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Philosophy and Spirituality

I share here my personal journey through life.  There is no right and wrong way.  We all have our own paths and lessons to enrich us along the way.

I was dedicated to the Monkey God at our local Chinese temple when I was a child.  The Monkey God, in the Chinese pantheon of demi-gods, is a powerful being that defeated all the warriors in Heaven until he was stopped by the Goddess of Mercy and imprisoned under a large rock.  Later he was released to protect a Buddhist monk travelling West to obtain sacred scriptures.


Although I was not fully aware then, having the Monkey God as my protector gave me a sense of security and confidence.  There was a period when I was suspected of having a weak heart and had to watch by the sidelines during physical exercise classes.  I remember a sense of quiet acceptance and as I grew up, I do not feel lonely when I am by myself.

Monkey God

I encountered Christianity when I was 18.  My tuition teacher gave me a copy of the gospel.  One day, on the bus returning home from school, I came across a verse that jumped at me - “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church ….”[1].  I became a Christian and believed that I had a calling from God to be a preacher.  Christianity was my life during my university years and most of my twenties.  I was preaching and was a leader in churches and fellowships that I joined.  I was mainly attracted to charismatic churches, spoke in tongues and could lay hands to calm overly emotional people during a church service.


This desire to be a preacher and leader was a major driving force, which developed into a sense of destiny, over-confidence and arrogance.  Two things happened that changed me.


  • The first was when I attended a retreat in a Christian community.  During a prayer session, the leader of the community said he had a vision from God for me.  He saw a field with many perfectly round large boulders and I was a small figure hiding behind a boulder.  Every now and then I would dart out to collect a little sheaf of wheat that were dotted between the boulders.  I understood from the vision that I was not meant to do big things, i.e., adding more giant boulders, but to support small groups. I was to keep a low profile rather than seek recognition as a public figure.  This sense of doing small things continued into my professional and voluntary work, even when I was no longer a Christian.

  • The second was - I read the life of Watchman Nee, a preacher in China.  He too had to struggle with his ego and he asked God to break him as a vessel so that the Holy Spirit may fully shine through.  From that point onwards, my life started to unravel.  My marriage broke down, we divorced and I was ex-communicated from the evangelical church where I was a youth leader.  At around 30, I left the church and was no longer a Christian.  The trauma of what happened is hinted at in 2 stories I wrote.[2]


[1]  Gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, verse 18

[2]  Shooting the Rapids and Beginnings of Journeys


Daoism and Zen Buddhism

Once I stepped out of the box of Christianity, the concept of a creator God, sin and salvation no longer made sense.  However, I took from Christianity the idea of agape love, the willingness to love and do things for others without expecting a return.  I needed more though and I started to explore my Chinese roots. 


Daoism is not a religion[1], there are no gods, no creator.  It is about a way of life to be more attuned with the natural energies around us.  It is also about the relationships, especially between rulers and people.  Later, when Buddhism entered China, the blending of ideas between the two led to Chan Buddhism, which became Zen Buddhism in Japan.


The lessons and principles I adopted from Daoism and Zen Buddhism include:


  • The first line in the Dao De Jing is “The Dao that is the Dao is not the Dao” and can be expressed as “The Truth that is the Truth is not the Truth”.  It is a reminder that when we think we know something, we don’t really know, as we not only see the surface of things but also perceived reality through our own bias.


  • The concept of ‘wu-wei’ often translated as ‘non-action’, and mistakenly understood as doing nothing.  I have applied ‘wu-wei’ in 2 ways.  Firstly, to have an awareness of the dynamic forces around me in the present (i.e., not speculating about the future) and be open to opportunities as they arise.  Secondly, to understand the dynamic conditions in a given situation so that a light touch is all that is needed to solve the problem.


  • An understanding of leadership based on “When the work is done, everyone says we just acted naturally”[2] and sometimes understood as we did it ourselves.  “The leader’s presence is felt but often the group runs itself’[3]. 


  • Being water as a way of overcoming obstacles and making change happens.  In organisation development initiatives, because of market forces and cost, change must be driven hard to meet deadlines.  This approach may be necessary for commercial companies but less suitable when applied to development aid to alleviate poverty or to reform government institutions.  Results are expected within a project life of 3 years.  What usually happens is that project outputs are met but the impact is minimal and any change not sustainable.


[1] However, over time, Daoism was fused with Chinese pantheon of gods to become quasi-religious.

[2] Chapter 17 in Lao-Tzu Tao Te Ching translated by S. Addiss and S. Lombardo, 1993

[3] The Tao of Leadership, John Heider, 1986

Being Myself

Learning to become true to myself and to be, rather than to have, took about 20 years.  The early lessons came mostly from reading fantasy books.  The first fantasy novel that made an impression was the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson, consisting of 10 volumes.  It took the protagonist until the 6th volume when he realised that he had to accept the good and bad in him to fully wield the power he had.  Next was the Dragon Lance Series by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman where the heroes had to overcome self-doubts, made mistakes and learn to be who they are.


Although I connected with these fantasy characters, I was only dimly aware of how their struggles apply to me.  Then I came across Shakti Gawain “Living in the Light”, which opened my being.  Because of my exposure to Christianity, I have deep seated belief that the good in me must overcome what I perceived as the bad in me.  “Living in the Light” taught me that we are simply who we are and we can live true to ourselves. 


Of course, society does impose restrictions on individual behaviour and there are laws to be obeyed.  Hence, there is a need for circumspection but, at the same time, being true to ourselves does not mean shouting about it or insisting that others accept who we are.  It is going about our daily lives in a ‘wu-wei’ kind of way.

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Death and Life

In November 2021, I was diagnosed with stage 4 (final stage) of pancreatic cancer.  Before palliative treatment could begin, I was rushed to hospital with sepsis.  I was in intensive care for 3 nights and was told later by the doctors that I had only a 50% chance of survival. 


During those nights, as my subconscious fought for life, I dreamt that Death was sitting opposite me.  It wasn’t malevolent, just a waiting presence.  We looked at each other for a long time until I realised that I could absorb Death’s energy as life energy for myself.  From that point I began to recover.


As I got better, I had to come to terms that I will not live till the mid-eighties.  The oncologist gave me 6 months.  Spring in 2022 was especially poignant as I thought I would be gone by the summer.  Somehow, I am still alive.  There were months when I felt well and there were times when I had to be hospitalised and felt like dying again.  I don’t know when the day will come.  I might have a few more months or perhaps another year or two[1]. 


When death comes, I have no idea whether there is a soul that continues another journey or whether there is a God.  I do not feel that it is necessary to speculate as what will be will be.  I do know that I want to be part of the wind, the water and soil, as my ashes return to the earth that has fed, nurtured and given me life.  Our lives maybe short, compared to the aeons of the Universe, but they are precious and well worth living.


[1] Statistically, only about 10% of pancreatic cancer patients live more than 5 years.

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