9/11/2015: perception

September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02A Buddhist Reflection: Survivors describe how, after the debris and dust settled, there was only blue sky where the twin towers used to be. It was as if the awful devastation hadn’t occurred, mind turns away… natural reaction, a kind of sleight-of-hand,  conjuring trick – one thing becomes something else, what is seen and what it appears to be merge together. Human beings have a deep familiarity with the illusion – everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch is perceived. Consciousness of the world unfolds and thought rationalises how it appears to be. It’s this, it’s that, the illusion insists on being there until things hidden and obscured are revealed and we cannot return to the unknowingness of how it was before… ignorance is a kind of ignoring.

Form and formlessness; there are planes, explosions and buildings disappear. The video running continuously on YouTube for 14 years, I know the sequence in detail. I also know how the mind habitually joins up all the loose ends of awareness input, interpreting reality, perception is interpretation. Now you see it, now you don’t… a technology that can break up the molecular structure of concrete, turns buildings to dust – hoover it all up, remove melted steel remnants and everything is gone. I try not to think about it anymore; war and disaster, samsara of violence, distress, pain, fear and that underlying sense that something about this is not what it seems to be… learning to live with that uncertainty.

Mind is powered and driven by TV news – forgetting that it’s just a presentation, a performance in the studio. Hair-styling, cosmetics, the newsreader is an actor reading from a script. TV news is a created product based on an event manipulated to get it to fit into media format. TV news producers create a scenario of righteous anger, Sodom and Gomorrah retributional justice; it’s all ‘their’ fault, not our fault, blame and guilt… complicity. The tendency to contract into self, ‘I’ caused it to be ‘wrong’ – no, I don’t want to think about this anymore, don’t want to dwell on anything sinister…

People living in war-ravaged countries (such as Iraq for example) know that when a traumatic event takes place everything changes. After the disaster, our surroundings are seen in a different way; in the aftermath of this truly catastrophic circumstance we come to realise that the smoke was actually dust. What we believed in before this happened disintegrates, a basic truth now included in our worldview… nothing is permanent – history taking place before our eyes. Fourteen years after the experience, some ease can be found in simply knowing the ‘terrorists’ created a shockwave that unknowingly opened a window of awareness to world attention.

Dependent on the eye and forms, visual-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates. With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, perception and notions resulting from mental proliferation beset a man with respect to past, future, and present forms cognizble through the eye (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 111–112).

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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg#/media/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg
[See also earlier posts:
9/11 2014,
9/11 2013
9/11 2012]
Related source: ‘Working with Perception’ by Ajahn Sucitto

 

9/11/2014 “the big lie”

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A Buddhist Reflection: I’m trying to find a way to write this post to fit with how I’ve been writing it these last two years [2013 and 2012] and not get caught up in the greater catastrophe that 9/11 has become in the 13 years since it happened. It’s impossible to think about the event and not include the possibility that there’s more to this than meets the eye. The realization weighs heavily on us. The sadness and grieving now is that the big lie is here, situated amongst the ordinary things in our world; lives being lived, sleeping, eating, busy with work, women bearing children, raising families, birth and death.

‘… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.’ [Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X]

The big lie needs to be brought into the light where it can be seen clearly because the tendency is for things that look like they should be hidden to stay hidden. So many things hidden and nothing revealed in the official 9/11 investigation in 13 years, except that it’s been proved there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, Osama bin Laden was captured, killed and body thrown in the sea. The parallel ‘Truth’ investigation, however, continues to come up with more and more scientific evidence revealing the big lie. It’s this that has convinced me I need to know more about what really happened, painful though it may be. Yesterday I spent 5 hours looking at the video: September 11 – the new Pearl Harbour. It’s in three parts (link below) and if you watch it, you’ll come out the other end a different person.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DOnAn_PX6M

Whether the truth comes out or not, or to what extent, is not as important as dealing with the strong possibility of it being true. What effect does that have on me, how do I feel about it? The following is an excerpt from, ‘A Buddhist Reflection on the Tragedy of September 11’ by Ajahn Jayasaro, published in 2001:

“As Buddhists, we devote ourselves to learning how to maintain clarity of mind, fundamental compassion and intelligence, as a constant inner refuge. It is not so difficult to be clear about issues which don’t personally affect us, or those which provoke no strong feelings. The real challenge is to be awake even in the midst of a hurricane of emotions — when we are hurt and betrayed, angry and afraid. Clarity of mind means that when things get rough we can still receive the blessings of the principles we uphold. Inner clarity is thus the ground in which the dignity and meaning of life can grow.

An inner refuge does not come easily. It can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing commitment to this life education, a training of the way we live internally and externally. Buddhist teachings are seen then, in summary, not as dogmas to be believed in (or rejected), but tools to be made use of. We use the teachings to understand ourselves and our experiences in life, to understand other people and the world we live in. Then basing ourselves on that understanding, we seek to create as much authentic happiness and benefit for ourselves and others as we can.”

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Source for header image: Rob Clark/Institute – From my roof on 9-11

 

9/11: a buddhist reflection

680px-911_Tribute_(wiki)The root cause for such an inhuman act is a fundamental lack of wisdom and understanding of the human condition. All human beings are companions in birth, in old age, in sickness and in death. Buddhists may train themselves to cope with that type of situation through stillness, wisdom and reflection.

[Excerpt from A Buddhist Reflection on the Tragedy of September 11’  by Ajahn Jayasaro, 2001]

Buddhism considers the quest for a direct experiential understanding of the human condition as the heart of spiritual life. It employs a vast array of skillful means and ways of reflecting on life, which people of other religious traditions or indeed people of no religious tradition, might benefit. The more profound our understanding of our existence as human beings is, the more we are protected from blind identification with narrow categories, whether they be social, ethnic or religious. We all as human beings have the capacity to reflect on experience, to learn from it. Whatever religion we profess, we can for instance, look at the effect on our mind of the strong attachment to ideas of us and them. Theists, atheists, polytheists are equally capable of observing how the idea of us and them affects how and what information we absorb from our surroundings, how we interpret that information, and how we express ourselves in our actions and words. We can begin to notice our tendency to believe in the labels we attach to things, and what strong negative emotions are conditioned by those beliefs.

As Buddhists, we devote ourselves to learning how to maintain clarity of mind, fundamental compassion and intelligence, as a constant inner refuge. It is not so difficult to be clear about issues which don’t personally affect us, or those which provoke no strong feelings. The real challenge is to be awake even in the midst of a hurricane of emotions — when we are hurt and betrayed, angry and afraid. Clarity of mind means that when things get rough we can still receive the blessings of the principles we uphold. Inner clarity is thus the ground in which the dignity and meaning of life can grow.

An inner refuge does not come easily. It can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing commitment to this life education, a training of the way we live internally and externally. Buddhist teachings are seen then, in summary, not as dogmas to be believed in (or rejected), but tools to be made use of. We use the teachings to understand ourselves and our experiences in life, to understand other people and the world we live in. Then basing ourselves on that understanding, we seek to create as much authentic happiness and benefit for ourselves and others as we can.

It is very easy to brand people who do terrible things as being evil, and perhaps almost as easy to assume that because we find evil acts repugnant, that therefore we are good. But when we look more closely, we see that our bogeymen, the so-called “evil people” sometimes act well and “good people” may, on occasion, act cruelly.

There is no fixed entity, “the evil person”, who is evil 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Similarly, (apart from fully enlightened beings), there is no unchangeably good person. That being the case, the most constructive response to the suffering that human beings inflict on each other is surely to seek to understand and affect the factors conditioning the arising and cessation of good and evil in the human mind.

Armed with this knowledge we may then look at ways of reducing the power of evil wherever it arises, no matter whether it be in the group of people that we consider as them, or within the group of people that we consider as us. At the same time, we must be constantly looking to develop and support those qualities – both within that group we consider them and that group we consider us – which are good, wise and compassionate. Our most pressing task though, because nobody else can do this for us, is to look within our own hearts. [For another excerpt from Ajahn Jayasaro’s talk, click on this link: 9/11 (2012)]

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9/11 (2012)

September_11_(Wiki)Excerpt from ‘A Buddhist Reflection on the Tragedy of September 11’ by Ajahn Jayasaro, 2001: In this excerpt, Ajahn Jayasaro is talking about how we can learn, through the Buddha’s Teaching, to face this tragedy and here he refers to the three-fold training: sila (morality) samadhi (focus) panya (wisdom). Excerpt begins with sila (morality) and the link with volition: ‘Linking morality to volition means that to be consistently moral we need to educate ourselves about volition, not in the abstract as an intellectual exercise, but in the concrete present, as it manifests in our experience. The central role played by volition demands that we develop a power of introspection, an honesty and willingness, and an ability to look very clearly at our mind. We need to develop this form of education to the extent that we don’t rationalize our cravings and fears so automatically, that we are unable to lie to ourself as we used to do. In responding to a painful situation, for instance, we have to observe to what extent we are affected by the desire for justice, and to what extent for revenge. Is anger present, self-righteousness, fear? Are these wholesome or unwholesome qualities of mind, — to be trusted or not?

Morality here then is not a matter of following a number of rules or commandments, but of using precepts as tools in which to be clearly aware of and responsible for the motives behind one’s actions. Although the moral training in Buddhism demands a certain amount of awareness and a capacity for introspection, it is not the whole of the training. There are also specific practices for educating our emotions and discernment.

Thus we refer to a three-fold training, one which provides a framework within which to address the difficulties or dilemmas that we face in our lives. The training in morality is the foundation. It involves firstly the intelligent adoption of standards of conduct towards the external world and particularly other human beings, and then learning how to be mindful of them in daily life and bring them to bear on our behavior.

It is at this level of the training that we see the central role of self-discipline. But self-discipline is far from being a panacea for all our ills. We can’t decide not to get angry as an act of will, we can’t decide not to feel vengeful, we can’t decide not to have emotions. If we misapply self discipline then we create the conditions for guilt and repression.

Emotions are one natural part of our  life. We have to understand them. Some emotions deserve to be cultivated, others do not. In our gardens we distinguish between weeds and flowers. Although we remove weeds we don’t consider our garden evil for having them. So the first principle of training the emotions and mental states is that force doesn’t work; intelligence, sincerity and patience do.

The second can soon be clearly seen: the ability to abandon the unwholesome qualities in our minds and encourage the wholesome is conditioned to a great extent by our ability to focus and concentrate our mind. This aspect of mental culture has been neglected in the Western world for many centuries. An educated person, in Buddhist view, is not only someone who can think rationally, analytically, but is also someone who can, on the necessary occasion, stop  thinking altogether.

The mind, which is bound to mental states, tends to see things as clear cut, black-and-white, and often over simplifies the complexity of situations; it reacts in habitual ways. The mind which can put down habitual thinking processes, stand back from the rush of thought and emotion, suddenly has access to far more choices and pathways.

The Buddhist insistence is merely that the most constructive action springs from stillness. The wisest reflection takes into consideration, not only our own immediate interest or the interest of our particular group or nation; it also bears in mind the interests of our children, our children’s children and many generations in the future who are yet to be born. And this kind of thinking demands the ability to step back from one’s immediate attachments. It is dependent on mental culture, mental development.

The third aspect of this training is the training of wisdom and understanding, teaching people how to really look at their actions and their consequences, seeking to understand situations more clearly. Initially it means regularly contemplating the very simple facts of life which we tend to overlook, in particular the nature of change. Changes may be slow methodical, expected, welcome but they may also quite often be sudden, unexpected and unwelcome. It is an inarguable fact that every one of us, sooner or later, will have to be separated from those whom we love.

The Buddha encouraged us to be students of change and to understand its nature. We should be looking at change, looking at uncertainty, looking at insecurity face-to-face everyday. Life is insecure. There is no real security in a changing world and the frantic search for an unrealistic security is only going to lead to tension and pain. There has to be a certain point where we create the conditions for security as best we can, but humbly acknowledge the fact that ultimately we have no defence against uncertainty and change. We have no rights. We can and should create conventions about human rights and it is important that such rights are vigorously upheld in human society. But ultimately, we have rights to nothing except the way things are: we are born, we get old, we get sick, and we die. We must be patient and willing to keep going against the grain of self-indulgence, looking again and again at the way things are; educating ourselves about those things which brighten and clarify our minds; those attitudes, those thoughts, those emotions which cloud and brutalize our minds. The more we do this work, the more we see that we have a choice which way we want to go, the way of darkness or the way of light.’

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Lower photo by Louk Vresswijk, taken in July before the attacks, shows the twin towers in a modern New York setting. Location, a column in Cathedral Saint John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, NYC.
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Ajahn Jayasaro [Link to: 9/11 A Buddhist Reflection pdf]