energy, the fifth perfection 3

POSTCARD#410: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – described in Buddhist commentaries as noble character qualities generally associated with Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings.

The more you can value and live the path of clear thought, speech and action, the more you escape from worldly value judgments. The more you value and energize qualities of compassion and kindness, the more peace the pāramī will bring. Do we act with generosity or not? Do we care for other people? We can energize these qualities by putting attention into them, bringing them to mind in recollection and dwelling on them. Again: what we attend to, we energize; what is energized, governs our world.

Directing Energy to the Knowing

A traditional way of getting in touch with good energy is pūja, the act of honouring. Establish a shrine, image or devotional object, make offerings to it, and chant or bring forth your heart in faith. The image is there to generate a sense of offering, faith, trust, confidence and giving of yourself. Pūjā is done with the most genuine sense of trust, love and appreciation for what the image represents – the pure, the compassionate, the joyful, the wise.

The energy of doing things – the energy of arousing and gladdening oneself on the one hand, and disciplining, restraining and investigating on the other is aimed at emotional stability and fullness of heart. Apply mindfulness to the process of how you are aware. How much of knowing is additional interpretations and assumptions? Can there be a release from those?

For example, I recently had a cold; there was the feeling that my head was under pressure, with strong sensations around the brain and the eyes. The mind busy with: ‘How can I fix it? When is it going to go away? How can I get somewhere where the pain isn’t happening? Why does it have to be here?’ Then the thought arose: ‘Why do you bring the pain here? Why not leave the unpleasant sensation there? Then you can say the pain is ‘over there’, while all the mental responses, the knowing of the discomfort is ‘here’.

By being fully present and mindfully aware of unpleasantness, we can start to get a sense of it being over there and leaving it there. Then we have an area within which to abide peacefully, neither blocking nor making a big thing of a feeling. If we always attach to feeling as ‘here’, as ‘mine’ and ‘what I am’, then all our energy is used up in an activity that is pointless.

One learns to practise with the physical discomforts first, then it is easier to avoid getting caught in the mind stuff. It’s possible to step back from the thoughts, and find balance by being aware of them. And over time, you can do the same with your programs of habit. Awareness is the key, and as you touch into and say ‘yes’ to that awareness, it will bring you into balance with no further effort. The more you attend to this knowing, the more energy goes towards that knowing – away from mental patterns, physical sensation, mental feeling or emotion, and into a steady awareness of them.

Sometimes practice is about just holding a place, a point in your body, or a point in your mind, and not taking it any further than that. Just hold it carefully with dispassion so the body is held in awareness energy, and the mind settles into it. There is a healing faculty to energy that occurs when you stop ‘doing it’ and instead allow the energy to accumulate and enrich you.

This is the province of samādhi, concentration, or unification, which is a state of stable energy, wherein the body, heart and intellectual energies merge and are at rest. It has the energy of an enjoyment that isn’t based on the senses or the intellect, and it allows a resting in awareness.

Energy as a Factor of Awakening

If you are physically not very strong, you make your boundary fit that condition. Say ‘yes’ to fewer physical activities and ‘no’ to many more. Similarly, if you are not feeling emotionally robust, form a boundary for your aspirations that enables you to stay focused and mindful with ample energy.

It’s destructive to think, ‘I’m not as good as’ or ‘I’m better than,’ because if you do that, your mind doesn’t stay on its own ground but starts to pick and compare, to fault-find and to slight yourself or others. Instead, realize the

potential to end suffering! If your lifestyle can fit a set of aspirations, then say ‘yes’ to them and the boundary they represent, and give them all your energy!

In conclusion, there is an energy associated with establishing, with doing and with being, which leads towards attachment to a self-image and the burden that image represents. However we can arouse and nurture an energy beyond any image if we open up into the silence of the mind. In this place we are not monks or nuns, men or women, there is only a beautiful stable energy that supports letting go of burdens. This is why energy is one of the primary factors of Awakening.


 

energy, the fifth perfection (2)

POSTCARD#409: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – perfections of character necessary to achieve enlightenment – based on careful analyses of the smallest details of conscious experience.

We bring mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the energy we put into following up on that interest. Wherever your attention gets established then that’s where your energy goes. And that energy and focus becomes your world. Whatever your central interests are, your heart takes on the concerns, values and energy that go along with that.

With mindfulness we can zoom in on what’s driving us. Then we can get a more tuned in understanding of ourselves than through the opinions of other people, or our own fault-finding attitudes. Does your energy come from interest and aspiration, from willingness of heart? Or is it caught up with trying to climb the wrong mountain?

We have to examine any unquestioned assumptions, bringing mindfulness to bear on the idea or impression that arouses our interest, and on the intentions and actions with which we follow up that interest. We can never arrive at the imagined perception, but we always experience the results of our intentions.  Therefore, examine, clarify and stay in touch with your intentions – not the imagined goals.

In the process of staying in touch with intentions, the thinking mind, with its obsessive energy, isn’t the problem. It’s what lies underneath thought that requires attention; the energy of mental perceptions and images of self. Look for the dominant emotional theme of thought – excitement, worry or doubt, and focus on that. Listen carefully to what comes up. Bring mindfulness and full awareness to bear and stay with the emotional theme. Where the energy of applying this action meets the energy of the emotion; here we find we are not struggling any more to focus our attention on it because something has clicked. Our awareness comes out of it by being bigger than the program1.

We tend to judge ourselves based on how others relate to us. Often this is because the boundaries we have placed around what we want and don’t want to pursue haven’t been developed with mindfulness. We’ve more or less gone along with assumptions rather than checking things out and consciously deciding yes or no. Those assumptions and the consequences of our actions then govern the mind and form who we are.

If we don’t have clarity over these impressions a lot of our actions take us to the wrong place. If you find it’s taking you to suffering and stress, investigate. If it has a true basis, then see what you need to develop or put aside. Maybe a sense of personal value has been challenged, and we keep looking to others to tell us that we’re OK. And, even though they say we are OK, if the boundary is damaged we still don’t know it deeply for ourselves. With that loss of deep knowing, the program rules and it will absorb all the energy you can give it. Your sense of your own worth, of who you are, has been established on the basis of an incoherent supposition. What’s needed is mindfulness based insight into what makes us tick.

When you want to determine where you want to apply energy, establish the ‘yes’ boundary around that which you truly want to pursue with aspiration. Clean out any pride or egotism and maintain it with investigation and recollection. The most far-reaching results come when we back up our aspirations and actions with mindful investigation. Offering service in a selfless way gives rise to confidence in oneself, once we know this, we don’t lose it; we have it as a refuge.

The initial element in this process is faith. Faith is the intuitive sense that there is meaning in our world, there are aims and energies that are worthwhile. There is willingness (chanda), you give of yourself freely and not because of what somebody else wants, says or does. There is beauty in the mind. Aspiration, the healthy willingness to do, ‘beautiful in the beginning.’ At that moment, you are not thinking, ‘What do other people think? Will I succeed? Am I capable of it?’ Make a leap of faith based on intentions, rather than perceptions of self and other. Give a ‘yes’ to the faith and a ‘no’ to the wavering speculation.

Note the difference between faith and belief. With faith, the energy is an opening of the heart. With belief, energy closes the mind by locking it onto an idea or theory. When you place faith in someone or something, it means you’ll take what they say seriously and give them clear attention. The Buddha emphasizes such faith has to be backed up by investigating the truth, and working with confidence through to realization.

programs1 : proliferating tendencies (anusaya) that are embedded in the mind’s awareness.

Image: A relief depicting Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva in Plaosan temple, 9th century Central Java, Indonesia

(continued 5 March 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection

Excerpts from: Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto

POSTCARD#408: Bangkok: Energy (viriya) is an unseen force usually, I notice it in the heat of the city, the density and flow of traffic. For a very long time I was unaware of energy in the body – only the lack of it. Other times I’d accumulate energy until I was bursting at the seams and embark on a great number of projects which I was never able to complete. I later learned from the Teachings, the wisdom of bringing energy (or energies) into balance in the body and taking the time to begin to be aware of how this works.

The mind is drawn to attraction, aversion or confusion… things I like, things I dislike, and everything in between that I don’t understand. These forces capture energy and overwhelm the mind. I find I’m totally engrossed with something that ends up being just not worth it – a kind of driven thing.

Mindfulness is able to direct energy to where we want to be (and to get away from where we don’t want to be). Energy is the wisely applied resource that resists the push of habits (sankhāra). Some of these psychological habits build up into programs – such as perfectionism, dependence on others, obsessive self-criticism and addictions.

When a program wells up, it floods attention, and our intentions tend to follow the push of the flood. These programs cripple our actions and well-being. In theory, being aware of the situation should lift us out of its grasp. But it often doesn’t because there is a block that stops awareness penetrating the programs. We even defend them: to the workaholic, their efforts are necessary to keep things going; to the alcoholic, liquor becomes a way of finding a fit in the world. These programs offer the security of an identity through a set of habits that kick in by default.

So, when the wave of insecurity or loneliness or passion hits awareness, it doesn’t face the risk and the discomfort of challenging the self-view and the world view that these programs present for us. Instead, awareness jumps on board. the reflex habit, with denial, distraction, blame, etc.

Energy is needed to resist that flood and direct awareness to firm ground. It’s about sustaining wise endeavor. Its chief function is to keep awareness alert at the places where we are likely to drift into automatic. Then the steady vitality of energy can replace the ‘drive and crash’ programs of habit.

We can use energy to investigate the nature of doubt, and suffering in general. Use  energy to enquire into ourselves with investigation and perseverance in order that we can put aside the causes that trigger harmful programs. This is how energy, applied to calm and insight, can free the mind from stress and suffering. Consider what channels our energy towards that which is supportive and nourishing. The most obvious area that we should consider is our ethical standards, what leads to harmful results and should be left aside. This reflection aims for a boundary between intentions and action. Then we can check before we cross that boundary.

We can bear in mind the reflection: ‘Is this for my welfare, the welfare of others, and does it lead out of suffering and towards peace?’ If the answer is: ‘No, this is doing me no good.’ Then there is a definite ‘no’ to that boundary. Make it firm, give it some energy, and it will look after you.

Practise some restraint. The mind works better if you don’t load it with unnecessary things to look at, buy, have or worry about. The mind can get swamped by useless input if we don’t establish that boundary. It can take a lot of careful and repeated ‘no’s,’ as well as the back-up of alternative ways to channel energy; actions of generosity, kindness. Remember too calming meditation to bring healing to the heart that’s been abused by any harmful pursuits.

On the other hand there has to be a ‘yes.’ For example: ‘I’ve made a commitment; I’m going to see this through.’ Establish that with care and give it some energy. And even if you fail from time to time, look into how the boundaries caved in or where they were too tight. Don’t say ‘yes’ to too many things. Establish a boundary around intellectual activity, because it can become a vast dimension that floods the mind with restless energy.

So, we can say energy has a fourfold application: first, to put aside what you feel is unhelpful, and secondly to keep guarding the mind against such unskilful influences; thirdly to establish what you sense is good, and lastly to support and encourage those skilful influences. And it requires wise discernment, advice from experienced people and trial and error to know what’s appropriate in a given situation.


(Continued 26 Feb 2021)

meditation with mindfulness

POSTCARD#407: Bangkok: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than thirty years – married to Jiab, a Thai Buddhist for that same length of time. Jiab, like most Thais, is a Theravādin Buddhist, she is active both in the English language and Thai meditation groups in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. We went to an International Buddhist temple in the North East, Wat Pah Nanachat, 1987 and there I met the monks who changed my life.

Years went by, We became part of the Kalyanamitra in Switzerland, I became part of the editorial team in publishing books on the Buddha’s Teachings, while looking at the whole thing with deepening understanding, and all of it evolving over and over.

Five years ago the headache arrived, I lost the starting point in meditation, then found it again somewhere else. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority in my life any more; the visits to the Neurologists, the meds to treat the pain, and coping with the side effects. This changed everything. I lost the sure-footedness I had acquired over the years. At the beginning of the headache days there was only the pain, the urgency and the medicine ‘blur’ overload. Things fell apart so often, I’d be picking up the pieces and realise I had forgotten completely the simplest of things.

Thus I seem to have lost so much in these crises, and the confusion in recovery then starting over, but I’m sure of one thing; if I hadn’t had the headache condition, I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am to look for the way out of suffering (Dhukka, the first Noble Truth), and begin to uncover the mystery – I am still looking.

Things are more stable now, I’ve learned how to balance the meds with the headache. I go on (more slowly) with the study of Theravada meditation – I  never looked into Mahayana, and now there’s not enough lifetime left! It’s a pity because in recent years I discovered Advaita and Non-duality… a sense of the ancient.

I can sit on the cushion, with or without headache or meds and focus as best I can, on an object in the mind… see where that gets me (samatha). Or I can focus on the in-breath and out-breath (vipassanā) or a combination of both. You might have the impression that I know a lot about meditation but I’m just an ordinary practitioner of meditation with mindfulness – following the three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).

I depend on the wisdom of Buddhist monks such as Ajahn Sucitto for guidance, inspiration, insight and these moments of understanding. Here are some excerpts from “Parami – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”. The section on Wisdom: Innate Clarity, Pannā Pāramī the Fourth Parami, beginning page 73.

“You might find it helpful to begin your meditation period by reflecting on the following four themes: goodwill; mortality; the good that you have done or that has been done to you; and the example of the Buddha or your immediate spiritual teacher. These will help to bring your mind into a balance of head and heart. As that effect is felt, select a meditation topic that your mind is now willing to be guided by.”

The following sections are on page 77

Wisdom Needs Meditation

“Meditation in the Buddhist sense means the cultivation of calm and insight (samatha-vipassanā), and the development of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samādhi) to bring those about. Mindfulness is the faculty that bears a feeling, idea, process or sensation in mind…”

It helps me to understand Ajahn’s words when I can identify and focus on a few words – possible discussion points if there are any kind readers out there who’d like to comment (or help me with a better understanding). Please get in touch.

I understand samatha as tranquility meditation, meditating on an object, with the intention to reach those calm states. What we are looking at here is the combination of samatha (calm focus on one thing) and vipassana (insight) observing thoughts without attachment as they come and go. Also the clarity of Mindfulness (sati)… an inner watchfulness, on-the-spot awareness of the functioning of the mind, and interaction with the sensory world.

Samatha and Vipassana as well as Sati means there is the momentum to bring about samadhi, the pleasing calm mind state leaning towards Wisdom.

“Sustained, (mindfulness) counteracts scattered attention and impulsiveness. Concentration is the deepening into the steadiness that mindfulness brings, a deepening that becomes pleasurable. These two support calm. And when the mind is calm we can look into it and bring wisdom to bear on the roots of mental action. This penetrative inward looking, or insight, is needed because it’s often the case that we don’t really know or aren’t clear about the causes, motivations and effects of what we’re doing. The basis of action gets buried beneath the sheer quantity of action our minds get involved with.”

[The following section is on page 89] “Notice that when you acknowledge and focus on your thoughts and emotions, the mind enters the experience of being aware of them rather than being them. Notice that a blend of clear attention and emotional spaciousness supports this kind of awareness; and that the results of it are that one is calmer and wiser with regard to the mind.”

(Continued 19 Feb 2021)


Image link

the word ‘nothing’

POSTCARD#406: Bangkok: Eyes looking out for anyone I know in a world full of face-masks. This displaced familiarity… we’re all strangers here but it seems like we’re friends. We’re all together in our locked-in state, thinking in quiet colors, blues and shades of gray. I’m seeing it in slow motion today due to my old friend, the pain in the head – triggered by wearing a mask too small for me – the elastic bands around the ears pulled tight, squeezing on the nerve.

Awareness of the headache as it peaks and breaks through like a Chinese Firecracker, the holding-on becomes the letting-go; hold-on, let-go, hold-on, let-go…

Suddenly mindfulness facilitates the disappearance of ‘self’… there’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening. There’s no ‘self’ suffering from head pain, there is only pain… detached, seen as a quivering of the air held for a moment then gone.

There is no You, no I. No He, She, or It. See the third person singular, sitting there, an object in objective reality. No worries, no We, You, They. Personification and the lack of it, is a shared thing. It happens to all of us.

There is no permanent unyielding ‘self’ in a kind of mind-made algorithm that gets it to make sense and the knowing of it too. Self is a construct, language is a construct, everything is advisedly devised, contrived, improvised – perfect disguise. Cross my heart and hope to die: “this is who I am!”

The gypsy glancing glass-eyed gaze, searching through a sea of face masks for that sudden déjà vu, a hidden identity revealed: the prodigal son re-found, taken home embraced by long large arms of an extended family, comforting and warm.

Words strain and stretch to carry meaning. No sudden movement, no end, no beginning, leave everything in the continuous form of the present moment. No past and no future except for the placing of things in the right order.

Finding my way through a lifetime of sensory input remains the indefatigable task. Living with and looking after the mind/body organism and the world that is part of it; all this continues, quietly and with care – becoming an ongoing open-ended, analysis of the observed world and the observer of it, together as a oneness. Everything is integrated, nothing exists outside of this – really nothing, not even the word ‘nothing’.

“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]


Note: Not able to concentrate enough this week to publish the latest installment of the Ten Paramis. Look out, it’ll be there ASAP.

the ten parami

POSTCARD#405: Bangkok: Peace. It is necessary to give some thought to what peace feels like in these times of vengeful obstructionism, and a Presidential Election where the loser goes into denial and does some crazy things. Leave these thoughts behind and consider the ten perfections. We started this last week, this is part two in a series.

Generosity (dana) is the first of the ten parami, or qualities of character, that we practice as followers of the Buddha. This kind of generosity is much more than offering gifts at Christmas and birthdays. The Buddha’s encouragement is to develop generosity on a daily basis. There are all kinds of Generosity – a small favor, a kind thought, a meal, or funds to help sustain a meditation teacher. Generosity lifts the mind out of its isolation and establishes goodwill.

We are not just an isolated point that is only relevant for the moment. We are in a field of present awareness that absorbs and carries the consequences of what we’ve done in our life or had happen to us. Giving a friendly gesture or a helping hand, offering service, or giving attention are offerings that may in some situations be more important than giving material things. It’s the act of  letting-go, giving it all away, relinquishment.

Virtue (sila) is the second of the ten parami. With Virtue, the fundamental principle is: I don’t do to you what I wouldn’t want you to do to me. I don’t steal things and I don’t lie to you, because I know I wouldn’t want those things to happen to me. Sīla also involves wisdom. Its ethical sensitivity asks us to consider more carefully what is harmful, and to exercise discrimination. Is it better to steal an advantage over someone else, or to live with a mind that is free from manipulativeness and mistrust?

The third Parami, Renunciation we discussed last week but an important feature of it is craving (Taṇhā). Craving is the enemy of Renunciation. Craving is about something we don’t have. We can’t crave something we have, so the fact of not having it sets up a target for unresolved passion. Therefore it isn’t the object (food, drink) that starts up craving, it’s the sense of ‘not having.’ There’s nothing wrong with sight and sound, taste, smell, touch and the sensory world; it’s the fantasy that craving makes of them.

Knowing the flood of sensuality for what it is, takes the whole thing to pieces. Quietening the craving is not just about removing sense objects, but investigating the mind and resolving passion. In its ‘not having’ state the mind can conceive of many desirables, and of course, the great powers of the consumer industry are very aware of how susceptible the mind is to impressions of comfort, excitement, attractiveness, being popular and all the rest of the things that buying an ice cream, a gadget or an item of clothing promises you. So to go through a shopping mall bearing in mind what you really need is a very relevant practice of renunciation!

Wisdom, paññā, the fourth Parami is a discriminative faculty that operates through discernment or clarity, rather than a learned store of knowledge. ‘wisdom is the faculty that makes distinctions — between pain and pleasure, safe and threatening, black and white. For the lower forms of animal life, this faculty is programmed solely around sense contact. For humans the possible development of wisdom is to be clear about the mind. Wherever there is consciousness there is wisdom, but for humans the job is for ‘wisdom to be developed, and consciousness is to be fully understood’’ (M. 43.6).

The human mind is a mixed blessing. We can witness our instincts and responses and discern what is good/appropriate/skillful from its opposite; but we can also get so lost in the viewpoints that we’ve adopted to measure our responses, that we get confused and stressed. Thus we are thrown around by what we think we should be and what we fear we might be, as well as the ways we wish other people would be, and so we lose the balance of clarity. So it is imperative to develop the wisdom faculty in the right way. This entails balancing the need for ideas, aims and procedures with the understanding of how all this mental stuff affects us.

Without balance we get top-heavy and contrived. So it’s essential to develop the wisdom that oversees mind consciousness with its dogmatic biases, its compassion and depression. This transcending wisdom, or deep clarity, is the perfection that accompanies every other pāramī and is brought to full development, use and effect by them.  (to be continued)

Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto


 

surviving the lockdown

POSTCARD#403: Bangkok: Young people are among those most socially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the most prepared to cope with the quick shift towards virtual environments that the pandemic triggered. Our 16 year-old niece M is one of those surviving the lockdown. She was fortunate to find some good friends towards the end of her time at school and now classes are online they are able to help each other by way of their own networks. There’s also a quality that M and her friends seem to have; it’s the ability to improvise and to confront the  problem, find solutions and move on.

She was always like that, even as a child; there was the direct flow of intention to get something done that needed to be done. Then on to the next thing. I’m looking through some old posts and see this characteristic everywhere.

APRIL 25, 2014 : Going home in a tuk-tuk with M aged 9, sitting beside me, small body-mass pressed against my side. The urgency of speed, kinda scary, canvas roof, no walls and immense sound of 2-stroke engine fills our space. Impossible to hear properly what she’s saying, M indicates that she wants to borrow my phone. I pull it out of my pocket, thinking, is it okay to play with a slippery glass-like instrument like this in a speeding tuk-tuk? 

I press it into her small hands. Hot, prehensile fingers grab, grasp and clasp the phone. Go to settings, clear away unwanted windows with the swipe of a tiny finger and launch multiplayer Minecraft. So fast! I’m surprised she’s managing to get Internet, 3G signal reaching us here in a tuk-tuk racing through the streets of Chiang Mai.

My arm is placed around the slight presence of M, taking up such a small amount of the space on the seat, legs don’t reach the floor. In the little window of the phone in her hands Minecraft’s digitally created landscapes of mountains and seascapes appear. She’s now in player-hosted servers with visiting players from all countries in the world.

“How do you say this Toong-Ting?” She spells out: G-A-V-I-N. I tell her it’s a boy’s name, ‘Gavin’, probably English. I see name labels moving around the landscapes, Japanese and Italian names; Spanish, German, Norwegian – players I assume are about the same age as M? I see boy’s names and girl’s names, all here at this very moment – and, where is ‘here’? Good question: now here and nowhere, depends on the context… space and time are not separate – this is (always) where we are at.

“Remember this number Toong-Ting: 19122,” she says. I consciously remember the number, repeating it to myself… In a moment she asks me what the number was. I tell her, 19122 and ask what it was for? She doesn’t answer… I realize later she must be creating a new ID or registering a username. Sad really, there’s not the dialogue there used to be, ‘I’ am held in a suspended state, waiting for the next question.

“What’s this mean, Toong-Ting?” M spells out: B-R-O-S and I tell her it’s short for brothers. It must be a boy, he’s African American probably. She doesn’t ask me anything else so I think she knew the word ’bro’ already. Obviously interested in this and next thing she’s in with the BROS, their mountains and volcanic lava, burning fires.

Then there’s a little wail – she gets disconnected. It feels to me like a catastrophe, but for M it’s not a problem, she changes to a different player-hosted server with new players – or maybe some of them are they same ones who just got here from the same sites we were all in earlier.

In a sense M is directing everything, I simply facilitate. Maybe because I was always looking for communicative indications in English when she would dialogue with me as an infant. There’s a wonderful book ‘Words For A Deaf Daughter’ by Paul West, that’s become the idea behind writing these posts about M. The author writes the book for his daughter who is deaf and has no understanding of language, but the author is aware of innate language skills and knows that when she becomes an adult she will be able to read and understand all the feelings he had for her as a child that couldn’t be expressed at that time…

“As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.”
[Ovid, Metamorphoses]


 

the unbroken whole

POSTCARD#402: Bangkok: I see the world by way of a built-in filter process which selects the sensory data that’s compatible with my operating system. Everything I receive from the ‘outside’ world fits with the default state of mind. The problem is the operating system is set to delete anything that doesn’t agree with the world I have come to know, and I lose things of value every day. There is only this ever-present stream of mental chatter that fills up every empty space and vacant place. Every day I say I need to fix these glitches, in the meantime, make do with things as they are.

How I perceive the world is dependent on causes and conditions arriving here in present time as soon as the inclination, intention or volition arises. I can’t be separate from my kamma, according to preferences and likes/dislikes… it’s part of the software. I think I’m an independent being unaffected by anything or not affecting or influencing anything else. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see that all this is being monitored and directed by the ongoing needs and requirements of an entity; a ‘self’ that has no inherent solidity or existence of its own. I’m dismayed, of course, when it all gets swept away in randomness and returns later, subject to the kamma outcome (vipaka) from some other time.

The outer world just rolls along, as it does, in all its diversity, and wholly neutral. Whether there’s a belief in this or that, makes no difference; it’ll only always, ever be, just how it seems. The devastating emptiness of it all means the population is driven to go out, get and do. Attain and protect and defend – it can be a battlefield. To avoid and deny, to have fear and anxiety and be controlled by authority and feel threatened with the flimsy nature of existence, although the absolute timelessness of the world (anicca), is the beauty of it.

I’m aware the population are not able to see it like that; holding on to beliefs, clutching at straws, and quite unaware that they are maintained in this unknowingness of the world like penned animals are by the farmer, well intentioned though he may be, in order to cultivate a special kind of hunger, clinging and craving (upadana tanha) for consumer goods – the economy depends on this. The greater the craving, the faster the turnover of stock and the Western style of God together with governments and the corporations are simply involved in farming the population.

Workers structure their lives around employment and this fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism. They can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

‘There is a path to walk on, walking is being done but there is no traveller. There are deeds but there is no doer. There is no self. The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole]


Photo: A dramatic explosion is caught on camera outside of the Capitol building amid pro-Trump riots / REUTERS

2021 looking forward

POSTCARD#401: Bangkok: Happy New Year to all blogging friends everywhere in the world! The year 2021 has potential for being a much better year than 2020. Hopefully by this time next year Covid infections in the world will have peaked and the vaccines are successful in creating optimum herd immunity… hopefully.

Christmas day was an ordinary day for us, no reason for Santa to fly in on his reindeer sleigh, because Thailand is a Buddhist country. People go to work, schools are open, it’s a day like any other day. Except that our 16 year-old Thai niece we call M, had her hair colour changed to a subtle shade of white-blond and wore a red dress to attend her SAT class in central Bangkok.

Otherwise we had a quiet time contemplating these ‘tidings of comfort and joy,’ without all the ho-ho-ho! Happy to have M, she of the white-blonde hair, who comes from Chiang Mai but now with us in Bangkok since July. Not able to go back to her home for visits because of Covid. She is here to improve on her GED and SAT scores. Also looking carefully at University entrance requirements.

It has been a fairly peaceful year for us, mostly in lockdown, unlike the frequent-flying thing that was going on before Covid. I’d be travelling between Delhi and Chiang Mai to visit M so that she’d not forget me! I remember when she was 12, on a particular day that I recall clearly, M runs out the door to spend the day with her friends, then comes back quickly and over to where I’m sitting: Toong Ting? I am going now. Bye-bye! And she runs out again. I sit there for a while being Toong Ting, her pet name for me, part of her baby talk that remains because it’s thought to be cute when applied in a grandfatherly way.

Then I went away to Delhi and came back again, the same year, and she was definitely taller; longer and elongating like a plant in the darkness searching for the light, sprawled on the back seat of the car in an adolescent bundle of legs and arms, wearing a diver’s watch, colorful T-shirt. Long black hair that forms a curtain revealing a small oriental face sometimes seen when adjusting the thread of earphones cable then disappears again – sorry, she’s not available at the moment, plugged into two phones, watching youtube videos while checking for messages at the same time… our questions addressed to her remain unanswered.

She is still quietly being her own self but surprisingly communicative at times – becoming a person. The whole thing dependent on the time needed to grow, of course. When we are in the Nontaburi house, she sleeps until noon then phones a food delivery from her room and appears downstairs to get it from the motorbike guy, goes back to her room to eat it there… some of us might think this is a bit, well, antisocial? But here in Thailand, nobody gets upset… it’s the Buddhist way, if you’re a kid?

M seems to be happy, at ease and does everything she’s good at, really well; her school work, socializing with new friends and not coming home too late, passing exams with good scores… all of it is done properly, commendable and very suitable for a teenage daughter/niece.

Jiab is noticeably engaged in taking care of M and goes to great lengths to accommodate her needs, cooks the food, does the laundry, drives her to school or, when we are in the apartment downtown, to the BTS station (Bangkok Transport System). It’s an elevated rail track over the streets and rooftops, called the Skytrain and her stop: Phaya Thai Station is only 5 minutes from Ari Station, where we are – get off at the third stop.

That location is linked to the airport route and near the popular shopping center of Bangkok where it’s all young people, and being looked at is the primary concern, while looking at others who look nice, can be a discussion point. M does stand out in the crowd, of course, with her hair colour when almost everyone else has Asian black hair She is extraordinary in that regard, has a pretty face like a child and is slim. Always in good-looking clothes, and so on, also politically aware, asks intelligent questions, remembers things and reminds me about the names of things when I forget.

So we have been very fortunate having M with us, and I’m going to write some more about her soon.

2021 Looking forward.


Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet, smaller even than the kernel of a grain of millet is the Self. This is the Self-dwelling in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than all the worlds. [Chandogya Upanishad 14.3, 8th-10th century BCE]

the foreseeable future

POSTCARD#400: Bangkok: I carry my present time with me, through the shadows of the immediate past and into the near future. Before this and after that. There and then in future time becomes the here-and-now in the present, then in past time it falls away into a kind of death. The word mindfulness as we know it today, wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in my young days, only listening to the words of adults, paying attention to what was wise, thus being careful not to misjudge the dynamics of a situation, losing my footing, and I’m in pain and injury.

Like fumbling the ball, the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and I’m brought to earth  by way of an accompanying collision subsequently in hospital with two broken ribs. I’ve been there, done that, and ready for further attempts by gravity to bring me down… the next could be my grave. In the meantime, as long as there is mindfulness sufficient to see the dangers of a careless and irresponsible way of life – as long as that level of mindfulness is present, it’s enough to be going on with.

25 December 2020, Unavoidably drawn by the crowds going to the Malls in search of something thought to be deservedly earned because we’ve been having such a hard time trying to obtain it. Besides, it’s Christmas. I see lights, hear applause and a band playing, drum-roll ‘rrrrrrrrr boom!’ cymbals ‘crash!’ Welcome all from near and far, situated in a wonderland or trapped in that predicament… regardless, whatever, we are propelled further along the path to where there is no exit. Choices are subject to skillful marketing research options, sales strategies, my innate ability to find the Path obscured in clouds of delusion, for now it’s gone off somewhere. Accordingly drawn like a magnet into the depths of this wonderful place and disinclined to get out of here. The whole thing cannot be anything other than what it is – we have to buy our way out.

The ‘me’ I live with is not an unyielding entity. I can ‘think it’ into this present time, and encourage and cherish its presence by clicking on the ‘unlock’ button to allow marketing options, gently nudging at the elbow. Other times it goes out of control an unsatiated demanding thing, as in Formula One Live Grand Prix Event; voracious hunger driven to catch, clutch, hold, eat. Fearsome, like a death unforeseen, unfinished, lonely… a sadness seeking completeness, searching for closure in this way and finding there is an antidote. It is loving-kindness (metta) for the unloved, a special kind of meditation. Click here for the full text.

It’s not difficult to practice loving kindness for the unloved here in Thailand because there are Temples all around us where Buddhist monks are sitting in quiet meditation very early in the morning, and in the evening. Thailand of course is a Buddhist country. Centuries of meditation, mindfulness and the quiet still mind of the lineage of monks has had an historical effect on the outer environment. This is still the Old World… or you could say simply that it’s just a gentle place, no extreme life-threatening conditions.

But there is another side to this – 25 December 2020: an unexpected outbreak of Covid 19, more than 1,000 people possibly infected in Samut Sakhon, a province adjacent to Bangkok on the Southwest side (Quite near to where we are). There is a large Myanmarese (Burmese) community in the fishing industry here. Undocumented migrant workers enter and leave Thailand, undetected by border-control-testing for Covid 19. They cross the border at night, going to Samut Sakhon for work, or returning to their families in Myanmar. Among them are those infected with Covid 19 who have come to Thailand to be treated in Thai hospitals because they cannot get access to treatment in their own country. There are also cases of Thai women in the entertainment business working in Myanmar and based in Thailand and going between the two countries on a regular basis.

It is a complex problem, likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. We are immediately concerned about the sudden proximity of the disease to where we are living. Another lock-down likely any day now.