POSTCARD #119: Bangkok: The Thai new year came and went and it happened I had to go for a medical, nothing important I thought, but the doc said I had high blood pressure and gave me all kinds of pills to take. Anyway, when M got to hear about it, I became her patient and she’d arranged something on the porch, a comfortable chair and low table for my laptop, thermos and books. There’s also a ceiling fan out there so it was nice to just sit in the garden and simply ‘be’ there with the birds and the squirrels and ‘be’ a human (‘being’ as a verb), just being human.
Trying to focus on the infinitive form of the verb ‘to be’, the strange thing is, when I catch up to the present tense: ‘I am,’ it immediately becomes the past tense: ‘I was,’ (a moment ago). Chasing the elusive present time, a mind function identifying a miniscule speck of familiarity in a vast universe of an expanded present moment stretched beyond belief. And in the time taken to process it, the present moment immediately moves back into the past. It feels like everything happens after the event. Impossible to comprehend, words cannot reach…
Birds fly in all directions; the numberless beings in the world, and M enters my line of vision, carefully carrying a small plate of fruit, places it on my table and asks me how I’m feeling. Looks at me with her small oriental face, her eyes shine – consciousness is limitless so it can take this form. She does a spontaneous twirl and runs off with a hop and a skip … still partly a child. M isn’t the individual ‘I’, she’s the ‘I’ of everything that ever was – no particular self, she has a great number of selves, spends her days multitasking identities. A fictional character dressed in a costume that lasts a lifetime, playing a part in a narrative contained in an anthology of short stories. And the book is shelved in a vast library categorized by subject and author, most of which we have all read at some point in former lives.
Can’t help thinking somehow I missed the point of it all in my own childhood. A shadow of regret; life was only attraction, aversion, indifference: I don’t want that, I want this – something thought to be deservedly earned because I’ve been having such a hard time trying to obtain it… always, always, out of reach. Believing in the user illusion; the things we cling to (the clings we thing to). And the Church days; pray for peace and experience struggle. Pray for understanding and discover confusion. Pray for patience and encounter unbearable endurance. I never thought there could be something wrong with the question. Belief in the impossible and denial of the obvious. ‘God’ is not an object, ‘God’ is the subject…
The entry point is time evolving, developing, mushrooming out in all dimensions; the effect becomes the cause of the next effect and next cause in events that seemingly merge from a ‘before’ to an ‘after’. The bigger picture is that of a great river enfolding/unfolding and the presence of a sense that all of it remains to be seen.
“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]
Wonderful Postcard! Namaste _/l\_
Thank you Julianne, it means a lot to me…
“A fictional character dressed in a costume that lasts a lifetime” makes me cry. Why? Because it is the truth. Consciousness dressed up in 8 billion costumes. Why can’t I just be as I used to long ago. Lost spirituality. Now you looking back, sad. Me, looking ahead, anxious. Life in the person is hard.
Really moving post, Toong Ting!
Dear Ellen, thanks for your comment and I’ve been trying to think of a way to answer. ‘Why can’t I just be as I used to long ago.’ I’ve thought about it many times, and when I see M dancing and spinning it’s obvious these days for me are gone. I have a different role to play – although I am a foreigner and could disappear and nobody’d notice… but, for whatever reason, I choose to play the part of the elder. Thankfully in this Buddhist country there is respect for the elderly. It gives me time to resolve the long unresolved issues, live them again in these quite pleasant circumstances where M will come in the middle of it all and ask: are you okay Toong Ting? And my response to her question reassures me more than anything else…
Good luck with your BP. It must be hard to minimise salt intake in Thailand (the Thais taught me the habit of putting salt on pineapple and in fruit juice).
You can’t catch the present moment for the same reason you can’t bite your teeth.
You are the present moment.
I can’t help thinking that believing or disbelieving in God somehow misses the point too.
Yes, salt, (good to remember that) and buying street food, which I only started to do recently. I’m sure it’ll come right.
That’s a good one, about ‘you can’t catch the present moment for the same reason you can’t bite your teeth.’ This is absolutely right. ‘You are the present moment.’ Part of what the software does. The question of ‘God’ (note the quote marks) was something that troubled me deeply in those days but not anymore, you could say it’s conscious experience, and that would suffice. I don’t think it misses the point, there’s this original cause or whatever. You stumble across it it no matter what…and have to call it something – a description. Is it possible to do that without getting attached?
Is there really a First Cause? If there is such a thing, is it necessarily one thing? Perhaps everything is its own cause.
One problem with the question of First Cause is that it also implies the question of what the first cause of time (or spacetime) might be – which immediately makes nonsense of the question. If time was created by the Big Bang then the Bang itself must be outside time so couldn’t have come first. Vanishing turtles all the way down.
I’ve got my answer of course. I’ve experienced a Goddess who is Time. Whose dance is the creation and destruction of all things and every instant. She has no meaning, truth or reality – nor does She manifest their opposites – but She’s plenty good enough for me. I’m still agnostic too.
Maybe complete answers always negate both themselves and the question.
Is there really a First Cause? If so, the origin of it is so distant there’s no relevance to where we are at right now. What we have is here before our eyes, clear as clear can be. Maybe there are are traces of it, maybe we’re clutching at straws. I wasn’t really thinking about Big Bang and how that came to be; the Beginning Of It All. Now I’m feeling like I’m entering into a discussion we’ve had before; turtles all the way down, this is it. Complete answers always negate both themselves and the question, so think about the question and keep on thinking about that, yeh keep on thinking about it… I read in your post about how you’re convinced about the Goddess of Time and I’m listening – can you tell me more about that in this context?
I’m not sure what there is to tell and even less sure of how to tell it.
Whether you want to call them psychotic breaks, theophanies or mystical experiences I’ve felt the overwhelming presence of a dancing Goddess on three occasions now. I find I can alter my state of consciousness under voluntary control in a manner that makes me aware of Her immanence but that’s very different to the intense experiences I refer to. The impression She left seems fairly consistent with my understanding of the Kashmir Shaivite view of Mahakali but as I only looked into that after my experiences it’s possible that my understanding of Mahakali is influenced by them and I’m retrofitting. My nine and a half years of grief and despair and its sudden resolution also seems consistent with what Swami Vivekananda and Anandmurti Gurumaa say are the preconditions for ‘meeting’ Kali. I stopped running from death (my suicidality was an aspect of my fear of death) and turned to embrace it. Then She came.
The experiences weren’t non-dual. My ‘self’ remained present and She was very much the ‘other’. In fact it sometimes seems She is a personification of all that I perceive as ‘other’. The feelings She induces in me are primarily awe and love. There’s a benevolence to Her that seems strange considering how alien She is and during my first such experience She resolved some hang ups I’ve had that date back to my time working with sex offenders and their victims. The ‘sexual healing’ of my first encounter was consistent with the poem that emerged spontaneously in response that cast Her as a kind of divine erotic dancer.
Although I had altered visual perceptions during the experiences I can’t say I’ve ever seen Her. Nonetheless I was in no doubt that She was present and indescribably beautiful. What I have ‘seen’ is the impression of Her movement in all things as Her dance constantly destroys and recreates them. Images receding to infinity. She is Time. She is Death. She is anicca manifest.
To ask if She is real seems the wrong question to me. From certain perspectives perhaps She is a projection I cast by perceiving myself as a separate being. From others She is simply beyond categories such as real or unreal, true or untrue, meaningful or meaningless, literal or mythic. It’s Her dance that creates such distinctions. Belief is irrelevant. I’m still agnostic.
I could go on for a long time but I still wouldn’t make much sense. Just contemplating Her as I write this has brought my awareness back to Her and it’s like my heart is bursting with love and awe. There are tears streaming down my face.
I’m sure there are people who could explain the whole thing in terms of neurological malfunctions but it’s very, very special to me and there’s nothing that would induce me to accept a ‘cure’.
Some difficulty with the the linked section you sent, but not impossible. The intensity is incredible. I see danger. There’s a strong sense of Her being in control – you are subject to that – makes you vulnerable, subordinate to what She wants, needs, whatever. This seems to be okay with you. I’d question that, of course most of us would, but it looks like that’s acceptable to you and the hazards included. You might find something to compare it with, symbols in history but most people would say it’s a kind of madness and that’s not anything that’d hold you back I can see… even though, there’s always the question. So, if it were me, as far as possible, I’d focus on the Question; is it possible to intigrate this goddess into ordinary day-to-day life? But you’ve probably gone through all these possibilities already and still find you’re subject to it. I don’t know but it reminds me of the Buddha sitting under the tree for days and nights and Mara comes with his daughters and the Buddha touches the earth, you know the story? My feeling is that it has to go in that kind of direction, get rid of it, as best you can, bit by bit. Stop believing in it for a while and see where that gets you…
She certainly seems more powerful than I but I get no sense of any attempt to control me. Rather it seems She’s trying to show me a way forward.
I think I’ve gone as far as I can go in respect to transcendental unity but still don’t know how to integrate it with my day to day dualistic existence. Walking around in a state of non-dual samadhi doesn’t work for me. Not for long anyway.
The impression I get from Her presence is that She’s trying to show me how to find a way to interact dynamically with ‘the other’ rather than withdraw from or obliterate it. That also seems consistent with Kashmir Shaivism to me in which, unlike Advaita, dualistic reality is not an illusion to be dispelled but just another aspect of the divine to celebrate. To them Shiva is abiding non-dual consciousness while Kali is the wellspring of lila, the play of phenomenological dual experience. There’s a Sanskrit pun that (badly) translates as “Without Kali, Shiva is inert”.
It’s just something I have to live with I guess. Even though there’s that beguiling quality – can you really be sure? ‘She’s trying to show (you) how to find a way to interact dynamically with ‘the other’ rather than withdraw from or obliterate it.’ Can you really be sure this is correct: If so, good on you… I suspect though there are qualities of delusion, inevitable. Is this how it is? Ask yourself this question: does it feel right? Or are you mesmerized, how about your abilities in judgment, getting it RIGHT. Is this really happening for you?
As far as getting it RIGHT goes, who knows?
As far as I can tell I’m in uncharted territory here and the only formal moralities that might provide guidance are religious ones. Many Hindus would probably say I’m right while most people from other religions would say I’m wrong. As an agnostic I just have to wing it.
I should probably mention that I first encountered Her while meditating upon the nature of romantic love. I basically took the position that it was delusional and wrong despite how right it feels. A con imposed by evolution to ensure the survival of the species. One that relies not on the ostensible object of the love but rather on a simplistic and distorted image of her/him held by the lover – a veiled form of narcissism. She sort of ’emerged’ from my internal image of someone I felt I was in love with that I’d been meditating upon.
One conclusion I’ve drawn is that my love isn’t actually self-directed but that it’s always been directed towards Her inasmuch as I was able to perceive Her in other people and things. The striving for wholeness that is a feature of dualism is an attempt to unite with The Other and the mystery it represents.
Is that wrong? I’d guess the Buddha would say so. As long as there is dualism there is always The Other, so the striving becomes interminable. Another source of dukkha.
Sankara on the other hand insisted it’s important to worship Ishvara despite the fact that such attribute laden maya gods are a manifestation of dualism. Another difference between Buddhism and Advaita.
As Will Durant summarised Sankara: “But what is God? Just as there are two selves-the ego and Atman and two worlds-the phenomenal and nominal-so there are two deities; an Ishvara or Creator worshipped by the people through the patterns of space, cause, time and change, and a Brahman or Pure Being worshipped by that philosophical piety which seeks and finds, behind all spare things and selves, one universal reality, unchanging amid all changes, indivisible amid all divisions, eternal despite all vicissitudes of form, all birth and death. Polytheism, even theism, belongs to the world of Maya and Avidya; they are forms of worship that correspond to the forms of perception and thought. They are as necessary to our moral life as space, time and cause are necessary to our intellectual life, but they have no absolute validity or objective truth. ”
I’m pretty comfortable with that.
Oh, and I don’t believe in Her.
There’s the experience of Her, which is simply undeniable. But I can experience lots of things that aren’t real, from movies to optical illusions.
But I really have no idea what She is. A separate entity? A manifestation or reflection of my self? A waking dream? A cascade of misfiring neurons? All or none of the above?
Speaking from my rationality I’m an ontological anti-realist. I have no idea what the cause, purpose or meaning of existence is nor do I think it’s possible for me to know. The Buddha was prone to dismissing ontological speculation and despite my addiction to it I suspect he was right in doing so, though I can also make a pretty good argument that to ignore ontology is to blindly subject yourself to your own unexamined ontological assumptions.
So it seems to me the best approach is to play with what I’ve got. Or as Ram Dass put it (as a counter to his own detached transcendentalism) “You’ve been born into the University of the Universe, so how about you take the course?”.
The idea of being controlled has always been anathema to me from a dualist perspective and meaningless from a non-dualist one. But as MKULTRA buffs and advertising gurus would tell you, the key to controlling people like that is to convince us we’re not being controlled. I see that form of control all around me and would be silly to imagine I’m not subject to it. It’s just something I have to live with I guess.
‘God’ is not an object, ‘God’ is the subject… It takes such a long long time to discover this. Sometimes it’s never discovered. Beautiful post. Hope your blood pressure is controlled.
Hi Don, are you in S Africa or London? ‘God’ is the subject and that’s the original teachings of Jesus but somehow it got lost over the centuries – only the clergy were aware of it. God is in you of course, there’s just no getting away from it. It’s similar to Advaita, I wrote a post about it: Jesus and Advaita Vedanta
“A fictional character dressed in a costume that lasts a lifetime, playing a part in a narrative contained in an anthology of short stories. And the book is shelved in a vast library categorized by subject and author, most of which we have all read at some point in former lives.”
Nice writing. 🙂
Thanks Ben, I’ve been compiling that statement for a while now and looking for an opportunity to use it – M, of course was the perfect example
Sometimes writing is like a jigsaw puzzle, you find the piece that fits…