Notes to Poem: "The Last Lecture"

By Peter Y. Chou,

Preface: After reading "A Professor's Farewell Sparks a Media Frenzy" in the November 16 issue of New York Times, I was deeply touched by Randy Pausch's Last Lecture "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" at Carnegie Mellon. I did a web page on this remarkable person and typed memorable quotes from Randy's lecture. Then I wrote the poem "The Last Lecture" in honor of him, recalling other parting words to students that have moved me. What's remarkable about Randy Pausch is his transformation as a human being that is so endearing and exemplary to us all. Randy was an arrogant bright egotistical freshman at Brown University, but when told of this by Professor Andy Van Dam, he took it to heart and changed his life. He lessened his pride and started helping others to fulfill their dreams. It reminded me of the last line of Rilke's poem Archaic Torso of Apollo: "You must change your life." So Randy performed the alchemical transformation in his life turning lead to gold. That's why so many students and faculty filled up the auditorium for Randy's Last Lecture. What he had to say struck a chord not only with those at Carnegie Mellon but with the whole world.

Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching
Lao Tzu (604 BC-517 BC) was a historian in charge of the Archives in
the state of Chou. When he left for the hills, Yin Xi, Keeper of the Pass
requested him to write some words to guide his son. Lao Tzu left
behind the Tao Te Ching. This text of 5000 words divided into
two books of 81 verses is the most translated book after the Bible.
In 2006, asked author Michael Crichton
the following question: "If you were stranded on a desert
island with only one book, which book would it be?"
His answer: the Tao Te Ching.
Tao Te Ching: Selected Verses
Lao Tzu: Father of Taoism; Wikipedia: Laozi
Book: Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching,
Translated by D. C. Lau
Penguin Books, Baltimore, MD, 1963, p. 7
Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained
Translated by Derek Lin
Skylight Paths, Woodstock, VT, 2006, pp. xii-xv

Buddha's last words "Be the lamp unto yourself."
According to the Mahaparinibbana Sutta
of the Pali canon, at the age of 80, Buddha
announced that he would soon enter Parinirvana
or the final deathless state leaving his earthly body.
When Buddha reached the city of Kushinagara,
he asked his disciples to spread a couch for
him in a grove. He lay there, reclining on
his right side, facing west, with his head
supported by his hand. Buddha's last words
were "All composite things pass away. Perfect your practice with diligence."
Buddha's Last Words
"Be the lamp unto yourself. Seek shelter of your own conscience.
Do not seek shelter of others. Listen to your own inner voice,
Life is short, do not waste it. Use it with great care."
"Be the lamp unto yourself; personally examine and verify
by experience anything that a guru may tell you."
How To Recognize Enlightenment
The historical Buddha left us the simple, sincere message:
"Be the lamp unto yourself; personally examine and verify
by experience anything that a guru may tell you."
Buddha's Last Words
"All component things are changeable and not lasting.
Work hard to gain your own salvation."
Wikipedia: Buddha

Book Sources for Buddha's Last Words: (from Stanford University Library)
(1) "All conditioned things [phenomena] pass away. Perfect your practice untiringly."
    "Perfect your training diligently. All phenomenal things pass away."
    Mahaparinibbana-suttanta, VI.7; Samyutta Nikaya, I:6,2,5
    Hajime Nakamura, Gotama Buddha, Vol. 2, Kosei Publishing, Tokyo, 2005, pp. 157, 291
(2) "All individual things pass away. Seek your liberation with diligence."
    Digha Nikaya, 16; Anguttara Nikaya, 4:76
    Karen Armstrong, Buddha, Viking Penguin Books, NY, 2001, pp. 187, 200
(3) "It is in the nature of all formations to dissolve. Attain perfection through diligence."
    Digha Nikaya, 16; Anguttara Nikaya, 4:76
    Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Life of the Buddha, BPS Pariyatti Ed., Seattle, 2001, pp. 324, 361, 366
(4) "Practice mindfulness. Be still! All conditioned things are subject to decay."
    Maurice Walshe, Thus Have I Heard: Long Discourses of the Buddha, London, 1987, p. 264
    John S. Strong, The Buddha, Oneworld Publications, Oxford, UK, 2001, pp. 140-141
(5) "Decay is inherent in all composite things! Work out your salvation with diligence."
    Mahaparinibbana Sutta, XI.10
    A. Foucher, The Life of Buddha, Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1972, pp. 237, 267
(6) "Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!"
    Mahatanhasamkhaya Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, Volume I, p. 263
    Paul Carus, The Gospel of Buddha, Open Court Publishing, Chicago, 1917, pp. 149, 168

Last Lecture of Sixth Zen Patriarch
Hui-Neng (638-713) was the Sixth Zen Patriarch and one of the most
illumined Zen masters. The Platform Sutra is a record of talks
to his disciples. Here are some selected passages from Section #53:
The Master said: "My disciples, farewell. I am going to leave you
a verse entitled the 'Self-nature true Buddha emancipation' verse.
Should deluded men in later generations grasp the purport of this
verse, they will see the true Buddha of their own minds and of their
own self-natures. With this verse I shall part from you. The verse says:
True reality and a pure nature— this is the true Buddha.
For the person with correct views, the Buddha will call at his home.
If within your own nature you seek to see for yourself,
then you'll realize Buddha and become enlightened.
The instant you see into your own nature— this is the Buddha.
Within your own mind you yourself have the True.
Where the True is, there is the means of becoming Buddha.
If you do not seek the True yourself and seek Buddha outside,
all your seeking will be that of a highly ignorant man.
To save people of the world you must practice yourself.
You have wasted your time if you don't put this teaching into practice.

The Master, having finished his verse, then said to his disciples:
"Good-bye, all of you. I shall depart from you now. After I am gone,
do not weep worldly tears, nor accept condolences, money, and silks
from people, nor wear mourning garments. If you did so it would not
accord with the sacred Dharma, nor would you be true disciples of mine.
Be the same as you would if I were here, and sit all together in meditation.
If you are only peacefully calm and quiet, without motion, without stillness,
without birth, without destruction, without coming, without going, without
judgments or right and wrong, without staying and without going—
this then is the Great Way. After I have gone just practice according
to the Dharma in the same way that you did on the days that I was with
you. Even though I were still to be in this world, if you went against
the teachings, there would be no use in my having stayed here."
After finishing speaking these words, the Master, at midnight,
quietly passed away. He was seventy-six years of age.
Book: The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,
Translated by Philip B. Yampolsky
Columbia University Press, NY, 1967, pp. 180-182
Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng; Wikipedia: Huineng
Above: The 6th Patriarch Tearing Up Sutras by Liang K'ai

Alfonse Daudet's La Derniere Class
Alfonse Daudet (1840-1897) was a French novelist. I read his short story
La Dernier Class ("The Last Class") in French while in high school.
The story was published in 1873 in Contes du Lundi (Monday Tales).
I recall this tale vividly because it was probably the first time that a piece
of literature had brought me to tears. The setting of the story was just after
the Franco-Prussian War (1870). As part of the settlement, the territory
of Alsace-Lorraine was taken by the victorious Germans. The story is told
from the viewpoint of an Alsatian boy Franz who was often late to school.
But on this day, Monsieur Hamel didn't scold him for being late. He tells the
class: "Children, this is the last time I will teach the class. Orders from Berlin
require that only German be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine.
The new teacher arrives tomorrow. Today is your last French lesson." Monsieur
Hamel spoke of the French tongue, saying it was the most beautiful language
in the world, the most clear, the most sensible. That we must keep it ourselves
and never forget it, because when a people if they hold onto their language
it is like holding the prison key... Suddenly the church clock struck noon. During the Angelus
we could hear the Prussians' trumpets beneath the windows as they returned from their exercises.
M. Hamel rose, colorless, from his chair. Never had he appeared so large. "My friends, say, my,
I... I..." But something choked him. He couldn't say it. He turned to the board, took a piece
of chalk and, using all of his strength, he wrote as large as he could: "VIVE LA FRANCE!"
Wikipedia: Alphonse Daudet; Contes du Lundi
Text: "La Derniere Class" in English

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture
Randy gave his Last Lecture at Carnegie-Mellon University
on Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at McConomy Auditorium
to a packed audience of 500 students and faculty.
The talk "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams"
was downloaded over a million times and created
a media sensation. I learned of it after reading
"A Professor's Farewell Sparks a Media Frenzy"
(By Tara Parker-Pope, New York Times, Nov. 16, 2007)
The event received national attention in Wall Street Journal:
"A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime"
(By Jeff Zaslow, Wall Street Journal, Sept. 20, 2007, D1)
Diane Sawyer interviewed him on Good Morning America (Sept. 21, 2007).
Charles Gibson named him "Person of the Week" on ABC (Sept. 30, 2007).
He summarized his talk on the Oprah Winfrey Show (October 22, 2007).
Hyperion wins auction bidding $6.7 million for his book The Last Lecture.
Memorable Quotes of Randy's Last Lecture & Web Links

designer of 3D-animation Alice
software downloaded a million times

Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy
to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game,
or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory
computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate
a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience.
"Programming with Alice" (By Emily Sohn, Science News for Kids, Feb. 22, 2006)
Randy Pausch: Why is Alice called Alice?; Carnegie Mellon: Alice Educational Software

creator of a media lab enabling students
in science and art to work together

The media lab which Randy Pausch co-founded at Carnegie Mellon University
is the Entertainment Technology Center. Pausch created a course titled
"Building Virtual Worlds." This incredibly popular course put artists and
technologists together to build virtual reality worlds. The Building Virtual
Worlds end-of-the-semester showcase quickly established itself as the
'main event' of exam week; packing Carnegie Mellon's McConomy Auditorium.
More about entertainment technology

Randy's a loving husband and father
to three children, ages 5, 2, and 1.

The photo at left shows Randy's family—
his wife Jai, and three young children.
Dylan is 5 in kindergarten and taking karate.
Logan is 2 and potty trained. Daughter Chloe
is one-year old and says about 100 words.
In Randy's updated lecture "Time Management"
at University of Virginia (Nov. 27, 2007)
he tells them on saving time by delegating power
to others. As an example, he shows a slide of
1-year old Chloe holding her own milk bottle.
Randy's Family Photos

Unlike Job asking why is this happening to him
The Book of Job (Text) in the Old Testament tells
the story of Job— a perfect and upright man in the land of Uz (1.1)
He has a great household with 7 sons and 3 daughters, thousands
of sheep, camels, oxen, and she-asses (1.2-3) Then he became afflicted
with boils on his skin (2.7), lightning killing his sheep (1.16) & children (1.19)
Job opened his mouth and curse his day (3.1) Therefore I will not refrain
my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the
bitterness of my soul. (7.11) Yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine
own clothes shall abhor me. (9.31) How long will ye vex my soul, and break me
in pieces with words? (19.2) He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and
he hath set darkness in my paths. (19.8) He hath destroyed me on every side,
and I am gone: and mine hope hath he removed like a tree. (19.10) My kinsfolk have failed,
and my familiar friends have forgotten me. (19.14) [These quotes from Job shows
his despair and complaints on his sudden turn of fortune. It turns out that these
misfortunes were the result of Satan's doing, testing Job's faith in God. When Job
remained faithful, God doubled his fortunes as well as his missing children. (42.10-13]
Randy's talk did not veer off to religious or philosophical ponderings. After showing
CAT scans of his cancer tumors, he didn't dwell on despair or death. He focused on
the positive things in his life, on how he achieved his childhood dreams one by one.

Birth and mirth sum up Randy's Last Lecture—
no wonder it was downloaded over a million times.

What's remarkable about Randy Pausch is his transformation as a human being that is so endearing and exemplary to us all. When Randy was a freshman at Brown University, he was brighter than most of his classmates and proud of it. Then one day Professor Andy Van Dam put his arm around his shoulders and they went for a little walk, and said, "Randy, it's such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant. Because it's going to limit what you're going to be able to accomplish in life." The message was simple and short, much like the last line of Rilke's poem Archaic Torso of Apollo: "You must change your life." And Randy did change his life. He lessened his pride and began helping others. He became a mentor to his students helping them to work in teams and excel in joint projects fulfilling their cherished dreams. That's why so many students and faculty filled up the auditorium for Randy's Last Lecture. What he had to say struck a chord not only with those at Carnegie Mellon but with the whole world. The moving tribute that Andy Van Dam gave at the close of the lecture is worthy hearing: "Randy, you have been and you will continue to be a role model for us. Thank you so much for all you have done for us. And to allow us to tell you privately and in such a public way how much we admire, honor, and indeed love you."
(Photo: Professor Andy Van Dam of Brown University kissing Randy Pausch after Randy's Last Lecture, from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Sept. 19, 2007)

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (12-8-2007)