POSTCARD # 481: Singapore: Compassion for those caught in the conundrum of chasing forever-ness – pushing their luggage trolleys, carrying their children, headed for Departures. We are all caught up in the flow, part of the great exodus, on-the-run from what we don’t want, towards what we do want, but never quite getting there, and moving on to somewhere else, then somewhere else. An urgency of thought, searching for an understanding of the way things are, finds that something is not quite right… what is it? Even trying to define it is not satisfactory. This is how it gets triggered – the Buddha’s First Noble Truth from two thousand five hundred years ago, arrives in the here and now of present time: “There is suffering.” It’s a universal reality… not just little old me, fretting over this and that.
Going through the airport security portals; laptop out of the bag, and take off your watch. Remove your shoes put them in the tray then on to the moving belt, shoes get X-rayed. ‘Excuse me sir, show me what you have in your shirt pocket.’ It’s a sheet of capsules, my medicine for the headaches, the tinfoil sets off the metal detector. Jumping through the hoops, getting dressed again and down the narrower and narrower tunnels leading to the seats. Where are we? Look at my number (aisle seat is less claustrophobic). Sit down, seat belt fastened, experience the elongated flying bus with wings. Look out the window as far as I can see, at the small patch of blue sky.
[1st Noble T.] There is Suffering (Dhukka), in the most general sense, encompassing all kinds of slightly distressed states and [2nd Noble T.] it is caused by craving (Tanha); wanting things to be better than they are or different than what they are, or more beautiful, more comfortable, more bearable, less painful, less irritating, less disturbing and a whole range of undesired, unhappy conditions of the mind. But in simply knowing there is a reason for it, a cause, [3rd Noble T.] we find there is a solution to the problem. (Nirodha) This is the key to the locked door… for an instant the suffering is gone! The door is thrust open, sunlight enters the darkness of where I’ve been. So now I know how it works! [4th Noble T.] If I tackle the cause, I can put an end to suffering, by way of the Eightfold Path (Magga).
But today there’s another form of transitional suffering hanging around, a sense of something suspended, isolated, uneasy – why should it be like this? And I start to think it’s the fact that I don’t know why it’s like this, that’s causing the uneasiness. ‘A riddle, wrapped up in an enigma’ [Winston Churchill]. Uncertainty, impermanence, the Ajahn Chah teaching, ‘Not sure’ [mai nae]; poised on the edge of something – a kind of alertness?
This mass of suffering is to do with the upcoming trip to Scotland in about a month from now… and here we are high up in the clouds, on the way to Singapore for a holiday, Jiab and I and our niece M who is now 18. It reminds me that my own departure date to UK is getting nearer and nearer. This brings up a whole range of feelings I haven’t thought about in a long time. Revisiting memories of my less-than-perfect functioning in a dysfunctional family, growing up without a father, a very young mom, more like an older sister than mother, and sharing life with a younger sister, the other chick in the nest.
Living in a household of women and feminine things, the adolescent male falls out of the nest, discovers it can fly and leaves that place there and then. I’ve been away from the North since that time, never went back to stay. I’ve been here and there in the South of England and in Thailand for 38 years – where did the time go?Living in someone else’s country, a permanent foreigner. Now there’s a feeling that it’s been so long since I was in the place where I was born, my ‘home,’ I’ve become a foreigner there too. The loss of my Northern heritage was all my own doing of course, and there’s the regret, remorse and guilt, a burden of suffering I’ve learned to live with all these years. Perhaps visiting it this last time (?) will bring it to a close.
Arriving in Singapore at night, coloured flashing lights, buildings are huge architectural sculptures and everything looks like a celebration. It’s a young person’s city, parties, happy times. Meanwhile I’m engaged with remembered instability, insecurity, vulnerability and there’s this ‘mai nae’ (not sure) out there, neither this nor that.
We sit in a cafe the next day, next to the window and have a scone with butter and jam – oh no, it’s so British! It starts raining, then the sun comes out, then it’s raining again and the AC is so cold… this feels like British weather! I start to realise I’m attached to the historical Thai time-warp, remote from internationalism. I don’t know how I will cope with the cold reality of Scotland. The urgency of thought seeks the safest place to be, the midway point and holding the balance; a place of equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, find a calm abiding there. Allow the suffering to be here – there’s nowhere else for it to go. Let it in. It’s the willingness to allow it a place of its own, that leads to an immediate sense of release, inside and outside… understanding the way things are.
But there’s now the feeling that the Scotland scenario remains an unfinished story. There is the death of ‘self,’ of course, and I can say the self that was lived in Scotland came to its end a long time ago – if it’s an unfinished story, it’s because I’m still holding on to it… time to let the ghosts of that go. The self that I am now, is transparent in the Buddhist sense. Mostly it’s not there at all. Everything that is associated with this body will have its death however, at the end of my allotted time. Other than that, there is the actuality of ‘forever-ness,’ (the unconditioned) things (chittas) evolve, they reform, (annican), become other things in the vast oneness, and there is no ending.
“For many lives I have wandered
looking for, but not finding,
who caused my suffering.
But now you are seen and
you shall build no more.
Your rafters are dislodged and
the ridge-pole is broken.
All craving is ended;
my heart is as one with the unmade.
[DHP. Verse 153 – 154, A Dhammapada For Contemplation]
Photo: Jiab’s pic of the Financial District, Singapore, taken from the Tourist Cruise Boat