OLD NOTEBOOKS: Nontaburi, Thailand: Alone in a house surrounded by trees. Leaves filter a lovely green light all around; birds, lizards, squirrels, I see something move out on the patio… is it a bird, dropped down from a branch to peck at something? There, it moves again – just a hop and it’s a few feet further on. I sit very still, don’t want to frighten it away. I see it now, in the same position, not moving. After a long time waiting for it to change position, I decide to slowly get up and see what happens when I do that. It’s still not moving – maybe it’s injured. I go out on the patio and walk up to it. Ahhh… the bird is not a bird, it’s a large brown leaf, blown by the wind across the patio surface.
Go back inside and look at it again. It looks exactly like a bird, and just then a gust of wind blows the leaf. The animation of it is absolutely convincing, but I see it now as a leaf, not a bird. How strange, believing that something is there, then having to accept that it’s not. The teaching about the rope and the snake; a piece of rope lying on the ground is thought to be a snake. It’s an analogy of ‘self’ seen in consciousness + name-and-form: I recognize that the rope is a rope, not a snake, and can see how the illusion occurs. Or I may not see it and be convinced it’s a snake… maybe for a long time – a whole lifetime preoccupied with a ‘self’ that isn’t there.
This small epiphany occurs after another curiously similar event took place in this quiet house. I’m alone here except for D who is a grad student, working part-time, and he also takes care of the place. I don’t see D much, he works night shift sometimes, sleeping in the middle of the day. The house is large and I’m never absolutely sure if he’s here or not. Usually he stays in his room so I’m used to not seeing him around. I just quietly go about the house, day after day, not making too much noise in case he’s sleeping and quite often forget about him completely.
Then, just the other day, I start to wonder what happened to him. I look in the car park and his car is not there. When did I last see his car? Two days ago, or longer than that? I go to look at his laundry – could be the same laundry that’s been there for a while… clothes without a person inside them – remembering the movie: The Time Traveller’s Wife. I have to stop for a moment and think, when did I see him last? Go up to his room, door is open, nobody there. Hard to believe, I assumed D was in the house but I’ve been alone the whole time. The leaf-seen-as-bird metaphor. Something I thought was there, wasn’t… thinking it’s one thing, then it’s not. The usual sense of ‘me’ suddenly gone… then it returns again. Everything feels light and transparent.
‘It was as if lightning coursed within my chest. The impact lasted for a while, and for the next few weeks whenever I saw people, they seemed like a magician’s illusions in that they appeared to inherently exist but I knew that they actually did not.’ [‘How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life’. The Dalai Lama, in the sixties reflecting on the Rope Seen As Snake metaphor, phenomena being dependent on conceptuality and his discovery that the “I” exists conceptually, dependent on mind and body; not an entity in itself] Source: Emptiness and Existence: