POSTCARD #114: Chiang Mai: When we get back to the apartment, M flings off her shoes at the door, goes running along the corridor and comes back with her two cute little doggy toys; shakes them sideways and their tails wag. For a moment I’m caught in the illusion they’re alive. Children can reveal the ‘moment’ – something magical. M animates a self then animates another self; skipping away from one identity to the next, like an actress constantly engaged in playing a role has developed the skill in letting go of her individuality – she can ‘be’ anybody.
It must have been like this for all of us when we were kids, a direct understanding of the definitive present moment – the ‘now’ I experience was the future for me when I was in the past? The extraordinary moment, no need to analyze it, the ‘now’ moment includes all moments everywhere that ever there were; millions of years of present moments combined and reduced to this single experience of the here-and-now phenomenon.
M is wearing stage make-up today; she had her school performance. Sadly, nothing glamorous or interesting, it was a presentation about the human body. I ask what part of the human body she played? She was the esophagus – pronunciation of esophagus is perfect. So what did she do in the performance? I say my words, Toong-Ting: “I am the esophagus, I convey food and fluids from the mouth to the stomach.” So totally memorized it flows out in one complete utterance without pause. Then I stand in my place with the other body parts. Not exactly a major part… did she have a nice costume? No costume, just a box… doesn’t want to talk about it, no grace, embarrassing. An exercise in patient endurance, respect for an imposed structure; putting up with an idea the teacher had that nobody in the class liked but accepted without question – very Thai. M’s friend was the brain and another friend was the heart and that was ok. Twin boys were the lungs: ‘We are the lungs, we convey oxygenated blood to the heart.’ The lungs couldn’t remember their lines, got stuck every time with the word ‘oxygenated’. Teacher often made the whole class stay late to get the rehearsal perfect – everybody blamed the lungs for it.
M is ten years old, nearly eleven… childhood becoming distant. I feel just a tinge of sadness; spontaneous behavior restrained by ‘preferences.’ We look at some old photos in the computer, find the one of her and the tiger with another set of twins, and I ask her if I can use it for this post? She looks at the photo, smiles like an adult… yes, there’s the tiger, of course, but that girl was someone else, compared with who she is now. Tells me, yes you can, if you want… (deference, and limited by using English as a second language). How about the tiger, were you frightened? No, she says, no further discussion – that time has passed, not relevant anymore.
‘… there is no gain or loss; one instant is ten thousand years. There is no here, no there; infinity is right before your eyes. The tiny is as large as the vast when objective boundaries have vanished; the vast is as small as the tiny when you don’t have external limits. Being is an aspect of non-being; non-being is no different from being.’ [Seng T’san]
Lovely photo! But yes, the spontaneous life of the child is soon conditioned out of us. Most of the time 🙂
Spontaneity may be that something that’s arrived at through the long journey to get there, and one day there’s that sum-total-all-inclusive openness to it all, same as before except seen in a larger context?
Yes, I think that’s true. As children we simply ‘are’, as elderly ‘children’, we can Be. And know it.
Thanks, yes! Good to hear this: ‘elderly ‘children.’ It satisfies something that’s troubled me for so long… we can Be and know it. For me it’s a combination of three qualities, virtue, focus and seeing reality – going that way…
We all are… whether we realise it or not in this lifetime 🙂
“It must have been like this for all of us when we were kids, a direct understanding of the definitive present moment.”
This video corraborates your hypothesis. https://plus.google.com/102791461797542008609/posts/GTR4DMr2aVB
Thanks, yes, there’s something comforting about the voice of Richard Lang, a space that allows room for others and is room for you to enter into how others see you. I’m looking at this, feel there’ll be time to study what Richard Lang says in the end, will be in touch later…
Your ‘M posts’ always make me smile but this one nearly hurt my mouth. Nice pic demonstrating how neatly the esophagus fits between the lungs too. Is the tiger the rib cage or the diaphragm?
And every moment that could be or have been?
Space/time may just be a point we extrapolate into a continuum but it seems somehow conceited to try to restrict it to the four dimensions we happen to be capable of perceiving.
You know, one of my most important insights into anatta came from the late German born bhikkhu Nyanaponika Mahathera. There is no such thing as memory. Just the present act of remembering.
“There is no such thing as memory. Just the present act of remembering.”
Everything seen in hindsight, after the event…
Yes, it has to be like this you know… fits into the great archetypal chasm of the mouth; all and everything. Hard to accept but there you go, and things that ‘could be’ get held up in the processing. Bhikkhu Nyanaponika Mahathera; I have two of his books on my shelf, which page is it that has this wonderful quote? “There is no such thing as memory. Just the present act of remembering.” Okay, tell me tomorrow, can’t see the keyboard… going to sleep now
I didn’t get it from a book. I got it from him in person at the Forest Hermitage in Kandy.
It’s a moderately long story that starts with one of my ‘debates’ with Bhikkhu Bodhi. I’m happy to tell it if you want to know. I talk about what it means to me in this post but I neglected to detail the back story.
I think it comes from the ideas that were eventually compiled into his posthumous book Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time, so if you have a copy you may find it expressed some way or another in it.
Yes I’d like to hear more about this and the ‘debates’ with Bhikkhu Bodhi. If you like, we could do it over in your post: What am I? About the book Buddhist Explorations of Consciousness and Time, the main title is Abhidhamma Studies? I have it but left unfinished a long time ago, something to return to, now you’ve got me interested.
Yep. That’s the one.
I’ve decided the story of my meeting with Nyayaponika would work better as a post than as a comment. I expect to post it sometime tonight.
Oops, that should read Nyanaponika of course.
Hi Amy, yes it is kinda hard to believe…
Good to see M and hear about her and your wonderful relationship with her. About to enter her individuation and loss of young childhood. Now I can’t remember where I read this but it is said that infants and young children are in a constant state of bliss and awe of the world once their basic needs are taken care of and then that changes and slowly they lose the sense of awe and closeness to God. And then fast forward, we get old and I think there is some sort of return to childlike mind and awe of life from a new vantage point. Sorry I don’t know the source of this thought. Lovely photo of M and very thought-provoking post and quote!!
Thanks Ellen, I’ve been searching for a way to use this photo, just looking back at when she was small… time goes so fast. Fascinating for those of us in the second period of childlike mind and awe. There’s an opportunity to see something about life itself and understand that it’s just the complexity of thought that causes the separation.
Lovely post, tied back together in time.
This is it, looking back at a childhood fast disappearing…
this will stick: there is no gain or loss; one instant is ten thousand years
Seng T’san perspective is on such a large scale, the small ‘self’ is revealed and how we see the world
Your writing is profoundly simple, Tiramit. Full of nuance just like the leaves of a tree. Just in the wind blowing. Biochemical factories turning the sky into carbonated forms of sunlight, but so over that. Just responding to the wind. Maybe even about to blow clean off the branch and take flight. But for now. Just blowing…
I loved how every body part you described was conveying something somewhere. Reminds me of the idea of inter-being, if I have it right. Or the way phenomena can never be truly isolated. It’s all conveying an insight from here to there. But where did it start?
And the moment when M looks at the photo of her younger self and sees it… that was someone else. That is a strange thing isn’t it? You have captured it deftly… I felt then as I do now, and yet the one who felt that way is gone altogether, and yet I still feel that way. I have never stopped. I am life itself, shedding the skins of every moment…
Michael, apologies for getting here a bit late, I’ve just been over reading your post, trying to imagine the point at which non-existence realized it was you/me/him/her/us. M is the source of this post, the quality of meaningfulness that comes from a ten-year-old speaking English as a second language. I’m fascinated how she manages to bring things to life; selects only the essential details of the narrative; necessary minimalism. Spontaneous observations stitched together in my notebook – maybe the reason the blog exists is that the limitations of living in non-english speaking countries these last thirty years means I’ve got to have somewhere to express. The Thais don’t have this way of thinking. I’ve gotten used to thinking things out as I’m going along in communication with others. Pretty sure too that M has picked up some characteristics of this kind of thing from me. The mirror effect. It all fits together and yet each part can stand alone. Your use of ‘inter-being’ is exactly right. I see M only from time to time, she gets taller and taller; chapters in a story we reflect on and go back and reread earlier bits; shedding the skins of every moment. I’m so glad to have discovered WordPress…
“The lungs couldn’t remember their lines..” that’s so innocently funny and good way of learning
Great isn’t it… we learn so much from children
Wow! Thanks for visiting Jake…