the conditioned realm

CambodiaAnkorApril00(6)detailChiang Mai Airport: Waiting in departures to board the delayed flight to Bangkok. Three flights leaving around the same time, very crowded and all seats near the gate are taken. It’s the peak tourist season, young Caucasians sprawled around on the floor, everywhere. Long legs, pointed elbows sticking out – This Is Our Way – a sea of brightly coloured T-shirts, shorts, rubber slippers. And no room in the small coffee shop either; a forest of exposed limbs, tattooed legs, bosoms, identity obscured behind dark glasses, headphones, peaked caps and hunched over iPhones and digital devices, sucking up drinks through a plastic straw and I’m thinking of the tubular proboscis of a large alien insectoid. This is how the Gap Year looks. Like they’re sensory-experience junkies, got to have that input by way of the sense gates ayatana – closed to the world and the thought of emptiness is a seriously bad dream.

They do have that intense look, though, that says they know the ego of the West is a self-sustaining concept running out of battery and most likely to fizzle out quite soon; you could say impermanence, annican there’s no substance to it, same with all things. There’s the Christian God of the West everyone is trying to distance themselves from; the one-and-only-God, elite club that disincludes two thirds of the world’s population because they’re not Christian. It’s like a right wing supremacist movement, same as the so-called Muslim extremist groups – spot the difference – pretty ugly; there’s a war and both sides pray to God to win. God gets confused and there’s another war, and another…. So they can’t be talking about God, the Ultimate Reality, what they’re talking about is one of the gods of the conditioned realm. The logic of this is inescapable – how could God be something that one religion has and another doesn’t have? But there’s a kind of nobody-at-home look on the faces of my Christian friends when it seems like I’m going to want to try to discuss this point further.

These young people are all ordinary, well-intentioned folk and, just on this level, doing what they believe is the right thing, believe in the naiivity; subject to their conditioning in the West, their peers, parents, school, government. Maybe they’ve come here as part of a response to the human wake-up call – the built-in awakening opportunity that exists in mystical religions, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and others. It’s there too in the postmodern world; deconstructing, breaking it all down until there’s absolutely nothing left and the wake-up call is activated. Some people wake up, but some just don’t wake up at all.

It gets complicated and that’s why the Buddha was saying life is difficult enough as it is so let’s not get engaged with the God concept, okay? Attachment to the idea of it becomes a desire in itself and that’s what’s causing the problem. Ultimate reality is so fragile and subtle you can never be absolutely sure you’re not still setting it up so you’re seeing it the way you want it to be, still in the conditioned realm and far from the Truth. The best thing to do is not call it anything, cultivate mindfulness, clear comprehension, discerning awareness and take care; see how that goes.…


‘… the illusory world is through attachment. We think we all live in the same world as personalities, but every one of us lives in a world of our own creation. We have certain things in common but so much of our life is personal and unique to ourselves. That world we create is not the objective world we believe we’re living in, we’re living in a world of our own creation. That’s why it’s so difficult relating to each other, isn’t it? We’re coming from different worlds – you feel, sometimes, you’re living with a bunch of aliens!’ [Ajahn Sumedho, ‘In Awareness There is No Dukkha’]

Photo: Louk Vreeswijk

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