the ability to discern

POSTCARD#386: Bangkok: Searching through a whole folder in the computer I didn’t know I had, no memory of it, and reading files as if for the first time. Most of it copied from some other page but no source cited – the urgency of getting it down before it got overlooked. Then no proper filing system and the entire thing forgotten before it even had time to be remembered… this is how it is for me these days, memory in pieces. Please let me know if you have any of the original sources, Gratitude.

The cause/effect duality implies an original cause. Brahman is the cause and the world is the effect. Buddhists may ask, if Brahman is the original cause then Brahman must be a supernatural being… impossible. We can speculate on meta-stories that had their origin in the Big Bang theory that might explain how this came to be, but it’s not up for discussion.

Brahman is the cause. Without the cause, the effect no longer exists. All names and forms are real when seen with Brahman but are false when seen independent of Brahman. Those of us who see without Brahman are living in an illusion (Shankaran).

In the West we find the same kind of ‘big bang’ reasoning. God is the cause, the world is the effect. Without the cause, the effect no longer exists. Everything in the world is real when seen with God but false when seen independent of God. Those of us who see without God are living in an illusion

Am I living in an illusion? It seems to be a valid point of entry in the investigation. For more than 25 years, I have been a Buddhist, Theravadin, lineage Ajahn Chah. If I’m living in an illusion, and maybe others think it’s an illusion… let them think so. I know it very well and it’s as clear as clear can be. Besides, these days I’m more flexible, not holding on to things that were formerly held.

Brahman alone is ultimately real, the phenomenal transient world is an illusory appearance (maya) of Brahman, and the true self, atman, is not different from Brahman.” I find that it feels okay to me to accept this worldview. The Buddha is part of the Hindu meta-story, a distant relative, but known for his refusing to answer speculative metaphysical questions because they led to further speculation and were not conducive to liberation.

On the question of why there is no Self, the Buddha refused to be drawn further than the guidelines in his teaching… Self is the illusion. Realizing the truth of the illusion of self leads to a detachment from things. It helps consciousness deal with existence as it is here and now. I am an embodiment of consciousness. The embodiment is a process, not a thing. As a process it is always in flux, always changing. It does not exist independent of the rest of creation. There is no separate, independent entity called the self.

Brahman: I perceive… the ‘I’ is the perception. I am that which perceives. Atman: the ‘I’ consciousness is split into 2 poles: That which perceives and that which is perceived. That which perceives is perceived. The I reflects upon what the I perceives: Perception and reflection. The Self is born, and duality follows. Duality is the next step in the propagation of the consciousness.

Duality: That which perceives vs. that which is perceived: Self and Other; I, Not I. This dichotomy is fundamental: Light and Dark, Self and Other, 1 and 0, male and female; all are incarnations of the principle of duality along the way. It may now be a barrier to further understanding, unless I can integrate the self and other into one big picture, one consciousness: non-duality, to see the distinct figure and the background from which it is carved as an integrated whole; to dissolve the border between that which is the Self and that which is not.


Photo: The swan is an important motif in Advaita Vedanta (Non Dualism). The swan symbolizes the ability to discern Satya (Real, Eternal) from Mithya (Unreal, Changing), just like the mythical swan Paramahamsa discerns milk from water.

a hollowness

POSTCARD#385: Bangkok: 4.30 am: Alarm clock goes off, blinding light and deafening sound, touch-screen-tap and it’s silent again – getting up early today because Jiab has business down town. Car comes to collect her at 6.00 am,

5.30 am: So we’re getting ready, finishing off breakfast, and conversation comes around to how I’m going to manage the day. A slice of toast with peanut butter and coffee is not much if after that, you have to wait 7 hours until lunchtime at 12.30 pm (no snacks between meals). I’ll not be able to do that… have to bring lunch forward, say 11.00 am.

06.00 am: Jiab leaves and I close the gate. This is the first day of my 3-day-diet cycle, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day – a bit more generous with snacks between meals. Then back to the three days again. This is the 14th week, give or take, I’ve managed with eating smaller amounts, eventually got round to seeing meals as a 3 minute non-event.

It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest. I have to cope with the headaches of course and there have been times when the diet gets abandoned in favor of a handful of meds and lying in bed in a darkened room. I’ve lost 12 kg (26.5 pounds) and it seems to have settled there, in fact it’s not the weight loss that motivates me now, it’s the mystical experience of fasting and “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind).

10.00 am: I go upstairs to the bedroom to lie down, conscious of the in-breath and out-breath. Consciousness of the hunger pangs, a yawning cavern of hunger. Just allowing it to happen without resistance so that what might be a huge agony is a sense of weightlessness because of that meditational state “bhavaṅga”. There’s a headache nearby that’ll need to be treated soon, in the meantime bhavaṅga has altered what could have been a desperate state of suffering and I’m feeling ok; the world has become gentle and dreamlike.

11.00 am: lunch brought forward by one hour… toast, two spoons hummus and half an avocado – consumed, and the plate washed in 3 minutes. Now there’s the long wait till dinner which may be a seven-hour wait, at 6pm, when Jiab gets back. For the time being the body is at peace, I take the headache meds and that goes down without nausea because of the food in the system.

I’ve been looking at some old YouTube videos of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Papaji and other Nonduality teachers and just ordinary people like David Bingham and Sailor Bob who woke up to this kind of Self-enquiry. These guys are outside of the meditation and contemplation of Theravada Buddhists who focus on and abide in ‘No Self’ – things are done and there is no ‘do-er’. Anywhere, everywhere and nowhere (now here), things in nature happen without a ‘happen-er’. It’s not about me, not about you, or him, or her, or them. It is anatta and the Buddha did not speculate on anything further than that.

These days we are more and more aware of Non Duality. Life is just happening, life is/was always just happening… but to whom? Happening to ‘me’, therefore in this state of plurality and separateness. Eventually we see there is a step beyond No Self, different from the state of being conscious of sensory responses to the world ‘out there’, in the body/mind organism. “Who is the meditator?” No subject and no object.

I remember Ajahn V saying, “Outside the thinking mind there is the uncreated”. I look for the extended, stretched-out moment where there’s no thought at all. The ‘uncreated’ cannot be found. I can only experience something if I’m separate from it… and this is how I see it now, Nonduality, seen from Duality. The ‘seeing’ happens and after that you can’t ‘unsee’, inexorable change. Tat Tvam Asi “That thou art,” Chāndogya Upaniṣad, circa 800 BCE to 600 BCE

4.00 pm: a headache and the hollowness of body is calling for my attention and “bhavaṅga” takes charge of the situation. I’m in my chair, mind focused on just being here, the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the headache pain and discomfort, therefore allowing the time to pass in a gentle reflective mind state. Any other difficult feelings arising from separateness is not helpful at all. I’m able to find that space before it happens, wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then back to watching the in-breath, the out-breath. There is something about making do with less…

6.00 pm: Jiab is back, lays out two small tinfoil food containers and eats the contents with a white plastic spoon. I come downstairs and realize this food is not for me. “I didn’t have any lunch! Too busy”, she says and swallows audibly – but that’s just my consciousness of the act of eating. I could go through to the kitchen and steam the tofu and green beans that’s on the menu, but decide not to, because right now, the smell of exotic food is too much to bear. I go upstairs and return to the bhavanga state and wait until I’m called for dinner.


 

the quiet space

POSTCARD#383: Bangkok: Switch off the TV and switch off the media in my head, their weapons of mass distraction that blind and deafen the population. Leave it alone, disengage from all things hateful before it starts burning down the house. Enter the quiet space and the silence is deafening, random notes of birdsong far away and beneath that, a deep quietude. It’s so remarkably neutral, I feel I’m sometimes not here at all. Seated on the sofa, watching my own breathing, I need to clear the mind of self, starting with the word ‘self’ itself.

Focus on nothing, despite the tendency to think of nothing as something. Nothing becomes both subject and object… what’s happening? I am not here, incognito perhaps, concealed in a makeshift identity. I don’t really know, it all seems to vanish as each new day dawns and deletes the memory of the previous day, an hour passes, replaces the hour before it and I can’t remember anything that recently happened.

A shipwreck of unrelated remembered things is cleared away and forgotten. Does anything still linger? An immediate awareness of self held in the act of endless seeking comes to an end. There is no seeker but there is seeking. There is seeking but no object. Seeking non-objects means seeking the motionless space in which the answer is, before the question is asked. The place where everything is and is not.

No-self, nothing exists anywhere, any time, ever. Deathlessness is the death of death… this too shall pass, the fragility of newly born beings, finely tuned creaturely beings which appear briefly, limited lifespan, and all that remains is the breathtaking tracery of what all this was, on an immense scale, a moment before it passed.

Lifetimes of sensory input, arising and passing away, karma of circumstances. A story is created in the mind, a few pieces get stitched together, switched around, and let’s say this is how it began: ‘Once upon a time.’ A story inside a story (inside a story) leading back through all the generations of previous segments of the story like this and linked to a lineage of ancient stories interconnected through a great number of former lives in the distant past.

An alertness is all there is, receiving the world and, since we are also the world, so to speak, it’s an all-inclusive enfolding, unfolding, and remaining in the present continuous form, ‘listening’ and ‘seeing’ and here comes the in-breath hurriedly at first, followed by the long, long out-breath. The in-breath comes again and so on like that until the mind forgets and most of it, then all of it, drifts into the past tense and gets forgotten.

“There is no thing there. There is no real substance, no solidity, and no self-existent reality. All there is, is the quality of experience itself. No more, no less. There is just seeing, hearing, feeling, sensing, cognizing. And the mind naming it all is also just another experience.” [Ajahn Amaro]


 

mind is the sixth sense

POSTCARD#382: Bangkok: In Buddhism, there are 6 senses. The mind is a sense organ along with the other five senses. Mind is devoid of self, to become ‘self’, I just have to think ‘me’, and get it going in the head. I’ve known how to do this since we were all children in the reading class. We learned how to project a ‘self’ into the story when reading those brightly coloured picture-books, where we were invited to become a character in the story.

Then there were all the hundreds of books we studied in the schooling years, same extrapolative approach to finding an answer to the question, ‘who?’ with associated context, perspective, circumstance. Thus we know how to enter a situation as a person playing a part in a story. When it comes to an end we can become another player usually, or bring the session to a close.

If I’m watching a video – and nowadays I watch more videos than I read books – I recognize ‘self’ in the various actors and the parts that they play – some of which have been created deliberately to induce very strong emotional responses. I suspect I could become addicted, as others are, driven to seek more and more situations that’ll satisfy the ego cravings of ‘selfhood’.

“When the mind contains unknowing (avijja), it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self’, the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities.”

I used to think that ‘self’ was the state of mind that attaches to ‘me’ and that’s how it goes for all of us. I didn’t realize there was more to it than that until I read the above B. Buddhadasa quote, and: the ‘vast myriad of things seen as independent entities’. Now I see how everything is subject to the naming function in language, also the Buddhist usage in ancient Indian Sanskrit: nāmarūpa (name and form)

“The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.”

Politics has entered the television studio in a larger-than-life, dynamic form. A simple manipulation of events, insisting it’s the truth, but it’s a lie of course, and immediately I notice an uneasiness in the ‘self’ and distressing narratives in the mind. I don’t know how to get my ‘self’ out of here. Not so easy because the fact that it cannot be extricated from its context becomes what it is. My struggle simply enhances an already complex situation.

This is how it becomes like a bad dream – there’s no escape, it seems, and I struggle to create a way out by way of a kind of split ‘self’. One part listens to the dialogue, absorbing images and all kinds of stuff that support what’s being said, meanwhile the other part sees it as totally false. The urgency of it all causes me to split into two or more selves again and again.

I can’t bear this conflict of ‘selves’ and I feel I could give way to it all. Let them have what they ask for. I just want to hide somewhere and sleep for a long time. This is where we can return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings – in some quiet place, away from the television room. The focus of contemplation is on the empty mind.

“The word ’empty’ refers to the characteristic of mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact.”

Note that these talks were recorded in 1961 and Ajahn doesn’t talk about ‘self’ in the context of television, movies, or radio because these kinds of media were not as developed as they are today. My own feeling regarding the mind as a sense organ is that ‘self’ arises as a result of sense contact (phassa) in the same way as the other sense organs. Speech, language are a trigger, of course, also conceptual thought, images arising in the mind as past memories or speculations about the future.

“[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.”

“… ego – consciousness has no way of arising in the future, in other words, not allowing it to arise at any moment.”

“Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.”


Photo: statue of the Buddha’s disciple Śāriputra. SadahamYathra – https://pixabay.com/photos/buddha-meditation-religion-3153417/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85420637

 

noticing

POSTCARD#381: Bangkok: Since my last post I had to miss the three day diet for one week, but starting again Wednesday August 19. The headache pattern has changed, headache all day and all night for 2 days last week. I haven’t had that kind of intensity for a long time. Today is ok (so far, so good). I’m trying a more directed meditation after reading again Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s Heartwood from the Bo Tree, the last section – the part where he talks about a neutral object neither pleasant nor unpleasant, agreeable or disagreeable:

“It is sufficient to observe one’s reactions at the times that we glance in the direction of some neutral form or other. Try casting your eyes on the door or a window and you’ll notice that there is merely contact (phassa), there are no feelings. of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. When visible forms, sounds, odors, flavors and tangible objects enter as contact let them stop there in the same way.”

Sitting quietly and the mind clears for a bit, noticing the sensation of the breath gently touching the inner nasal passages… noticing a non-object is noticing the noticing. There is the feeling I experience and this must be the same for everyone. Look out through the eyes and see the sky, the same blue sky everyone else is seeing because the physiological process of seeing the sky is the same for everyone. The consciousness that recognizes this sense of subjectivity is the same for me as it is for you and everyone, everywhere. Photo: UV fluorescence photography shows us how insects are looking at flowers with different criteria.

By noticing aspects of my own sensory process of noticing in the here-and-now, I can know how the people felt in ancient times, how they noticed and understood their world; the sky they looked at, and sounds they heard, fragrances they smelled, food tasted, surfaces touched and their mind responses. All of that is more or less the same for me now as it was for the ancient people then in their time.

“Buddhists refuse to accept perception as a self, though the average person does choose to accept it as such, clinging to it as “myself.” Close examination along Buddhist lines reveals that quite the opposite is the case. Perception is nobody’s self at all; it is simply a result of natural processes and nothing more.” [Ajahn Buddhadasa, ‘The Things We Cling To’]

The ‘me’ and ‘mine’ I experience is not different from the ‘me’ and ‘mine’ anyone else experienced in the past, or at this moment, or any time in the future. The body/mind organism that receives the experience of this ever-present sensory data through the Five Khandas, is the same for me as it is for everyone on the planet. Outer and inner are both parts of the One, the Same, Inseparable.

To notice a non-object (a neutral object) is to notice the noticing itself. To notice a non-object is to notice the motionless space in which everything exists. Context and content are an inseparable balance. Obsession with objects is the inevitable result of not noticing the non-object realm of spacious being. Noticing is different from acquiring. Noticing refers to what is already here. Acquiring refers to what is lacking and therefore sought. Noticing is an openness to what had previously been unseen. The wealth of space in this moment can be noticed and made conscious. In the flood of present wealth, the old compulsion to acquire loosens its grip. [The Endless Further]


 

 

bhavaṅga

POSTCARD#380: Bangkok: I’m in the 8th week of my diet – three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day. Then back to the three days again. I’ve managed the change in eating patterns without too much difficulty. It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest.

Looking at my state of mind during these times, one thing that helps in the mornings in coping with the contractions of the empty stomach, is the remains of my Nortriptyline night medicine for the (PHN) headache condition I live with, and those chemicals may be still active in the dopamine receptors… neurological technospeak. Later in the morning when that medicine wears off I start the Neurontin and that goes for the rest of the day.

So today, I’m noticing there haven’t been any serious headaches and it’s been like this these last few days which is unusual. Does it have something to do with the way I’m managing the headache with pain meds and the same meds help with the hunger pangs? What I’m saying is, the reciprocal nature of the thing means I’m learning how to tolerate the hunger pangs at the same time as tolerating the headaches. Just allowing it to happen and there’s no conscious memory of it being painful.

It requires a certain kind of meditational attitude and I do have that, spending typically many hours seated in my chair with laptop on my knees, arms on each arm rest, and feet flat on the floor. and what might be a yawning cavern of hunger is simply a light, floating sensation because I’m in that meditational state “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind). “Bhavaṅga” occurs when there is no active cognitive processes going on. I’m in my chair, mind focused on nothing, or the space between things and this is the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the discomfort, therefore allowing the hours to pass in a gentle introspective mood.

Looking back on this whole thing, although I’d read about bhavaṅga a long time ago, I simply stumbled upon the way to do it in these circumstances; noticing how the body reacts, responds, and the mind reveals there’s a slightly deeper awareness in here, dormant until something like the correct password is entered then it’s activated… and I don’t need to know the password of course. It’s enough to know that this is how it works.

All kinds of other difficulties however and this morning is particularly awkward because I have to go and see the Neurologist about the headaches, and I need to have a blood test done before the appointment. So they tell me I have to fast (take no food) before the blood test. It means I can’t have breakfast until after 11.30 am – four hours later than the usual breakfast time, and I cannot take my headache medicine on an empty stomach, so if a serious headache comes along, no medicinal relief… I have to put up with it.

A ‘self’ arises, comes into being full of anxiety and scenarios of distress, anger and outrage… so it’s not hard to understand that this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not helpful at all. No, thank you. I will not get into this, and drawing confidence from the reserve of underlying calm, I’m able to find that space before it happens, and wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then watching the in-breath, the out-breath…

When I got to the Out Patients, the blood test was done then into the sandwich shop and the feeding frenzy (I must have eaten more than the approx. 450 calorie limit per meal). After that there was the medicine, three capsules of forget-me-nots in their crinkly acetate enclosures with a couple of gulps of water from a bottle I carry with me. I noticed again, to be honest, there hadn’t been any strong headaches that whole morning.

In to see the neurologist and she asked me how I was, I said yes ok, told her about the diet, now 2 months and about the meds, just last week I noticed I was forgetting to take the Neurontin doses. So I thought I’d try to intentionally reduce the Neurontin and it was easy, no problem. Now I’m taking less than 3000 grams per day, reduced by nearly half, and there are headaches but I’m able to put up with it until it eases off and lessens intensity.

That’s how it feels, but I don’t yet have the words to describe it adequately. Pain Management of headaches aligned with hunger pangs due to dieting for nearly 2 months (weight loss: 12 kg = 26.4 pounds). Also something learned is that the bhavaṅga practice can alter perception which enables me to endure the all-round discomfort better than before.

 

a hugeness of ordinary things

POSTCARD#379: Bangkok: Breath-taking expanse of forgotten afternoons and time just slipping away. For me the lock-down became television watching all through the day and night – an immense collage of overlapping images, and things of little consequence.

Working from home, or just sitting around, texting food deliveries, we always had enough. Now I see, all of that can be put aside, because “nothing is worth having or being”. Someday I’d like to return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s words on Emptiness, Suññatā.

It was an opportunity to experience how it must be for those who live in a world of attachment and feel they can’t let go. But not the Thais… they don’t have that kind of problem. It was the Thais, in fact, and their small, slim stature who led to my awakening. One day in a shopping mall, I noticed my expanded waistline in a large mirror showing me and a section of the Thai public. I was a monster by comparison!

So I went on a diet. It is called “The Military Diet” (although it’s got nothing to do with the military as far as I can see), three days low-calorie diet followed by four days of light food, high protein, low fat, low carbs and low calories. Then back to the three days again. I’m now in my seventh week. I’ve lost the kilos I gained in the lock-down, and it continues to go down.

I’ll always be a giant compared to the Thais but I like my new lightness and more gentle impact on our surroundings. I’ve learned so much from this South East Asian Buddhist nation. Living here is like looking through a window on to the ‘old world’. Nearly everything happens in public, practically everything is known, is seen, is understood, and brought to a close in some form, in the eyes of who may be observing.

Fragments of people’s lives; a hugeness of ordinary things, a sense of well-being in the millions of every-day events taking place inside homes. It’s like the whole world is one large room; domestic life without walls, centuries of open-air living. There’s this quality about Asia, particularly India, where we lived for 7 years. It’s not about visiting ancient sites or jaw-dropping experiences that fill you with awe, it can be a single moment felt with the fragrance of something that’s suddenly gone; what was it? Incense, candlewax, ironed cotton clothes and the familiarity of the detergent they use there. I feel immediately at home in this place where multiple generations of other human beings have lived.

But the local people would be shocked to know I’m alone – Jiab my wife is Thai and we are together in this life, but there are no members of my own family here. Why? well… the aloneness is pleasing if you’re like me, an introspective person, practicing the ways and means of Right View, set in a wasteland of Wrong Views, populated by people with their handheld devices, mesmerized by the colorful window and three dimensional sound jamming in the ears.

Whenever there’s an opportunity, I’m letting it all go, and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking. The mind is alerted, an empty space opens up; if you are a contemplative and without wandering thoughts, then at times, there’s just this silence. It’s the space between things, easy to have it simply be here for a while. Silence and emptiness and everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, the invitation to be involved with thought is there but it’s the novelty of no-thinking that holds my attention…

“Whatever method of practice you adopt, it should lead to equanimity with regards to the sense – objects which you contact, or to their cessation. Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly without deceit, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of “I” and “mine”. Then it’s not difficult to destroy defilements since, when you practise like this, they are destroyed as a matter of course.” [Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Heartwood from the Bo Tree]


photo: Monsoon in Bangkok

the time of physical death, doerless doing part 6

POSTCARD#377: Bangkok: Another short piece from the revised text of “Heartwood From The Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In this section Ajahn describes our situation when faced with the acceptance of death and the elimination of our contrived needs (self) ‘to have’ and ‘to be’.

Buddhist teachers and scholars over the years have noted Ajahn Buddhadasa’s wider view on religion and spirituality, and his interpretation of Paticca-samuppada. He is/was definitely more than just another ‘loyal to the old traditions’, orthodox Thai Buddhist monk – he was someone truly wise. (Aj. K.)

Section 3. How to practice at the time of physical death.

The mind is extinguished and the body breaks up and dies, it is old and has reached its end. This is to have fallen from the ladder. As you fall from the ladder, you leap on to the practice of remainderless extinction. This is done by establishing in the mind the feeling that nothing is worth having or being.

Those who are old and unlearned, but for whom death is something definite and sure, can depend on taking remainderless extinction as their basic principle. The mind then will hold no hope of having or being anything at all. The phrase ‘absence of hope’ may be used in regard to the attainment of arahantship, not the resignation of the foolish and lazy – that’s a different matter altogether. It is this absence of hope of one who with true wisdom sees that there is nothing in this or any world that one should wish to have or be. Truly nothing is worth having or being at any time or at any place. There being no desire to have or be anything, the mind dissolves into emptiness.

When the time of death arrives let this feeling be present. You should remember that close to death the mind will gradually slip away. As the body runs down nearing its end, consciousness will gradually disappear. You will forget more and more until you forget everything. You won’t know what time it is, whether it’s day or night; you won’t be able to tell where you are or whose house you’re in, you won’t even be able to remember your name or your family. But the way for you to stay as the companion of the mind until the end is to be aware that nothing is worth having or being.

Volunteer for the remainderless extinction! Let that feeling of volunteering for the remainderless extinction, that readiness to accept it and be a partner of the mind until the very end. With this skillful means the mind will be able to dissolve itself into the emptiness that is Nibbana. This is the practice at the moment of physical death for those of little knowledge. With it an unlearned grandma or grandpa can reach the final extinction. We call it the skillful means of turning a fall from a ladder into a measured leap.

In the event of accidental death, such as getting run-over by a car, having a building collapse on top of you, being gored by a bull or getting blown up by an atom bomb, what should you do? If there is even a tiny amount of awareness left in that moment, resolve on the remainderless extinction. Through having previously developed the feeling that there is nothing worth having or being, until it is completely fluent and natural to you, on reaching the moment of death, you will be able to bring it to mind for a split second before the end. For example, someone run-over by a car doesn’t die immediately there is always an interval even if it’s only a fraction of a second or a single thought-moment, and for the flash of feeling resolving on remainderless extinction that is plenty of time.

The sublime Dhamma not only provides an infallible protection when faced with an unnatural death, dying but not wanting to die, dying unexpectedly, but can also provide Nibbana right there at the wheel of the car, beneath the collapsing building, at the horns of the bull or in the pile of bodies charred by the atomic blast. There is no violent unnatural death, instead there is Nibbana.

It is interesting to consider the way that people in the time of the Buddha prepared for death. For those who kept the Precepts of Virtuous Conduct, fasting was not at all difficult because they were used to abstaining from an evening meal on Uposatha days (The full-moon and dark-moon days when laypeople would come to the monastery and keep the Eight Precepts of Virtuous Conduct). When their illness reached the point that they felt that they had no more than ten days left to live they would stop eating and taking only water or medicine. As death got closer, they would stop taking even water or medicine in order to focus their mindfulness and self-awareness, so as to die in the way of remainderless extinction.

Unlike the people of the Buddha’s time, people today usually look for the most comfortable bed, the most comfortable room, the most expensive foods and medicines, and then die with a great fuss. They want to go on living, to put off their death even if it’s only for a single minute. They start having all sorts of injections and treatments and die with no mindfulness or self-awareness. It is the action of delusion.

/continued in doerless doing part 6b/


[Photo: A simile from the Pali scriptures (SN 22.95) compares form and feelings with foam and bubbles.]

emptiness: doerless doing part 3

POSTCARD#374: Bangkok: The last part of three talks given by Ajahn Buddhadasa to a Dhamma study group in Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok in 1961 and 1962. With Respect to Ajahn, I have edited this talk from its original, created nearly 60 years ago, to have it fit in this blog form. The following is Ajahn’s analysis of words commonly used with ‘emptiness’ and the word emptiness itself.

To know emptiness means that emptiness is manifest in the awareness. So I encourage Dhamma students, again and again that in any moment when the mind has a measure of emptiness, even if it’s not finally or perfectly empty, to recognize it and keep on recognizing that emptiness. Actually, in any one day emptiness is there repeatedly and even if it’s not a fixed, absolute emptiness it’s still very good if we can take the trouble to observe it. If we take an interest in this sort of emptiness right from the start, it will generate a contentment with emptiness that will make it easy to practice in the long term.

The words ‘being empty’ mean that there is no feeling of ‘self’ or ‘belonging to self’, there is no feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the creations of craving and grasping. Being void of these things is ‘being empty’. What is it that is empty? It is the mind that is empty, emptied of the feelings of ‘self’, and of ‘belonging to self’, both in their crude and subtle forms. If the mind is empty to the degree of being free of even the most refined sense of self it is said that the mind is itself emptiness. This agrees with the teaching that mind is emptiness, emptiness is mind; emptiness is Buddha, Buddha is emptiness, emptiness is Dhamma, Dhamma is emptiness. There is only one thing… all the myriad things that we are acquainted with are nothing but emptiness.

The characteristic of all things is emptiness. This phrase ‘all things’ must be understood correctly as encompassing every single thing from a speck of dust up to Nibbana. It must be well understood that in a speck of dust there is emptiness or absence of self, absence of a permanent, independent entity. The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.

The Buddhist Teachings, the study and practice of Dhamma have the characteristic of an absence of a permanent, independent entity. All the way through to the final Path Realizations, their Fruits and Nibbana itself, have this same characteristic, it’s just that we don’t see it. Even a sparrow flying to and fro has the characteristic of emptiness but we don’t see it. All things display the characteristic of emptiness, it’s just that we don’t see it.

The word ’empty’ also refers to the characteristic of the mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact. As a result, the mind is neither aware of its own emptiness nor the emptiness in all things. But whenever the mind completely throws off that which is enveloping it, the grasping and clinging of delusion and ignorance, and detaches from it completely, then the mind through its non-clinging has the characteristic of emptiness.

Because all things do truly have the characteristic of being empty of a self, no permanent, independent entity to be grasped at or clung to, we are able to see the truth of emptiness. Thus the mind seeing emptiness in all things collapses into itself, leaving only emptiness. It becomes emptiness and sees everything as emptiness. Material objects, people, animals, time and space, every sort of dhamma melts into emptiness through knowing this truth. The word empty is the remainderless extinction of  ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the utter destruction of self.

/continued in part 4/


Upper image: Identifying the dark matter of the molecular world. Read more – link

Lower image: please refer to the previous post for more on “halting the arising of “I” and “mine” at phassa (say ‘passa’) (contact) or vedana (feeling)”.

 

doerless doing part 2

POSTCARD#373: Bangkok: I have a new diagram this time, borrowed from Google images. I hope it’s clearer, problem is the names are all in Pali, but you can find the English equivalents in the text as the individual stages come into focus.

This post is more closely fixed on the process of Dependent Origination, the Paticca-samuppada, and the way to bring suffering to an end, by halting the arising of “I” and “mine” at phassa (say ‘passa’) (contact) or vedana (feeling). In fact Ajahn Buddhadassa makes no reference at all to the stages before salayatana (the 6 senses) and phassa (contact).

When there is contact with forms, sounds, odors/fragrances, flavors, or whatever at one of the sense-doors salayatana, that contact is called, in Pali phassa. This phassa develops into vedana (feeling). Vedana develops into tanha (craving). Tanha develops into upadana (clinging). Upadana develops into bhava (becoming). Bhava develops into jati, which is “birth”, and following on from birth there is the suffering of old, age, sickness and death, which are Dukkha.

The way to prevent this from happening is not to allow the dependent arising to take place; cutting it off right at the moment of phassa contact, not allowing the development of vedana, not allowing feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to arise. When there is no production of vedana, then there is no birth of the craving and clinging that is the “I” and “mine”. The “I” and “mine” lie right there at the birth of the craving and clinging; illusion lies right there. If, at the moment of contact when there is no “I” and nothing but phassa itself, everything is stopped there, there is no way for the “I” and “mine” to arise.

There is another way to stop the process; when vedana (feeling) has already developed, when there are already feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, to stop it right there. Let feeling remain as merely feeling and allow it to pass away. Don’t let it to go on and become tanha, wanting this and that in response to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Important to remember, if there is satisfaction, with “I”, then there will be desire, craving, indulgence, possessiveness, envy, etc., as a consequence. Once there is dissatisfaction, with “I”, then there is the desire to beat to death, to devastate, and kill. If there are these sorts of desires in the mind, it means that vedana has already developed into tanha.

If so, then nobody can help. All the gods together cannot help. The Buddha said that even He cannot help. He has no power over the laws of nature, He is merely the one who reveals them so that others can practice in accordance with them.

In that turbulent wanting that arises in the mind, see how to distinguish the feeling of the desirer – of “I”, of the self that wants this, or wants that, wants to do it like this or like that, or who has acted in that way or this, or who has received the results of those actions. That one who desires is “I” wanting things, it grasps them as “mine” in one way or another – as “my” status, “my” property, “my” safety, “my” victory and in all of those feelings the “I” is also present.

Whenever you see a form, let there be just the seeing; whenever you hear a sound, let there be just the hearing; when you smell an odor, let there be just the smelling; when you taste a flavor, let there be just the tasting; when you experience a physical sensation, let it merely be sensation; and when a thought arises, let it be just a natural phenomenon (feeling) arising in the mind.

In this way we live our lives untouched by forms; sounds, odors, flavors and physical sensations. In other words they are experienced, but they do not enter and construct vedana, tanha, and upadana. We live wisely. We live with truth-discerning awareness, empty of “I” and “mine”.

Where neither water nor yet earth

Nor fire nor air gain a foothold,

There gleam no stars, no sun sheds light,

There shines no moon, yet there no darkness reigns.

When a sage, a brahman, has come to know this

For himself through his own wisdom,

Then he is freed from form and formless.

Freed from pleasure and from pain.

Bahiya Sutta


Image: Ajahn Buddhadasa