Budi as the Malay Mind: A Philosophical Study of Malay Ways of Reasoning and Emotion in Peribahasa
Author: Lim Kim Hui, Department of Austronesian Studies, the Asia-Africa Institute, Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Hamburg, 2003
This research  is a first scientific and theoretical attempt to look into the logic and emotion
of the Malays from their proverbs, peribahasa. Fascinated by  the conclusions of Goodwin
& Wenzel (1979⁄1981) that there are parallels between what the logic textbooks teach and
what the  Anglo-American  proverbs  teach,  the  author  sets  his  objectives  to  explore
whether  the  proverbs  of Malay  culture  indeed  illustrate  a  significant  number  of  logical
principles  as  well.  The  author  proves  that the  same  “socio-logic”  as  described  by
Goodwin & Wenzel  (1979⁄1981) can also be discovered  in peribahasa. Nevertheless, he
rejects  the dialectical  approach  (normally  engaged by  the western  tradition),  and believes
that  the  ways  of  Malay  argumentation  are  rather  monolectical  (non-dialectical).  Apart
from  this  socio-logic  rationality,  which  represents  the  realm  of  the mind,  there are  also
rather  strong  elements  of  emotions  as shown  by  the  regular  use  of  hati  as  the  source  of
passion  in  Malay  proverbial literature.  This  interesting  contrast  of  a  reason-emotion
relationship,  according  to  the author,  is  always  akin  to  the  up-down  movement  of  a
thinking  see-saw,  and  the  focus of  striking  a balance between  this  ‘contradiction’  is how
skilful an arguer will be  in using  the concept of budi as his fulcrum. The art of argument
in  this sense will then be determined by  the acumen of a rhetor  to synthesise  the harmony
between  akal  budi  (the  realm  of  budistic  reason)  and  hati  budi  (the  realm  of  budistic
passion). As  such,  the  ideal state of  the Malay mind or  the way of resolving disagreement
(argument)  is  how  reason  and  emotion  can  work  together  under  the mediation of  budi.
However,  at times  when  the  arguer  ignores  the  rational  dimension of  budi  (akal  budi),
then budi  (i.e.  budi  pekerti) will  appear  as something  rather  ceremonial, whereby  if  the
hati-budi  is  being  eclipsed,  then  the  soul  and  sublimity  of  culture  will  be  rather  non-
humane  and  monotonous.  Therefore,  the  person  who  can  motivate  himself⁄herself  into
achieving the summit of this ideal state is a budiman (the person of wisdom). Drawing his
evidences  from  various sources,  viz.  historical,  etymological,  geographical,  sociological
and philosophical, be  it textual or contextual insight, the author further elaborates that this
conceptual  Malay  mind  –  budi  –  is  a  Malay  cultural  construct,  which  was smartly
assembled  and developed  as  a  result  of  culturing  falsafah  air  (philosophy  of  water)  –
representing  the  physical  form  (body)  of  maritime  culture,  and  adoration  of  semangat
padi (the spirit of paddy) – representing the soul of their mind. This molecular budi, as he
believes,  is  a  crystallisation of  cultural insight  after  going  through  centuries  of  various
civilisation dialogues  and  intermarriages. The  author,  therefore,  suggests  that  “the  theory
of  budi  and  its  networks,”  what  he  would  like  it to  be called,  should  be  used  as  the
important  platform  for researchers,  who  are  interested  to understand  the  Malay  mind
generally or the Malay logic, rhetoric or philosophy particularly.

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