New Delhi: I leave the door open that leads to the roof terrace and come downstairs. Ksum is in the kitchen, cleaning up. She says: You no close door up? Pointing, so that I can understand her English; large black eyes look at me; blue sari, olive skin, Assamese Buddhist, originally, converted by Christian missionaries. Then she’s smiling in a kind of patient way when I start to explain I’d like to have the door open, to get fresh air? Looking at me like, does she have the energy to tell me this? Ked come in. You know Ked? …raises her voice because maybe I’m deaf or something, Ked come in, you open door. And I’m thinking… what’s Ked? And there’s that incredulous look. You no unerstan’ Ked? Ked come in door, come down stair, into house steal food from all th’ trash‘n make a mess everywhere! And then I understand Ked is ‘Cat’… pronunciation is different. She sees the dawning of recognition on my face. Ahh… she says on my behalf, and nods her head with a sideways slant, goes back to her work; like I need to be told everything. I go upstairs to close the door then decide to step out on the roof terrace where the air is cool and nice.
Wow, Ksum having a bad day. But she’s right about Ked, cat; instinct and the window of opportunity – or door, in this case. There’s also monkey, of course, and rat, and all the other freeloaders and opportunists out there in the world of Wild Life, claws, wings, beak and teeth, quick and clever; skills evolved from when they were all dinosaurs. The ability to grasp, snatch, hold and eat. Human beings similarly motivated, driven by desire. Reacting to the sensory world – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, mental objects, and grabbing at these with extraordinary speed. The habituality of it inherited from former lives… the reason I was reborn in this world is that I’m attached to everything I love and hate. We keep coming back. It’s the relentless search to feel good about everything, and avoid feeling bad about everything when the good feeling falls apart.
Carrot-and-stick; the good feeling is nice when it’s there and the bad feeling is nice when it’s not there. The good feeling makes it seem like everything in the world is allright, joyful, a sense of success; it’s rewarding. And the bad feeling is the opposite; a strange sense of failure, guilt, and fear – I’m bounced off the wall and wanting the good feeling again with renewed hunger. Chasing my tail. Stuck in the duality of exchanging the bad feeling for the good feeling – something thought to be deservedly earned, a reward for time spent in bad feeling. Stuck in a rut on the consumer treadmill without any belief in anything beyond that. Seemingly there’s no choice, earning just enough money to pay for what it takes to make me feel good for a short time, then I’m feeling bad again. All I really want is some peace and calm but it seems to be so hard to find.
Loving kindness and compassion for those in Suffering. The system creates the predicament. Most people think there’s no way out, even though the opportunity is there. It’s like the example of being locked up in a prison cell for years. Then, one day somebody comes into the cell and gives you the key to the door, so you can open it and you’re free. But instead of doing that, if you’re a ‘believer’, you put the key in a special place and pray to it every day, believing you’ll be able to endure all the hardships of your prison cell by worshipping the key. You don’t know what to do, doubt, uncertainty, fear, confusion. Other people, ‘non-believers’, disagree with your worshipping; they say, we don’t believe in religion or anything, so they decide the best thing to do is just get rid of the key and throw it out the window.
The key is not an end in itself. Just a key; meditation practice, mindfulness, just the intention to be mindful is enough. Back off from the automatic pull; the sense of something out there that I’m drawn towards… and the internal sense of ‘me’. There’s nothing there, only the Five Khandas (Five Aggregates): form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. ‘… stopping the mind, stopping the flow of thoughts that are proliferating, stopping the flow of moods that get drawn into either attraction or aversion. We return to a clear center, to awareness’ [Ajahn Pasanno, ‘On Becoming and Stopping’]. No holding on to anything, no holding on to the teachings even. Learning how to use the key. Maybe it’ll take a lifetime, but what else is there to do that’s as valuable as this? Allowing everything to arise and fall away. Cessation. No remainder. Nothing whatsover is to be clung to: sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya.
‘We use the pleasant and unpleasant feelings to measure our success or failure. If we experience something pleasant, we think we’ve succeeded. If we experience an unpleasant feeling, we think we’ve failed. This comes from a place of becoming, what we have become through bhava tanha or vibhava tanha. We judge it in terms of the desire to maximize the pleasant and minimize the unpleasant.’ [Ajahn Pasanno, ‘On Becoming and Stopping’]