awesome selfie stick

IMG_2296POSTCARD 150: Delhi: To start with, it felt like a small insect bite. The painful part was just out of my vision on the back of my shoulder – impossible to see it in the mirror, so I ask Jiab to come and take a look. She studies the mark on my shoulder and says, “it’s a…” (pause), silence for a moment – looking at it thoughtfully, “It’s a…” (can’t think of the English word). I find a small hand mirror and try to see my reflection in the large bathroom mirror. Twisted around, contorted and awkward, but still can’t see it so I ask Jiab to tell me what she thinks it looks like. She says, “peempo” (pimple) her voice is so close to my ear it’s like she’s shouting. Then, silence, focused on trying to squeeze it with fingertips… doesn’t answer my questions because one can’t squeeze pimples and speak English at the same time. I can hear her holding her breath, small sounds of effort: mmmnh… but I find it’s too painful; get the phone out of my pocket, go to the camera app and ask her to take a photo of it. She takes a close-up: click! Shows it to me… oh, I see! It’s not “peempo” (pimple), singular; it’s pimples, plural. Many of them… and then I’m aware they reach up under my hair too.

We go to see the doc, show him the unpleasant skin rash and tell him about the headache and neck pain all the time. He takes one look and says: herpes zoster virus, it’s Shingles – Jiab says chingo… in Thai they call it ngoo sawatdi (snake says hello again). The doc tells me it’s the chicken pox virus we get when we’re children that remains dormant in the body for decades, then “wakes up,” or reactivates. Why? Maybe because I just came back from four weeks in Scotland, fresh hilltop air, and must have lost the immunity to infection I’d acquired as a long-term resident foreigner in South Asia. Who knows… it just comes back.

This is how it is for me now, headache, pulsating on and off, all over the right side of the head and neck. Doc gave me ant-viral tabs, ointment and pain med, saying it’s a neural reaction to the skin lesions, and (interestingly) the nerves below the surface of the skin tell the brain there’s pain inside the body. This sets off major alarm systems and you feel it deep inside. I have to get around the fact it’s telling me all the wrong things about the location of the pain – stated also with a kind of urgency, like, Pay attention! This is serious… so I’m starting to worry it’s a brain tumor. And it’s not that, it’s actually in the upper skin layers.

Sometimes I sit on the meditation cushion and wait for quietness to come; thinking and thought has its own momentum, takes time to settle down, then the openness to the pain experience is just totally there for a moment. There’s the default sense of self: hey, this must be happening to ‘me!’ then an initial frantic search for an alternative that runs on automatic takes it out of the normal context. Mind does a bypass, and for an instant the pain is not happening to anyone – there’s no ‘me’ engaging with these thoughts. The awareness that a thought was just there, but now nothing remains except the awareness that I can’t remember what it was… and the sensation of pain, like the hummmm of an old fluorescent tube light that needs to be replaced.

‘The mind is the canvas on which our thoughts are projected and is part of consciousness. Our body is a holographic projection of our consciousness.’ [B. M. Hegde, cardiologist]

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Photo source: PnnB on Thai social network

‘the world is the mind’

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POSTCARD#77: Delhi: There’s nobody here. Step right out of myself and look in, peep through the windows, knock on the door, ring the bell… anybody home? Try the door handle, it’s not locked, go in… hello? Walk through the empty rooms; the teapot is warm, teaspoon in the sink. Evidence, somebody lives here – look, there’s the laptop on the desk, a brightly illuminated screen. It’s a Google map of India. Click on the little yellow man and place him in a location to get ‘street view’. There he is standing on the surface of the planet. We are in Delhi, presently facing South and on our right, 4000 miles away in a westerly direction is London, 4½ hours behind Delhi time. Keep going on from there over the Atlantic and we come to New York, 3500 miles further on, and 9½ hours behind Delhi time. Further west, over the mountains and many horizons, arriving in San Francisco, another 2500 miles, and 12½ hours behind Delhi time. On we go in a westerly direction until time comes to an end in a zigzag line in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s the International Date Line. After that it’s officially a different day. Continue from there, and we come to Japan, and Seoul, Korea, and South East Asia, then Bangladesh and I’m in Delhi again, back to the time zone I’m in now, except that it’s yesterday… it’s not, of course, it’s the same day, it’s always the same day.

Absent from present time, there’s this long journey that lies ahead… I’m already on the plane. And now I’m arriving at the destination, going around in that place and here and there, everything is squeezed into just three weeks. Then the long return journey, exactly the same as it was going out only the other way round, and glad to be back again. Wow! How was the trip? …no I haven’t left yet, I’m just flying around in the world in my head. Got a ticket with my name on it, date of departure, passport valid – confirmed, registered, subject to limitations, and causes, and conditions, and the operating system that’ll take me there. I am ‘taken’. It’s about the process, no Controller, it goes on automatic pilot. There’s no ‘self’ in the equation – the deed is done and there is no doer – using the Passive Voice language function to express the Buddhist Truth of not-self (anatta).

Sounds are heard, food is tasted, and the chill wind of the southwest monsoon is felt upon the skin. And there’s nobody there that feels it unless I put together an identity composite in Active Voice: ‘I feel the chill’ – ‘I think, therefore I am’. It has to be a strongly assertive statement because the sense of ‘I’ has arisen simply through thinking it’s there and when I stop thinking about it, it’s not there. There are only the Five Khandas. Necessary to have conviction, believe it’s there. *‘I believe for every drop of rain that falls a flower grows, I believe that somewhere in the darkest night a candle glows’. Not impossible. Language tells a story, creates a fiction that I can get lost in; only partly aware that it’s a constructed thing and most of the time I’m clinging to a concept of selfhood, maintaining an assumed identity that’s dependent on updates and new software. Selfing is grasped-at, held, identified-with. Consumerism insists ‘self’ is a religion, but the world is seen to have moved on just a little bit, always, and all this is included in its diversity in the process of becoming something else.

‘Consciousness doesn’t ‘see’ or ‘experience’ a world through a mind, but rather the world is the mind (in the broadest sense of the word) that is ‘seen’ or ‘experienced’ by Consciousness.’ [Rupert Spira, The Ever-Present Seamlessness of Experience]

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Excerpts from an earlier post passive voice based on an idea that arose from a post found in: Just A Little Dust
*Note: ‘I believe that every drop of rain that falls….’ is a quote from the song “I Believe” (1952) composed at the start of the Korean War.

 

 

world without end

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POSTCARD#74: Delhi: Ping! An email hits the inbox. It’s from the travel agent, about my flight to UK: Delhi/London, and connecting flight to Inverness Scotland. I see for the first time that the whole journey door-to-door takes place on the same day (allowing for +4½ hours time difference). Didn’t notice that… and another thing is that the date of travel is the 6th July which happens to be my birthday. It’s a time-and-space thing, I’ll have the longest birthday I’ve ever had in my life. Delhi departure time: 10.25 am, London arrival time: 2.50 pm (local time) then Inverness arrival time: 6.00 pm, and the folks there are saying we should go out and celebrate, have dinner somewhere. It’ll be a very long stretched-out, spaghetti-like, spatiotemporal birth-day.

But that’s not all; I remember now, in the Northern region (57.4717° N, 4.2254° W), it never really gets dark in the summertime, being near to the land of the midnight sun. So my birthday will continue in a glimmer of daylight through the night of the 6th July, into the dawn and the brightness of the next day, then all through the night again, into the next day and on and on like that for the rest of the summer. There’s a sense of birthing, and a feeling of forever about it, ‘world without end’. I’m swept away in a great ocean of memories. Everything that ever happened in my childhood flashing before the eyes. The mind racing through everything contained in the system, and clicking all known picture files. Hundreds of windows all opening at the same time; layer upon layer of memories. The thought that there is a place called Home… ‘home is where the heart is’, what does it mean, how does this make sense to me now?

Question: where is home? Sit quietly and clear the mind for a bit, consciously aware of the sensation of the breath gently touching the inner surfaces of nasal passages. This feeling is the same for everyone. Look out through the eyes and see the sky, the same blue sky everyone else is seeing – and not just the sky, the physiological process of seeing the sky is the same for everyone. The consciousness that recognizes this sense of subjectivity is the same for me as it is for you and everyone, everywhere, as it has been all the way through history. I can know how they felt and understood the world in ancient times; the sky they looked at and sounds they heard, fragrances they smelt, food tasted, surfaces touched and their mind responses. All of that is the same for me here and now as it was for the ancient people in their time. The ‘me’ and ‘mine’ I experience is not different from the ‘me’ and ‘mine’ anyone else experienced in the past, or at this moment, or any time in the future. The body/mind organism that receives the experience of this ever-present sensory data through the Five Khandas, is the same for me as it is for everyone on the planet. Outer and inner are both parts of the One, the Same, Inseparable – This is ‘Home’.

‘…the Buddha practised deep embodiment – really inhabiting his body, not sticking on the surface at sense-contact, but going inwards through breathing to where the subtle energy-channels of the body open, find their still centre and suffuse the practitioner with happiness and ease. In contact with that, the mind drops its wayward thinking, its sluggishness, agitation and passion and gathers at one point. ‘Jhāna’ he called it, ‘touching the Deathless with one’s body,’ the meditative entry to nibbāna. Note: not ‘witnessing’ or ‘watching’, but touching.’ [Ajahn Sucitto, Surface, Depth and Beyond]

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Image: the midnight sun in Altafjord in Norway. Source: Wikipedia 
Note: excerpts from an earlier post: now as it was then, are included here

just this

Sunrise (1)WPNChiang Mai: 05.30 hrs., ‘… down the long and silent street, the dawn, with silver-sandalled feet…’ daylight creeps into the rooms and it’s my birthday today! I suppose one’s birthday is something to be possessive about: ‘my’ birthday. I was born on this day quite a long time ago in the North of Scotland and now I’m here in the silence of a Chiang Mai morning in the North of Thailand. Open all the windows and a breeze blows through in all directions, curtains and fabrics that haven’t moved for a month in the stillness of this interior, flutter and flap against the walls – a sheet of paper flies off my desk, lands on the smooth floor tiles and slides away. It feels like the world outside is inside; all of a one-ness and this mind/body awareness (that is ‘me’) spreads out from here, through the trees, up and into the dome of the sky as far as the eye can see.

Skype call from Jiab in Delhi, happy birthday, and in the video window I can see our room, the place I usually inhabit. Jiab is at the desk where I normally sit. It’s still dark there, daylight here. Two people talking with each other but often occupied with the tiny image of themselves that appears in the Skype window, lower right. Eyes are sometimes directed away, how does my hair look? Jiab tells me the story about how she was born on the night of the full moon and so her actual birthday is not always on the same day. The family lived in an old forest area in the South of Thailand. Jiab remembers her father saying it was the light of the full moon that guided him through the trees to bring the midwife to their house. And a phone-call from M, happy birthday Toong Ting! She calls me that because she’s my 9 year-old niece. Toong Ting, when you go to Inkland? She asks me this, meaning ‘England’ but I like ‘Inkland’ (the place that makes ink?), so I tell her I’m going to Inkland on Saturday 13th, but it’ll be Sunday 14th by the time I get there. We have a discussion about the time difference thing and M knows about this, having visited Japan earlier this year. Only 9 years old, but she has an understanding of the world and systems that’s so much in the present moment it takes my breath away.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image17433969Children teach us about birth and the great mystery. About 10 years ago, there was an episode from a BBC series on the human body that showed a woman giving birth – so vivid, I suddenly felt this immediacy of it happening to me: the blinding light, echoing sounds; the coldness, the impact of air entering the nasal passages? Revisiting the birth experience. Emerging into the world,  the first total sensory consciousness sweeps through and the body/mind organism is turned inside-out. That TV film left me quite transformed… Now it’s later, many years later, and there’s ‘me’ and this old body, getting settled on the cushion for a 30 minute meditation sit on ‘my’ birthday. These are the same body parts, regenerated, expanded in a lifetime, worn a bit smooth, puckered up at the edges. Skin, muscle, flesh; soft rubberoid plasticity, and these mysterious organs held by ligaments bonded into solid bone. The whole thing maintaned by the tremendous heat and energy processed from food, the fuel for the engine. And there’s the fluidity enclosed in bubble-like spaces, gurgling away all the time. The breath enters the body as a kind of wind, gusting in and out. It comes back and blows everything all over the place, withdraws in a moment and it’s gone again. Mind mesmerized by the form and function of the body, seemingly trapped in this limited temporality; cause/effect – then for an instant, seeing the truth of the Five Khandas. Thin skin of eyelid slides over surface of smooth eyeball and the dimly seen light entering my darkness; just this…

‘Each and every mental and physical process (namarupa) must be observed as it really occurs so that we can rightly understand it in its true nature. That right understanding will lead us to remove ignorance (avijja). When ignorance has been removed, then we do not take these mind-body processes to be a person, a being, a soul or a self. If we take these mind-body processes to be just natural processes, then there will not arise any attachment. When attachment has been destroyed, we are free from all kinds of suffering and have attained the cessation of suffering.’ [Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw]

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‘…down the long and silent street, the dawn, with silver-sandalled feet…’ taken from ‘The Harlot’s House’ by Oscar Wilde. Upper photo image taken from the WPN archive. Lower photo image: dreamstime. Gratitude to Rory and his post for the inspiration: http://beyondthedream.co.uk/2013/07/05/tao-te-ching-28-keep-to-the-feminine/

the opportunity

200620131896_2New Delhi: I leave the door open that leads to the roof terrace and come downstairs. Ksum is in the kitchen, cleaning up. She says: You no close door up? Pointing, so that I can understand her English; large black eyes look at me; blue sari, olive skin, Assamese Buddhist, originally, converted by Christian missionaries. Then she’s smiling in a kind of patient way when I start to explain I’d like to have the door open, to get fresh air? Looking at me like, does she have the energy to tell me this? Ked come in. You know Ked? …raises her voice because maybe I’m deaf or something, Ked come in, you open door. And I’m thinking… what’s Ked? And there’s that incredulous look. You no unerstan’ Ked?  Ked come in door, come down stair, into house steal food from all th’ trash‘n make a mess everywhere! And then I understand Ked is ‘Cat’… pronunciation is different. She sees the dawning of recognition on my face. Ahh… she says on my behalf, and nods her head with a sideways slant, goes back to her work; like I need to be told everything. I go upstairs to close the door then decide to step out on the roof terrace where the air is cool and nice.

Wow, Ksum having a bad day. But she’s right about Ked, cat; instinct and the window of opportunity – or door, in this case. There’s also monkey, of course, and rat, and all the other freeloaders and opportunists out there in the world of Wild Life, claws, wings, beak and teeth, quick and clever; skills evolved from when they were all dinosaurs. The ability to grasp, snatch, hold and eat. Human beings similarly motivated, driven by desire. Reacting to the sensory world – sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch, mental objects, and grabbing at these with extraordinary speed. The habituality of it inherited from former lives… the reason I was reborn in this world is that I’m attached to everything I love and hate. We keep coming back. It’s the relentless search to feel good about everything, and avoid feeling bad about everything when the good feeling falls apart.

Carrot-and-stick; the good feeling is nice when it’s there and the bad feeling is nice when it’s not there. The good feeling makes it seem like everything in the world is allright, joyful, a sense of success; it’s rewarding. And the bad feeling is the opposite; a strange sense of failure, guilt, and fear – I’m bounced off the wall and wanting the good feeling again with renewed hunger. Chasing my tail. Stuck in the duality of exchanging the bad feeling for the good feeling – something thought to be deservedly earned, a reward for time spent in bad feeling. Stuck in a rut on the consumer treadmill without any belief in anything beyond that. Seemingly there’s no choice, earning just enough money to pay for what it takes to make me feel good for a short time, then I’m feeling bad again. All I really want is some peace and calm but it seems to be so hard to find.

210620131902Loving kindness and compassion for those in Suffering. The system creates the predicament. Most people think there’s no way out, even though the opportunity is there. It’s like the example of being locked up in a prison cell for years. Then, one day somebody comes into the cell and gives you the key to the door, so you can open it and you’re free. But instead of doing that, if you’re a ‘believer’, you put the key in a special place and pray to it every day, believing you’ll be able to endure all the hardships of your prison cell by worshipping the key. You don’t know what to do, doubt, uncertainty, fear, confusion. Other people, ‘non-believers’, disagree with your worshipping; they say, we don’t believe in religion or anything, so they decide the best thing to do is just get rid of the key and throw it out the window.

The key is not an end in itself. Just a key; meditation practice, mindfulness, just the intention to be mindful is enough. Back off from the automatic pull; the sense of something out there that I’m drawn towards… and the internal sense of ‘me’. There’s nothing there, only the Five Khandas (Five Aggregates): form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. ‘… stopping the mind, stopping the flow of thoughts that are proliferating, stopping the flow of moods that get drawn into either attraction or aversion. We return to a clear center, to awareness’ [Ajahn Pasanno, ‘On Becoming and Stopping’]. No holding on to anything, no holding on to the teachings even. Learning how to use the key. Maybe it’ll take a lifetime, but what else is there to do that’s as valuable as this? Allowing everything to arise and fall away. Cessation. No remainder. Nothing whatsover is to be clung to: sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya.

200620131891‘We use the pleasant and unpleasant feelings to measure our success or failure. If we experience something pleasant, we think we’ve succeeded. If we experience an unpleasant feeling, we think we’ve failed. This comes from a place of becoming, what we have become through bhava tanha or vibhava tanha. We judge it in terms of the desire to maximize the pleasant and minimize the unpleasant.’ [Ajahn Pasanno, ‘On Becoming and Stopping’]

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The story about the key comes from ‘Religious Conventions and Sila Practice’, Ajahn Sumedho, Cittaviveka 1992. Upper photo: the door to the roof terrace. Middle photo: sitting area on roof terrace. Lower photo: a plant called ‘Ladies Who Wake Up Late’ (flowers every day but late in the morning)

redefining the question

800px-Asoka_KaartNew Delhi: 04.00 hours. Awake at some time of darkness that’s neither night nor morning, getting some coffee and toast ready for Jiab going to the airport for the Gujarat flight at 06.00. Car comes, she gets in, bye… door-slam and she’s gone. Stars shining in the dark sky, then I come inside and look at a Google map of India with Gujarat there on the coast of the Arabian Sea – so that’s where it is… really not that far from Europe. Then take a look at the wiki map (shown above) of the Buddhist routes going out in all directions from North India in the time of Emperor Aśoka the Great, 273 BCE to 232 BCE. It looks like an explosion of consciousness that took place in North India, and spreading out from there; North, South, East, West, along the Old Silk Road directions. It goes West as far as the South-East Mediterranean countries; arriving there in pre-Christian times. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanchat. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.

Text comes in, Jiab: ‘boarding soon’. It’s a two-hour flight, Delhi to Gujarat. Looking at the map again, I notice wiki uses the word, ‘proselytism’, but it can’t have been like that. There’s no doctrine of God-worship in Buddhism, ‘I believe (I believe) in God (there’s no real Teaching other than belief for me to study). In Buddhism (and Advaita Vedanta and the Tao), the separate ‘self’ is an illusion, ‘a cluster of memories, thoughts, habits and conditioning’, maintained due to this basic human tendency to hold on to stuff. It’s not about that, it’s not about our origin, our Creator or what we are made of, it’s about how the whole thing works. It’s a 2600 year-old teaching about learning how to see what our hang-ups are, and easing the burden. It’s not about living for our(selves): seeking, acquiring and hoarding, it’s about generosity, relinquishment and giving it all away*. It’s about mindfulness and the way things exist, rather than what exists. It’s about realities that fit into our world today, exactly as it was in ancient times. The Buddha anticipated modern physics: all matter is energy; beings exist as “bundles of energies” (five khandhas). It’s not about ‘self’, it’s no-self, anatta, it’s about consciousness, viññāna, and the big question: what is consciousness?

Central_Asian_Buddhist_MonksI go through to the bedroom to lie down for an hour or so; still not yet dawn. Watch the breath, conscious of the sound of the ceiling fan above me in the shadows, constant spinning cycle that somehow says something about the weight of the rotary blades. It looks like how it sounds: a spinning propeller of an old fashioned aircraft – consciousness of the visual image. Always there’s consciousness of something: consciousness of the smell of coffee and a crust of toast in the kitchen, the taste of it; consciousness of the soft bedding I’m lying in. There’s consciousness of thought and then there’s consciousness of no-thought – including my perception of it. Consciousness without an object, the still mind, unsupported consciousness – unconditioned? The non-dual perspective is that it’s like this anyway…. So it’s without an object in the sense that it is different from the basic functions of interacting with the world through sensory organs: eye, ear, nose, skin, mouth and mind; different from the state of being conscious of what’s going on in the body/mind organism, phassa, as a result of responses to the world outside. Not consciousness of… just consciousness itself – what is that? No answer… is this the kind of consciousness that’s needed to find the answer to the question or to redefine the question, maybe, or whatever… is it the true self?

If so, it’s not what I thought it was: ‘…this true self is also the fundamental source of all attachment to being and becoming… attachment to the allure of this primordial radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander indefinitely through the world of becoming and ceasing.’ [Luangta Maha Boowa]

If it’s not that, then it goes beyond words: ‘When all phenomena are done away with, all means of speaking are done away with as well.’ [Upasiva’s Questions (Sn 5.6)]

It all needs a larger context. Some time later, another text comes in, Jiab: ‘having breakfast in the hotel’. It’s 08.30 and she’s nearly 600 miles away….

‘Consciousness cannot be known by mind. The mind is an object. It doesn’t know anything. It is itself known by Consciousness.’ [Rupert Spira – Link to: Spiritual Artwork]

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“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it stands still. Owing to its stillness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ [Bija Sutta: Means of Propagation” (SN 22.54)]

*This post contains excerpts from: ‘Beyond The Dream, Tao Te Ching7: Selfless
Lower photo image: Central Asian monk teaching East Asian monk, 9th century fresco

the ‘I’ metaphor

2013-01-19 09.18.12Chiang Mai: Contemplating birdsong here in this place, next to a wooded area and a very large tree in the early morning and there’s a male Koel bird on a branch somewhere repeating its call: ko-el, ko-el, ko-el! a two-syllable utterance, at measured intervals, getting louder and louder each time, reaching its peak and the bird stops for a breath. It starts again from low volume working up to high volume, The sound, ko-el echoes around in the spaces between the hard branches and trunks, the layers of foliage and around in the air into my space here in the room: ko-el, ko-el. The end of the sound –el collides with the beginning of the next sound in the sequence: ko- and for a moment it becomes more like: el-ko-el-ko-el-ko, smoothly presented in a unity the bird knows so well and I’m just discovering it.

The preception of the sound shifts back to ko-el, ko-el, contained in this space. And in the space contained in all the other rooms in this building, the corridors and passageways, as I go down to street level; the elevator and front lobby. The ko-el sound can be heard everywhere in the building. I know, of course, it just seems like the ko-el sound is contained in the building, it’s an illusion. In fact the ko-el sound and the whole building are contained in space; space holds all, there are no boundaries, no beginning, no end. The ko-el sound can be heard all along the street too.

Back upstairs again and I am in this space, the space is in me. I can say ‘I’ am here, meaning the fictional ‘self’arising from the five khandhas, the mechanisms that filter conscious experience received through the senses. And the ko-el sound reaching my ear convinces me that if there is sound, there must be somebody in here hearing it – and that’s ‘me.’ The belief in self is backed up by sensory data input through ear, eye, nose, mouth, feeling sensations and mind. I can hold on tight to this belief that I am ‘me’ but there’s really nobody there. I can let go of it. It’s a metaphor; it’s saying conscious experience ‘is’ individual identity – a figure of speech, a kind of analogy. Not real. The emphasis on it being the same as the object of comparison pushes the whole thing over the edge and it ‘becomes’ the object. In fact the conceptual metaphor is a tricky business….

My Western conditioning still struggles with the anatta teaching, and the misleading statement: ‘I think, therefore I am.’ [René Descartes] isn’t helpful. It’s like the opposite of what Buddhists know to be true. If Descartes had been a Buddhist, he might have said: ‘I think, therefore I am a thought construct’ …but it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? What I think I am is not what I am. Thoughts think themselves, dependent on conditions arising from other conditions which are dependent on other conditions; peeling back the layers of onion, like this, to discover there’s nothing in the center; just empty space (again). It’s the ‘I’ metaphor; a structure created by words to explain a concept. In the mind’s eye we can leave the body behind, soar up into the sky and leap up into the heavens. It’s a figure of speech. The self is not contained in me, ‘I’ am contained in ‘self’ – the universe – everything, no subject/no object.

The ko-el sound shifts to some other location and it must be because the2013-01-19 09.17.09 bird has flown to a different tree, further away. Later in the day I hear it again, coming from some distant place and after a while I don’t hear it anymore….

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‘…the anatta teaching is not a doctrine of no-self, but a not-self strategy for shedding suffering by letting go of its cause, leading to the highest, undying happiness. At that point, questions of self, no-self, and not-self fall aside. Once there’s the experience of such total freedom, where would there be any concern about what’s experiencing it, or whether or not it’s a self?’ [“No-self or Not-self?”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 8 March 2011]

a handle to hold on to

201020121489Chiang Mai: Going to the airport in a tuktuk through a network of small streets. It’s probably a shortcut, but all these speed bumps? I’m feeling a bit queezy, seasickness must be like this. Or is it just that I’m surprised to be rolling up and over joyful little mountains. First the front wheel then the back wheels (three-wheeled vehicle), again and again; overkill on speed bumps. Sure enough it makes you feel giddy, all the ups and downs and I don’t ‘like’ it much but my wanting it to not be like this is making it into an issue. It’s a control thing, it’s about the so-called ‘me’. ‘I’ am the problem because, in fact, there’s nothing here; a body-mind mechanism that can process and transform data, the Five Khandas, that’s all. Nobody at home, no ‘self’ anatta, no-thingness. Only namarupa responses, natural processes and the feeling of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’ arises due to the curious nature of sensory experience – this game of hide-and-seek, and the flip-side of concealment is revelation?

Maybe so but first things first, at this point in time I’m having an acute bout of speed-bump nausea and the small discomfort of it is in the centre of consciousness. Some basic sense informs me it’s a mistake to try to reject it or think it shouldn’t be there, I’d be better to get around to accepting it; the 1st Noble Truth, a deep acceptance that causes the ‘holding’ to ease off and there’s definitely something about this teaching; if you can understand it, the suffering disappears. The first time I came to see it, all kinds of habitual ‘holding’ that had bothered me for years just fell away. Gratitude to the Ajahns in Thailand for their guidance. It seems to me now though, there’s still something I’m not getting here? I’d been thinking that all the Theravadin masters are teaching, in their tremendous intensity and detail, is mindfulness about what you’re doing and the skill of letting-go. Beyond that there’s nothing said except the reference to it as the ‘deathless’.

‘When meditators practise correctly and have the discernment to see that quality (of deathlessness) as it really is, the result is that they can withdraw their attachments from all things — including their attachment to the discernment which enters in to see the quality as it really is. The practice of all things good and noble is to reach this very point.’ (Ajahn Thet)

Non-duality teachers talk about pure consciousness in the sense of something tangible; they’re saying there’s something ‘there’. The ‘I’ that is arising is the ‘I’ of everything. Theravadin Buddhists, on the other hand, are saying it can’t be like that; it’s emptiness – if you think there’s something there, it’s a handle to hold on to and the whole thing is about letting go, not holding on. So, today I’m thinking it’s helpful to have the stability of that ‘thing’ and I’m holding on; I want there to be something in that space, a sense of familiarity, it’s a known place and the sick feeling can be happening in an awareness that’s much larger than the confines of the cramped ‘self’. No little ‘me’ having to cope with it, the speed-bump nausea is not ‘mine’, no ownership, it’s not personal.’ It’s about learning how to be a totally open presence, aware of the way the ‘self’ perpetuates itself – on all levels and not buying into that.

A short while after that, thankfully, we get out of the narrow streets, small intersections, and onto the open space of a smooth, flat, easy highway in one long straight route across to the airport….

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personifications 1

Note about the image: Ravana, huge demon-like effigies, are created for the Dasera festival which was held in India recently. The effigies are packed with straw and the highlight of the event is when they are set alight [Link to: The Hindu newspaper]. What I’m writing about here is the attachment we (Westerners) have to effigies such as teddy bears and the inclination to personify objects as a way of supporting the concept of an individual ‘self’ separate from the world.

Bangkok: I’m in a townhouse in the centre of the city; arranged to meet some people about a school-kids party event. Na Uan is here and the room is full of huge plastic bags containing something… is it teddy bears? Yes, teddy bears. She says, they were donated by an Australian NGO to be given as prizes for the main quiz event. And my first reaction is, how cute! Then that feeling falls away; they’re just teddy bears, a lot of them, packed together in these large plastic bags. I see them all squashed up inside the plastic, upside down, sideways and limbs all tangled together and faces pushed flat against the tight surface of the stretched bag. They’re looking particularly unloved; not cute at all. I ask Na Uan, shouldn’t we take them out of the bag? No, we can’t because they’ll get dusty if we do. Seems like not the kind of thing to do with teddy bears, keep them in plastic bags, they can’t breathe… ? I have to remind myself they’re not living beings.

But the best is yet to come, Na Uan rolls out another plastic bag containing the largest teddy bear I’ve ever seen, it is about 4 feet high in the seated position, squashed up, golden furry body and wide-eyed inquiring alertness about the face, everything flattened tight against the polythene surface, and totally suffocated like the others. Why am I going on so much about teddy bears? It’s because I spent the night there and had to sleep in the same room with all the teddy bears, trapped inside their plastic bags. I got to sleep in the end; woke up in the morning and there they all were again, looking out at me in their appealing way..

It’s this thing about ‘self’, there’s just no getting away from it. We take the mind to be self but it’s a succession of mental elements nāma rising and falling away and seeing, hearing, thinking is the same; the body too, rūpa, one day here, next day gone. The five khandhas – it’s doubtful if they were of any substance in the first place. Sounds like a sad story and I suppose that’s why there are teddy bears we can hold on to – and other things. We try to bring our sense of ‘self’ into reality with these personifications, images of ‘self’, but that falls away too. None of it works, there’s just this great emptiness where the individual self supposedly resides and the great big teddy bear looking at me now from across the room cannot convince me otherwise. It doesn’t work like that.

Interesting to see Na Uan’s attitude about all this; individuality creating existential anxiety; it’s a Western thing. It has no meaning; there are many things like this that happen here in Bangkok that Na Uan doesn’t understand and that’s ok, not important. She is one of eight sisters and brothers, an integral part of a community that takes support from each and every individual present, one way or the other. Yes all kinds of stuff Na Uan didn’t have to learn and get involved with when she was a kid. Good for her. The ‘self’ problem is still there, though, but maybe the Thais are very much less attached to it than we are.

There’s a question about what remains after you see through everything that is not the ‘I’ you take it to be. There’s a quote by Sri Ramana Maharshi: ‘… the one who eliminates the ‘not I’ cannot eliminate the ‘I’… find the source and then all these other ideas will vanish and the pure Self will remain.’ It’s possible to have assumptions about the ‘pure Self’ and about what ‘will remain’. The Buddha’s teaching is that if you can completely deconstruct the ‘I’, nothing is left behind, ‘no remainder’. This must be a teaching about tanha, the natural inclination to hold on to the very end – as we do with teddy bears and everything else. All there can be is the clear-minded investigation of this.

Sometime after that I was having breakfast, pa tong ko, deep fried dough pieces in the shape of an X and soy bean drinks with dried fruits and somebody arrives in a pick-up truck and takes the bags of teddy bears away. It was like they were never here.

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Photo Image: The Hindu Newspaper