POSTCARD#321: Today is 27 July, the Buddhist Asalha Puja. The day when the Buddha gave his first Dhamma teaching/discussion. So much has changed for me since I first discovered the Buddha in my heart. It was visiting the UK in 2013 that really brought it home, how so much has changed.
London, Covent Garden 2013: Arrival point from Heathrow airport on a flight from Thailand, where I’ve been for more than 30 years – living in someone else’s country, a permanent foreigner. Now finding that it’s been so long since I was in the UK, where I was born, I’ve become a foreigner here too. Separateness, island mentality, a tentative belief in ‘self’ but I’m seeing only the lack of it, and lifetimes used up with searching for completeness. Most people I knew when I was young are gone now… I’m a homeless person, staying in Buddhist monasteries on the way – washing dishes and sitting meditation. Staying in hotels, staying with people I’ve met in Buddhist groups, friends, of friends, kalyanamitra.
All these hotels and other temporary places of residence where nearly everyone I meet is a ‘foreigner’. So many different languages: Italian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and others – this is England but where are the English people? It’s the holiday season, they must be in someone else’s country, being foreigners there too?
It’s true; all the staff in hotels, restaurants and shops are East Europeans. Visitors come here and what they see is a system run by other visitors to England. A picture of England, a picture of reality – when was it not ever like this? Grand statues of eminent Victorians, in South Kensington, a solitary man standing alone, up there on a plinth, pigeons sit on his head.
Splendid isolation, tourists take pictures of each other standing next to the man’s name carved in the stone of the base of the statue’s plinth and up above, there he is, looking over the rooftops at other statues, who are looking back at him – depending on which way they have been placed.
I should know who this eminent Victorian statue man is – I’m British, but have never heard of him. All I see here is a monument to ‘self’, and the grandeur of it escapes me. But it was important to the people of that time; statues, ornate buildings, the opulence and wealth of the Empire (stolen from other countries?) recorded in history by way of these statues. Such a great achievement, such a small country – is it so important? Can’t help thinking it’s all a fiction created by the storytellers of the day about a reality somewhere else, somewhere far away – samsara of stories from a small island.
‘The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole’]