Apr 13, 2013

Thoughts from Cambodia

“I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don’t teach you in your temple.

The Gods envy us.

They envy us because we’re mortal, 

because any moment might be our last.

Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed.

You will never be lovelier than you are now.

We will never be here again." - Achilles, Troy

I went to Cambodia to pray. The day when I visited Angkor Wat was the same day as my birthday so it was the perfect time to think things through. Rather than arising from logic, this thinking was much fueled by emotions resulting from a place haunted with ironies. You may call it reflection, though I'd avoid the word less run the risk of sounding sentimental. Praying will sound more apt as I'd like to think that there is divinity involved.

I felt the desperation of the Khmer empire to build a lasting legacy. Was it founded on the fear of being forgotten? Angkor Wat was a display of this civilization's power - and even at it's grandest, it still fell ill to the test of times. Yes, the stone temples may continue to stand and it's beauty only improved by the mystery shrouding it, but life has been sucked dry and what remains are skeletons of their traditions and beliefs. It only shows how little we really are in space and time - a spec of dust or a spark in this whole creation. Yet how often do we think too highly of ourselves?

Then I  wondered if the institutions we have now - specifically religions, no matter how solid and true they claim to be - can still exist after a hundred years. We can see the influence of Catholicism and Islam today, but for how long? Egyptian, Greek and Roman religions served as truths millenniums ago, and now we call them myths. What does religions' contingent state tell us? I'd like to think that at the core of these religions are universal truths that are similar, if not related, with one another; values, beliefs and weaknesses that spans across generations and geographic borders that it might only come from a greater being (Western thinking) or from within ourselves and our shared humanity {Eastern thinking).

This time I was able to relate more to the Eastern thought because of the aspirations, fears, hopes and evils that unite us with even people who lived thousands of years ago, from the other side of the world. It's more relatable and comprehensible than Western ideology. Maybe that link we share with the rest of humanity is what drives us to do good towards others, to trust that our brothers won't irrationally hurt us or to believe that there is truth out there and we need to find it. That sense of unity in the face of decay maybe the reason why Achilles audaciously exclaimed that the Gods envy us. Instead of living off for ourselves, and doing anything we want (since we'll all die anyway), most of us decided to follow one's innate goodness, to be more loving instead.

And if ever there is a God, he's more likely to dwell within each one of us; he's someone or something who is bigger than the institutions created by men. A good question to ask right now is where does religion play in this train of thought? Since we have this insight of a being greater than human creation, can't we all just be spiritual?

I remember the question that my Philo teacher posed during my final oral exam with him, "is religion a mutually accepted delusion?" If I can answer him now, I'd still stick with my same affirmative answer. But it's a necessary mutually accepted creation of man in response to our weaknesses so we can fully comprehend that great being together as communities. As with the Khmer people of Angkor, religion serves as a communal response for us to sustain this innate goodness, and in turn, we are called for a personal response guided by the wisdom from the religions, but directed towards a more universal understanding and cooperation with each person.

Cooperation. Action. "Kapag nasabi na ang lahat ng masasabi, ang pinakamahalaga ay hindi masasabi. Magagawa lamang." - Padre Ferriols. 

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