We are in Melaka, Malaysia, hanging out for three days.
There are many tourists here — many from Singapore, speaking Chinese. We watch them visit the ruins of St. Paul’s Church, built in 1521 AD. by the Portugese as part of a fortress — then used as a Dutch Reformed Church. Tourists photograph the ancient Dutch tombstones.
The inscription reads, “Laid to rest here is Hendricks Evertsen who in his life was a citizen, a captain, and a free merchant departed this life on 22 January 1698 at the age of 52 years.”
The church is now a museum. A cat inspects souvenirs for sale.
Melaka was an important colonial center, captured by the Portugese in 1511, the Dutch in 1641, the British in 1795, the Japanese in 1941 – regained by the British in 1945. Malaysia gained independence in 1957.
In each blog, I provide Taoist text. Lao tsu writes (Chapter 4, Tao te Ching):
“The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.”
I quote a translation from Steven Mitchell — and his version is not literal but shaped into poetry. Lao tsu did not have the same concept of God that was developed in the Middle East and Europe. Although, within Christian theology, nothing can be older than God, the concept of God has changed over time.
The Tao is like God but less human. Within Judaism, Christianity, Islam, God watches, judges, intrudes into human affairs (stimulated by prayer, at times). God does miracles — but perhaps not as many as in the past.
The Tao seems more connected to the natural order — useful, like a well, infinite, always available. The Tao is not jealous. It does not advocate smiting enemies who do not worship it.
I walk around Melaka thinking about this.
Melaka, and all of Malaysia, is famous for its food (Malay, Chinese, Indian) and the people from Singapore have guidebooks directing them to visit particular restaurants.
The food is incredible! The Tao and God are here — a feast.
As you might know, I am particularly interested in religion. Karen and I re-visit Christ Church. Certainly, God and the Tao are here but there are also many, many tourists. This weekend celebrates 50 years of Singapore independence — a three day weekend.
Melaka focuses on tourism and has special “tricycles” for taking tours.
There is a Disneyland quality.
Inside Christ Church — It is a tourist attraction.
I look for the Tao — but, in a later chapter the Tao te Ching says, “Look, and you will not see” — or, in another translation: “You can look at it but you cannot see it.”
We attend a Sunday morning service — they sing the hymn Amazing Grace with original verses. It is a special event — a bishop delivers the sermon. He tells stories of people transformed by their faith. For example, a boy asks his priest if it is okay if his friend baptizes him.
“You should have a priest baptize you so that then people will know that it is real.”
“People will know that it is real by my actions,” the boy replies.
The priest ponders this response and agrees with the boy.
On the street, people walk around, shop for souvenirs, go to restaurants.
The Tao and God are real — but cannot be grasped by human hands.
Melaka has talent! Do you have a sense of humor?
Karen is Episcopalian and some people say that I am Buddhist but I do not cling to it. We have different perspectives.
A statue of St. Francis Xavier was erected in 1952, in front of the St. Paul Church ruins. The day after it was consecrated a large tree fell on the statue, breaking off its right forearm [incidentally, the right forearm of Xavier was detached as a relic in 1614]
“Does it seem strange to you that the statue was damaged in the same way as the saint’s body?” I ask Karen.
“It was a coincidence,” she replies.
“It seems anomalous to me,” I say. “The Tao, God, an omen — something like that. The tree falls on a special day in a special place — who can understand it?”
Tourists inspect the tombs at St. Paul’s Church — Is God hovering over, watching? Is the Tao offering water?
I wonder what these people are thinking. Their heritage is so different from mine! My country was also a colony of Great Britain but never a colony of Portugal or Holland.
They are inside — and eat special rice balls.
We take the bus to Singapore.
We ride the Singapore metro and look at people with their mobile phones — Karen and I refer to these things as piddle devices. People all over the world hold their devices in their hands and piddle. The world is transformed. I can talk with my friends from India, Iran, Malaysia, Australia, England — all of us piddling away, unable to see the Tao.
I watch people do tai chi exercises. Certainly the Tao is here!