London: I’m in a narrow rush-hour train, standing in an integrated mass of human bodies all supporting each other. I’ve got something to hold on to above my head which is fortunate because the train is shaking about on uneven tracks, noisy and exhilarating. This really is the whole experience of train travel…. Then it settles down to a smoother pace and I’m focused on the closeness with other people; fragrance of wet raincoats and a forest of arms reaching up to hold on to roof bars, blocking the view. Somewhere nearby, a voice suddenly shouts out: ‘I’M ON THE TRAIN’ – a man speaking on his phone…
‘I think, therefore I am’ [cogito ergo sum] The Buddha noted the inherent problems in this kind of thinking: “I am the thinker’ lies at the root of all the categories and labels of conceptual proliferation, the type of thinking that can turn and attack the person employing it… “Do I exist?” – It depends on what you mean by “exist.” “Do I have a self?” – It depends on what you mean by “self.” Thinking driven by definitions like these often falls prey to the hidden motives or agendas behind the definitions, which means that it’s unreliable.’[Thanissaro Bhikkhu]
The man on the phone continues with his loud conversation, surrounded by people with grim faces who don’t speak. He disregards us completely, asserting himself in this space that everybody is squeezed together in, caught in the dis-ease of ‘deadly tedium’. We are struggling over this intrusion of the man and his phone but holding our composure with patient endurance. Folded newspaper in front of the face to avoid eye contact, we are managing to ignore each other completely. Turn the page of the newspaper, fold it back skillfully without untoward touching and have a casual glance all around, as I’m doing it, just in case there’s anything that needs to be noticed, looked at or ‘seen’. No, everything is as it should be; newspaper held like demure fan that masks the face, and doing the crossword: 7 across: Four letters, ‘It may follow something _ _ S_. Meanwhile the man talking on his phone is saying the line is breaking up because we are going through a tunnel.
I am committed to a world of consumption of goods and services. I want to have more of what I like and less of what I don’t like. I’m not interested in things that are neutral, they are meaningless (it’s a pity really, because the neutrality of feeling is the Way To Go). I am therefore in a chronic state of dissatisfaction because I never get what I really want. Okay, but as long as we’re mindful, it can be manageable? Well, it’s allright for some, you might say, for those of us who have recently returned from somewhere colourful and bright, light and cheerful, sun shines all the time; smiling Thai faces and their polite behaviour. But isn’t it just that they have a more cheerful kind of dukkha over there?
There’s a passenger announcement: ‘…delays at Croydon and Blackfriars due to congestion’. Then entering Liverpool Street: ‘… this train will not stop at Liverpool Street because of “flooding” at the Eastbound station (flooding?) and will continue on to Aldgate where passengers can take the train back and enter from the Westbound station which is unaffected and we apologize for any inconvenience.’ I have to ask other passengers what the announcement was about and surprised to discover everyone is friendly; the shared burden of these times of hardship and emergency – something conditioned by World War II?
I get there finally, near the end of a long list of Anglo-Saxon place names, and walking along with the South coast tourists in the pleasant harbour area of a town near the sea at Eastbourne. I’m looking for the office of an agent I have to visit and the phone in my pocket is ringing, who can this be… Hello? Jiab, she’s in Peru; hard to believe. She wants to know, can I get some of these wipes that are good for doing polished wood, and get a few packs, please? I have to take them with me when I come to Thailand. I hold up the phone high in the air so she can hear the Eastbourne seagulls all the way over there in Peru; a great swirl and echo of Northern seabirds singing in the wind, like cats mewing in the air.
‘It’s because of not understanding and not penetrating this Dhamma that this generation is like a tangled skein, a knotted ball of string, like matted rushes and reeds, and does not go beyond transmigration, beyond the planes of deprivation, woe, and bad destination.’ [DN 15 PTS: D ii 55 Maha-nidana Sutta: The Great Causes Discourse]