the ‘unbinding’


POSTCARD # 485: Bangkok: This time next week I will have arrived in Northern Europe. There’s the countdown of course but that’s just going by itself, I live in a kind of corridor between here and there. I’m aware of a sense of ‘separateness,’ it’s not something new to me, more like it’s that British island-mentality. There’s a tentative belief in ‘self’ but now I’m seeing only the lack of it, and lifetimes used up with searching for completeness, sadly. More and more I’ve stopped looking for it. These days I’m a homeless person in UK, 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. And the anchor point is my cousin who receives the junk mail from my bank and patiently puts it aside. He is my identity in the North of Scotland, and for that, I am truly grateful.

I really don’t feel comfortable in Northern Europe. I’m the Western cultural migrant assimilated in the East (resistance is futile), these last three decades in Thailand. I have user ID, password; there’s a connectedness with the East, although I’m still carrying the weight of Western thinking. All these years attempting to get away from that heaviness of thought, that which built the construct I grew up to believe in, stately and tall constructed of welded metal, concrete, brick and iron embedded in stone. But it came to nothing, all of it demolished in a day’. ‘Melted into thin air… the baseless fabric of this vision… we are such stuff as dreams are made on…’

My last foothold was a little old house in East Anglia, but about ten years ago it was sold. A printout of the email from the lawyer signed, enveloped, stamped and sent by DHL to England, 4000 miles away. My signature, exposed for all to see; idiosyncratic squiggle recognised by law as being ‘me’ saying ‘yes I agree to the foregoing; I relinquish, renounce, I have read and understood the above-mentioned.’ Box ticked, it’s all yours… sayonara, goodbye little house that sheltered me for 36 years, my small cave, burrow in the side of a hill. Somebody else is living there now… somebody more suited to a 24/7 commitment to the house.

It would have to be mortgage repayments, more than likely, and I didn’t have that obligation because the house was mine by Deed of Gift from my Great Aunt L. The cottage was a ruin of course and I had endless bills for repairs but I was ‘free’ of financial commitments, relatively speaking. This led to that quality of ‘unbinding’– I’m thinking of the Buddhist word: dhukka (suffering)…” an important concept in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, commonly translated as ‘suffering,’ ‘unhappiness,’ ‘unsatisfactoriness,’ or ‘stress.’ It refers to the habitual experience of mundane life as fundamentally dissatisfactory…” so, what I’m saying is living in the cottage for 36 years was the ‘unbinding’ – I was liberated from ‘suffering,’ not permanently of course but I learned so much from the experience.

Note, dated: OCTOBER 10, 2012: Today is the last day. Getting ready for the flight to Thailand… that familiar feeling of departures is in the air. Yesterday was a day of hoover and broom and the place is now totally clean, pity I’ll not be here to appreciate it. Everything gets a major clean-up a couple of days before I go. It’s always like this; then, on the last morning, I have breakfast, wash out my coffee cup, place it on the edge of the sink; wash my breakfast plate and leave it to dry in the dish-rack – it’ll have plenty time to dry…. The house is locked up, sealed like a time capsule; I am in a taxi and gone. The house remains as I left it, exactly like this, for countless days and nights and afternoons and early mornings, sun peeps in the window, nobody at home; all through winter, all through Spring and then one day I come back, open the door, break through the spider webs, trip over the mountain of junk mail and enter into this same moment enclosed here now. Same cup sitting on the edge of the sink, same plate in the dish-rack. And the whole house slowly wakes up, I’m given a hug by the armchair next to the fireplace, but

now I know I’ll never be back there again. Stirring the ashes of a fire gone out, still holding on to a life I think I wanted… it was as if I were just ‘passing through,’ nothing is permanent. The generosity of letting go, relinquishment, renunciation.

Back in the days of the Buddha, nirvana (nibbana) had a verb of its own: nibbuti. It meant to “go out,” like a flame. Because fire was thought to be in a state of entrapment as it burned — both clinging to and trapped by the fuel on which it fed — its going out was seen as an unbinding. To go out was to be unbound. Sometimes another verb was used — parinibbuti — with the “pari-” meaning total or all-around, to indicate that the person unbound, unlike fire unbound, would never again be trapped: [Thanissaro Bhikhu: “A Verb for Nirvana” © 2005]

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