spaciousness of being

IMG_0085POSTCARD #17: Nontaburi, Thailand: Here in this large house, surrounded by a garden of tall trees. Monsoon season, heavy rain all day, all night – oceans of frogs all around, hundreds of them, l’amour, croaking throughout the night in rising and falling waves as I sail off into sleep. Still raining next morning, then it stops about 10 o’clock, and the frogs are quiet now – I don’t know where they can be… submerged in mud with a bubble of air to breathe in? Frog heaven. A time for quiet reflection, the actuality of just being here; conscious experience. I’m alone in an empty house, walking around the hallway, bare feet on cool marble tiles; pita, pata, pit, pat, pata, pit, pit… stop and look out the window; everything is totally wet out there.

IMG_0170Conscious of cold feet – an unusual feeling in Thailand, it’s usually hot all the time. The skin sense (touch), contact with the world, consciousness of a physical object. Standing on the cool floor – the sensation. And the mind sense (cognition), ‘I like this coolness’, consciousness of a mind object. A pleasant wanting… hovering in a created sense of ‘self’. A whole lifetime taken up with the body/mind’s responses, reactions to the ‘outside’ world. Preoccupied with the doing of it, actively engaged with it; this is happening to ‘me’. Everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think, received through sense organs mostly situated around the face, means the head is thus spinning around constantly to engage with whatever it is; the object of consciousness.

‘A life guided by desire, a life contracted to the mind’s thirst, seldom has the spaciousness of being. That pure awareness which wants nothing, which yearns for nothing, which simply takes on the shape of whatever form comes within its natural spaciousness.’ [Stephen Levine]

There’s consciousness of thought and consciousness of no-thought; consciousness of the cognitive function triggered by a simple curiosity: what is going on here? Unattached consciousness, released from sensory experience – awareness of the awareness, seeing the seeing, knowing the knowing. One way or another, conscious experience is what I’m writing about; an all-inclusive thing. I try to be minimalist, writing as if it were text messaging. No real ‘story’, no sequence of events; it lacks content, barely enough to hold the reader’s attention. It just evolves, becomes something, gets broken down again and rebuilt. Often it feels like once it’s been taken apart, it’s not worthwhile putting it back together; everything in a state of disarray, prepositions and verbs scattered around, a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, no subject, no object; no actual finished state.

After another couple of days of just ‘me’ and the frogs in the rain, and I realize it must be Sunday because Naa J and Naa M arrive that evening with a take-out dinner. We talk for a while and they spend the night. Early next morning I hear the monks outside. Go to take a look, rain has stopped and it’s dry again, takbat, offering food. Generosity, J and M have this kindness. An hour later I come downstairs, and they’re gone…

‘Awareness could be said to be like water. It takes on the shape of any vessel that contains it. If one mistakes this awareness for its various temporary forms, life becomes a ponderous plodding from one moment of desire, from one object of the mind, to the next. Life becomes filled with urgency and the strategies of fear, instead of lightly experiencing all these forms, recognizing that water is water no matter what its form.’ [Stephen Levine , Ondrea Levine: Who Dies]

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Note: ‘a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, quote from Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo/ Sharpening The Quill. Thank you! (link in text)
Related post

nothing in particular

IMG_0132aPOSTCARD #16: Bangkok: Waiting for my number to be called… the figure 109 printed on a square of paper the receptionist gave me here at Rutnin Eye Hospital, outpatients department on the 2nd floor. People everywhere, very crowded today and only one seat available facing the white door that leads to examination room number 5. Fortunate because it’s where I’m supposed to be – at least I’m in exactly the right place. Yes, but there could be 108 people in front of me… an endless time to wait; nothing to read, nothing to look at, just watching the time go by. The second hand spinning round on a clock on the wall, designed like the hospital logo; it looks like an eye – someone has taken care to create this icon; it’s childlike, friendly, elegant.

3305480I’ve been struggling with poor eyesight for years and, since the surgery, seeing the world through ‘new eyes’ means anything happening in the field of vision immediately calls out for attention; a movement, a colour – it has to be noticed. The world is a great diversity of things. I see a tiny patch of colour at the bottom of the door about half an inch wide, where a piece of the surface of the door panel has chipped off, probably caused by moving some heavy equipment into the room and the door was struck in the process. It’s been repaired with something a slightly different colour and the coloured patch seems luminous, out of context with its surroundings… there’s also the glint of something like mica, something metallic. For a moment I’m immersed in this although it’s not important; it isn’t anything, there’s no attachment to it. It’s just a coloured patch, yet it’s fascinating. These days I’m often in the curious situation of having this intense visual awareness of an object and no subjective sense that it’s worth paying attention to at all; mind is not inclined to engage with it. This is just an ordinary mark on a door, nothing in particular; I have no desire for it, no pressing need to possess it. There is sensory data input by way of the eye and eye-consciousness; receiving the world through the six sense-doors: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue and cognitive functions, without the idea of it happening to ‘me’. All that I’m aware of is a quiet presence, seen in peripheral vision and knowing it’s there.

 ‘… habitual desires manifest and condition awareness into a discriminative mode that operates in terms of subject and object held to exist on either side of the six sense-doors. These sense-doors open dependent on contact that can arouse varying degrees of feeling. Feeling stimulates desire and according to the power of desire, attention lingers… personal aims and obsessions develop and give rise to self-consciousness. That self-consciousness, mental or physical, once arisen must follow the cycle of maturing and passing away. When the mind looks into the sense of loss and comprehends (this) truth, the awareness is no longer bound by discrimination, the separation of subject and object is no longer held and one does not feel trapped behind or pulled through the sense-doors. There is freedom from desire… no personal image is created; there is nothing to lose, a sense of gladness, uplift, joy and serenity.’ [Ajahn Sucitto]

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Lower image: Rutnin Eye Hospital logo   Note: Ajahn Sucitto’s poetry link: dhammamoon.org

story within a story

IMG_0095aPOSTCARD #15: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I’m back in the outpatients for a routine eye examination after surgery – the peppermint green and menthol coloured room, etched glass and white ceiling. Receptionist gives me a number, 109, and I look around for a seat. It’s crowded in here today… are all these people in front of me? It’ll be a long wait. What to do to pass the time when I can’t read? I need glasses to read and have to wait 3 weeks for a new lens prescription; the eye has to settle after they take out the stitch – okay, let’s not talk about needles and eyes… the eye of the needle? Easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God… they don’t make it easy. For ‘rich’ substitute ‘greedy’ lobha and it makes sense.

Generosity is the antidote for the ‘holding-on’ disease; fixating on a thing we think we need to make us happy. Apply the sense of generosity to the problem of being a compulsive reader and I should be able to let go of this reading habit – see what it’s like to do that. For backup I have the basic Kindle 6” with the font set nearly to maximum; digital words, the physical substance of the book is absent – switch it off and there’s nothing there. I like the emptiness of it, yet a whole library could be on this small device that fits in my pocket. Yes but I forgot to bring it with me today… terrific, so I have to learn how to sit in this waiting area doing nothing for maybe a couple of hours.

Language creates fiction – a story carried over from a former life, kamma, an extension of another story written long ago, once upon a time…. a story within a story, in which one of the characters in the narrative will pause and say, ‘this reminds me of a story…’ and goes on to relate a story inside the current story that the reader gets so immersed in the starting point is forgotten and it becomes just part of the whole; a vast structure of inter-related, nested stories enclosed by the original, frame story. Lost in the samsara of forgetfulness, caused by the holding-on disease, greed, tanhã (craving) passed on from former lives; seeking gratification in whatever sense object presents itself and wherever it finds rebirth.

‘… if I were born again as a fruit fly I would think that being a fruit fly was the normal ordinary course of events, and naturally I would think that I was a highly cultured being, because probably they have all sorts of symphonies and music, and artistic performances in the way light is reflected on their wings in different ways, the way they dance in the air, and they say, “Oh, look at her, she has real style, look how the sunlight comes off her wings.” They in their world think they are as important and civilized as we do in our world.’ [The Essence of Alan Watts, Vol. 4: “Death”]

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unforeseen

IMG_0126aPOSTCARD #14: Rutnin Eye Hospital, Bangkok: I just had eye surgery for cataracts and there’s a protective eye shield with cotton wadding taped over my right eye, but I don’t remember anything about it. I remember lying on a gurney in the operating room, and recall chatting with the anesthetist as he’s putting the needle in my arm – then suddenly I’m back in my hospital room with the eye shield taped over the eye and no memory of it at all. I feel normal, the only difference is I know that a newer version of part of the eye mechanism has just been installed; I’ve had an upgrade. But the eye has to stay covered today, so I can’t see anything, except when the nurses take off the shield every hour and I get a brief glimpse; they give me eye-drops then it’s covered again. A great flood of liquid in the eye, slight taste in the mouth as it drains through the tear duct into the back of the throat; swallowing my tears, gulp, gulp…

They take the eye shield off next morning. I get dressed, go downstairs to the outpatients department and through to the exit. The décor in the waiting area is in shades of lime green and ice blue, colours are amazing. Unexpected. There’s a completely clear perception of distance for the first time in many years. Fascinating. I’m distracted by colour and movement at the edge of vision, face turns in that direction, curiosity – an involuntary response. Head spinning like a child or a small animal, noticing all kinds of things. Sense organs filter incoming information. In my case, visual data enters through implanted intraocular lenses (IOLs). I see the world and assume it exists exactly as I perceive it, but I know the lens implant has, to some extent, created my version of the world; perception is subjective, reality is a construct in the mind. I can see a wide range of colours where insects see ultraviolet, reptiles see infrared, and cats and dogs see the world in only two colours. Viewed in this way, the world is suddenly endowed with great mystery; ask the question: ‘what is reality?’ and it takes you to a different place entirely.

Out of the exit, wait for a taxi, on to the highway system and step into a world that looks like it’s been Photo-shopped, high resolution, multi-pixel display. If there comes a time in the future when I’m no longer able to see it in this way because the novelty of it has gone and consciousness doesn’t regard it as special anymore, then I can return here, read this post and remember how wonderful it was…

‘Normally we human beings assume the world ‘out there’ exists just as we perceive it (by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue and physical contact) but if we consider these sense organs, it must become apparent to us that the world ‘out there’ is really dependent on our particular modes of perception. For instance, the human eye limits conditions, by its very structure, the objects we see. It is well known that a bee can see, as a colour, ultraviolet but we have no idea what such a colour looks like nor, of course, can we find any words to describe it. It follows therefore that our sense organs being differently constructed from that of a bee (or any other non-human being), our world “out there” is not necessarily the world as it really is.’ [Phra Khantipalo, ‘Buddhism Explained’ 1965]

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Note: Claude Monet had treatment for cataracts that left him with poor vision. He agreed at age 82 to have the lens of his left eye completely removed. Light could now stream through the opening unimpeded and he began to see – and to paint – in ultraviolet (Water Lilies series). [Link]

uncertainty (mai nae)

IMG_0141POSTCARD #13: Bangkok: Raining heavily at the airport, poor visibility on the highway into town. Traffic moving steadily through the downpour, a large spray of water hits the windscreen, sploosh – like driving through a car wash. Reminds me of Scotland, wild, wet and windy; weather is unpredictable. You expect it to be one thing but it’s something else instead; uncompromising in its insistence that it is what it is – and not what you think it is. Thai language/cognition is like this, so different from the West; making assumptions based on the Western model doesn’t always get you where you want to be.

I explain to the taxi driver where I want to go, saying there are two ways to get there: he can go on the tollway but better to take the turn that gets us on to vipawadi. We come to the place to make the turn, but the driver doesn’t go that way; we pass it…. It takes a moment for me to see what went wrong: he’s thinking the vipawadi turning is the way I don’t want to go, not the way I want to go. All it takes is one small slip in the logical sequence of the language and I get the opposite of what I intended. Ah yes, well, sometimes it’s like that. No holding on unduly to things you expect to be ‘right’ when they prove to be otherwise. After two decades in Thailand, I suppose I’m used to it; a familiarity with not quite knowing what to expect. ‘…many problems are the result of us expecting that there should be a solution.’ [Ajahn Tiradhammo]

Thai semantics are a bit elusive, the language doesn’t stretch the way you’d expect it to. Anticipating reactions to a request, statement or question – not the best way to go. A structure created by words to explain a concept and the assumption is that the listener understands what I’m saying in the way I mean it to be understood, but it doesn’t work like that. Words are just reference points; they’re sort of out there, ready to be shared with everyone. People interpret them in the way they understand it best. Usually it’s the meaning I’m hoping for, but not always. I try to be minimalist, the complexity of it reduced as far as it’ll go. Allow the selected words to carry the meaning and if it’s misunderstood, try to find an indirect way to approach the problem by letting go of the idea that it’s somehow ‘wrong’. This is ‘the land of smiles’, a cultural  tendency to not confront the issue – we become so focused on the ‘should’ we forget the ‘maybe’. The journey takes the time it takes, through the floods and downpour, but we reach the house okay, of course. The sky clears. Rainbows, green leaves in the trees drip crystal drops… soon after that the rain stops.

‘We can easily get caught up in thinking that life should conform to some definite plan. But by keeping a close connection with the truth of uncertainty we can soften the resulting frustration and negativity when the plan doesn’t unfold the way we think it should. We may even gain a clearer understanding of the real nature of plans: mere concepts about possibilities, rather than concrete programmes of actualities. Then whenever we find ourselves having to make plans we do it in pencil with an eraser in hand, and with the clear understanding that many other possibilities are available as well.’ [Ajahn Tiradhammo]

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‘mai nae’, in the Thai language, means ‘uncertain’ – the living expression of the fundamental Buddhist teaching of anicca, or impermanence [Ajahn Tiradhammo]

limitations

290620131919POSTCARD #12: Delhi Airport Departures: Time to go, I have to finish my coffee… hold cup to lip, tilt head back to drink the last drop, eyes sweep upwards with the movement, and there’s a man standing in the roof structure. He’s cleaning the window glass or doing something. I didn’t notice he was there. Nothing special, it’s just that if we were in Europe, there’d be warning signs, black and yellow tape, fluorescent high-vis vests everywhere, a restricted area below, we apologise for any inconvenience caused, and more staff with their hi-vis vests and hard hats asking the public to keep back. All the necessary precautions to comply with health and safety standards. Over here, the man just climbs up into the roof structure, holding on with his hands, dressed in navy-blue overalls and he does have a hard hat but no more than that. And nobody feels there’s any danger. People are sitting in the coffee shop below and it works okay, relax no problem.

Fine with me too, I like the pragmatic way things are done, intelligent, improvised solutions; repair and maintenance developed to the level of aesthetics, extraordinary to the point of being innovative. It’s a relief to not have the same old limitations imposed on us that we live with in the West: security procedures, systems that back-up systems to protect against liability. What’s left unsaid is that the systems, designed to protect us, create the perceived threat in the mind. Precautions against a hypothetical danger lead to what is thought to be a real danger in present time. A created anxiety, unintended folks, but there you are, we’re really living on the edge here. No need to WORRY… thanks to professional security systems installed at your request, it’s all being taken care of.

Things are not what they seem. The world is an illusion, maya, look in the mirror: consciousness embodied in human form but what I see, more than anything else, is a face, an identity – can this really be me? Wow, a fascination with the concept of self, everybody looking at each other as mirrors of themselves. A lifetime spent chasing elusive sensory yearnings; nothing seen beyond the basic mechanisms of being human. Getting free of it for a moment is enough to understand how it works: mind gets caught up in identifying with the activity. The magician is not tricked by his own magic. Take away all the associated systems, the action is carried out, the maintenance man does his job and what’s so surprising about that?

I take a photo of him just before leaving for the flight departure gate. He has a narrow leather belt, I didn’t notice before, and secures this around his waist and round the roof supports as he climbs up or down to the next section. Then he unclips the belt and works freely. He’s obviously skilled. I can’t imagine there’d be on-the-job training for this kind of profession. More likely it’s an inherited thing; he’s descended from a lineage of South Indian toddy palm climbers, elevated in palm tree branches high above the ground considering questions of a philosophical nature. Time to get on the plane and prepare for the long climb up to 37,000 feet. Strangely comforting to know that when I’m 2700 miles over the horizon, and descending at Bangkok, the maintenance man will still be clambering around in the roof structure at Delhi, simply doing his job.

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‘Thus the illusioned soul identifies with the temporary body and everything connected to it, such as race, gender, family, nation, bank balance, and sectarian religion. Under this sense of false-ego (false-identity) the soul aspires to control and enjoy matter. However, in so doing he continuously serves lust, greed, and anger. In frustration he often redoubles his efforts and, compounding mistake upon mistake, only falls deeper into illusion.’ [The Heart of Hinduism, Maya; illusion]

Lower photo from Wikipedia Commons

non-aversion

IMG_0106POSTCARD11: Delhi: There’s a wasps’ nest in the bathroom at the end of the corridor. I’ve been away for two months, didn’t know it was there and didn’t notice it at first, in the half darkness of 5.30am, walking along to this bathroom we don’t normally use. And wearing glasses because I’ve always worn glasses but since the eye operation it’s all a blur. I forget, put them on and in the darkness, can’t see any difference. Switch on the light in the bathroom, look in the mirror; is this really ‘me’? An awareness of a low humming sound; a multi-frequency buzzzzzz, just on the edge of hearing. Something crawling on the window, what’s that? I have to take my glasses off to see, a strange reverse action I’m not used to, then wait for a moment until vision gets in focus… wow, a wasps’ nest in the bathroom, not good. Back out of there fast, close the door and get as far away as possible from it – closing all doors between me and it. Seeing imagined wasps in faulty vision.

It’s full daylight in an hour and I go back for another look… some kind of large-bodied heavy duty, Indian-wasp-like species; googled it later: ropalidia marginata. The nest is not actually in the bathroom, it’s built on the underside of the top part of the bathroom window, outside… thankful for that, but still kinda scary, even though there’s mosquito mesh on all doors and windows and they can’t get inside the house. I go outside to take a photo but nervous about all the activity so the pic is not clear. The wasps are transparent orange, the nest is grey, a truly colourless grey; remarkable because of its absence of colour. Kind of supernatural, like dust, or ash.

Ropalidia_marginata_2A species so distant from where we are, there’s a reluctance to look at this, yet a fascination with it; more like science fiction than real. The Queen wasp and attendants, baby wasps, larvae, that will emerge from all these small hexagonal openings. Yeh, well… somehow it’s difficult to think of them being cute. Wiki says the females contend with each other for the position of queen. They’ve evolved through aggression and hostility. How to understand this? I don’t know, but keeping a safe distance from it, and mindful of that action – not pushing away. The contemplation of aggressive aversion and the tendency to create a category for things I hate; enemies, difficult people, personality issues at the office – all kinds of other situations worse than that. Social conditioning has made me critical; looking for the fault in people, where to lay blame. Living in circumstances I don’t always feel comfortable with. Seeing what’s wrong, not able to see what’s right. Metta, loving kindness, isn’t a case of: “I love this person, but I don’t love that one.” Metta is non-discriminatory love, all beings have conscious awareness, a shared subjectivity….

Metta is unconditioned love; you don’t have more metta for the nice things and not as much for the bad things, it is evenly distributed: our beloved friends and our detested enemies. The action of metta is unconditioned, it is patience and non-aversion. We accept the pain, disappointment, failure, blame, persecution, abuse and all the experiences we can have in a lifetime. We begin with: ‘May I abide in well-being,’ starting with yourself. It’s an attitude of acceptance and patience with the way it is; accepting the anger, resentment, aversion, or the little petty things.’ [Ajahn Sumedho]

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Lower photo from the Wiki page

intuitive design

110920131975POSTCARD10: Delhi: Going to visit my neighbour who says she can help me with a new sim card for the iPhone5. I got the phone in the UK, and need a Nano SIM for India, the tiny one, rather than the standard size for the Nokia I had before. When I was in London, I had to wait 24 hours for this new NanoSIM(4FF) to be activated – why? I don’t know. Difficult to be without your contacts for that long. But that’s how it is there, no flexibility – in other countries there’s less control. In Bangkok, for example, I needed a Thai NanoSIM for the local network and was thinking it would be the 24 hour waiting thing again but they looked at the screen, clicked a couple of times, went in the back of the shop and came out with the new NanoSIM(4FF). Removed it from the backing card and put it in… working!

Now in Delhi, I need a local SIM and I heard that if you take it to the phone shop and pay Rs.100/- (US$ 1.55) they have a special cutter and it’s done immediately, snip… you’re connected. My neighbour says you can just cut the old SIM with a knife, save the Rs.100/- and it’s better than going downtown in the heat and traffic. I’m hesitating, decide to Google it first. You’re supposed to do a bit of measuring and create a paper template to cut around carefully and then finish off with a piece of sandpaper. Well, my neighbour has a blade, saying, it’s not very sharp but let’s see; I think it’ll do.

I watch as she starts to cut the sim; doing it by eye, no measuring, she has to hack at it a bit with the blunt cutter and finishes off with the kitchen scissors – cut off the little corner bit. Yes! Looks like the real thing. So try that… but it doesn’t fit into the slot in the phone! Why? Because she was thinking it was the MicroSIM(3FF) for the iPhone4 – that’s what she has and thought it’s what I had. But the NanoSIM(4FF) for the iPhone5 is smaller than that… oh-no, what to do now? Worry-worry. But no problem just cut off a bit more to get it to fit. It’s like you offer someone a piece of cake and they say, oh that’s a bit too much for me, can you make it a bit smaller please? No science required. I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this. How come I didn’t know about it? There’s a feeling that I’ve been making life unnecessarily difficult when, in fact, things are quite simple.

Walking back to my place, and nobody pays any attention to me, except the gardeners and ordinary folk who stop and look at me as I pass; an anomaly in their world. It’s a direct gaze, gentle, curious: there goes one of these foreigners, look!… children laugh and run away. White adult male, a colourless being, transparent eyes – comes from a different planet. So far away from the actuality of the human experience, dependent on the employment contract that enables all the support mechanisms. Not much of an idea how to do anything except the job and outside of that, wash the car on Sunday, cut the grass, watch TV. I’m dependent on others who have the basic skills I don’t seem to have. Meanwhile, somewhere inside, there’s this feeling that all it needs is the intuitive leap… and I don’t know how it happens or why it’s like that, the solution just comes to me – like seeing the whole picture all of a sudden, and knowing what it is.

‘Intuition is the supra-logic that cuts out all the routine processes of thought and leaps straight from the problem to the answer.’ [Robert Graves]

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Photo: the finished home-made NanoSim(4FF)

the look of eyes (2)

flightPOSTCARD08: Bangkok/Delhi flight: Large men standing in the aisles of the passenger area look along the length of the plane in one direction, turn the head around and look in the other direction. Hold that for a moment, then look to the left, to the right, and back to the central position: ok, so here we are on this plane… Sensory receptors positioned around the face and the cranium spins around, up/down on its axis, moving in response to received vision, sound, smell. The mind coordinates, thinks about things… ‘60,000 thoughts per day by each and every human being on the planet.’ [Deepak Chopra]. No wonder it’s such a novelty to discover a space where there’s no thought, no stories unfolding in the mind.

Maybe it’s something cultural; the male authority figure standing there like a tall pillar and everyone else is seated. I’m reminded of Meerkats, these cute creatures who stand up on their hind legs and look at everything in a kind of philosophical way. See and be seen. I catch the look, and glance away… a brief encounter, not held; no dialogue: hi how are you today? No, no need for that; no language required to interpret events and engage the mind. Just the look of eyes, and our shared space up here in thin air; a passenger jet travelling at 600 miles per hour, 10 kilometres above the curvature of the Earth.

Bundles of conditioned reflexes squeezed into the volume of a body, the experience of being a human ‘being’ – only this. Seeing the events without the story, like screenshots in a sequence; a few gestures, the meaning is not quite there. It creates a pause, taking a moment to receive that data before mind gains control and ‘self’ gets a hold; before ‘I’ perceive what it is, or what it could be; pleasant, unpleasant, neutral – how should I feel about that? Maybe no feeling at all… It’s as if there’s a small seed of wisdom buried deep in the layers of unknowing; lying there, dormant, waiting for things to evolve and the right conditions to be there, in order to wake up. But it hasn’t happened yet… contemplating the noble truth of waking up in some future lifetime.

I can’t read text, cross-eyed vision after an operation on the left eye. It’ll be okay after the operation on the right eye. Mildly deafened by the white noise of air pressure systems and the velocity of the plane displacing the air. And there’s a stewardess announcement: the plane is now making its descent, this concludes our inflight service, thank you…. [Link to: the look of eyes (1)]

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“And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world. [Loka Sutta: The World” (SN 12.44), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 17 June 2010]

lonesome highway

IMG_0063POSTCARD07: Bangkok: 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 tollway to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope 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 rented 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, just stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine conks out. 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. Goodbye Thailand, next stop Delhi…

BKKairport‘The universe I’s (using the word ‘I’ as a verb) in the same way that a tree ‘apples’ or a star shines, and the center of the ‘appling’ is the tree and the center of the shining is the star, and so the basic center of self of the I’ing is the eternal universe or eternal thing that has existed for ten thousand million years and will probably go on for at least that much more.’ [The Essence of Alan Watts, Vol. 4: “Death”]

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Upper photo: approaching BKK tollway. Lower photo: BKK airport departure gate area