renewal

POSTCARD #259: New Delhi: Humbling to think Easter is all marshmallow bunnies and chocolate eggs in the North when, for the ancients, it was a time endowed with meaning. Sometimes I feel a deep part of me responds to this pre-language mystery of the stars and phases of the moon. A Buddhist interpretation of Easter could be Suffering and the End of suffering. An emergence into new life, perhaps. The festival occupies the place where the Pagan goddess Ēastre used to be, and the Spring Equinox predates everything.

According to ancient Maori tradition in the Southern hemisphere, the first new moon after the rise of Matariki star cluster Pleaides, signals the start of the Maori New Year (I know this because my Thai niece M is there on a 7 week English program). Easter is the Thai New Year, Songkran, and in every other culture in the world the Spring festival is a time of change and renewal. The Frangipani tree in our small garden begins to blossom (image above), a sign the winter cold and darkness in North India is at an end.

And on a darker note, because this is our reality, President Trump’s monstrous bomb on Afghanistan, the day before Good Friday says something about the assertive Western world. We don’t know, of course, if it was the intention but the darkness of Good Friday coming towards light on Easter Monday, fits with the parody of Trump’s actions these last few days… posturing before the eyes of the world as superhero, stirring up the fundamentalist sense of retribution.

Is it the intention to have the Churches in North America, over this Easter weekend, include this as part of the imagery preceding the Christian awakening? Or maybe it’s intended to have the Islamic world see it that way. Darkness with no sign of light…

“I’d be glad of a retaliation that wouldn’t recoil on myself; but treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends: they wound those who resort to them, worse than their enemies.” [Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights]

bespoke

img_0102bPOSTCARD #240: Chiang Mai: Getting into a tuk-tuk by way of the acquired skill of folding myself in half to get in then, for me, partially unfolding the upper body in a laid-back posture, knees almost level with shoulders – and I can get home by way of a wormhole in space-time, narrow streets and shortcuts known to tuk-tuk drivers only. Getting out the same way I went in, it’s a tight squeeze but many things are like that for me here. I live in a world tailored to fit a population that’s smaller than me and different in all kinds of ways. In the shopping mall, if I ask for their XL sizes, they show me, say it’s a shirt, something that would fit a ten-year-old boy in Northern Europe. So I get the clothes I need in a special ‘Export’ shop that brings in Cambodian-made garments with their labels removed that’ve first been exported to Australia.

It does require extra effort to see how to fit, and you just can’t take things for granted – size is not the only thing that’s different here, of course, it’s the way people think. The Thai worldview is culturally tight (there are important exceptions) compared to what has become for me a shape-shifting global opinion. I’m a foreign resident so I’m the one who needs to fit in with the host culture. How to get the mind to change? Buddhist practice, and I’ve learned how to literally put myself in the shoes of a different cultural background, tight fit though it may be, and I’m so used to doing it now, after thirty years of trial and error, it mostly works okay. Sometimes there’s a part of me that automatically resists, but there’s also the learned behavior of… hold that thought, how can I get around to intelligently accepting this? Not just making the best of it, but developing the ability to change.

And, the fact is, this awareness of the cultural norm, a sensitive subject for most of us, also the custom-built, bespoke, consumer preferences and attitudes that go with it, not to say politics – all this is something I gave no attention to when I lived in my own part of the world, thirty something years ago. In those days I never even considered the cultural parameters within which people like me stumble along, unaware of the rest of the world and blind to anything outside of received perception, based on received knowledge, behavior and the frequency of breakdowns over this incomplete knowledge, questioning and “what’s the bigger picture?” So there comes the inevitable cut-off point.

When I was a kid, I had no opportunity to see how the world view in any given society is tailored to fit it’s own people in every conceivable way; philosophical, political, ideological belief systems, language, the way we think and behave, every single thing. Not completely unresponsive to change though. Thailand is a culture that has managed to prevent the take-over by a Right Wing political presence (currently the resistance against business tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra’s family), over the years since 1973, through the continued upsurge of public feeling.

Simple, we have to open our eyes, look and see the devils are built-in to the system of democracy. Thailand’s effort, easily achieved some would say, in a small country with a predominantly Buddhist population. Not so in the USA in all its vast diversity where, by some strange unexpected turn of events, Donald Trump, a real estate mogul/gangster is in the white house, “the fox is in the henhouse, the cows are in the corn”*, and everything is going to shift around now to accommodate this new circumstance. Public opinion shaped by CNN coverage of fearful disasters that’ll soon control, and then gradually withdraw the formerly expansive embrace of American generosity and welcoming.

This is the world wake-up call! Lessons learned. Four years for the electorate to find a strong candidate and really get the complacent, sleeping democrat population out there to vote. Nothing is impossible.

tuk-tuk-bangkok1

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” [Cynthia Occelli]

————————
*Steve Earle, from the song: Christmas in Washington
Lower photo source: Combo Asia Tours

 

hidden in plain sight

img_0006bPOSTCARD #234: New Delhi: Traffic comes to a standstill, fierce displays of male feathers in ritual acts of outrage, shouts and gestures through wound-down windows. Eyes sparkling with diamonds of malice… but even this settles down. Things aren’t ‘held’, the silence of no-thought is possible. At least for me in the back seat of the car, disengaged, conscious only of sensory awareness in a body/mind world. It’s not meditation; I just have to remember to not be caught in thought stuck in the traffic jam of Mind.

Particularly these days of push and shove, and the fierce, blunt Donald Trump intrudes with his collection of body-slam syllables that make up a name which rhymes with: bump, lump, rump, thump, sump. The strategy of devil’s-advocate one-liner tweets, “better to reign in hell than serve in heaven”, make it necessary to wake up and feel the urgency of mindfulness – this politician has extended reach. Be aware of puzzle-headedness. Stay poised, balanced and alert.

Otherwise, in forgetfulness, I may go back to stir the ashes of defeat; return to that place of locked-in conditioning, reading pedagogy of the oppressed, the myth of freedom and other demons itch like a skin irritation you have to scratch. Isn’t it remarkable that outrageous remarks, in-your-face disregard and proud indifference wins the Presidential race… what does this tell you? Pre…tty scary. I need to remove myself from here, forget I ever knew such a thing was possible. Turning a blind eye? No, it’s not that. What I’m scared of is the unspoken denial, “I see no ships”, (Horatio Nelson turns a blind eye at the Battle of Copenhagen). People know they’re expected to turn a blind eye – not turning a blind eye is to be labeled conspiracy theorist. I try to stay free of what all this means, meditation is about the skill of staying with the feeling of all the tugs and pulls of it demanding attention, but undisturbed and steady – just letting the mind unstick itself.

In the East the world is an illusion; a discussion point that goes back at least three thousand years. There’s only the quality of experience, nothing else. Gone is the ground beneath our feet, there never was anything there in the first place. The opposite of how it is in the West where we are embedded in the illusion, overlay upon overlay, believing it’s real and uneasy, of course, about the intuitive feeling that it’s not. As a rule, politicians speak with forked tongue; doctors say there’s something wrong with you, take this medicine. There’s no one else to turn to, so we’re feeding the craving of the mind with consumables to quell the fear… but it’s never enough.

Thus we arrive at the core of the illusion itself: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” (Adolf Hitler, große Lüge). A sleight of hand (this must be when I pretend to not see it), and before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, the Truth is hidden in plain sight… now you see it, now you don’t – those not turning a blind eye fall into a yawning chasm wherein everything is sucked away not held on to with tenacity of grip, as with all things inexorably lost, Amen Or, a better idea, you can disappear off the grid and become a Buddhist.

The traffic is moving now, engines starting up, and we are on our way. I console myself with the thought that there’s a possibility DJT will root out the bad guys hidden in the woodwork for decades, albeit for the wrong reasons, he and his cronies will just take their place, but somewhere in there we will stumble upon a revelation and things take a turn for the better…


 

these days of illusion

e39f71_4f5a5a5ab85244aa87fb261af997e524POSTCARD #233: New Delhi: There’s an alertness in listening to the story, subject-object narrative, and I find I’m not caught in thought about what’s past or what’s future, knowing and recognizing how I feel, what I think, and who (and to whom) I have been who I am, who I was in former times and in quiet holy places, where it is always a historical here-and-now, anywhere and anywhen, over endless horizons of time.

A slight sense of foreboding these days where any serious applied thought seems to have gone right out the window, unless it’s got to do with greed or personal gain in some way. Thus we’re driven by nothing sensible to think about, craving for something, anything of substance. Hand-held remote glued to fingers in a multi-channel TV state of anything’ll-do, but finding nothing except the urge to find something that’ll fill that overwhelming sense of ‘lack’. Despondency of ungratified longing, dukkha; world-weariness and I see the only way out is to go in.

And it’s as if it were a light shining in darkness of mind (suffering is caused by wanting it to not be like this), thought processes maintain themselves hesitantly for an instant and fade away. Unless I consciously reach out for the next thought item, there’s nothing to think about in here (what ease there is to be found in that…), just a transparent curtain, through which I see a transparent stage, set in a transparent theatre. All the actors, transparent with background seen shining through, backlit and everything filled with light. Dazzling sunbeams in a snowy white blinding of the eyes. We cannot see we are filled with God because we are filled with a concept of God. World crashes into my small consciousness and reflected out again in a micro imploding ‘big bang’… oneness of time and space so utterly present the past tense has disappeared completely, taking the future with it.

Was the ‘Big Bang’ of all big bangs in fact caused by another big bang before that? And so on, and so on; big bangs inside other big bangs, consecutively reducing, smaller and smaller like Petrushka dolls fit inside one another until we reach ‘the nothing’? Is it that the origin of cause/effect stretches back so far, everything falls into the vacuum caused by it not being there during the time taken to find a good answer to the question? Or I could say, and it seems reasonable to me, the origin of it was/is neither existence, nor non-existence, the matrix – the quality of darkness because there is no light of sensory perception.

Here in India, to cut a very long story short, Brahman (God) is the original cause and the world we see around us is the effect. It leaves me thinking if there’s a context wherein I find myself  – yes or no. Without the cause, the effect no longer exists. Everything is real when seen with Brahman but false when seen independent of Brahman. Those of us who are unable to grasp the meaning of Brahman are living in illusion māya. It says a lot, really, about the way things are, these days of illusion, delusion and a glitzy casino owner for President…


Header image: painting by Jill Lewis

 

astonishment

pigeons3bPOSTCARD #231: New Delhi: Trumpets blare, the sharp impact of it hits immediately, a cloud of birds fly up in a flutter of uncertainty. Trees splash outwards in branches, twigs, leaves, blossom and seed. Astonishment… how could this have happened? Eyes open wider and wider, like a camera aperture opening so far it exceeds structural integrity, implodes, buildings collapse in controlled demolition made to seem like a natural disaster, the ground beneath us opens up in sinkholes. Words explode into fragments of meaning… thus, the un-expect-ed-ness of this unnerving turn of events.

Curtains open on the First Act. Enter, stage right, the President of the Disunited States, Hollywood version of narcissistic Third World dictator, well-dressed gangster with his carefully balanced coiffure and infrastructure of war, catastrophe, greed, hatred and delusion – a victorious returning to power, with paid-for breathless wave of applause. Financial Advisors grab all the wealth stolen by the Bank (who knows, maybe it’s the same family), memories of Geo Dubbya, the fall of the twin towers, the war in Iraq and weapons of mass distraction. Fear, lies and distrust in Government. How can I find stability in all this, how to let go of this dark uncertainty?

When all else fails, the Buddha’s subjective damage-repair comes into play. Rediscover the natural ability to relinquish, give way to, put aside and desist from – difficult perhaps because we are not skilled in the act of surrender. But in these circumstances of adversity we can look for the muscle that’ll release tenacity of grip, jaw clench…. Let it go, watchful too that nothing might be indirectly fanning the flames in the process, such as: I don’t want it to be like this, because wanting it not-to-be-like-this is difficult to disengage from.

Do not hold on to it, let it go… and suddenly I’m not thinking about the “why” of things anymore, just sitting quietly here, watching the in-breath/out-breath. I might want to take immediate action but the wisdom (and effectiveness) of this is to learn how to wait and see. Go against all the urges to have your cake and eat it too. Intelligent control over the energy of thought… and when there’s an opportunity, seek for a place in the middle ground. Find equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, the balance, the midway point. Find a temporary abiding there and cultivate the inward disposition to give, to have compassion for, generosity, kindness, gladness.

I understand how everything fits together today up here on the roof terrace with flowering plants in the sunshine, birdsong and a clear blue sky. I can see the compelling, driven-greed in the world. I can see how to be free of it too. People are caught unknowingly in all kinds of habitual, seek/find instant gratification. Everything, everywhere, consumerism, schooling, television, the media encourages this hunger that doesn’t lead to satisfaction but to an even sharper edge to appetite. These are the ways of the enemy.

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the President represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be occupied by a downright fool and a complete narcissistic moron” [H. L. Mencken, The Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1920]

_________________________

Photo by Melinda [melindaruck.com]