mindful attention

POSTCARD#316: Bangkok: I’ve been here long enough to remember what some districts looked like without the huge shadow of the elevated highway and overhead Skytrain. Congestion underneath; traffic jams, and not much room. Small markets, street food, but the population were okay with it – maybe forced out because a massive concrete pillar had to be situated right in the middle of where they used to be. But mostly they found another location, moved back a bit, shared the space among themselves giving way to the changing infrastructure.

The photo above shows the North/South Highway at Nontaburi that meets the city network of raised highways. On the right stands the Buddhist Wat Bua Kwan temple – buildings coloured red and cream. I don’t know if they lost a bit of land in the intrusion of the highway, they probably did. One thing the monks and laypeople who lived there lost, was the relative silence of how things used to be before the highway came. The noise level now must be incredible.

Then the road was finished and we’d pass by above the temple often, seeing only the exotic peak of the roof at first. After some time the roof was taken down and scaffolding appeared instead, then an upper floor was built. When the floor was completed, an enormous Buddha statue was placed in the centre facing East and the sunrise over the rooftops below. Then the walls and roof were built up around it.

It sounds like all this happened very quickly but it took special artisans 5 to 6 years, working  slowly and carefully, and allowing time for blessings and ceremonies to take place. Each part of the upper floor and walls were done in the same way and the special curved roof was completed with the whole extent of mindful observances.

Now it’s finished and we pass the building on the left side (lower photo) as we go into town (Thailand drives on the left). Coming back at night the whole thing is lit up and… it just blows me away.

Also the sense of the monks there, and in meditation morning and evening, otherwise occupied with household tasks, teaching in that beautiful place – but surrounded by this colossal sound of traffic 24/7. It says something about patient endurance, the way one can tolerate external things mindfully and allowing internal narrative to be in balance. The monks living there are sending a clear sign to car drivers and passengers passing by that it is possible to calmly persevere with mindful attention, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Remembering too that all things arise and pass away.


Ajahn Chah was in London, staying at the Hampstead Vihara. The monks were troubled by the noise that was coming from the pub across the road. Ajahn Chah told them that the cause of suffering was their sending attention out to trouble the sound. Sound itself is just so. Suffering only arises when we ‘go out’ and add something extra. Seeing our part in creating problems, a shift in the way we view struggles takes place. Instead of blaming, we simply ‘see’ what we are doing, in the moment. Let’s not get into a fight with hatred; exercising careful restraint and with Ajahn Chah’s reflection, we let it ‘fall away’

Initially we see this only after we have reacted and created suffering. With practice we catch it sooner. One day, we will catch ourselves just as we are about to create the problem. (Ajahn Munindo)

 

generosity

POSTCARD#315: Chiang Mai:  Click on ‘generosity’, then click on synonyms for that word, and you get loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honor, motivation, encouragement.

Generosity is everything. Its nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given, never taken. With generosity we can accept, we can share, we can forgive. Generosity leads to wisdom – the truth is without bias. There is an understanding of things as they really are.

There is ‘generosity of spirit’, a quality we all possess. Generosity, as a mental, emotional letting go, means releasing the tenacity of holding on to things. All that heavy stuff we burden ourselves with is removed in one single act of generosity.

What’s wrong with being generous, cultivating an inward disposition to give? A glad willingness to share what we have with others – why not? We have more than enough. Give it away. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Generosity is seen as a way to counteract greed. It’s a way of helping others and a means of lessening the economic disparities in society. Generosity is part of the Buddha’s ‘Right View’. The dhamma of generosity is a gift for all of society as we struggle for meaning in a world of Trump, criminality and so on. The dhamma of giving is a disinfectant, a gunk dissolver, and an antidote for all the greed, hatred and delusion.

“Curiosity endows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in their own mode of life which springs from their cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.” [Alistair Cooke]


Photo of the deva at the entrance to Dhammapala Buddhist Monastery, Switzerland, DHP Archives. Reflections on an earlier Post: More Than Enough

ko-el

POSTCARD#314: Chiang Mai: The silence of the morning is interrupted by a koel bird on a branch of the huge tree near us: ko-el, ko-el, ko-el – two syllables getting louder and louder, reaching its peak and the bird stops for a moment. It starts again quietly then working up to the same high volume, the ko-el sound echoes with the quality of hard surfaces of branches and the layers of foliage. All around inside the room: ko-el, ko-el. The end of the sound –el collides with the beginning of the next sound in the sequence: ko- and for a moment it becomes more like: el-ko-el-ko-el-ko, smoothly presented in a form the bird insists on, so well and I’m just discovering it.

The perception of the sound shifts back to ko-el, ko-el, contained in this space – and in the space contained in all the other rooms in this building. Also the corridors and passageways, in the elevator shaft, the front lobby as I go down to street level to get something from 7/11. The ko-el sound can be heard everywhere in the building. I know, of course, it just seems like the ko-el sound is in the building, in fact the ko-el sound and the whole building are contained in awareness, which holds all, no boundaries, no beginning, no end. The ko-el sound can be heard all along the street too.

Back upstairs again and I am in this space, the space is in me. I can say ‘I’ am here, meaning the ‘self’ arising from the mechanisms that filter conscious experience through the senses. And the ko-el sound reaching my ear convinces me that if there is sound, there must be somebody in here hearing it – and that’s ‘me.’

The belief in self is backed up by sensory data input through ear, eye, nose, mouth, the sense of touch, and mind. I can let go of this belief that I am ‘me’ because there’s really nobody here – it’s a figure of speech. The emphasis on it being the same as the object of comparison pushes the whole thing over the edge and the metaphor ‘becomes’ both subject and object.

Thoughts think themselves, dependent on conditions, that are dependent on other conditions; peeling back the layers of onion to discover there’s nothing in the center. The what-ever-ness, ‘self’ is not contained in me, ‘I’ am contained in ‘self’.

The ko-el sound shifts to some other location, the bird has flown to a different tree. Later in the day, I hear it again coming from some distant place, and after a while I don’t hear it any more.


Reflections on an earlier post, the ‘I’ metaphor. Note, “whateverness” sourced in Joakim (Sweden)’s blog: seeingwhatis

the blur

POSTCARD#313: Bangkok: My first visit to the eye hospital, unwilling to go, but blurred vision in the both eyes, and still I’m thinking it’s nothing, disregarding the fact that I’m finding it difficult to read, identify coins, and other necessary actions. Making excuses for a long time, and going on like this until I’m stumbling into things too many times; only then am I persuaded I need to go. Even so, still insisting no, I don’t need anyone to come with me. Thank you, I can manage by myself and next thing, I’m squeezing through the crowds at the Skytrain (overhead railway) entrance to get a one-day ticket (because it’s easier than putting the right coins in the slot). Some regret then, that I’d refused the kind offer of someone to come with me, but another part of me insisting I can manage, I’ve done this so many times what could go wrong? Same old situation, I am a foreigner living in someone else’s country, not possible to ask anyone for help, too complicated to explain – therefore there’s that familiar alertness, awake and mindful.

Getting off the train is a challenge, it’s a place I’ve not been to before, and I can read Thai but can’t seem to find the correct exit (the signs are unclear?) So I choose to go with the North/South orientation of the map, knowing that if I face the way the train is travelling as I get off, in this case North, and as I go down the staircases and escalators to street level, I’m always orientated in that same Northerly direction and notice which way the traffic is going so it’ll be easier for the taxi driver. All this because doing a U-turn can be a lengthy process here; somebody said the whole of Bangkok is one large, U-turn…. A pink and white cab is waiting and I tell the driver where I’d like to go – will he take me? He thinks for a bit (doing U-turns in his head), yes, ok. So we’re off.

At the hospital, it’s a long session. I’m lying down and they put some drops in my eyes to enlarge the pupils so their equipment can see inside the eye (this is just so freaky). The doctor asks me if there’s anybody to take me home because the drops in the eyes will make things a bit indistinct for a few hours. I’m in denial, thinking, I’ve been living in an indistinct world for a long time and have managed okay. But when I step outside, it’s raining and the world is a blur, a smear, a sea of colour, yellow, green and pink taxis, red tail lights of vehicles in vivid splashes. No form or definition anywhere, I’ve lost my North/South orientation, having come into the hospital by a different door.

What to do? A motorbike taxi comes along and I tell him where to go and get on – let him to sort it out. We get up to a surprising speed on what I believe to be the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, weaving in and out of the other lane, wherever there’s a space.

A great whoosh of hot wet wind, colossal noise and we get to the Skytrain station, with its dynamic staircase insisting on the direction we need to take. After that it’s just a case of getting the North/South thing sorted out, following the crowds up the escalator, on to the train, and into the coolness of the AC carriage, with this wild wind crashing against the window and the strange dark sky. A wind also blowing through the mind; papañca, proliferations arising from the single thought that I have cataracts in both eyes and have to have the operation on the right eye on August 9th. Mindfulness of breathing…


Reflections on an earlier post, necessity of mindfulness

have metta for the fear

POSTCARD#312: Bangkok: Getting into town from the airport is okay to start with, gliding along the elevated highway in a huge open landscape, and all the good-looking 21st Century buildings pointing up into the evening sky like some futuristic sci-fi heaven realm. Then, as we get near the exit, the traffic slowly starts to fuse together in a mass of end-to-end steel/chrome-plated metal units, creaking along like the glacier I visited a long time ago in Switzerland moving so slowly, the end of its 133 kilometer length is four hundred years older than its beginning.

Struggling with the thought that the reason I’m here is that I have to have eye surgery on both eyes for cataracts. I don’t want it to be like this, causes and conditions, waiting for the traffic is like the changes in nature, the ocean, the weather.

Reminded of the Ajahn Chah image of leaves in the trees blowing in the wind in a rising and falling motion for as long as the winds last. It’s just the mind blowing like the wind that can cause the restless, uneasy feeling. In its original state, the mind is still and calm.

‘To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear — meaning that you don’t build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimize the fear by recognizing that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It’s not my fear, it’s not a person’s, it’s an impersonal fear.’ [“Mindfulness: The Path to Deathlessness: The Meditation Teaching of  Venerable Ajahn Sumedho.”]


Reflections on an earlier post titled: “necessity of mindfulness”

 

blessings fill the room

POSTCARD#311: Chiang Mai: 07.00 hours: The alarm rings…. and it takes a moment to recognize I’m in Chiang Mai, arrived last night. Heavy curtains over the window; a darkness I’m not used to. It’s quiet here, the sound of monks chanting anumodana on the edge of hearing. A motorbike whizzes by in the distance, nothing else. Senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching for a way to ‘become’ something that will establish ‘me’ in this place and time but I can’t, I’m distracted by these new surroundings and keep returning to the narrative associated with interesting objects.

Too many, too much, I go to the window, feet on cool tiles, flip flop, flip flop, a sense of empty rooms, as yet uninhabited; space/time occupied with the moving of its integral parts – chapters from a book about furniture being moved into a new apartment, the ending hasn’t been written yet and the beginning is a continuation of what happened before that.

Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and ‘now’ becomes yesterday – here we are in the awareness of this moment, the means by which we arrive at this point in time remains a mystery.

Slide open the curtains of all the windows. A blaze of colour, monks in varying shades of orange, faded tangerine robes and a group of kneeling Thai tourists from the hotel opposite. (Note: the original post refers to Christmas Day 2012, and here in a Buddhist country it is just an ordinary day).

Jesus and all the other great teachers in history were really saying the same thing. In the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving ‘urge’ and from this place in awareness, it’s possible to see that I am continually re-born in tiny slices of time, minutes, seconds, into this self-perpetuating loop due to the habituality of trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want. Thinking that yes, so life is about trying to get it right, but caught in attachment upadana; even this, the desired state, belongs to ‘me,’ the act of possessing it requires that there has to be a ‘me.’

Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even that which I consider to be ‘my’ enemy, is also ‘mine.’ Thus creating a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth in all this and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Layers of associated narrative obscure the issue. People say they are so busy with ordinary tasks; earning enough money to support the family and no time to think of anything else.

In the same way, belief in an external creator creates attachment and unthinking devotion to this returns me to the same point of entry, again and again. It’s not so much about taking refuge in the Jesus or Buddha of the mind. It’s about here-and-now behaviors: sila, samadhi, pannya (virtue/ mindfulness of present time/ and the applied intelligence that goes with it). The blessings of the monks fills the room; slowly waking up to an awareness of this reality….

‘If those who lead you say to you, “See, the kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ [Selected Sayings of Jesus from Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi manuscripts]


Reflections on an earlier post titled habituality of former lives

 

limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

its as-it-is-ness

POSTCARD#309: A village near Hat Yai: Exotic red Hibiscus flowers and butterflies as big as birds. A zizzle of insects in the night and numerous coconut palm trees just standing around contemplating the situation – if a tree falls in the forest… does the world continue to exist when I close my eyes? Was this world here before I was born? Hard to believe it was, everything just going on as it is now, probably, farmyard animals, birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, experienced from here on the top floor of the house where the treetops are level with the roof terrace and higher.

There was a time when I wasn’t here – not born yet. I can understand that, so it means I can understand what the world is without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating, and undeniably, the present moment is all around the place, taking the form of objects, I see (as soon as they are ‘seen’), becoming the surfaces of things I touch (as soon as they are ‘held’). I keep bumping into it, the present moment is all there is, and it is as it is, whether I am aware of it in its as-it-is-ness or not.

Sometimes it gets stuck, like a failed Internet connection. The internet room at Hat Yai Airport was closed when I was there, all the computers covered with their old covers and a sign written in English: “could not make a connection” – okay, everybody can go home now. Is this what Death is like? It could happen any time – it does that sometimes, the ‘fatal error’ – quit all programs and try restart. If that doesn’t work, ah well, it’s just the ‘as-it-is-ness’, probably, yes, whatever.

Happy enough with the present mind state that’s free of all the tugs and pulls. Maybe it’s the meds, the all-inclusiveness of my condition; continued awareness applied to everything in the environment and engaged in the various happenings of the day. It’s really interesting to be in this pleasant rural remoteness, and So What if I’ve been trying to get a connection all day? I’m just hoping for the best, without clinging to the idea there’s a problem about that. Meanwhile, the world and everything is going along, death arrives one day…  that letting-go thing again. Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, the forgetfulness of holding on to things; an easing away somewhere…

“… How much more harmoniously the days are passing compared with those when we gave in to the slightest stimulus for interfering in the world by deed, word, emotion or thought. As if protected by invisible armour against the banalities and importunities of the outer world, one will walk through (the) days serenely and content, with an exhilarating feeling of ease and freedom. It is as if, from the unpleasant closeness of a hustling and noisy crowd, one has escaped to the silence and seclusion of a hilltop, and with a sigh of relief, is looking down on the noise and bustle below. It is the peace and happiness of detachment which will be thus experienced.” [“The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” Nyanaponika Thera]


Adapted from an older post, July 21 2012, If A Tree Falls

sure-footedness

POSTCARD#308: Chiang Mai: Headache stabs me in the Right Occipital Nerve, on the walk back from the market with backpack full of vegetables, and living things I wash and slice and eat, whispering to myself forgiveness, in the discomfort and heat of the day. Yes, I could stop, fumble in pockets and squeeze out two capsules from their crinkly enclosures, bring to the mouth and swallow with a practised swig from my bottle of water I keep in an outer pocket of the backpack. But not yet, balancing backpack, stumbling slightly on these unfinished side-walks, lumps of concrete roughly rendered, landscapes of pavements we encounter everywhere in the ‘Developing World’ – tell me, is there ever a time when a country becomes ‘developed’, or is it an on-going state of development? Just look at Trump and American politics – okay, enough already… forgiveness.

If only… if only we had the sure-footedness of youth… I almost slip on the wet shiny tiles some fashionable shop has proudly cemented in place in the threshold of its brand new frontage… forgiveness. I shall not, today, slip and fall into the road, and be run down by a heavy cement truck careering through the narrow streets, as they do, on the way to, and coming back from a construction site somewhere in the centre of the town. Not today shall I meet my end under the muddy wheels and tarmac thoroughfare, forgiveness, forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Then later in the day, comfortable in my room, and what is it? There’s always something about the question that’s gently pondered, not posed, poised, considered… the pause before the dancer consciously walks across the stage; left foot point toe, place on floor, right foot point toe, and so on – complete the action swiftly. It has to be exactly the right question, but always not quite decided upon; what is it? Could it be that the contemplation of what this question is, is enough to begin to know it, without actually knowing it, for all intents and purposes? It just begins to be known, somehow… a kind of indirect situation that just falls into place, as we recognize it and see it thus, induced then deduced, who can say?

Words don’t hold meaning for very long, the question gets forgotten about, or possibly it’s still there in the detached state, just not functioning as a specific inquiry now, more like a wide-openness that’s waiting for an answer. In the same way as there are answers, lying in their own wide-openness waiting to be discovered. A non-verbal alertness, a strange familiarity, a passing recognition that seems to go on opening and opening and opening.


Photo taken from the aircraft window of the Bangkok flight yesterday. Excerpts from an earlier post: Somewhere in a former life

 

the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T