POSTCARD#283: Delhi: We’re clearing away everything from this house, piece by piece. Today is exactly two weeks to the time we have to vacate the premises, and the demolishers enter our rooms with their steel hammers, remove ceiling fans, knock out windows and doors, then take down the entire building bit by bit, clouds of brick dust rise and rubble everywhere. World coming to an end, collapsing like a dead star, all matter reduced to the size of an atom and gone in a flash.

Time is just slipping away, I pause for a moment to look at the little clock we brought back from Switzerland: tick-tock-tick-tock-tick-tock, pendulum madly dashing to-and-fro for the last three years without a stop. The strange urgency of it going on unnoticed like this, all through the days and nights and times I’ve been away. This time we go away and we’re not coming back. The Swiss clock goes on measuring out the time until somebody takes it off the wall, removes the battery from its tiny wooden compartment, and it’s placed in a box wrapped in bubble wrap.

But the time for that is not here yet – tick-tock-tick – there’s only an awareness of the pause, before it happens. Future time slides into present time; tomorrow becomes today, and the ‘now’ falls back into yesterday. The sound of the clock, tick-tock-tick is the context for a sort of back-to-the-future thing. The ‘now’ I experience at this moment was the future for me when I was in the past.

Where are we now? Let’s see, time stretched out to include packing of suitcases, filling of boxes, things ticked off the list, but the whole project is too large, it’s nowhere near being completely done yet. I’m held in the awareness of the pause before it gets here – a shavingth of an instant before it does. If I say there’s a beginning, I create linear time. Without that starting point there’s no causality, no ending, no beginning – the empty space of what it could be, held for as long as it takes me to notice it’s there.

Gathering up objects and labelling with a code so the shipping company can pack them in the correct boxes. Language creates an identity for things, and they become events in space-time, ‘this’ happened here, ‘that’ happened there, (but) ‘there isn’t a that without a this, and the that is essentially inseparable from the this.’

What I was thinking about disappears in the space between things, and I fall back into the emptiness of no thought, the observed world and the observer of it… where does it go from here? It feels like this moment is just one screenshot taken in the making of a video about my whole life… well, I suppose that’s what it is. The seeing of it happens, and I can’t ‘unsee’ it. I am the context for what it is. Parts of me in disarray, deconstructed, the opposite of a catastrophe.

Bags and cases lay open, clothes taken from wardrobes, folding and placing, folding again. Unfold, enfold, enclose, embrace, wrap, package, I am my name only; the ‘me’ I live with. Not a substantial thing – there’s a fragility about it – sometimes not there at all. If I’m curiously adrift in a future time, a place of speculative conjecture and hypothetical likelihoods, the constant sweeping along of things brings me back always to the place I set off from, to see what remains to be done… there’s an alertness, sensory mechanisms waiting for things to happen – it’s in their nature to do that. The awareness is all there is.

“…Not a single particle out “there” exists with real properties until it’s observed… reality is a process that involves consciousness.” [Robert Lanza]

 gratitude to blogging friends for the discussion on past, present and future time

tanhã, craving

Wheel.of.Life-largeOLD NOTEBOOKS: Craving perpetuates the fever of unsatisfied longing, this is the state of tanhã. The opposite of a sense of well-being, tanhã is not a happy bunny. It constantly feeds the hunger of desire but the action of feeding it only sharpens the edge of appetite. Too much is never enough. It explains very well the reason why some people are committed to ‘wrong view’ with an intensity that takes your breath away. Tanhã is this deep craving for the ‘self’ we construct in fear of ‘no self’, a result of tanhã. I am ‘me’, in this world, due to tanhã, the reason for rebirth.

In the story of King Assaka and Queen Upari, Queen Upari died and became a cow dung beetle in the next life. But she felt quite at home in her lowly existence as a cow dung beetle, because of tanhã which is delighting in whatever sense object presents itself and wherever it finds rebirth. Reborn as a dog, it takes delight in a dog’s existence; reborn as a pig, as a chicken, there is always delight in each existence. [‘Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective’ by Mark Epstein].

In the causality sequence that forms the 12 step cycle of the wheel of existence (paticcasamuppada), tanhã is step 8. The way to stop tanhã arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before tanhã happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. The entry point in the cycle is just before tanhã: step 7 feeling (vedana). At the vedana stage, there are three possibilities: pleasure, pain or neutral feelings. If feelings of pleasure or pain arise, then craving or aversion will take place and tanha will be the result. If, by an act of will, only the neutral feeling is allowed to arise, the 7th link will be neutralized, de-activated. That being so, tanhã cannot arise, and the next link (upadana) will fail to arise and so on. [See “Fundamentals of Mainstream Buddhism”, p214-215, Eric Cheetham]

For me, the discovery that interrupting the sequence at vedana changed the momentum of everything was awesome, to say the least. This is how I quit the tobacco habit and my whole attitude changed. By allowing the neutral response at vedana to be present for a moment, I noticed an easing in the craving, a cessation, just enough to trigger my curiosity. The cessation took place when I noticed it was the way out of the cycle of repetition, and I understood then how to be free of it. The neutral feeling didn’t register as anything, just the awareness that there’s a space, a gap that wasn’t there before; a vantage point where I could see how to change the cycle of events. It’s in the nature of tanhã (as with everything else) to be transient like this, it’s something that comes and goes. Knowing it leads to Suffering, we can stay distant from tanhã for a moment, and allow it  to start the process of cessation by itself. Trying to confront or defeat tanhã will not work because willed action only causes it to arise again.

Situations that used to completely overwhelm and demolish me disappeared; other habitual behaviour began to fall away. I began to notice the wonderful emptiness, the wholeness, a peace of mind that comes about when you understand there is a way out of Suffering; everything that arises, ceases.

…there is a noble truth about the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving [tanha]; its abandonment and relinquishment; getting free from and being independent of it. [Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta]


Source for header image
this is a summarized form of an earlier post titled, ‘too much is never enough

created fragrances

nose_sinuses_smellOLD NOTEBOOKS: Switzerland: Industrial Zone: Waiting for the bus home. There’s that slightly odd fragrant smell in the air again. Somebody told me about it; there’s a laboratory here that creates commercial smells: odorants, aromas. The air is always full of fragrances. It’s the smell of fruity jam today. Another day, it’ll be a different smell, a more subtle thing you can’t identify, a component of a popular smell – not unpleasant, just odd. The fragrance of fruity jam, which strikes the nose when I open a new jar, is  a ‘replacement aroma’ created under laboratory conditions by chemists.

The manufactured smell is a chemical compound designed to trigger an olfactory experience. I’ll react in the same way even though the smell/aroma/fragrance is completely artificial. I fall into the ready-to-purchase mode – mind is saying, yes, yes, yes, get it, own it, have it… the familiarity of the smell is all that it takes. A perfect example of the Buddha’s Paticcasamuppada, the chain reaction of consciousness (dependent origination). The wonderful smell of bread from the bakery section in the supermarket. I’m drawn to it because of the aroma even though there’s no baker’s oven in a supermarket. I know it’s an illusion, but still respond to it as if it were real.

The artificial smell starts a sequence of mini events in the mind instantly when it makes contact (phassa) with the memory/ recognition/ acceptance, and there’s feeling (vedana). As soon that point is reached there’s the craving for it (tanha). I experience a state of wanting, a kind of greed, (upadana) and it’s very likely that I’ll go into the ‘bakery’ just to take a look, caught by the nose… it’s not real, it’s a chemical compound pumped into the air or sprayed somehow inside the bakery section.

Airline food served at 600 mph, and an altitude 38,000 feet; an exotic olfactory experience of roast potatoes, beef, onions, cheeses, French cognac, a hint of cigar smoke, ground coffee, crème caramel, port, liqueur. And we are served sad-looking pre-heated food… a bit disappointing. Do they really expect us to not see through this? But I think that’s part of it; somehow we’re satisfied with the illusion, a puff or a spray that releases the manufactured odorant in the air we inhale. There’s a knowing acceptance of it: “well isn’t it interesting how they can create artificial fragrances these days?” It’s okay to do this. Not only food, there’s the smell of leather upholstery in a new car, that distinctive odor created by chemical processes sneaks into our consciousness and we allow it to happen. All kinds of products, the smell of a new carpet triggers something in the brain, a physiological change and in the mind there’s recognition and the familiarity about it. An acknowledgment of the illusion being part of the whole panorama of illusion we create in our world of perception. The characteristics of the illusion lock into place and it becomes as real as anything or everything else. Does it really matter if it’s artificial… the whole world of perception is artificial.

The bus arrives at the stop and we all get on. It rumbles off down the road into town and the smell of fruity jam is still in the atmosphere, I can smell slight traces, then I get distracted and soon after that I’ve forgotten all about it.

‘Though my view is as spacious as the sky, my actions and respect for cause and effect are as fine as grains of flour.’ [Sogyal Rinpoche]


Summarized from an earlier post titled Fragrant Illusion, written during my time as a teacher of English in banks and offices and small industries in a small town in Switzerland.
Source for header image. Please visit the original page for the interactive version of the image.



IMG_2403POSTCARD #192: DELHI: Photo shows the hoarding (with part of the word ‘caution’ in Hindi) behind which, work on the Delhi Metro underground is taking place. The construction zone encroaches on to an already crowded roadway as three lanes of slo-mo traffic are bottle-necked into two, then one – all that earth has got to be shifted out of the hole I suppose… traffic congestion so bad, road rage is a palpable thing… static electricity flashing and sparking in the spaces between metals very close but don’t actually touch; a kind of unseen neon percussion hi-frequency zizzle in the surround-sound of car horns in a musical composition on alto sax, trumpet, trombone and all the various combinations of horns in the brass section of the orchestra. Yes it is quite bad. Ok for me, I’m not the one driving, just sitting in the car interior here, trying to not be upset by it and get a headache coping with the traffic jam in my mind, What’s needed here is breathing; a long deep in breath, and slow outbreath….

Thoughts without substance arise and fall away. The good feeling is nice when it’s here, the bad feeling is nice when it’s not here – and the often overlooked position of neutrality situated between the two extremes; the Buddha’s Middle Way. It was a turning point in my life when I first saw that if I could remain in neutrality as the feeling comes on and be aware, observe how it’s possible to sidestep the clinging thing, the Velcro of self that’s always inclined to attach itself to the same old thing: this-is-mine-so-it-belongs-to-me, then the chain of events is interrupted and everything that happened moves on, ungrasped-at… as simple as that.

The sense of being in a state of no-self is one of astonishment and the relief that the whatever-it-was THING did not take place… wow! how good is that! This feeling moves it all forward in such a sensible and wholesome direction. These small successes are necessary in a world that doesn’t educate children about this basic truth and the moments of conscious experience are instead allowed to form events that occupy our thoughts. No teaching on how to liberate oneself from unrest and the state of always having to make something out of it; the present moment cloaked by Mind pondering over either some past memory or preoccupied with something in future time that hasn’t happened yet. Never really at ease, never able to witness this peace… the inherited karma of generations.

Forever unable to see that thought processes lead nowhere in the end, maintain themselves hesitantly, and are forgotten in the on-going awareness of what’s happening now. I’m part of it, but I’m not ‘in’ it. The present moment is not the near future, it’s happening now – so fast, you could say, look, there it goes, into the past. Yep, history taking place before our very eyes…

We learn from the principle of dependent origination that things and events do not come into being without causes. Suffering and unsatisfactory conditions are caused by our own delusions and the contaminated actions induced by them. [Dalai Lama]


cruel pillows [part two]

Aluvihara-Resting-BuddhaOLD NOTEBOOKS: Delhi: You may know already about my permanent headache caused by PHN on right side of the head and I’m a Buddhist so I can’t appear to be too grouchy about it. I can walk around gently balacing this headache, do my shopping and as long as things are simple and easy, I’m okay. I’ve been researching the kinds of pillows available in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s an on-going search because of my disturbed sleep at night. And it’s not easy in Chiang Mai a country town, where the staff are trained to smile, look nice and be elegant, but they don’t actually know anything about the product: I want to buy the softest pillow you have please?.

The sales girl shows me a pillow and poses beside it as I give it a little squeeze with my hand and she smiles. It’s not soft enough, try the next one, squeeze it, and sales girl, elegant, posing gives me a little smile again and I’m beginning to feel, get me out of here, there’s a headache coming on. I try every pillow they have in the shop and the sales girl is tiring of the instant smile when I squeeze; but I buy one because she was so good at posing beside the product. Get back and crash out with a bad headache. My side of the bed is full of pillows tried, discarded, there’s no space for any more.

Eventually I find one in Delhi and this pillow is so good! I take it with me everywhere; a totally soft pillow placed in my suitcase on top of everything. It’s also a good way of holding a whole lot of loose items tight in an oversized bag because the pillow expands into all the corners when you squeeze it in and zip up the bag tight. So, fling in loose items like pens, cables, adaptor plugs, knowing that the expanded pillow will hold everything in place and get to the other end, take out the pillow and everything’s like a screen-shot of how it was when you were packing at the last minute.

So I took it with me to Switzerland then all around the UK and back to Bangkok. One morning, early, Jiab puts the pillow into the washing machine. I see my pillow pegged out there on the washing line and I’m in a state of shock! Yes, she says, pillows can be put in the washing machine and I have to go out to look at it a few times hanging there in the hot sun, but it it wouldn’t dry out enough so I had to improvise something else that night and was tossing and turning for hours… cruel pillows. It was dry by the end of the next day but when I tried it that night, it was lumpy.

So I found another one in India, a crafty- artisan place, wild cotton filled fragrant pillow, I was assured. I tried it one night and it was great, so good to rest the head and feel normal. Then a couple of days later, I went for an afternoon nap – the headache is always better when it gets laid down. And, lying on my side with ear planted deep into the soft cotton, I was just drifting off into sleep when I hear something moving inside the pillow! An insect? A tiny lizard? Something struggling to get out from the weight of my head for some reason. The thing is you get insects and ‘things’ in the strangest places here, and not impossible that, when the pillow was being filled maybe some cotton-habitat creature ended up in there. So I opened it up, scissors at the stitching at one end. Spread everything out on the floor. No insect, no small creature… maybe it scuttled away unnoticed, aha! freedom, didn’t see it, but I did find some leaves and a bit of a small branch. Well, getting that all cleaned out and stuffed back in again was not easy and there was quite a bit left over. Never mind, stitched it up again with needle and thread, Then the final fluffs of cotton removed and got it back into its pillow case, slightly slimmer and looser, slowly lowered my head on it and it was wonderful, even better than before. So good!

I’ve suggested to Jiab we open up all the hard pillows in my collection and take out some of stuffing but so-far she’s unconvinced…

the kamma of not seeing it


POSTCARD #84: Delhi: Eight thirty in the morning, coming into town from the airport, great rivers of traffic and car horns hooting and tooting like flocks of geese in a poultry market. Shym is driving, I’m in the back… an opportunity for me to consider how difficult all this could be. Confrontations up-front and in-close brinkmanship… give-and-take becomes push-and-shove, not enough space, no room to move. Scarred and scratched vehicles, smashed rear lights, dented bumpers. Trumpets blare, somebody blocking the lane – get out of the way! Insist on it thru the sheer force of horn blasts: plaaaaah, PEEEE, pap-pap-pap! Everybody gets into it, scenarios of outrage, high octave shouting in a language I don’t understand. Then Shym starts singing in Hindi, a voice with trembling vibrato. Maybe I should ask what’s that nice song he’s singing and we can have some light conversation? But I see his hands gripping the steering wheel, white-knuckling it, a sense of the radiant nuclear fury of the sun. This is how it must have been in the Wild West – except they had guns. The ever-present sound and odour of gunfire, young cowboys wearing holstered revolvers and composure like stainless steel. Somebody loses their cool, chairs fly away and everybody dives for cover under the tables.

Things being as they are it takes longer to get to the house than planned, driving with extra caution through these hair-trigger hazards in Delhi traffic, and me with these whispered voices I try not to listen to, voices telling me, it shouldn’t be like this, and seeking calm, steadiness in the intention to be mindful. Remembering to disengage the automatic irritation response. Just notice it – yep, that’s it, and leave it alone. Let sleeping dogs lie. Lessons learned from a lifetime of kamma-vipaka, cause/effect – this is the result of something that happened in the past. Whatever that was, caused this. And what caused that cause? There must have been another cause and this is the effect of that effect, then… and before that cause? Another cause, same thing. My presence here, ‘me’, is the result of a very long cause/effect sequence stretching all the way back through the ages to the Big Bang (The Original Cause, or was there something that caused that?). I am here as a result of generations of those who came before ‘me’, believing it was an inevitability, destiny tattooed on one’s forehead. Going about their lives and managing likes, dislikes; the desire to have, want and get-away-from. The kamma of not seeing it – not seeing that there’s an end to kamma.

So, everything is holding together reasonably well and we reach home in the end. Out of the car, hi everyone, I’m okay yes, thanks, just been sitting in an aircraft economy class seat all night. Into the house, drop bags where I stand and collapse on the sofa. It’s been three weeks but feels longer; three Buddhist monasteries, a funeral and a wedding – and the 4000-year-old stone circle in NE Scotland. I came back to India to take a rest from all that… watch the breathing, heartbeat all a flutter, lying here in the horizontal position. There’s a trembling vibration running through my body, is it the sofa, the floor? Raise my head, is it an earthquake? Look around, no indications of it, nothing falls off the shelves – not an earthquake, just life itself….

“… in its fullest sense, liberation from kamma is liberation from cause and effect in the mind. It’s a process of mentally, emotionally, stepping back from any state and seeing it just as a state, without reactions and attitudes. This simple skill, which most of us can do from time to time, is what we develop in Buddhist practice.” [Ajahn Sucitto, Kamma and the End of Kamma]



IMG_0998POSTCARD#66: Phuket: It was nearly the end of M’s school holiday and she hadn’t had much experience of the ‘beash’ (beach: her mispronunciation of the ch/sh sound). So the three of us decided to take her to the seaside, got on a flight to Phuket, 1 hour 50 minutes from Chiang Mai and some of that time spent speaking in English and making jokes about the ch/sh sound: washing TV (watching TV). I asked her when she’s ‘washing’ TV does she uses BREEZE detergent, is that a good one? Hahaha, etc. No, Toong-Ting, I wash TV with MAGICLEAN because it’s anti-bacterial… (there’s a kind of one-upmanship developing, now she’s past her 10th birthday). Arrived in the early afternoon, lumpy chunks of land rising from the sea, seen from the plane window. Busy airport, flights from all parts of the world arrive and depart, waves roll in from the ocean and drift back out. There’s an Aeroflot jumbo jet arriving at the gate next to ours, direct flight from Moscow, and signs in Russian everywhere in the airport. In the town too, also Russian travel agents, Russian car rentals, Russian laundries, Russian restaurants, and guided tours for Russian tourists with Russian guides – they’re more noticeable than other Caucasians; large human beings who don’t smile at all.

Coming in by bus from the airport to the Centara Hotel at Karon beach (a hotel catering for families with children), M sitting with me in the front seat behind the driver, and she seems unusually quiet – busy with the iPad. I ask her if she’s okay… mm-hmm, (like I’m doing something quite complex, don’t bother me right now). We’re going round and round on these circular roads; signs for the airport keep coming up. The bus driver chatting with Jiab and M’s mum, saying it’s because it’s an island, the GPS brings you around in a circle and all the roads lead back to the point of origin. Nowhere else to go, limited land space, commercial potential of everything examined, evaluated, exploited to within an inch of its life. All to create another crescent shaped beach, same palm trees, same everything.

It was then I noticed there was this slightly dizzy feeling; a lot of up-and-down and around on cliff roads to get nowhere in particular because everywhere in Phuket looks exactly like the place you’ve just arrived from and the same as the place you’re going. And M turns to her mum, says something that mum can’t hear, has to repeat it; I hear it as cha-ooap (cha is a future indicator, ooap means to be sick). The recognition of it comes slowly; I see the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror looking at us with alarm… M shouts out cha-ooap! She’s going to be sick – there’s a rush and fumbling among the passengers on the bus to find a plastic bag… shouted instructions on how to hold the bag and how to lean forward. But she wasn’t sick, soon we were in the hotel and everything got back to something resembling familiarity.

tsunamiNow it all looks pretty exotic here. A lot of Russians and if I look away from the grim expressions, I can really get to appreciate the lovely deep resonant tones of the language. The tsunami of December 26, 2004 was a visiting catastrophe, came and went and the memory of it now is like biblical karma. We don’t like to think of it… gone is gone. Could be we are the only Thai group in the hotel – I’m not Thai but identify more with them than Westerners here, and really amazed at the long story of what has led to this, dependent arising, and the karma that’s brought me into this situation ~ [to be continued]

For the early Buddhists, karma was non-linear and complex… karma acts in multiple feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. Furthermore, present actions need not be determined by past actions. In other words, there is free will, although its range is somewhat dictated by the past. The nature of this freedom is symbolized in an image used by the early Buddhists: flowing water. Sometimes the flow from the past is so strong that little can be done except to stand fast, but there are also times when the flow is gentle enough to be diverted in almost any direction. [Thanissaro Bhikkhu]


Upper photo image, view from the van that took us from the airport
Lower photo image source

magha puja day 2014

OB-SC487_0308ai_H_20120307120048POSTCARD#49: Delhi: It’s Valentines Day today and by coincidence it also happens to be a special day for Buddhists; Magha Puja Day, the full moon of the third lunar month. On this day, 2500 years ago, 1250 enlightened monks came from different places in India to pay respect to the Buddha. No mobile phones in those days, of course, so how did they get it organised? Maybe it was telepathic, all these monks had been ordained by the Buddha himself and it had only been 7 months since the Buddha had had the experience of enlightenment – a time when everything must have been vital and immediate. The arrival of the monks was thought to be a key event in the development of the Dhamma teachings and this was when the Buddha gave the “Ovadha Patimokkha” discourse: the three principles of the Teachings: do good, abstain from bad action, and purify the mind.

On Magha Puja Days in Thailand there’s the circumnambulation ceremony, walking clockwise three times around the temple holding flowers, incense and a lighted candle. For me it’s a time to sit on the cushion for a while, if possible outside in the moonlight. A time to consider what it must have felt like to be present in that ancient gathering. The great circle of the full moon in the dark sky of 2500 years ago illuminating everything, and the assembly of monks seen in its mysterious silver light. That moonlight would have been the same as the moonlight we experience today. The function of seeing is the same now as it was then. And for those monks sitting in the moonlight so long ago, the associated consciousness that arose through the act of seeing was the same consciousness arising that is always arising; consciousness of an ever-present flow of sensory data from outer to inner. They would have contemplated the truth that ‘I’ am a mind/body organism and an inseparable part of the whole that appears all the way through time – everywhere it’s the same moment. For those monks sitting in meditation all those centuries ago, the sensation of the breath in the nasal passages, a coolness of air gently present, would have been no different from how I experience it now. They would have contemplated the breath in this way; watching the in-breath, the out-breath, and the awareness that arises with that feeling was the same awareness I experience here and now.

Through the subjectivity of human experience, that special Magha Puja event of the gathering of the 1250 monks is suddenly brought into present time. The ‘now’ that happened then is the same ’now’ happening as I write this, 2500 years further on in linear time. The entire history of the world is like a very, very, very long moment. The ‘now’ moment is, of course, always present and, although I may think of that gathering of monks 2500 years ago as happening in the ancient past, I have to remember that a moment experienced at that time was a moment happening in present time for those who were there.


“Refrain from doing evil,
 cultivate that which is good; 
purify the heart.
 This is the Way of the Awakened Ones.” [Dhammapada v. 183]

‘The first stage of cultivating the way is refraining from following all that is evil. It is about learning to say ‘no’ to ourselves when we need to. As a result, we discover later we can say, ‘yes’ without losing ourselves. If we don’t recognize our unwholesome impulses for what they are, we might think the bad stuff is only in other people. The second stage of cultivating the way is developing that which is good. Even if it is only a small moment of goodness, don’t dismiss it. The third stage is purifying our effort of the taint of ‘me’. Even when we have completely finished redecorating a room, the smell of paint fumes remains. Though our practice might be getting stronger, the sense of self-importance could be getting stronger too.’ [Ajahn Munindo, Friday 14th February 2014 – Magha Puja]


IMG_0460POSTCARD#42: Chiang Mai: Don’t know why or how it can be like this, but there’s a sense of joyfulness, today – floating free. An easeful vertigo that’s comfortably not lost its balance. I’ve been looking at the building under construction next door, and seeing it expanding upwards daily. It’s like something sculptural. The floors and wall surfaces that will hold the enclosed space we recognize as rooms and corridors are not complete, just the shape of the space within which things exists, a 3 dimensional photographic negative in the mind’s eye. The builders do everything in negative form.

They’ve done one new floor since I last wrote about it [structures]. Bricks and mortar with foundations deep in the earth. So fast, almost like everything is made out of paper, no gravity, no heaviness, and we’re in the realm of birds and flying. The guy in the red shirt seems to be the one who always goes up first; climbing into the sky. I don’t know what his life can be like, maybe bonded to his job, burdened with hardships, and struggling with the contractor over pay… but how could he not feel good today, standing up there in the cool morning and looking out, blue sky as far as the eye can see.

These builders are the heroes of the story, men and women in their wide brimmed straw hats, faces covered with cloth to protect the skin from the sun and regulation hard-hats squeezed down over the straw crown. The big bankers and investors might open bottles of champagne when it’s finished, but they’re nothing compared with these ordinary folk on the scaffolding who climb up into the sky on their flimsy structures and boards and the building follows on up behind them. It’s as if there was a hook in the sky they attach their ropes to and from there, can haul the building up, suspended.

IMG_0462BBuildings are the mountains of the city and the created world. These builders are rural/urban migrants; they’re from the villages and the mountains themselves; mountain climbers who build the mountains they climb. And seen from where I am, on the third floor, this mountain/building next to me appears above the tree line and looks strangely separate from the ground below – I can’t see the foundation, there’s sky above and (I assume) sky below. It’s a floating building.

A strange illusion, I’ve seen it in Switzerland, on walks around Dhammapala Buddhist Monastery. When you’re high up there on a steep incline, with trees near enough so you can see the forest floor below, the mountain above the treetops looks like it has disconnected itself from the earth, drifted away from its moorings; a gravity-free mass of rocky earth and vegetation floating in the sky. Thinking of the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the Avatar movie; based on the Huang Shan mountains in China.

There’s a light-headedness about this because, today, I’m somehow free from attachment to things in the mind. Considering the possibility that one reason human beings tend to be in a state of ‘holding’ a lot of the time, is that we’re all earth-bound creatures; attached by gravity to a spinning planet and the default mindset is this holding-on thing – can be difficult to feel comfortable about letting go. But today I feel released from that pressure; climbing the mountains in the mind. This freedom has always has been like this. I just didn’t notice.

‘The Buddha taught that clinging was the ninth link in the chain of Dependent Origination. In that chain, craving led to clinging, and clinging to “becoming” (bhava), i.e., to continued stuckness in cyclical existence. There are two places where the chain of dependent origination can be broken: at the point where a pleasant feeling turns to craving, and at the point where craving leads to clinging.  We can break the link of craving through awareness of its dangers and insight into where it will lead us.  We can break the link of clinging by simply letting go.’ [Seth Zuihō Segall]


cold denial of winter in the north

200620131897POSTCARD #30 Delhi: Gone are the barefoot days of summer, the short-pants and silly Tshirt. It’s cold now. Ah, that warm memory; sunny weather and things that don’t matter. If I’m going around dressed like a clown, how can I take life seriously? It’s okay here except it gets hot like an oven for three months of the year, peak temperatures at 46°C and higher. Now, though, our world is sliding down slowly into the chilled foods section of the supermarket, colder and colder – still warm during the day, but cold at night. Temperature dropping and I’m struggling slightly with this shut-in feeling, like maybe I’m ill or something? There’s got to be some reason for this heaviness, burdened by the weight of clothing.

Dark grey skies in the morning seen from this old house, through these large single-glazed windows, loose fitting and drafty, high ceilings, marble tiled flooring and small electric heaters on wheels that run across the smooth surface. It’s good enough for rented accommodation, single storied; a large roof window in the middle of it where I set up my drawing board. Nice overhead light but when it’s raining the sound is deafening and in this cold weather it’s as cold inside as it is outside. I wear a scarf indoors, a wooly jumper, and pause to consider the novelty of socks… wiggle the toes.

IMG_0271Jiab is ok about it, she’s from Thailand where it’s blue sky every day and this dullness is quite interesting for her; comes over to me with her sleeve rolled up and holds out her arm for me to look at: ‘see?… it’s that thing again, what you call it?’ I say ‘goose bumps’ (supplier of English vocabulary), look closely and sure enough, the skin is reacting to the cold. Different though from my experience of childhood in 4° below zero in Scotland most of the winter; memories of a snow drift against the side of the outhouse, frozen until the springtime. I am the escapee. It’s so dark there, they use special lighting to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), ‘winter depression’ and set up mirrors to reflect the sun: heliostat skylights. People are skilled in staying cheerful, shut inside small rooms for a third of the year, blazing coal fires in the hearth.

The gloomy ponderings of winter; the closed concept around things, setting boundaries around what is really open space. And it doesn’t have much meaning to the folk who live there if you say that nothing is permanent, all things arise in dependence upon multiple causes and conditions…. ah well, ho hum: one thing leads to another, is that it? Yes, well so what? There comes a time when it’s all been kind of said before and words run out.

I try to be alert, sensitive to what’s happening now… switch off the video in the head; be mindfully aware of the present. I want to deny the presence of winter, stay unattached and free, switch on all the lights in the house. It feels warmer and there’s a 300 watt halogen bulb in the standing lamp I can sit under to read a book and it feels like summertime, still…

‘… something like a level, a dimension, realm or sphere of truth, or a reality, things as they are. `The all-encompassing space’ (Trungpa Rinpoche), the element of space contains everything, contains all existence. This is the wisdom of the dharmadhatu. This word `wisdom’ means, perhaps, `gnosis’; it is knowledge which is nondualistic, knowledge which is completely one with the thing it knows, complete understanding, complete absorption into that knowledge…’ [Francesca Freemantle]