These days I am swamped in books, journal articles, papers, coffees, kitkats and computers, as I work towards my PhD qualifying exam – transiting, hopefully, to being a real “scholar”. That’s what the study guidebook says, whatever that means.
However, I have rarely been fixated with titles and designations and decorations. I have had many in my career. Rather, I am happy that I have done things in my life that I am passionate about, while doing things I had to do with the same zeal. In others words, I love what I do, and I do what I love – something that I always preach. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, I did it my way.
I won’t say I was fortunate – or that I am lucky. I don’t believe much in fortune or chance happenings. Try waiting, if you believe in it. In life, it is the choices you make, the decisions you take that will in large part decide what will become of yourself.
Nevertheless, there are people you draw inspirations from. And I must say, in learning, my inspiration comes from a quote by Buddhist Sakya scholar, Kuenga Gyeltshen (1150-1203), popularly known as Sakya Pandita, who said,
“Even if you are going to die tomorrow, it is still worth learning something new today”.
“Even if you are going to die tomorrow, it is still worth learning something new today”. Isn’t this wonderful?
Also as Buddhists we believe in reincarnation where your mind-soul-spirit, or whatever, passes on to the next living thing after you die (leave one’s body). My illiterate elder sister, who thought I had finished studying “everything” from Italy, asked me if I am studying again for my next life. I said, yes. She was very pleased.
You also just don’t get inspired by famous people, or learn from your own circle of friends, family or tribe. You can draw from some distant, unknown and unusual figures. For me one such person is Elizabeth Kirkby. Now who is Elizabeth Kirkby? I don’t know. I just saw her on the news (on the Net). She became Australia’s oldest PhD – at 93. And this is what she said that caught my imagination.
You can’t believe that when you retire you just play golf or bowls or sit round with your mates. You always have to do something
There was a time when I was seriously pondering if I really should, or shouldn’t, go to another grad school. Of course, I always had this crazy dream to meet Nelson Mandela, fly a plane and enrol for a PhD – by the time I hit 50. But you know, you always need that one last push. This news of some 93-year old graduating somewhere flashing on my newsfeed did that work. I jumped up and told myself, “I have 45 years to go. Better do something”.
Thanks Aum Elizabeth, wherever you are.
(NB – I first heard of the quote by Sakya Pandita from lama Dzongsar Khyentse in his talk at Yale. The video is on YouTube. Watch if you follow him)