POSTCARD#58: Chiang Mai: Arrived in the early evening and out through the exit tunnel into the airport corridors. Turn the first corner and we’re looking back through a large window at our plane with passenger bridge attached. M says, in her 9-year old voice: take a photo of it… put in your blog Toong-Ting (she calls me that). There’ll be a time when M takes a direct editorial role in this blog… so I take the photo and here it is now. A large reptilian mouth sucking out the contents of a passenger aircraft that has a painted face, intensely happy smile, and it seems okay about what’s happening. M is silent for a moment as she considers the elasticity of this strange stretched metaphor. Then we continue along the corridors to get our bags from the luggage belt. I put everything on the trolley with M sitting on top, push the wheels through the glass doors, opening as we approach and we’re in Arrivals. Her mum is waiting for us, pleased to have M back.
Bags in the car and we’re off. Heavy traffic on the way into town and M, still silent, looking out at it all considering, maybe, how one thing can become another, tells me that cars have gender: boy-car and girl-car. It’s the look of the ‘face’ of the car – that kind of ‘grin’ created by the front bumper and radiator grille. She sees it as the face of a boy or a girl or, if she can’t decide which it is, it must be a katoey, effeminate gay male, third gender, or whatever – she giggles a bit, it’s okay in Thailand. I ask her to identify a boy-car for me, just to see if I can recognise its ‘maleness’ – although I’ve always thought of cars being male. She points at one: that’s a boy-car Toong-Ting (see left pic). I want to say… how d’you know that? But this kind of challenge to her reasoning might be too much, so I’m just going along with it. She asks if I can identify the gender: you tell me, Toong-Ting, it’s a boy-car or girl-car, okay? I have a feeling I’m going to get this wrong… let’s see, there’s one that’s got really male characteristics, I point to it and say that one is a boy-car. No, Toong-Ting it’s a girl-car… looking at me like, how come you can’t see something as obvious as that, hmm?
M spends a lot of time on the road, going to and from her school, a long way from her house. I think she probably knows the brands of all kinds of cars now, maybe not the names, just a familiarity with their appearance and long ago decided some were boy-cars, some were girl-cars, and those in-between were katoeys. As we’re going along I take a photo of the back of a car and show it to her so she can study it in detail: boy or girl? (see pic below) She says she can’t really tell looking at the back of it, can’t see its face, but thinks maybe it’s a girl-car, because she remembers that she decided at some earlier time, that particular make of car was a girl. It’s a case of remembering which is what (or what is which?) or what she had already decided it was when she first saw that make of car.
There’s intelligence in her playfulness, a reality in her personifications that challenges my usual insisting there is no ‘self’, the Buddha’s Teaching on anatta: ‘self’ is an illusion arising from the 5 Khandas. I feel I’m holding on to something I should let go of, with M going around happily applying the attributes of ‘self’ and gender to all kinds of things. She can create an identity and let it go, because it’s one among many. She can escape the entanglements of ‘self’ because she plays with a multitude of ‘selves’, like waves in the ocean and an ocean in all the oceans of the world. Everything in the universe is Self. The ‘self’ I believe to be ‘me’ is an assumed identity – there is no ‘self’, everything I see is ‘me’.
‘Brahman is full of all perfections. And to say that Brahman has some purpose in creating the world will mean that it wants to attain through the process of creation something which it has not. And that is impossible. Hence, there can be no purpose of Brahman in creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a Lila, or sport, of Brahman. It is created out of Bliss, by Bliss and for Bliss. Lila indicates a spontaneous sportive activity of Brahman as distinguished from a self-conscious volitional effort. The concept of Lila signifies freedom as distinguished from necessity.’ [Ram Shanker Misra, The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo]