terrestrial ocean

POSTCARD #255: Bangkok: Elevated passageways and corridors in the mind creaking like we’re on an old sailing ship, swaying with wind and air currents, the swell of the sea and the flip of waves at their peak. These lightweight structures hold the sails, huge areas of stretched canvas sailcloth – I can only see a part of the whole. The creak and strain of long hemp ropes, tarry old wood decking and a wide-open sky. Then the pain comes, ringing the urgency bell… see how it triggers all systems in a wild inarticulate way… make way! Allow the alarm to ring and let there be absolutely no resistance, no tightening up, just letting it be there… the worst of it subsides and the emergency mode is switched off. In the Buddhist sense I’m drawing attention to an awareness of Suffering and the cause of suffering, but not just labeling it; ‘the cause’ of Suffering is the 2nd Noble Truth, no, I’m asking, what is this ‘cause’? No labeling from here on.

What is the cause of Suffering and what is the cause of the cause? The desire for it to not be there, the confrontation, the avoidance, resistance… obstructing it, subverting it by any means. Running away from it, wanting things to be different than the way they are in a totally impossible way.

Childlike, I can see my (child) self as a baby, attending to whatever object appears, comes into range, immediately focused, the totality of each thing, as it arises – conscious experience without language.

Flickers of memory like this… food is a wonderful experience, it’s not Food, it’s Wonderful, it’s not ‘wonderful’ – no words for it, it’s a feeling(?). Then, just as easily, the bad, the awful – then the aftermath of the disaster, early childhood systems of understanding the world – but for my (child) self there’s no ‘understanding’, because there are no words in infancy to describe anything. Catastrophic! I am the cause of this hurtful chain of events. How it was then, and how it is now are no different. I am the same ‘me’ as I was then, language acquisition is here now, I’m expanded, filled out, developed and extended into the world but still the same ‘me’ (time can disappear in this kind of investigation), so how can I help protect the ‘me’ that was then, with the ‘myself’ that is now, equipped with adult skills?

Meditation. I’m sitting on the meditation cushion like a chick in the nest, cheep-cheep… waiting for the return of the Parent Bird (mother, father, both or neither) and, beak totally wide open, like a suitcase lying open on a bed waiting to be packed with things, my (child) self perceiving the Parent Bird visiting the nest (or not visiting), and for me now seated on the cushion too, there’s the acceptance, the wide-open giving-way-to it.

Maybe also in adversity, how much I’d prefer to not do this any more, because the recognition of the familiar forms of interaction between my (child) self and authority figures in the family group are too scary – for a moment I ‘see’ the blocking… but there aren’t any words, it’s something felt.

Simply how it came to be the way it is, but no words. A wetness at the eye, a glimpse of my (child) self receiving conscious experience, and the perception of it has shaped, formed the person I am today – it is the person I am today.

Then the pain comes back, deep stabs of it like bolts of lightning passing through, but the intention to allow space for the pain is still there. As the immensity of it become less and less, acceptance opens more and resistance begins to fall away. I see now the intention to be open and accept the pain, hidden from ordinary wakefulness, buried deeper than the pain can reach.

It’s this that tells me, when all other options are gone, there’s no running away from it now, I have to turn around and go back into the pain… for a split second the pain eases, an extraordinary and out-of-this-world feeling.

Absolutely no escape from the pain… then finding this window I know that’s always here, and everything is swept away like a flood of water finding its way through a landscape, rapidly filling up all the spaces and getting into all the corners… I am a sailing ship on a terrestrial ocean.


 

the time is not here yet

1POSTCARD #252: Chiang Mai: 05.00: When I open my eyes in the morning I don’t remember where I am. The great white neon light of the hotel sign across the way fills my room and takes away memory. I’m here so infrequently, there’s only a sense of the last time I came, an unfinished jigsaw puzzle with some pieces left over but no place where they fit. Or a thought appears in the empty mind like a beautiful small fish, and then it’s gone… where’d it go? Taking everything apart to see where that thought went, but can’t find it.

Ah well, pull the pillows together in a cushion and settle on top of that in a folded-leg sit. Aware of the breath, focus on nothing in particular. Early morning kitchen noises across in the hotel, clatter of plates, rolling-around-clunking sound of objects as they collide with their surroundings: bump, scrape; a cupboard door squeaks, water sloshing-in-sink noises, cutlery in metal mesh baskets becoming high frequency white noise received over here in the neon glow, seated in a third floor apartment on the other side of the street.

All and everything that occurs here, there and everywhere in the scenarios through life from start to finish pass through me now and the world becomes neutral. Non-intrusive, random thought mechanisms that function at the edge of attention pull me into the gentle whirr and flicker of thinking-about-things.

A far cry indeed from the western automatic-reflex-attached, “thou-shalt-not” society of the late 1940s when I was born, unaware and unschooled in Good Orderly Direction and seemingly by chance (?) narrowly escaped the fierce lock-down of a mortgaged future by means of sacrificed present time, with the simple thought that the thinker has no other form than thoughts… and with that, everything just drifted away from its moorings.

All that resolved itself somehow really very well. Now here in a street in a tourist town in the North of Thailand with a passport and inconsequential luggage… items of thought can pass through freely, fish uncaught – no reason to be holding on to anything at all. The emptiness of the moment is no-self. Nothing here except the operating system; form, feeling, perception, mental processes and consciousness [Link].

In a clamor of sounds, auditory events jump out in perceived grabs of recognition, registered, processed; memory updated. It happens so fast that trying to find words for it are like action-replays in slow motion, and I have to catch up after, as everything has moved on. Pause button; awareness aware of itself, the eye turns inwards, consciousness as a sensory organ, the ghost in the machine, no self. The process itself selects the sound – or the sound selects the process, and there’s no ‘it’.

Sensory mechanisms waiting for things to happen because it’s in their nature to do that, inseparable parts of the world out there/in here. Nothing happens, the time is not here yet. The alertness is all there is, receiving the world and, since we are also the world, so to speak, it’s an all-inclusive enfolding, unfolding, and remaining in the present continuous form, ‘listening’. Suddenly the great neon light is switched off. Blinded for a moment in the absence of it, traces of blue sky out there, birdsong. Without any sound, go quietly (whisper); the time is not here yet…


Photo of a young man named Namo (as in Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma sambuddhassa), French-speaking Thai/Swiss, who became a monk then left for a career in fashion modeling.

place

dsc_1977_00049POSTCARD #251: Bangkok: Sodium-orange street light illuminates tarmac and concrete in colourless shades of grey. Nothing to see at this time of day, on the road to get the 3am flight to Bangkok, awake as if in a daze, car headlights pierce the smoggy darkness in low visibility. Everything creeps in on itself, reduces in size… I am a cell in an organism, tumbling out of the car and into the crowd. Bags on trolley, head spinning around for signs in the usual urgency of searching for where I’m supposed to be, everyone else doing exactly the same thing; check in, boarding pass, queue for security, then immigration. Stamp passport, thump, duty-free, then boarding and take off… catapulted 5 miles up into the night sky, look out and see a few stars shining. No one interested in food or drinks on this raggedy old, middle of the night, flying bus to Bangkok. Large, long-legged Indian men, block up the aisles with limbs like tree branches, trying to get comfortable in the small Thai economy class seats.

In my place, eyes closed and there’s that wonderful light coming in at the edge of vision that I haven’t seen for a long time – a kind of unreal ‘heavenly’ warm creamy white moonlight light. Open my eyes again… where’s it coming from… any light on in here? Nope, totally dark. Close my eyes again, lying back, watch the breath, focus on the emptiness… in a moment it returns. Not seen, indirect, it illuminates the space as if it were a moon behind clouds, just about to appear.

I sleep as long as it takes for a neon tube light to be switched off, and switched on again, flicker, wake up, it’s blue sky morning time. Such a short distance from here to there, some people go home for the weekend. Glad I don’t have to do that, I stay where I am for as long as possible these days – some inconveniences, maybe I’m looking for a book and it’s just not there. I can see it in the mind’s eye, but it’s not ‘there’ in this house, it’s ‘there’ in the other house, nearly two thousand miles away. So I reach out my arm stretching like an elastic band, stretching and stre-etching… get the book, and pyang-ng-ng, back to where I am. Well, nowadays everything is on the ‘cloud’ so it doesn’t matter where you are – although I’m aware, there is ‘place’, the sense of the body grounded.

Out of the plane, expanding into normal shape, inflating back into size in the long walk to immigration , passport stamp, thump! Bags arrive, car into town and the day just morphs into shape, heat, dazzling brightness, and time difference is 1½ hours later. The feeling you arrived before you left… a quirky strangeness in the corridors of time. I’m not able to see the actuality of my situation in the midst of experiencing it, unless it’s something that gets my attention, usually I’ll reflect on it later – ‘later’ arrives and the hindsight of that recent past is forgotten. Flying time does this, I notice, not a scrap of it remains, except for a few words to my future self, scribbled on the back of the boarding pass: When time and space and change converge, we find place. We arrive in Place when we resolve things. Place is peace of mind and understanding. Place is knowledge of self. Place is resolution. [Abdullah Ibrahim]


Photo: Win Sein Taw Ya Reclining Buddha, Mawlamyine, Burma [dinksintransit.com]

valentine 2017 falling in love again

interior_of_lotus_templePOSTCARD #250: New Delhi: Completely blown away at the Bahá’í Lotus Temple with the monk, Bodhinando – and it could be that an experienced young meditator like him, now entering the world for the first time after 5 years of intense practice, was just giving off this unseen bliss and harmony when sitting in meditation. Or it could be the dome itself, the amazing acoustics with fragments of birdsong, trills, chirps and whistles from the high windows up there; acrobatics of sound echoing 40 meters above our heads.

When we started the sit, I was struggling with head pain and didn’t think I could do it… pressure over the right eye. I couldn’t get up and leave without disturbing others, so the only way out was ‘in’. I tried getting focused on the in-breath/ out-breath, but the mind scampered away, again and again like a playful puppy. I persevered with it, over and over, did my best but in the end, gave up, or it might be better said that I gave in; whatever… ready to get up and go. But, just then, things started happening, triggered by that decisive acceptance, release of tension, and a huge enfoldment began, with everything tipping over, collapsing into a gentle falling.

A slow-mo picture of what happens when falling off the top of a tall building and the fun aspect of it is there’s no ground down below. Pieces of thought imagery flying past me in the fall, some are on the same level as the whole thing remains in free fall like this. It was a giving-in to it, a kind of birthing, a relinquishing, transitioning, and a swoon, a falling in love again, again.

The fall was without gravity; direction ‘down’ had no particular meaning, nor was ‘up’ or ‘through’. I use word ‘me’ object, and ‘I’ subject, as location points in the description of the event, and not as me, the Person walking around in the world. In the slow spinning enfolding through all directions and dimensions, the ‘I’ aspect was everywhere, all around, above and below, and inside and including the ‘me’, the Person who is normally separate, walking around in the world.

Then there was a small noise, and in response I opened my eyes; a shocking brightness of the here-and-now… what’s happening? Some people were leaving and the rustling of their clothing had drawn my attention. Closed my eyes again and the inner enfolding sensation was still there. It continued like this and when we left I carried it with me, looked at my watch and maybe an hour had passed, completely enthralling.

The word is Jhana perhaps; there was a familiarity about it. I must have experienced this years ago, and knew how to just go with it and when the opportunity arose, I gave up (gave in), relaxed the intensity, and everything was enfolded in the fall. As we were walking in the huge grounds surrounding the place, I was describing the thing with Bodhinando and asking him about it. I remember he looked at me once with small smile, and didn’t reply. Then I was going to ask him again later but forgot what the question was…

1-1Love is everywhere on Saint Valentine’s Day (and every day). Upper picture: the interior of the Lotus Temple, click on this link for more from Wikipedia. Photo above: Heart shape in the folds of a blue towel our taxi driver had placed on his seat in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, North India… and Marlene Dietrich from 1930, falling in love again.

the days are running out

img_0459POSTCARD #247: New Delhi: “The days are running out”, Jiab says, in her improvised, short-cut English, and I imagine the days like small objects with legs, running out through the open door, down the step and escaping into the garden. It’s February already and we’re going back to Thailand on the 18th. Visas to be renewed, stamped, and the hurriedness of getting bags checked in. Then join the queue shuffling through security portals and on to the plane. I have to fast track but still in slo-mo… hard to get my head together; not ready, unwilling and not able.

Am I prepared for another catapulted leap up into the sky? One hundred thousand horsepower velocity, wings over the landscape, look out the window and see the mountains through the clouds down below. I want to go there, climb that mountain. So I go down to where it is and start to climb… but it’s not there; only the steep slope, and sparse vegetation, some rocks – the mountain has disappeared. Is it that mountains seem to disappear, as well as the days spent engaged in activities just start to run out because this is my 70th year in the world?

Is it because I learned that the vast abundance of the Buddhist no-self is everywhere, in everything? Looking at a thing and the identity of it being a thing is just gone. Slowly, slowly getting to be okay about that, and okay too about not having to want to know anything more than that. The smallest details of conscious awareness, and a lifetime of sensory input, all arising and passing away, associated somehow with the karma of the circumstances I’m in, without attachment and nothing is held, it just folds in on itself and sent like a letter to someone you love.

No end, no beginning, sometimes I can leave it all in the continuous form of the verb: breathing, eating, sleeping, and living ‘now’ in present-moment-awareness… beginningless, endless, all of the past, all of the future, and no “time” passing. Then it breaks free of that and returns to a beginning (so there has to be an end)… and there lies my reluctance, only ten good years… the days are running out. A story is created in the mind, a few pieces get stitched together, switched around, and let’s say this is how it began; a story inside a story (inside a story) leading back through all the previous moments like this and linked to a lineage of stories interconnected through a great number of former lives in the distant past. And all of that has resulted in this; a twinkling held in forever-present time.

The days are running out, language wakes up – I want, I want, I want to be ‘happy’, and I don’t want to be ‘sad’ – no, no, no. Creating a self where there wasn’t one before, and rushing around, naming things, describing things, creating a photo ID. Sign here please, thump, stamped and there’s a picture of ‘me’. Then other days just come along, as they do, with a light that chases all the shadows away and illuminates everything… this is how all the beginnings are connected up: ‘Once upon a time’… il était une fois, (it was once), ‘and they all lived happily ever after.’

Clouds come by from time to time
To give men a chance to rest
From looking at the moon
[Basho (1644-94)]


Photo: Buddha head at Dhammavinaya Buddhārāma Monastery, Hubli, Karnataka State, India.
~   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   ~

 

karma of circumstances

img_0429POSTCARD #245: New Delhi: Arriving at the breakfast table like a ship docking in the harbor. Sliding in to coffee and bagels. Spread butter on toasted bagel, then honey and slices of banana. A piece of it held between finger and thumb comes into vision for a moment and it disappears somewhere below my nose, as head tilts forward in a teeth/tongue snatch, chewing, chewing and swallow. Wonderful, the world enters my body – gratitude (“give us this day our daily bread…”). Transfiguration of flesh, blood and bones, fingernails and hair grow.

Hands and face wash – hot soapy water dribbling down bare arms, coldness in the chill air. It drops off at the elbows in two puddles on the floor… sudden déjà vu, memory of an unreasonable fear, guilt. Must have been a childhood scolding. Dry it all up, headache like a cue ball colliding with the inner walls of the skull. Always like this, in every new circumstance, reassembling the parts of who I am, and nothing seems to fit; searching for a ‘self’ to be satisfied with – or dissatisfied with, or upset, or angry, confused, depressed, gloomy or sad.

I’m drawn back across the years to how it must have been at birth. Sudden embodiment in a separate physicality, immense sound, trauma of coldness that has no name, the shock of air entering unopened lungs. All the early events from there on that are internalized; unexpected fear, huge sensations – everything happening without language to give it form so it cannot be understood. All the hurt and pain deeply embedded in who I am today.

My life is conditioned by these energy imprints, which are as present now as they were “then” – the past doesn’t exist, ‘clock time’ doesn’t cover it. There is only the karma of circumstances contained in present moment awareness.

I’m so glad to know this, if I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated to look everywhere for a cure, and thus begin to uncover the mystery. A handful of meds swallowed with a swig of bottled water and in a short while, the headache is gone, everything begins to fall into an easing… long sigh of outbreath. I cannot find language that fits the moment.

The melancholia of winter. It takes a while to notice the sun shining through the kitchen extractor fan. Around this time, the shadow cast by the next-door building moves away. I can go up now to the roof terrace and sit in the sunshine… footsteps on concrete steps, flip-flop, flip-flop, flip… disappear up the staircase

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

[Rumi]


Special thanks to Miriam Louisa Simons who introduced me to “The Presence Process” by Michael Brown. Study notes from this form the main part of the post.

there and back again

img_0371POSTCARD #241: Chiang Mai: Went down to Bangkok with Jiab and our niece M, aged 12, for the New Year get-together with family, which was happening in the house where we used to live. Strange familiarity of furniture and objects seeming to jump out and call to me… M’s old toys abandoned here and there – a childhood almost gone. The next day, she went back to Chiang Mai with her mum, Jiab set off for Wat Poo Jom Gom, a remote Buddhist monastery near the border with Laos, and the others who were there all left for their homes in the South.

I stayed on in the Bangkok house for another day, a quiet time reflecting on how it used to be, living there, but mostly revisiting the things we talked about the night before – as we do, thinking about what was said, received, held, seen, nurtured… and noticing then, how the memory is displaced by the next moment of remembering – a kind of a death – and all of it, soon enough, fading away into forgetfulness.

Too much to be retained in conscious thought, and a gentle amnesia takes the place of that which groups all conversations in the mind so they form into one. A fleetingness takes away a thought, complete in itself, a picture seen in an instant just as it’s passing away. I seem to understand what was said better than I did when saying it at the time, busy as we are, putting the thought-forms into words… with a return at the end of each response and remark for the others to link with the place where I’d entered the dialogue.

Without trying to make it into anything, just playing my part in the discussion, waiting to see how it was going and where, while all sorts of things came tumbling out in unrehearsed, articulated speech… slotting into the right places. And something is said which fits in place of the piece that’s missing but we only see how it belongs there, after it’s placed. And the whole thing works so well after that, there’s no memory of it ever having been other than what it was/is, perfectly balanced.

Jiab returned from the Wat and the next day we went to the airport together. She was going South and me, back up North. Her flight to Hat Yai was leaving just before mine to Chiang Mai. Bye-bye at the turning of the ways in the long corridor at Don Mueang Departures. Waiting for boarding, she sent me a text saying to look out the window because her aircraft at gate 46 was opposite mine at 55. Her plane took off and mine must have followed on the single runway. Up and away… taking our separate directions above the clouds. How strange and funny to be up ‘there’ together in the air, she in her plane and me in mine, as if we’d been in two ships sailing in an ocean that reaches all other oceans and seas everywhere in the world.

img_5405

“Because the mind has no beginning or end, you can’t use the mind to put an end to the mind. Because there’s no inside, outside, or in between, if you look for the mind, there’s no place to find it. If there’s no place to find it, then you can’t find it. Therefore, you should realize there is no mind at all. And because there is no mind at all, demon realms can’t affect you. And because you can’t be affected, you subdue all demons.”
Hui-chung (578-650)


Lower photo: Curious rock formations at Poo Jom Gong, the sea that went away…

christmas day 2016

img_5138POSTCARD #239: Chiang Mai: Seasons greetings blogger friends. No snow here, only the memory of it falling in the silence of mind, like a dream I can’t wake up from pulls me back, over and over. Tree branches without leaves, black figures in a white landscape – image invert.

Words come out in gusts of steamy vapour puffs. Reflected light seen fading to zero white, pixelated edges of peppermint, menthol and bright electric blue-turquoise. Thinking of ice-rinks, chilled nasal passageways, and cranial cavities discovered in the sharp-edged inbreath. The cold is motionless presence. Little hanging earlobes are slowly freezing, teeth are cold, lips are a rubbery fumbling.

Eyes water in the looking-out between scarf and hat, but inwardly removed, seeing instead, the sunshine of some future time where I’m presently situated, at a table on a hotel balcony, remembering the past as we do, brought into present time. Coconut palms shwish-shwoosh in the benign climate of warm winds and the sea.

All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. [Toni Morrison]

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Photo taken from the hotel balcony in Bali.
Excerpts from backstory included here

night and day

img_0125bPOSTCARD #232: New Delhi: Awareness expands to include landscapes of President-Elect Donald J. Trump’s hate/fear, bully/victim and finding the middle ground in these conditions of duality is not an option these days, it’s absolutely necessary. Urgency of the imperative; ‘I’ have to find a place of equanimity here; mindfulness is a requirement, awareness rather than ignorance (ignoring). I am aware of the ‘me’ I live with; the tug-and-pull, push-and-shove… me as the observer of the ‘me’ I think I am, as revealed when I’m drawn towards beautiful objects placed to catch my attention or to repulse me; encountering obstacles, uncomfortable circumstances and giving way to situations, which I recognize as simply aspects of the human condition. I am that which is observing the thoughts of ‘me’, cool and at ease. I listen rather than just hear. I watch rather than see. I think rather than have thoughts – as more and more of us are doing nowadays, I am consciously engaged, night and day, in the revelation of it.

The everyday ordinary human experience – no more, no less, but said with compassion for those trapped in extreme difficulty and adversity hard to believe. Every aspect of the human experience examined and identified by the Buddha two thousand five hundred years ago and passed down through the generations as the Teaching on the Eight Worldly Dhammas we have today. The constantly changing forms of: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disgrace.

All that I love and all that I hate become an insatiable craving for gratification deemed to be rightfully ‘mine’ in view of the suffering endured to get here – then it changes again, and we are held in the never-ending cycle of rebirth, of grasping for that we cannot quite reach; the same Teaching can be applied today as it was in historical times; the structure of the condition as disease, diagnosis, cure and treatment. Awareness of the suffering inherent in the human state that we are all subject to; compassion for those in fierce denial of lies and fabrications created by perceived enemies, stonewalling obstructionists built into the social cultural default, all the scientists and psychologist witchdoctors who manipulate conscious experience to fit with consensus reality. Embracing also all of us who are trapped in this illusion, convinced that it’s real.

Truth hidden in plain sight, layers of disinformation; genuine plans for world peace prevented by tactics of endless war. The containment of wealth, greed, hatred and delusion. Cool calm acceptance and understanding of this protective barrier – not a passive allowing, more a patient endurance (khanti). Seeing through their constructed facades of truth as if it were exposed for all to see. It’s enough to register the fact that this is ‘seen’, and publish articles so others can free themselves from conditions of adversity. It’s all we can do at this time. It’s enough to know we are not caught by the hook of negativity and confused misunderstanding, or perversely immersed in the proliferation of not having things the way we would like them to be – rather than that, seeking freedom from all unwholesome states of mind.

Gain/loss, status/disgrace, censure/praise, pleasure/pain: these conditions among human beings are inconstant, impermanent, subject to change. Knowing this, the wise person, mindful, ponders these changing conditions. Desirable things don’t charm the mind, undesirable ones bring no resistance. His [or her] welcoming and rebelling are scattered, gone to their end, do not exist. Knowing the dustless, sorrowless state, he [or she] discerns rightly, has gone, beyond becoming, to the Further Shore.

AN 8.6 Lokavipatti Sutta: The Failings of the World


Thanks to Jill Shepherd for the Sutta reference

light in the darkness

img_0050POSTCARD #229: New Delhi: The photo on the left is from our Thai social network, continuing sad imagery mourning the death of the King. The allegory of light in the darkness is significant in many countries in the world. Here in India at this time of year there’s the festival of Diwali – the date is calculated according to the position of the moon and the Hindu lunar calendar. This year (2016) Diwali occurs on 30 October, one day before Halloween on 31 October which would have had the same lunar date in ancient times.

The Diwali festival is observed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, celebrating the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and hope over despair. In the days prior to the festival, it is traditional for business contracts to be completed, homes to be cleaned and anything unfinished must be brought to a satisfactory close.

The Halloween festival in 21st century Western society marks this lunar event with a playful portrayal of the spirits of darkness and evil coming back to life. At a glance, it would seem to be the opposite of the Diwali festival. Halloween is about dressing up like the dead who wander the streets, knocking on doors and seeking hospitality from the living. Whereas, Diwali is about lighting up your home with candles, color and brightness, exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes and receiving guests.

In both cases, however there is this imagery of a light in the darkness. For the Halloween festival (Celtic Samhain), the dead emerge from darkness into the light and remain here for 24 hours then disappear, a time of great significance in pagan religions of the West. Similar mythology for Diwali surrounding Amāvāsyā, and the dark moon lunar phase, the period when the moon is invisible against the backdrop of the Sun in the sky.

Diwali and Halloween both take place on a ‘cross-quarter day’, the halfway point between a solstice and equinox – a time of seasonal change marked by the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the darker half of the year. For the ancients in both East and West, the invisible moon became part of a spiritual teaching; the unity of opposites, life and death, and why things are the way they are. Spirits were (are?) a tangible presence, benign or hostile, and gather at this time of year when food and drink are shared among the living and offered as a gesture of appeasement for the dead.

Here in New Delhi on Diwali night, people light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, and participate in family puja (prayers). There are also huge firework displays, which recall the celebrations believed to have taken place in the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India after defeating the demon king Ravanna in 15th century BC.

Significant also for all Thais, although Diwali is not celebrated there, this lunar event marks the passing away of the much loved monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej at the age of 88, the world’s longest-serving head of state and the longest-reigning monarch in Thai history, serving for 70 years, 126 days.

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