synonyms for startled

DE05_PAGE_1_DIW_DE_1642126ePOSTCARD #22: Delhi: “amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised…” looking for a word in the Thesaurus that describes the experience – but language doesn’t stretch that far. Diwali fireworks’ festivities are going on even though it’s after 22.00 hours and we’re just wondering how much longer before the fascination for fireworks fizzles out. I go for a look to see what’s going on outside. People in front of their houses, crouched over and busy with fireworks set up on the pavement; random explosions, fire crackers like machine-gun fire. It’s a war zone with no bullets, children laughing and running around in the smoke and glare. Fireworks displays are quite beautiful seen from some distance away, but here at ground-zero, the high volume, bang-whoosh-crackle is alarming; a struggle to be calm.

Back inside the house with all the windows closed because of the smoke and Jiab is talking about the Buddhist upekkha teaching: balance, equanimity, the state of being calm in the midst of difficulty; equilibrium, or eequeeleeblee-um, as she says – a Thai articulation. This kind of balance leads to freedom from passions, desires, likes or dislikes. Sounds nice and I go through to sit on the meditation cushion for a while to see if I can discover this balance, be with my reactions to the sudden noises and focus on the nature of what’s actually happening.

Watching the breath in this way, things seem to be getting quiet, and I’m just getting settled into this sitting meditation when suddenly there’s a colossal explosion, BOOM… so loud it sets off a car alarm down the street. The glass, brick and concrete of the room resonate like a huge drum. Startled, is not the word – it’s the nearest thing to jumping out of your skin I’ve ever experienced – automatic response. Confusion in time… what happened first? Was it before it happened that it seemed like I saw, in the darkness of mind-space, this amazing bright sky-blue colour appearing behind something like panels of intense black, falling away – parts of the structure that had been holding it contained – falling away in pieces, collapsing, and more and more of this lovely sky-blue colour is revealed.

Sivakasi_fireworks1The word: bardo comes to mind; the blue light of the skandha of consciousness in its purity, the wisdom of the dharmadhtu, luminous, clear, sharp and brilliant. I’m not saying this is what happened to me, it was more like a totally unfamiliar state, the mind doesn’t know what to do – what does it resemble, what’s it like, how can it be categorized? I’m amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised; looking for a word to describe it, but there’s not anything. Fireworks chase away the demons; papañca, proliferating thought, conceptualizing and the constructed ‘self’. The impact of it happening propels it all right out of here – bang!

 ‘… the Brahma-viharas are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism. The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind…” [Access to Insight]


Upper image link to newspaper reports:
Lower image link to: Diwali wikipedia page

conflict & release

121120121567“Metta is non-discriminatory. It doesn’t mean liking one thing rather than another, it isn’t a question of singling out: “I love this person, I don’t love that one.” [Ajahn Sumedho, “Universal Loving Kindness” From Forest Sangha Newsletter, October 1997]

North India: The image here shows some kind of serious argument happening among a group of men, viewed from the window of a moving bus. I couldn’t actually see what was happening because other passengers were in the way, but I got the camera into a space near the window of the bus and took the picture, guesswork, thinking it’ll not come out clearly but it did – perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are struggling with him violently. The bus pushed itself on through the crowd and the people made space for it. When we got up close, all I could see was the top of their heads and I took the photo without seeing where to point the camera…

The bus moved on and we were gone in a moment, accelerating along empty streets. I was amazed to see the photo after we’d moved away from the area. What to do with it? The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is scary – murderous feelings in the air. There’s another emotion too, he looks tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was an event I didn’t see, all I have is this picture of it. I could hear the explosions of angry voices, and the memory of it is still a bit scary, but it didn’t happen to me. If it hadn’t been for the camera lens, I’d not have seen it. As long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away. But we fuel the fires to keep the conflict going; our wars and war-mongering, allowing everyone the means to build up the tension, justified outrage, creating stories in the mind. We could just as easily allow it to fall away, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

Then Ajahn Vajiro was in town the other day and somebody asked him about what to do when you have to put up with some unreasonable, insensitive person giving you a hard time and you have to see this person on a daily basis. Ajahn spoke about the Brahma Viharas and later Suffering, the First Noble Truth and how the Buddha didn’t say he could eliminate suffering – he gave us the tools to escape the suffering. It led me to see that conflict is resolved if we can focus on the subjective nature of it, see our own anger, and see the anger the ‘bad guy’ has to cope with, and recognise it as exactly the same thing – what’s the difference?

The practice of meditation is the solution. Ajahn talked about getting to know the inner world; start from there, explore the universe from the inside. It’s not just about feelings of bliss and peace, that’s there too but it’s about the real world. Long term goals. Following this path, you get to know about suffering; you notice your own suffering, you have compassion and act towards others with compassion when you notice the suffering in your opponent. Apply wisdom – especially if your opponent is swinging a long pole, aimed at your head. See the angry person as someone who doesn’t understand his/her own suffering and recognise their difficulty – then get out of the way of the swinging pole!

It’s about the difference between ‘knowing’ and ignorance. Ignorance is the result of unskilful action. Non-ignorance (knowing) is about accepting limitations and doubt. It’s not a sure thing but it doesn’t have to be a serious drawback; having to cope with being not sure, uncertainty. Ajahn V described it as being at the edge of the known; doubt is nearly knowing what it is…. In a different context, uncertainty is what’s in the wrapped gift you’ve been given. You don’t know what’s inside until you open it….


“The metta – kindness – engendered in us encourages us to accept ourselves and others, and so to understand ourselves and others. Understanding implies wisdom. And this wisdom is that which allows us to find the way, to grow beyond, or let go of, that which limits and binds the heart. The kindness expressed to others allows them to accept themselves and others. This is an emotional, gut or heart acceptance that allows the acts of body, speech and mind that are a response to that which is perceived as `other’ to be kind; not motivated by not-liking, not motivated by aversion or fear. The effect is unlimited Metta is radiant and attractive, warming to those that are cold, cooling to those that are hot.” [Venerable Ajahn Vajiro – “Mature Emotions ” from the Forest Sangha Newsletter]