POSTCARD 487# : Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport: Dated, Near Midnight, 1st September 2022: We were in the car and nearing the airport when Jiab suddenly realised I had left my jacket in the wardrobe – I never wear it, too hot, in fact it’s been hanging in the wardrobe since the last time I went to Europe seven years ago. But now I needed it, September is usually quite cold in the North of Scotland. No time to go back and get it, what to do? I’ll have to buy one as soon as I get there. So, we reach the airport, bye-bye, and I was off through the endless passageways, security zones and portals that lead to the plane. No worries, still warm in the airport and on the plane, it was a night flight, warm enough with a blanket and a place to put your feet up, not bad, got some sleep, twelve hours later, arrival in Amsterdam was a different story, darkness, got the shivers, every now and then, a huge blast of North Sea air, enormously cold.
Then on the plane to Scotland we were up above the clouds and a brilliant sun in the vastness of blue sky, shining straight on to the right side of head and shoulders (the side where the headache strikes), wonderful to feel that warming, and felt a sunbeam warming all the way through to the ear drum itself. How strange, but I recall this happening previously in Scotland – the sun must be shining from a different angle in this part of the world, than how it is in Thailand.
At the airport my cousin was waiting in arrivals and he swiftly took me away to a discount shop where I got a light-weight jacket with a zip and a hood. Just right for September weather. So, we couldn’t believe it was seven years since I last visited Scotland (also our own ageing, that face that looks at you in the mirror) and later with my sister the thought of it being seven years was just ‘too much’ and we preferred to see it as a time somewhere out there in the past. Then I met her daughter again and two grandchildren who had grown so much, they were visible proof of that span of time.
How to understand the concept of time? There is the ‘now,’ a point in time. The present moment as it was then, when I was last here, is the same present moment I experience today, seven years later in linear time. Therefore, you could say that chunk of time is one long stretched-out present moment. And, on the larger scale of things, the Whole History of the World is just one entire present moment… beyond comprehension, wow! Cannot be thought of in terms of Self, better to think of it as no-self (anatta), and emptiness (sunyata). But so much has been said in this blog about no-self. My cousin who is a Church-goer visibly flinched when I first brought it up in conversation. I need to pay more attention to what this means and how it is best expressed.
But maybe there is no best way of expressing or explaining no-self. Just let them get on with it and not have to think about the whole picture as it is. Meister Eckhart in the 14th Century paid a heavy price when he expressed some radical ideas in the context of the Christian belief at that time. There were two distinct factions; the Cataphatic division (Franciscan) whose spirituality was entirely devotional, and the Apophatic division (Dominican), which included Eckhart, whose spirituality was almost entirely analytical. In a few words we can say Eckhart wanted there to be a complete rejection of everything learned and cherished in a person, until there was only the empty ‘soul’, then Christ should be ‘born’ in us spiritually. From a Buddhist point of view, this resembles some aspects of the Theravada practice, which culminates in emptiness (sunyata) and no-self (anatta). Of course, there is no Jesus and no soul in the Theravadin Buddhism. Rather we allow the emptiness to be as it is, without any Christian intervention.
Needless to say, there was outright disagreement from the Devotional division, who were the Franciscans (Eckhart was Dominican). The Pope and other Church authorities created a huge upheaval concerning Eckhart’s sermons and teachings, calling him a heretic.
I spent some time with my cousin’s Church group (Devotional) and in the past, I’ve dropped into their discussions and surprised to see their reaction to the concept of no-self (anatta), I shall not bring it up again.
Returning to my journey, I left for Glasgow on the 6th September to see a friend you may know from the blog, Manish Jain, who is a follower of Ishwar Puri Ji and I’d like to write more in the blog in the near future, about the devotional aspect of Ishwar Ji’s teaching. I spent one night there and, on the 7th, left Glasgow for Edinburgh and Newcastle and through to Hartridge Buddhist monastery. By the end of this trip, I’ll have experienced both the analytical and devotional aspects of spirituality.
“When the sensation that I am in control of my life and must make it happen ends, then life is simply lived and relaxation takes place. There is a sense of ease with whatever is the case and an end to grasping for what might be.” [Richard Sylvester]