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Record My Mind: Banal Records of a Pedestrian Life

Suffering and evil overwhelm me and I stew in my own juice. 

Thursday, March 10, 2005

3/10/2005 04:28:00 am - The Chinese Romantic Attitude to Mortality

I wish I wrote these words instead of Lin Yutang:

A sad, poetic touch is added to this intense love of life by the realization that this life we have is essentially mortal. Strange to say, this sad awareness of our mortality makes the Chinese scholar's enjoyment of life all the more keen and intense. For if this earthly existence is all we have, we must try the harder to enjoy it while it lasts...As Sir Arthur Keith puts it..."For if men believe, as I do, that this present earth is the only heaven, they will strive all the more to make heaven of it."

...Wang Hsichih wrote that...

...Now when people gather together to surmise life itself, some sit and talk and unburden their thoughts in the intimacy of a room, and some, overcome by a sentiment, soar forth into a world beyond bodily realities. Although we select our pleasures according to our inclinations - some noisy and rowdy, and others quiet and sedate - yet when we have found that which pleases us we are all happy and contented, to the extent of forgetting that we are growing old. And then, when satiety follows satisfaction, and with the change of circumstances, change also our whims and desires, there then arises a feeling of poignant regret. In the twinkling of an eye, the objects of our former pleasures have become things of the past, still compelling in us moods of regretful memory. Furthermore, although our lives may be long or short, eventually we all end in nothingness.

...Belief in our mortality, the sense that we are eventually going to crack up and be extinguished like the flame of a candle, I say, is a gloriously fine thing. It makes us sober; it makes us a little sad; and many of us it makes poetic. But above all, it makes it possible for us to make up our mind and arrange to live sensibly, truthfully and always with a sense of our own limitations. It gives peaces also, because true peace of mind comes from accepting the worst...

When Chinese poets and common people enjoy themselves, there is always a subconscious feeling that the joy is not going to last forever, as the Chinese most often say at the end of a happy reunion, "even the most gorgeous fair, with mat-sheds stretching over a thousand miles, must sooner or later come to an end." The feast of life is the feast of Nebuchadnezzar. This feeling of the dreamlike quality of our existence invests the pagan with a kind of spirituality...

Deprived of immortality, the proposition of living becomes a simple proposition. It is this: that we human beings have limited span of life to live on this earth, rarely more than seventy years, and that therefore we have to arrange our lives so that we may live as happily as we can under a given set of circumstances...There is something mudane, something terribly earth-bound about it, and man proceeds to work with a dogged commonsense, very much in the spirit of what George Satanyana calls "animal faith." With this animal faith, taking life as it is, we made a shrewd guess, without Darwin's aid as to our essential kindship with animals. It made us therefore, cling to life - the life of the instinct and the life of the senses - on the belief that, as we are all animals, we can be truly happy only when all our normal instincts are satisfied normally. This applies to the enjoyment of life in all its aspects.

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