ESR 2 Blog August/September 2023: Piu-Wai Chan

It is rather tempting to just write ‘Whereof one cannot speak, one must be silent,’[1] and just leave it like that. However, it does not really work for the ‘social norm’ of a blog. I shall try a bit harder to encapsulate this mode of silence by being not particularly silent.

Perhaps this is not about silence, but the search for silence in summer. Or the relief came with the shifting between seasons, with all the noise, heat, unnecessary movement and intense colour fading away.

Of course, Summer is commonly a time for holiday, travel, gathering and celebration. It would be counter-intuitive to think otherwise. However, here we are – there are indeed cultures and practices that seek solitary and inaction during the hot seasons.

It rather fascinated me when I first heard about Vassa in Buddhist monasteries. Vassa is a time (usually lasts for three months, from July-Oct under the lunar calendar,) where monks strictly stay within one place to conduct rigorous practice and meditation. As you can imagine, it is a commitment that requires a lot of personal effort but also external factors to make it feasible. Hence, the seniority of monks is counted by the number of Vassa one is committed to. Have you already guessed the motivation behind Vassa? In some ways, I wonder if it was a Jainist influence (I tried to look into this, but no luck so far.) Retreating into one’s monastery during the rainy and hot season is supposed to minimize harm to any forms of life that thrive during summer. I can relate to this, especially when I was on my secondment in Germany last summer for FEINART…it was almost impossible to leave the house without small creatures rushing into your month or eyes.

Then, there is the Ullambana in July (again, in the lunar calendar’s term). There is conflicting research on the origin of Ullambana, but it is largely believed that Ullambana was first started in India, as a ceremony for the deceased. It gradually spread across the whole of East Asia religion; China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, and Tibet still hold the ceremony to this day. It is not uncommon for people to minimize their travel during this period, particularly in the evening, to make ways for the ‘spirits.’

It is intriguing to see completely different modes of being in the same season. Summer somehow becomes a relatively demanding and mourning environment if one expands the sense of metaphysics in a less anthropocentric way.

There is less colour and less noise now. Temperature also dropped. Cold air in the morning is so sharp that it can cut skin. Yet, it somehow makes one feel more lively internally. Autumn is my kind of summer. [2]

[1] Wittgenstein, L. (2007, 1922) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Cosimo, Inc.,p.108

[2] Some of the writing was based on:

Harvey, P. (2013, An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices. Cambridge University Press.

Nakamura, H., 1991. Ways of thinking of eastern peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan. Motilal Banarsidass Publishe.



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