Life’s lessons while playing mahjong

  • Letters
  • Friday, 08 Feb 2013

ONE of the things I miss doing during Chinese New Year these days is playing mahjong. Nowadays, my friends prefer playing other more exciting games like poker and black jack. Mahjong is for the old folks.

It is a little known fact, but the mahjong game reflects the Chinese understanding of their cosmology and philosophy.

There are 144 tiles, which represent 12x12 zodiac signs.

The pak pan, fatt choy and hung chung represent the heaven (thein), earth (tei), and man (yan). Then there are the north, south, east, west, the four flowers, the four seasons, and so on.

I have learnt a few of life’s lessons from playing mahjong which I would like to share.

Firstly, we cannot control what tiles we get, but we can control how skillfully we play the game.

Some of us are born with money, talent, beauty and some of us are not. If we are not born with money, talent, and beauty, but we play skillfully, we may still end up winning.

Secondly, you never know what tiles you will draw as the game progresses – your luck may change, good tiles may come your way later in the game – so never give up in life.

There will always be a change of wind (fung).

The converse is true, so we should not be too arrogant if we are born with money, talent, beauty – if we are not careful, we may still end up a loser.

Thirdly, whether you win or lose depends not only on the tiles you have and how you play your game, but also on the tiles your three opponents have, and how they play their game.

We do not live in isolation, we live in a society, and so we have to take into consideration other people, what tiles they have and how they play their game.

An unskillful player would only look at his own tiles and play his own game, oblivious of the other players.

A good player can read his opponents well, anticipate their moves, and adapt his strategy accordingly.

Also note that different situations require different strategies and it would be very unskillful in mahjong to be a hard-headed one trick pony.

I also like the Chinese philosophical idea of heaven, earth and man in mahjong.

Heaven is a thing we cannot control. We must learn acceptance and resignation. It took me a long time to understand this.

Far from being a defeatist, acceptance and resignation allows us to carry on with our lives and move forward.

Conversely, when heaven blesses us, we should be thankful, and share the blessings with others.

Earth is our environment (work, play, etc), and the people around us.

To a certain extent we can control this, but never fully.

We should always aim to live in the right environment and surround ourselves with the right people.

Lastly, man – ourselves – which we can control most. We should discipline ourselves to live a righteous, good and fulfilling life.

At a time when some people say a theological system of government is the best system, other people say a socialist system of government is the best system and yet others say a capitalistic/human rights/individualistic system is the best.

It is good to be reminded of the Chinese wisdom, that only when all three, heaven, earth and man, are in harmony that good things will come our way.

Finally, the ultimate win in mahjong is the 13 wonders (sap sam yuen) i.e. when you get one each of the pak pan, fatt choy, hung chung, north, south, east, west, numbers one and nine of each of the dots, bamboo and characters series.

It is the perfect balance, not too many of one or the other types of tiles.

This corresponds with the Buddhist idea of the Middle Path and moderation.

In life, there are many good things to aim for: A successful career, wealth, good health, good relationships with family and friends, and the many pleasures.

It is good to have a balance of these goals.

Wishing everyone a happy Chinese New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai, and may you achieve the 13 wonders!

ED SOO Petaling Jaya

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Opinion , all about mahjong


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