the delhi – bangkok posts

snatch, fly, eat

POSTCARD #184: Geneva, Switzerland, August 28, 2012: The number 9 bus drops me near a shopping mall coffee shop. Order something and open my book: ‘Satisfaction is a moment of relief from the pressure of wanting.’  That instant relief from the pressure of wanting comes with a thirst for more. Just then, a little bird … Continue reading

becoming

OLD NOTEBOOKS: DELHI: I have this headache that lives with me now; wake up in the morning and it’s there… dreamy half-formed images like wings of birds fluttering around in front of the headache then I see it’s becoming something and try to correct it so there’s no ‘becoming’. As soon as I do that, … Continue reading

the buddha today

OLD NOTEBOOKS: The images of Gautama the Buddha we have today portray him as a person from the educated class, someone we might recognize as not unlike many of us who have the ability to see ordinary life at a distance, without any immediate financial concern about things in general because we live in a … Continue reading

remembering

OLD NOTEBOOKS: In the midst of my contemplation of this Chinese Buddha, along comes an image that becomes a memory; it’s all these objects of reverence and holy things that seem to clutter this central object of focus, the continous chanting by Buddhists from all countries and dressed in different kinds of costumes with bells … Continue reading

no ‘out there’ out there

OLD NOTEBOOKS: When I came to the East in 1989, it took me a very long time to get used to the idea that the way Eastern people think is indirect, rather than direct. It seemed back-to-front; rather than saying ‘the Truth is this’, it’s expressed in the negative form: the Truth is not that. … Continue reading

a lake of sleep

OLD NOTEBOOKS: Take all my meds out and put them on the table one by one; colors and shapes like planets from another universe. Swallow, swallow, and swallow. Have to open my case from the journey to get here. Bend down to find the zip, forgetting about the baseball in the head… rumble, crash forwards … Continue reading

a sense of sky

OLD NOTEBOOKS: There’s a sense of sky, thoughts like clouds drifting through the vast space in the head… but I really don’t want to call it anything; giving things names gives them an identity and what happens next is, I become the ‘happy’ feeling. Feeling “happy” creates a ‘self’ where there wasn’t one before – … Continue reading

high altitude pain

POSTCARD #188: Bangkok/Delhi flight: The journey is by way of a series of crowded corridors connected like tubes in a telescope, one inside the other, becoming smaller and smaller, reduced to squeeze us into the self construct; the way we are and the lifetimes lived with it. The ‘me’ in the body, the voice in … Continue reading

obviously unexpected

POSTCARD #187: Bangkok: Easily said in hindsight, but there’s a sense of helplessness, as I take leave of the birds nesting in the ceiling fan; now it depends entirely on their strength and vigor – anything could happen to these small creatures … and it’ll all take place without me being here because I’m leaving. … Continue reading

camouflage

POSTCARD #186: Bangkok: It might look like a small heap of dirt stuck in a ceiling fan, but it’s a bird’s nest and the tiny bird, hatched out, is just sitting there, not moving… camouflaged, trying to look like a small heap of dirt stuck in a ceiling fan. Almost impossible to see, but there’s … Continue reading

ceiling-fan-nest, 1 egg

POSTCARD #185: Bangkok: The ceiling fan is situated in the open air of the balcony and hasn’t been used in years – the on/off switch sealed with Scotch tape now the birds have claimed the space. When the nesting bird left this morning, I took the photo, standing on a chair with arms stretched up, … Continue reading

what is ordinary

POSTCARD#303: Chiang Mai: I picked up a carton of milk in the supermarket with the label, “Plain Flavor”… looked at it disbelievingly; hmmm, if it is plain, how can it have a flavor? I was wrong of course, according to my Thai niece M (see the M posts) who is now 14. She explained to me that a Thai company makes the milk, and it is ‘plain flavor’, in Thai; รสจืด rod jeud, because there are so many flavors in Thai food, something that is ‘plain’ has its own flavor, doesn’t it? How could it not be like that?

Yes but the milk in that carton is manufactured, created in a laboratory with cow’s milk as a starting point for all kinds of elaborate subtleties in taste. So let’s agree that cow’s milk is the ‘real’ taste, okay? Extensive experimentation and proliferation spin-offs arrive at the so-called ‘plain’ flavor, a laboratory product that mirrors the real taste of milk. I see it this way because in the West (and that includes the whole of the Indian subcontinent), we are part of the Great Cow Culture; consumers of cows’ milk, we are the children of the bovine deity.

From South East Asia to the Far East, it’s a rice culture, so there’s a proliferation of rice products parallel to the milk culture – no real familiarity with milk. I heard from Japanese friends that in a confined space like an elevator, the Western body sometimes gives off a noticeable smell of sour milk. Ah well, I lived in Japan for three years and nobody said anything to me about such odors. Maybe they were being polite. I drink milk, therefore I am (an upright, standing-on-it’s-hind-legs, cow person).

Jiab says what difference does it make, the whole thing is perception anyway, and why do I have to go on and on about something as ordinary as cow’s milk. It gives me pause, as some things in Thailand do, but what does ‘ordinary’ mean? I’m deeply familiar with the taste of cows’ milk, from childhood in the North of Scotland, the place I was born. I remember warm cow’s milk from the body-heat of mama cow at breakfast time on my grandfather’s farm, there in the half light before dawn.

I remember the constant wind, the sharp clear air, and summer sun shining all day and all night (latitude: 57.4778°). I couldn’t now say it was ‘ordinary’ there, a Viking consciousness of the North, proximity to the Arctic circle where morning emerges from the glimmer of light all night, because it never gets dark in the summer time (see ‘Insomnia’ movie 2002 starring Robin Williams and Al Pacino). The school holidays, full of light, all through the summer months… an endless time.

Winter is the other way round, there’s hardly any light at all. Sharp rebound on the opposite wall of the court. Extreme is not the word, when I bade farewell to the windy, blustery North and headed South, it was hard to believe weather conditions could be so … ordinary? What is ordinary? The absence of that vital quality of what a thing essentially ‘is’. At that time, the adventure had been intense, ordinary things were extraordinary – I didn’t know of any other way to see the world. I didn’t see that the polarization was caused by this confusion of thought underneath everything, just circulating around a great chasm of uncertainty.

Never-the-less one perseveres with the needs of the journey and on to locations where the surroundings are extraordinary, and familiar in that sense. I just kept on going, driven by the need to fill the empty space inside me with something – that underlying Buddhist sense of lack (although I didn’t know that ordinary things are, somehow exceptional), and learning how to not want to fill the emptiness with everything and anything.

Then seeing the Truth of strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and coconut flavor, as well as the Plain Flavor, along with all the others to form an endless proliferation of choices that distract the mind for no purpose other than alerting the innate creaturely hunger.

Thus hovering on the edge of awareness, I fall into the realm of samsara without end, but Awareness picks me up and I’m back in wakefulness again. Mindfulness (of awareness) exists because my attention to remembering it is activated as soon as it’s not there …

A sense of the universe, a sense of the all, the nostalgia which seizes us when confronted by nature, beauty, music – these seem to be an expectation and awareness of a Great Presence. [Pierre Teilhard de Chardin]


Thank you M for writing the Thai for rod jeud (plain flavor)

a kind of subjectivity

IMG_0671POSTCARD#56: Bangkok: I’m the one that got away, the escapee, the spiritual refugee. I followed the road that led away from the place I was born and never went back. The link with ‘home’ is broken and even if I could get it reset there’s no connection now. Somehow it fits with the history of where I came from; of war and battles lost and won, victory, defeat, the pibroch, the dirge lament, death like a flood sweeps away a sleeping village; the kamma of immense grieving, Celtic calamity, the catastrophe, the ruins, the mourning, s’affliger, generations of the dispossessed, and all the elders are gone.

Is integration the opposite of disintegration? If so, I came from a world in disintegration, I stowed away on a ship, sailed over many horizons and by happenstance got shipwrecked on a strip of land in the South China Sea. I am the Western urban migrant, assimilated, integrated here, got the password, userID and blessed to find the Buddhists in Thailand. A sense of connectedness, although it hasn’t been easy these 30 years, carrying the weight of Western thinking, causes and conditions from early times, likes and dislikes. And, being the only foreigner in the family, I’ve learned to go along with the preferences of others when it comes to food. As it was this morning, for example, faced with Korean kimchi at 10.30 AM because somebody thought it was a good idea to go to the Korean food buffet downtown, and if it were up to me I’d have chosen something less exotic so early in the day, but Jiab thinks our niece, we call M, needs to eat something substantial so maybe she’ll like this. Okay go for it.

M tries the kimchi and tells me: not spicy, Toong-Ting, her name for me (see the M posts). She’s waiting for a response… I taste it, blood red and trailing strands of human skin and tissue –  a vampire thing? But there’s nothing wrong with kimchi really, I’ve had things far more out-of-this-world than that. I nod with approval and give her a smile I think is convincing. But M can see kimchi doesn’t quite hit the spot. She comes over and tells me quietly they have ice-cream here too. Yeh… well, ice-cream at 10.30 AM? If I said I didn’t like that either I’d lose all credibility. So I say, Nice! Do they have caramel/toffee? Thirty years further on in the journey and I’m eating ice-cream with a nine-year-old. I’m amazed that she likes me… maybe she responds to this quality of improvised simplicity I’ve developed, anyway it’s a privilige and quite wonderful how things have gotten very much easier since M came into the world. She corrects my Thai pronunciation (the tones), has a continuous chattering bird-like dialogue with me and discovers useful-to-know things about my phone I never knew were there. M is an empath – no words for it, it’s a kind subjectivity. Maybe because she’s a child in a bilingual situation and has to find the easiest route to understanding others, or maybe all children are like this and because I never had any children of my own, it seems special to me.

Being part of her world means there’s less of the holding on to ‘self’. Anyway, there’s less of an emphasis on individuality here in Thailand, things are shared, a largely Buddhist population. And my ‘self’ is so totally different from everyone else’s self, it’s not appropriate to be imposing my ‘standards’ here, creating supporting statements to prove what I’ve already decided is the correct way of going about things, and convinced about this simply because my continuing engagement with it somehow seems to confirm it has objective reality. In the East, the ‘object’ is not the goal. The starting point and the answer are revealed in the interaction with the context of the question – inductive reasoning, it takes longer, it’s more revelatory, exploratory, open-ended.

M runs off to look at what kind of drinks they have. Comes back and tells me about one she thinks I like but can’t pronounce the name, I ask her how do you spell it? Never mind she says, can she borrow my phone? I give her the phone, she’s always ‘borrowing’ my phone. M runs off to the drinks section again and comes back immediately; she’s taken a photo of the drink, shows me: Chrysanthemum tea, wow! A difficult one to pronounce. Nice, I’ll have that. M is gone for a moment then returns with a glass of iced tea held in both hands, places it on my table without spilling a drop; loving-kindness, she steals my heart away…

‘There is ultimately no individual self or soul (jiva), only the atman (universal soul), in which individuals may be temporarily delineated just as the space in a jar delineates a part of main space: when the jar is broken, the individual space becomes once more part of the main space.’ [Gaudapada] source: Non-Duality America (Link to original)

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Lower photo: M‘s Pic of the Chrysanthemum Tea dispenser

surviving the lockdown

POSTCARD#403: Bangkok: Young people are among those most socially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the most prepared to cope with the quick shift towards virtual environments that the pandemic triggered. Our 16 year-old niece M is one of those surviving the lockdown. She was fortunate to find some good friends towards the end of her time at school and now classes are online they are able to help each other by way of their own networks. There’s also a quality that M and her friends seem to have; it’s the ability to improvise and to confront the  problem, find solutions and move on.

She was always like that, even as a child; there was the direct flow of intention to get something done that needed to be done. Then on to the next thing. I’m looking through some old posts and see this characteristic everywhere.

APRIL 25, 2014 : Going home in a tuk-tuk with M aged 9, sitting beside me, small body-mass pressed against my side. The urgency of speed, kinda scary, canvas roof, no walls and immense sound of 2-stroke engine fills our space. Impossible to hear properly what she’s saying, M indicates that she wants to borrow my phone. I pull it out of my pocket, thinking, is it okay to play with a slippery glass-like instrument like this in a speeding tuk-tuk? 

I press it into her small hands. Hot, prehensile fingers grab, grasp and clasp the phone. Go to settings, clear away unwanted windows with the swipe of a tiny finger and launch multiplayer Minecraft. So fast! I’m surprised she’s managing to get Internet, 3G signal reaching us here in a tuk-tuk racing through the streets of Chiang Mai.

My arm is placed around the slight presence of M, taking up such a small amount of the space on the seat, legs don’t reach the floor. In the little window of the phone in her hands Minecraft’s digitally created landscapes of mountains and seascapes appear. She’s now in player-hosted servers with visiting players from all countries in the world.

“How do you say this Toong-Ting?” She spells out: G-A-V-I-N. I tell her it’s a boy’s name, ‘Gavin’, probably English. I see name labels moving around the landscapes, Japanese and Italian names; Spanish, German, Norwegian – players I assume are about the same age as M? I see boy’s names and girl’s names, all here at this very moment – and, where is ‘here’? Good question: now here and nowhere, depends on the context… space and time are not separate – this is (always) where we are at.

“Remember this number Toong-Ting: 19122,” she says. I consciously remember the number, repeating it to myself… In a moment she asks me what the number was. I tell her, 19122 and ask what it was for? She doesn’t answer… I realize later she must be creating a new ID or registering a username. Sad really, there’s not the dialogue there used to be, ‘I’ am held in a suspended state, waiting for the next question.

“What’s this mean, Toong-Ting?” M spells out: B-R-O-S and I tell her it’s short for brothers. It must be a boy, he’s African American probably. She doesn’t ask me anything else so I think she knew the word ’bro’ already. Obviously interested in this and next thing she’s in with the BROS, their mountains and volcanic lava, burning fires.

Then there’s a little wail – she gets disconnected. It feels to me like a catastrophe, but for M it’s not a problem, she changes to a different player-hosted server with new players – or maybe some of them are they same ones who just got here from the same sites we were all in earlier.

In a sense M is directing everything, I simply facilitate. Maybe because I was always looking for communicative indications in English when she would dialogue with me as an infant. There’s a wonderful book ‘Words For A Deaf Daughter’ by Paul West, that’s become the idea behind writing these posts about M. The author writes the book for his daughter who is deaf and has no understanding of language, but the author is aware of innate language skills and knows that when she becomes an adult she will be able to read and understand all the feelings he had for her as a child that couldn’t be expressed at that time…

“As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”
[Ovid, Metamorphoses]


 

experiencing

POSTCARD#387: Bangkok: The headache is here and dizzy with the meds but a sense of self-congratulatory shaking of hands. This is the third day of the fast, now into15 weeks, the last day of the three day régime. I feel extraordinarily ravenous. A fierce hunger and gnawing in the innards, an outrageous voraciousness like the yellow red flames burning in the fire that’s suddenly gone in a moment (drenched in a rainstorm)… I choose to search for the lightness instead, reach outwards for the weightlessness, I have an affinity with effects that are unassuming and uninhabited.

I am not a substantial thing… sometimes not here at all, curiously adrift in some future time. A place of speculative conjecture and hypothetical likelihoods. The constant sweeping along of things brings me back to a recognition of the place of alertness, the emptiness of the moment; the sound of the ceiling fan, the movement of the air. There’s skin, hair; there are arms, legs, a head and eyes, ears, nose and tongue. I am a sensory-receptive organism. Just the warm air in my face and time rushing by.

It’s birth in the Buddhist sense jati: the I-am-here thing. It’s sometimes an uncomfortable, driven, locked-in state that arises through examining an event, and returning to it again and again, simply because I’m so used to seeing the situation from this perspective of holding on to it, I expect it to be the same starting point of my meanderings every time.

Mindfulness of this unaware habituality. Knowing it’s like this means ignorance (not knowing) is gone. I enter the space knowingly, intervention in the probability sequence. Instead of the intensity of mind, there’s just the intensity… a tightness of posture – maybe that’s how it started – relax the neck, the forehead. No thought associated with it. No goals to which I’m compelled to strive for; what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve for. Undoing all the knots tied in memory, letting the mind untangle itself from the problem: good, bad, whatever. Letting it all go, giving it room.

“All we know of a thought is the experience of thinking, all we know of a sensation is the experience of sensing, all we know of a sight is the experiencing of seeing, all we know of a sound is the experience of hearing…. And all that is known of thinking, sensing, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is the knowing of them. And what is it that knows this knowing? Only something that itself has the capacity to know could know anything. So it is knowing that knows knowing.” [Rupert Spira]


This post contains excerpts of other posts I’m gathering together like stringing coloured beads on a necklace.

 

doerless doing part 6b, editor’s notes

POSTCARD#378: Bangkok: This is the last part in the series of posts created from source material in “Heartwood from the Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It is a conclusion of sorts, although how this slim volume came to be with me and the events that go with it, is worthy of including.

I found the book again after 20 years of it being lost in a deep cupboard. Such a precious thing to have it leap into my hands again as if by magic. Maybe it got picked up along with the Nokia Phone Manual (that’s how long ago it was!) and got lost in the cupboard for two decades. Finding the book came with all the memories of how things were then, discovering Buddhism for the first time – although there was something déjà vu about it – and how it opened up an understanding in my world that had never happened before.

I arrived in Thailand in 1984 after 2 years in South India. I know I was reading something referenced to the Upanishads at the time and it had a big impact on me… but I can’t remember much more. I do remember ‘What The Buddha Taught’ by Walpole Rahula and it was in reading this that I decided (perhaps wrongly) the turn-around point was at tanha (craving)

All of it was triggered as a result of visits to Wat Pah Nanachat in the north of Thailand and Wat Suan Moke in the South, where I came upon Ajahn Buddhadasa’s book for the first time. Gratitude to the monks I met in these two Wats who helped me understand the subject in more detail.

Today, I have to admit that I can’t seem to bring grasping and clinging to a close at phassa (contact), or vedana (feeling), despite Gratitude and Respect for Ajahn Buddhadasa’s insistence that there is nothing worth having or being in this or any world. Feelings of like or dislike arise and the various kinds of desire that spring from the urges of tanha (craving) are with me until my escape route begins – just before upadana (clinging) sets in.

Another thing I need to say is the constant headache caused by PHN in the Right Occipital Nerve, that’s hindered me these last 5 years. Perception altered due to the struggle with pain and pain meds which always seem to be ‘more than enough’. I become lost in conditions where I’m in the midst of ‘being’; or I stumble and fall over objects that I currently ‘possess’. But I’ve learned how to let go when signs of suffering (dhukka) are arising – last minute relinquishments. The following paragraph illustrating the turn-around point in cognition at tanha (craving), found unpublished in some old notes I’m including here:

“Idleness, sort of a wide-awake sleepwalking around this empty house. Soon, I find myself in the kitchen, pause at the refrigerator, open the door, look inside. Well, let’s see, is there anything in here? Or better to say, is there something in here I can put in my mouth that’ll satisfy the craving? It has to be the right thing, looking for that which is exactly the right one, this craving is for something sweet but there’s nothing here at all that’s sweet, only cheese. So I grab the cheese, cut a large piece off and chew on that, have the flavor of cheese in my mouth for the next half hour. It’s not what I wanted. Now I’m craving for sweet things with the taste of cheese getting in the way.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of being situated in that ‘place’ of mindfulness in the here-and-now and that’s enough, observing how there are things that’ll displace, me; powerful emotions, a short flash of like or dislike. These mind states are ‘seen’ same as everything else, momentary, and let-go-of more or less immediately and stability returns.

If not, I lose my ‘place’ for a while and then before I get back on track, there’s that experience of being totally lost for a while. Then I get situated in the here-and-now again, focusing on where I lost the place. Suddenly I re-cognize something and see that I must be functioning in that remembered way, then firmly situated again. Okay, so the mind may fall into a fixation with a passing thought, but at least I know that’s where it’s been.

These days I’m thinking I need to move on from these old reference points in my old comfortable way of understanding the world. That is, if you can see where you are and are aware of suffering caused by tanha (the craving for things you love and hate), then that’s all there is to it. You see it, you know it. Avidya (ignorance) is swept aside, no matter how much these established views may be held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, because suffering will pass away of its own accord:

“Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” “Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata has told. And also their cessation — Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.” [Venerable Assaji answers the question of Śāriputra the Wanderer]

I need to explore Sunyata “Emptiness” which Ajahn Buddhadasa examines in the second section of the book, where we see the truth that emptiness is the remainderless extinction of self. ‘The ‘remainderless extinction of ‘self’ is the non-arising of ‘self’’. In the long term I can see a situation whereby we prevent the arising of ‘self’ completely so that it has no way of arising at any moment in the here and now, nor at any time in the future.


Photo source: Dewdrop

the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

Every day counting the dead, an on-going catastrophe, the mind is fundamentally changed after the disaster experience, it has a psychological impact. Or it may be spiritual, or transformational, subject to who the actors and activists are, the realities, the karma of circumstances.

The Thai Government announcement on COVID-19, 22 April 2020:

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

The stay-at-home order is now in its fourth week, and how are we coping with our ‘stay-at-home-ness’? My wife, Jiab, is usually busy with Skype while I am hidden upstairs watching CNN. “This is CNN bringing you Breaking News”, volume fills the room. It is informative and kinda gripping if you’re lying in repose managing a headache. Sometimes I mute the volume and watch the facial gestures.

There’s a bathroom and a bed here, a large air-con room and comfortable armchairs. This is still the hot season, slatted blinds keep out the direct sunlight, makes it easier to see the TV screen. I also watch CSI and CSI Miami with Horatio forever posing with his small sunglasses. FBI Most Wanted, Blue Bloods and others. Stepping into the hypnosis of the general public: dialogue woven around a few good looking actors, studies in portraiture… I swoon with the posturing.

Aside from the enthralled watching, I do a little yoga and meditation, and go down to eat and wash the dishes three times a day. Jiab does the cooking or orders delivery. There’s also time spent writing posts, say 2 days per week – I’m not as dynamic as I used to be.

The headache comes and goes, never completely gone. It’s been five years, we’ve gone through a lot together, the headache and me. Remembering now there was a time when I didn’t have the headache, mourning the loss of the pain-free state I possessed in that other world from whence I came… all of it irretrievably gone from memory. Strong, angry emotions – red light, phone alarm rings, stop thinking. Return to watching the breath… the utter functioning of being alive. Watch TV, just dismayed – how could it be like this?

My headache, or the coronavirus is the imponderable. Our world is good but there’s always something that’s not right. Incompleteness, and the Buddhists say it’s this, the discovery of dissatisfaction, Suffering, Dukkha, the first Noble Truth. Years ago I was so glad to discover this because I was lost in it and at the best of times, wondering what that bad feeling was. There is Suffering, caused by Desire but there is a Way out, found in the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 Noble Truths)

Everything comes crashing in. The inevitability of events and present moment awareness. If I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated as I do to look everywhere for the way out of this suffering, and thus begin to uncover the mystery.

If I’m having difficulty with my headache, and I’m trying to avoid it, the presence of it, the acceptance, it helps to think of it as another self; the headache is a person, a friend – I feel there are two of us.

Interested in the well-being of this other self, I say to my headache self:

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

When it’s time, three capsules of pharmaceutical forget-me-nots swallowed with a gulp of bottled water and in a short while, the intensity of the headache has moved away from consciousness – a long sigh of outbreath.

Last thing is: why am I doing this, writing these posts? There’s a lot to say and I’ve learned so many things from such a lot of good, kind, and wise people that I feel I have to share it with everyone.

May all beings be well.

 

 

the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T

 

thoughts like clouds

img_4536POSTCARD #243: New Delhi: A photo in the photo library of the mind got lost. I had it in a special place because I wanted to use it for this post, but now it’s gone and I didn’t make a note of the file name, I’ve forgotten where I kept it and worse still, I’ve forgotten what it looks like. This is the problem. All I know is that it was a photo of sky that sent me off in the direction of thoughts like clouds drifting through the empty space of mind… blue sky, high altitude clarity – that’s all. So, how will I recognise it if I don’t know what it is? Hmmm I’ll know it when I see it, I suppose, hoping there’ll be some kind of familiarity about it, a pause before moving on to the next, thinking… that reminds me of something, what is it? And suddenly there’s recognition, like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for half a century. But as I start to go through something like 4000 images, it seems unlikely.

I shall sit quietly for a moment in the space of no thought and, instead of trying to remember the photo, I can contemplate the empty space where it used to be. But that’s not working because the empty space where it used to be suggests an identity for the lost image. Fragments of remembered lost-photo imagery remain, I need to have the mind clear of remembered images, no identity, even the word itself – no ‘it’ and no ‘self’, the Buddhist anatta, ‘no self’, nobody at home.

It’s not working because the effort to create ‘no self’ results in a mind running around everywhere, taking ‘selfies’, you could say, in different places and with various friends. Smile please, pose… click and take another one, okay? Click! And it’s happy doing this, but deep down it’s not satisfied, seeking always for a way to become whatever it is that is permanent happiness. But it’ll never happen, everywhere I look there’s another ‘self’ seeking an identity and becoming that form… but again, it is never satisfactory. Seeking the next opportunity to ‘become’ is the default aspiration; it’s this that holds beings in the cycle of rebirth. Caught in the predicament of becoming.

So I give way to it… and curiously, there’s an immediate awareness of the restless mind held in endless searching. Another kind of awareness enters the picture, seeing the ‘self’ that sees itself seeking. The seeking ‘self’ turns its awareness on the seeing ‘self’ and is, at once, seen. There is seeking but no seeker, and no object is sought. Seeking non-objects is seeking the motionless space in which the answer is, before the question is asked. The place where everything is and is not. No-self is another way of saying nothing exists anywhere, anywhen, ever. Deathlessness, the death of death… this too shall pass, and the fragility of newly born beings, all finely tuned things which appear briefly; vulnerability, perishability, limited lifespan, and all that remains is the breathtaking tracery of what this was, a moment before it passed.

“Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending.” [Rupert Spira]


Note 1) some parts of this post taken from earlier posts, and edited pages for the next volume of Postcards From the Present Moment.
Note 2) the photo, Ladakh, Himalayan North India, taken by Jiab. I opted for this in the end, and maybe it was the one that got lost, or maybe it became the image formed in the mind which recognised the ‘no self’ quality in the expanse of sky, and distance on a scale that overwhelms the small self…

 

the world disappears

img_0019POSTCARD #224: New Delhi: Learning how to sleep without the pain meds and all those chemicals that used to help me so much before, but I’m just left there thinking about things in the darkness. Stories come and go, pondering over this and that, and the awareness of being caught up in the thinking thing gets included in the wandering. Searching for a way out, but if I think about how to stop thinking, the mind gets busy looking for a solution; finding something and comparing it with other reasons why I can’t stop thinking. Thinking has its own momentum, takes time for it to slow down, there’s the opportunity to allow it all to fizzle out. Everything evaporates for a moment.

In that instant there’s a no-thinking state, a great space opens up – an awareness of being aware. Silence and emptiness, held on pause. Then, somewhere on a different screen, the mind is alerted, there’s the desire to be actively thinking again, and an invitation to be engaged with it, but that fizzles out too. “Footfalls echo in the memory, down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose garden.”*

The outbreath from the nostrils, so faint and light, stirs only the tiniest thing; the movement of a single strand of hair could wake me. No other sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with, no sense object activates the chain of events and all that remains is the mind’s cognitive function. A curiosity about this stirs; ‘self’ is a sensory experience. The experiencer is an experience – there is only experiencing.

Another wave of thoughts comes rushing in, stays for a moment and goes out again. I see it as if there’s an watcher seeing it from some hidden place, aware of it. Then the watcher disappears and it seems like only the awareness itself is left there. Then the awareness disappears and in its place, a sequence of half-seen obscure mental events, each one linking with the next. Some time later sleep comes and the whole world disappears.

‘The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.’ [R. D. Laing]

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Photo: Dhammakaya monk collecting alms by boat.
*Excerpt from Four Quartets T. S. Eliot
This post was rewritten from earlier posts