the eye ‘I’ metaphor

POSTCARD#327: Bangkok: Completed the cataract surgery in one eye, and waiting now for the second one, thus going around in a one-eyed condition. What I’m seeing through the right eye is a wonderful enhancement, a brightened-up version of everything… hard to believe. Close the right eye, look through the left and the world is a dull, indistinct, old, yellowed photograph. Just to confirm this, I close the left eye and look through the right again and it’s like the Nat Geo channel, as clear as the iPhone X 458 pixels per inch; the techno-device metaphor used to describe physical reality.

The world is an analogy, a figure of speech, a conceptual metaphor. In my case the lens in one eye is a tiny piece of sophisticated plastic – in the same way, someone might have an artificial leg, or a dental crown. No difference, except that you walk around with an artificial leg, you chew with a dental crown but I’m seeing the world through this artificial lens. The artificial lens is a functioning part of the cognitive process.

Light passes through the lens, images appear, mind considers all this, based on received experience of similar images and selects a file, saying, ‘what you see is like this’. It resembles something that’s familiar, so I re-cognize it, and that’s what it becomes – whether it is really what I think it is, or not. The metaphor pushes the whole thing over the edge; one thing becomes another. There’s that thing out there and ‘me’ in here, looking at it; ‘I’ am on the receiving end, therefore conscious experience ‘is’ individual identity: ‘I think, therefore I am. “cogito ergo sum”

The assumption is that the ‘self’ is a fixed reality and everything coming through the senses is real; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, cognition – and it’s all coming to (((me))). I like it, I want it, I want more of it, or I hate it, I don’t want it. This is how it is, I get all the joy but also the pain, the good and the bad, love and hate, heaven and hell – thus I have to spend a major part of my life (maybe many lifetimes) having to cope with these polarizations that I accidentally created, thinking I was doing the right thing.

Buddhists say this is not it. Thoughts can exist in the absence of a guiding “self” – obvious to anyone engaged in the practice of Buddhist meditation: cogito ergo non sum! What can I do about it? How to be free of it, to not be a slave to it? In some circumstances, taking an indirect approach means simply the intention to be mindful is enough, sufficient to disengage from the automatic reaction. Not caught up in the experience of it, one step removed, just knowing that this is how it is; that’s all. Knowing it takes the place of not knowing it. Step by step, experiencing how to do it… words cannot go any further.

“Emphasis is laid on the principle that this (same) thought-complex is an aggregate or combination of such factors, and nothing more… there is no permanent entity or self which acquires the states”. [From a footnote in the English translation of the Dhamma Sangani, by Caroline Rhys Davids, 1900] Explained further in the Atthasalini, a 5th century commentary by Buddhaghosa: “… here there are only states: no permanent being, no soul is known. These are mere states without essence, without a guiding principle… there is nothing else whatever, neither a being, nor an individuality, nor a man, nor a person.”


Reflections on an earlier post

that which is seen

POSTCARD#323: Bangkok: After the operation on the right eye, and the world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colors and a strange familiarity of objects, things become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only; vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct.

The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face as the procedure is going on. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism (namarupa). One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking through this at the world, I find there’s an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colors, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. All this has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display; high-density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

At home, curious Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, an extended reality. So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this and the mystery of that which is seen.

‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]


Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok. Reflections on an earlier post The Beholder

 

a twinkling diamond light

POSTCARD#320: Bangkok: Remembering North India, Bodh Gaya: 04.00 hours: This is where the Buddha’s enlightenment took place. I’m in a hotel not far from where it happened, the window is open, sitting on a cushion and comfortably watching the breath. There’s a sense of being near the epicentre, ground zero – the sparkling, twinkling diamond light. From here, it spread through everyone who were able to listen, then, in the course of time, reaching out to all parts of the East. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, South East Asia and other places eventually came here to see for themselves, the places where the Buddha walked.

Something I’d really like to do before running to catch the last bus, is to visit all the Buddhist countries in the world. I’ve been to Bodh Gaya, Śrāvastī, and the other sites in North India, where that sparkling diamond light can be seen. All those centuries ago, the presence of the Buddha, – although typically, we have to line up with hundreds of other visitors and shuffle through these neatly restored monuments with a fence all around and guards at the gate to keep out the beggars.

Better just to find a place in the grass comfortably situated in the shade of these huge Pipal trees. How much of this is as it was, 2,600 years ago? I’m seated on the earth, with the others in my group. I am distinctly aware that the Buddha walked near to here when it was called Jeta’s Grove – Thus Have I Heard. The wind gently moves across my face, becomes tangled in the hair on my head. The sensation of the breath gently touching the inner nasal passages, and the consciousness that arises with that feeling – look around, the same blue sky, brown earth, green foliage, even though the objects I see may not be the same as they were then, the process of seeing is the same, received in the ever-present conscious experience – a manifestation of consciousness experiencing itself in that twinkling diamond light.

“Where there is the mind, where there are mental phenomena, mind-consciousness, things to be cognized by mind-consciousness, there a being exists or the description of a being. Where there is no mind, no mental phenomena, no mind-consciousness, there a being does not exist nor any description of a being.” [SN 1.65]


Reflections on an earlier post titled Now As It Was Then

the look of eyes (1)

POSTCARD#318: Chiang Mai: Moving through the main road traffic in a tuktuk, going at an unforgivable speed, just amazed by the noise of it. Lying back on the seat in the slouched position, holding on to everything, and the body kind of adhered to the seat. We make a fast turn into a soi (narrow road), lurch to the right in this flimsy three wheeled vehicle, lightweight structure with a wide seat, shiny chrome poles support a canvas hood overhead and nothing to separate outside from inside.

We’re now in a residential area, careering down a narrow path; the engine noise is louder here. Pedestrians turn and look as the tuktuk approaches and step back out of the way. There’s just enough time to see the person’s head turning in my direction, I glance and have eye contact, wish them well in my mind, and I’m gone. Turn another corner and somebody else looks up from what they’re doing. It happens again and again, an old woman, a child, and a man just sitting on the wall. He hears the sound of the approaching tuktuk, head rises, shoulders turn and face comes round to where I am, looks at me sitting in the back seat, I smile and he does too. We’re in a moment, a shavingth of time and it’s gone. Again and again it all takes place in a couple of seconds – not unusual, quite ordinary… a fragment of a shared moment.

Heads move in my direction: who is that in the tuktuk? The human reaction eyes and ears; vision and hearing, and mouth is there to speak or call out if necessary. All these sensory receptors are positioned together in or about the face and the flat plane of it moves round like a small parabolic TV satellite dish reaching out for a signal, ready to respond. Sometimes it’s too fast and the thinking process doesn’t engage. I see the beginning of recognition, mind takes over and ‘self’ locks in, then released and the tuktuk is gone in that same instant. A brief glimpse; an excerpt from a sentence; a few words that don’t have a context.

Each person I see is ready to respond, smile, say hello when we have eye contact. It’s my responsibility to smile and wave because the place where I am at, is moving too fast and they see first I’m not anybody they know, white face, pale eyes, kind of invisible. Sorry, have to rush, bye! It’s a brief encounter then zoom round the corner and there’s somebody else. Face turns, eyes look and mind engages gear… she looks at me sees the prepared smile, smiles in recognition of my polite intrusion in her space and that is somehow hugely reassuring for me. The face turns away, and ‘I’ am not here, I never was here really, it just seemed like that for a moment; the look of eyes, and our shared world, the air takes the volume of a space where there’s always enough room for it, and the water in the lake is for fish to find somewhere to swim around in….


Photo: Chiang Mai Tuktuk

 

mindful attention

POSTCARD#316: Bangkok: I’ve been here long enough to remember what some districts looked like without the huge shadow of the elevated highway and overhead Skytrain. Congestion underneath; traffic jams, and not much room. Small markets, street food, but the population were okay with it – maybe forced out because a massive concrete pillar had to be situated right in the middle of where they used to be. But mostly they found another location, moved back a bit, shared the space among themselves giving way to the changing infrastructure.

The photo above shows the North/South Highway at Nontaburi that meets the city network of raised highways. On the right stands the Buddhist Wat Bua Kwan temple – buildings coloured red and cream. I don’t know if they lost a bit of land in the intrusion of the highway, they probably did. One thing the monks and laypeople who lived there lost, was the relative silence of how things used to be before the highway came. The noise level now must be incredible.

Then the road was finished and we’d pass by above the temple often, seeing only the exotic peak of the roof at first. After some time the roof was taken down and scaffolding appeared instead, then an upper floor was built. When the floor was completed, an enormous Buddha statue was placed in the centre facing East and the sunrise over the rooftops below. Then the walls and roof were built up around it.

It sounds like all this happened very quickly but it took special artisans 5 to 6 years, working  slowly and carefully, and allowing time for blessings and ceremonies to take place. Each part of the upper floor and walls were done in the same way and the special curved roof was completed with the whole extent of mindful observances.

Now it’s finished and we pass the building on the left side (lower photo) as we go into town (Thailand drives on the left). Coming back at night the whole thing is lit up and… it just blows me away.

Also the sense of the monks there, and in meditation morning and evening, otherwise occupied with household tasks, teaching in that beautiful place – but surrounded by this colossal sound of traffic 24/7. It says something about patient endurance, the way one can tolerate external things mindfully and allowing internal narrative to be in balance. The monks living there are sending a clear sign to car drivers and passengers passing by that it is possible to calmly persevere with mindful attention, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Remembering too that all things arise and pass away.


Ajahn Chah was in London, staying at the Hampstead Vihara. The monks were troubled by the noise that was coming from the pub across the road. Ajahn Chah told them that the cause of suffering was their sending attention out to trouble the sound. Sound itself is just so. Suffering only arises when we ‘go out’ and add something extra. Seeing our part in creating problems, a shift in the way we view struggles takes place. Instead of blaming, we simply ‘see’ what we are doing, in the moment. Let’s not get into a fight with hatred; exercising careful restraint and with Ajahn Chah’s reflection, we let it ‘fall away’

Initially we see this only after we have reacted and created suffering. With practice we catch it sooner. One day, we will catch ourselves just as we are about to create the problem. (Ajahn Munindo)

 

blessings fill the room

POSTCARD#311: Chiang Mai: 07.00 hours: The alarm rings…. and it takes a moment to recognize I’m in Chiang Mai, arrived last night. Heavy curtains over the window; a darkness I’m not used to. It’s quiet here, the sound of monks chanting anumodana on the edge of hearing. A motorbike whizzes by in the distance, nothing else. Senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching for a way to ‘become’ something that will establish ‘me’ in this place and time but I can’t, I’m distracted by these new surroundings and keep returning to the narrative associated with interesting objects.

Too many, too much, I go to the window, feet on cool tiles, flip flop, flip flop, a sense of empty rooms, as yet uninhabited; space/time occupied with the moving of its integral parts – chapters from a book about furniture being moved into a new apartment, the ending hasn’t been written yet and the beginning is a continuation of what happened before that.

Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and ‘now’ becomes yesterday – here we are in the awareness of this moment, the means by which we arrive at this point in time remains a mystery.

Slide open the curtains of all the windows. A blaze of colour, monks in varying shades of orange, faded tangerine robes and a group of kneeling Thai tourists from the hotel opposite. (Note: the original post refers to Christmas Day 2012, and here in a Buddhist country it is just an ordinary day).

Jesus and all the other great teachers in history were really saying the same thing. In the peace and quiet emptiness of the moment there is no hungry ‘self’, no driving ‘urge’ and from this place in awareness, it’s possible to see that I am continually re-born in tiny slices of time, minutes, seconds, into this self-perpetuating loop due to the habituality of trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want. Thinking that yes, so life is about trying to get it right, but caught in attachment upadana; even this, the desired state, belongs to ‘me,’ the act of possessing it requires that there has to be a ‘me.’

Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even that which I consider to be ‘my’ enemy, is also ‘mine.’ Thus creating a self that is incomplete, unfulfilled, searching for the truth in all this and failing to see that it’s the searching that maintains the state of being lost. Layers of associated narrative obscure the issue. People say they are so busy with ordinary tasks; earning enough money to support the family and no time to think of anything else.

In the same way, belief in an external creator creates attachment and unthinking devotion to this returns me to the same point of entry, again and again. It’s not so much about taking refuge in the Jesus or Buddha of the mind. It’s about here-and-now behaviors: sila, samadhi, pannya (virtue/ mindfulness of present time/ and the applied intelligence that goes with it). The blessings of the monks fills the room; slowly waking up to an awareness of this reality….

‘If those who lead you say to you, “See, the kingdom is in the sky,” then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, “It is in the sea,” then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ [Selected Sayings of Jesus from Gospel of Thomas, Nag Hammadi manuscripts]


Reflections on an earlier post titled habituality of former lives

 

limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

sure-footedness

POSTCARD#308: Chiang Mai: Headache stabs me in the Right Occipital Nerve, on the walk back from the market with backpack full of vegetables, and living things I wash and slice and eat, whispering to myself forgiveness, in the discomfort and heat of the day. Yes, I could stop, fumble in pockets and squeeze out two capsules from their crinkly enclosures, bring to the mouth and swallow with a practised swig from my bottle of water I keep in an outer pocket of the backpack. But not yet, balancing backpack, stumbling slightly on these unfinished side-walks, lumps of concrete roughly rendered, landscapes of pavements we encounter everywhere in the ‘Developing World’ – tell me, is there ever a time when a country becomes ‘developed’, or is it an on-going state of development? Just look at Trump and American politics – okay, enough already… forgiveness.

If only… if only we had the sure-footedness of youth… I almost slip on the wet shiny tiles some fashionable shop has proudly cemented in place in the threshold of its brand new frontage… forgiveness. I shall not, today, slip and fall into the road, and be run down by a heavy cement truck careering through the narrow streets, as they do, on the way to, and coming back from a construction site somewhere in the centre of the town. Not today shall I meet my end under the muddy wheels and tarmac thoroughfare, forgiveness, forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Then later in the day, comfortable in my room, and what is it? There’s always something about the question that’s gently pondered, not posed, poised, considered… the pause before the dancer consciously walks across the stage; left foot point toe, place on floor, right foot point toe, and so on – complete the action swiftly. It has to be exactly the right question, but always not quite decided upon; what is it? Could it be that the contemplation of what this question is, is enough to begin to know it, without actually knowing it, for all intents and purposes? It just begins to be known, somehow… a kind of indirect situation that just falls into place, as we recognize it and see it thus, induced then deduced, who can say?

Words don’t hold meaning for very long, the question gets forgotten about, or possibly it’s still there in the detached state, just not functioning as a specific inquiry now, more like a wide-openness that’s waiting for an answer. In the same way as there are answers, lying in their own wide-openness waiting to be discovered. A non-verbal alertness, a strange familiarity, a passing recognition that seems to go on opening and opening and opening.


Photo taken from the aircraft window of the Bangkok flight yesterday. Excerpts from an earlier post: Somewhere in a former life

 

the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T

 

samsara of advertising

POSTCARD#307: Bangkok: Everywhere in shopping malls, magazines, TV channels, images exerting the ‘pull’ 24/7 so that we can easily, unknowingly enter into a world of choices – the idea that ‘I’ can have a personal preference, thus am I caught in ‘self’. The Western model, reshaped by East Asian style and adapted to fit Thai cultural behaviour. Stories acted out by adults who look like children; cute faces, attractive personalities, charm. Products presented as if it were a game, makes it all seem quite real and acceptable; the high-voltage sales strategy is unseen, cloaked in naivety – preparing for a whole new generation of consumers, a new Thai society – the corporate entity engaged in long term planning.

I can get caught by it, drawn towards the TV screen, something I see in the advert triggers it, and the who-I-am thing arises, and a voice inside me says: I LIKE THIS and it all gets to be really important, relevant, vivid and intense. I feel suddenly energized, compelled and, I WANT TO HAVE IT, ready to start discussing with sales staff at the retail point and proceed with the purchase; the plastic in my wallet getting hot, I’m being swept away by the samsara of advertising. Too bad because I can apply the brakes at this point, as it is in the patticcasamupada, remembering the way to stop craving (tanhã) arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before craving happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. I know it will cease of its own accord if I can allow it to become nothing, and fortunately it’s all in a language I can switch off from so it all fizzles out…

To become the owner of a purchased product, I have to believe in it – I have to consciously engage with it. To become me, I have to think ‘me’. The ‘me’ that I believe in depends on me thinking it. I am conditioned to be attached to my opinions, my emotionality, and the sense of self in all kinds of ways. I can manipulate the conditioned world so that, from this perspective of thinking, I see (my) self situated favorably – or it could be unfavorably if I’m caught in being the victim (but there is always a way out). Everything arises due to causes and conditions, then thinking about it, excessively and often enough to have it appear to be embedded in the fabric of this self construct I recognize as ‘me,’ subject to its perceived whims and waywardness, as some kind of fictional character.

But there is a way out; everything that arises falls away. Let it go and it’s gone. The simple truth is don’t mess with it, don’t think it into being, and it won’t arise. Maintain a proximity-to but distance-from position: the Middle Way. There is viññāṇa, conscious awareness, self-sustaining; I don’t create it. There’s the body, moving through the population, minding its own business, other than that, no personal essence given to me by (some external force); nothing added, nothing extra. The simplicity of this seems to immediately throw everything to do with ‘self’ into disarray; enough to cause it all to come tumbling down; a house of cards. Knowing this, we can rebuild the concept with an awareness of its parts. Leading to a more enhanced sense of ‘self’ if that’s what seems preferable… nothing wrong with personality, it’s the attachment to it that’s the problem…


Excerpts from my earlier post: March 28, 2013. Photo image: Coke ad Ploenchit