a hugeness of ordinary things

POSTCARD#379: Bangkok: Breath-taking expanse of forgotten afternoons and time just slipping away. For me the lock-down became television watching all through the day and night – an immense collage of overlapping images, and things of little consequence.

Working from home, or just sitting around, texting food deliveries, we always had enough. Now I see, all of that can be put aside, because “nothing is worth having or being”. Someday I’d like to return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s words on Emptiness, Suññatā.

It was an opportunity to experience how it must be for those who live in a world of attachment and feel they can’t let go. But not the Thais… they don’t have that kind of problem. It was the Thais, in fact, and their small, slim stature who led to my awakening. One day in a shopping mall, I noticed my expanded waistline in a large mirror showing me and a section of the Thai public. I was a monster by comparison!

So I went on a diet. It is called “The Military Diet” (although it’s got nothing to do with the military as far as I can see), three days low-calorie diet followed by four days of light food, high protein, low fat, low carbs and low calories. Then back to the three days again. I’m now in my seventh week. I’ve lost the kilos I gained in the lock-down, and it continues to go down.

I’ll always be a giant compared to the Thais but I like my new lightness and more gentle impact on our surroundings. I’ve learned so much from this South East Asian Buddhist nation. Living here is like looking through a window on to the ‘old world’. Nearly everything happens in public, practically everything is known, is seen, is understood, and brought to a close in some form, in the eyes of who may be observing.

Fragments of people’s lives; a hugeness of ordinary things, a sense of well-being in the millions of every-day events taking place inside homes. It’s like the whole world is one large room; domestic life without walls, centuries of open-air living. There’s this quality about Asia, particularly India, where we lived for 7 years. It’s not about visiting ancient sites or jaw-dropping experiences that fill you with awe, it can be a single moment felt with the fragrance of something that’s suddenly gone; what was it? Incense, candlewax, ironed cotton clothes and the familiarity of the detergent they use there. I feel immediately at home in this place where multiple generations of other human beings have lived.

But the local people would be shocked to know I’m alone – Jiab my wife is Thai and we are together in this life, but there are no members of my own family here. Why? well… the aloneness is pleasing if you’re like me, an introspective person, practicing the ways and means of Right View, set in a wasteland of Wrong Views, populated by people with their handheld devices, mesmerized by the colorful window and three dimensional sound jamming in the ears.

Whenever there’s an opportunity, I’m letting it all go, and everything evaporates for a moment. In that instant there’s no thinking. The mind is alerted, an empty space opens up; if you are a contemplative and without wandering thoughts, then at times, there’s just this silence. It’s the space between things, easy to have it simply be here for a while. Silence and emptiness and everything held on ‘pause’. There’s the inclination to be actively thinking, the invitation to be involved with thought is there but it’s the novelty of no-thinking that holds my attention…

“Whatever method of practice you adopt, it should lead to equanimity with regards to the sense – objects which you contact, or to their cessation. Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly without deceit, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of “I” and “mine”. Then it’s not difficult to destroy defilements since, when you practise like this, they are destroyed as a matter of course.” [Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, Heartwood from the Bo Tree]


photo: Monsoon in Bangkok

doerless doing part 6b, editor’s notes

POSTCARD#378: Bangkok: This is the last part in the series of posts created from source material in “Heartwood from the Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It is a conclusion of sorts, although how this slim volume came to be with me and the events that go with it, is worthy of including.

I found the book again after 20 years of it being lost in a deep cupboard. Such a precious thing to have it leap into my hands again as if by magic. Maybe it got picked up along with the Nokia Phone Manual (that’s how long ago it was!) and got lost in the cupboard for two decades. Finding the book came with all the memories of how things were then, discovering Buddhism for the first time – although there was something déjà vu about it – and how it opened up an understanding in my world that had never happened before.

I arrived in Thailand in 1984 after 2 years in South India. I know I was reading something referenced to the Upanishads at the time and it had a big impact on me… but I can’t remember much more. I do remember ‘What The Buddha Taught’ by Walpole Rahula and it was in reading this that I decided (perhaps wrongly) the turn-around point was at tanha (craving)

All of it was triggered as a result of visits to Wat Pah Nanachat in the north of Thailand and Wat Suan Moke in the South, where I came upon Ajahn Buddhadasa’s book for the first time. Gratitude to the monks I met in these two Wats who helped me understand the subject in more detail.

Today, I have to admit that I can’t seem to bring grasping and clinging to a close at phassa (contact), or vedana (feeling), despite Gratitude and Respect for Ajahn Buddhadasa’s insistence that there is nothing worth having or being in this or any world. Feelings of like or dislike arise and the various kinds of desire that spring from the urges of tanha (craving) are with me until my escape route begins – just before upadana (clinging) sets in.

Another thing I need to say is the constant headache caused by PHN in the Right Occipital Nerve, that’s hindered me these last 5 years. Perception altered due to the struggle with pain and pain meds which always seem to be ‘more than enough’. I become lost in conditions where I’m in the midst of ‘being’; or I stumble and fall over objects that I currently ‘possess’. But I’ve learned how to let go when signs of suffering (dhukka) are arising – last minute relinquishments. The following paragraph illustrating the turn-around point in cognition at tanha (craving), found unpublished in some old notes I’m including here:

“Idleness, sort of a wide-awake sleepwalking around this empty house. Soon, I find myself in the kitchen, pause at the refrigerator, open the door, look inside. Well, let’s see, is there anything in here? Or better to say, is there something in here I can put in my mouth that’ll satisfy the craving? It has to be the right thing, looking for that which is exactly the right one, this craving is for something sweet but there’s nothing here at all that’s sweet, only cheese. So I grab the cheese, cut a large piece off and chew on that, have the flavor of cheese in my mouth for the next half hour. It’s not what I wanted. Now I’m craving for sweet things with the taste of cheese getting in the way.”

Maybe it’s just a matter of being situated in that ‘place’ of mindfulness in the here-and-now and that’s enough, observing how there are things that’ll displace, me; powerful emotions, a short flash of like or dislike. These mind states are ‘seen’ same as everything else, momentary, and let-go-of more or less immediately and stability returns.

If not, I lose my ‘place’ for a while and then before I get back on track, there’s that experience of being totally lost for a while. Then I get situated in the here-and-now again, focusing on where I lost the place. Suddenly I re-cognize something and see that I must be functioning in that remembered way, then firmly situated again. Okay, so the mind may fall into a fixation with a passing thought, but at least I know that’s where it’s been.

These days I’m thinking I need to move on from these old reference points in my old comfortable way of understanding the world. That is, if you can see where you are and are aware of suffering caused by tanha (the craving for things you love and hate), then that’s all there is to it. You see it, you know it. Avidya (ignorance) is swept aside, no matter how much these established views may be held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, because suffering will pass away of its own accord:

“Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” “Of things that proceed from a cause – their cause the Tathagata has told. And also their cessation — Thus teaches the Great Ascetic.” [Venerable Assaji answers the question of Śāriputra the Wanderer]

I need to explore Sunyata “Emptiness” which Ajahn Buddhadasa examines in the second section of the book, where we see the truth that emptiness is the remainderless extinction of self. ‘The ‘remainderless extinction of ‘self’ is the non-arising of ‘self’’. In the long term I can see a situation whereby we prevent the arising of ‘self’ completely so that it has no way of arising at any moment in the here and now, nor at any time in the future.


Photo source: Dewdrop

doerless doing part 5

POSTCARD#376: Bangkok: “Heartwood From The Bo Tree”. This is a short section, Ajahn returns to phassa and vedana as the only places we can bring the sensory cycle to an end and prevent the arising of ‘self’ and dukkha. This will be familiar to some readers and to others, not. So I’m including some examples and comments to bring it more into the context of ordinary reality.

Section 2. How to practice at the moment of contact with sense-objects, phassa.

When visible forms, sounds, odors, flavors and tangible objects contact the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body we must practice letting phassa stop the cycle at phassa and letting vedana stop at vedana. Letting phassa stop just at phassa may be difficult to do – on the ordinary level, phassa develops into vedana , so then we stop it just there, without allowing the further development of craving and grasping, of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.

The five sense-objects and the corresponding five sense-organs are presented. The sixth sense organ, the mind (that which is cognized) is not included… maybe because the sense of mind is particularly involved in the arising of ‘self’. There are other developments of the sense of mind later in the text.

The Buddha taught that when seeing forms there should be just the seeing, when smelling odors just the smelling, tasting flavors just the tasting and touching tangible objects just the touching. If you can, stop it at contact then there is no arising of ‘self’, the ego is not born. It is the end of Dukkha, immutable emptiness.

This reminds me of the Buddha’s teaching to Bahiya in the Bahiya Sutta:

“Herein, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: ‘In the seen will be merely what is seen; in the heard will be merely what is heard; in the sensed will be merely what is sensed; in the cognized will be merely what is cognized.’ In this way you should train yourself, Bahiya.”

It is interesting to consider one’s reactions when a neutral form appears at contact phassa. Try looking at a door or a window and you’ll notice that there is merely phassa, there are no feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. When visible forms, sounds, odors, flavors and tangible objects enter the mind as contact, let them stop there in the same way.

Let it be like the soldier asleep by the side of a piece of artillery. When a shell is fired he merely registers the sound without feeling anything and just goes on happily sleeping. No matter how heavy the shelling he is not startled or disturbed. There is just the sound of the piece of artillery contacting his ear and then ceasing.

I cannot imagine how we would not be startled by the sound of large guns being fired, and able to sleep through it all. The example of the sleeping soldier comes from a time in Thailand when guerrilla warfare was going on in the jungles. At that time, ordinary people were familiar with the presence of the militia here and there.

Can you let phassa stop at phassa in that way when you hear the sound of a man or the sound of a woman or the sound of a loved one? If you can, then you’re really adept. Here animals may be more accomplished than we are because they lack all the excess mental baggage carried by humans. If we wish to reach the peak of excellence then we must train ourselves to let phassa remain as merely phassa.

But if you can’t do it and concede defeat, you can still stop at vedana. As soon as there is a feeling of comfort or discomfort, of satisfaction or dissatisfaction then extinguish it just there, without giving birth to the various kinds of desire that spring from the urges of craving and clinging. This is the practice on the occasion of contact with sense-objects.


/Section 3, the time of physical death, continued in part 6/

 

listening to silence

POSTCARD#370: Bangkok: When I woke up, the rain was gone, it had passed through in the night, leaving everyone deafened by the sound of it on roof tiles, sloped glass roof windows and battered concrete pathways. Seen from the 2nd floor, it looked like the trees had sunk deeper into the landscape because of the sustained torrent falling from the sky. And now the sun has its position above the clouds again, a sharpness of heat in the shrinking shadows, and bit by bit, all evidence of rain dried up, puddles diminish until there’s only a wetness, a moisture, then that dries up too. A cool breeze enters through the open doors and windows of our house and passing through downstairs rooms and corridors leading to other rooms and through the open doors and windows of the neighbors’ houses, where I can hear voices I don’t normally hear.

A curious and unusual silence in the background and the intervals between sounds. It’s because nobody has the air conditioning running, even the ceiling fans and standing fans are switched off. All the doors and windows are wide open for the coolness passing along the walls, and in and out of the corners and spaces we inhabit. I feel a shared awareness with our neighbors because of the stay-at-home order for our long months indoors, and this meandering cool breeze circulating through our connected passageways carries these household sounds in the silence I feel compelled to listen to.

Sit up in bed, raise the body for a moment, push two pillows under me and sit down again on top. The pillows sink into the soft mattress, raising the body slightly above bed level. My weight holds it all in place, folded legs and knees supported with the bed cover pushed underneath, keeps the posture stable. Back straight, shoulders at ease, and body still, I can focus on the inbreath then the long outbreath – the long inbreath and long outbreath and so on.

Bathed in the zizzle of silence in my own ears, I search through tiny noises near and far away. Partial words in a language I don’t know well, dishes clink, forks and spoons gently crash. A shout, the bark of a dog, a child cries and a bird sings in a two-tone melodic bird-sized gasp of air. A bicycle bell rings, a street trader’s call, a car horn beeps, and it goes on. Auditory events jump out from a clamor of sounds, in perceived grabs of recognition. I suspect it’s not the ‘actual’ sound I’m listening to, it’s the ear consciousness function that selects each unit of sound according to how it is identified or perceived. Unknown partial sounds are replaced by known sounds, or ear consciousness triggers a process wherein the object is located according to the ‘closest match’ that can be found in the memory’s filing system.

It’s the listening process itself that chooses the sounds I want to hear, and the whole procedure is seemingly directed towards a ‘self’ that classifies all this as ‘mine’ and ‘me’ of course. Thus a ‘self’ slips into view, flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being, a temporary presence appearing in an agreed-upon reality. It doesn’t stay long, lets go of any claims to this and that and disappears in the silence.

In the normal way, attention shifts from one thing to another. Surprising events grab the attention: other chains of thought wait to be finished as soon as there is a gap. So there is never any peace. This is efficient in using all available processing capacity, but what does it feel like to be … in such a system? I suppose it feels like most of us do feel – pretty confusing. The only thing that gives it any stability is the constant presence of a stable self model. No wonder we cling to it.’ Dr. Susan Blackmore [link to: Science tackles the self ]


Photo: buddhaweekly.com

coronavirus: a living organism

POSTCARD#369: Bangkok: Before I came to live in Thailand, I was in Pondicherry, South India for one year, then Bangalore for another year. Things were quite basic in those days and in the first few months I caught Amebiasis from drinking unboiled water. Sickness, intestinal pain and bouts of dysentery so I went to the doc and he prescribed Flagellin, saying Amebiasis was a microbial infection in the gut. He also said he believed that in some communities at the lower end of the social scale in Pondicherry, the disease lives in their intestines for extended periods, maybe permanently. The people with the disease, get seriously ill once a year and otherwise go on with their lives.

Flagellin, the medicine, was dramatic, a purge; vomiting and dysentery… the cure was worse than the disease. It really was worse… I couldn’t go on with it, knowing full well it was a bad decision. Eventually I got back to the UK and it was winter. That fixed it. Then a month later I returned to South India and the disease came alive again.

The next year I moved to Bangalore and the sickness left me. That was in 1983 and there has been no sign of it after that, although if I went back to live in Pondicherry now, it would be a different story. So I was reminded of it all in the light of COVD-19 from the point of view that both Amebiasis and Coronavirus are a living organism, (and thanks Paz for reminding me of that) like a plant or a tree. We can only mitigate the risk of Covid infection, understanding that the disease may find an entry point if there’s a way through the preventative measures and there’s nothing we can do about that.

In the ancient world there would have been all sorts of diseases and viruses active and living among the population. The only cure would have been herbal mixtures and derivatives of opium and other plants unknown. If there was a killer virus as we have now, local wisdom would have advised social distancing and masks of thin cloths covering nose and mouth. If they contracted the disease they died eventually and the parasite died with the host.

Looking at COVID-19 in the US, if the loose attitude regarding social distancing in some states continues, if there is no vaccine at hand we can assume the virus will evolve, in the long term, remembering a parasite seeks to live in the host organs without causing death. The danger is if we take no decisive action at the beginning, we just have to learn to live with it in the long term.

What to do? First, is to discontinue the handshake to prevent the contagion spreading from person to person. We need another way of the public meet-and-greet, perhaps based on the Indian Namaste. Or the Thai Wai which is like a small Indian “Namaste”, and easier to do. The second thing we have to do is wear a mask, as they did in ancient times, to prevent the virus from entering the body, and to protect everyone from being infected person-to-person.

Today, we all need to wear a mask every day in public – and there isn’t anything difficult to understand about that, unless you are Donald Trump who doesn’t want to admit he can’t wear a mask because it would ruin his make-up. Hard to believe. It worries me that even if everyone in the US took to wearing masks on a widespread level, there would still be those who follow the President’s example and refuse to comply with mask-wearing for some contrary reason.


Top photo: Burmese kids doing the Thai Wai
Lower photo: Prince Charles adopts the Indian Namaste as an alternative to shaking hands

meditation and a dentist’s drill

POSTCARD#368: Bangkok: Practically no traffic in Bangkok on my first day out – clear blue sky because there’s no pollution. I’m going to the dentist, and fortunate that I’m able to share in a car with two other friends and a driver, all of us wearing face masks, venturing out for the day. Wonderful to be back in the outside world and I send best wishes to blogging friends in the UK and US, who are stepping out today, as the car seems to leap across empty Thai highways.

Almost nothing of my UK ‘self’ remains. I have a sister, the other chick in the nest. Also gratitude to our cousin who tries to keep the strands of family together. The others… all gone in the passing years, and all that I’m inclined towards is in my Thai family and the monks I’ve spent time with – Theravada Buddhism Ajahn Chah lineage.

Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away for a meditational moment; just the in-breath, the out-breath, but I can’t continue because thoughts of the dentist come crashing into mind. You may be surprised to know however that she’s a very good-looking lady, dazzlingly perfect teeth to smile by, and this makes the pain easier to bear. Also, I have to say they are generous with the Lidocain needle there, I haven’t experienced any pain after the needle goes in during the many extended restructure sessions I’ve had in the chair. Maybe also the meds I take for headaches combine with the dental painkillers and these contribute to a painless experience.

So I get to the building, up in the elevator and check in with the receptionist. Sit for a while in an empty waiting area, thinking of my old dentist in Switzerland, 18 years ago, who told me about stress and depression among dentists, and he did have a few personality quirks. I googled the subject and found the suicide rate of dentists is more than twice the rate of the general population. September 1, 2007 Randy Lang. DDS, D.Ortho

Then I’m escorted to the dentist’s room. Undo my mask as I enter and “Hello, how are you”, greeting also the dentist’s assistant, who seems less beautiful but happy enough with the way things are.

The Dentist is absolutely stunning, dressed in her PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) she has a mask and a face guard with shower cap covering her hair. Movie-star painted eyes, but it’s the whole body covering that gets my attention; it’s clear smooth plastic, not wrinkled as we see in the busy COVID-19 wards, and… it looks like it’s been made to measure?

Beneath that is a tight fitting white plastic suit with a black belt and she’s wearing white high-heeled shoes – very high, with slender heels. A vision of dental loveliness… she sees me watching and does a little-girl twirl, I think: should I say “cute” or otherwise remark on her costume. But I can only smile and that’s convincing enough because I am genuinely surprised.

Are there any traces of a personality disorder here, I wonder, remembering the google texts about Stress in Dentists:

“When performing dental procedures that evoke patient fear and anxiety, dentists experience patterns of physiological stress responses that parallel the patient’s responses.”

Seems to me it would be hard not to, being so close, head to head with a reluctant and disinclined patient.

Another factor is people just don’t like going to the dentist, evidenced by the frequency of missed appointments. Nobody wants to visit the dentist and it’s the last place they want to come back to.

In my case it’s different, I’m in a mesmerized state. We continue with the opening pleasantries, as I sit down in the fearful chair which sinks to a lower level that raises my feet slightly higher than my head – it seems very comfortable to me and I tell the dentist this, thinking I have to be nice to this lady who may have a personality disorder, and she’s hiding a razor sharp drill somewhere which is going into my mouth – no escape now.

Her assistant covers my upper body with these heavy green hospital linen covers and puts one over my whole head that has a round hole in the centre. I found it disarming and claustrophobic the first time but I’m used to it now. She adjusts the position of the hole and does an examination of my mouth, indicates that it’s all good, and starts numerous injections to block off an entire area on the right side

After that, I’m raised up to the normal sitting position, while we wait for the Lidocain to numb the jaw. I take the conversation further by asking how long she’s had a dentist practice here in this location. She tells me it’s been 11 years and likes the process very much. Then she says: “I was in the US for five years”. I understand her to mean she studied there and prefers the American way of operating a dental practice, therefore the Thai way seems really old fashioned to her. I think she thinks I’m American and therefore I should respond in a welcoming, member-of-the-family, ‘warm hug’, in a manner of speaking but I don’t know how to do that, coming from Scotland as I do, ancient and remote. Even though I feel like I should have been able to respond better than I did.

Sometime later in the sequence of time we were talking about something else I can’t remember exactly and “I was in the US for five years”, she says, unaware that it’s the second time she’s said this. Is she, a Thai person, so deeply acculturated in all things American, she has to tell me about it? It was difficult to see how this could be, having lived in Thailand for 35 years with its ups and downs – 5 years seems like such a short time to me.

I wasn’t able to figure out how best to deal with this. A big smile will suffice – anyway it was time to get down to business and she sends my chair back into that devastating lower position, it seemed to me now, where the drilling begins.

No choice, settle into a space in my being, and try to accept these fierce sounds. The dentist’s drill is a fearsome thing as we all know. it can change from high speed: tee-ee tee-ee to low speed: bhrrr-bhrr bhrr-bhrr and variations on that: bhaaa-bhee, chugga chagga, daaa dit daaa dit daaa!

The dentist’s assistant takes charge of all the sucking devices she holds in place in a way that obstructs the movement of the tongue and drains the blood or liquid or water from another device crammed into place leaving enough space for the Hollywood dentist to do her drilling.

Everything to do with my mouth is seen through the round hole, I’m aware of some movements in the darkness. An overwhelming experience if you’re not used to it, now trying to embrace these intense sounds as my jaw is being carved into a new shape. There’s a natural tendency to escape from the body. Then the attempt at meditation starts.

The sound and vibration is hostile and shocking and pulls my attention back into what is immediately present, I can’t find a balance at first… I feel confident enough about the painkillers, about how effective the headache meds are, but the vibration is traveling through every bone in my body. It’s possible for the first time in my life to ‘see’, to be aware of my skull and skeleton. Maybe I can be confident about the full extent and the limitations of the experience; the drilling sounds, the pushing and tugging. I know this and I know Consciousness is vast. This realization just tumbles out. For a few moments the drilling sound and scale or scope of the issue becomes smaller and smaller, less and less important.

After that I’m able to find a place up and above my head and focus on staying there, as all the unexpected jabs, jerks and vibrations shake my whole body. The dentist’s assistant pulling on one side of my mouth and the dentist shoving and tugging the other side. My awareness has to include having to deal with the gag reflex and involuntary swallowing – all this can be going on because there’s enough awareness to go around. I can stay in this space up and above, and contemplate the experience as if I were in a barrel being tumbled down a rocky hill road, and other images.

The chair is moved up and the drilling is over, now to take an impression. Liquid rubber material is spread inside both upper and lower jaws. I clench my teeth together and have to hold it for 3 minutes. This provides me with a sudden quiet time… up and above in the space where I was meditating, there’s a golden glow. If I focus on it, the glow expands; it’s unintentional and spontaneous. The golden glow is sending out warmth and happiness, an entirely unintended action spreading outwards and everywhere.

Sadly it’s interrupted by the dentist, green covers removed, moving along now. Put the mask on, fix the next appointment, and it’s time to say Bye-Bye.

Down from the 6th floor and the driver is at the car-park level getting a stamp on his entry ticket. We pick up our two other passengers and out over the deserted highways again. I feel liberated and glad the next dental appointment is not for a month and the remains of the golden glow is with me.


The Thai Government reported three new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Sunday, May 10, 2020 with a total of 2,969 coronavirus cases and 54 deaths since the outbreak began in January

COVID-19 Vesak Day 2020

POSTCARD#367: Bangkok: Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, a forgetfulness of holding on to things… an easing away, then it all falls backwards into space. It’s the best part of the day for me; that smooth slide into sleep. I take a mix of Norytriptiline and Remeron in very small amounts. It works like a sleeping pill, but is in fact a pain killer. The sleep aspect of the drugs is so good, I sometimes wake in the morning and the body is in the same position it was in, the night before – practically no movement during the night.

The rest of the 24 hour period is not so peaceful, a headache and dry mouth, like a hangover when I wake in the morning, of course not caused by alcohol because it is dangerous to take that with the other drugs on the menu. So, I do a set of simple asanas on the yoga mat next to the bed. Then the shower and things start to clear up with the first dose of the main drug after breakfast. There are times when the meds put the headache away completely for most of the day, and that’s good except for the cloudy brain, things not being clear. Other times the meds put it away only for an hour or so…. sometimes the meds don’t seem to work at all and the uncertainty of this is a huge challenge.

An example of contemplating physical pain with Wise Reflection is the Buddha – remembered today, May 6, 2020, Vesak Day. [click on the link for more info] The Buddha would have looked long and hard at his pain condition, as I do now after 5 years of the headache. It interests me and makes me happy to have this small insight into the Buddha’s pain. The same for all friends here in the blogging world who suffer permanent pain, orthopedic or neurological or both.

I listened to the Vesak Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Kalyano. Ajahn talked about the years the Buddha studied ascetic practices (self-induced pain), his body was skin and bone and eventually he abandoned this practice because the center of focus was now on the Kilesas (Defilements), Greed, Hatred, and Delusion (sounds like a heavy metal band). These three Kilesas can be sourced, analyzed and contemplated with Wise Reflection today.

Ajahn also said that it may be helpful to think of all the many and various aspects of the Kilesas as a virus embedded in the body and Mind – a suggestion that Covid-19 may be contemplated in this way. Lastly, Ajahn referred to the BBC 70s video of an interview with the King of Thailand Bhumibol Rama 9 who passed away October 13, 2016 – not so long ago. The interviewer asked if the King believed in Original Sin. The King replied no, he believed in Original Purity. Ajahn Kalyano said this was an insightful reference to the practice of contemplation of the Kilesas.

The past never gets old, always brought into present time, revealed again as an event remembered, with characters acting out the part as we recall it. It can be steps we take to be free of the old conditioning. It can be a memory or an image held in the mind refreshed over and over that gives us support in some way. An image of the Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, or others…

The Buddha, when he was still a bodhisattva, considered the satisfaction in life, the misery and also the escape therefrom. We read in the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Chapter XI, par101, Before):

Then, monks, this occurred to me: That condition in the world owing to which pleasure arises, owing to which arises happiness,—that is the satisfaction in the world. That impermanence, that suffering, that changeability in the world,—that is the misery in the world. That restraint, that riddance of desire and passion in the world,—that is the escape therefrom.


Photo: Great Buddha Statue Bodh Gaya

 

COVID-19 connectedness

POSTCARD#366: Bangkok: Thailand reported 6 new coronavirus cases and no new deaths on Friday, May 01 taking its tally to 2,960 infections while fatalities remained at 54 since the outbreak began in January. On a global scale, the presence of covid-19 in our lives shows that when humanity is united in a common cause, social transformation is possible. Looking at changes in social behaviour, economy, and the role of government, an opportunity arises again to see the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important.

Here in Thailand, Jiab tells me she attended the death ceremony (the pouring of water) of her Great Grandfather when she was five years old. Death is no ending, death is going home… it’s how it is understood in most Asian societies. I imagine the same for III World societies everywhere. In the West however, it is usually hidden away and thus COVID-19 has revealed the reality, death is part of life.

We are the survivors after the War – as it is/was after any war, those who remain, understand that life is sacred. Each person, young or old, sick or well, is a sacred, precious, beloved being. What does it really mean, all the hugs, kisses-on-both-cheeks, handshakes and high-fives we are removed from right now (and may be adapted in some way in a more permanent basis)? It means let’s be connected by whatever means as an expression of love and spirit.

What makes it difficult is the Western belief in the separate self in a world of Other, me separate from you… driven by power and the fear of losing it. The obsession with money and property, extensions of the self – expresses the delusion that the impermanent self can be made permanent through its attachments. Some would say the exact opposite of the Buddha’s Teaching.

What’s coming is a wave of revelation; situations just taken for granted in the past are being reappraised, seen with compassion. How can we find out about those who cannot work from home? The hotel staff, the taxi drivers, the bus drivers, the janitors and cashiers. What can we do about those who have lost their jobs due to the covid-19 shut-down? What is the best way to help vulnerable people? The homeless? How can we be connected with people in the slum districts in inner cities?

The covid-19 shut-down activates compassion, leaders and activists start to emerge, campaigning for the situation of the helpless, in so many words… something is stirred. If we have it in us, we can see quite clearly, the ‘normal’ that once was, is gone. We just can’t fall back into the same rut; monotony and a sense of lack. What can we do abut this? How to be part of this new connectedness in the covid-19 separation?

What’s coming is a new vision of what society could become – one that is less authoritarian and fearful, and more collaborative and local. Unseen altruism, resourcefulness and generosity that arise in situations of grief and disruption.

Necessary to be careful all the way through to an agreement: “… with the decimation of small businesses, a dependency on the state for a stipend that comes with strict conditions. The crisis could usher in totalitarianism or solidarity; medical martial law or a holistic renaissance; greater fear of the microbial world, or greater resiliency in participation in it; permanent norms of social distancing, or a renewed desire to come together.”

Excerpts from Charles Eisenstein’s “The Coronation” included in this post.

 

the new-normal

POSTCARD#365: Bangkok: The coronavirus disease 2019 has spread across the world. With it came the understanding on social distancing. On a global scale, people were expected to comply and they did, united in a common cause. The world population witnessed something that has never happened before. What will it be like when it’s all over? (Will it ever be over?) When can we get back to normal? Nobody knows when, and it’ll not be ‘normal’ as we know it, it’ll be a ‘new-normal’.

Every day counting the dead, an on-going catastrophe, the mind is fundamentally changed after the disaster experience, it has a psychological impact. Or it may be spiritual, or transformational, subject to who the actors and activists are, the realities, the karma of circumstances.

The Thai Government announcement on COVID-19, 22 April 2020:

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

The stay-at-home order is now in its fourth week, and how are we coping with our ‘stay-at-home-ness’? My wife, Jiab, is usually busy with Skype while I am hidden upstairs watching CNN. “This is CNN bringing you Breaking News”, volume fills the room. It is informative and kinda gripping if you’re lying in repose managing a headache. Sometimes I mute the volume and watch the facial gestures.

There’s a bathroom and a bed here, a large air-con room and comfortable armchairs. This is still the hot season, slatted blinds keep out the direct sunlight, makes it easier to see the TV screen. I also watch CSI and CSI Miami with Horatio forever posing with his small sunglasses. FBI Most Wanted, Blue Bloods and others. Stepping into the hypnosis of the general public: dialogue woven around a few good looking actors, studies in portraiture… I swoon with the posturing.

Aside from the enthralled watching, I do a little yoga and meditation, and go down to eat and wash the dishes three times a day. Jiab does the cooking or orders delivery. There’s also time spent writing posts, say 2 days per week – I’m not as dynamic as I used to be.

The headache comes and goes, never completely gone. It’s been five years, we’ve gone through a lot together, the headache and me. Remembering now there was a time when I didn’t have the headache, mourning the loss of the pain-free state I possessed in that other world from whence I came… all of it irretrievably gone from memory. Strong, angry emotions – red light, phone alarm rings, stop thinking. Return to watching the breath… the utter functioning of being alive. Watch TV, just dismayed – how could it be like this?

My headache, or the coronavirus is the imponderable. Our world is good but there’s always something that’s not right. Incompleteness, and the Buddhists say it’s this, the discovery of dissatisfaction, Suffering, Dukkha, the first Noble Truth. Years ago I was so glad to discover this because I was lost in it and at the best of times, wondering what that bad feeling was. There is Suffering, caused by Desire but there is a Way out, found in the Noble Eightfold Path. (4 Noble Truths)

Everything comes crashing in. The inevitability of events and present moment awareness. If I didn’t have the PHN headache condition, I wouldn’t feel as motivated as I do to look everywhere for the way out of this suffering, and thus begin to uncover the mystery.

If I’m having difficulty with my headache, and I’m trying to avoid it, the presence of it, the acceptance, it helps to think of it as another self; the headache is a person, a friend – I feel there are two of us.

Interested in the well-being of this other self, I say to my headache self:

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

When it’s time, three capsules of pharmaceutical forget-me-nots swallowed with a gulp of bottled water and in a short while, the intensity of the headache has moved away from consciousness – a long sigh of outbreath.

Last thing is: why am I doing this, writing these posts? There’s a lot to say and I’ve learned so many things from such a lot of good, kind, and wise people that I feel I have to share it with everyone.

May all beings be well.

 

 

transformation

POSTCARD#363: Bangkok: I’m writing this in the house Jiab and I have had since 2003. At that time we were in the Bangkok suburbs but after a few years, the city grew up all around us, the urban highway extended itself into the neighborhood and real estate got snatched up everywhere. New Metro train lines are being constructed and in no time at all, condominiums started to appear over our humble single storey houses.

For most of its history the house has been empty, except for a cleaner coming once a week and our nephew, part time grad student acting caretaker. We were in Bangladesh for two years and India for seven years, returning to the Bangkok office in 2017. Even then, the house stayed empty because of the traffic problem and we had to rent a single room downtown, not too far to get to work in rush hour traffic.

At that time we used to come from the rented room to the house only on the weekends. These days of course, we’re all under the stay-at-home order and working from home, so we moved back into our house and now we get to see what it’s like to be at home every day of the week. People everywhere in the world who are working at home must be experiencing this one way or another.

Key in the search word in internet and find various restaurants are doing delivery of lunches and dinners online, as well as local delivery (from our neighbors) of a small range of home-cooked food items. The doorbell goes ping-pong!, I look over the small balcony to see. Yes it’s the lunch delivery, the motorbike guy there with his helmet and mask on and Jiab is masked too, taking the bag from him.

Shortly after that there’s another ping-pong, I look out and down there, a car is stopped outside our house with driver’s door left open. This must be a neighbor’s delivery. Curiosity gets the better of me and I go downstairs to see what’s going on. Jiab’s laptop and deskwork occupies one end of the long dining table, ceiling fan whizzing around (this is the hot season) and all her papers held down in the breezy winds with salt/pepper shakers and other condiment items from the table.

The remaining part of the table is laid out for two. Jiab has the chicken and Somtam (Green papaya salad). I have the Salmon with black Teriyaki sauce and Pink colored sweet ginger, which I share with Jiab and she shares her Green papaya salad with me. Then we have the Best Dessert in the World, Gelatin colored white and also transparent, with mango in the middle… more of an indulgence than anything else. We have one each and that’s it, lunch is done.

Interesting conversation over lunch, Jiab who was brought up in the Buddhist faith, found it hard to believe when I told her that at Easter we have an example of an immense transformation (Death of Jesus and the Resurrection). She didn’t have the same emotional connection as I do (having been proselytized all the way from childhood to adult life). So when it occurred to me that the Easter experience for Christians fits exactly into the transformation of the world economy after COVID-19, Jiab didn’t immediately see the significance of the transformation. Could be that only Christians see it. Not possible to discuss this at length here, maybe some other time.

The world-wide crisis looms and there’s hope but also uncertainty. We cannot project into a (possibly distant) future when everything has returned to the same stability we had before COVID-19 arrived. It could be a metaphor for the Easter story. We let go of the old way and find a starting point for the new, it’s a learning process. Learning how to learn and learning that this is possible – all the causes and conditions here are right for it… not seeking a forever state of contentment, just content with the state of things as they are for now, allowing for change.