(mostly) daily photoblog

Posts tagged “Philosophy

Borobudur temple – almost enlightened

We hired a guide to take us up the Borobudur temple.  He give us some interesting insights, along with some local folklore and some personal interpretations.  The reason I titled this post “almost enlightened” is because of some information he shared when we got to the top of the temple.

I asked, “Why are these stupas (bell structures that house statues of Buddha) fitted with blocks that create a diamond shape, when the stupas on the last level, the top level, make square shapes?”

“The architect wanted to show how a person may be enlightened, but still not be entirely stable.  The diamond shape can be tipped on its side, whereas the square is stable.  Nothing can move it on its side, nothing can upend it,” was his reply.

Because we are still human, even though we may achieve enlightenment, we may still be upended, knocked over.  I think there’s a good lesson in that.


The paradox…

…of Jakarta is that there is incredible wealth and abject poverty.  There are designer clothing stores and a community of people who live in the garbage dump (one of many, I’m sure).  The difference, as I have been noting many differences between life here and “home” in North America, is that there is no way to escape the paradox of this city.

I was having this discussion with some of my colleagues (Chris, Glenn, Trent – I’m talking about you) and we talked about how easy it is, in the “developed world” to see poverty and those living in it, and then escape back to the suburb or neighborhood or gated community of your choice and forget what was just seen.  Here, in Jakarta, there is no escape.  The wealth lives next to the poverty.  The highly fortunate live behind a wall that is built against the open lot in which people barely subsist.  The Rolls Royce (and yes, there was one that passed me on my walk home from work last Thursday) drives right past the flower sellers and “Ayam Bakar” merchants.  They all live in the same place.

Purposeful ignorance is the only way to avoid seeing those who, by chance, were born into a life of poverty.  That’s the paradox of the city in which I live.


10 days to go…

It won’t be long, now, until I leave Canada for two years.  Ten days until the airplane takes off from the tarmac and my family and I go.  We’re at that stage where every day has more “good-byes” and “farewells” and “until we see you agains”.  It’s weird, and emotionally raw.

I think that the farewells would be easier if I didn’t care, but that’s the point – meaning comes from caring.  What I need to remember right now is to have perspective.  We’re saying farewell here, but we’ll be meeting and getting to know a whole lot of new people.

For every sunset, there is a sunrise.


“A little knowledge that acts…

… is worth infinitely more than much knowledge that is idle.” – Khalil Gibran

The photo is of a commemorative plaque and sculpture on the Simon Fraser University campus, dedicated to Khalil Gibran.  Incredibly wise words (located approximately halfway up the plaque above).


This old house

is old and not very symmetrical.

I used to teach a course called Theory of Knowledge.  During this course, students have to look at the hardest thing to see – things they’ve taken for granted.  The obvious things in front of their faces.  One of my favorite parts of the course was esthetics.  There was little more entertaining than questioning the ideas of beauty, but also the widely held, completely non-critical idioms of our culture.  Let’s try, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

In the case of the photo above, the most beautiful aspects are the fact that the hedge is in line with the bottom line of the porch, right below the bannister.  I also like the matching windows on either side of the middle of the house, both upper and lower levels.

What takes away from this house’s beauty is the fact that the front door and the upper porch door are offset from center.  Symmetry makes something beautiful.  The other thing that really bothers me is that the lines of the house are shifting, probably due to the age of the house.  I struggled to straighten the photo – played with cropping the photo – but realized, after a couple of minutes, that the lines of the house are not straight.  The upper porch roofline is sagging and kept throwing off my eye.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the tension that creates.  I also love old things and the shifting and off-center doors are a sign of the age of the house.  Age can be beautiful.  I do, however, think that there are certain rules about beauty, certain criteria to what is beautiful.  Symmetry is one.

What are your criteria?  And don’t be all politically correct.  Be truthful.


Being in the church building…

…makes you a believer as much as standing in your garage makes you a car.

This analogy works for a lot of buildings – going to school makes you a students as much as…going in to work makes you a worker as much as…working in a school makes you a teacher as much as…

But the appeal in this analogy to me is that who you are is a choice, not a geographical position.  I think a great number of people I know believe that being in a place makes you something related to the place.  This is not true.  Not that being in a certain place is not inspirational, but there is a long way from inspiration to change.


Word Association: this makes you think of what?

I’m quite certain this is some guy’s name, or maybe the name of a graffiti crew, but it makes me think of one thing:  Noam Chomsky.  When I saw it on the concrete highway support, I thought that some student of media and communications, or maybe a linguistics students.  Then I realized that it didn’t actually say “Chomsky” – it says CHOMtcki or something.  Too bad, seeing as how Chomsky was a student of language and communication.  When I saw this my mind went back to the first time I watched “Manufacturing Consent” and how outraged I was at how mass media twists and manipulates, often through the simplest means like inclusion vs. exclusion, the popular opinion on major issues.  It was through Chomsky I first came across the plight of the East Timorese and the lack of coverage of their problems with Indonesia.  I also thought back to my earliest years in university when I first started reading Chomsky’s work.

It is kind of weird, however, to see what came to my mind through a mistake in reading.  This got me thinking: how much of what I read is what is actually written and how much of my experience while reading is a direct result of where my mind goes while I’m reading?  How much is a result of my own experience that, while it may be somewhat non sequitur to the reading material, shapes my understanding of what I read, of how I see the world.  If a misread word can conjure up memories of my earliest years in post-secondary academia, what happens when I read things properly?  I have taught introductory psychology courses and I know, basically, how my brain works.  I also know that both “nature and nurture” play a big part in how I have become who I am today.  But what if the way I see the world is entirely different from the way you see the world, but we both believe that we see it the same way because we only have the vocabulary we share to make sense of it?  Words would, then, make our ability to express our experiences less personal and more communal, thus bringing us together when our own perception is moving us apart.

Whoa.

Maybe I need some sleep.


Reflections. In black and white.

The thing about reflection is that it’s become a very loaded word.  I love reflections because they show more than the subject itself – in this case, you get to see the trees reflected back in the water of the Sumas River.  Two sets of trees, with the reflections serving as a surreal mirror of our world.  But reflections never tell the whole story.  One never gets to see everything in reflection.

If you stare into a mirror, you only see part of yourself, and it’s an opposite image.  It’s not even what the world sees.  Every reflection is, in a sense, a false image.  Yet, we’re all a little obsessed with our own reflection – we pause to glance at ourselves when we pass mirrors, windows and water to see what we look like without being conscious of the fact that what we see is not real.


In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia.

Huh?  Actually, I should make note of the fact that the title, above, comes from one of my favorite novels, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera.  I haven’t read it lately, but this quotation always struck me as poetic.  At the end of anything, a relationship, a love, a career, nostalgia clouds our minds and makes them seem better than what they are.  The reason this thing is dissolving is that it is no longer worth having, yet we look back on it with fondness.  Nostalgia is a trickster.

In a related note, Jonathan Foer’s book Everything is Illuminated was named for this quotation from Kundera.  If you want two books to read that will challenge your mind, in totally different ways mind you, check out these two books.