improvisation

IMG_2123POSTCARD 149: Delhi: Mall architecture, astonishingly playful buildings, concrete and steel monuments and shrines to maya (sanskrit: illusion) – in Chiang Mai they even named a shopping mall ‘MAYA’. The population welcomes the idea; step into the illusion… air-conditioned, bright and colourful. More and more of these in Bangkok, over the top – a lightweight upbeat city culture, low labour cost and construction projects are ongoing. Something hopelessly inevitable about it careering towards the relentless consumer culture of the West – except that in the East, people are more likely to ‘know’ when they’re stepping into the illusion. Cultural tradition, awareness and vestiges of spirituality; besides, everybody here knows that if somebody is in the market trying to sell you something, it means you have the option to negotiate a fair price… not so in the Mall, and that’s why so few people go there.

The Mall culture affects only a small percentage of the population (sounds like a virus) and, I have to say I’m sometimes part of that minority; the need for essential things for devices, bookshops and a good baker. To get to our mall we have to drive out of town and the three-building complex is situated in an undeveloped area – there’s a fourth building going up at the time of writing. Construction site workers’ community nearby, chickens and goats in a hot dry, dusty landscape. Come off the highway, through a great winding turn of rough unsurfaced road, potholes and puddles of water and into the short entry, manned by security – car examined, mirrors held underneath, look in the trunk, the engine. More security at the entrance, metal detector and security guards carry out a full body search before you get in the door.

It’s as if the whole concept of consumerism is subject to scrutiny; not as easy as it is in the West to simply be ‘pulled’ into the Mall like a magnet and disinclined to escape from the illusion. For many people the whole thing seems impossible to change, situated at the end of the consumerist food chain, as they are, and trapped in that predicament. No alternative, we have to purchase the product because we can’t create it ourselves – so far away from the artisan, so far away from doing things ourselves. People believe they can’t improvise… forgetting that the whole thing is improvised… language is improvised, life itself is improvised. All the systems that are in place were improvised to start with, and even though we may be subject to skillful marketing strategies, there’s still the innate ability to be creative, to improvise, to invent, to innovate, to find a way out of the illusion.

These carnivorous marketing creatures have to be gently pushed into the background in order to bring what’s really meaningful in life into focus. There’s a lightness, a floating in the air… the open-endedness of the human situation, groundlessness.

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we cannot cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” [Thomas Merton]

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photo: shopping mall Bangkok

all of the above

IMG_1632POSTCARD#100: Chiang Mai/Bangkok flight: Look out the window and there’s the wing of the aircraft I was looking at when we were on the ground and taxiing for takeoff – reassuring to see this part of our plane structure out there, seemingly holding us stable in this strange void, moving at 600 mph, in a great whoosh above the surface of the planet. The wing seems to extend into the clouds, like the perspective of a highway leading off into the sky. A curious illusion, although no more curious than the illusion that’s all around; world as a projection of the senses, everything tailored to fit and unbelievably believable… I can see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, and taste it. It looks real but it’s not there; it’s only ‘my’ perception of it, a mirror reflection of the world – I need to remind myself it’s like this, the illusion is so compelling. I am the ‘self’ that inhabits this body, appearing in the being-ness appearing in ‘me’ and part of the whole thing, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end….

The seat next to me is empty – sad to think my Thai niece, M, aged 10, who has accompanied me on so many other journeys is not able to come along this time. M’s school holidays are over… parting of the ways, she goes back to school, I go back to Delhi, stopover in Bangkok – another long journey in the air. Stewardess comes by, looks at me (who you are at any moment is determined by whom you’re talking with). I ask her about the empty seat, she says nobody will sit there now, so I can spread out my notes and papers over two seats. It’s strange not having M beside me anymore. This empty space where she used to be, this solitude, aloneness or loneliness. No chattering conversations and statements presented with the alertness of a small bird; intelligence like a receptor opens, data enters and triggers the creativity of constantly making one thing into another thing. The energy of her artwork; scissors-clipped paper-craft objects held together with Scotch Tape and ‘Fluorescent Color Glitter Glue’. And the performance; playing with words, gestures and the dreamlike ‘self’ function; playing a part in a story in her head so well she believes she’s the character being acted out – being a somebody, then being a somebody-else.

Flitting from one self to the next, her presence is a self-reflexive act. No difference between the self-construct and acting the part, it’s just there; an all-inclusive, ‘all of the above’ experience of awareness receiving itself. A total act, ‘theatre’, illusion, samsara… just immersed in the story of it all. The ‘world’ is a constructed/collapsible experience – unfolding, enfolding, no holding – automatic pilot, nobody driving the plane.

‘… the question was raised: “Why can’t we know this secret of the universe?” And the answer given was very significant: “Because we talk in vain, and because we are satisfied with the things of the senses, and because we are running after desires; therefore, we, as it were, cover the Reality with a mist.”’ [Swami Vivekanada, Maya and Illusion]

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limitations

290620131919POSTCARD #12: Delhi Airport Departures: Time to go, I have to finish my coffee… hold cup to lip, tilt head back to drink the last drop, eyes sweep upwards with the movement, and there’s a man standing in the roof structure. He’s cleaning the window glass or doing something. I didn’t notice he was there. Nothing special, it’s just that if we were in Europe, there’d be warning signs, black and yellow tape, fluorescent high-vis vests everywhere, a restricted area below, we apologise for any inconvenience caused, and more staff with their hi-vis vests and hard hats asking the public to keep back. All the necessary precautions to comply with health and safety standards. Over here, the man just climbs up into the roof structure, holding on with his hands, dressed in navy-blue overalls and he does have a hard hat but no more than that. And nobody feels there’s any danger. People are sitting in the coffee shop below and it works okay, relax no problem.

Fine with me too, I like the pragmatic way things are done, intelligent, improvised solutions; repair and maintenance developed to the level of aesthetics, extraordinary to the point of being innovative. It’s a relief to not have the same old limitations imposed on us that we live with in the West: security procedures, systems that back-up systems to protect against liability. What’s left unsaid is that the systems, designed to protect us, create the perceived threat in the mind. Precautions against a hypothetical danger lead to what is thought to be a real danger in present time. A created anxiety, unintended folks, but there you are, we’re really living on the edge here. No need to WORRY… thanks to professional security systems installed at your request, it’s all being taken care of.

Things are not what they seem. The world is an illusion, maya, look in the mirror: consciousness embodied in human form but what I see, more than anything else, is a face, an identity – can this really be me? Wow, a fascination with the concept of self, everybody looking at each other as mirrors of themselves. A lifetime spent chasing elusive sensory yearnings; nothing seen beyond the basic mechanisms of being human. Getting free of it for a moment is enough to understand how it works: mind gets caught up in identifying with the activity. The magician is not tricked by his own magic. Take away all the associated systems, the action is carried out, the maintenance man does his job and what’s so surprising about that?

I take a photo of him just before leaving for the flight departure gate. He has a narrow leather belt, I didn’t notice before, and secures this around his waist and round the roof supports as he climbs up or down to the next section. Then he unclips the belt and works freely. He’s obviously skilled. I can’t imagine there’d be on-the-job training for this kind of profession. More likely it’s an inherited thing; he’s descended from a lineage of South Indian toddy palm climbers, elevated in palm tree branches high above the ground considering questions of a philosophical nature. Time to get on the plane and prepare for the long climb up to 37,000 feet. Strangely comforting to know that when I’m 2700 miles over the horizon, and descending at Bangkok, the maintenance man will still be clambering around in the roof structure at Delhi, simply doing his job.

800px-Palm_tree_climber————————-

‘Thus the illusioned soul identifies with the temporary body and everything connected to it, such as race, gender, family, nation, bank balance, and sectarian religion. Under this sense of false-ego (false-identity) the soul aspires to control and enjoy matter. However, in so doing he continuously serves lust, greed, and anger. In frustration he often redoubles his efforts and, compounding mistake upon mistake, only falls deeper into illusion.’ [The Heart of Hinduism, Maya; illusion]

Lower photo from Wikipedia Commons

world as thought-construct

Chiang Mai: 06.00hrs. Sitting on the cushion before the day actually begins and there’s that colourless light of dawn filling the room, a greyish-green glow. After what seems to be quite a long time, the day gets it’s total act together and the sun rises; things take shape in my vision and colour enters the visual world. The show has started. Sky is blue, sun is yellow, plants and trees are green. That’s how it is here at, 18°47’N, 098°59’E. I notice it because of having only recently returned to this place from the Northern Hemisphere where there are these same colourless dawns; but they’re followed by colourless days – often and unforeseen; the changeability of everything. For the local people there’s no experience of continuity.

I do find it curious here that every day is pretty much the same, some small seasonal differences but not much. For the people in this location it’s always been like this, of course. It’s how it was when they were born; it’s how it was when all known persons in their lineage were born and future generations will go on like this. There’s never any experience of anything being different from this. And for me too; all my sunny days in Asia in the last 30 years could be said to be simply one very long day – the period of night time is a blink of the eye; one huge flow of days, like moments moving along in their sameness, never ending.

In this context it’s easier to get a handle on the teachings of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya, in South India, in the 8th Century (the days were exactly the same then as they are today) and the Advaita truth of timelessness where the endless day, that I am experiencing now, stretches all the way back into the past and out into the future, in one continuous ‘now’ time happening everywhere. There’s no end to it and no beginning. Time and space phenomena are delusions, add-ons. There are, therefore, no causal relationships; cause-leading-to-effect is a temporal process – thought-constructed, and not what I take it to be because the entire objective world is a thought-construct, created by desire-motivated ways of thinking and acting. ‘…Time is generated by the mind’s restlessness, its stretching out to the future, its projects, and its negation of ‘the present state.'[6]’

Knowing this, from the Advaitist perspective, is the whole Truth. Nothing needs to be attained or done; one simply wakes up to the truth of Ātman/Brahman, and anything other than this is māyā, delusion. Where does māyā fit in? No explanation; it cannot be inside or outside Brahman; one doesn’t know where that could be (māyā truly is a delusion). Buddhist practice or any spiritual practice is not a solution to the problem, just another version of the problem itself. Any practice leading to an enlightenment experience maintains the dualism that it strives to escape; projecting a thought-constructed goal like this into the future loses the ‘now’, the place of liberation.

‘… there is absolutely nothing to attain, which is not to deny that that is something to be realized clearly. The difference between attainment and such realization is that only now can I realize I am that which I seek. Since it is always now, the possibility is always there, but that possibility becomes realized only when causal, time-bound, goal-directed ways of thinking and acting evaporate, to expose what I have always been: a formless, qualityless mind which is immutable because it is “nothing,” which is free because it is not going anywhere, and which does not need to go anywhere because it does not lack anything.’ [David Loy]

The colourless dawns, followed by colourless days in the N. Hemisphere did not bring me to this experience of continuity. I stumbled upon it in Asia and found traces of it in this location: ‘Everything – subject, object and the perceiving thereof – is inseparable from this experience-ing-aware-ing-ness … and who can escape this immanence?’ The Buddhist experience tells me there has to be a middle way in here somewhere. I’m looking for some route that allows Sankara’s truth of Ātman/Brahman to be combined with the Buddha’s no-self truth in nibbana. The Buddhists will say I’ll not find anything, the Advaitists will say there’s only One thing to be found: “all of the above”. But there has to be a middle way in here somewhere. The investigating process itself is the Path: ‘the nature of the self and causes and conditions.’ Beyond that is speculation.…

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This post created with excerpts from: ‘The Path of No-path: Śaṅkara and Dogen on the Paradox of Practice’ by David Loy

Quote from: miriam louisa

Quote from: undividedexperience

– g  r  a  t  i  t  u  d  e – 

Photo image: Ch’mai TukTuk