Why is there laughter?
Why is there joy?
when the world is on fire?
Since you are clouded in darkness
should you not seek the light?
It is usually when we get burnt by life that we turn to the Teachings. It can come as a relief to find that in our efforts to be free from darkness we are accompanied by many millions of other human beings. “Don’t feel bad if you are suffering. Everyone suffers.” Ajahn Chah would tell us. Before his enlightenment the Buddha-to-be suffered too. The difference is enlightened beings know that suffering is not an obligation – it is only one of the options available in the human realm. There is also the possibility of dwelling in the light of non-suffering. [Dhammapada Reflections, Ajahn Munindo, p26]
There’s a sense of awe here, an urgency… I’m shaken awake by it. Without thinking, I key into Google, ‘the sky is on fire’, forgetting to make the correction sky = ‘world’. There are songs, poems and a great number of images of sunsets. The sky looks like it’s on fire – language struggles to express the meaning and the metaphor pushes it over the edge: ‘the sky is on fire’. “The world is on fire”. The image in the mind becomes reality… for a moment, then it’s gone.
I’ve had friends who ‘became the metaphor’. They slipped over the edge, where one thing becomes another, and never came back… extraordinary individuals. I always managed to return from the edge (or at least I think I did), and fortunately the Dhamma of Theravadin Buddhist monks saved me from burning – those who ‘get burnt by life’ often try to find an answer in the Buddha’s Teachings. The Buddha himself was one who came back from the edge, somewhere distant, obscure to me, hard to find. He came back from there to help those, ‘clouded in darkness’, seeking the light.
These exciting inspiring times eventually settle down and we return to ordinary life – in Thai it’s ‘dhammada’ and you can see the word dhamma (dharma) there. This is because when things are ordinary, we can sense and contemplate the actual truth of being alive. Not always of course because the mind creates distractions, memories, fictional versions of reality. For the meditator, the task is to control the wayward mind by some subtle means and bring awareness into the Dhamma (Awareness = Dhamma).
POSTCARD#344: Bangkok: Here again at the weekend in the Nontaburi house and things have taken a turn for the better. H is not causing any pain at all today nor did it yesterday… a small change in the meds suggested by the neuro, and the headache is gone pouf! …harmless. I spend an hour watering the garden, overgrown jungle that it is, fearsome jagged dried-out bush skeletons cry out ‘neglect’. Pause for a moment over the many days I didn’t tend to the dry ground, great twisting roots almost leap up from the earth in search of water. A very long time otherwise engaged in a former life as an infantryman; open wound on the right side of the head, blood and mud and stuck in the battlefield of the here-and-now and just no getting away from it.
Tentatively looking out on the third day of no-pain… things have clearly taken a turn for the better but careful now… I’m reminded of the Oliver Sachs book/movie ‘Awakenings’ and the drug L-Dopa that sent those who recovered back to the paralysis of where they were before they woke up. I feel like taking a forbidding grey view of this period of recovery is better, otherwise it’ll be pretty grim when the drug wears off. Somewhere in here lies the Middle Way.
There’s the energy I feel driven to put into words, old notebooks full of scribbled thoughts in the past I’ve recorded the experience, over and over but no end to it really and the ordinary things of just being here in the Nontaburi house of empty rooms where we used to live… all this seems worthy of including in a new page of the notebook, but there’s no real ‘need’ to do it because it’s the experience itself that’s meaningful; stepping into that magical world of heightened feelings. What’s this, what’s that? Things I want to write down quickly before they vanish. But they vanish anyway, and maybe I’m just trying to hold on to things, an avid collector of words without meaning. Somewhere in here lies The First Noble Truth.