the who-I-am thing


Bangkok: Flying above street level and over the rooftops in the BTS Skytrain on elevated track, bright yellow seats, red holding straps and blue wall sections. Primary colours; diminutive, childlike and cute; it’s a toytown train. Brushed steel, shiny chrome and a smooth metallic click of wheel on rails, rushing through a landscape of blue sky over the city as far as the eye can see; billboards and upper storeys of town houses, moving past in the foreground, tall buildings of steel and glass standing like pillars in the background urban concrete environment. Here and there on the train, are TV monitors fixed at eye level with adverts running continuously so that we can enter into a world of consumer preferences: the Western model, East Asian style, adapted to fit Thai cultural attitudes to spending. Stories acted out by adults who look like children; cute ‘faces’, attractive personalities, ‘charm’. Products presented as if it were a game, makes it all seem acceptable; we don’t see the high-voltage sales strategy, cloaked in naïvity – a new society, a whole new generation of consumers – the corporate entity engaged in long term planning.

coke ad.ploenchitBKKI can get caught by it, drawn towards the TV screen, something I see in the advert triggers it, and the who-I-am thing arises: I LIKE THIS and it all gets to be really important, relevant, vivid and intense. I feel suddenly energised, compelled and, I WANT TO HAVE IT, ready to start discussing with sales staff at the retail point and proceed with the purchase; the plastic in my wallet, the samsara of advertising. For me, no worries, it will cease of its own accord if I can allow it to become nothing, and fortunately it’s all in a language I can switch off from so it fizzles out…

To become a person, I have to ‘believe’ in it – I have to consciously engage with it. To become me, I have to think ‘me’. The ‘me’ that I believe in depends on me thinking it. I am conditioned to be attached to my opinions, my emotionality, and the sense of self in all kinds of ways. I can manipulate the conditioned world so that, from this perspective of thinking, I see (my)self situated favourably – or it could be unfavourably if I’m caught in being the victim (but there is a way out). Everything arises due to causes and conditions, then thinking about it, excessively and often enough to have it embedded in the fabric of this self construct I recognise as ‘me,’ subject to its perceived whims and waywardness, as some kind of fictional character.

But there is a way out; an intelligent reflection on the human predicament; a proximity-to but distance-from situation: the Middle Way. The practice is about this simple truth: don’t mess with it, it won’t arise if I don’t think it into being. And I am my own boss, the nearest thing to God, as we know it, is viññāṇa, conscious awareness, self-sustaining; I don’t create it. There’s the body, sitting here in this yellow plastic seat, minding its own business, other than that, anatta, no personal essence or substance or core or soul given to me by the grace of (some external force); nothing added, nothing extra. The simplicity of this seems to immediately throw everything to do with ‘self’ into disarray; enough to cause it all to come tumbling down; a house of cards. And an artificial voice announcement gets my attention: Siam-interchange-station-doors-will-open-on-the-right-hand-side-of-the-train. I join the throng of passengers squeezing through the door and pouring out like liquid into the centre of the shopping mall heaven realm experience. There’s nothing wrong with personality, it’s the attachment to it that’s the problem…

Upper photo image:
Lower photo image: Coke ad Ploenchit, collection author

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