doerless doing part 4

POSTCARD#375: Bangkok: “The Way to Practice in Order to Abide With Emptiness”, another short piece from the revised text of “Heartwood From The Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In this section on selflessness, Ajahn describes in detail our situation when faced with the concept of ‘having and of ‘being’.


The ‘self’ is merely a condition that arises when there is grasping and clinging in the mind. We don’t see it as empty, but see it as ‘self’. Grasping arises by itself, there being ignorance or unknowing in the mind. It’s not that we make a deliberate effort to consciously establish a self. When the mind contains unknowing (avijja), it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self’, the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities.

If authentic knowing takes place then we will see the truth that emptiness is the remainderless extinction of self. The ‘remainderless extinction of self’ is the non-arising of ‘self’. Advanced practice refers to the situation whereby we prevent the arising of ‘self’ completely so that it has no way of arising at any moment in the here and now, nor at any time in the future,

The way to practice so that we know how to live with emptiness lies in the act of preventing ‘self’ arising in this body/mind organism. Consequently, in order to facilitate our understanding we will divide practice up into three sections:

  1. The ‘ordinary times’.
  2. The moments of sense-contact.
  3. The moment of physical death.

1) How should we practice during those ordinary times when the mind is free of association with sense objects? Maybe we are doing some kind of work alone and unconcerned, performing our daily tasks or of practicing formal meditation. There is nothing arising from sense-contact. We may be reading a book or even thinking about something, as long as the mind is undisturbed by sense-contact. At such times our practice must be the study and clarification of the way in which things are empty and the way in which to make the mind empty and free of delusion. Think about it, study it for yourself, enquire from others, and discuss it regularly. Keep doing it.

Consider, what’s worth having and what’s worth being. Gaining wealth, possessions, prestige and power – what is worth gaining, what is worth having? Being a human being, being a millionaire, being a beggar, being a king, being a king’s subject, being a celestial being, what is worth being, what about it is worth being?

Is it worth being a happy person? Bear in mind that it is the worldly who establish the conventions as to the nature of happiness: that the one who has money and power and enjoys every sort of sense-pleasure is the happy person. But if we look closely we will see that such a person suffers Dukkha in an appropriate fashion, a ‘fishbone’ forms in the flesh of his pleasure. Even with the more subtle happiness that arises from samadhi and the meditative absorptions of the rishis and munis if the feeling that ‘I am happy’ arises, then it too will form a ‘fishbone’ in the flesh of that happiness that will stick in the enjoyer’s throat. Those who grasp at and cling to the happiness of rupajhana suffer accordingly.

Consider this example: if we take diamonds and jewels and pile them up so that they completely fill a room and there is no clinging to them in the mind as being ours or that we are their owners, it’s the same as if there is no possession or gain. The pile of precious stones stands there without meaning. But if grasping at ‘I’ occurs, and the thought: ‘the precious stones belong to me’ accordingly ‘self’ arises in the mind – and having or being is present.

What is it that having been possessed by mind won’t lead its owner to suffering? (dhukka) Every single thing there is, will burn up its owner, pierce, strangle and entangle him, envelop and oppress him should he start to ‘have’ or to ‘be’. But should the precious stones stand piled up filling the room and he has no feeling of having or being, then there is no burning, entangling or strangling of any kind. This is not-having and not-being.

Consider what is it that having gone through the stage of becoming in the mind does not ultimately end in dukkha? This can be a formula for reflection. It is the essential point. The word ‘being’ just as with the words ‘have’ and ‘gain’, refers only to the being that is accompanied by upadana, the grasping and clinging to the ‘I am’. About that room full of diamonds and jewels, if we have no feeling of being its owner, there is no gaining or having and no being. Therefore, we must make the mind constantly empty of ego, so that emptiness is the natural state and we abide with the awareness that there is nothing worth having or being.


/continued in part 5/

emptiness: doerless doing part 3

POSTCARD#374: Bangkok: The last part of three talks given by Ajahn Buddhadasa to a Dhamma study group in Siriraj Hospital, Bangkok in 1961 and 1962. With Respect to Ajahn, I have edited this talk from its original, created nearly 60 years ago, to have it fit in this blog form. The following is Ajahn’s analysis of words commonly used with ‘emptiness’ and the word emptiness itself.

To know emptiness means that emptiness is manifest in the awareness. So I encourage Dhamma students, again and again that in any moment when the mind has a measure of emptiness, even if it’s not finally or perfectly empty, to recognize it and keep on recognizing that emptiness. Actually, in any one day emptiness is there repeatedly and even if it’s not a fixed, absolute emptiness it’s still very good if we can take the trouble to observe it. If we take an interest in this sort of emptiness right from the start, it will generate a contentment with emptiness that will make it easy to practice in the long term.

The words ‘being empty’ mean that there is no feeling of ‘self’ or ‘belonging to self’, there is no feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the creations of craving and grasping. Being void of these things is ‘being empty’. What is it that is empty? It is the mind that is empty, emptied of the feelings of ‘self’, and of ‘belonging to self’, both in their crude and subtle forms. If the mind is empty to the degree of being free of even the most refined sense of self it is said that the mind is itself emptiness. This agrees with the teaching that mind is emptiness, emptiness is mind; emptiness is Buddha, Buddha is emptiness, emptiness is Dhamma, Dhamma is emptiness. There is only one thing… all the myriad things that we are acquainted with are nothing but emptiness.

The characteristic of all things is emptiness. This phrase ‘all things’ must be understood correctly as encompassing every single thing from a speck of dust up to Nibbana. It must be well understood that in a speck of dust there is emptiness or absence of self, absence of a permanent, independent entity. The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.

The Buddhist Teachings, the study and practice of Dhamma have the characteristic of an absence of a permanent, independent entity. All the way through to the final Path Realizations, their Fruits and Nibbana itself, have this same characteristic, it’s just that we don’t see it. Even a sparrow flying to and fro has the characteristic of emptiness but we don’t see it. All things display the characteristic of emptiness, it’s just that we don’t see it.

The word ’empty’ also refers to the characteristic of the mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact. As a result, the mind is neither aware of its own emptiness nor the emptiness in all things. But whenever the mind completely throws off that which is enveloping it, the grasping and clinging of delusion and ignorance, and detaches from it completely, then the mind through its non-clinging has the characteristic of emptiness.

Because all things do truly have the characteristic of being empty of a self, no permanent, independent entity to be grasped at or clung to, we are able to see the truth of emptiness. Thus the mind seeing emptiness in all things collapses into itself, leaving only emptiness. It becomes emptiness and sees everything as emptiness. Material objects, people, animals, time and space, every sort of dhamma melts into emptiness through knowing this truth. The word empty is the remainderless extinction of  ‘I’ and ‘mine’, the utter destruction of self.

/continued in part 4/


Upper image: Identifying the dark matter of the molecular world. Read more – link

Lower image: please refer to the previous post for more on “halting the arising of “I” and “mine” at phassa (say ‘passa’) (contact) or vedana (feeling)”.

 

doerless doing part 2

POSTCARD#373: Bangkok: I have a new diagram this time, borrowed from Google images. I hope it’s clearer, problem is the names are all in Pali, but you can find the English equivalents in the text as the individual stages come into focus.

This post is more closely fixed on the process of Dependent Origination, the Paticca-samuppada, and the way to bring suffering to an end, by halting the arising of “I” and “mine” at phassa (say ‘passa’) (contact) or vedana (feeling). In fact Ajahn Buddhadassa makes no reference at all to the stages before salayatana (the 6 senses) and phassa (contact).

When there is contact with forms, sounds, odors/fragrances, flavors, or whatever at one of the sense-doors salayatana, that contact is called, in Pali phassa. This phassa develops into vedana (feeling). Vedana develops into tanha (craving). Tanha develops into upadana (clinging). Upadana develops into bhava (becoming). Bhava develops into jati, which is “birth”, and following on from birth there is the suffering of old, age, sickness and death, which are Dukkha.

The way to prevent this from happening is not to allow the dependent arising to take place; cutting it off right at the moment of phassa contact, not allowing the development of vedana, not allowing feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to arise. When there is no production of vedana, then there is no birth of the craving and clinging that is the “I” and “mine”. The “I” and “mine” lie right there at the birth of the craving and clinging; illusion lies right there. If, at the moment of contact when there is no “I” and nothing but phassa itself, everything is stopped there, there is no way for the “I” and “mine” to arise.

There is another way to stop the process; when vedana (feeling) has already developed, when there are already feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, to stop it right there. Let feeling remain as merely feeling and allow it to pass away. Don’t let it to go on and become tanha, wanting this and that in response to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

Important to remember, if there is satisfaction, with “I”, then there will be desire, craving, indulgence, possessiveness, envy, etc., as a consequence. Once there is dissatisfaction, with “I”, then there is the desire to beat to death, to devastate, and kill. If there are these sorts of desires in the mind, it means that vedana has already developed into tanha.

If so, then nobody can help. All the gods together cannot help. The Buddha said that even He cannot help. He has no power over the laws of nature, He is merely the one who reveals them so that others can practice in accordance with them.

In that turbulent wanting that arises in the mind, see how to distinguish the feeling of the desirer – of “I”, of the self that wants this, or wants that, wants to do it like this or like that, or who has acted in that way or this, or who has received the results of those actions. That one who desires is “I” wanting things, it grasps them as “mine” in one way or another – as “my” status, “my” property, “my” safety, “my” victory and in all of those feelings the “I” is also present.

Whenever you see a form, let there be just the seeing; whenever you hear a sound, let there be just the hearing; when you smell an odor, let there be just the smelling; when you taste a flavor, let there be just the tasting; when you experience a physical sensation, let it merely be sensation; and when a thought arises, let it be just a natural phenomenon (feeling) arising in the mind.

In this way we live our lives untouched by forms; sounds, odors, flavors and physical sensations. In other words they are experienced, but they do not enter and construct vedana, tanha, and upadana. We live wisely. We live with truth-discerning awareness, empty of “I” and “mine”.

Where neither water nor yet earth

Nor fire nor air gain a foothold,

There gleam no stars, no sun sheds light,

There shines no moon, yet there no darkness reigns.

When a sage, a brahman, has come to know this

For himself through his own wisdom,

Then he is freed from form and formless.

Freed from pleasure and from pain.

Bahiya Sutta


Image: Ajahn Buddhadasa

causally connected momentary dhammas

POSTCARD#371: Bangkok: A couple of weeks ago I wrote a very long post about the dentist. This post will be as short as possible. It’s like this, I went back for the follow-up appointment and started to think about aspects of No Self and the Paticca-samuppada Dependent Origination. That’ll come after this.

So anyway I went back to see the lady dentist on Tuesday 26 May and after five minutes of inserting needles to numb the nerves, a lower jaw extraction happened; so easy! Then prolonged drilling in the bone of my jaw to situate an anchor for a dental implant (in the x-ray it looked like a rawlplug in a masonry wall).

It was painless, amazing – yes my head was jerked around a bit, and there was the dentist adjusting her tools to get a hold of the tooth, to get maximum clench, grasp, grip so that it wouldn’t slip, then steady pulling to extract the tooth, with dental assistant behind me, arms around my head and holding, while pressing down hard on the lower jaw. Then one, two, three: ‘pop’ and it was out.

The painless aspect of it was breathtaking, especially as the lady dentist quietly told me what was going to happen next; drilling a hole in the jaw bone for the implant. It took about 30 minutes to get it finished – all without any person to feel the pain. An example of the Buddhist selflessness (anatta). There was no Self to whom this was happening – I could hear all the sounds of drilling inside my head… and there was nobody there to hold out against the sustained pain, It wasn’t happening to me. I felt like laughing out loud.

A note about the flow of changes to do with normal cognition: All dhammas (“phenomena”) arise in dependence upon other dhammas: “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist”. As a dhamma vanishes, it gives rise to a new dhamma which appears immediately afterwards. In this way, there is an uninterrupted flow of causally connected momentary dhammas. In this flowing continuum, there is no enduring Self since everything Is dependently originated.

Changes take place in the context of this momentary arising and falling away of dhammas. In the first list below, we see transitional stages that lead to Suffering. In the second list we can see how the problem can be solved; the step by step cessation of the preceding stage leads to the end of suffering

The Standard Description Of Dependent Origination

By Ajahn Bramavamso (click on this link for the whole essay)

From delusion as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; from volitional formations as condition, consciousness; from consciousness as condition, name-and-form; from name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases; from the six sense bases as condition, contact; from contact as condition, feeling; from feeling as condition craving; from craving as condition, clinging; from clinging as condition, existence; from existence as condition, birth; from birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

But from the remainderless fading away and cessation of delusion comes cessation of volitional formations; from the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness; from the cessation of consciousness, cessation of name-and-form; from the cessation of name-and form, cessation of the six sense bases; from the cessation of the six sense bases, cessation of contact; from cessation of contact, cessation of feeling; from the cessation of feeling, cessation of craving; from the cessation of craving, cessation of clinging; from the cessation of clinging, cessation of existence; from the cessation of existence, cessation of birth; from the cessation birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.

(SN 12, 1)

(dhamma = an aspect of the mind that captures the quality of an object, and that has the ability to colour the mind)


 

COVID-19 connectedness

POSTCARD#366: Bangkok: Thailand reported 6 new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Friday, May 01 taking its tally to 2,960 infections while fatalities remained at 54 since the outbreak began in January. On a global scale, the presence of covid-19 in our lives shows that when humanity is united in a common cause, social transformation is possible. Looking at changes in social behaviour, economy, and the role of government, an opportunity arises again to see the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important.

Here in Thailand, Jiab tells me she attended the death ceremony (the pouring of water) of her Great Grandfather when she was five years old. Death is no ending, death is going home… it’s how it is understood in most Asian societies. I imagine the same for III World societies everywhere. In the West however, it is usually hidden away and thus COVID-19 has revealed the reality, death is part of life.

We are the survivors after the War – as it is/was after any war, those who remain, understand that life is sacred. Each person, young or old, sick or well, is a sacred, precious, beloved being. What does it really mean, all the hugs, kisses-on-both-cheeks, handshakes and high-fives we are removed from right now (and may be adapted in some way in a more permanent basis)? It means let’s be connected by whatever means as an expression of love and spirit.

What makes it difficult is the Western belief in the separate self in a world of Other, me separate from you… driven by power and the fear of losing it. The obsession with money and property, extensions of the self – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. Some would say the exact opposite of the Buddha’s Teaching.

What’s coming is a wave of revelation; situations just taken for granted in the past are being reappraised, seen with compassion. How can we find out about those who cannot work from home? The hotel staff, the taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the janitors and cashiers. What can we do about those who have lost their jobs due to the covid-19 shut-down? What is the best way to help vulnerable people? The homeless? How can we be connected with people in the slum districts in inner cities?

The covid-19 shut-down activates compassion, leaders and activists start to emerge, campaigning for the situation of the helpless, in so many words… something is stirred. If we have it in us, we can see quite clearly, the ‘normal’ that once was, is gone. We just can’t fall back into the same rut; monotony and a sense of lack. What can we do abut this? How to be part of this new connectedness in the covid-19 separation?

What’s coming is a new vision of what society could become – one that is less authoritarian and fearful, and more collaborative and local. Unseen altruism, resourcefulness and generosity that arise in situations of grief and disruption.

Necessary to be careful all the way through to an agreement: “… with the decimation of small businesses, a dependency on the state for a stipend that comes with strict conditions. The crisis could usher in totalitarianism or solidarity; medical martial law or a holistic renaissance; greater fear of the microbial world, or greater resiliency in participation in it; permanent norms of social distancing, or a renewed desire to come together.”

Excerpts from Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” included in this post.

 

consciousness

OLD NOTEBOOKS: POSTCARD#355: Bangkok: Struggling to read my own handwriting as if it were written by someone else. Here and there, references to consciousness, the original sources not included – not thinking that one day I’d return here and want to know these sources. No time maybe, everything was in a rush. The energy in these old pages is noteworthy; scribbled thoughts, often not in any understandable word order, refer to a past I don’t remember. Years spent contemplating impossible things, and barking up the wrong tree completely. And all of that led up to this. It never occurred to me that I was finding parts of the framework of a greater Truth.

…not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean!

Compassion for those who are caught in suffering; those who think life is only greed, hatred and delusion – or maybe so immersed in delusion they don’t think anything!

“In our reluctance to open to the possibility of another way of life; how to be completely alive, we prevent ourselves from dis-identifying with anything other than our conditioned states of mind. We will forever remain hypnotized by what our minds have absorbed from the outside world. We will remain a puppet of the society that has reared us.”

Caught in continued habituality, in cyclical existence; paired bully and victim etc. [see patisandhi]

This is where the Buddha’s Teachings enter. In meditation, the thinking mind disappears, no boundaries, a non-conceptual experience… no remainder – so, I can see now I had understood most of that but ‘no remainder’ I’d not investigated? The ‘remainder’ is consciousness, but what is consciousness? It’s a good question. Consciousness is without limitation so it can take whatever form. I’m thinking of words like universal, all-pervading, ever-present, omnipresent. Consciousness is the mystery all through the centuries – there’s so much more to be said about this.

Consciousness is everywhere and everything, to the extent that ‘everywhere’ and ‘everything’ are included in consciousness. It’s like a wave in an ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see, has suddenly swept up these small words, and they’re gone.

The self has no form, you cannot see it, you cannot grasp it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “ Ah there it is! “ Because who is saying that? You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object external to yourself, it’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing. You are the consciousness behind the seeing.

The paragraph above [no source] is the one that does it for me. I think I didn’t read the words properly the first time through. In my mind, I’d assumed consciousness had the same meaning as awareness, so when I read “You are the consciousness, the perceiving, you are ‘it’”, I was proven wrong and thus the ground beneath my feet gave way.


“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving.” — SN 56.11

 

the teaching of the Headache

POSTCARD#354: Chiang Mai: Arrived here on a morning flight, Business class upgrade on Jiab’s air miles, and wheelchair at both ends because I’m not steady on my feet after the stroke last year. Physiotherapy sessions help me understand (body & mind) the impact of it and how exactly, the stroke knocked me off my balance and now, how to get back on my feet again.

A learning process and also I need to remind the physiotherapy staff of these headaches I suffer from, triggered by the smallest thing. So, to cut a long story short, I foolishly pushed myself too hard in physiotherapy exercises and strained something which affected whatever nerve group it is that led to this current gigantic headache (Post Herpetic Neuralgia, right occipital nerve).

So that was it, the last physiotherapy session had left me with a headache, that night, the next morning too. No time for Jiab to change the date of the Chiang Mai tickets so that I could stay at home and go to bed. Instead, I had to pack the Headache in my luggage and into the airport taxi.

A soft journey to Chiang Mai, thanks to the upgrade. In the apartment we had all the windows open, only the screens between our interior and the clear mountain air. It helped me to sleep for the rest of that afternoon and night, through till the morning and the Headache was now into its second day.

One thing that helps is that I’m familiar with being a prisoner of the Headache, at the mercy of monstrous thinking. Even though I daydreamed in awful dark wakefulness, I meditated and contemplated this discomfort all the way through until the Headache was nearly over. Next morning it was gone… “gone is gone,” words cannot express.

We got everything done that had to be done. Impossible to do much more, too long spent in that nether-world of sleep crowded with images I wanted to get rid of. I found a book I studied years ago: ‘Abhidhamma in Daily Life’ by Nina van Gorkom’, quite readable even though the exploration of the Buddhist network of cittas (realities) is vast. Interconnected mental factors that are useful to study in order to understand how the mind functions. It’s referred to as Buddhist psychology.

In this volume I was fortunate to find a few aspects of the Buddha’s teaching, that related very much to the experience (the teaching) of the Headache. For example the word ‘wholesome’ (kusala citta): conducive to or suggestive of good health and physical well-being. In the Buddhist dictionary, ‘kusala’ is explained as ‘kammically wholesome’, ‘salutary’, ‘morally good’, ‘skillful’ and ‘blamelessness’. Its opposite, ‘unwholesome’ (akusala citta) hence refers to the opposite – the ‘unwholesome’, ‘unskillful’, etc.

“Akusala citta is bound to arise more often than kusala citta because there have been countless akusala cittas in the past and thus the conditions for akusala have been accumulated. If there is no development of right understanding, akusala cannot be eradicated and we will continue to accumulate more akusala.”

There is that condition of mind where actions and thoughts take place as a result of automatic sensory responses. These states proliferate of their own accord, papanca. An opportunity arises here where I can escape from Akusala by seeing it for what it is, or I can be quite unaware of it…

Being unaware of it means unwholesome states arising from the Headache stimulate negative narratives (Akusala) and it becomes a story about ‘me’, attempting to assert myself; how am I to be seen in the eyes of my peers and others? Now it is so obviously Akusala imagery it’s easy to see there’s an opportunity here to leave it alone and let it all go.

Harder to see is the image of behaviour and speech seemingly agreeable and pleasant but what I really want to do is endear myself to others in the expectation of some gain or favour… multiple variations on this kind of thing; hard to see their realities – things are not always what they appear to be.

These are the kinds of images seen in the mind’s eye when extreme Akusala Citta is present, but I don’t have to have a three-day headache of course, to experience this, I can be quite conscious and wakeful whilst maintaining states of quiet anger or blaming.

So, how to escape from entanglements with Akusala? Mindfulness of the cittas as they arise, and through the development of insight the “escape” can be realized. Right understanding of realities eventually leads to freedom from all akusala, to the end of all sorrow.

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisattva, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, par101, Before):

“Before my enlightenment, monks, this occurred to me: What, I wonder, is the satisfaction in the world, what is the misery in the world, what is the escape therefrom?

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,—that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,—that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,—that is the escape therefrom…

  • Excerpts from: ‘Abhidhamma in Daily Life’ by Nina van Gorkom

on the way to the beach at Hua Hin

Episode1

It was thought to be a special break for me after the fasting and then the anesthetic was over and the results of the MRI scan were given the next morning: I had no brain tumors, no signs of Alzheimer’s or dementia or any other danger signs. You will have guessed that I’m one of those who suffer claustrophobia if I’m in an enclosed space only inches from my face. So I managed the MRI scan with an anesthetist on hand monitoring levels while I was out of the picture having been given a general anesthetic. So I woke in the recovery room with a bottle of drinking water and happy because I knew it was over. The MRI scan is that thing that takes photos of your brain every 5 mm, you could say it looks like slices of meat from the butchers shop 5 mm thick which you can examine in detail.

The next day dawned and the news was ok, no life-threatening conditions, but there was a little black spot, on the right side of the brain – think of Google Earth and one of these small islands you can zoom in on and see all the mountains and rivers and forests… but it wasn’t as clear as that unfortunately the resolution wasn’t that good.

The question is, what is it? What caused the spot? And the answer is, it was the marks left behind when the patient has suffered a small stroke … a small stroke, quite common they say, among elderly patients – and there was I thinking I might be a special case or something.

It was quite likely I had lost my balance around that point in time. And I can fix that within a month or two because Jiab told me when she noticed the difference in my walking gait… it was say, November December 2018 just after the fall in Ch’mai, click ‘the big bang’ for the link

Episode 2

One day before the departure car to the beach at Hua Hin, and not connected with the MRI scan, a relative from the South I hardly ever see came to visit; in-laws from that part of the community, some would say ‘rural’, others say ‘remote’. Like Jiab’s own father, passed away many years ago, reaching back into the past where money was not exchanged for goods and services. Farm produce has its own value, also herbs, wild plants with medicinal properties. What is owed is given and taken according to the size, or lineage of the debt. Their loyalties do not include anything we (in the ordinary world) would immediately recognize, so there’s a tendency to leave it at that and it all gets soon forgotten about.

That’s why I never followed it up, you know, just because it was kinda interesting and the only time I’d ever hear about this side of the family was/is when someone comes to Bangkok, like this, for something to do with Government papers, or land documents. And this was the reason for the visit; spend the night at the house leave early morning to do the business and catch the afternoon train down South again.

But it was all done too fast! I was told about P coming about 10 minutes before she arrived, no time to think… then I remembered her mum had passed away recently and maybe I should offer some words of condolences or something but what to say?

I heard her voice downstairs and was thinking I should go down but just then a shadow flickered past my open door. It was the lady we shall call P, putting travelling bag away in the rooms next to me where she was for the night. “Ah hello P, “ I said, and she respectfully greeted me as they all do these days, me with the white hair, beard of the elderly and nearness to death.

“I was sorry to hear about your mum Khun Meh…” and P moved to acknowledge the reference, or whatever it is that they hold so dear, and it was to do with this mystery because, just then, something quite strange happened. A bolt of energy hit me in the chest and I wondered if P felt it too? I saw her crouch over and fall back away from me.

But who’s to say, it was all in shadow, we couldn’t see clearly and all I felt was the awkwardness of being found in a place I shouldn’t be. We went downstairs together, Jiab poured us some sweet drinks at the table and bit by bit the feeling disappeared. The lady P gave me a small book about her mother’s life printed simply and given to everyone who was at the funeral.

That’s it, it was done. So I left them talking together and went upstairs, preoccupied with: “Who is this person I hardly know and what are these goings-on?” Later on I spoke to Jiab and she played down the drama of events, while at the same time, conceding that all and everything was as it was and accepting that it happened as I’d described it.

All I can think is that I hardly knew her and her mother even less. I wasn’t expected in that context and this electric charge clicked the door closed.

Fine with me, no problem, my fault, I shouldn’t have started something I couldn’t finish. I’d like it all to go away now because maybe it was the other way round; the electric charge was something that pulled me rather than pushed me away. I’m definitely not inclined to like this idea, and would be glad if the whole thing could get or got or have got or had gotten itself forgotten about…

“Fear of death is ridiculous, because as long as you are not dead you are alive, and when you are dead there is nothing more to worry about!”

[Paramahansa Yogananda]


 

the imaginary middle step

POSTCARD#350: Bangkok: Note: I started to write this post on 6th July because it was my birthday. Pretty soon it came to be too much of a revelatory thing to suit a simple chorus of Happy Birthday To You, but this is how it is, we live in strange times.

Seems to me, that Mind makes up a reason for things being the way they are, arbitrarily. It just comes out of nowhere. The mysterious and slightly sinister thing about this is that I (self) allowed it to get to be this way, knowing fully it would lead to lamentation, woe and bad destinations.

I remember it was at the time I started writing things down on scraps of paper because of the hellish stabbing headaches I’d get when typing text on a digital device and the infernal twinkle of blasted light frequencies going off like a flash of lightning in an electric storm… a deep stab in the eye, exactly in the optic nerve. No warning. And that whole thing against a backdrop of a 24 hour managed ‘headache’ held together with a tight regime of powerful meds dealing with neuropathic pain.

So I went back to writing on ordinary paper with dull pencil. I had to learn to write properly after decades of scribbling reference numbers and OTP, one time passwords and that’s all. Then, as the non-digital me, keying it all in with plain black text on a white background, and up into WordPress formatting then hit Publish… but more about that some other time.

What I’m trying to write about here has to do with the arbitrary decision to take a particular action, regardless of the obvious danger that may result. It all went wrong when I found one of these scraps of paper and on it was written something like, say less than one sentence; a note to self.

“the standard walking pattern suggests another step between left and right… left foot (step) right foot.”

Like a magic formula, as soon as I read it I remembered, the image of the middle step. Walking was more like a bumpy three-legged rolling unicycle wheel. Reckless is not the word – wildly irresponsible, when you think of Bangkok traffic going at maximum speed just inches away from the pedestrian zone. We are all expected to take responsibility whether driving car, truck, motorbike or walking, and that’s just the way it works.

Somehow I bypassed these cautionary warning signs and set out to boldly go and try my balance all over the place, while learning how to best cope with this new middle leg I’d integrated. Then there were these spectacular falls in public places. Spectacular because I’d more or less worked out a recovery that included the same ‘middle step’. Note to self: This recovery was imaginary although nearly always there was a reasonable recovery. So it all seemed like a dance, no serious injury at all… then there was the ‘big one’ and that brought everything to a standstill.

For nearly a year I forgot completely about the middle step, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to walk properly. It was that middle step that was causing balance problems and at the time I had no idea. The only safe place for me to walk was on the grass at public parks or airports where there is space all around. But I was bumping into people, besides it was not a ‘walk’ as we normally perceive ‘walking’. This was more like an imaginary Fred Astaire dance with the furniture than an attempt at walking. So someone suggested I get a wheelchair at airports and walk with a companion in ordinary environments.

Jiab says there is such a thing as occupational therapy where perhaps I can relearn those missing skills, so I will look into that. The biggest mystery is ‘the imaginary middle step’ and I’m referring to it now as something known, concrete, impossible. If I approach it obliquely I’m likely to wander off and fall in front of the traffic. Since finding that scrap of paper I notice anything to do with walking triggers the imaginary middle step.

 

the way things appear to be

POSTCARD#349: Bangkok: It’s been three years coping with this pain hovering over me night and day. In the beginning my life was dominated by the headache (referred to here as: H) but I’ve discovered all kinds of things in the process. One thing not to be taken lightly; I learned the steps that lead away from suffering as if it were a code built into consciousness.

Another thing of course the severity of pain is not the same as it was. Maybe the mind gets used to it and there’s not the same urgency. But one aspect of it still strikes the nerve system on the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder. It can be any screeching sound like chairs being dragged across the floor, in a concrete room.

Here in Thailand there are some women whose voices, in laughter, are… utterly shrill. For me it’s a high frequency sound weapon, it penetrates through the auditory sensory organs and becomes something no longer heard. It feels like cold steel. I have to leave the room immediately, jump out the window into the garden and a forward roll gets me to a waiting taxi and away from that place forever.

But before anything else, it was necessary for me to be aware of the thinking mind. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I needed to be aware of, how I think. I have to consciously take a step in that direction in order for things to have the momentum necessary to develop of their own accord.

So much of it is simply how it appears to be. The medicine plays tricks on me but I don’t pay it any mind. The effect begins to take place, H becomes non-hostile and becomes a tension band holding skull and neck muscles, tightly but secure. I can move away because there is nothing holding me. No pain. It’s detached, without a self to whom it would cause suffering. It’s the medicine that does this (necessary here to say). I put in these terms because that’s how it all seems to fit.

What is leftover is that part of the medicine that is the antidepressant. This is the place where I can gather up the mind, get it all in there, close the door, and melt into the darkness. From this comfortable place I can focus on the rest of the body/mind in a meditative way – an insightful contemplative state of mind.

As the years go by I see I’ve missed so much about the quantum world and how there seem to be groups of Buddhists who realise that we are consciousness itself. ‘When we rely on others to tell us their truth, we lose our power to actually realise pure spontaneous consciousness of independence.’

In the beginning I had to stay still for the medicine to have its effect. Nowadays I’m able to go around and just live with how it’s coming down. The large amount of medicine means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things – otherwise I’m okay.

‘see beyond the way things appear to be.’ Ajahn Munindo “Acceptance and Relinquishment” Volume 18