Philosopher Café:Shortage and Abundance - Values and Personal Circumstances: A Dialogue

【Reported by Ye Shuying and Chen Meiru】On July 30 the “Philosophers’ Cafe” was held at the Chan Cafe on the first floor of Degui Academy for the first time to give it a real cafe atmosphere. Under the guidance of Ms. Gu Chongyu, a teacher at Dharma Drum University, the 20-plus participants brought out different perspectives and shared their own life experiences.

At the very beginning of the activity, Ms. Gu introduced philosophical ideas about shortage and abundance by quoting a passage from Laozi, “The five colors blind the eye. The five tones deafen the ear. The five flavors dull the taste. Racing and hunting madden the mind. Precious things lead one astray.” Then she guided the participants to reflect on several core topics as a line of inquiry.

The first thing they explored was the contrast between the environment and the one’s state of mind. For instance, when people stay in different situations, and meet with different conditions, do they have different perceptions? Next, she had all participants reflect on their experience to discover what gives them a feeling of abundance, and what causes them to feel there's a shortage. She then had them engage in an inner dialogue with their physical and mental states based on  their perception of abundance and shortage. The participants included both young students and senior citizens. In terms of social roles, they ranged over a wide spectrum from university students, homemakers, and retired teachers, to employees of 3C industries. This diversity created many interesting crosscurrents in this discussion.

As we are living in the E-Age, phenomena such as 3C products, e-mail, blogs, and community websites on the Internet all became hot topics for everyone to think about shortage and abundance during the discussion process. For instance, facing rapidly changing 3C products, do we have to keep up by owning and learning about them constantly? If we have actual problems doing that or do not have that intention, would we be left behind by the era and the environment? As there were people present working in the related industries, diversified perspectives came up. Ms. Gu brought up issues such as those concerning the building of the concept of value into the discussion, making everyone think about what we should base our judgment on in the process of making choices.

Ms. Gu also cited the analysis on desire by the philosopher Epicurus: “There are three kinds of desire: one kind is natural and necessary, another kind is natural but unnecessary, and one other kind is unnatural and unnecessary.” She asked everyone to think together, from the definition to its connection with life, about the question: What is natural, what is necessary, what is unnatural, and what is unnecessary?

In the process of the discussion, the participants also brought out many trenchant views, as well as interesting perspectives or experiences. For example, partners may feel a deficiency because the economic conditions of the people around them are beyond their reach. Some people feel a deficiency because they keep creating goals to pursue. However, they finally recognized their attitude about making comparisons, and thus changed their way of thinking. They found out that as long as they try their best to live their lives in earnest, there would no longer be issues of shortage or abundance.

A homemaker who brought her children with her pointed out that because she was very busy taking care of the family, she felt a sense of shortage after a period of time. She dealt with the situation by attending a seven-day Chan retreat, and felt enriched by being recharged. Another participant expressed that under the circumstances of shortage, she would fall into an emotional panic, and only thought of expanding as well as seeking support or making attacks, so as to cover up her own shortage. These analyses, which resulted from close examination, could serve to remind us when similar modes of reaction appear in the future.

Before the end of the activity, Ms. Gu recommended the participants to practice by assessing their own states after they go home and by making a list of possessions and shortages, as well as reorganizing and examining them anew to test whether something is necessary, or whether it is natural, or to reflect on their own state in a different way based on the experiences shared by other people during the discussion of that day.

Just as Ms. Gu said at the very beginning, many people come to the Philosophers’ Cafe with questions in mind, but usually, they leave the Cafe with even more questions. This, she said, is because a question is in itself the beginning of philosophical thinking. No matter whether they have received philosophical training, everyone who enters the Philosophers’ Cafe can develop or uncover their potential philosophical qualities through the dialogues. By continuously making detailed inquiries, they will be able to view the physical and mental situations that they find themselves in with a more diversified and tolerant mind, and set out to develop a new relationship, which results from their close examination of themselves and from their interaction with other people.