lonesome highway 2

POSTCARD#396: Bangkok: [Reblog from September 3, 2013]: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the toll way to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope down at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, we might just end up stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine is gone. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world.

“Samvega was what the young Prince Siddhartha felt on his first exposure to aging, illness, and death. It’s a hard word to translate because it covers such a complex range — at least three clusters of feelings at once: the oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it’s normally lived; a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly; and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle.” [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]


 

vaccine for the restless mind

POSTCARD#392: Bangkok: Trump’s election typhoon makes landfall in my mind. Hurricane category one or two. Get down in the basement with all our supplies. All the doors and windows are closed but somehow these intrusive thoughts still get in. Does everybody suffer like this? I’m sure they do, although for the Trumpist obstructionists it’s their rallying call and this is what we have today.

It’s people like us, everywhere in the world, separate from political affiliation, who can feel the suffering of the American people and fear for the Western world. How about our spiritual friends, mentors, do they have disturbing thoughts like this? I’m sure they do, but the difference is they know how to apply the cure – and this is the important thing, there is a cure for this dis-ease. The Buddha was here, understood it and found a solution.

Encouraging to know the Buddha went through all kinds of mind states and found a solution to each problem. In the Pali language, this is uddhacca-kukkucca, Restlessness and Worry, number 4 of the 5 Hindrances, characterized by a mind that is agitated and unable to settle down.

“Restlessness [uddhacca] refers to a mind that’s never able to stay long with anything. It is powered by the energy of a negative assertiveness and cannot be satisfied with things as they are, so it has to move on always to the promise of something better than ‘this’.” (Ajahn Brahm) The discomfort of restlessness creates an outward looking tendency – what can I do to fix this? And there is an answer to that question.

There is a ‘vaccine’ that will bring the dis-ease of a restless mind to an end, and it is found in activities centered around developing contentment. If I take any simple activity, like tidying the papers on my desk and examine each part of my actions in each moment with joyful awareness, and persist in this for the rest of the day as long as I remember to do it and pick it up again if I’ve forgotten, then I learn the simplicity of being satisfied with little, rather than always wanting more.

In the engagement with domestic tasks, I am joyfully content with small successes, I investigate the smallest details of the body’s movements, and don’t miss out on any part of the joyful awareness. I am grateful for this moment, rather than picking out its faults.

In meditation, restlessness is often the impatience to move quickly on to the next stage. The fastest progress, though is achieved by those who are content with the stage they are on now. It is the joyful deepening of that contentment that ripens into the next stage.

Worry [kukkucca]; simply put, I worry about the outcome of the presidential election. Will Trump try to undermine the whole thing by whatever means? Yes, he will probably try and I need to be aware of the proliferating thought pattern that immediately arises from this perceived situation. Instead of going with that, I can channel my energy back into joyful awareness, knowing that ‘worry’ is what it is and I need to go into a deeper analysis of the word ‘worry’.

There is worry /anxiety/ remorse /regret, and some aspects of these words are specific types of restlessness which may be the karmic outcome [vipāka] of former unwise actions. The only way to overcome the restlessness of a bad conscience, is to purify one’s virtue and become kind, wise and gentle.

The word ‘karma’ as it’s used today is an oversimplification that makes it seem like something not to be taken seriously. Focus on what it really is – the mechanics of why we suffer and how we can make the suffering end in the here-and-now.

Karma (literally, “action”) is nothing other than the Buddha’s compassionate explanation of the way things are: our thoughts and actions determine our future, and therefore we ourselves are largely responsible for the way our lives unfold. The understanding of karma provides a foundation for a virtuous life, and how it can have a transformative effect on the way we relate to our thoughts and feelings and to those around us. I investigate the concept of karma with joyful awareness knowing the Buddha is present in all mind states and he has the right vaccine for any kind of psycho-virus.


Sources: Ajahn Brahmavamso, Traleg Kyabgon, Gil Fronsdal
Image: Sunset Community Counseling

a somewhere-else place

POSTCARD#391: Bangkok: Awake in the darkness before 6 am, lift the body up into the folded legs position, get seated on two hard pillows sinking into the mattress so I can hold my position comfortably just above the level of the bed, kinda floating there with the knees supported by the mattress and rolled up edges of quilts pushed into the gaps. It takes a moment or two to get it feeling right… then there is only the breath.

Breath entering the body. Impact of incoming air in the nasal passage, “Breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng”. The breath hurries away, then comes back again as if it has forgotten something – searching all through the body, then it withdraws. Breath enters the body again, this time like a gust of wind, blows everything all over the place. Withdraws in a moment and it’s gone.

Vivid sweeps of colour and a curious light illuminating the space perceived behind the eyes. Mind is aware of the pain that’s always here, otherwise mesmerized by the form and function of the body, only slightly held in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid lizard-like slides over surface of smooth eyeball and that strangely seen light entering my darkness; just this…

Twittering birds in the trees outside tell me it’s near daybreak, sensory processes perceive the world, aware that it’s an upside down reflected hologram the brain and optic nerve make sense of – understood but impossible to see it as it is. Or is this how it is… in its as-it-is-ness? Was this world here before I was born? Duality. Everything just going on as it is now, without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating; birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, here in this thin slice of time, revisiting the discussion; all that was said, received, held, seen, nurtured.

Then, a window opens. There’s a visitor arriving from somewhere, thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. He appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, string showing round the neck at the collar; latch-door key kid, scruffy uniform, bleeding at the knee. Teacher in a gentle voice says, ‘You have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says ‘yes Miss, and shuffles out of the room to go and see the nurse about the knee. Teacher was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today. For me, as an adult it remained something unlearned, but bearing a familiarity and intuitively known when it became conscious.

Daylight is here and I’m now lying on the bed, thinking about the small boy as he was in a state of anxious urgency every day and for many years to come. No one at home for support, forgetful and undecided because of the struggle to ‘get it right’ and nobody to reassure him that yes, you can leave book-work and use intelligent guesswork. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough.  

I’m telling myself this of course too late for it to be to be acted upon. I had to take the long way round; wasted years disappeared, searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, shelter, gratification, everything thrown to the wind. Stumbling and crashing through the successes and failures of many lives, and coming to India more than thirty years ago – there to be suddenly awakened to “The Whole Story”. It took me a very long time to grow up, and even now at the age of 73 years, I feel like an adolescent. Maybe I stayed young and it’s the world that got old…?

I continue to return to these windows that open in memory. There must be a larger awareness that includes this, here-and-now… an awareness of one thought that includes awareness of another. There’s something that allows me to consider this, I’m seeing it from a somewhere-else place.

delete the ‘my’ in myself

POSTCARD#390: Bangkok: After hours of inert television watching I switch it off just to see what the room I’m in, looks like. The severity of greyness is devastating. All the appealing colour and images, and perfect celebrity dental work, all of it sucked into the silence of a room ‘on hold’. I’m not used to being absolutely with body and mind… by the way, where is Mind? Intrusive thinking nearly shoves me off my seat into an elbow-supporting-head and eyes blinded by the squabbling politician of recent TV watching, downloading a self that I hope knows how best to cope with these bad feelings that are quarreling and heckling in my head! The desire to punish, hurt destroy – the sheer hatred of a person/situation, generating energy both seductive and addictive. So much political ill-will and ambient anger about the place, a spark could ignite a storm.

Uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, shouting out: “Stand back and stand by!” I shudder at the thought, four more years, maybe ongoing, and in a dystopian world, Donald and Covid re-elected (⌘C ⌘V) over and over. All I can see and hear is dark and does not bode well. Bleak TV documentaries showing in the Mind; a clamor of conjured-up characters and the story of their sad lives. “What am I looking for?” but the way is blocked by a dense cloud-like thought that states: “Searching for something creates the certainty that it’s lost.” I attempt to disown everything that belongs to me. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they are just thoughts. None of this is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me.

Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears to be how I choose to see it. I don’t look out at the world, the world looks in at me, sees me, watches me… there, waiting for instructions. It’s another illusion of self because there is no “me” of substance in here. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. Smells, touch, tastes trigger responses I’m pulled towards or repelled by. It’s not what I thought – that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body. The body is there to serve the five senses ever seeking pleasure and delight one way or another.

Mind contemplating the experience of the body seated on the chair; aware of the places where legs touch the seat, the touch of arms on armrests, bearing the weight, and everything else is just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below: left, right, left, right. Images of wood-block-patterned flooring enter my vision, floor mats, legs of furniture – objects seem to pass through the body. All I can see is the flooring and bare feet walking, now left, now right. Now on the staircase descending, further and further away from the television room, reaching the downstairs room and (outdoor shoes on) out to the garden.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: [Link] Sibylle Berg with T.Roadz, one of the British grime artists who joined her on a reading tour of Germany

letting it go

POSTCARD#388: Bangkok: The photo of the boy and his mum, and the old monk with hands that have done a lifetime of physical work reminds me of the automatic generosity of the Thais and how nothing is ‘held on to’ more than is necessary at the time. As far as I can see, the Thai culture is free of most of the typical psychological problems we have in the West.

There’s so much we could learn from sharing, giving things away, good-heartedness. Generosity, is letting it go; releasing the persistence of holding on to things; all that baggage we burden ourselves with can be removed in one single act of generosity.

I’m the same as most of us Western folks, internalizing all kinds of stuff without realizing. Holding on like that for a month or so and I’m talking here about a physical problem I had, uptight and worried about it. My health condition being as it is with my large consumption of water, a side effect of whatever it is in the meds for the headaches that makes me feel dry all the time. What happened was the sodium level dropped well below the norm, but more serious than that, was the throat now painfully raw due to what I thought was the excessive swallowing of liquid.

Whether it was that or not, I became aware by observing this sore throat, it did not feel like a benign thing. When the pain arose, it was like something that reached to the centre of my being. What could this be! A malign tumor hidden away somewhere in the digestive tract?

I wrestled with the thought for ages and eventually went to see the ENT doctor and in a few minutes, we were looking at a video screen showing the inside of the mouth cavity seen from the nasal passages, by way of an endoscope camera tube, passed through a nostril.

I was surprised and interested to learn the tube could not enter through the right nostril at the time because it was almost completely blocked, but the other nostril was clear. This is the nasal cycle where the actions of the blood flow according to the inflow/outflow of air, switch from one nostril to the other every 2 hours or so, and that’s just the way it works.

I was quite comfortable sitting there with this nice doctor and her assistant. Having the camera tube inside the throat cavity was painless and the video screen where I could see the funny-looking vocal cords and I felt even more relaxed when the ENT doc said there was no evidence of a tumor! The ghoulish presence hanging over everything was swept away and forgotten.

The doc said the deep pain was probably an aspect of the same neuralgia condition that causes the headaches. The Right Occipital Nerve Root is near to the back of the throat, and when a nerve is activated it sends off the same erroneous alarm signal that is characteristic of Post Herpetic Neuralgia. Ah well, same old thing, no worries I have learned how to cope with that ‘scary monster’.

It was learning about the nasal cycle, switching from one nostril to the other that was remarkable. I looked it up in Google and this is the gist of it: blood vessels in the sides of the nostrils warm and humidify the air coming in through the nose before it reaches the lungs. The process uses one nostril at a time rather than both at the same time. Blood flow is sent first to one nostril so that it warms the air coming in. The interior of the nostril receiving the blood flow starts to swell and blocks the space slightly. As a result, there’s less room for air to get in, that’s when it switches to the other nostril.

This little gem of info is important to meditators who spend time in meditation every day, focused on the in-breath and out-breath. It’s also a great example of the allowing, the giving of space, the widespread generosity found in nature; systems in place to allow more than enough of whatever it is.

“Species as diverse as bees, birds, bats, rats, and chimpanzees all exhibit forms of generosity, or what can be broadly described as ‘prosocial behavior’—acts that benefit others. The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own.” [Summer Allen, Ph.D.]

Generosity is a glad willingness to share what we have with others. Give it away, we have more than enough. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, to ‘possess’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Brainstorm the word ‘generosity’ and you come up with compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honour, motivation, encouragement. Generosity is everything. It’s nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given and never taken.


 

experiencing

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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.

the allowing of it

POSTCARD#384: Bangkok: Nothing is what it seems to be, indeed there are times when everything is so much not what we think it is, there can’t be any assumptions, we need to step back and just let it get on with it, whatever. Language has a naming function, creating nouns everywhere, tending towards a ‘Self’, endowed with an apparent identity. Mostly they are enhanced adjectives exploring the quality of ‘things’, and others are becoming verbs where the ‘doing’ needs to take place.

There’s just so much I could write today, things unfolding before my eyes. I make a mental note of these words, and they’re replaced by more recent words and what I was trying to remember before the new words arrived is forgotten. It’s a bit hectic at times but there seems to be energy coming from somewhere that helps me find the forgotten words and see if they fit in this context as well as the upgraded set.

The ‘world’ passes through me, data processed by way of the sensory entry points; eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and the cognitive mind. I am a manifestation of awareness. It’s all registered, processed; memory updated, and happens so fast that trying to find words to say something about the system itself results in slo-mo action replays interrupting what’s going on in present time, and I have to catch up afterwards, because everything has meanwhile moved on.

Pause button; a small bell rings, ‘ting!’ Awareness aware of itself, the cognitive mind as a sensory organ, the Buddhist sixth sense. The process itself chooses the sound – or the sound chooses the framework provided by the process. There is only ‘ting!’ and no ‘me’ doing the choosing. Elsewhere, the words, the thought, the concept, all arise because it’s in their nature to do that – they’re systems. 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 at me (except there’s no ‘me’ in here). No subject, just the system, processes, and how things are done. The world is seen, sounds are heard, food is tasted, words are spoken, things are done but there is no do-er.

Note: I use personal pronouns because it’s convenient. Let’s see… I’m getting ahead of myself. The headache I live with and the pain meds to cope with it seem altogether more manageable than in the early days. Looking back on notes made 4-5 years ago, the thing that has changed is I haven’t been focusing on not having the pain. The mind seems to have given up the battle, and the pain of denial has vanished. It’s this part about the mind having ‘given up the battle’, and the allowing of it, rather than fighting against it… there’s some easing, some lessening around this contemplation.

I’m aware that there is a headache beginning but it doesn’t bother me now because I know that most of it is insulated thanks to the pain meds. The pain that gets through the insulation is bearable, acceptable at the moment. There’s something about this kind of pain management that I didn’t notice before, not until I started the 3 day diet and the discomfort of hunger pangs came along.

I wrote about this in an earlier post titled: bhavaṅga. It was easy for me to tolerate the aches and pains of being hungry because I’d been tolerating a level of pain from the headaches for years. Also managing the headache with pain meds helped insulate the hunger pangs. I found I was motivated to go on with it due to the novelty of tolerating the hunger pangs at the same time as tolerating the headaches… it was interesting, inspiring and more needs to be said about this.

Not right now however… that headache, earlier, I said I was insulated against thanks to the pain meds? Well I have to give it my full attention now; feed it with more pain meds and hopefully it’ll pass. These serious headaches sometimes can’t be held back, and it’s a whole day in a darkened room, no phone because it’s to bright. I have to stop writing now.


 

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