applied knowing

tukt18Mar5‘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.’

songthaew2It’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’]

Upper photo: Chiang Mai tuktuk, lower photo: Songthaew

18 thoughts on “applied knowing

  1. I love the image of a songthaew as being like a flowing river! It makes me think that actually, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not – everything in life is the same way. We may make some choices as to the songtaew we elect, but ultimately we need to fit our journey in, or be fit in, around the needs and desires of other beings as well.

    • Good to hear from you and thanks again. This is how it is; all we receive through the senses has the nature to change. There’s no self, nobody at home. Same for every one of us and maybe that’s how it fits together. Everything is like this, we’re all swept away…

  2. Wonderful.
    Though it, must be said, it has to be a veteran rider of the songthaew to find the place necessary to receive such revelation on the road! First timers are left completely confused and stressed by the experience (as I recall…no less than THRICE passing the turning to my destination… after a while, seems that such relaxed attitudes are not only healthy, but are probably as close to the way humans should be in the world, as it may be possible to get… 😉 )

    • Right, I know what you mean. Sitting in the back, head spinning around, trying to see out… where are we now? It only works in the known situation; the same set of journeys done a few times and not getting irretrievably lost. Select a nearby landmark, something easily seen (Thapae Gate) and the driver can tell you to jump off if you miss it. Then take a tuktuk from there on to your final destination?

  3. Life is wonderful. I just asked a good friend of mine via email whether consciousness = self or more or less and why not. And see, 2 hours later I read an answer from a teacher through the blog of another friend.

    • Coincidences are interesting things… it’s not clear to me, though, what this means: ‘consciousness = self or more or less and why not’. Consciousness is not self, we agree on that?

      • From my personal experience I don’t see consciousness as discontinuous. Except of course at death, where and when I cannot rely on personal experience to say anything (yet) :-).

        I remembered that the Buddha said that consciousness is not self. Then I have a problem that everything I can say about self I can also say about consciousness.

        But if I look at this quote, the context is restored. And than I see what it means.

        I see a lot of conscious processing going on during sleep. But I think we shouldn’t look that far and just see what Buddha said in the context of the teacher you quoted. Keep it simple seems also to be a good rule in this case.

      • Thanks Bert
        The whole discussion about consciousness interests me v much. One odd thing that happens is that consciousness creates the subject/object duality: I see something out ‘there’ so I must be in ‘here’ – a kind of optical illusion. But I can also understand and know it seems to do that. Keeping it simple, as you say; a basic truth. And consciousness does change at death, yes, not much more you can say really…

      • the subject object problem might (or might not) dissolve when awareness takes over completely. Then you become the object of your awareness. (I feel that this is logically correct: when you are in the present moment, and conceptualization is switched off – you become the seeing, the see-er, and the black bird that you see – you become the object of your awareness without identifying with it)

      • Yes, ‘you become the seeing’, I agree with this completely – I can see it logically… there are some people around who experience it like that: Rupert Spira, David Bingham, etc. (Conscious TV)

      • Perhaps another meaning has to do with the my in myself which points to identification. And so I think there is a lot lost in translations and I have the impression that the self and the consciousness I think about are different from what was said 2500 years ago. And I also see that reflected in the quote of Ajahn Buddhadasa.

      • Could be that there’s a difference; conscious experience now is not the same as it was 2500 years ago. But the senses all function in the same way: the experience of hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling. Consciousness is the experience of knowing. If I delete the ‘my’ from ‘myself’ that’s all I need to do. This is what Ajahn Buddhadasa is saying…

      • “Consciousness is the experience of knowing” to me this shows that they were probably only talking about mental consciousness, and not the entire sum total of consciousnesses that I see today (body consciousness, mental, triggers during sleep, awareness, …)

      • Not sure if I’m with you here. The experience of knowing would have to include everything, all the other sensory inputs? And that would mean transcending the ordinary identity…

      • … I have the impression that knowledge resides in the memory of my mind, and that kind of memory is always past and not present ….

        but there might be a different kind of memory pointing to a different kind of knowledge …

        I have to admit, that I do not ‘know’, and that makes it funny in a circular way of thinking …

      • I know what you mean. But rather than using words like memory and knowledge, I like to see it in terms of conscious experience – seeing it as an experiential thing. Otherwise there’s a tendency, maybe, to look at it like it’s an ‘object’ same as we do with everything else. (I have to go offline now, getting late here. I’ll check comments tomorrow) Thanks for an interesting exchange.

      • Grateful for the exchange, but I will let everything trickle down slowly, … I have not much more to add. Thank you and have a good night of rest!

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