Life Enrichment 2010

The Life Enrichment Club: 2009-2010 


by Sung-Peng Hsu (徐頌鵬)

May 2010


Many people may not be aware of a club that has existed since June 22, 2009 as part of the American Taiwanese Senior Society (TASS).  It began as a discussion group among a few TASS members and has become quite a noisy and exciting program.  I have been asked to write a report about this group so that any TASS member interested in it may participate.


After I gave talks at TASS on “The Meanings of Life and Death from the Standpoints of Religion and Philosophy” (從宗教與哲學談生死的意義), “Life and Death According to Lao Tzu” (漫談老子的生死觀), and “Life and Death According to Buddhism” (漫談佛教生死觀), a few TASS members suggested that we hold some kind of discussion over lunch.  While I love to eat, it would be inconvenient for me to talk while munching on delicious food.  Being active in the photo club under Stephen Hung’s (洪啟峰) leadership, it occurred to me that we might form a discussion group following the photo club model.


On June 22, 2009, during the TASS Recreation Day, nine of us got together to discuss the idea of forming a club.  Our first task was to agree on a few basic principles of the group.  They are:


a.    Free and open-minded discussion

b.    Interest in the general ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty

c.     Not tied to or limited to any particular religion or philosophy

d.    Sharing ideas and interests and helping one another

e.    Serving the needs of TASS, such as providing some topics for presentation at   general TASS meetings


Our next task was to pick a name for the group.  After very heated exchanges of ideas, we were quite happy with the English name “Life Enrichment Club,” but it was more difficult for us to agree on the Taiwanese name “暢樂人生社,” because the phrase “暢樂” (t’iong-lok in Hoklo, roughly:  thorough or unimpeded pleasure, joy, or happiness) might be open to unintended interpretations and might not be very appropriate for a group of seniors :)  In the end, we felt that after a lifetime of diligent study and hard work, all of us deserved to find joy and happiness (whatever it means) through life enrichment during our retirement.  I was designated the first coordinator of the club.


The main purpose of the group is to share ideas through discussion.  It differs from the regular TASS meetings in that it focuses on discussion, not lecture.  Each leader will start with some basic ideas, to be followed by group discussion.  We do not know how long the club will last, so it has been more or less experimental and we have not actively advertized it.  The club started as one of the many offered during the monthly TASS Recreation Day, along with Go club, chess club, garden club, and photo club.  The meeting is held once a month from 12:00 to 2:00, after the morning recreation activities.   The club has gradually gained new participants mainly because some people who participated in the morning programs decided to stay around after 12:00. 


In order to know more about one another’s interests and specialties, all interested persons will take turns leading a discussion.   Those who do not wish to lead a discussion are also welcome.   So far the discussion leaders and their topics have been:


Sung-Peng Hsu (徐頌鵬), “Philosophy, Religion, and Life Enrichment,” July 20, 2009

Mei-Lih Chiang (陳美麗), “我的人生觀塑造背景” (The Background and Factors that Have

Shaped my View of Life), August 24, 2009

Sie-Ling Chiang (姜西淋), “人生觀” (Philosophy of Life), September 21, 2009

Wilbur Chen (陳文源), “Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom,” October 19, 2009

You-Yen Yang (楊友垣), “Random Thoughts on Random Observations of Time,” January 25, 2010

Yud-Ren Chen (陳育仁), “Chaos Theory and Fractals,” February 22, 2010


At Sie-Ling Chiang’s suggestion, I led the first discussion session, with the purpose of providing a general framework and possible topics for our club.  I went through the basic ideas in my previous three talks at TASS, arguing that the basic problems of religions and philosophies include such issues as “ultimate reality,” the nature of the universe and our human existence, the questions about suffering, evil, and death, and the human quest for an ideal life.  I pointed out that the purpose of our club, i.e., the pursuit of joy and happiness through life enrichment, might be considered as a quest for an ideal life.


The second session was led by Mei-Lih Chiang.  Mei-Lih had surprised me first when she wrote an article about my talk on Buddhism, and later when she volunteered to lead a discussion on her view of life.  She went through many major factors that had shaped her view of life, including how she met her husband, Sie-Ling Chiang, her life with her husband, her career, and how she became a Christian.  She expressed the view that her life was mysteriously determined by God’s will.  Her life stories and ideas were so personal and lively that they provoked a lot of questions and debates.  Even her husband was greatly surprised in several ways.  As the moderator, I was very glad that they got to know each other much better in the Life Enrichment session.


The third session was led by Sie-Ling Chiang.  I met him for the first time when I joined TASS less than three years ago.  After discovering that my background was in philosophy and religion and deeply interested in science, he arranged for me to give the first talk at TASS.  The formation of the Life Enrichment Club would have been impossible without his support and suggestion.  As many people already know, he published a book in Chinese, “知命開運,” after his retirement from the federal government, has given many talks in the US and Taiwan, and is now in the process of writing an English book based on his Chinese work.  Tentatively, the English title is “Genetic Fate, Environmental Chances and Your Destiny.”  For the discussion session, he focused on the second chapter in his book, first discussing some Christian and Buddhist views of life, and then proposing the basic principles for developing a good philosophy of life based on modern scientific discoveries.  He will no doubt lead us for many more sessions of discussion in the future, possibly one session for each chapter of his book.


The sessions led by Mei-Lih and Sie-Ling prompted Wilbur Chen to lead a discussion on his philosophy of life based on his personal experiences.  As many people know, Wilbur had been fighting against throat cancer for many years.  I was worried that his throat condition might not allow him to talk very well, but on that day, he was able to speak loudly, clearly, and with great energy.  Moreover, his philosophy of life surprised many of us.  He proclaimed that if there was some divine power that would grant him health and happiness without his own effort, he would have rejected it.  He also challenged the view that the goal of life is “the pursuit of pleasure or happiness,” and argued that it should be “the pursuit of satisfaction and fulfillment, and meeting the challenges of life.”  Wilbur’s basic belief is expressed in the famous saying: “I am weak.  Grant me serenity to accept those things I cannot change, courage to change those things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Some of us more or less expected that Wilbur might advocate a passive or fatalistic view of life, but his courage and determination to realize whatever goals he had set for himself deeply moved us.


When I was wondering about the next subject for discussion, You-Yen Yang volunteered to talk about something that had occupied his mind for many years.  He is a person who has many interesting ideas and is ready to challenge anybody, as he had challenged me when I talked about “ultimate reality” in different religions.  It appears that the only “ultimate” for him is “time.”  I cannot say that he really said it that way, but he decided to talk about it anyway, with the topic “Random Thoughts on Random Observations of Time.”  After studying the subject of time on the Internet, he became more confused than ever.  There were so many different views about it.  In the end, he decided to present it in terms of quantity of time rather than quality of time.  This distinction did not make his presentation much easier.  The participants jumped on his ideas from many directions.  It was another very stimulating and meaningful discussion.  Many of us continued the discussion by emails afterwards.  I more or less succeeded in figuring out You-Yen’s basic thesis, and sprinkled the discussion with Kant’s distinction between “time-in-itself” and “time-for-us.”  The email discussion ended up with one verse by Su-Feng Liu (劉漱峰) and another by You-Yen Yang in response.  They employed poetry to express different perspectives about time or something beyond time.  How fitting it was!  The two verses are given below for your enjoyment:


The autumn sun shines on Pope, it shines also the criminals;

The learned has 24 hours a day, so does the ignorant.

Fairness is one's perception, not in the mind of the Universe.

Oh, fairness is no different from unfairness; unfairness is fairness.


The autumn sun shines on Pope; the criminals are kept in the dark dungeons.

Everything has 24 hours a day even from different regions.

Qualitatively, time does not make men and women equal;

However, quantitatively, it treats them fairly for all.


The subject of time and space is not only a hugely important question in religion and philosophy but also a revolutionarily important subject in physics from Newton to Einstein.  Knowing that Yud-Ren Chen is a very knowledgeable engineer-scientist, I asked him to talk about time and space from the standpoint of Einstein’s relativity theory.  Instead, he chose to talk about something that had attracted his interest for almost 20 years, namely chaos theory and fractals.  Many of us were not familiar with chaos theory, yet it is often called the third most important theory after relativity theory and quantum mechanics.  One of the most important ideas in chaos theory is that many phenomena are deterministic in nature but not predictable, unlike those phenomena explained in the Newtonian physics and quantum mechanics.  Naturally, this and many other ideas excited many engineers and scientists in our midst with a Ph.D. degree.  He will definitely lead our discussion on related topics in the future.


It is impossible for me to summarize our six discussion sessions, each 2 hours long, in just a few pages.  I can only report some highlights here.  Hopefully, I have not made any major mistake in this report.  I must add here that, in spite of the seemingly serious topics, the most memorable thing about all these sessions is the fact that we all had a lot of fun.  Our laughter burst out so loud from our small discussion room that other people must have wondered what those seniors were doing in there.  Our main goal is to have fun (暢樂).  Without fun, there can be no enrichment of life.  We are no longer required to produce academic/research papers.  We have learned to laugh at our own follies and mistakes in our attempts to find the mysterious truth, beauty, or goodness.  Like a photographer who roams the world, with his camera, he takes many snapshots of what he has seen.  It is great if he has taken great photos.  If not, it is also great - as long as he enjoys the roaming.


Our future topics of discussion will include genetics, biology, values and democracy, wisdom, Zen, etc., to be led by current participants.  Our TASS is blessed with many talents and experts in various fields, with many retired Ph.D.s and high-level researchers.  The subjects of discussion will be as diverse as the participants.  We hope to make use of their knowledge and expertise to enrich our lives and hopefully make our lives more joyful, happy, and meaningful. 


If you are interested in these kinds of activities, please let me know.  Future topics of discussion will be announced in the general TASS emails, but if your name is included in our group’s email list, you will be notified of our upcoming activities in greater detail.


© Sung-Peng Hsu 2011