end of the book study, and looking back

Dear Readers. I propose bringing our study of “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond,” to a close now. The text from here on, in my opinion, is intended for those who have a functioning knowledge of the Jhānas. I’m thinking of senior monks who have been practicing for a few decades, or more – those to whom I show respect including, of course, the author of the book, Ajahn Brahm.

So what has been going on here these last few months? We are working on the book versions of the posts, some of them soon to be published, in time for our 10th Anniversary: 2012/ 2022!

There was one ground-breaking post in December 2011 and the actual starting date was January 2012. Special thanks to WordPress for hosting the site and to all our readers, those who have looked, liked and made a comment – those too, who engaged in lengthy dialogue on this humble platform. I’m very grateful.

To celebrate our 10th year, I think we have to re-publish a few posts from that year, beginning with “Jesus and Advaita Vedānta,” posted on July 1 2012

Jesus and Advaita Vedānta

POSTCARD#473: I didn’t know about Advaita Vedānta when I was a child and only recently discovered there were people like Alan Watts (and others) writing about non-duality in the Christian context, Now I’m convinced it is important to focus on the fact that there is something at the heart of Christianity. The uncomfortable feeling that’s followed me all these years – that somehow I missed the point of the Jesus Teaching – all this has gone when I think of the Advaitist aspect of the teaching. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle I just stumbled upon, coming from an Asian perspective, an inductive knowing and that’s how it works.

The reason I didn’t see it before is because the Western concept of God, having human attributes (similar to the Advaitist idea of Ishvara), contradicts the rational scientific view. Accepting something that’s scientifically impossible, just because it’s written down in the Bible, doesn’t make sense. It’s like a myth and that’s why Christianity never had any reality in the West. What’s needed is to take it all a bit further.

“… when human beings think of Brahman, the Supreme Cosmic Spirit is projected upon the limited, finite human mind and appears as Ishvara. Therefore, the mind projects human attributes, such as personality, motherhood, and fatherhood on the Supreme Being. God (as in Brahman) is not thought to have such attributes in the true sense.”

In Western countries, people are wandering around without a map. There’s the shopping mall and that’s all. How to let go of the individual ‘self’ if everything in the system is aimed at getting you to hold on? Looking for the way out by browsing possibilities will take a lifetime. The distractions built-in to window shopping behaviour are designed to keep you ‘shopping’ and prevent you from finding the way out too easily. By the time you get there you’ll have forgotten what it was you were looking for.

“The Advaita Teachings are pointers, offered at the level of the audience, so to some people Jesus would talk about “a mansion with many rooms” and to other people he would say: “(heaven) is within.” (And) without understanding Advaita and the way pointers are adjusted depending on the audience, (most) Christians haven’t a clue what Jesus was talking about ….” 

Those who didn’t fall into the shopping mall trap just took the belief ‘thing’ to pieces to see what it was made of. That’s how it was seen that there was/is no substantial “self” in the centre of consciousness. It’s an operating system that keeps all working parts in the state of  ‘oneness’. “We are, right at this moment, God itself, and we can rejoice in that – if we can break out of our individual identity…” If someone had been able to explain it to me like this when I was a child, the challenge to find out what it could mean would have been enough motivation for a lifetime.


Note: I’m including the Jesus Teaching in a oneness of spiritual teaching centred in that geographical region where the three Abrahamic religions arose: Christianity, Judaism, Islam and the connection with Brahmanic religions, Buddhism and Jainism. That region, from North India through to Israel and the Mediterranean, a distance of about 3000 miles, say from New York to San Francisco? I see it like a highway of knowledge, wisdom and information. All of it coming and going along the route many centuries before Jesus was born and many centuries after. All the world’s religions arose here.

a kind of ignoring

PP5POSTCARD #26 Delhi: Putting in eyedrops and I’m not used to it, eyelid reacts just as the drop is coming, blinks before the drop hits the eye, face is wet with eye-drop fluid. Try again… drip. Same thing happens. I’ve just started a two week schedule of eye-drops because of a dryness in the eyes after the recent operation. Hoping it’ll get easier and learning how to not-react, to resist the body’s automatic knee-jerk response to whatever it is that’s coming into the eye. There’s this natural tendency to reject, to refuse, to say ‘no’. The mind has it figured out but the body is still unconvinced.

It’s something like a deliberate not-seeing; the not-wanting-to-have-anything-to-do-with-it thing. Not wishing to engage; a kind of ignoring. It’s denial… “Who me? … in denial? I’m not in denial!” (denial of denial). I’m not going to pay attention to what you’re saying about me ignoring you. Pretending it’s not there and maybe it’ll go away? Ostrich-head-in-the-sand syndrome [see note1 below] The ‘self’ illusion itself, is a trancelike state. Even though it’s really obvious, people are conditioned to ignore basic truths that conflict with the habitual way of doing things. ‘We don’t look at things, we overlook things’ [Alan Watts].

Ignoring the truth about climate change, seemingly unconcerned about what kind of future we’re passing on to future generations. Ignoring deeply held misgivings about wars created by politicians, weapons of mass ‘distraction’, slipperiness, underhandedness, cunning ploys and guile. Ignoring the 1st Noble Truth of Suffering; tolerating the suffering permits a sort of attachment to it? Or maybe we are genuinely searching for another way to live our lives, but we’re sidetracked by Television, consumer goods, and fall into the world of ‘choices’ and ‘preferences’; burdened with these dependencies. So we might say: NO, this is not it at all… go to the doctor, tell him about it and he says take these pills, something to get us back on track – education cleverly teaches children there’s only one option: consumerism, and to engage with that you need to learn about career, job, debt, house, rent, marriage, car, bills… It’s doesn’t say WHY (ignore that question). Consumerism is what people believe in; consumerism is ‘God’.

Try another eye-drop… head back, look at the ceiling. The eyelid flutters, blinks involuntarily, and an eyelash deflects the intrusive drop, fluid trickles down the cheek like an actual tear drop and falls into the ear. I wipe it away with a tissue – this action triggers a memory of something emotional – why am I crying… trying to do something I can’t, and don’t know why. It’s the squeezing of the bottle between thumb and forefinger, a small intense muscular action, that’s in conflict with the feeling of vulnerability. Reluctantly I see, in close-up, the bubble of the drop emerging from the point of the bottle and glance away from it, anticipating the tiny impact on sensitive eyeball… splish! I have to learn to look elsewhere – a skilful ignoring – and focus on something like the ceiling fan, a light bulb, the flaking piece of plaster in the corner of the cornice.

Mindfulness and being calm. Earlier today, I downloaded 11 hours of Tibetan Healing Bell Chimes and as I’m writing this now I’m already on hour 5. It’s playing quietly in a different window; sweet random sounds, intentional wind chimes; the IS-ness of it. Meditation practice means I can gently ease back from the intensity the mind creates for as long as it takes to see what’s going on; this action feels right – I’m able to emerge from ignorance into the knowing. A wonderful emptiness or the wholeness of it? A great peace in the space of the mind.

‘The sensation of “I” as a lonely and isolated center of being is so powerful and commonsensical, and so fundamental to our modes of speech and thought, to our laws and social institutions, that we cannot experience selfhood except as something superficial in the scheme of the universe. I seem to be a brief light that flashes but once in all the aeons of time—a rare, complicated, and all-too-delicate organism on the fringe of biological evolution, where the wave of life bursts into individual, sparkling, and multicolored drops that gleam for a moment only to vanish forever. Under such conditioning it seems impossible and even absurd to realize that myself does not reside in the drop alone, but in the whole surge of energy which ranges from the galaxies to the nuclear fields in my body. At this level of existence “I” am immeasurably old; my forms are infinite and their comings and goings are simply the pulses or vibrations of a single and eternal flow of energy.’ [Alan Watts, ‘The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are’ (link to downloadable pdf)]


Note 1: I discovered that, in fact, the ostrich doesn’t bury its head in the sand when there’s danger, it’s digging a hole and covering the egg with sand and, seen from a distance, it just looks like that’s what it’s doing.
Note 2: ‘If You Are Having Trouble Getting The Drop Into Your Eye: Lay on your back, and place a drop in the inner corner of your eyelid (the side closest to the bridge of your nose).  Tilt your head, open your eyes slowly, and the drop should fall right into your eye.’
Note 3: ‘slipperiness, underhandedness, cunning ploys and guile’ taken from Ajahn Sucitto’s ‘Parami: Ways To Cross Life’s Floods’
Note 4:  Listening to 11 hours of  Tibetan Healing Sounds in Zen Flash
Note 5: Reference to: ‘career, job, debt, house, rent, marriage, car, bills, children…’ taken from blogpost: What Do You Want? by Jack Saunsea
Note 6: Upper image taken from the series: “Only In India”

lonesome highway

IMG_0063POSTCARD07: Bangkok: Travelling along the highway to the airport in a taxi that has past its best – seen better days. It’s veering off to the left, trembles for a moment then corrects itself. There’s another problem, the driver has it revved-up because the engine stalls when we slow down, so the sound is a bit alarming. We stop at the tollway to pay the fee, engine stalls, driver gets out to push. Fortunately there’s a little slope at the tollbooth and the car moves forward easily. Driver jumps in, ignition on, and the engine comes to life. Big sigh of relief, driver apologizes to me: koh tod khrap, polite. A nice guy, just trying to earn a living with a rented vehicle that’s barely roadworthy. The Thai compassion for this kind of predicament means it’s tolerated more than it would be in other Asian countries.

In a moment we’re accelerating down the road again with this huge noise and there’s still about 20 km to go. I’m thinking that if the engine fails, we’ll have to stop at the edge of this long and lonesome elevated highway with nothing around except sky up above… this really is the middle of nowhere. I drop into a state of alertness; being mindful is exhilarating, the inclination to be awake, watchful. All senses switched on, an awareness that sees also, at the edge of this, some anxiety – the Buddhist term: samvega/pasada describes it – a sense of urgency. There’s clarity too, even though things are not looking good at all.

It’s like a death, just stopping at some place on the road, anywhere’ll do and that’s it, engine conks out. Nothing extraordinary about death; we die and come to life again from one moment to the next. Physical death comes along and instead of coming to life in another moment, we find ourselves in another lifetime. This is how it is, according to what I’ve read, and it could be time’s up for our taxi, it’ll die anytime now. Worst case scenario is waiting in the heat of the tarmac with no air-con running because there’s no engine and hoping another taxi will come along – unlikely… empty taxis don’t normally go out to the airport. What to do? Ah well, miss the flight, I suppose, go tomorrow – yes, but I’m getting ahead of myself here, it hasn’t happened yet.

In the end, the taxi holds on to life and we arrive at the airport okay. Get the bags out of the car with engine still racing and the last I see is the driver heading off in the direction of Arrivals; hoping he’ll pick up another passenger and make it back to the city again. I wheel my luggage into the cool airport and go look for the check-in row. Doorstep to the world. Goodbye Thailand, next stop Delhi…

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


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