Jesus and ‘Churchianity’

(Reblog POSTCARD# 001/): Christmas 2011, Bangkok Airport: Bags packed, got passport and ticket – taxi to the airport. Checked in, immigration, security and step through into the glitzy duty-free with people and music circulating. Compelling christmas carols with full orchestral backing and we are swept away to a tinsellated heaven realm. The next music track is a syncopated, off-beat, acoustic guitar melody support for: ‘… the ho-lee bible says, mary’s boy-child, jee-sus christ, was born on christ-mas daaay…’ Enter coffee shop area as we reach the main chorus at full volume: ‘Hark Now, Hear The Angels Sing…’ waiters have that look: dulled minds, christmas carol track loop playing in their dreams.

When I was a kid, I’d ask people about Jesus and didn’t ever get a satisfactory answer: ‘Jesus was the Son of God’. I accepted it, but didn’t understand. That’s how it was and maybe it’s why, in later life, I started to search for a real spiritual path. And eventually I became a Buddhist; all’s well that ends well. And it’s only recently I’ve been able to see links between the Jesus Teachings and Eastern religious experience (Advaita Vedanta) so that brings the Jesus story very much closer to me.

I open the laptop in the middle of: ‘… the cattle are lowing, the baby awakes…’, internet connection, Google, Wikipedia, I find Brahman/Atman and substitute the word ‘God’ for Brahman and Jesus for Atman then edit out all Advaita Vedānta references, now try that and see. “… away in a manger, no crib for a bed…” Flip through all kinds of pages then discover this very interesting paper about Neo-Vedantic Christology given by an Indian clergyman: Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz in 1994.

It’s a series of short contributions from members of the Ramakrishna Mission Order; including S. Radhakrishnan (President of India 1962-1967), and I find something here that is pretty critical but reflects the feeling about the Church I had in school days. And it’s reassuring to read about it now and know I was probably not alone in having the thoughts I did, back in those days:

 ‘Christianity considered the human person (Man), to be a sinner, a worm and that is why it could not understand the message of potential divinity implied in his (Jesus’) saying, ‘I and my father are one’. (Swami Vivekananda)

I’m reading about how Jesus’ pure religion of heart (was converted into) ‘Churchianity’. It goes on to talk about ‘renunciation’, interesting, I find I don’t feel comfortable with the word: ‘renunciation’ in this context, associations with guilt, Christian conditioning. In the Buddhist sense: ‘renunciation’ means joyfully giving things up, letting-go. That helped me leave these old associations behind. It goes on to say:

 ‘The West has distorted the religion of renunciation and realization of Jesus into a ‘shop-keeping religion’ of luxury and intolerant superstitious doctrines.’ [Swami Vivekananda]

That was in 1994, we’d say rampant consumerism today. And I see it all around me here in the shopping area, Jesus as purchasing initiative. Where did it all go wrong? When I was a child, nobody really studied Jesus’ Teachings, it was the domain of the clergy. The general public, believing it on a superficial level just muddled along and no questions were asked. And it occurs to me that the Christian clergy today, vicars and priests, those who are thinking about this realistically, must have uncomfortable feelings of guilt about this to assimilate from time to time?

‘… the universal message of Jesus which comprises the ideas of the indwelling divinity, of divine grace, universal ethics and spiritual realization was distorted by the Christian Church through fettering it in cast-iron dogmas of innate vileness of human nature, ‘the scape-goat’ and ‘the atonement’, physical resurrection and the second advent, earthly kingdom and the imminence of the Day of Judgment which are purely tribal in their scope.’ [Swami Ranganathananda]

Towards the end of the paper Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz reassures us: ‘Today, the lost universal message of Jesus can be regained with the help of Advaita Vedanta; the Christian dogmatic assertions no more need distort the meaning of the gospel.’

Interesting how the word ‘salvation’ has an odd heaviness about it – my Christian conditioning again. The dictionary says: Salvation: preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss. I think it’s about having Wisdom. If you have Wisdom you won’t fall into the deep hole. If you do fall in, Wisdom will get you out. Trust in that. Swami Abhedananda points out that, from the Church point of view:

‘Salvation is the redemption from sin through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the Son of God. But Jesus did not teach the idea of vicarious atonement; what he taught was ‘the kingdom of Heaven is within you’.

As I see it, Jesus is saying: Heaven is within you. Simple, and that’s all there is, we aspire towards that Truth. On the other hand, the Church is adding something extra, something manipulative about atonement. It’s easy to see it now and, I guess, it must have been something they just went along with in those days. Another thing is, you will notice I will put a strikethrough in the next piece of text, in ‘the kingdom’ so instead of: ‘the kingdom of Heaven” and we can just say “Heaven” instead. Here’s a very nice Advaita quote that I like a lot:

 ‘God is pure knowing itself. God is beyond everything that can be conceived or thought about. Words cannot describe it. God is beyond space and time. God is infinite Being, infinite Consciousness, and infinite Bliss.’

The Rev. Dr. K.P. Aleaz is saying the non-dual relation that Jesus had with God the Father is something all of us can have, ‘through the renunciation of the lower self.’ (giving up the illusion of ‘self’ emerging from the Five Khandas.) It means humans can become ‘God’-conscious. Each soul has this latent potential and ‘… the resources of God which were available to Jesus are open to everyone. Christ’s statement, “behold the kingdom of God is within you” refers to the divinity within the human person.’  The important word here is ‘divinity’, Jesus was teaching the subjective realization of human divinity and therefore subject/object unity: ‘… “I and my Father are one’, ‘God is within you’ and in declaring himself as the son of God (Jesus is) inviting others to be sons of God too….” (Bhawani Sankar Chowdhury)

The Advaita view is that the self of the human person (Atman) is ever united with the Supreme Self (Brahman); God always shines as our Inmost self and we can realize it here and now. Christians can understand this, Buddhists can too but Theravadins have a problem with the ‘anatta’ and ‘atman’ issue – but not insurmountable.

The Christmas carol tracks have moved on to ‘Sti-ill, the night, Holee the night, Shepherds watched their flocks by night…’ I get up to leave, laptop in carry-on bag and head for the Gate. It’s a 12 hour flight to Zurich, hopefully I’ll get some sleep; economy class, not much legroom. Let’s see, conditioned experience, same old thing. Cold and snow at the other end. Goodbye everyone in this restaurant and this place, blessings and, ‘jingle bells, jingle bells …’ follows me all the way until I don’t notice it, it’s gone, and I’m on the way to the Departure lounge. Original source: Rev. K. P. Aleaz Neo-Vedantic Christologies

The Second and Third Jhānas

The Second Jhāna

Subsiding of the Wobble

POSTCARD#470: As the first jhāna deepens, the wobble lessens and the bliss consolidates. One comes to a state where vicāra is still holding on to the bliss with the most subtle of grasping, but this is not enough to cause any instability in the bliss. The bliss doesn’t decrease as a result of vicāra nor does mindfulness seem to move away from the source. The bliss is so strong that vicāra cannot disturb it. Although vicāra is still active there is no longer any vitakka,  no movement of mind back to the source of the bliss. The wobble has gone. this is a jhāna state described in the suttas as without vitakka but with a small measure of vicāra. (MN 128,31; AN VIII,63). It is so close to the second  jhāna that it is usually included in that jhāna.

As the bliss strengthens into immutable stability, there is no purpose for vicāra to hold on anymore. At this point the mind becomes fully confident, enough to let go absolutely. With this final letting go, born of inner confidence in the stability of the bliss, vicāra disappears and one enters the second jhāna proper.

The first feature, then, of the second jhāna described in the suttas is avitakka and avicāra meaning “without vitakka and without vicāra.” In experience, this means that there is no more wobble in the mind. The second feature is ajjhattam sampasādanam meaning “internal confidence.” In experience, this describes the full confidence in the stability of the bliss which is the cause for vicāra to cease.

Perfect One-pointedness of Mind

The third and most recognizable feature of the second jhāna is cetaso ekodibhāvanam or perfect one-pointedness of mind. When there is no longer any wobble, then the mind is like an unwavering rock, more immovable than a mountain and harder than a diamond. Such perfection in unyielding stillness is incredible. The mind stays in the bliss without vibration. This is later recognized as the perfection of the quality called samādhi.

Samādhi is the faculty of attentive silence, and in the second jhāna this attention is sustained on the object without any movement  at all. There is not even the finest oscillation at all. One is fixed, frozen solid fixed with “super glue,” unable even to tremble. All stirrings of mind are gone. There is no greater stillness of mind than this. It is called perfect samādhi , and it remains as a feature not only of this second jhāna but of the higher jhānas as well.

The Bliss Born of Samādhi and the End of All Doing

It is this perfection of samādhi the gives the bliss of the second jhāna its unique taste. The burden that affected the first jhāna, the affliction of movement, has been abandoned, everything stands perfectly still, even the knower. Such absolute stillness transcends the mental pain born of the mind moving, and it reveals the great bliss fuelled by pure samādhi. In the suttas, the bliss of the second jhāna is called the pīti-sukkha born of samādhi (samadhija pīti-sukkha) (DN 9.11). Such bliss is even more pleasurable, hugely so, than the bliss resulting from transcending the world of the five senses. One could not have anticipated such bliss. It is of a totally separate order. After experiencing the second jhāna, having realized two rare “species” of bliss that are extreme, one ponders what other levels of bliss may lie ahead.

Another salient feature of the second jhāna is that all doing, has totally ceased, even the involuntary activity that caused the wobbling has completely vanished, the doer has died. Only when one has experience of the second jhāha can one fully appreciate what is meant by the term “doer” – just as a tadpole can fully appreciate what is meant by the tern “water” only when water disappears during the frog’s first experience on dry land. Not only is the doer gone, it seems as if this apparently essential part of one’s eternal identity has been deleted from experience, What was seemingly obvious turns out to be a mirage, a delusion. One penetrates the illusion of free will using the data from raw experience. The philosopher (Sarte) who proposed “to be is to do” could not have known the second jhāna, where “being” is without any “doing.” These jhānas are weird, and they defy normal experience. But they are real, more real than the world.

Summary of the Second Jhāna

Thus the second jhāna is distinguished by another four collections of factors:

1 + 2. Avitakka-avicāra, ajjhattam sampasadanam:  experienced as the subsiding of the “wobble” from the first jhāna due to internal confidence in the stability of the bliss;

3. Cetaso ekodibhāvam: perfect one-pointedness of mind due to full confidence in the bliss. This is usually experienced as rocklike stillness or the perfection of samādhi;

4. Samādija-pītisukha: being the focus of this jhāna, the supramundane bliss generated by the end of all movement of the mind;

5. The end of all doing: seen as the first time the “doer” has completely gone.

The Third Jhāna

As the stillness of the knower continues, the stillness of the known grows ever more profound. Remember that in jhāna what is known is the image of the mind, and the mind is the knower. First the knower becomes still, then the image, the known, gradually becomes still.

In the first two jhānas this image of the mind is recognizes as a bliss that up until now has been called pīti-sukkha. In the third jhāna, the image of the mind has gone to the next level of stillness, to a very different kind of bliss.

Pīti Has Vanished

Prior to the third jhāna, all bliss had something in common, although it differed in its taste due to the distinguishing causes. That something in common was the combination of pīti plus sukha. Because they were always together, as inseparable as Siamese twins, it was not only pointless, but even impossible to tell them apart. 

It is only after the experience of the third jhāna that one can know what sukha is, and by inference what pīti was. The pīti of the second jhāna seemed more euphoric than anything else. Yet it is now seen as the lesser part of the bliss. Sukha is the more refined part.

Great Mindfulness, Clear Knowing, and Equanimity

With all jhānas, the experiences are next to impossible to describe. The higher the jhāna, however, the more profound the experience and the more difficult it becomes to describe, These states and their language are remote from the world. At a stretch, one may say that the bliss of the third jhāna, the sukha, has a greater sense of ease, is quieter, and is more serene. In the suttas it is accompanied by the features of mindfulness (sati), clear knowing (sampajañña), and equanimity (upekkhā), although these are said in the Anupada Sutta (MN III) to be present in all jhānas. Perhaps these features are emphasized  as qualities of the third jhāna in order to point out that in this very deep jhāna, one is exceptionally mindful, very clear in the knowing, and so still that one looks on without moving which is the root meaning of equanimity (upekkhā).

The Same Rocklike Stillness and Absence of a Doer

The third jhāna retains the perfect samādhi, the rocklike stillness, the absence of a doer, and the inaccessibility from the world of the five sensesaIt is distinguished from the second jhāna by the nature of the bliss, which has soared up to another level and appears as another species of bliss altogether. So much so that the suttas quote the enlightened one’s description of the third jhāna as “abiding in bliss, mindful, just looking on” (DN 9,12).

Summary of the Third Jhāna

Thus the third jhāna has the following features:    

1. The bliss has separated, losing the coarse part that was pīti;

2. The bliss that remains, sukha, exhibits the qualities of great mindfulness, clear knowing, and the sense of just looking on;

3. The same absolute rocklike stillness, and absence of a doer, as in the second jhāna.

Continued next week: 13th May 2022

the mind state of contentment and wonder

POSTCARD#393: Bangkok: Last week I wrote about Contentment and Restlessness – there’s a lot to be said about contentment, in view of these last few days counting votes and sometimes the atmosphere heavy with suffering. This is how things are, it begins with impatience, and we start to get fired up in a negative, critical mind state. At any time, Trump slices into the moment with outrageous accusations, the latest in a litany of attacks. No rest for the mind, active thinking, the thinking ‘thing’ itself, sees the world in a bleak unforgiving way, and the word ’contentment’ doesn’t fit in the vocabulary of a restlessness mind, falling over itself in the search of something else to feel negative about, somewhere else to go.

Why is contentment so hard to find? It’s not about being in a state of contentment all the time, it’s about being content enough with the state of things as they are at this moment. A few deep in-breath/out-breaths will get me there and I start to create order in the small objects all around. I examine each part of my movements and slowly joyful awareness takes the place of the harsh interchange of the restless mind. Piece by piece I can start to step into the context of mindfulness in the world of contentment.

I’ve been watching the vote-counting on CNN from here in Bangkok and not familiar with the way they do things in this kind of news program. But it seems to me, if you want to have a restless mind, right now CNN is the place to be… suffering endures. (all the more reason to switch off the noise and find some ease from time to time). The counting of votes has been going on through the nights and into the days, while ongoing CNN discussions center on hypothetical projections that predict the winners before they finish counting the votes, and what the variables are that could change the state of play. It gives me a headache just to think about it! At any time the percentages of votes for each candidate could go spiraling up or spinning down. And that was the ‘roller-coaster’ ride we were on.

At the start, it was a huge disappointment for Democrats that the anticipated “big blue wave” never happened – hope went right out the window… with it went the prospects of black people, the unresolved pain of Black Lives Matter – they were hurting. All of us were, except the Republicans who were seeing a surge of popular vote, or so it seemed. Their numbers started to flood in, higher than ever before, and quite early into the counting, Trump announced he was the winner and the counting had to stop… even though there were hundreds of thousand of votes yet to be counted.

Typical Trump, I search in my mind for what the Buddha might say about this, with a focus on Doubt [Vicikicchā]. I can overcome doubt by ‘gathering clear instructions, and having a good map, in order to find the subtle landmarks’ in these hostile surroundings. There are so many detailed ancient writings on the mind in whatever state, I have to find something awesome that is easily understood on a vast scale:

“In his exposition of the contemplation of the state of mind, the Buddha mentions sixteen kinds of mental states to be noted: the mind with lust, the mind without lust, the mind with aversion, the mind without aversion, the mind with delusion, the mind without delusion, the cramped mind, the scattered mind, the developed mind, the undeveloped mind, the surpassable mind, the unsurpassable mind, the concentrated mind, the unconcentrated mind, the freed mind, the un-freed mind.

It is not identified with as “I” or “mine,” not taken as a self or as something belonging to a self. Whether it is a pure state of mind or a defiled state, a lofty state or a low one, there should be no elation or dejection, only a clear recognition of the state. The state is simply noted, then allowed to pass without clinging to the desired ones or resenting the undesired ones.” [Right Mindfulness, Satipatthana Sutta]

It helps of course if we can release the hold we have on Self for a moment. There’s no abiding self that does it all. The mind is not a lasting subject of thought, feeling, and volition, rather it is a sequence of momentary mental acts, each distinct and discrete, their connections with one another causal rather than substantial.

As the CNN broadcast was going on day after day, I was thrown into doubt many times, the sickness of being ensnared in the Trump trap with Trumpists calling out ‘voter fraud’. A scary time, we were propelled into a possible Biden Presidential success. Down the narrow end of the telescope, in sudden rush to the final countdown but we hadn’t arrived yet! Held in the inevitability of circumstances… surrounded by accusing Trumpists voices and their conspiracy theories.

Despite the hostility, I remained relatively unscathed. So good to have access to the mind state of contentment and wonder. I can breathe deeply and long. All these millions and hundreds of thousands of individual persons cast their votes, they’re counted and placed together in identifiable groups, and the vastness of it all without a Self.

Language is the metaphor, just in itself. Mysteriously incidental meanings arise of their own accord as if they’d been consciously created, contained by this form… it’s just like that. Everything made-to-measure, more or less exactly. We live in a bespoke world. Everything seemingly custom-built, social behaviour, language, there isn’t anything that’s not constructed.

Donald Trump is a noisy litigious being, capable of criminal acts. His threatening voice slices into my mind; Trumpist voices accuse us of hidden manipulating of the final countdown. At one point everything was hanging in the balance; it’s 2020 a double-double Georgia 49.4 and 49.4 waiting for the vote-counting lady to say which way it would go. Oh-no! I’m feeling sick again, an ache in the gut. Where is my contentment, the antidote to a restless mind? It’s within me, deep breathing ‘breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng. I left the broadcast with four states remaining, Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Arizona.  I see from this morning it looks good for Biden. The counting goes on and I am just so relieved we are in this world!


the dreamer

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#357: Bangkok: I’m writing about the headache that lives with me, sometimes gone and “gone is gone” I used to think. Then it comes back again, wearing a different suit of clothes, together with the crinkly acetate that contains the three capsules of forget-me-nots, and that’s how we get along. Similar to that flickering old fluorescent tube light that needs to be fixed. So I get the stepladder in place, go up three steps and unplug one end of the tube, pull out the other end and plug in the new one. Get down and switch on, and the new light is… quite heavenly.

So, it’s under this quite heavenly light, clear and bright, I revisit the flicker of illegible words scribbled in notebooks, review conversations and receive all that was said there, held, seen, nurtured and on and on until, the whole thing dissolves leaving no remainder. Of course that hasn’t happened yet, events are still unfolding. And next week (I don’t want to think about it) I go to the Pain Clinic to see the headache doc about a date for the next electrical pulsed needle into the scalp and the right occipital nerve – the intrusive ‘grab’ of electricity… GRAB and HOLD!

The present moment seems as if it is forever waiting in the transit lounge on the brink of becoming future time while engaged in contemplative pondering over the past. The present moment is always underway, and even if it feels like I have to hold it, tether it to the ground, and adhere myself to it in single-minded possessiveness, there’s no need because the present moment is inclusive of all of that too.

At the time, I was unaware of the implications of this however, falling into and out of hypothetical mind states, spinning across the ceiling in speculative conjectures; a runaway train, disaster movie showing the world as we know it, crashing through the restraints of how it should be, shown in slow motion; too heavy for the flimsy structure built to keep it in place… and I’m suddenly back in the present moment again.

We’re always only part the way through anything, anyhow and anyway at any time; here, there, or anywhere. Fresh new thoughts always somehow returning, stay for a while then displaced by the next moment of remembering… and the present moment is inclusive of that too.

And inclusive of that too, is death… who knows what happens after that, well, how could we reach that final ending and know what happens after that? Nobody ever came back from What Happens After That to say what it was like. All we can say is that this world will come to an end eventually.

The great ship, ‘Final Ending’ and all who sail in her begins to fall in on itself, as do great empires that have spanned the centuries, like castles made of sand, tumble to the sea eventually… then, in another kind of temporality, we see the Final Ending rises with the waves on to the surface again and everyone can go on where we left off. Consciousness shines like a new tube light, quite heavenly. It makes good sense to say that everything is subject to change, aniccan and in the end there is no ending.

We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. 
This is true for the entire universe.” [Aitareya Upanishad]

Note: This post is a rewrite of my other post, “In the end, there is no ending”.

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]


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]


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

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”]



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]


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]

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


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.


‘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