redefining the question

800px-Asoka_KaartNew Delhi: 04.00 hours. Awake at some time of darkness that’s neither night nor morning, getting some coffee and toast ready for Jiab going to the airport for the Gujarat flight at 06.00. Car comes, she gets in, bye… door-slam and she’s gone. Stars shining in the dark sky, then I come inside and look at a Google map of India with Gujarat there on the coast of the Arabian Sea – so that’s where it is… really not that far from Europe. Then take a look at the wiki map (shown above) of the Buddhist routes going out in all directions from North India in the time of Emperor Aśoka the Great, 273 BCE to 232 BCE. It looks like an explosion of consciousness that took place in North India, and spreading out from there; North, South, East, West, along the Old Silk Road directions. It goes West as far as the South-East Mediterranean countries; arriving there in pre-Christian times. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanchat. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.

Text comes in, Jiab: ‘boarding soon’. It’s a two-hour flight, Delhi to Gujarat. Looking at the map again, I notice wiki uses the word, ‘proselytism’, but it can’t have been like that. There’s no doctrine of God-worship in Buddhism, ‘I believe (I believe) in God (there’s no real Teaching other than belief for me to study). In Buddhism (and Advaita Vedanta and the Tao), the separate ‘self’ is an illusion, ‘a cluster of memories, thoughts, habits and conditioning’, maintained due to this basic human tendency to hold on to stuff. It’s not about that, it’s not about our origin, our Creator or what we are made of, it’s about how the whole thing works. It’s a 2600 year-old teaching about learning how to see what our hang-ups are, and easing the burden. It’s not about living for our(selves): seeking, acquiring and hoarding, it’s about generosity, relinquishment and giving it all away*. It’s about mindfulness and the way things exist, rather than what exists. It’s about realities that fit into our world today, exactly as it was in ancient times. The Buddha anticipated modern physics: all matter is energy; beings exist as “bundles of energies” (five khandhas). It’s not about ‘self’, it’s no-self, anatta, it’s about consciousness, viññāna, and the big question: what is consciousness?

Central_Asian_Buddhist_MonksI go through to the bedroom to lie down for an hour or so; still not yet dawn. Watch the breath, conscious of the sound of the ceiling fan above me in the shadows, constant spinning cycle that somehow says something about the weight of the rotary blades. It looks like how it sounds: a spinning propeller of an old fashioned aircraft – consciousness of the visual image. Always there’s consciousness of something: consciousness of the smell of coffee and a crust of toast in the kitchen, the taste of it; consciousness of the soft bedding I’m lying in. There’s consciousness of thought and then there’s consciousness of no-thought – including my perception of it. Consciousness without an object, the still mind, unsupported consciousness – unconditioned? The non-dual perspective is that it’s like this anyway…. So it’s without an object in the sense that it is different from the basic functions of interacting with the world through sensory organs: eye, ear, nose, skin, mouth and mind; different from the state of being conscious of what’s going on in the body/mind organism, phassa, as a result of responses to the world outside. Not consciousness of… just consciousness itself – what is that? No answer… is this the kind of consciousness that’s needed to find the answer to the question or to redefine the question, maybe, or whatever… is it the true self?

If so, it’s not what I thought it was: ‘…this true self is also the fundamental source of all attachment to being and becoming… attachment to the allure of this primordial radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander indefinitely through the world of becoming and ceasing.’ [Luangta Maha Boowa]

If it’s not that, then it goes beyond words: ‘When all phenomena are done away with, all means of speaking are done away with as well.’ [Upasiva’s Questions (Sn 5.6)]

It all needs a larger context. Some time later, another text comes in, Jiab: ‘having breakfast in the hotel’. It’s 08.30 and she’s nearly 600 miles away….

‘Consciousness cannot be known by mind. The mind is an object. It doesn’t know anything. It is itself known by Consciousness.’ [Rupert Spira – Link to: Spiritual Artwork]


“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it stands still. Owing to its stillness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ [Bija Sutta: Means of Propagation” (SN 22.54)]

*This post contains excerpts from: ‘Beyond The Dream, Tao Te Ching7: Selfless
Lower photo image: Central Asian monk teaching East Asian monk, 9th century fresco

8 thoughts on “redefining the question

  1. Wish I’d found you thirty years ago! Love the way that you are able to express complex ideas in such a down to earth, easy to read manner. It is a blessing. Thank you.

    • Thanks for your comment, Wow! I’m really glad to know these observations are meaningful for you. Conscious experience is something we are all immediately familiar with. It’s no good if descriptions of it are abstract. I always try to keep it simple and direct…

  2. Thanks for visiting spiritual artwork page, I appreciate your kind comments. I notice you have been to number of locations in the world including land of my birthplace, India. I am wondering if you have been to city called “Kushi Nagar” where the biggest Buddhist temple was supposed to be built. I attended couple of Buddhist relic tours in the USA and UK, where eventually these relics will rest in this extraordinary temple being built in Kushi Nagar.

    • Hi there and welcome. I like what you’re doing over there at Thanks for your comment. Kushi Nagar, yes, Jiab and I went there last year with a group from Thailand – part of our tour around the Buddhist holy sites. Kushi Nagar is the place of the Buddha’s parinibbana. It was an emotional moment, there’s a huge statue of the reclining Buddha inside the main building and hundreds of pilgrims quietly waiting for their turn to enter. Inside there’s continual chanting by Buddhists from all countries, dressed in different kinds of costumes…

      • Thanks for your message! It would be great to see any photos, only if you have any, from Kushi Nagar as it sounds like an amazing place. I know from my own experience from visiting the Buddhist relics in Rochester, NY and in England how much positive energy these relics release…its an incredible feeling to be in its aura.

      • I’ll try to find some photos and create a post later. Yes, there’s something about these ancient relics, maybe it’s energy as you say or it’s got to do with conscious experience. The presence of these objects triggers a visual consciousness that’s the same for all human beings. And there’s some insight in the simple truth that the Buddha experienced this visual consciousness, as we do now, looking at this same object and was aware, as we are aware, of this experiential reality. Consciousness spans the centuries…

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