how it looks from here


Sravasti: These shrines and monuments stay the same, perhaps sunk deeper into the landscape than they were in ancient times; there’s a presence. The seasons revolve around them, rainfall, heat, sand storms and the centuries come and go. People from all over the world come to visit, pray, bow, apply goldleaf, string garlands, light incense, show reverence and take pictures of their friends standing next to them. A great shower of digital flashes lights up the environment like a fireworks display; camera phones, iPads held up like a tray, with an image as large as a small television, ‘and here is the place where the Buddha was enlightened:’ flash, click! Thus, a small piece of the outer world is captured; perhaps a small landscape showing the shrine, prayer flags strung across branches of a huge Bodhi tree and my friends standing below smiling for the camera. Everybody hurries to look at the picture just taken; camera device held by finger tips, the image never quite hits the spot. So we reach into the outer world and ‘take’ another one, a nicer one maybe, have a look, but it doesn’t hit the spot either.

Taking a picture is a reflex action, a simple curiosity; I want to ‘take’ a picture of it and there are hundreds of images in this camera memory we have to load somewhere else to make room for more. All of them are simply showing the passage of time: people get older. But it’s meaningful to us, a metaphor we’re deeply familiar with; consciousness of outer object meeting inner sense base and we respond to it in much the same way as sensory input, by way of eye/ ear/ nose/ tongue/ skin/ mind, is the means by which the outer world enters the inner being.

Receiving data from the outer world through sense organs situated around the face and head has the odd effect, somehow, of pushing the whole head into the bubble of the outer world and I can understand what Douglas Harding was saying when he spoke about ‘having no head’, and the rest of the body, seemingly connected. That’s how it looks from here. I can see all these other beings walking around too. Some of them seem to know what’s going on and some don’t know at all because they’re preocccupied with taking a photo of the event, or maybe they’re watching the video they made of it. Some believe it’s God’s world and contemplate experiential responses to outer stimuli, thinking God created this, so it must be okay. The idea that God also gave us the gift of insight to see for ourselves is not something they feel they need to take into consideration and just leave it at that. Others are walking around just browsing the options, hoping to stumble upon something soon. It could take eons for them to find it, stuck in the samasara of Search Mode. Other beings are in a historical time period but otherwise the same as what we have today and I am here thinking about the possibility that the Buddha was standing in the same place where I’m standing now.

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‘At Savatthi. Then the Venerable Kaccanagotta approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him… : “In what way, venerable sir, is there right view?”

“This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality—upon the notion of existence and the notion of nonexistence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of nonexistence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world.

“This world, Kaccana, is for the most part shackled by engagement, clinging, and adherence. But this one [with right view] does not become engaged and cling through that engagement and clinging, mental standpoint, adherence, underlying tendency; he does not take a stand about ‘my self.’ He has no perplexity or doubt that what arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing. His knowledge about this is independent of others. It is in this way, Kaccana, that there is right view.

“‘All exists’: Kaccana, this is one extreme. “All does not exist’: this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle: ‘With ignorance as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance comes cessation of volitional formations; with the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”’[SN 12.15(5)]

Photos from the Witit Rachatatanun Collection

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