patience the sixth perfection 2

The World and Its Winds

Some of the chief sources of emotional pain are called the ‘worldly winds’: the gusts of Praise and Blame, Gain and Loss, Fame and Ignominy, Happiness and Unhappiness. These impressions trigger demand, anxiety and despair wherein we never feel good enough where and how we are. And like winds, they can blow through the heart at gale force and throw us completely off balance.

Take for example how powerful the experience of Praise and Blame can be! We can hunger for praise… even a little crumb of approval now and then. Then you feel jealous if somebody else is getting huge amounts of praise, and you are standing by the door, hardly noticed. As for blame, how we wriggle and contort to try to avoid it! We aspire to being liked, and we work at it, but still somebody doesn’t like us. Or maybe we blame ourselves.

The Buddha made a very helpful summary of blame: ‘They blame one who remains silent, they blame one who speaks much, they blame one who speaks in moderation. There is no one in this world who is not blamed’ (Dhp. 227). That applied to him, too, for the Buddha was blamed many times. So when we know it’s inevitable we can just focus on doing our best, all the time keeping our wisdom-ear cocked for the mind’s yearning for approval and its dread of disapproval.

Once the mind starts to even anticipate being blamed, a flurry enters into it. And when the blaming begins … our mind may try to come up with a rational explanation for whatever it was we’re being blamed for, rather than simply feeling where the blame is digging in and then drawing a line around it: ‘This is painful mental feeling.’ It’s a trigger, so we need to be extremely patient with that feeling.

Patience has to be learned by focusing on that painful feeling and not reacting. It’s a humbling lesson: to feel the pain, be patient with it and learn something about letting it pass through. Feel the impression in the heart and don’t shrug it off, don’t fight back, don’t go under. An impression is an impression. Don’t rely on it, don’t adopt it, don’t try to avoid it. Instead, understand it for what it is.

Then you can see the truth about someone blaming you. You made a mistake? Is there something you can learn from this? And you can see the truth about someone praising you. How much good will praise do for you? Doesn’t it deprive you of privacy? And that surge that you feel from gain… doesn’t it make you vulnerable to loss? These winds are there to teach you patience. Focus on how patience feels and value it. Then you can acknowledge specific mistakes you’ve made without taking on the sense of being a failure. And you can experience others’ gratitude or praise with a sense of gladness that they have received something of benefit. You don’t have to own it.

Learning the True Response

For an achievement that will provide long-lasting nourishment, we have to develop a response to unsatisfactoriness, dukkha. The Buddha’s encouragement was that dukkha must be understood. The unsatisfactory, inconclusive, never-quite-fitting, things going- wrong, unstable quality has to be understood in order to realize the place where it ceases. And in order to understand, we have to ‘stand under’ that unsatisfactoriness. We don’t pole-vault over it to the nice bit on the other shore. Instead, we stand under it as it cascades over us. When there is a complete standing-under, we feel the quality of that flood. You look to where things touch you, where things are felt.

You look at physical pain and see what that does to you. First of all you wriggle a bit to find a way to soften it; then you begin to get a little annoyed by it; then you get very annoyed by it. You think, ‘It’s not fair this is happening to me.’ Then you think, ‘Oh, I give up.’ But still it hasn’t gone. It didn’t go because you haven’t really given up; you were waiting for it to end, so you’ve only given up ninety percent. Eventually, it pushes you into a corner, and the only thing you can do is accept its presence and work on your reactions.

In that full allowing of conditions to be what they are, we stabilize our hearts and find peace. It’s like putting a boat into water. We make an ark of truth: ‘Conditions are like this,’ and in that truth, we don’t adopt the conditions as our own. This is important: you can’t drain the sea, but you don’t have to drown.

Why we feel overwhelmed, as if we’re drowning, is because the heart is ‘leaky.’ When it isn’t secure, perceptions and feelings flood in and cause it to sink. But even then it’s just mind-stuff — no sights, sounds, physical pains or harsh words, just the impressions of those. It is these impressions that mount up to a sense of overwhelm and alienation. And the heart can recycle them for years, even when their apparent external source has long disappeared.

These perceptions, moods and reactions arise dependent on the mind’s expectations, fragility or aims. We have to learn deeply that the approval of others, the success in our career, and the presence of what we love are not to be taken as given, not to be adopted as mine. This adopting of conditions is what knocks holes in our boat. But when these conditions can be held in the truth of their nature, the mind lets go and senses a freedom that doesn’t depend on supports. Gain, loss, praise, blame — you don’t have to go under. You can wear out the reflex of hanging on to the world. But for this you have to be very patient.

(The ten perfections, continued next week 26 march 2021)

patience [khanti], the sixth perfection

POSTCARD#411: Bangkok: Ajahn Sucitto continues with an analysis of Khanti [patience], number six in the Ten Perfections, and draws attention to some interesting aspects of our everyday lives that may have gone unnoticed. Looking as well, at the strategies that are needed to find a way out of Suffering [Dukkha]  through Patience [Khanti].

The Buddha spoke of the restraint of holding the heart still in the presence of its suffering until it lets go of the ways in which it creates that suffering. That is, the mind/heart (citta) habitually creates suffering and stress through reacting to, holding onto or getting caught up with what life throws at us. All the perfections contribute to the lessening or dismantling of that Dukkha, but the specific quality of Khanti is to carry the heart through the turbulence of existence so that it no longer shakes, sinks or lashes out.

So when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, anxious for resolution to a crisis or beset with a migraine, it’s good to remember that the Buddha was here too and found a way through.

Acceptance Without Expectation

Patience has the gut-knowledge that recognizes that a problem or a pain is not something to run away from, get flustered by or be self-pitying about. It has the wisdom to know that we have to prioritize the steps through which we can resolve suffering. There may be any number of ways to arrive at the destination, but the first thing to do is to not react – to not rage, despair or get caught in mental proliferation.

Draw a line around the suffering, take a step back and know ‘that’s that.’ Recollect that we can be free of the suffering: that we can let go; we don’t have to take suffering in and adopt it as final, real and solid. Patience holds us present with the suffering in a spacious way, encouraging the mind to open. In its perfection, patience means giving up any kind of deadline, so the mind is serene and equanimous. But if the patience isn’t pure yet (and it takes time to develop patience!), the mind still feels pushy or defensive. Impure patience is the attitude: ‘Just hold on and eventually things will get better; I’ll get my own way in the end if I’m patient enough.’ This approach can temporarily block or blunt the edge of suffering, but it doesn’t deal with the resistance or the desire that is suffering’s root.

Pure patience is the kind of acceptance that acknowledges the presence of something without adding anything to it or covering it up. It is supported by the insight that when one’s mind stops fidgeting, whining and blaming, then suffering can be understood. Reactivity isn’t the truth of the mind; it’s a conditioned reflex, and it’s not self. Because of that, suffering can be undone, and when it is, the mind is free.

Therefore, all conditioned reflexes have to be understood as unreliable and dependent on causes and conditions. They’re not to be adopted as real and solid. Yet they do happen: holding on, expecting things to be satisfying or feeling cheated are immature responses. In order to undo these attitudes we must first be patient with them. The practice does urge us to stay with it and this requires us to grow stronger and broader rather than hide or run away. The process of bearing with the suffering is not a punishment but a voyage of growth.

The suffering that can be relinquished arises dependent on causes and conditions: on attitudes and assumptions that things should go our way, that life should be comfortable, and that society should be fair and peaceful. We look for conditioned phenomena to be satisfying, conclusive, reasonable, productive and so on. But taken as a whole over a period of time, they aren’t. So we cause ourselves and others suffering when we expect them to be so.

We can organize and create supportive conditions such as health and education and laws, but those conditions have to be constructed and maintained, they’re not a given norm. And suffering doesn’t abate: anxiety and depression are now the number one disease of the developed world. Here we find the widespread pain of being driven to attain material goals that are never fulfilled or fulfilling, and the anxiety of competitive pressure and loneliness.

(Continued 19 march 2021)


 

energy, the fifth perfection 3

POSTCARD#410: Bangkok: Continuing with Ajahn Sucitto’s teachings on the Ten Perfections – described in Buddhist commentaries as noble character qualities generally associated with Bodhisattvas and enlightened beings.

The more you can value and live the path of clear thought, speech and action, the more you escape from worldly value judgments. The more you value and energize qualities of compassion and kindness, the more peace the pāramī will bring. Do we act with generosity or not? Do we care for other people? We can energize these qualities by putting attention into them, bringing them to mind in recollection and dwelling on them. Again: what we attend to, we energize; what is energized, governs our world.

Directing Energy to the Knowing

A traditional way of getting in touch with good energy is pūja, the act of honouring. Establish a shrine, image or devotional object, make offerings to it, and chant or bring forth your heart in faith. The image is there to generate a sense of offering, faith, trust, confidence and giving of yourself. Pūjā is done with the most genuine sense of trust, love and appreciation for what the image represents – the pure, the compassionate, the joyful, the wise.

The energy of doing things – the energy of arousing and gladdening oneself on the one hand, and disciplining, restraining and investigating on the other is aimed at emotional stability and fullness of heart. Apply mindfulness to the process of how you are aware. How much of knowing is additional interpretations and assumptions? Can there be a release from those?

For example, I recently had a cold; there was the feeling that my head was under pressure, with strong sensations around the brain and the eyes. The mind busy with: ‘How can I fix it? When is it going to go away? How can I get somewhere where the pain isn’t happening? Why does it have to be here?’ Then the thought arose: ‘Why do you bring the pain here? Why not leave the unpleasant sensation there? Then you can say the pain is ‘over there’, while all the mental responses, the knowing of the discomfort is ‘here’.

By being fully present and mindfully aware of unpleasantness, we can start to get a sense of it being over there and leaving it there. Then we have an area within which to abide peacefully, neither blocking nor making a big thing of a feeling. If we always attach to feeling as ‘here’, as ‘mine’ and ‘what I am’, then all our energy is used up in an activity that is pointless.

One learns to practise with the physical discomforts first, then it is easier to avoid getting caught in the mind stuff. It’s possible to step back from the thoughts, and find balance by being aware of them. And over time, you can do the same with your programs of habit. Awareness is the key, and as you touch into and say ‘yes’ to that awareness, it will bring you into balance with no further effort. The more you attend to this knowing, the more energy goes towards that knowing – away from mental patterns, physical sensation, mental feeling or emotion, and into a steady awareness of them.

Sometimes practice is about just holding a place, a point in your body, or a point in your mind, and not taking it any further than that. Just hold it carefully with dispassion so the body is held in awareness energy, and the mind settles into it. There is a healing faculty to energy that occurs when you stop ‘doing it’ and instead allow the energy to accumulate and enrich you.

This is the province of samādhi, concentration, or unification, which is a state of stable energy, wherein the body, heart and intellectual energies merge and are at rest. It has the energy of an enjoyment that isn’t based on the senses or the intellect, and it allows a resting in awareness.

Energy as a Factor of Awakening

If you are physically not very strong, you make your boundary fit that condition. Say ‘yes’ to fewer physical activities and ‘no’ to many more. Similarly, if you are not feeling emotionally robust, form a boundary for your aspirations that enables you to stay focused and mindful with ample energy.

It’s destructive to think, ‘I’m not as good as’ or ‘I’m better than,’ because if you do that, your mind doesn’t stay on its own ground but starts to pick and compare, to fault-find and to slight yourself or others. Instead, realize the

potential to end suffering! If your lifestyle can fit a set of aspirations, then say ‘yes’ to them and the boundary they represent, and give them all your energy!

In conclusion, there is an energy associated with establishing, with doing and with being, which leads towards attachment to a self-image and the burden that image represents. However we can arouse and nurture an energy beyond any image if we open up into the silence of the mind. In this place we are not monks or nuns, men or women, there is only a beautiful stable energy that supports letting go of burdens. This is why energy is one of the primary factors of Awakening.


 

energy, the fifth perfection

Excerpts from: Pāramī – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods by Ajahn Sucitto

POSTCARD#408: Bangkok: Energy (viriya) is an unseen force usually, I notice it in the heat of the city, the density and flow of traffic. For a very long time I was unaware of energy in the body – only the lack of it. Other times I’d accumulate energy until I was bursting at the seams and embark on a great number of projects which I was never able to complete. I later learned from the Teachings, the wisdom of bringing energy (or energies) into balance in the body and taking the time to begin to be aware of how this works.

The mind is drawn to attraction, aversion or confusion… things I like, things I dislike, and everything in between that I don’t understand. These forces capture energy and overwhelm the mind. I find I’m totally engrossed with something that ends up being just not worth it – a kind of driven thing.

Mindfulness is able to direct energy to where we want to be (and to get away from where we don’t want to be). Energy is the wisely applied resource that resists the push of habits (sankhāra). Some of these psychological habits build up into programs – such as perfectionism, dependence on others, obsessive self-criticism and addictions.

When a program wells up, it floods attention, and our intentions tend to follow the push of the flood. These programs cripple our actions and well-being. In theory, being aware of the situation should lift us out of its grasp. But it often doesn’t because there is a block that stops awareness penetrating the programs. We even defend them: to the workaholic, their efforts are necessary to keep things going; to the alcoholic, liquor becomes a way of finding a fit in the world. These programs offer the security of an identity through a set of habits that kick in by default.

So, when the wave of insecurity or loneliness or passion hits awareness, it doesn’t face the risk and the discomfort of challenging the self-view and the world view that these programs present for us. Instead, awareness jumps on board. the reflex habit, with denial, distraction, blame, etc.

Energy is needed to resist that flood and direct awareness to firm ground. It’s about sustaining wise endeavor. Its chief function is to keep awareness alert at the places where we are likely to drift into automatic. Then the steady vitality of energy can replace the ‘drive and crash’ programs of habit.

We can use energy to investigate the nature of doubt, and suffering in general. Use  energy to enquire into ourselves with investigation and perseverance in order that we can put aside the causes that trigger harmful programs. This is how energy, applied to calm and insight, can free the mind from stress and suffering. Consider what channels our energy towards that which is supportive and nourishing. The most obvious area that we should consider is our ethical standards, what leads to harmful results and should be left aside. This reflection aims for a boundary between intentions and action. Then we can check before we cross that boundary.

We can bear in mind the reflection: ‘Is this for my welfare, the welfare of others, and does it lead out of suffering and towards peace?’ If the answer is: ‘No, this is doing me no good.’ Then there is a definite ‘no’ to that boundary. Make it firm, give it some energy, and it will look after you.

Practise some restraint. The mind works better if you don’t load it with unnecessary things to look at, buy, have or worry about. The mind can get swamped by useless input if we don’t establish that boundary. It can take a lot of careful and repeated ‘no’s,’ as well as the back-up of alternative ways to channel energy; actions of generosity, kindness. Remember too calming meditation to bring healing to the heart that’s been abused by any harmful pursuits.

On the other hand there has to be a ‘yes.’ For example: ‘I’ve made a commitment; I’m going to see this through.’ Establish that with care and give it some energy. And even if you fail from time to time, look into how the boundaries caved in or where they were too tight. Don’t say ‘yes’ to too many things. Establish a boundary around intellectual activity, because it can become a vast dimension that floods the mind with restless energy.

So, we can say energy has a fourfold application: first, to put aside what you feel is unhelpful, and secondly to keep guarding the mind against such unskilful influences; thirdly to establish what you sense is good, and lastly to support and encourage those skilful influences. And it requires wise discernment, advice from experienced people and trial and error to know what’s appropriate in a given situation.


(Continued 26 Feb 2021)

meditation with mindfulness

POSTCARD#407: Bangkok: I’ve been a Buddhist for more than thirty years – married to Jiab, a Thai Buddhist for that same length of time. Jiab, like most Thais, is a Theravādin Buddhist, she is active both in the English language and Thai meditation groups in the lineage of Ajahn Chah. We went to an International Buddhist temple in the North East, Wat Pah Nanachat, 1987 and there I met the monks who changed my life.

Years went by, We became part of the Kalyanamitra in Switzerland, I became part of the editorial team in publishing books on the Buddha’s Teachings, while looking at the whole thing with deepening understanding, and all of it evolving over and over.

Five years ago the headache arrived, I lost the starting point in meditation, then found it again somewhere else. Sadly, it wasn’t a priority in my life any more; the visits to the Neurologists, the meds to treat the pain, and coping with the side effects. This changed everything. I lost the sure-footedness I had acquired over the years. At the beginning of the headache days there was only the pain, the urgency and the medicine ‘blur’ overload. Things fell apart so often, I’d be picking up the pieces and realise I had forgotten completely the simplest of things.

Thus I seem to have lost so much in these crises, and the confusion in recovery then starting over, but I’m sure of one thing; if I hadn’t had the headache condition, I wouldn’t have been as motivated as I am to look for the way out of suffering (Dhukka, the first Noble Truth), and begin to uncover the mystery – I am still looking.

Things are more stable now, I’ve learned how to balance the meds with the headache. I go on (more slowly) with the study of Theravada meditation – I  never looked into Mahayana, and now there’s not enough lifetime left! It’s a pity because in recent years I discovered Advaita and Non-duality… a sense of the ancient.

I can sit on the cushion, with or without headache or meds and focus as best I can, on an object in the mind… see where that gets me (samatha). Or I can focus on the in-breath and out-breath (vipassanā) or a combination of both. You might have the impression that I know a lot about meditation but I’m just an ordinary practitioner of meditation with mindfulness – following the three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (concentration), and paññā (wisdom).

I depend on the wisdom of Buddhist monks such as Ajahn Sucitto for guidance, inspiration, insight and these moments of understanding. Here are some excerpts from “Parami – Ways to Cross Life’s Floods”. The section on Wisdom: Innate Clarity, Pannā Pāramī the Fourth Parami, beginning page 73.

“You might find it helpful to begin your meditation period by reflecting on the following four themes: goodwill; mortality; the good that you have done or that has been done to you; and the example of the Buddha or your immediate spiritual teacher. These will help to bring your mind into a balance of head and heart. As that effect is felt, select a meditation topic that your mind is now willing to be guided by.”

The following sections are on page 77

Wisdom Needs Meditation

“Meditation in the Buddhist sense means the cultivation of calm and insight (samatha-vipassanā), and the development of mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samādhi) to bring those about. Mindfulness is the faculty that bears a feeling, idea, process or sensation in mind…”

It helps me to understand Ajahn’s words when I can identify and focus on a few words – possible discussion points if there are any kind readers out there who’d like to comment (or help me with a better understanding). Please get in touch.

I understand samatha as tranquility meditation, meditating on an object, with the intention to reach those calm states. What we are looking at here is the combination of samatha (calm focus on one thing) and vipassana (insight) observing thoughts without attachment as they come and go. Also the clarity of Mindfulness (sati)… an inner watchfulness, on-the-spot awareness of the functioning of the mind, and interaction with the sensory world.

Samatha and Vipassana as well as Sati means there is the momentum to bring about samadhi, the pleasing calm mind state leaning towards Wisdom.

“Sustained, (mindfulness) counteracts scattered attention and impulsiveness. Concentration is the deepening into the steadiness that mindfulness brings, a deepening that becomes pleasurable. These two support calm. And when the mind is calm we can look into it and bring wisdom to bear on the roots of mental action. This penetrative inward looking, or insight, is needed because it’s often the case that we don’t really know or aren’t clear about the causes, motivations and effects of what we’re doing. The basis of action gets buried beneath the sheer quantity of action our minds get involved with.”

[The following section is on page 89] “Notice that when you acknowledge and focus on your thoughts and emotions, the mind enters the experience of being aware of them rather than being them. Notice that a blend of clear attention and emotional spaciousness supports this kind of awareness; and that the results of it are that one is calmer and wiser with regard to the mind.”

(Continued 19 Feb 2021)


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the word ‘nothing’

POSTCARD#406: Bangkok: Eyes looking out for anyone I know in a world full of face-masks. This displaced familiarity… we’re all strangers here but it seems like we’re friends. We’re all together in our locked-in state, thinking in quiet colors, blues and shades of gray. I’m seeing it in slow motion today due to my old friend, the pain in the head – triggered by wearing a mask too small for me – the elastic bands around the ears pulled tight, squeezing on the nerve.

Awareness of the headache as it peaks and breaks through like a Chinese Firecracker, the holding-on becomes the letting-go; hold-on, let-go, hold-on, let-go…

Suddenly mindfulness facilitates the disappearance of ‘self’… there’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening. There’s no ‘self’ suffering from head pain, there is only pain… detached, seen as a quivering of the air held for a moment then gone.

There is no You, no I. No He, She, or It. See the third person singular, sitting there, an object in objective reality. No worries, no We, You, They. Personification and the lack of it, is a shared thing. It happens to all of us.

There is no permanent unyielding ‘self’ in a kind of mind-made algorithm that gets it to make sense and the knowing of it too. Self is a construct, language is a construct, everything is advisedly devised, contrived, improvised – perfect disguise. Cross my heart and hope to die: “this is who I am!”

The gypsy glancing glass-eyed gaze, searching through a sea of face masks for that sudden déjà vu, a hidden identity revealed: the prodigal son re-found, taken home embraced by long large arms of an extended family, comforting and warm.

Words strain and stretch to carry meaning. No sudden movement, no end, no beginning, leave everything in the continuous form of the present moment. No past and no future except for the placing of things in the right order.

Finding my way through a lifetime of sensory input remains the indefatigable task. Living with and looking after the mind/body organism and the world that is part of it; all this continues, quietly and with care – becoming an ongoing open-ended, analysis of the observed world and the observer of it, together as a oneness. Everything is integrated, nothing exists outside of this – really nothing, not even the word ‘nothing’.

“…we do not experience a succession of nows. This present now is the only now there is. The now in which the body was born is the very same now in which these words are appearing. It is the only now there ever truly is. [Rupert Spira]


Note: Not able to concentrate enough this week to publish the latest installment of the Ten Paramis. Look out, it’ll be there ASAP.

the ten parami

POSTCARD#405: Bangkok: Peace. It is necessary to give some thought to what peace feels like in these times of vengeful obstructionism, and a Presidential Election where the loser goes into denial and does some crazy things. Leave these thoughts behind and consider the ten perfections. We started this last week, this is part two in a series.

Generosity (dana) is the first of the ten parami, or qualities of character, that we practice as followers of the Buddha. This kind of generosity is much more than offering gifts at Christmas and birthdays. The Buddha’s encouragement is to develop generosity on a daily basis. There are all kinds of Generosity – a small favor, a kind thought, a meal, or funds to help sustain a meditation teacher. Generosity lifts the mind out of its isolation and establishes goodwill.

We are not just an isolated point that is only relevant for the moment. We are in a field of present awareness that absorbs and carries the consequences of what we’ve done in our life or had happen to us. Giving a friendly gesture or a helping hand, offering service, or giving attention are offerings that may in some situations be more important than giving material things. It’s the act of  letting-go, giving it all away, relinquishment.

Virtue (sila) is the second of the ten parami. With Virtue, the fundamental principle is: I don’t do to you what I wouldn’t want you to do to me. I don’t steal things and I don’t lie to you, because I know I wouldn’t want those things to happen to me. Sīla also involves wisdom. Its ethical sensitivity asks us to consider more carefully what is harmful, and to exercise discrimination. Is it better to steal an advantage over someone else, or to live with a mind that is free from manipulativeness and mistrust?

The third Parami, Renunciation we discussed last week but an important feature of it is craving (Taṇhā). Craving is the enemy of Renunciation. Craving is about something we don’t have. We can’t crave something we have, so the fact of not having it sets up a target for unresolved passion. Therefore it isn’t the object (food, drink) that starts up craving, it’s the sense of ‘not having.’ There’s nothing wrong with sight and sound, taste, smell, touch and the sensory world; it’s the fantasy that craving makes of them.

Knowing the flood of sensuality for what it is, takes the whole thing to pieces. Quietening the craving is not just about removing sense objects, but investigating the mind and resolving passion. In its ‘not having’ state the mind can conceive of many desirables, and of course, the great powers of the consumer industry are very aware of how susceptible the mind is to impressions of comfort, excitement, attractiveness, being popular and all the rest of the things that buying an ice cream, a gadget or an item of clothing promises you. So to go through a shopping mall bearing in mind what you really need is a very relevant practice of renunciation!

Wisdom, paññā, the fourth Parami is a discriminative faculty that operates through discernment or clarity, rather than a learned store of knowledge. ‘wisdom is the faculty that makes distinctions — between pain and pleasure, safe and threatening, black and white. For the lower forms of animal life, this faculty is programmed solely around sense contact. For humans the possible development of wisdom is to be clear about the mind. Wherever there is consciousness there is wisdom, but for humans the job is for ‘wisdom to be developed, and consciousness is to be fully understood’’ (M. 43.6).

The human mind is a mixed blessing. We can witness our instincts and responses and discern what is good/appropriate/skillful from its opposite; but we can also get so lost in the viewpoints that we’ve adopted to measure our responses, that we get confused and stressed. Thus we are thrown around by what we think we should be and what we fear we might be, as well as the ways we wish other people would be, and so we lose the balance of clarity. So it is imperative to develop the wisdom faculty in the right way. This entails balancing the need for ideas, aims and procedures with the understanding of how all this mental stuff affects us.

Without balance we get top-heavy and contrived. So it’s essential to develop the wisdom that oversees mind consciousness with its dogmatic biases, its compassion and depression. This transcending wisdom, or deep clarity, is the perfection that accompanies every other pāramī and is brought to full development, use and effect by them.  (to be continued)

Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto


 

the painted face

POSTCARD#404: Bangkok: The days of Biden are here at last. I’m happy but wounded in the battles of Trump. Speaking figuratively, I’m not one to go to war. Many of us suffered when the painted face came on television and we’d have to brace against his silent malice and spite. It hurt deep in the centre of my being. Not able to recover properly, the mind was in overwhelm because the hurt was an accumulation of all the other times he induced the hurt.

He had a knack for it, thus able in an evil sort of way I suppose to swing things to his advantage; the heritage of an old woman born in the Outer Hebrides; the lady who was his mother. I say this because I’m from Scotland and had friends in Skye where I spent my summers for seven years in the 60s. I can’t say I ever met someone like Mary Anne MacLeod of Tong, Isle-of-Lewis, Scotland, but I recognise the Western Isle’s ways of persuasion.

“The likes of which the world has never seen.” He said it too many times – sorry Mr. Trump, the world has seen most of what you said and it doesn’t amount to much. Always and forever, (the collective) ‘we’ are in recovery from the overwhelm, our dwellings lost in the floods of ancient times. The timeless metaphor of a mind overcome in a tide of worries, fears, and things left undone. Sorrow, lamentation and despair; swept along by relenting events, surfacing and going under. These are the perennial ‘floods’, and crossing them is about coming through all that to find some firm ground. The Buddha throws a lifeline to the isolated, overwhelmed beings that we all recognize in ourselves from time to time. If we hold it firmly, it will guide us back home to solid ground and a renewed sense of community.

Suddenly I’m not thinking about the “why” of things anymore, just sitting quietly here, watching the in-breath/out-breath. Intelligent control over the energy of thought… and when there’s an opportunity, seek a place in the high ground. Find equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, the balance, the midway point. Find a temporary abiding there, return to the inward disposition to give, to have compassion for; generosity, virtue, kindness, gladness.

Thus the Buddha’s damage-repair comes into play; that natural ability to relinquish – we may not be skilled in the act of surrender but can access the power that immediately releases the tenacity of grip, the jaw clench, tongue adhered to roof of mouth…. unlock, unfasten, undo. Watchful too of the mindless repetition: I don’t-want-it-to-be-like-this, and so finding it difficult to disengage from making a bad situation worse.

Quietly watching the in-breath and the out-breath, renunciation (nekkhamma) is the ability to let go of the pull towards a sense object. Renunciation is the third of ten perfections (pāramī) that Buddhists cultivate in the mind in the Theravada tradition to this day.

The first two are Generosity (dana) and Virtue, morality or ethical sensitivity (sila). In the aftermath of the inelegant storm that was Trump, I thought it was timely and a good idea to consider these pāramī. (continued Jan 29)

Excerpts from: ‘Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods’ by Ajahn Sucitto

the unbroken whole

POSTCARD#402: Bangkok: I see the world by way of a built-in filter process which selects the sensory data that’s compatible with my operating system. Everything I receive from the ‘outside’ world fits with the default state of mind. The problem is the operating system is set to delete anything that doesn’t agree with the world I have come to know, and I lose things of value every day. There is only this ever-present stream of mental chatter that fills up every empty space and vacant place. Every day I say I need to fix these glitches, in the meantime, make do with things as they are.

How I perceive the world is dependent on causes and conditions arriving here in present time as soon as the inclination, intention or volition arises. I can’t be separate from my kamma, according to preferences and likes/dislikes… it’s part of the software. I think I’m an independent being unaffected by anything or not affecting or influencing anything else. But I can’t be sure. I can’t see that all this is being monitored and directed by the ongoing needs and requirements of an entity; a ‘self’ that has no inherent solidity or existence of its own. I’m dismayed, of course, when it all gets swept away in randomness and returns later, subject to the kamma outcome (vipaka) from some other time.

The outer world just rolls along, as it does, in all its diversity, and wholly neutral. Whether there’s a belief in this or that, makes no difference; it’ll only always, ever be, just how it seems. The devastating emptiness of it all means the population is driven to go out, get and do. Attain and protect and defend – it can be a battlefield. To avoid and deny, to have fear and anxiety and be controlled by authority and feel threatened with the flimsy nature of existence, although the absolute timelessness of the world (anicca), is the beauty of it.

I’m aware the population are not able to see it like that; holding on to beliefs, clutching at straws, and quite unaware that they are maintained in this unknowingness of the world like penned animals are by the farmer, well intentioned though he may be, in order to cultivate a special kind of hunger, clinging and craving (upadana tanha) for consumer goods – the economy depends on this. The greater the craving, the faster the turnover of stock and the Western style of God together with governments and the corporations are simply involved in farming the population.

Workers structure their lives around employment and this fleeting, temporary happiness found in consumerism. They can’t escape from it unless they step out of the earning momentum they’re stuck in, and risk losing everything.

‘There is a path to walk on, walking is being done but there is no traveller. There are deeds but there is no doer. There is no self. The thought of a self is an error and all existences are as empty as whirling water bubbles, as hollow as the plantain tree. There’s a blowing of the air but no wind that does the blowing. There is no self, there is no transmigration of a self; there are deeds and the continued effect of deeds…’ [Ramesh S. Balsekar, ‘Advaita, the Buddha and the Unbroken Whole]


Photo: A dramatic explosion is caught on camera outside of the Capitol building amid pro-Trump riots / REUTERS

2021 looking forward

POSTCARD#401: Bangkok: Happy New Year to all blogging friends everywhere in the world! The year 2021 has potential for being a much better year than 2020. Hopefully by this time next year Covid infections in the world will have peaked and the vaccines are successful in creating optimum herd immunity… hopefully.

Christmas day was an ordinary day for us, no reason for Santa to fly in on his reindeer sleigh, because Thailand is a Buddhist country. People go to work, schools are open, it’s a day like any other day. Except that our 16 year-old Thai niece we call M, had her hair colour changed to a subtle shade of white-blond and wore a red dress to attend her SAT class in central Bangkok.

Otherwise we had a quiet time contemplating these ‘tidings of comfort and joy,’ without all the ho-ho-ho! Happy to have M, she of the white-blonde hair, who comes from Chiang Mai but now with us in Bangkok since July. Not able to go back to her home for visits because of Covid. She is here to improve on her GED and SAT scores. Also looking carefully at University entrance requirements.

It has been a fairly peaceful year for us, mostly in lockdown, unlike the frequent-flying thing that was going on before Covid. I’d be travelling between Delhi and Chiang Mai to visit M so that she’d not forget me! I remember when she was 12, on a particular day that I recall clearly, M runs out the door to spend the day with her friends, then comes back quickly and over to where I’m sitting: Toong Ting? I am going now. Bye-bye! And she runs out again. I sit there for a while being Toong Ting, her pet name for me, part of her baby talk that remains because it’s thought to be cute when applied in a grandfatherly way.

Then I went away to Delhi and came back again, the same year, and she was definitely taller; longer and elongating like a plant in the darkness searching for the light, sprawled on the back seat of the car in an adolescent bundle of legs and arms, wearing a diver’s watch, colorful T-shirt. Long black hair that forms a curtain revealing a small oriental face sometimes seen when adjusting the thread of earphones cable then disappears again – sorry, she’s not available at the moment, plugged into two phones, watching youtube videos while checking for messages at the same time… our questions addressed to her remain unanswered.

She is still quietly being her own self but surprisingly communicative at times – becoming a person. The whole thing dependent on the time needed to grow, of course. When we are in the Nontaburi house, she sleeps until noon then phones a food delivery from her room and appears downstairs to get it from the motorbike guy, goes back to her room to eat it there… some of us might think this is a bit, well, antisocial? But here in Thailand, nobody gets upset… it’s the Buddhist way, if you’re a kid?

M seems to be happy, at ease and does everything she’s good at, really well; her school work, socializing with new friends and not coming home too late, passing exams with good scores… all of it is done properly, commendable and very suitable for a teenage daughter/niece.

Jiab is noticeably engaged in taking care of M and goes to great lengths to accommodate her needs, cooks the food, does the laundry, drives her to school or, when we are in the apartment downtown, to the BTS station (Bangkok Transport System). It’s an elevated rail track over the streets and rooftops, called the Skytrain and her stop: Phaya Thai Station is only 5 minutes from Ari Station, where we are – get off at the third stop.

That location is linked to the airport route and near the popular shopping center of Bangkok where it’s all young people, and being looked at is the primary concern, while looking at others who look nice, can be a discussion point. M does stand out in the crowd, of course, with her hair colour when almost everyone else has Asian black hair She is extraordinary in that regard, has a pretty face like a child and is slim. Always in good-looking clothes, and so on, also politically aware, asks intelligent questions, remembers things and reminds me about the names of things when I forget.

So we have been very fortunate having M with us, and I’m going to write some more about her soon.

2021 Looking forward.


Smaller than a grain of rice, smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a grain of millet, smaller even than the kernel of a grain of millet is the Self. This is the Self-dwelling in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than all the worlds. [Chandogya Upanishad 14.3, 8th-10th century BCE]