consciousness

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#355: Bangkok: Struggling to read my own handwriting as if it were written by someone else. Here and there, references to consciousness, the original sources not included – not thinking that one day I’d return here and want to know these sources. No time maybe, everything was in a rush. The energy in these old pages is noteworthy; scribbled thoughts, often not in any understandable word order, refer to a past I don’t remember. Years spent contemplating impossible things, and barking up the wrong tree completely. And all of that led up to this. It never occurred to me that I was finding parts of the framework of a greater Truth.

…not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean!

Compassion for those who are caught in suffering; those who think life is only greed, hatred and delusion – or maybe so immersed in delusion they don’t think anything!

“In our reluctance to open to the possibility of another way of life; how to be completely alive, we prevent ourselves from dis-identifying with anything other than our conditioned states of mind. We will forever remain hypnotized by what our minds have absorbed from the outside world. We will remain a puppet of the society that has reared us.”

Caught in continued habituality, in cyclical existence; paired bully and victim etc. [see patisandhi]

This is where the Buddha’s Teachings enter. In meditation, the thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… no remainder – so, I can see now I had understood most of that but ‘no remainder’ I’d not investigated? The ‘remainder’ is consciousness, but what is consciousness? It’s a good question. Consciousness is without limitation so it can take whatever form. I’m thinking of words like universal, all-pervading, ever-present, omnipresent. Consciousness is the mystery all through the centuries – there’s so much more to be said about this.

Consciousness is everywhere and everything, to the extent that ‘everywhere’ and ‘everything’ are included in consciousness. It’s like a wave in an ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see, has suddenly swept up these small words, and they’re gone.

The self has no form, you cannot see it, you cannot grasp it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “ Ah there it is! “ Because who is saying that? You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object external to yourself, it’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing. You are the consciousness behind the seeing.

The paragraph above [no source] is the one that does it for me. I think I didn’t read the words properly the first time through. In my mind, I’d assumed consciousness had the same meaning as awareness, so when I read “You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’”, I was proven wrong and thus the ground beneath my feet gave way.


“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.” — SN 56.11

 

mindfulness of pain, part 2

POSTCARD#338: Chiang Mai: Now three months since the event in November of last year, and the recovery from that blow to the centre of the chest, delivered like a heavyweight boxer’s punch – devastating. This is what it felt like. What happened was, around 9pm I was going through the crowds on Nimanheman Road with my Thai niece M, in the almost daylight brightness of studio lights suitable for taking selfies out on the street I suppose. Flashing illuminations distracted me and I stumbled on something in the darkness of a shadowy stretch of unsurfaced sidewalk, lost my balance and fell forward like a tree is felled in the forest. Broke a rib somehow, but the main thing was, I did something to the sternum, (the sternum is that vertical bone in the centre of the chest). This bone took the impact of the fall – I fell diagonally on a concrete step, hands held out to break the fall, but as the floor comes rushing up to meet me, it’s the step that takes the weight BANG!

I’m face-down on the step – small Asian hands reach out to help me get up. M leans forward and says in my ear, “Toong Ting, do you want me to call an ambulance?” I tell her I’m okay, (so practical, M is. She is 14 now and dyed her hair canary yellow, but that’s another story). Also thank you and smiling to all these kind people (note: real concern, anxious faces), more hands held out to help me get back to where I once belonged… the realm of all upright, upstanding, decent, and respectable persons.

What does this look like? Old guy with wispy white beard sinks down in the crowd, has a stroke or something? Falls on the rough un-surfaced sidewalk. No, no, I’m okay, just tripped, slipped, tumbled, stumbled, fumbled? I’ll be allright, thanks for your help, it’s okay – I’m getting some of their anxiety. Best stand up, no matter how inviting that unsurfaced sidewalk looks like a nice place to lie down and get comfortable. No, no, and I start moving around, to reassure everyone that this old guy escaped the clutches of gravity once again.

We made it back to the apartment without me feeling any pain, but next day the agony in the chest was something to behold. The breath-taking scale of it… just turning over in bed would throw me into a trauma of panic, difficult to find the way out of. Ordinary things, like getting up from the sitting position were so overwhelming I’d stay seated for most part of the day.

Meditation was/is a necessity, I had to develop skills fast for this 24 hour, no-choice pain situation. Almost always at night, when sleep would find me seeking a position or a place somewhere, somehow, something bearing the characteristics of rest, and following the pathways leading to a comfortable place to be in, to inhabit for a few hours and the easefulness of that, but not to dwindle there or linger too long, lest it becomes something impossible to extricate myself from – all these tugs and pulls that mindfulness uses to remind us where the Path leads.

Then as far as possible, a quiet investigation into the pain, and the reaction to it, again and again. Contemplation over the breath-taking scale of it; what to do? not much more than that, but by the end of January, I came out of it with a greater awareness of this part of the body… in the East it’s the Chit, the heart, the mind. The idea that identity was situated in the Brain didn’t make sense at all

What’s happening to me? Examining the X-ray of the broken rib I could see all the other broken ribs fused together any old way (this is how they mend themselves), bits sticking up where there shouldn’t be, and seen so clearly because they’re all on the same side of the body. Four broken ribs which occurred separately are all on the left side?

What kind of karma could this be; the ribs, the blow to the center of the chest, and the long surgical scar in the abdomen where a Thai surgeon removed two cancer tumors in the colon more than twenty years ago, and lastly, my Post Herpetic Neuralgia in the right occipital nerve, feels like a blow to the head, never gets better, a permanent headache. It’s all just so intrusive, so violent, how can this be? As far as personalities go, I’d say and others would agree, I’m not a violent person! Doesn’t make sense, karma like this is surely irredeemable!

Ajahn Vajiro was passing through town the other day so we met him at the airport and I asked him about these traumatic circumstances, and what to make of this strange karmic outcome? He shook his head saying, never mind about that, get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know.

Examples: poo ying: lady, poo chai: man.

You could say poo roo is the higher self, except that it’s a personification, which brings us back to the subject/object divide. What was meaningful for me was how Ajahn began articulate the blessings the Four Brahma-Viharas, while explaining the quality and meaning of the words:

1) Goodwill / Metta, Loving kindness.

2) Karuna / Compassion, is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop.

3) Mudita / Empathetic joy), what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.

4) Upekkha / Equanimity)

The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s words still remain in present time, everything about who I am, disappears for an instant and there’s only awareness. I experience this awareness physically, in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. Felt exactly in the same place where the huge punch in the chest happened… curious and strange, best left alone, unsaid, unexamined, and questions unanswered do not create the subject/object divide. Thought and language are the apps, while awareness is the operating system. It comes before anything else, here in the centre of my being.

Awareness precedes thought. As soon as I think about it, the whole thing becomes duality, subject/object. This time, I’m inclined to take it further, and that awareness (object) is ‘me’ (subject), ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am the subject of awareness. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be ‘me’, starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

There are many ways that this metaphor can be constructed. Please let me know how it looks in the comment box.

T

inclusiveness

POSTCARD#337: Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours. Dreamscape of spinning fans in a warm dark night, gives way to another sound, a motorbike intrudes, coming nearer and nearer, voices talking loudly – the driver and his companion sitting behind, shouting to be heard over the sound of the engine. Driver lowers the throttle to listen to what’s being said. The sound fills my room up here on the third floor, as it passes below, engine noise and a few disconnected words, then it’s quiet again.

I hear them, faintly now, fading into the distance, enclosed in the small environment of their moving world. Curious acoustics in this narrow street, the sound of the shouted conversation sliced into pieces only where there are facing buildings – and other people, I assume, are wakened for a moment, as I was, then fall asleep again. Consciousness creating continuity between otherwise unrelated but similar things. Thus long strings of events linked together form a lifetime, included in one seamless reality.

Just as a monkey moving through the forest or the woods holds on to a branch, lets it go and holds on to another; in the same way what we call viññāṇa (consciousness) arises as one thing and ceases as another, by day and by night.’ [SN.II.95]


reflections on an earlier post

death and divorce

POSTCARD#335: Bangkok: The sad truth about the West, is that divorce is about as common as marriage. Religion got deconstructed; the story came to pieces, no belief, no myth to feel directly connected with, except perhaps the myth of no-myth. We’re married to the economy, worship the consumer god, seek refuge, gratification, fulfilment and consolation in the purchase of goods and services. What’s left over after that, in terms of belief, we have to figure out any way we can.

It’s a world of our own choosing – for better or worse, wedded to the belief in a concept, no more. Here today, gone tomorrow… but it can take many years to wake up and see it for the illusion it is. Sadness, loss, but no one to blame, think forgiveness, wellness and the honesty of living in the world while waking up to it. Who am I? Who is the one who seems to inhabit this place? And a ‘self’ slips into view, flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being. Life looking in through the eyes, input/output, and the experience of this room, inside-out, this space that contains the sensory apparatus I believe to be ‘me’ appearing in an agreed-upon reality.

Borderline cat burglar, a master of disguise, the skilled actor is one who’s had to lose his/her identity through necessity (hereinafter called The Party of the First Part), becomes an expert in taking on a ‘self’ that fits into context… a suitable arrangement. The ‘me’ I live with now, is not the ‘me’ I was then – more than 30 years since, a ‘self’, seen in the shadow of a dreamed-up past, the divorcé in mourning for a family lost in death and divorce. Mourning over that which was started but left unfinished, abandoned through forgetfulness.

One signature and all of it annulled, lineage discontinued. No time to say goodbye to my adoptive family who had all welcomed me, the in-law, into their hearts as a brother and son. I like to think they wished me well, in fact… I’m sure of it, but gone is gone, empty spaces in the fabric of my life. I am the one who went away and forgot to come back; since then, wandering through the overwhelm of many years in Asia, and the ruins of a life I lived once.

The absence of this person or that person, heard about years later, passed away a decade ago already mourned, forgotten even. My ex-mother-in-law gone from this world, her husband, Pops, gone too. How could I have let this happen? Remembering, there’s-no-one-to-blame, forgiveness asked-for and given. Forgiveness asked-for from those we thought to be blameworthy. Forgiveness to ourselves for bearing the burden of applied blame… forgiveness is our mantra throughout the day. Forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Today I am willing to see past illusions to the truth. Today I am willing to become as a little child and be taught by the One Who knows. Today I step back and take my unhealed thoughts to the Light, that I might see them for the nothingness they are. I am willing to let my projections be undone. I am willing to remember Where I am always. Today I am willing to be happy, instead of right.

[Forgiveness Prayer: A Course In Miracles]


 

chattering green parrots

POSTCARD#330:Bangkok: Old Notebooks, Delhi 2012: Flocks of chattering green parrots in the tall Eucalyptus tree opposite, disturbed by birds of prey circling around in the upper sky. I watch the whole scene from our place on the roof terrace. All kinds of flowering plants here; bougainvilleas and chrysanthemums. If you have ‘chrysanthemums’, why can’t you have ‘chrysanthedads?’ I ask Jiab, who is reading the Thai news with great scrutiny. But this doesn’t seem to be worthy of comment right now and after a period of silence, I get busy with shifting these heavy flowerpots of chrysanthemums into a beam of sunlight. Much huffing and puffing, when I’m finished with that and sitting on my chair, looking at what I’ve done, Jiab says to me: ‘… happy now?’ And the serial depressionist in me stirs, ‘Yes, I suppose I am.’

Since childhood really, that lingering sense that things are not right… not as I’d want them to be. But I’m happy enough, yes. Why? Because all these things that I think are not as good as they could be or should be (even worse); all these things are just there – then they’re not there, I’ve forgotten about them. ‘First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain then there is.’ That’s how it is; the dark cloud of unhappiness is not hanging over me today on the roof terrace with flowering plants in the sunshine. I can see there is dukkha (suffering) but that’s because I’m unknowingly holding it there. What’s needed is a conscious letting-go and then there’s no suffering – can it be as easy as that? Maybe it needs sustained effort, but that’s the idea of it. One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it. And I suggest this possibility to Jiab, who now inclines towards me thinking maybe I seem to be making a more intelligent remark this time.

And we talk about that for a while. It’s always interesting for me to hear what she says because like most Thais she knows the Pali terms, having learned the chanting by heart in elementary school. Jiab is also fortunate because her father was a monk twice in his lifetime, each time for a couple of years. As a result, he was able to explain to his children that life is permeated with suffering caused by desire, and that suffering ceases when desire ceases. Sila, Samadhi, Panya (right conduct, meditation and wisdom) releases one from desire, suffering, and rebirth.

What it comes down to in the end, is everything that arises passes away and the Venerable Assaji statement: “Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata has told. And also their cessation — Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.” [Venerable Assaji answers the question of Śāriputra the Wanderer], and I’m amazed how how Śāriputra was totally blown away by that and people were getting enlightened on the spot as a result of the Venerable Assaji statement. In this context I’m thinking it means if you can see and are aware of the attachment to things you love and hate, that’s all there is to it; ignorance is gone and no matter how much it is held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, suffering will pass away of its own accord: “Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” With that, there’s a sudden burst of noise from the green parrots in the trees opposite, attention shifts and we go over take a look at what’s going on…


reflections on an earlier post

presence

POSTCARD#329: Bangkok: Old Notebooks, Sravasti 2012: There’s a presence about these statues and Buddhist ruins, sunk deeper into the landscape than they were in ancient times. The seasons revolve around them; rainfall, heat, sand storms and the centuries come and go. People come to visit, pray, bow, apply gold-leaf, string garlands, light incense, show reverence and take pictures of their friends standing next to them. Showers of digital flashes light up the old walls like a fireworks display; ‘and here is the place where the Buddha was enlightened’, flash, click!

Thus, a piece of the outer world is taken; perhaps a small landscape showing the shrine, prayer flags strung across branches of a huge Bodhi tree and our friends standing below smiling for the camera. Everybody hurries to look at the picture just taken, but the image somehow, never quite hits the spot, so we reach into the outer world and ‘take’ another one… have a look, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot either.

Taking a picture is a reflex action, a capture; I want to ‘have’ a picture of it, even though there are thousands of images in this camera memory and we have to load them on to an external hard-drive to make room for more. They show us in different locations, in the passage of time… see how we are all getting older. But it’s meaningful to us, a metaphor we’re deeply familiar with, consciousness of outer object and inner sense base.

That’s how it seems to me. I see other beings walking around, some of them appear to know what’s going on, and others preoccupied with taking a photo of the event. Some believe it’s God’s world and contemplate experiential responses to outer stimuli, in the context of their conditioning. The idea that God also gave us the gift of insight to see for ourselves is not something they feel they need to take into consideration and just leave it at that. Others are looking here and there, browsing the options, hoping to stumble upon something soon, otherwise stuck in the samsara of Search Mode.

You could say it’s just a sense of history that’s present in any ancient site, or a building or museum. It’s possible to know how the people, who lived then, felt and understood the world; the things they looked at, and what they heard, smelt, tasted, touched and their mind responses; all of that is the same for me now, here in this place where the bodhisattva walked 2,600 years ago.

I’m connected with the outer world by consciousness, in the same way the people at that time were; the conscious experience of what is seen, is the same for me as it was for the bodhisattva – simply that. The environment I’m in may be different from how it was at that time, but the body/mind organism that receives the experience is universal. All beings are caught in this conscious experience. There’s no need to add anything else.

The sense of ‘now’ is the same today as it was then; the sounds I hear, the feeling of sunlight, the gentle wind blowing on my skin; an awareness of the ever-present sensory data, and the simple truth that there’s a likely possibility the Buddha was standing in the exact same place where I’m standing right now.

‘At Savatthi (Sravasti). Then the Venerable Kaccanagotta approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him… : “In what way, venerable sir, is there right view?”

“This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality—upon the notion of existence and the notion of nonexistence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of nonexistence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world.

“This world, Kaccana, is for the most part shackled by engagement, clinging, and adherence. But this one [with right view] does not become engaged and cling through that engagement and clinging, mental standpoint, adherence, underlying tendency; he does not take a stand about ‘my self.’ He has no perplexity or doubt that what arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing. His knowledge about this is independent of others. It is in this way, Kaccana, that there is right view.

“‘All exists’: Kaccana, this is one extreme. “All does not exist’: this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle: ‘With ignorance as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance comes cessation of volitional formations; with the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”’[SN 12.15(5)]


contained spaces

POSTCARD#305: Bangkok: There’s a dream I had once and, as soon as I woke up, I wrote it down on a scrap of paper I found in my wallet. That paper was with me for years, and when I found it again, it was indistinct and the writing, a hard-to-read scribble. So I keyed it in before it was reduced to a fragment of paper and disappeared. Then a few years after that, I found the document and created a post with it, titled: before after’, published on April 12, 2016. There were a few comments including one from Michael who suggested an alternate ending. So, nearly 2 years later, I decided to rewrite the dream and have Michael’s idea stitched in near the end. It goes like this:

I’m standing at a bus stop, waiting for a bus. The bus arrives, stops at the stop, and I get on. Instead of ordinary bus seats, there’s furniture, sofas, armchairs, a small coffee table, TV, curtains on the windows, and it’s laid out like a room interior. I find a place and sit down. Other passengers on the bus are sitting in unmatched furniture, everybody looking around for the person who comes to get orders for snacks and drinks. Nobody comes, there’s a long interval of nothing happening at all and after a while I start to think maybe it’s because the bus hasn’t left the stop yet.

At the same moment I remember I left my shoes outside the door at the bus stop. This is because in all houses in Asia you have to leave your shoes outside when you enter. In the dream, there’s something I’m not sure about here, how to resolve the issue of leaving the shoes and never seeing them again? Okay, so I can just leave the shoes there and when I get off at the next bus stop, I’ll take someone else’s shoes (it happens in Buddhist monasteries).

Yes, but this still doesn’t feel like a satisfactory resolution, and I’m walking towards the door of the bus to bring my shoes in, even though I know they can’t be there because the bus has left the stop. There’s the feeling of motion, chairs and sofas all-sliding around slightly in the movement, and the sound of the bus as it is going along.

But when I look out the back door, there are my shoes lying on the pavement where I left them, and the bus hasn’t moved an inch! How could it be that the inside and the outside of the bus seem to have their own rules of logic? It’s like, I get on the bus, the door closes, and the inside of the bus is moving along – I can tell because there’s the feeling we are moving, the furniture is sliding around. But when I look outside, we are still in the same place.

Is it because stepping into a world contained inside the dream, means you are an observer in another dream – a whole other situation, with its own characteristics and its own context… a dream inside a dream? Shortly after that I wake up, and there’s the enigma of it, there’s the world as I perceive it, but outside of that, there’s another completely different world, just going along as things do? The example of the chicken hatching out of the egg, pecking it’s way out of the world of the egg and into another contained space, another world…

Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story instead of the actor in it. [Ram Dass]


 

a buddhist’s sense of suffering

IMG_2872bOLD NOTEBOOKS: CHIANG MAI: I’m lying with an IV drip in my arm and exactly why, I don’t know right now, but there’s also a laser beam directed into my vein along with the needle. So presumably, laser light is present all through the circulatory system as the chelation fluid enters my body. This special treatment may provide a cure in the long term for the PERMANENT HEADACHE I’m learning to live with… who knows, I’ll try anything, and at least they treat you well here. I’m laid-back in a comfortable soft TV lounger but instead of TV watching I’m looking out into a small garden with birds to watch and scribbling notes on a print-out from the first draft of this post… careful of the pain from the needle in my left arm.

FullSizeRender (7)I have to say, this is about my experience of headaches, discomfort and suffering so if you don’t like the thought of reading more about pain, click the button and get away from here now! But if you’re curious and interested in the buddhist sense of suffering, think of any kind of discomfort you have experienced and consider this: it’s the struggle to get away from pain that causes the suffering. The energy used in trying to get away from it just fans the flames and makes it what it is. And, because it’s habitual, maybe a lifetime of doing it like this, things just go on and on until I see the only thing that’s preventing me from letting go of suffering is that I’m still holding on to it.

This insight into suffering comes about, not by choice, but by allowing yourself to be in a no-choice situation – or maybe it’s like that; there’s no other way, absolutely no escape. And, what I’m talking about here will be familiar to sufferers of chronic pain, usually you do everything in your power to not even think about this kind of thing, so there’s a kind of unpreparedness about it. Unknowingly you’re caught like the proverbial rabbit hypnotized by the circling predator. Helpless, you give up, go stumbling towards the pain and unexpectedly, a door opens inside that place and there’s an easing. You discover it’s a mind thing; the habitual action to get away from it is the cause of the pain… it’s this vortex you get to in the end that leads to the discovery of the moment of easing held in the center of pain. I feel the moisture of an eye-blink, the absolute physicality of being here.

There’s a strange kind of time shift about it, it’s somehow not until after it’s happened you notice time skips a beat. It’s somewhere around here that the realization happens; ignorance is displaced by the knowledge of it, awareness floods in and there’s an acceptance of this new direction towards pain; you let it in enough to somehow find a release from it. It’s an immediate understanding that somehow you know you’ve gone through it, so you can’t be ‘held’ by it anymore There’s a real sense of achievement, you are bigger than it; there’s motivation, energy, freedom.

How to apply this? A conceptual understanding of the release forms; it’s more than an acceptance of the pain, it’s an embracing of the pain – an expanding awareness that pain is not a thing you carry along with you. Dispose of all the heaviness; it’s something to be travelled through. It’s this that lets it go (frees it). The knot in the string is undone. Can’t be explained, not a conscious understanding… just that something is changed inside the thinking process, a felt difference – “felt” rather than “thought to be” – and the suffering is suddenly not there anymore.

‘We learn how to let go, in the process of observing the consequence of our grasping.’  [Ajahn Munindo, Dhammasakaccha]

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Note: excerpts from an earlier post: things not being right and special thanks to Pennycoho for our short exchange in the comments box long ago   –   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   –

the visitor

img_8129OLD NOTEBOOKS: BKK: I had a job as an illustrator many years ago, 1985 I think, part of a lifetime spent shading-in with a Rotring pen, and touching up with typewriter correction fluid, whiteout liquid. No computer enhanced imagery in those days – no computers. Cut and paste was not the metaphor it is today – it was done with a real pair of scissors and glue. But usually I’d sit for hours at the desk without much movement, only the hand holding the pen, carefully searching for form… a happy silence in the room on the top floor of a Bangkok shop house with door leading out to small roofed terrace and bougainvilleas in large old clay pots, red and pink blossoms everywhere. Very little traffic noise, blue  sky, and few people came to see me there; I was happily alone in this self-contained apartment for many days at a stretch.

The small lizard (gecko) came to visit me one day and I hardly noticed it at first, a small rustle and clink sound from somewhere on my art table, covered in all kinds of drawing equipment, books and discarded papers. The clink sound again got my attention and I just sat still and waited to see what it was – so completely still, a spider could have spun a web in the spaces between my fingers. Then another rustle in the bits of papers on my desk, discarded sketches and cut paper crumpled up and trashed… and there it was!

Aiming for the cup of coffee gone cold, forgotten, but it was the spoon for the sugar, stirred into the coffee; it was that that it wanted – lying there in a tiny spill of wetness on the surface of the table. It must have come here before, it knows about the coffee spoon. I see its small head get nearer and nearer to the spoon, alert and aware of any movement. But I am a mountain, unmoving. The tongue extends out, lick, lick, and it gets into the hollow of the spoon with its tiny front feet, there’s the same clink sound, caused by the weight of the small creature.

The next day, around the same time it came back and sure enough, headed for the coffee spoon, lick, lick, lick, and it was gone. As the days went by, I got accustomed to it arriving, always around the same time. Then one day it didn’t come, in fact I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen it. Sometimes I’d see it moving up the wall by the door and out through an open window to the roof terrace and the bougainvilleas outside. So I got up from my chair and out to the terrace also to see if the plants needed any water from the storage tank… and there it was, in the tank! Not in the water but standing ‘on’ the surface of the water!

Surface tension, amazing! I didn’t know lizards could do that. So I backed out of the terrace and left it for a while. When I went out again the lizard was still there in exactly the same place. I looked at it and there was something about the way it looked back at me: Get me out of this predicament, please? Hmmm was it not able to move because the surface tension would give way and it would sink? I went inside again and searched for the plastic mesh container for A4 paper and all kinds of junk, emptied out the contents and went out to the terrace.

Carefully sinking the plastic mesh tray into the water then over and down, under the lizard. Slowly scoop it up, out of the water and I placed it down in a shady corner on its side so my small friend could crawl out of and run away and hide. That was the last time I saw it (sad). I worried about the affect the sugar and tiny amount of caffeine had had on the lizard, and felt guilty about that. Maybe it induced a kind of lizard ‘high’ resulting in unwise decision-making and stepping out on to the surface of water. Ah well, if that was the case, I saved it in time…

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tanhã, craving

Wheel.of.Life-largeOLD NOTEBOOKS: Craving perpetuates the fever of unsatisfied longing, this is the state of tanhã. The opposite of a sense of well-being, tanhã is not a happy bunny. It constantly feeds the hunger of desire but the action of feeding it only sharpens the edge of appetite. Too much is never enough. It explains very well the reason why some people are committed to ‘wrong view’ with an intensity that takes your breath away. Tanhã is this deep craving for the ‘self’ we construct in fear of ‘no self’, a result of tanhã. I am ‘me’, in this world, due to tanhã, the reason for rebirth.

In the story of King Assaka and Queen Upari, Queen Upari died and became a cow dung beetle in the next life. But she felt quite at home in her lowly existence as a cow dung beetle, because of tanhã which is delighting in whatever sense object presents itself and wherever it finds rebirth. Reborn as a dog, it takes delight in a dog’s existence; reborn as a pig, as a chicken, there is always delight in each existence. [‘Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective’ by Mark Epstein].

In the causality sequence that forms the 12 step cycle of the wheel of existence (paticcasamuppada), tanhã is step 8. The way to stop tanhã arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before tanhã happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. The entry point in the cycle is just before tanhã: step 7 feeling (vedana). At the vedana stage, there are three possibilities: pleasure, pain or neutral feelings. If feelings of pleasure or pain arise, then craving or aversion will take place and tanha will be the result. If, by an act of will, only the neutral feeling is allowed to arise, the 7th link will be neutralized, de-activated. That being so, tanhã cannot arise, and the next link (upadana) will fail to arise and so on. [See “Fundamentals of Mainstream Buddhism”, p214-215, Eric Cheetham]

For me, the discovery that interrupting the sequence at vedana changed the momentum of everything was awesome, to say the least. This is how I quit the tobacco habit and my whole attitude changed. By allowing the neutral response at vedana to be present for a moment, I noticed an easing in the craving, a cessation, just enough to trigger my curiosity. The cessation took place when I noticed it was the way out of the cycle of repetition, and I understood then how to be free of it. The neutral feeling didn’t register as anything, just the awareness that there’s a space, a gap that wasn’t there before; a vantage point where I could see how to change the cycle of events. It’s in the nature of tanhã (as with everything else) to be transient like this, it’s something that comes and goes. Knowing it leads to Suffering, we can stay distant from tanhã for a moment, and allow it  to start the process of cessation by itself. Trying to confront or defeat tanhã will not work because willed action only causes it to arise again.

Situations that used to completely overwhelm and demolish me disappeared; other habitual behaviour began to fall away. I began to notice the wonderful emptiness, the wholeness, a peace of mind that comes about when you understand there is a way out of Suffering; everything that arises, ceases.

…there is a noble truth about the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving [tanha]; its abandonment and relinquishment; getting free from and being independent of it. [Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta]

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Source for header image
this is a summarized form of an earlier post titled, ‘too much is never enough