Dr. Emiliano Hudtohan

Educator, Business Writer, Industry Expert and Entrepreneur

Relearning the ABCs in Singapore – In Search for Peace and Harmony in a World of Extremes

 Dr. Emiliano T. Hudtohan

Manila Times March 18 and 25, 2008

I learned my ABC in a public elementary school more than five decades ago, and the English alphabets helped me understand the world around me.  While on a Christmas holiday, I found myself relearning the ABCs of the world’s great teachers: Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Christ.  I was reintroduced to Aristotle at the National Museum of Singapore. Buddha appeared in my conversation with a taxi driver at Changi airport.  Over lunch and coffee, I heard my daughter’s foster mother talk about the teachings of Confucius. At the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd I greeted baby Christ in a Belen on His birthday. This happened because I intentionally shed my role as a professor while on vacation, allowing many experiences coming my way to teach and guide me. Like a student mastering the letters of the alphabet, I revisited the wisdom of the ABCs – Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Christ – of yesteryears in search for peace and harmony in a world that has gone into extremes.

A. Aristotle at the National Museum of Singapore.  On New Year’s Day I found it hard to resist the invitation of the National Museum to its Grecian exhibits.  My wife and I were treated to a free viewing of 130 pieces of artifact: sculptures, figures, reliefs, vases, and jewelry in the Classical Period (5th to 4th Century BCE) of Greece. For the first time I came face to face with the life-size bust of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato.  I recalled how these great thinkers shaped not only the Grecian civilization but also that of the entire Western hemisphere.  They became an inspiration to the European Renaissance, Enlightenment and modern science.

I single out Aristotle more for his logic taught to me by Prof. Ariston Estrada at De La Salle Manila. His influence on Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica pointed out to me by Br. John Burns FSC in my Scholastic years.  Above all, his idea of the golden mean and the importance of virtue (staying on the balance, without going into extremes) were impressed upon me by the Christian Brothers throughout my Lasallian formation.

Lou Marinoff in his book, The Middle Way, suggests that Aristotle’s ethical and philosophical thoughts are most needed today in a world that has gone into extremes.  Today, the absence of ‘virtue’ is so pronounced.  We are pushed to extreme TV excitement (Fear Factor, XGames, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Ultimate Guinness World Record, etc), extreme medical intervention (cloning, beauty enhancement, DNA testing, stem cells), extreme politics (people power, assassination, corruption and manipulation) and extreme religion (fundamentalism, cult and terrorism) to name a few.

After walking through the Grecian cultural exhibit of Singapore museum, I felt a secret longing to live in Ancient Greece and enjoy the freedom of the men of Athens in a city state. Singapore, a modern city-state, appears to be Athens of today, providing its citizens [and visitors like me] a life of socio-political stability, of flourishing arts and culture, and of economic prosperity. Even for a short respite this holiday season, Singapore has allowed me to experience the peace and quiet my spirit has been longing for while staying at a suburban high-rise residence of my daughter in Newton Suites.

B. Buddha and the Diamond Cutter.  As soon as I sat at the front seat of a Changi airport taxi, I knew at once something was different with our driver.  A butch haircut and a chest fully expanded told me our Singaporean driver was not male.  Momentarily, my memory flashed back to Munich 30 years ago. There, I first met one such buxomly driver who nonchalantly picked up my heavy suitcase and effortlessly stuffed it at the back of a Mercedes Benz taxi. Very distant and formal, she drove me to the airport.  But my Asian driver was a lot friendlier and she exchanged pleasantries with me.  Having introduced myself as a university professor teaching business ethics she surprised me when she recommended a book, The Diamond Cutter. Borders bookstore at Wheelock’s Place did yield the diamond but Kinokuniya at Takashimaya on Orchard Road gave me the treasure I was looking for.

After my wife reviewed Geshe Michael Roach’s The Diamond Cutter, she cited Lama Surya Das’ Awakening the Buddha Within as an introduction to the personal account of Roach’s application of Buddha wisdom [sayings] in a million dollar diamond business he founded in New York. Roach tells his reader to put Buddha at the center of one’s personal life and one’s business concern.  For him, the creation of wealth begins with a full discipline of the mind that requires meditation and attention to the minute details of perfecting business procedures and operations in a highly delicate business like buying and selling diamonds.  For social responsibility, he says, “At its peak then the generosity reaches a place where you are seriously investing all…because you have consciously readjusted the borders of ‘me’ to include all of ‘them,’ and you are, basically, just taking care of a (much) bigger ‘me’ now.” In search for life’s meaning, he continues, “The person who has the best chance of truly being generous to others is a person who has figured out the biggest secret of life – the biggest source of happiness; a person who has figured out that just working for a single ‘me,’ a single mouth and a single stomach, is profoundly boring, uninspiring, and false to our whole human nature.”

Buddha himself maintained that the secret of each person’s complete fulfillment lies within, and is not dependent on any supernatural power or future life.  He taught that each one holds the key to personal redemption, salvation, guidance, and liberation.

What is Buddha’s path to virtue?  It is not, as many Westerners and non-Buddhist think.  Virtue is not a weak or ‘middle-of-the-road” compromise.  According to Daisaku Ikeda, the essence of virtue or middle way is “reverence for the sanctity of life—one’s own life, the lives of other people, the life of non-human and all its extensive and intricate interrelations—coupled with the determination to make this reverence the basis for all one’s actions…when the value of human dignity and life is accorded this kind of centrality, there can be no question of compromise or accommodation with forces of destruction and divisiveness than would threaten life or undermine our humanity.”

C. Confucius at Wheelock’s Place and Novena Velocity.  The foster mother of our daughter, while on fellowship at the National University of Singapore in 2001, has become an endearing friend of our family to this day.  This Christmas she treated my wife and I to lunch at Wheelock’s Place and coffee at the Novena Velocity Mall to update our respective journeys in life.  From our conversation, I gathered some images of her devotion and dedication to her aging parents.  Without fail, she visits her mom and dad at least once a week and makes sure she celebrates important events like New Year, Christmas and special family occasions.

Confucius has had a profound influence on Chinese, Korean, and Japanese philosophy.  According to Hyun Hochsmann, his influence is even greater than Aristotle’s prodigious influence on the West. From The Book of Odes, Confucius believed that loving one’s fellowman is a central virtue of Confucian ethics. From The Book of History, he taught his followers to venerate ancestry and to honor ones parents. Today, the influence of Confucius among the Chinese Singaporeans is quietly pervasive not only with the foster mother of our daughter, but also among those I talked to like the taxi drivers, mall sales clerks and fast food service providers.

C Again. Christ Jesus at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.  On December 30th, Feast of the Holy Family, my wife and I decided to visit new born Jesus at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.  There, we were treated to a sung mass rendered by the choir of the Risen Christ under the direction of Sir Peter Low, Papal Knight of the Order of St. Gregory.  The songs were a ‘halo-halo’ of Gregorian chants (kyrie, sanctus, agnus dei and pater noster) and traditional classics: entrance (All Are Welcome), offertory (Carol at the Bethlehem Cave) and Communion (Once in Royal City of David).  The celebration ended with a triumphant blast of the French horns and rumblings of the kettle drums that signal the recessional singing of Joy to the World composed and arranged by Isaac Watts and George F. Handel respectively.

A little Asian girl who was slumped all through the mass straightened up and told her mom, “I am awake.” My wife interpreted this as “the awakening of Buddha within.”  These statement could very well have been the congregation’s grand finale: Our hearts are filled with joy, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ who came to redeem us.  In Buddhist terms, this Christian revelation comes as true Enlightenment from within.

In closing, my holiday would have been a mere Christmassy walk at the malls along Orchard Road filled with decors and glittering lights. But I regained my Pasko sa Pinas feeling by attending mass with our many kababayans at the Novena Church and the traditional sung mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd made it Christ’s mass for me. Little Philippines came to life when occasionally we were greeted by our kababayans serving and cooking in restaurants, welcoming us at novelty shops and attending to our grocery needs.  These acquaintances brought us closer to a Pinoy Christmas in Singapore.

With Marinoff, I exhort those who are making their New Year resolution to: Be the Aristotelian in our unrelenting commitment to improving our mind.  Be Buddhist in our unstinting effort to deepen our compassionate heart.  Be Confucian in our unselfish devotion to serve our kinfolks and fellow beings.

May I add as an Asian Catholic: Be Christian by loving God with all our heart as we love your neighbor.  Rooted within us are the natural and spiritual keys of the East and West meant for the betterment of the human condition; we wield awesome natural and supra-natural powers to make a difference for the true, the good and the beautiful.  Let us then revisit, renew and relearn our ABCs from Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius and Christ whose basic and primary concern for humanity have made us human and continue to invite to be fully human in a world that has gone into extremes.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply