POSTCARD # 493: Bangkok: I’ve written often enough about the headache that has been with me since 2015. Here I’m writing about joyfulness and bliss… maybe ‘blessedness’ is a better word than bliss. About ‘blessedness,’ it’s worth saying here that Theravadin Buddhism is Apophatic, and when I feel blessed during the Buddhist chanting, it’s hearing the sound of the voices of the monks reaching back 2,500 years into the past, coming alive again, rather than witnessing a devotional image. I remember Ajahn Vajiro, a few years back, passing through town and we met him at the house where he was staying for a few days. I told him about my 24/7 headache, and the medicine I take for it, which interferes with my understanding of meditational mind states, and what could I do to improve the situation. He said to get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know. At the time, I wasn’t able to discuss this further because Ajahn began chanting the blessings of the Four Brahma-Viharas (the Four Immeasurables), while explaining the quality and meaning of the words.
1) Metta, Loving kindness.
2) Karuna, Compassion
3) Mudita, Empathetic joy, what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.
4) Upekkha, Equanimity, inner composure, balance.
The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s chanting remain in present time, and everything about who I am disappears for an instant leaving only a state of awareness. When this is so, I experience an indescribable awareness in the centre of the chest. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. I notice a loving, joyful, sensation in that central place that grows in intensity as I become aware of it.

I can focus on each of the immeasurables and understand how that individual characteristic quality or attribute works for myself and for other people, I can also understand how Upekkha may be a foundation shared with all of the immeasurables. But I wish I could develop the understanding and awareness of the immeasurables’ relationship with each other, and have the ability to notice the subtle difference between them. For example, Karuna and Metta: “Karuna is the desire to remove harm and suffering from others; while mettā is the desire to bring about the well-being and happiness of others.”

Leaving the 4 Brahma Viharas aside, for now, there is another mind state that could be said to have this quality of ‘blessedness,’ and that is bhavaṅga. Theravada Buddhism identifies it as “luminous mind.” Bhavaṅga is a passive mode of intentional consciousness; the state of the mind at rest when no active consciousness process is occurring. Although I’d read about bhavaṅga a long time ago, I simply stumbled upon the way to do it in these circumstances of head-ache; noticing every single aspect of how the body reacts, responds, and the mind reveals there’s a slightly deeper awareness in here, dormant until I notice it. Then it’s activated… and the state of bhavaṅga arises momentarily between each item of consciousness. I notice when it appears, it is what seems to be happening when nothing is going on… I have to allow it to come into the present time. There are no words for it,

Seated in a comfortable chair, arms on each arm rest, and feet flat on the floor, and bhavaṅga occurs when the cognitive process is focused on nothing at all. Sometimes it’s emptiness (śūnyatā), and this is the preferred state; agreeable enough to observe any discomfort, therefore allowing time to pass in a gentle meditational, introspective state… contemplating the empty space. The bhavaṅga practice can alter perception, which enables me to endure the headache discomfort better than before.

Sometimes this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not helpful at all… no, no, thank you. So, I can draw confidence from the reserve of underlying calm, that goes with bhavaṅga, and look for/find an empty space before it is occupied by ‘Self,’ and wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga is fully in place. Allowing the muscles at the back of the head to relax, mind can rest and all that remains is this floating feeling in the head, which is quite wonderful for me, considering the times I’ve suffered pain in that same location – and it’s this that motivates me to develop the bhavaṅga practice that seems to allow me a very different headspace which can accommodate the times of head-ache.

“There exists only the present instant… a Now which always and without end is itself new. There is no yesterday nor any tomorrow, but only Now, as it was a thousand years ago and as it will be a thousand years hence.”
Meister Eckhart 1260 – 1328

*Note: Bhavaṅga-citta is also a mental process which conditions the next mental process at the moment of death and rebirth: patisandhi. To find out more, I recommend you copy and paste – -into your browser.

*About the image: it is a photo taken of the bougainvillea plant on our balcony, caught in a sunbeam.

5 thoughts on “blessedness

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