The last article posted under “Letters from John Wan” on my personal website was entitled “Farewell Address” and dated September 2016. It had been on my website as a standalone piece for as long as my website was there, but when I created the new category in September 2016, I decided to lump it together under “Letters” to make the head banner look less crowded. Well, nobody has asked me what it was all about – possibly because not many people have noticed – but I think I should explain why it was there, lest even I myself might forget why some years down the road. It was my speech at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in July 2001 when I handed my governorship to Johnson Chu. The Officiating Guest on the occasion was C Y Leung, then the Convener of Executive Council.
It would be an understatement to say that a lot of water has passed under the bridge since, but what’s wrong with stating the obvious. C Y has come and is about to leave, having delivered his last policy address; Alice has become President of her club a second time; Rosita has passed away and Su has come to my life; and so on. In the meantime, I am still trying to grapple with running my email account. Let me say a little more on this.
It is nearly three weeks since I discovered that I could not send or receive emails from my Gmail account that I took up about three years ago. My technical advisors spent some time trying to remedy the situation. The problem is, there are too many emails, or rather too many emails with large files attached. I was advised to delete as many as possible the emails after I have read them. That should be simplistic and easy enough to operate, but the mind keeps reminding me that the deleted materials could be useful someday, particularly when I am holding positions, albeit voluntary, which are supposed to maintain records and provide other members who may need such information someday.
Suddenly I find that I haven’t learnt that much from my Buddhism studies: I still have too many attachments and I have not learnt to let go, not sufficiently anyway. In my strong moments, very strong moments, I would say to the mind that perhaps I can safely remove 99% of the emails on my computer which are mostly records of casual exchanges of information. For that matter, we have rented storage space in Kwai Chung to house things for which we couldn’t find space in our flat; and I dread the day when we would need to go over there and have 99% of the stuff removed to landfills. Such are the vagaries of our times. We created or generated so much information and amassed so much materials to which we became so much attached that they have acquired a life of their own. Someone somewhere would even call it artificial intelligence, which could become so powerful and overpowering if one allows them to be so.
Two months or so ago, I received a letter from a credit card company reminding me that I have not been using their credit card for quite some time and that if I do not use it by a certain date – to be fair, they gave me more than a few weeks – they would cancel my card. Now, this happened to be the first credit card I owned in my life, circa 1974, and I must have developed some attachment to it. I have not been using it very often because not many establishments take it these days. It is actually Diners Club International. I searched the internet to locate the venues that would honour it and was about to use it so that I could continue to keep it. Alas, I missed the deadline. Nevertheless, I am still keeping the card; and I don’t know whether I would get another letter from the company.
Buddhism put attachment together with clinging and grasping, which are the causes for unhappiness. To put it simplistically, if one is attached to certain things, be they people, material or conditions, one would end up craving for more of those, become addicted to them and can never be happy without them.
Remember Professor Higgins in Pygmalion, just as Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures which then came to life, he grew accustomed to Eliza’s face and possibly voice. In a way, we all would develop a routine and take refuge in it. We would even learn to justify why we have adopted such routines which then become our life style for which we feel proud. For example, I now try to go to the gym every day or at least five times a week. The obvious question could be, has the gym become an attachment. I do not have an answer for that. Do you?
I hope to talk to you again soon.