HarnhamLakePOSTCARD ♯05: Harnham Monastery, Northumberland: The monastery is situated on top of a small hill; guest accommodation is down the road a bit. I walk up to the main building for the one meal of the day; sunshine, a cloudless sky, and I meet one of the monks at the door. How long has it been, more than two years? He looks different. Faded brown/tangerine robe, shaved head, exposed face, features looking at me. The whole presence of a person, eyes in the centre of a field of vision – it seems like an immense identity just living here quietly… my perception of how things are, looking back at me. Recognition is a selective thing, matching moments of experience with what’s in the files inside the folder marked: THE MEMORY OF OTHER THINGS SIMILAR TO THIS – select/match, the mind-body organism default. It’s not what it is, it’s only what it appears to be.

Chanting, food, wash dishes and walk back down to the guest accommodation again. Huge daisies on the edge of path, everything is swelling up in blossom on top of this solitary hill and the panorama of Northumberland landscape all around. Unknowingly, I’m manipulating my perception of things to see the world as I want to see it without any real understanding of why I’m attracted – a huge habit of indulgence that I think is simply normal. I don’t understand desire, I just respond to the experience of it. Now on top of this hill, looking at a lifetime of seeking after what I want and rejecting what I don’t want without really knowing why. There’s this experience of dissatisfaction at the base of it all… normally I’m pretending it’s not there. It’s a hunger – a hunger for what? Caused by what? Is there a way of ending this hunger? There’s a name for it. It can be identified. Dukkha, (suffering), the First Noble Truth. Knowledge enters and ignorance is pushed out. I couldn’t see it before; too much thinking about how much I dislike the idea of suffering, an obstacle is created by my aversion to it; the desire for it to not be there. Strategies of avoidance, and lost in experience, agreeable/disagreeable. Caught in the momentum of seeking gratification or holding on to unhappy states of mind believing that this is my reality. The deluded self, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. This is the obstacle – the only reason it’s there is that I linger with the idea of it….

KHouse daisiesReturning again and again to the same starting point means these unhappy states of mind are reinforced more and more. Recognition is not informed by ‘clear knowing’, it’s seen through the clouded prism of unawareness, avidyā not-knowing (ignorance). What’s required is mindfulness, applied recognition, Right View, and the undoing of all the little knots tied in memory, habitual reactions over many lifetimes. Bit by bit, letting it all go…


‘If we have faith in the Buddha’s teaching and are inspired by the great teachers, we can direct our interest into not just avoiding suffering, something we have spent a long time doing, but finding a skilful way of directing our attention towards recognising it, here and now. What is this ‘self’? How is this ‘me’ and ‘mine’ manifesting itself here and now?’ [Ajahn Munindo, Entering the Monastery, 22 July 2013]

– G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E –


Bangkok: We arrived at the Golden Palace in a taxi but at the wrong entrance, unfortunately, and the man there said this is not the entrance, you have to go down that way and he pointed down the road – but, the thing is, and didn’t we know, the Golden Palace is closed in the morning today? So we hesitate and he says, yes there’s some kind of ceremony taking place, so it’s closed to the public but why don’t you go round to some other temples and palaces for an hour or two then come back in the afternoon and it’ll be open at 1pm? So we’re thinking about that and he takes us over to the the tuktuk guys and starts to sell us a deal for going around the area on a tuktuk. That’s when we figure it’s a scam, say to the guy, thank you very much and walk around for a bit to decide what to do, then down to the main entrance where everything is open as usual with a sign saying: ‘Open Every Day’.

It comes as a bit of a shock and makes you wonder, what is it with that guy? How can a Thai have such blatant wrong intention; absolutely contrary to normal cultural behaviour and doing this on the doorstep of one of the most cultularly significant sites in Thailand. Its a bit like someone working a scam on tourists entering the Vatican. He must know he’s creating very bad karma and why would he do that? I asked Jiab afterwards and she didn’t have a lot to say except that the guy was probably in such dire straits he must be in a living hell realm already so let’s not talk about that okay?

I’m not sure how this works, it’s one of those things that everybody just puts up with, so it has space to continue as it is; nothing really comes along to stop it, or give it proper direction. You take responsibility for your own actions here because, up to a point, you can do anything you want in Thailand, except that if it’s wrong action, you have to know that it’ll eventually bring bad results to the wrongdoer and every Thai knows this, fears this and is in awe of this. Why, then, do we have people doing things that’ll create bad karma? Because they are already trapped in pre-existing karma; due to avidyā, a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality and over time have become inseparable from bad actions and have obligations to other unfortunate characters equally lost in the cycle of bad karma. So they have to take on things like this to earn a living – for the guy at the tuktuk stand, it’s not much maybe, but he has to go on creating unpleasant situations for other people as he’s slowly working his way out of his unfortunate karmic situation. He’s just trying to survive and will ask for blessings from the monks, the same as everyone else. If it looks like he’s genuinely trying to do something about his predicament, society tolerates his behaviour – up to a point.

And what, then, if you have some seriously bad guy like a gang boss in the underworld who has such large accummulated wrong action and the bad karma that goes with it? Let’s say he’s at the end of his life, a Buddhist, and clear in the knowledge that he can’t put off having to face the consequences of his actions one day quite soon. What can he do? Assuming he’s not already lost in the cycle of deluded and obscure karmic forces, he may offer to the temple, very large amounts of the money he took from others, in his lifetime or he may even offer to finance the building of a new temple or a monument of religious significance. Whatever; he’ll try to do something to put right the wrong things in his life. Although it will bring benefit to many, it won’t work for the gang boss because he left it too late and is now in the situation of being old and weak and having to face the knowledge of his wrongdoings on the threshold of death; a crash course in learning what remorse is and coping with a fearful mind rapidly moving in the direction towards: ‘the downfall, the woeful way, the sorrowful state, the cycle of birth-and-death.’ There’s just no getting away from it. It’s about samsara and, depending on the particular circumstances, could be unfortunate. We can’t take anything in this life on to the next life; only karma. There’s every reason to feel compassion for the guy standing outside the Golden Palace and hope that eventually he finds the way out.


‘Like a seed waiting for rain, our karma shadows us, waiting for the opportunity to grow and ripen. Our intentional actions will produce a result at some time. People in their present lives, are experiencing the effects of their past actions or karma.… it is possible to alter or reduce the effects of these past actions through present actions. These will also have effect on future lives. Understanding the law of Karma helps us realise that we are, whatever we make ourselves to be. We are entirely responsible for our own destiny.’ [Hwa Tsang Buddhist Monastery]

Photo Image: Elaine Henderson