Art, Zen practice and comments on Lung Yingtai’s articles

Note: This article is mainly a review of the author Lung Yingtai’s articles. But through this review, I put together how art and zen practice are related, how each individual should pursue his/her art, and how society should protect and support individuals in their pursuits.

I have liked Lung Yingtai’s articles for several years. She is one of my most favorite writers. I remember the first of her articles I read is “oh, Shanghai men”(a, shanghai nan ren). Up to recently, I like her article ”bai(3) nian(2) si(1) suo(3)”( the best. She recently wrote a serial of articles regarding Taiwan’s election and democracy ( I regard these articles as the best of her articles. I like them very much. These articles are much deeper and closer to the core values. It seems that three years’ holding position as the cultural administrator of the Taipei city has promoted her to see things much deeper and realize the underlying principles.

This world is now a very troubled world. Taiwan’s democracy is greatly questioned. America is misled by the Bush administration. The Columbia local Chinese community recently had a very heated debate. All these raised questions in my mind. Why the liars always get their way? Why nice people always get cheated and misled? Why they cannot learn from history and people in other countries, but have to learn from their own lessons? Why they are so insensitive to things happening around?

That night, I just heard Bush’s primary speech on Iraq. I got very furious. On the TV, Senator Biden got the same furious. This stupid American president. The last chance to get the Iraq thing right is wasted again. He violated freedom in the name of freedom. He has had a chance to compensate for it by establishing the real democracy in Iraq, but he wasted. Now Iraq is in so much trouble, the world is in so much trouble and he is considering withdrawing? And there is no specific guideline about how to balance the power in Iraq. His 5 steps are really not significant. He just doesn’t understand anything at all, including the word “freedom” he has claimed to protect. American people can elect a president as great as Clinton. They can also elect a president as this Bush. What is wrong?

Then I read Lung Yingtai’s article “bai(3) nian(2) si(1) suo(3)” again. She said that literature is to enable people to see things normally invisible. Suddenly, I understand why many people are so ignorant and insensitive. Good literature is a super ability to realize the underlying principles, thus various things can be connected. Also the sense of seeing the underlying principles constructs a sense of beauty. It brings you back to the pure experience, pure activity and no thinking.

The same as I experienced in engineering training, literature is to grasp the underlying principles. The same with philosophy and history. They are all trying to grasp the underlying principles thus connecting different things. Also as Lung said, it must be centered on people. All thinking or all knowledge has to go back to the human being. This would explain why there are so many seemly knowledgeable people backing Bush up. Everything, no matter democracy or freedom, has to be centered on people, asking how it is related with every individual. So how should they be related? They should protect every individual’s right in pursuing at least one domain of art (For me, it is CS and elearning and I use this art to achieve the best balance). So that’s why I said everyone must focus on one domain of art. And no matter what domain of art you are focusing on, you will have to relate to other domains of arts and only after you do that can you achieve the highest form of your art. So democracy or freedom, they are to protect each individual’s pursuit of art and the sharing of their arts, to build a comprehensive learning environment for individuals pursuing arts, an environment both horizontally (involves various countries, areas, races. Thus the internationalization and diversity count) and vertically (historically) (exactly what Lung has been trying to do as the cultural administrator in Taipei.) In the process of pursuing my art, I am experiencing all of these. Democracy itself is useless. It is only a way to protect those essential things. We surely still need to do a lot of work to develop those essential things.

So we see again Zen is here: separate and connect. We have to enter the human world to experience being a human being, thus in a sense we are separated from other individuals and the world. We have personal experiences and we rely on it. But Zen is again saying we have to be connected to the world again. We have to be connected with other people and be connected to the whole world. We have to let the self dissolve. The article Zen Practice (zenpractice.html) is the best article for this “separate and connect”.

Please allow me to spend first a few words on the “separate and connect”.

The art is to experience the fundamental truths Zen has told us. One fundamental truth is separate and connect. How to be independent? How to connect? More specifically, how to cooperate? How to grasp the underlying principles thus various things can connect?

If we can connect, we achieve certainty. Certainty again connects us with our direct feelings. Our direct feelings are actually all we need (as sitting meditation in Zen). We connect via openness.

Zen is the art of all arts. It is about separate (independence, individual) and connect. It is to dissolve all set patterns. It is to realize each basic component and compose them freely in any condition. (Bruce Lee JKD, Like Bruce Lee said in his JKD, a kick is a kick, you use it when needed. You practice to make a kick a good kick. You combine various components to express yourself. Similarly in a society, we need to dissolve the set patterns (government, big companies and so on), we need to recognize the basic components (independent individuals with free wills and different interests). An individual needs to freely express himself/herself. In a larger scale, we need the fluidity to let the components (individuals) to be combined freely according to various conditions thus a society can freely express itself. That is why I believe our world is becoming more human because IT empowers individuals and gives individuals various forms to cooperate. The new options for cooperation greatly exceeds what can be offered by the traditional forms of social organizations (government, company and so on.) (Bill Joy said he believes small company as small as 20 people is the best.) (Democracy, for us so far, is to allow the regime change without shedding blood).

Thus how to identify those basic small components, let those basic components be independent and how to let them cooperate in different ways are the key of all. And this is what I am working on in elearning.

It is also why I said that IT makes our world more human. IT empowers individuals and offers many new options for individuals to cooperate. By empowering individuals, the individual now has opportunity to learn from people around the world and through the history. Also the individual can connect all his/her inner parts (for example connect physical science with human science or connect theory with practical experience) by IT. IT also offers many ways of cooperation. So we can see that separate and connect are actually the same things. By inner cooperation, an individual is empowered. Because the individual is empowered, s/he is more able to cooperate with others or share experiences with others.

In addition to the above, the art gives us a sense of beauty. The literature, the painting, the music, the CS, all give us a sense of beauty (although maybe in different sense realms). The sense of beauty, I think, is where the love is from. I think this is also why in the article of Zen Practice, it said that we have to fully embrace the human life. We have to exchange human love. Maybe love comes from realizing the fact that we are all already connected and we are all already equal.

Connect leads to certainty. By connection with other and with practices, you gain the certainty. That is the so-called confidence I gained in China. I was able to say that if you see the great happiness after hardworking, you won’t be reluctant to work hard. We can get rid of the self due to this great certainty because we can see self is standing between the great happiness (truth) and us.

Although I have been trying to grasp all the underlying principles, I should be aware not to pursue it in an extremely theoretical way. All theories come from the practice. The theory is by the practice, of the practice and for the practice. To pursue the theory, sometimes it is helpful to separate (distance) from the practice a little to construct the theory itself. This is “separate” (Let theory be theory). But it is dangerous to pursue theory in its own name. Theory, in the end, has to go back to practice, has to ask how it would help our practice (for example, whether it can help us in discovering new knowledge), and the theory itself has to come from the practice. For me, it has to come back to how it helps me in progressing in my art. This is “connect”.

Pursuing the art is like practicing Zen. It needs the same hardworking, pain enduring. Hardworking gives you the most direct and reliable experiences. It needs to experience the independence and connection. It gives you the sense of beauty and exchange of love. “Connect” is to exchange love.

Maybe it is the sense of beauty and exchange of love we are all working hard for.

Art is to express yourself (As Bruce Lee said, martial arts is to express yourself.). Great artists can freely express himself/herself. Expressing is relating (connecting).

Only talking about separate and connect is too abstract. You need to really experience it. So that is why the article Zen Practice said we need to fully embrace human life. How to fully embrace human life? Choose a domain of art and work hard on it. Experience the separate and connect. Exchange love.

Just as a professor teaching Life Science said, it is all about boundary and exchange. The cell, the tissue, the organ, the system and the whole creature have its boundary. But they also have to relate to the environment and exchange material with the outside. So studying life science is all about what boundaries they have, how the boundary is composed, what’s the boundary’s characteristics, what material this boundary is exchanging with the outside, how the material is exchanged, in what mechanism.

The other fundamental principle life science teaches is everything has a life cycle. This is also one truth Zen teaches us. The cycle doesn’t mean we have pre-life. Just like that cell doesn’t have a cell as a pre-life of this cell, we human being are not special. As I have experienced, the self is only the source of our suffering. It is not the source of happiness.

But I still have one uncertainty: why this person becomes me? After this person, who will become me? Why I have to be this person but not that person? Why I cannot sometimes be this person, and sometimes be that person? How to answer all these? Maybe we should go back to the separate and connect. We suffer because we have a wrong self. Is the concept of “self” itself a wrong concept? If we dissolve the self, we can be totally aware of other people’s feelings. We can be aware of all other things and exchange love with the whole world. But it seems there is still a boundary around myself. I only reside in this body. What is I? Is it that if we can connect with the environment, we will have no self left?

Recently, on the way back home, I suddenly saw the moon in the sky. At that moment, I didn’t know it is me seeing the moon, or the moon seeing me. I don’t know. I really don’t know.

Surely I can use “separate and connect” to explain many things gracefully. It seems to connect everything together. But it is not a big deal. It is useful only because we human being made all these concepts. All is zero. From zero we generate plus and minus. Each develops on its own, and cancels out each other. Even zero and non-zero have no difference. All are equal. I suspect any other relative concepts have the same lay out. What is the place for playing? (Playing is about fun.) What about mathematics and physics?

Life abroad raised many puzzles or uncertainties in my mind. Reading the article Zen Practice, helps me resolve these uncertainties. I have unconsciously known this direction and expressed in many occasions. However I don’t know it exactly. I don’t know how to name it. I don’t have this certainty. This experience would help to understand the meaning of culture and learning as human being.

When I was reading the Zen Practice, very often I have to relate to my experiences in China (such as returning to zero and loving all people around with the so-called spiritual love, participate in life with the “I am sorry” and “thank you”). Those experiences gave me a lot of confirmation.

Although coming to US gave me a unique experience, I will still have to start from learning all the basic things as a human being here. Because my learning experiences in China have told me that those experiences have to come from all the basic learning. That is what shaped us as a human being. That is what I felt when I first came to US and confused me for a long time (From my experience in China, I knew that I should be able to go back to zero even when I have great feelings. Not mention when I have no feelings. Thus I said no fake feelings. I should try my best to control my feelings. Only feelings that I cannot control are true feelings. But coming to US makes me seem to lose all my feelings and I cannot go back to zero even without any feelings!) Those basics learning are part of ourselves as human being (although human being itself is not a big deal). We should fully embrace it. Without the fully integration, we cannot attain the full freedom. However, we have to go beyond it. This experience has to be fully integrated with everyday life. As I have said, I am only a baby here in US and I will regain my culture here by gaining the American culture. I hope one day in the near future I don’t have to relate to my experiences in China anymore. Instead, my experience in US already closely connects and continues with my experience in China. At that time, I can say I am fully restarting my journey of human life I left in China. Let me try hard. I also know that when I return to where I left in that journey of human life, I already bring back a lot of stuff with me to give me a very strong source of force for my next step. As I had tried very hard in China to step forward, my experience and hard work in US already provides me the source of force and inspiration for new experiences.

“A new way of thinking can only be judged as useful in terms of its ability to flow easily into the experience of emptiness.”

When I was reading the Zen Practice, I understand the article more intimately after I stopped my thinking (the judging mind, the mind to tell the *difference*). Just the same as what I felt when reading Wang Xiaobo’s novel(Golden Times), just feel it. No thinking. It is beautiful! Pure experience. Direct contact with life. True love. Reading that novel in a sitting is just like practicing Zen. Sometimes I read his novel here and there and enjoy the fun of life embodied in his novel. Sometime I read the whole novel to experience how the logics develop. So I guess by this I experience thinking and non-thinking is two stages of the same process.

This is also what I feel in the contact with m (Let me call her m for convenience). In undergraduate, when someone asked what kind of girl you like? I said it couldn’t be described with words. I cannot say my girl should be like this or like that. No, no, I cannot say that. It is all in a sudden, all your experiences tell you in a tiny moment that this is the girl you want. Love is pure experience, no thinking. This is what I experience with m. As I first saw m, I can tell in a very tiny moment that it is her. Although I started to know more and more about her after that, the most fundamental understanding of her hasn’t changed at all and I have imagined what beauties and wonders we can create together. However, I came to US and cannot help her. Myself is in a big struggle now. I don’t know whether I should let it go. Maybe I should.

In my life, the contact with m has been my closest time to the absolute truth. I surely appreciate that and thank her for that. “Life is colorful”, I will always remember that.

I also remember when she asked me what kind of boy is a good boy. I said it is hard to say. I am one. But she insisted me to give the method to tell. I then said that a good boy should not only love her or girls, he should also love all other people and the whole world.

When I look back what I said before or immediately after I came to US, most of the words have strong background of life experience. They are from the integration of all life experiences and expressed via pure activity. That is exactly what I lack here in US. I was not able to integrate my life experiences in China together. They are so remote, so far away. I do need a lot of real life practice here now to integrate my life experience in China together because the core values are the same.

Let’s come back to Lung Yingtai’s articles.

About Taiwan’s democracy, many people criticized her for being too dismal. But actually I see a lot of hopes from her articles. She surely has realized the real problems and is offering thinking on the solutions. That is why she is advocating marching toward core values. Surely, as she expressed, she was in some sense disappointed with Taiwan’s present democracy. Politicians can still play dirty politic tricks and mislead the people. Even in US, it still cannot be prevented. Thus the essential thing is that we have to come back to people. Politics is not essential and necessary. Government may not exist in the future. The concept of country needs to be questioned. Democracy is nothing. Achieving democracy only gets us to be able to face the real problems. Without democracy, we will never be able to face the real problem, because all the topics are decided by the dictators and all the decisions are made top down. Only with democracy, common values can be formed bottom up and people get to decide which topic to discuss. So democracy just makes it possible for us to face the real problems. That is why in Lung’s article, there are so many problems found. It is like changing major. Before changing major, you are doing something you don’t feel you would like to do for your whole life. Then every problem seems to be a fake problem. After changing major, you get to do what you really like to do for your whole life. From then on, all the problems are the real problems. There is no complaint. Just face the problems and all your experiences with the real problems will help you solve it. So we should be glad that Taiwanese finally face the real problems. They get to think about what the core values are. I would say it is what I said above: everyone should pursue (focus on) a domain of art.

In mainland, we just haven’t been able to face completely with the real problems yet. But it doesn’t mean we didn’t have any progress in the development of the core values. Mainland has gone through more than 20 years’ peace. This peace is very important. Because of this peace, the order can be established. People begin to value the quality of life, understand and respect each other. Thus people can realize they want to do what they like (pursuing a domain of arts). There are many evidences in the recent years that more and more Chinese began to fully develop themselves in some domains of arts and their great creations have brought a lot of wonders to our society. I am very sure if each individual’s pursuit of arts can be protected by democracy completely, we will be able to create many great things for the world and China will surely become another center of creation. I don’t doubt Chinese potential of creation. We have created a whole system in the history. We have very diverse geography and populous people. If each individual can develop himself/herself (pursuing his/her arts), and individuals can connect (cooperate) freely, the great power of creation will be released.

So democracy and freedom are only to protect each individual’s right in pursuing arts and cooperate with each other. But how to establish a comprehensive environment (both horizontally and vertically) for learning arts, how each individual can pursue his/her art without being interfered, how individual can share arts and cooperate freely in creating arts and so on are the real problems.

Culture is about these core values. I like that article of Lung Yingtai about culture very much. It makes me very happy. I almost laugh from the beginning to the end. That is what I meant by culture.

I also like very much her work as Taipei’s culture administrator. She said that you could see several threads if you walk in Taipei through certain routes. I like this very much and really cannot wait to visit Taipei to see these threads. I remember when I was in Hangzhou, there are also many cultural places. Throughout Chinese culture, many gems have been condensed around the small area of West Lake. All these provide the people living in Hangzhou a historical dimension of living and learning. Walking through Hangzhou is just like walking through the whole Chinese history. Too many stories! While I was in Hangzhou, I had complained that this city is too small, too slow and not with many big companies and thus not a lot of information. I realized that I could only learn the traditional Chinese culture in Hangzhou. Thus I spent time learning Chinese Tea Culture, visiting the famous museums and sitting in various beautiful sceneries. The whole city of Hangzhou is like a very well designed garden composing of several aspects with distinct features. All bring beauty to the extreme in a certain aspect. Now I regret not being able to finish all the beautiful places in Hangzhou and cities around.

Such historical learning environment for arts is exactly what Lung Yingtai has been doing for the Taipei city. She talks about different cities in the Chinese culture and how to develop Taipei in such a context. She also talks about Hongkong’s culture construction. It is just so wonderful reading these articles. All her experiences in constructing the city culture are the results of facing the true problems.

Our environment for learning arts not only has the vertical dimension, it also has the horizontal dimension. Traditionally, geography of an area has greatly influenced that area’s culture. A country with diverse geography is likely to create diverse cultures. The modern technology brought the whole world into a global village. It is now easy for people to travel around the world and different cultures have the chances to meet. Thus for an individual, the source for his/her creation in arts has been greatly expanded. Anyone desired to obtain the highest form of his/her arts has to take advantage of all the different arts fully. That is the meaning of internationalization.

As Lung Yingtai discussed a lot of the Chinese culture and the western culture (she surely distinguishes between various western cultures), I would hope she might still be able to go deeper. As I can feel (I cannot express it very clearly now), culture is a neutral thing. It is composed of many neutral core values. Language is very important. For Taiwan, it is surely easiest to immerse in the Chinese culture. Taiwan should also try its best to learn other cultures. But the culture itself is neutral. For oversea students, they certainly should immerse themselves in the western culture.

Lung Yingtai’s oversea experience has influenced her very deeply. As she said herself, it enabled her to distance herself from the Chinese culture and she is able to grasp the underlying principles. Li Ao understands the western culture a lot. But he understands it by reading books. He has never been out of Taiwan. It makes a big difference to put your feet on the western soil and know every detail of the western society. When I first came to US, I was telling me: there was really a country called America. From Lung Yingtai we can see that knowing all these details are vital. For example, as she mentioned in her article, in any society there is always only a very small percentage of people who can think independently and fight for their ideals. Most people are just blind. This is also what I feel after I came to US. In US, no one can prohibit you from accessing any information. But still most people just don’t read. They just passively receive information produced by the mass production. They don’t know how to filter, analyze and digest the information. They are willing to be ignorant, to be isolated. That is why Bush becomes the president. Democracy won’t solve this problem. There must be some way to solve it.

When I went back to read Lung Yingtai’s early articles (“wild fire”), I am stunned that those famous articles are actually all dealing with very small things. She didn’t see things behind. She was just complaining like a grunting girl. Everything she complained about is just an isolated thing. They are not connected. It is very much like the debates in the mainland’s 80’s, very preliminary debates, just for attacking, for raising doubts. But I can see the same Lung Yingtai from her early articles, who is honest with herself, who is not afraid of being in conflicts with the society, who seeks truth endlessly. It is these qualities that make her finally growing into a big tree after these years, aided by the oversea life experience and the practical experience as Taipei’s culture administrator. People with such qualities are of a very small percentage in any country. US is no better than China in this. What we need to do is how to increase this percentage in a society. This is essential. This can prevent the sad stories that nice people always get cheated by the politicians into doing many bad things, violating other individuals’ freedoms.

But Li Ao and Lung Yingtai share one thing: both emphasize the tolerance in democracy. From Hu Shi to Li Ao, both emphasize heavily on tolerance. Even the writers should be tolerant. Hu Shi and Li Ao are against violent revolution. Although Lung Yingtai didn’t say the word “tolerance “ directly, she said that her pen is like a sword, and that it can kill people. I guess this is part of the reason that her recent articles draw back to the common core values. Core values are the things that everyone can agree on. We have to start from here. We are not making enemy. What we want are for the benefits of all people. We are all connected. People accusing Lung Yingtai for being too soft just don’t understand this. Lung Yingtai has said very explicitly that people who are holding too holy ideologies are dangerous. They want to wipe out everything. They violate freedom in the name of freedom. They tear down the core values and harm everyone including themselves. Chinese revolution has proved that violent revolution cannot change the soil itself. If the soil is not changed, it will grow out the same thing. So we have to come back to the core values. Already too much arguing! Let’s do some silent contribution, such as writing book reviews on There are many ways of silent contribution we can try. It is a good way to test if our arguing has a component of ego in it.

As I have mentioned, what make Lung Yingtai growing into a big tree are not only her honesty (endless seeking of truth), oversea life experience, but also her practice as Taipei’s culture administrator. Practical experience is important. You have to be able to realize it. Otherwise, all your ideas are not tested. Lung Yingtai said before she took the job as Taipei’s culture administrator that she may find out her ideas were all wrong. Thus she regards it an important opportunity to test her ideas. From my understanding, whether consciously or unconsciously Lung Yingtai values “connect” very much, and never violating “connect” is one of her principles. Thus she embraces all cultures and the chance to practice. All experiences, no matter from which culture, no matter practical or theoretical, no matter from which domain of art, has to be integrated together.

So from above, we can see how Lung Yingtai, as an individual, pursue her arts. Achieving high form of arts requires many abilities of the individual. One is being willing to endure all the pains in the process. This is the most basic requirement. For many people, it is obvious that pursing martial arts needs a lot of hardworking and pain enduring. But many people failed to realize such hardworking and pain enduring are needed in the pursuit of any art. In the arts of Computer Science, you would need to endure the pains of the debugging. Since software is about giving the ideas a concrete form, let the code speak. This nature has made programming extremely difficult. But these difficulties are real difficulties, not fake difficulties. Practice is hard, but is very essential. It is where all the true experiences come from. Lung Yingtai surely has also gone through this a lot. Although she only talked about it occasionally, I can imagine as the culture administrator of Taipei, what difficulties she might have gone through. But if you like what you are doing (the art you are pursuing), you can take all the pains. That is why “doing what you like to do” matters. For each individual, probably there is only one thing in his/her life that s/he can do with all the pains. Thus s/he has to find it. This is one reason why everyone should do what s/he likes. The other reason is, as I mentioned above, that only when you are doing what you like can all problems be real problems. The third reason of “doing what you like to do” is that life is too short we have to make every experience count. So this is the meaning of “play”. Want to play well? You will have to be willing to take all the pains.

There are also other qualities you will need to pursue the arts. For example, a good memory, being able to read fast, being able to think differently and logically…

So Lung Yingtai has being advocating core value and using every possible form to achieve those core values as she did as Taipei’s culture administrator. All concepts are revalued. Basic components need to be identified and we need to let each component to be developed independently and allow them to be combined in many various forms, out of free wills.

I have wanted to make more efforts to make the whole article more logically complete and beautiful. But since I have been out of social practice for a long time, I don’t want to spend more time on pure theory itself. It is dangerous.

For more elaboration on “separate and connect”, you can read another article: why IT/software makes our world more human.


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Filed under Chan/Zen, Cooperation, Essay, Liberal Arts

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