nor hating them.” Lao-Tzu , Tao, Chapter 5

About 35 years ago, during an incident involving 5 unwanted baby cats put away for euthanasia by the SPCA, I came to the conclusion that the universe is “indifferent”. The universe runs on in its own merry way without taking notice. It is us who created god in our own image: a god whose attributes are nothing but a mere extension of our view of an all-seeing, all rewarding, all punishing parent.

Some years later, I came across a presentation of Lao Tzu’s book in a format that I can understand and I found the passage about nature holds no prejudices (i.e. the Universe is impartial. ) etc… and I felt justified.

Although I do not agree with everything that is presented by the Taoist and Buddhist, I think many parts of their philosophy do have a lot of merit.

Many religions have God as the creator of the universe and left it at that. Everything is assumed to be concrete. There is no discussion about space, time, reality, perception etc. These religions are more concern with how men and women should behave in order to please god and how god must be glorified and worshiped. In other words, men and women are created so that there is some one around to glorify the work of god. I strongly believe that if there is a god that have the ability to create all the universe and the wonders in it, he/she would be beyond this pettiness of needing someone to constantly chanting about how great he/she is.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” (Original Author controversy)

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.
Soren Kierkegaard

錦瑟 李商隱


The Harp (*)
Why must the silky harp have fifty strings?
Each reminds me of one of life’s springs.
In his dream Zhuangzi couldn’t tell if he was a butterfly;
Longings of Wangdi live on in the cuckoo bird’s cry.
By the Lost Sea moonlight, pearls have mermaids’ tears;
Under the Blue Field warm sun, smoke rises from jade.
Can feelings be saved for later remembrance?
No, even then everything was but a haze.

(*) Have not been able to find out who the translator is. There are many different translations of this poem. Another version of the last two lines that I like very much is:

And a moment that ought to have lasted for ever
Has come and gone before I knew.

Yes indeed! How often in life have we rushed past the beauties, the wonderment, or the rarities, only to regret afterwards that we did not spend enough time or pay enough attention to them.


8. Inevitability of Fate 是命躲不過

Appointment In Samara

This is the fable quoted at the beginning of a short story written by John O’Hara in 1934. It has been retold and reprinted in many slightly different forms, including a French version in which the name of the city is Toulouse instead of Samara. The story is about the inevitability of fate.

“The servant of a rich man in Baghdad or Basra, or some place like that, went out to do a day’s shopping. But in the market place he met Death, who gave him a strange sort of look… Well the servant chased off home and said to his master: “Lord, in the market place I met Death, who look as if he were about to claim me. Lend me your fastest horse that I may ride to Samara, which I can reach before night-fall, and so escape him.”

The rich man lent the servant his horse, and he duly set off for Samara at a great rate of knots. But when he had gone, the rich man thought: “This is a bit of a bore. My servant is a jolly good servant, I shall miss him. Death has no right to give him the twitches. I think I’ll pop down to the market place and give the old fellow a piece of my mind.”

So the rich man went to the market place and button-holed Death. “Look here,” he said, “What do you mean by giving my servant the shakes?” Death was amused. He said: “Lord, I merely looked at the fellow in surprised.”
“Why so?” asked the rich man. “He is just an ordinary servant”. ” I look at him in surprise.” explained Death, “because I did not expect to find him here. You see, I have an appointment with him this evening— in Samara.”

Fifty years ago, a high school classmate (K.P.Wong) gave me something he copied down from a book. Years later, I was to go back,time and again, to reaffirm the reason for living in an otherwise chaotic and meaningless world.

From The World as I See It, by Albert Einstein
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving…”


About 25 years ago, I came to the conclusion that it is not important to the answer the question of whether there is a god or whether we are created or not and for what purpose. We are here not by our own choosing. Accept that and move on to make sure we live out our lives in the best possible way without harming others or damaging our world. We should do that not because there is a heaven and a hell waiting for us, but is the most sensible thing to do.

About forty years ago, I came across a somewhat hopeless view of life and existence in the pages of the science fiction novel “A Far Sunset” by Edmund Cooper.
In the passage below, Paul Marlowe, the sole survivor of a crash landing of a space survey team in a distance planet, travelled up the “Canal of Life” with the entourage of the god-king Enka Ne. At the end of the “Canal”, the King would die and be replaced by a new King. In the quotation below, “Oruri” is the god of death, Poul Mer Lo is the way the natives pronounce the name “Paul Marlowe”.

” Poul Mer Lo gazed at the guyanis–a brilliantly coloured butterfly with a wing span longer than his forearm–as it flapped lazily and erratically along the Canal of Life, just ahead of the barge containing the oracle. As he watched, a great bird with leathery wings dived swiftly from a tree-fern on the banks of the canal and struck the guyanis with its toothed beak. One of the butterfly wings sheared completely and drifted down to the surface of the water: the rest of the creature was held firmly in the long black beak. The bird did not even pause in flight.
Enka Ne clapped his hands. “Strike!” he said, pointing to the bird. A warrior raised his blow-pipe to his lips. There was a faint whistle as the dart flew from the pipe. Then the leathery bird, more than twenty meters away, seems to be transfixed in mid-flight. It hovered for a moment; then spiralled noisily down to the water.
Enks Ne pointed to the warrior who had killed the bird. “Die now,” he said gently, “and live for ever.” The man smiled ” Lord,” he said, ” I am unworthy.” Then he took a dart from his pouch and pushed it calmly into his throat. Without another word, he fell from the barge into the Canal of life………
…….(continuing on later in the book)……………………..
Now, as he (Paul Marlowe) sat on the veranda step, sipping his kappa spirit, he became suddenly filled with a great and impersonal sadness–not only for himself and Shah Shan and Mylai Tui, but for all living things on all possible worlds scattered throughout the black starlit vault of space. He was sad because of the very predicament of living. Because every living creature–like the guyanis, the brilliantly coloured butterfly that he had seen killed by a leathery bird when he travelled with Enka Ne along the Canal of Life–was doomed by journey from the darkness to darkness, with only a brief burst of sunlight and pain between the two long aspects of eternity. The guyanis had died, then the bird who had killed it was struck down by a warrior, then the warrior himself died at the command of Enka Ne. Now Enka Ne was dead and another Enka Ne was alive. And doubtless many more guyanis butterflies had been torn to pieces by toothed beaks. And doubtless many more warriors had gone to the bosom of Oruri. Multiply these things by a billion billion, square the number and square it again. The resulting figure would still not be big enough to tally all the tragedies, great and small, taking place throughout the universe during one billion billionth of a second.”

7. You don’t have to be American or Christian, or even religious, to give thanks. Written in 2000/11/22 00:44:55 发表在 汉英

As the year draws rapidly to a close and the American Thanksgiving day right at the doorstep, let us stop for a moment and take stock of our lives.

If you are living in an island of tranquility amidst an ocean of turmoil; enjoying relatively good health with no life threatening ailments; not suffering from persecution, real or imaginary; have a warm place to sleep with hot food in your stomach and not having to worry about where the next meal will come from or how to feed your children; then look and see all around you the sufferings, depressions, hopelessness, crippling pains, terminal illness, irresolvable internal conflicts and maniac depressions; people haunted by past ghosts and potential future demons and see no way out but death; people trapped in deformed minds and/or bodies; people suffering from painful terminal illness and died at the prime of their lives…

So give thanks and say to yourself: but for the grace of god (or good fortune, fate…), there go I.

Life does not have to be a cup that runneth over. It does
not even have to be full, or even half full. So even if your cup is only a quarter filled, don’t think of it as almost empty, but think of it as still having something left to drink. And even if it is only water, savour it slowly and appreciatively and it will taste sweeter than the sweetest of all wines.

For our American friends: have a good thanksgiving and drive carefully. I remember most thanksgiving days I spent in the USA were ones that had huge snowstorms across most of the mid and North-Eastern states.

How many more Novembers,
I know not..
Nor do I wish to know.
Each day is a new day,
Full of things of wonder
Waiting for me to see and enjoy.

Nov. 22nd, 2000.

11. Robert Frost

1. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

2. The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

12. John Donne

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

This three lines are from a prayer which is voiced at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings worldwide was written originally by Dr. Reinhold Neibuhr of the Theoligical Seminary Union, New York City. It was first published in 1934. Although I am not religious, I find that we can all learn from the idea conveyed in this three lines.

God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed;
Give me courage to change things which must be changed;
And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.

13. 仿 清宋湘大庾岭茶亭长联 (2011-05-15 03:37:48)
This is not a translation of 清宋湘大庾岭茶亭长联, but rather, an imitation.I am poetically challenged, so it is not in a proper poetic form or rhythmic scheme either. I am just putting the bits and pieces I wrote for discussion at the 汉英论坛 in March 2002 and bringing it to a conclusion.

Here today, gone tomorrow.
Fortunes wax and wane.
Mountain peaks pushing against one another,
Green waters running free and wild.

Endless gorges and passes to cross,
Insatiable greed and lust galore.
Samson had his Delilah,
Napoleon his Waterloo.

What’s the hurry?
Take time out to reflect,
Savour this moment of rest.
Enjoy the good times while they last.

On this road I came,
To that road I shall go.
Long and tiresome journey,
Rest stops far in between.
Earthly possessions must leave behind,
Youthful complexion fades with time.

The rich, the famous, the powerful,
Cannot escape the fate of being a mortal.
Worry not.
Plunk down a few coins for a jug of wine.
Play drinking games,
Chat, laugh and drink to our hearts’ content.
Treasure the rare moments,
When friends drop by on a stormy day.

There are different versions of the 清宋湘大庾岭茶亭长联. Here is one of them.





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