‘Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything, or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infinitely rich, full of inexhaustible interest, opening out into the infinite further possibilities for study and contemplation and interest and praise. Beyond all and in all is God.’ [Thomas Merton, from: ‘The Intimate Merton’]
Chiang Mai: Standing by the main road facing traffic going into town, looking for the small red bus songthaew /song-tae-oo/. I see one coming in the distance. This time of day there’s always one nearby. It’ll go anywhere you want, the driver will fit you in, depending on the itinerary of the passengers already on board – so the journey may take a different route every time. That’s how it works; 20 baht (US: 69 cents) for a ride to nearly anywhere. There’s no designated route, no schedule, the songthaew just comes along and it’s a bit like jumping into a flowing river, holding on to a lifebelt and somehow it gets you there. I see the indicator light flashing, the songthaew stops, I tell the (lady) driver where I’m going, she says ok. I climb up two steps and get into the vehicle. Low headroom, sit down on the bench, smile at the other passengers, and fall into the mind-state of being taken away.
The outside world rushes by, seen through the open rear door of the vehicle and side windows with no glass; warm air rushes through. The way it unfolds is the way it is and everything is integrated, including my perception of it. The ‘world’ is the metal structure of this small vehicle enclosing the space I’m in; contained in the greater space all around and permeating through. Moving with the traffic next to the canal, water fountains, huge ancient trees and the remains of a 700 year-old wall that encloses the old city in a square. Same ‘now’ as it was then; being in the present moment at that time is as it is now, seven hundred years further on; or just a few seconds later, more-or-less the same. Conscious experience appears like a series of screen shots, holding the movement for a moment and it stays like that, then it changes slightly and becomes something else. Difficult to say how or when it alters but I notice it has changed only afterwards – like, that’s different from what it was a moment ago, isn’t it? It must have happened and I didn’t see it. Present time transforms itself. Seven hundred years in the past, it wasn’t any different for the people who lived then, returning, as I do, to this same reference point every time and seeing the situation from the perspective of ‘self.’
It’s not anything, the only reason it’s there is that I linger with the idea of it. I can enter knowingly; I can consciously apply ‘knowing’ to the ‘self’ construct, applied knowing (not the theoretical kind), and the knowingness clears away the habituality. Thoughts that just wander for no reason are brought to an end by knowing that this is what it comes down to. ‘Every time I close the door on Reality, it comes in through the window.’ [Ashleigh Brilliant] All that remains is the emptiness of the moment; the sound of the engine, the vibration and the pressure of the bench I’m sitting on. There’s skin, hair; there are arms, legs, a head and eyes, ears, nose and tongue. I am a sensory-receptive organism. Just the warm air in my face and things rushing by. There’s identity but it’s nothing other than what it is; the personality flutters like a piece of cloth in the wind; coloured plumage of a bird and a sense of immensity occupies the entire background.
‘Perception… can easily be seized on as having a self-reality or as one’s self. The average villager likes to say that when we fall asleep, something that he calls the soul departs from the body. The body is, then, like a log of wood, receiving no sensation by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body. As soon as that something has returned to the body, awareness and wakefulness are restored. A great many people have this naive belief that consciousness is the self. But, as the Buddha taught, consciousness is not a self in this sense. Consciousness is simply sensation and memory, that is, knowing, and is bound to be present as long as the body continues to function normally. As soon as the bodily functions become disrupted, the thing we call consciousness changes or ceases to function. For this reason true Buddhists refuse to accept consciousness as a self, even though the average person does accept it as such, clinging to it as “myself.” Close examination along Buddhist lines reveals that quite the opposite is the case. Consciousness is nobody’s self at all. It is simply a result of natural processes and nothing more.’ [Ajahn Buddhadasa, ‘The Things We Cling To’]