Selections for the READING preceding the Baccalaureate Address
Reading from the Scripture
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
What does the worker gain from his toil?
I have seen the burden God has laid on men.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil--this is the gift of God.
I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.
Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before; and God will call the past to account.
HERACLITUS OF EPHESUS (535-475 BCE)
Other men fail to notice what they do when they are awake, just as they forget what they do when asleep. [B1]
Although the account is common, most men live as if they had a private understanding. [B2]
Most people do not understand the things they experience, nor do they know what they have learned;
but they seem to themselves to have done so. [B6]
If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it, for it is trackless and unexplored. [B7]
Much learning does not teach understanding [B16]
Hôjôki(An Account of my ten-foot-square Hut), 1212 AD
by Kamo no Chômei in the last years of his life as a Buddhist recluse in Mount Hino
Now that I reached the age of sixty, and my life seems about to evaporate like the dew, I have fashioned a lodging for the last leaves of my years. It is a hut where, perhaps, a traveler might spend a single night; it is like the cocoon spun by an aged silkworm. This hut is not even a hundredth the size of the dwelling where I spend my middle years. . . It is a bare ten feet square and less than seven feet high. . . I laid a foundation and roughly thatched a roof.
To the south [of the hut] there is a bamboo pipe which empties water into the rock pool I have laid. The woods come close to my house, and it is thus a simple matter for me to gather brushwood. The mountain is named Toyama. The Creeping vines block the trails and the valleys are overgrown, but to the west is a clearing and my surroundings thus do not leave me without spiritual comfort. In the spring I see waves of wistaria like purple clouds, bright in the west. In the summer I hear the cuckoo call, promising to guide me on the road of death. In the autumn the voice of the evening insects fills my ears with a sound of lamentation for this cracked husk of a world. In winter I look with deep emotion on the snow, piling up and melting away like sins and hindrances to salvation.
When I do not like reciting invocation to the Amida Buddha and cannot put my heart into reading the sutras, no one will keep me from resting or being lazy, and there is no friend who will feel ashamed of me. Even though I make no special attempt to observe the discipline of silence, living alone automatically makes me refrain from the sins of speech; and though I do not necessarily try to obey the Commandments, here where there are no temptations what should induce me to break them?
. . .This lonely house is but a tiny hut, but I somehow love it. . . When I sit here I feel pity for those still attached to the world of dust. Should anyone doubt the truth of my words, let him look to the fishes and the birds. Fish do not weary of the water, but unless one is a fish one does not know why. Birds long for the woods, but unless one is a bird one does not know why. The joys of solitude are similar. Who could understand them without having lived here.
Gerald Manley Hopkins, shortly after his Ordination in 1877
Glory be to God for dappled things --
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced -- fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how!)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
In translation, it goes:
Al is someone who rarely makes mistakes.
No, the blunder I am thinking of is his inviting me to be this year's Baccalaureate speaker. see also return to
BACCALAURETE ADDRESS: IDLE BUT NOT IDLY
There is a saying in Japan that every Japanese knows,
which I take very close to my heart.
But when he errs, he errs big.
until its true sense becomes clear only years later.
Mine is to have accepted the invitation.
the president should have known this by now,
I might stir you up to believe in my qualifications
I might excite you to feel uplifted and inspired
that your future is bright and full of adventures.
that learning is a lifelong endeavor that never ceases to cease.
that you'd better brace yourself with an armor
but it has a distinctly infelicitous flavor I don't savor.
I could try to be noble and say that with your enviable education
But this, too, you've heard more than once.
Or, I could perhaps tell you what I know best,
in life no less than in Liberal Arts Education.
Idleness has a bad reputation.
to run at a slow speed or out of gear (of a motor or a machine)."
Maybe you deserve idleness after four years at Swarthmore.
Swarthmore is a formidable place. Formidable,yes, it is, but also formidable.
You know that too well after these four long arduous years,
or five for a small fitful minority, or even six.
Those bound syllabi listing volumes of reading
Those sleepless nights induced not by insomnia but by deadlines to meet.
The pressure of participating in class discussions
All those four years of unrelenting intense hard work!
I know what long arduous years feel like.
I worked just as hard doling out my share of your burden.
am I finally allowed to graduate,
and I don't even get a sheepskin.
Think also how your perception of time changed.
How fast, when you reflect upon it, four years have come and gone!
confidence, compassion, and command of the English language,
the fine art of learning how to learn, and
resistance to disappointments and failures,
But others among you, between studies and parties, may have let it slip out of memory.
I want to make a special note of it
. . . .
. . . .
. . . .
a hushed world, a quiet world.
Becoming aware of it, you have also silenced your mind.
Then, there is, on the other, the silent mind.
In silence you see more.
In silence you feel what it is to feel through the pores of your skin.
In silence we awake and experience the world anew.
In silence we see more clearly what we have known before only by recognition.
In silence we see beauty in Nature, grand and miniscule,
in great mountains and creeping caterpillars.
and seek solace in solitude, especially in time of sorrow.
actively and fully appreciate the College's natural environment
so lovingly planted and tended by our Scott Arboretum,
the Japanese for their art of tea ceremony.
Even when we gather to pray, we commune with the divine silently, alone.
It can happen only when we are alone and silent.
away from the toil, troubles, and tribulations of the secular world
For Kamo no Chômei in his mountain retreat,
where he built for himself a ten-foot-square hut,
I say its more; silence is sacred.
In the world of urban cacophony,
we can close our mind and shut out the clamor and meditate.
If you want to pray, you can pray anywhere.
we can also see the built environment anew with fresh eyes,
in battered walls and worn shop signs,
in faucets, doorknobs, and manhole covers,
in the dappled world of everyday things
in the kitchen, on the street, at the workplace.
is to look and scrutinize it -- alone, in silence, and we can do that anywhere.
If an empty mind is achieved by a force of concentration,
it is what in Zen Buddhism is known as Mu, or the State of Nothingness.
It requires discipline.
it may be idling but not idle.
A silent mind need not be a vacant mind.
A silent mind can also be fertile and pregnant. . . that is to say, creative.
In silence we create.
Creativity is not a prerogative of the artist, as so many mistakenly think.
evocative prose against scientific analysis,
education of the senses against discipline of the intellect,
Writers, musicians, administrators, scientists, inventors, scholars, athletes,
Committees may execute but they don't create.
A silent mind is, therefore, an independent mind.
We learn in debates, discussions, and workshops.
We can have conferences and brainstorming sessions.
Time to discourse, time to be silent -- zu schweigen, as Germans say.
But a mind, alone on its own, breeds them.
Then, there is, on the other, the idle mind that may idle but not idly.
or it may be eagerly experiencing the world with fresh perceptions.
It is the mind that whiles away in creative mental doodling.
You are struggling with a paper, unsure where it is going.
But if you let your mind linger and be playful,
a great idea arises, like Venus out of the sea.
it is busy to get there as efficiently as possible.
Then, it has no room for digression.
when it must therefore linger and dawdle,
when it halts and skips and crisscrosses playfully; and then,
in the midst of intense work on its way to reach a destination
is a mind which stirs itself for a flight of imagination.
Scholars, scientists, and administrators
practice it, often unaware that they are artists --
It is the mind idling creatively.
In our contemporary culture silence is an endangered species.
But there is also hyperactivity.
We live and work close together in cities.
So, we have demographic density, spatial scarcity,
and longer and more intense social interactions.
Swarthmore College has always been a sanctuary of silence.
In the last 35 years we added ten major buildings, and more are in sight.
we now have smaller open spaces and fewer sequestered places.
But what will this place be like decades from now!
increased and still increasing social intercourse:
more extracurricular activities,
more social gathering places all over the campus, and
lots and lots of comfortable chairs
They are soporiferous; they induce sleep.
we are forced to compete for applicants with other liberal arts colleges
which are eagerly turning themselves into economy class country clubs,
cheered by some corporate benefactors.
I regret but don't bewail the Quakerly tradition of simplicity and quietude
as I perhaps should, proper to my age.
Social life does not necessarily diminish academic prowess.
Oh, yes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
the best know the precious value of silence and playful thinking.
Swarthmore College, I don't doubt for a minute,
will eventually return to uphold its Quakerly heritage of simplicity and sobriety
and market it as its unique unrivalled strength.
People in today's world don't like to wait.
It has been said that we spend seven years of our life on the average, waiting.
But waiting is waiting
only when we are anxious to get to that for which we are waiting.
to meditate, to observe, and even to stir up some poetic frenzy.
like Japan and the West,
people spend more time standing or sitting alone, in silence.
Those who had a share in such a life can attest to that.
Communication expands knowledge.
It is a transport vehicle for distributing information,
and information is a resource, the goods for transport.
Information is a fodder for knowledge, not knowledge itself.
Neither information nor communication serves knowledge without a creative mind
though high technology may lure us to believe otherwise.
We can do that alone; but we do that better working together with others.
groping, wondering, questioning, struggling,
rather chaotically but always playfully.
alone in solitude,
our mind will be silent, perceptive, and creative, and
achieve understanding that surpasses knowledge.
So, here is my exhortation to the Class of 2001.
Your private time
And private space.
Cherish and nurture
Silence in your mind.
Idle but not idly.
Then, the envoy.
When the morning fades away against the sky.
On our Space Odyssey we shall soar
In this most auspicious year, 2000 and one.
The Usefulness of Uselessness
In translation, it goes:
Al is someone who rarely makes mistakes.
No, the blunder I am thinking of is his inviting me to be this year's Baccalaureate speaker.