North India: Early morning light, people wrapped in shawls, long scarves bound around the head and tied under the chin. Dark faces, eyes looking out and they see me for an instant through the window – eye contact. I’m on a tourist bus, just passing through this small township, on the way to somewhere else. I think they see me as one of those who live in maya, not in the real world; living in a dream, and they might laugh to themselves; I’m naïve, dependent on support mechanisms that I pay for with an impossible wealth. It’s true; I’m in awe of them and, for me, their reality is unreachable. I don’t know anything about the actuality of their lives. My ongoing practice of ‘self’ consciousness reflecting upon itself is maybe something that comes naturally to them.
Inside the dark interior of their houses, I see shadows moving in the dim light of old-style incandescent 25-watt bulbs in unsteady current, candles, oil lamps and small burning fires. Domestic items, pots and plates, carefully placed outside on the ground and I feel they should be inside. A pregnant woman glances at me for a momet with deep eyes and there’s something supernatural about it. I look away. The houses all look like they’re only partly built. Bare brick walls and there’s one incomplete upper floor, or some part of the house seemingly under construction. I ask the tour guide and she tells me it’s because you don’t have to pay tax if your house is still being built. These half-built houses are everywhere; a family living on the ground floor and upstairs bare brick walls reaching up like pillars with no roof, just the sky. There’s an underlying uneasiness about it all, it seems to me; inadequate shelter, no protection, and a fierce tenacity of holding on to life.
There are others in more hazardous circumstances, street people and those with no dwellings at all, the dispossessed. Beyond that the sadhus, bearded men with matted hair in yellow robes, white pigment smeared across the forehead, incense and candle-wax – hovering in a kind of other dimension – a living statement that all that is born, ends. It ceases. We die because we were born. That’s how it works. There’s birth and death in every moment. It’s so obvious, but I can’t see it.
I don’t want to see the cessation of anything; I want to hold on to what is good but it falls away to nothing and I start looking for something else to replace it. Chasing after things I want, and running away from other things I don’t want, creates the illusion that this is what life is about. I’m tossed around in the experience of having this, and rejecting that. And even the quiet space that just comes along by itself sometimes; the neutrality of neither this nor that – even in that place I’m dissatisfied. It’s a kind of nowhere thing.
I’m subject to praise and blame, pleasure and pain, fame and disrepute, gain and loss [Eight Worldly Dhammas]. All I can do is react or respond; and I cannot seem to see that everything that happens now is the result of something that happened at some earlier time when I was reacting or responding, just as I’m doing now: vipaka-kamma, resultant kamma. This is what comes of it. And it’s so obvious, all I have to do is allow the cessation to take place but I can’t see it.
Dukkha, suffering is looking for certainty in something that is, by its very nature, uncertain; running from one thing to the next, looking and looking, and pretending the uncertainty is not there. The Ajahns say, stay with it until you see the cessation. Everything comes to an end. This is what it actually is… the letting-go of it, giving it all away, relinquishment….
‘I am of the nature to age, I have not gone beyond aging; I am of the nature to sicken, I have not gone beyond sickness; I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond dying; All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise, will become separated from me.’ [From: The Five Subjects for Daily Recollection, Chanting Book]