POSTCARD 488# : Glasgow Queen Street Station: Dated 7th September 2022: Sitting on a bench with hundreds of people going here and there, some sitting like me, but they’re occupied with their phones, while I’m writing notes on pieces of paper, hoping I’ll remember when time comes to key in the gist of what I’m seeing here. Meanwhile, raggedy pigeons walking around my feet looking for scraps, they peck at this and that, maybe trying to give me a hint but I don’t have anything edible to give.
Everywhere there is the picture of a particular place in space and time presented before our eyes, a series of events tell the story, and this is how it happens: a child stumbles into the parameters of my vision, corrects herself, then loses balance again, falls over, and sits up on the floor, slightly shocked by the fall. For a moment I think she’s going to cry, arms held out, wanting to be picked up, but mum is carrying all the luggage and pulling a large case on wheels and there is no dad in the picture. Instead, mum stands there, looking back at her daughter and calls out, in a Scottish dialect, a little harshly, I thought. Daughter remains sitting looking at her options, shouts a one syllable utterance and mother replies with a short encouraging sound but I can’t bear to be in this picture any more.
If you’ve lived in the East for any length of time, or any Third World country, you’ll know that when people have to travel, they go as a family unit, able-bodied grannies, aunties, older sisters, cousins or paid helpers – there would always be someone to pick the child up from the dirty floor. It goes without saying, but here in Northern Europe they have more or less lost that kindness.
For the sake of the economy, the authorities disbanded the clans, ‘every man for himself,’ and we were each reduced to a single unit of consumable human energy, or left to survive by whatever means. (We mustn’t dwell on unhelpful thinking, nor chase after a fleeting happiness, to the extent we forget what we’re doing.) It happened like that because of a misguided belief in Self – there is no enduring Self [anatta]. “The self exists conceptually, dependent on mind and body, not an entity in itself.” [Dalai Lama].
Getting back to reality, I’m waiting for a train to Newcastle via Edinburgh. Meanwhile, situated here in Glasgow Rail Station. There’s a familiarity about this city, although so much has changed. I was at the Glasgow School of Art for four years. The constant sweeping along of things brings me back to the place where I started off from. It was here I had a belief in Self, as we all did, then one day I woke up from the dream but three decades had passed – why didn’t I get here sooner? It’s an adherence that looks more difficult to unstick from than it really is. There is no Self, nobody at home, Elvis has left the building. The concept of no-self can be applied here and now – see the nothingness at the centre of everything. The entire thing is a construct.
We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine without a name,
whether general, particular,
incorrect or apt. The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn’t view itself.
It exists in this world,
soundless, odorless, and painless. The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
The water feels itself neither wet nor dry,
and its waves to themselves are neither singular or plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small. And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
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]
POSTCARD# 486: Bangkok: There’s really nothing left to do, just waiting for the hours to pass before it’s getting-on-the-plane time – everything else seems kinda irrelevant. If you’re reading this on the day of publication, 02.09.22, I’ll be gone… hop, skip, jump, up and over to Northern Europe, where it’s around seven in the morning, local time, I’m still in Airplane Mode, but near to where I get off the bus. A significant moment in my childhood in Scotland; the bus would stop in the middle of nowhere and my mother, my sister and I would step down with all our bags, to the quiet of the countryside, watch the bus go rumbling off and it was the start of the summer holidays spent in my grandfather’s farm. A happy time, and I like to think of this trip back ‘home’ in the same way, remembering how it was in those childhood days. We re-live our childhood through our children and although I never had any of my own, there was M our Thai niece. Some readers will know about M through reading the early posts – the first time she makes an appearance is in a post titled: “No more than this,” dated: May 10, 2013. I think she must have been 7 at that time and even then, there was a ‘conversational’ style about her English, skipping over vocabulary items she couldn’t reach with that spontaneity that seeks/finds creative solutions to problems in the here-and-now, and moving on.
The last time M appears in the blog is in a post titled ‘2021 looking forward,’ when she was 16 and had dyed her hair a yellow-blond colour. By this time, she was racing ahead in her ‘free-flow’ English style, disregarding errors. It was a direct result of the daily confrontation with English-speaking kids when she went to New Zealand for a few months on an exchange student program – liked it so much she went back a second year.
After NZ, she went to international school in Chiang Mai for a year, then she came to stay with us in Bangkok, just as the Covid lock-down happened and there was nothing to do, other than take on-line classes, and work on her GED and SAT scores. She’s on a ‘Gap’ year now, studying Japanese and planning to go to Waseda University, Japan next year. Maybe she has an affinity with the Japanese language because her grandfather was Japanese.
Nowadays, she is completely fluent in English and chooses to spend her time with my wife Jiab, who speaks English well. It amazes me that even though they are both Thai, their conversation is in English all the time. She speaks Thai with her mother (Jiab’s younger sister) and other members of the family, but she’s out there on her own in the English speaking world – not necessarily native English speakers but those in the South East Asia region who use English as a link-language.
Mostly she is quietly being her own self and surprisingly communicative at times – other times the earphones cable disappears in curtains of hair – sorry, she’s not available at the moment, plugged into two phones, watching YouTube videos while checking for messages at the same time… our questions addressed to her remain unanswered. She is becoming a person, a lengthy process. The whole thing dependent on the time needed to grow, of course – sometimes sleeps til noon then phones a food delivery from her room and appears downstairs to get it from the motorbike guy, goes back to her room to eat it there. Some of us might think this is a bit, well, antisocial? But here, nobody gets upset, it’s included in the Thai way, let it go…
I’ve included part of a post here ‘A kind of subjectivity’ March 30, 2014, that highlights M as an eight-year-old:
…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 M, needs to eat something substantial so maybe she’ll like this. Okay go for it.
We get there, M tries the kimchi and tells me: not spicy, Toong-Ting, her name for me (key in Toong-Ting in the Search Box for all 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. I’m thinking, yeh… well, do I need ice-cream? But if I said I didn’t want ice cream, I’d lose all credibility; so, I say, Nice! I’ll have chocolate chip. M goes off to tell the waitress, who comes with the ice creams… 30 years further on in the journey and I’m eating ice-cream with a nine-year-old.
I’m amazed that she seems to like me and her English language is as it is, without any corrections from me or being told she got it wrong. The kind of thing Western people remember in their own childhood and may suffer from. Maybe M responds to this quality of improvised simplicity I’ve developed partly because I want to avoid the systems of thought I grew up with, besides M thinks differently from kids her age in the UK.
It’s fun to have M in the world with all her made-up statements and short-cut questions. Besides, 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 has a kind of subjectivity she shares with me, she is an empath – no words for it, maybe because she’s a child in a bilingual situation and has to find the easiest route to understanding what I’m saying, and composing what she’s going to say in her head, or maybe all children are like this to an extent, 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 me holding on to my Western ‘self.’ I am the odd-man-out here in Thailand, a largely Buddhist population and unique in Asia, in that it was never colonized by a Western power. I learned early on, the importance of listening to the local people. It’s not appropriate to be imposing my Western ‘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 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.
It reminds me of M’s intuitive way of figuring things out, there is no structure to hold things together if it all falls apart – but all nine year-olds must have this inductive way of expressing their reflection on ‘the world,’ more so for bi-lingual kids who have to invent a bridge from one set of behaviours to another – it’s all part of the game.
To close, I’ve included part of another post at the end of one of our Bangkok/Chiang Mai flights titled: ‘Windows,’ and dated: March 14, 2014. We come in from the airport in a taxi to the Nontaburi house, put the key in the door and get inside. Nobody at home, M runs around discovering the familiarity of the last time we were here… her energy is noticeable and my attempts to keep up with it:
We’re in a corner of the room where she has her playthings scattered around. Everything lying in disarray after a particularly large creative frenzy of cutting out and the sticking of things with glue, scotch tape, adhesive coloured paper and bits of old Christmas decorations, recycled. And when every additional use these items might be put to is thoroughly exhausted, M moves to Minecraft videos on my iPad: “Look Toong-Ting, look…” she says.
I position myself so I can see the screen, participate when I’m needed, and otherwise pleasantly distracted by the surroundings; the world suddenly thrust into a clear, enhanced three-dimensional presence. Objects become somehow… known? All our bags and things just lying where they got dropped, extensions and extrapolations of the environment of rooms, the furniture, the plants and trees outside. A momentary happiness, bien-être, no words for it…
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.
The posts for each year 2012 thru 2015 are now available as eBooks on Amazon. The plan is to continue publishing the remaining year-books from 2016 thru 2022. And all will be done and available by the end of December 2022. It will then be the end of our ten-year anniversary, and time for us to consider how much further we can go with things… is there a retirement home for WordPress bloggers? A time also to reflect on the decade we will have shared together here, so now, some acknowledgements and a little history of how the Blog began, and evolved and is what it is today.
It started as a discussion between Tavaro and Tiramit in 2011, driving by car from London to Kandersteg Buddhist Monastery in Switzerland. In the beginning, Tavaro had the skills in WordPress and he was (is) the Master. Tiramit the learner, quickly gathered speed and eventually went on alone. Before that there were discussions on all kinds of things, the name of the blog; early titles included ‘BudInTransit,’ the idea of travelling here and there and anicca the Buddhist term for impermanence. The subtitle “Postcards from the Present Moment” first arose at this time. As for the title Dhamma footsteps, it suggested a child learning to walk. Also as adults, each new writing/reading was a step in the dhamma, towards a clearer understanding of dukkha and an end to suffering.
The collection was intended as a Buddhist journal, presenting a series of short written pieces, ‘posts’ on the Dhamma Footsteps blog [dhammafootsteps.com], and the dhamma is everywhere, starting at the end of 2011 and moving on to 2012. The idea at that time was about how the present moment is always with us, the here-and-now. In the past, the here-and-now becomes there-and-then, of course but is significant that ‘there-and-then’ also refers to the here-and-now in the future – no other designation for future time… language never got around to inventing a future form because future doesn’t exist, except in the realms of imagined content – the same can be said of the remembered past. So, there-and-then in both the past and the future becomes here-and-now in present time which it always was, and is.
The posts then became the ‘post cards’ thus, “Postcards from the Present Moment;” the Buddha’s teachings applied as day-to-day events in a stream of consciousness. Each entry is an analysis of these short events (cittas) noted in the course of a day, or in an instant, an analysis of causally linked mind moments in the paticcasamuppada, Dependent Origination. This kind of investigation into the nature of mind and being is accessed through the practice of meditation. The simplest of things carry meaning. There is mindfulness, meditation, and careful analysis of awareness, moment by moment in the expanded present moment.
Special thanks also Chadarat for technical support. Also, to Manish Jain for extended technical support and inspiration. He is with me now… I would also like to thank all my co-travellers who have been following my blog and occasionally sharing their own experiences in the comment section. As a gesture of gratitude to you, I am sharing an eBook from 2013 for free/ no-cost, in PDF format. You can simply download it from the eBooks section on my blog or please click here to reach that page. That’s all for now.
Postcard# 484: Bangkok: Thinking about the order things take, first this, then that, now it’s near to the getting-ready-to-go time and I have my flight schedule; departure BKK 01 September: 23:40pm. Arrive Amsterdam: 06:35 am. Then from there, another flight to the North of Scotland. I see it in the mind’s eye, although there’s not much to see, because the entire flight will be in darkness, from Bangkok departure 01 Sep., teetering on the brink of a new day that has not arrived yet – and will not be seen to arrive until an hour before we get to Amsterdam, and a small glimmer of light.
All flights to Europe leave Bangkok around midnight because of connecting flights coming in from Japan and the West coast of US. I will be situated in the C class section of the plane, cushioned, carpeted, right up to the ceiling and over the cabin space – in case we lose gravity and I feel like walking barefoot upside-down on the ceiling. I have a clear picture of it; there we are in darkness until some light gets in, at the edges of the window screen – somewhere over the Northern edge of the planet, and I want to see the early dawn rising and the curvature of the Earth. But not allowed to raise the small window screen because people are sleeping or watching video. Me? I’m watching a movie in my head,based on what I see in the half light, people’s silhouettes waiting in line to use the toilet. These are the constraints of air travel.
Take off the headset and watch the video; intense dialogue without sound. Close-ups on faces, an exercise in portraiture. I watch it while going on with a search through the image files in my phone, gathering things from here and there – copy and paste back in one large folder.
The screen catches my eye again, sit to watch, and the credits come up… is that the end already? But it’s not the end it’s the beginning! An extremely long intro to the story itself. Go back to the image files, what’s this? A photo of words written on the back of boarding pass stub. What did I write there… doesn’t seem to make sense?
More writing on crumpled up bits and pieces of smoothened-out paper, I remember fragments of imagery and a story appear in the mind so fast I could not keep up with the pace of it, but no notebook pages to write on, so… scribbling it down on scraps of paper, on the backs of till receipts in my wallet, jacket pockets… reduce the size of handwriting to get it all in the space, then take a photo of it and zoom in to see. These are the constraints of one whose memory is all shot to pieces.
I perceive the world as a solid tangible thing, I see, hear, smell, taste, touch and due to basic repetition, I believe this to be so. But long ago – I forgot when it was exactly – I understood it as a hologram… outer and inner, subject/object split as One; all of it, holographic. It couldn’t be more obvious, enclosed in this small space in a winged aerodynamic flying missile, that is separate from, yet connected to the planet Earth, which is seen from outer space, shining with shades of blue, a holographic image. If that is so, all neighbouring worlds, seen to be dead planets, could be teeming with life and we can’t see it because our sensory mechanisms are not compatible with their operating system, so to speak. In the same way, those other-world populations are seeing their holographic extension of themselves, and our world is a dead planet? It’s an idea for an SF story… the way it is, so clear to me now, there’s the image of a journey that leads from ‘here’ to ‘there’, or ‘there’ to ‘here’ whether you’re coming or going the route we take is an elevated highway in the sky, we’re in a long silver night coach with the moon and stars. Occasional air turbulence suggests small bumps on an otherwise very smooth road surface – sufficient to tip me over and fall asleep, with not even the sense that we’re going anywhere… just the noise of the engines and hiss of the air. At one with the urgency of speed, aware of the immense engine sound that could be deafening, but sound-proofed and hidden; acoustically obscured and this bubble-like enclosure built over it, designed within the dynamics of flight … the same plane flying to and from the same route all of its working life, and the ‘to’ becomes the ‘from’… no end, no beginning. Maintenance crews service the parts whenever it lands – both ends of the journey. From the engines’ point of view, everything is stationary… it’s the world that moves.
POSTCARD # 483: Bangkok: The days are running out… quick, close that door! Too late, some have escaped. Down two steps and off they go into the garden. How many do we have left? Only twenty days left? Less than three weeks. Twenty days, and counting, before the flight to the North of Scotland, the great catapult into the sky – up and over… where everything is just the same, except it’s quite different.
Up until now, I’ve not been able to think about arriving, It’s the in-between thing, the flight time, itself. The actual process of getting there, but not seen as something with a beginning and an end, it’s a sort of neither here-nor-here, period of twelve hours.
Now seeing it, not as something I’m getting started, more like something’ I’m leaving behind (“But Och! I backward cast my e’e, On prospects drear! Robert Burns ). No, no, something more cheerful than that. I look out the window and see the far and distant shore slipping away… terra firma is slipping away, there’s a feeling I could be on an old sailing ship, clouds and air currents cause turbulence of the waves and jolts of hard contact with the swell of the sea. Then the announcement: Passengers have to fasten their seat belts and remain seated.”
Better to think of dropping the desire to control, and I’m reminded of Ajahn S saying, as long as the world is experienced as ‘me’ and ‘it’, there will always be views and judgments about ‘it.’ I’m aware of the ease to be found in releasing control and allowing ‘it,’ that ‘something’ to be a part of it all. ‘There is,’ is a non-dualist statement, but it’s not saying ‘There is that out there’; instead, it is allowing the dualistic consciousness to relax until we no longer interpret the situation as, ‘I’m here and that’s there’.
“We hold the mind open so that its dualistic tendency can be relaxed and we let go of all the defences, the projections, denials, and fascinations.” Then we come to ‘there is.’ ‘There is suffering (dukkha).’ This has to be understood, not in the intellectual sense, but gnostically, seeing its origins in the desires, aversions and attachments, which are usually built into the personality way of seeing things.”
This feeling of being in the middle of nowhere is a good place to forget what’s been and what’ll be. And I’m saying this in readiness for the actuality of it, I haven’t left the surface of the planet yet – and the science of it that comes to mind: we are spinning at 1000 mph, not what we could say is ‘stable’ in any way. Better to think of it all as ‘unheld.’
It’s the investigation; layers reveal themselves bit by bit until there is only that which is beyond the dualism of experience. See where that gets us. It’s not easy, but the kind of effort required is not impossible. I see how it’s done, and returning to this in the posts that remain before 1st September arriving 2nd September 2022.
POSTCARD # 482: Bangkok: Getting the mind right about the forthcoming visit to Scotland, leaving Bangkok on the 1st September, and looking forward to the journey. I shall carry my headache on board like a piece of cabin luggage, it has to be attended to, no different from being down on the ground. A few hours of sitting, occasional sleep then wakened by stabs of head-ache. This is the way it has gone on other flights. Swallow the meds and support the head with one hand, as if it were separated from the body, 5 kilos, 11 pounds (Wiki) feeling its weight by holding the chin in hand, with elbow placed on the supporting arm rest, and bone conduction allows the hypnotic hum of engine noise into the ear mechanism, cranial cavities and vibrating skull containing headache, lulled into ‘airplane mode.’
Long journeys by air are kinda liberating… I don’t have to think why I’m “here” in an existential sense, I’m here because it’s on the way to somewhere else. As a young man, I used to like being on these narrow UK trains travelling the North-South route, 600miles… you can book a window seat, look out the window, and watch the landscape go by in great gulps.
The problem is, on this airline journey, I have to get psyched up for the approaching destination. People are unpredictable over there… they don’t call it the Wild West for no reason. I’m used to the orderly civic responsibility of the Thai public. The threat of exploding bombs and terrorism is not used to hold society in its place – no X-ray machines when you enter public buildings. No pressing of horns in the traffic jams. No rules, they just did it. It’s like this, people just comply with the rule. Is it because Thailand is a Buddhist country? They use Anjali in a smaller way than in India. They are quiet, smiling, staying inside the parameters of their mind/body space. They are respectful, courteous – definitely not assertive. I’m not saying it’s all sweet and nice, and I hear some foreigners complain about this and that, but it’s their expectations that’s the problem… and that takes me back to ‘the approaching destination’ at the end of the journey. I shall just have to pretend to be the same as everyone else and hope for the best.
Getting there, the wide-eyed gaze of not much sleep, and time difference (6 hours back) leads to an enhanced familiarity with the present moment. Whatever, whenever, and wherever, I am a mirror reflection of the world out there, knowing there is no ‘out-there’ out there that’s separate from what’s in ‘here’. The present moment is everywhere I go, even in the unlikeliest of places. I keep bumping into it, the ubiquitous presence of the here-and-now. “Oh… what’s this?” Sometimes I don’t recognise it, seen in a cloud of unknowing. Is this the present moment or is it a cloud of unknowing? It could be I’m thinking it’s something it isn’t. In a different set of circumstances, I see it’s my relationship with it, the ongoing ‘whatever’ of it. So, I accept the present moment as it is, whether I am aware of it in its ‘as-it-is-ness’ or not, an all-inclusive experience of the awareness I’m thinking it’s something it isn’t, or the cloud of unknowing as the present moment.
I should not speak lightly of “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a Fourteenth Century anonymous work of Christian mysticism written in Middle English (The Cloude of Unknowyng). A spiritual guide on contemplative prayer, telling us the way to know God is to: “abandon consideration of God’s particular activities and attributes, and be courageous enough to surrender one’s mind and ego to the realm of “unknowing”, at which point one may begin to glimpse the nature of God.”
It’s a book I’ve carried around on many overseas trips and never managed to finish. There’s something about the above quote that reminds me of things the Buddhist monks have told me years ago, in my naïveté, or I heard it in a Dhamma talk or in a book I read. There is the “unsupported consciousness,” and the process of investigating the mind, you do it alone, maybe a bit like tightrope walking if you choose to have it like that. Or it is an intuitive direction you take with the guidance of a trusted teacher.
“… to cultivate equanimity, you have to be really patient. Patience is both an active and passive mental state; activity being the effort to just hold attention on and bear with conditions, whilst passivity is to let things work on us until our struggle with them and our denial of them is finished. Then the origin of suffering has been abandoned and the cessation of suffering has been realised.” [From: Gnosis and Non-Dualism, Ajahn Sucitto]
In this quote, I was held for a moment by Ajahn’s ‘passive patience’, allowing everything to take its course, including how everything is likely to not be at all passive in my allowing of it. It triggers something like the Inductive way of thinking, vague and confusing for the unprepared, Western mind. I find it difficult sometimes, other times it’s self-explanatory. Eastern cultural traditions are inductive, including the Buddha’s teaching. The ‘meaning’ is not deduced, it’s ‘induced’, revelatory. It is open-ended and exploratory. We begin with observations, start to notice patterns and there’s an idea of what it is, and by studying the observations, we ‘arrive at’ a conclusion, a summing-up. I got around to seeing it this way, eventually. What has helped is all these years living in the East, teaching classes in English, and marking students’ essays in Thailand and Japan.
Right now, I’m thinking of the anonymity of air travel. Up there at 38,000 feet, we’re all having this experience alone. Airline staff have a practiced way of receiving passengers without disturbing their solitude of the sky and clouds. Stop wandering in the conceptual realms, hold back on the tendency to make sense of things, or turning them into understandable thoughts. Whatever happens, abide in the open, unattached state.
I think for a moment that that’s what I’m doing, but pretty quick, I have to accept that no, I’m not. Wow! Nothing is what I think it is. I’m not being with what is, instead of that, I’m doing a story about ‘what is.’ As Ajahn S says, the passive form is a process of being open, so that the dualisms; the defences, and the justifications of self-view actually stop.
Usually we are the ’doer,’ we are ‘doing’ things, figuring things out. Here we have to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’. Can we just be with what is happening, opening to our feelings and perceptions without the need to control, understand, or do something with it? We have to get beyond the level of doing things in order to have that sense of furtherance. [Ajahn Sucitto, “Gnosis and Non-Dualism,”]
Coming near to the end now. The above is so much like the inductive form we discussed earlier. I intuitively know how it’s done – so now there remains the ‘doing’ of it, the allowing of it. I’ll write about that later as I discover more examples of the deductive/inductive.
Note about The Cloud of Unknowing: I’ll return to this later, intending to take the book with me on the UK trip. Note about the image: One of the Eighteen Arhats (or Luohan) depicted in Chinese Buddhism as the original followers of Gautama Buddha (arhat) who have followed the Noble Eightfold Path and attained the four stages of enlightenment. They have reached the state of Nirvana and are free of worldly cravings. They are charged to protect the Buddhist faith and to wait on earth for the coming of Maitreya, an enlightened Buddha prophesied to arrive on earth many millennia after Gautama Buddha’s death (parinirvana).
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 heritagewas 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, the house-builder 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
POSTCARD # 480: Bangkok: The world is functioning everywhere at the same moment. The here-and-now taking place in all other locations at the same time as it is for me right now, in this place… population of the world, 7.753 Billion (2020). Overwhelmed by the immensity of it in terms of ‘Self,’ “the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities” [Buddhadasa Bhikkhu]. “When the mind contains unknowing (avidyā) it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self.’ It’s not that we make a deliberate effort to consciously establish a self. The ‘self’ is merely a condition that arises when there is grasping and clinging in the mind.” Attempting to grasp an impossibility, and it just gets more and more impossible.
Characteristic proliferation of mind when confronted with an immutable truth; when I understood that the Macular Degeneration AMD in my right eye is a permanent condition and I’d have to have the injections in the eye once a month for the rest of my life, I was reminded of a comment by blogger Jude: “… the mind is creative no matter what the stimuli. Imagination, let loose like a racehorse, goes careering off then is yanked back unwillingly and all kinds of fearful things arise, created by the struggle.”
How to have mindfulness so I can catch that creative awareness before I get hijacked by how bad it seems? But this is the classic “End Of Days” scenario (not the movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, no not that one,). It’s the bit where mindfulness steps in and I stop having the injections in the eye, because there are more important things to be considered before the arrival of death itself.
Birth and death, I remember seeing a TV programme about a woman giving birth – it was the first in a BBC series on the human body, about 20 years ago, I remember it was so vivid, I suddenly felt this immediacy of it happening to me: the blinding light, echoing sounds; the coldness, the impact of air entering the breathing passages, inflating lungs? Revisiting the birth experience… emerging into the world, the first consciousness of where we are now sweeps through, and the body/mind organism is removed from its inner world.
Seventy-five years go by, and even though the mind clouds it over with improvised explanations, and received knowledge, the body sense knows I don’t breathe the air, the air breathes me. I am not looking out through my eyes at the world, the world is looking in through my eyes and enters my inner being. As the Buddha has said, all sensory objects enter the physiological organism through the sense gates āyatana, and sounds are heard, food is tasted, words are spoken, things are done but there is no doer doing the deed – no Self in charge (anatta). The process itself selects the sound, or the sound selects the process, same with mind actions, the words, the thought, the concept appearing in the six external sense bases bāhirāni āyatanāni. That TV film left me quite transformed… awareness is aware of itself, “consciousness is outside the thinking mind, the uncreated.” (Ajahn Sumedho)
I’m saying there is no self but there is the small sense of self associated with a craving for ‘things’ that enter the physiological organism. This is the self that arises in the sensory world, driven by desire and bound by suffering. When I stop thinking about it, it disappears. Not so for most people I see. Everywhere I look the surroundings are populated by people with bowed heads, unable to face the world without their devices, their small window on the inner self. Stuck in the basic functions of interacting with the world of sensory stimuli. The deluded, not-knowing state, attachment to sensory events, caught in the vast myriad of things, beset with random karma…a tangled skein of thread, a woven nest of birds, a thicket of bamboo and reeds. “It is by their not being able to comprehend the dependent origination, that people are entangled like a ball of cotton, and not being able to see the Truth, are always afflicted by sorrow – born often into conditions that are dismal and dreary, where confusion and prolonged suffering prevail. And, they do not know how to disentangle themselves to get out.” [The Buddha’s words on Dependent Origination]
Time is in the mind, space is in the mind. The law of cause and effect is also a way of thinking. In reality all is here and now and all is one. Multiplicity and diversity are in the mind only.”
Image Details: Five forms of the Buddha, in Wat Phra Soon Kaew, Phetchaburi, Thailand