the eye ‘I’ metaphor

POSTCARD#327: Bangkok: Completed the cataract surgery in one eye, and waiting now for the second one, thus going around in a one-eyed condition. What I’m seeing through the right eye is a wonderful enhancement, a brightened-up version of everything… hard to believe. Close the right eye, look through the left and the world is a dull, indistinct, old, yellowed photograph. Just to confirm this, I close the left eye and look through the right again and it’s like the Nat Geo channel, as clear as the iPhone X 458 pixels per inch; the techno-device metaphor used to describe physical reality.

The world is an analogy, a figure of speech, a conceptual metaphor. In my case the lens in one eye is a tiny piece of sophisticated plastic – in the same way, someone might have an artificial leg, or a dental crown. No difference, except that you walk around with an artificial leg, you chew with a dental crown but I’m seeing the world through this artificial lens. The artificial lens is a functioning part of the cognitive process.

Light passes through the lens, images appear, mind considers all this, based on received experience of similar images and selects a file, saying, ‘what you see is like this’. It resembles something that’s familiar, so I re-cognize it, and that’s what it becomes – whether it is really what I think it is, or not. The metaphor pushes the whole thing over the edge; one thing becomes another. There’s that thing out there and ‘me’ in here, looking at it; ‘I’ am on the receiving end, therefore conscious experience ‘is’ individual identity: ‘I think, therefore I am. “cogito ergo sum”

The assumption is that the ‘self’ is a fixed reality and everything coming through the senses is real; sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, cognition – and it’s all coming to (((me))). I like it, I want it, I want more of it, or I hate it, I don’t want it. This is how it is, I get all the joy but also the pain, the good and the bad, love and hate, heaven and hell – thus I have to spend a major part of my life (maybe many lifetimes) having to cope with these polarizations that I accidentally created, thinking I was doing the right thing.

Buddhists say this is not it. Thoughts can exist in the absence of a guiding “self” – obvious to anyone engaged in the practice of Buddhist meditation: cogito ergo non sum! What can I do about it? How to be free of it, to not be a slave to it? In some circumstances, taking an indirect approach means simply the intention to be mindful is enough, sufficient to disengage from the automatic reaction. Not caught up in the experience of it, one step removed, just knowing that this is how it is; that’s all. Knowing it takes the place of not knowing it. Step by step, experiencing how to do it… words cannot go any further.

“Emphasis is laid on the principle that this (same) thought-complex is an aggregate or combination of such factors, and nothing more… there is no permanent entity or self which acquires the states”. [From a footnote in the English translation of the Dhamma Sangani, by Caroline Rhys Davids, 1900] Explained further in the Atthasalini, a 5th century commentary by Buddhaghosa: “… here there are only states: no permanent being, no soul is known. These are mere states without essence, without a guiding principle… there is nothing else whatever, neither a being, nor an individuality, nor a man, nor a person.”


Reflections on an earlier post

how it is

POSTCARD#324: Bangkok airport: Arriving from Chiang Mai, all trains into town are seriously crowded and no taxis available anywhere at the airport. Therefore I become the Crowd, one of a very large number of individuals caught in the rush on a Friday evening. Somebody later said it’s because all the international schools start again on Monday. Whatever, go with the crowd, it’s decided for me, I accept. I am subject to the public transport System, I am being ‘taken’, it’s about the process, rather than any particular person controlling the process. For different reasons, I could create a Controller in my imagination, like the bosses, the management and blame it all on them/him/her/it, but it’s about the way it works, and there’s no ‘self’ in the equation – the deed is done but there is no doer, using the Passive Voice language function to express the Buddhist Truth of no-self (anatta).

Sounds are heard, food is tasted, and the chill wind of September is felt upon the skin. And the ‘self’ is absent; there’s nobody there that feels it, unless I consciously put together an identity composite, in which case I feel the chill wind of September (Active Voice). Language tells a story, creates a fiction that I can get lost in; only partially aware that it’s a constructed thing and most of the time I’m clinging to a concept of selfhood, an assumed identity. Thankfully, in the Passive Voice, there is no doer, things are done; the cognitive process is about ‘how it is’ rather than ‘what it is’.

The world is seen – I had an eye operation recently and what I didn’t expect was that it turned out to be an opportunity to contemplate this phenomenon of the experiencer. There’s the experience of visual stimuli entering the eye through a lens created by an industrial process and somehow the ‘me’ part of it is not in the place where it used to be. It’s all very new and quite interesting – maybe because I still have the ‘old vision’ in the untreated eye, something to compare it with.

I can see the world through the old eye as well as the new eye. It’s like the linguistic ‘voice’ can be both passive and active and I’ve understood it mostly in the active form; the process of ‘selfing’ is grasped at as an entity and identified with – a controlling thing. In the West it’s a ‘belief’. My difficulty with anatta has been extricating myself from the Judeo-Christian conditioning that assumes the existence of an eternal soul. I notice that Thais, happily, don’t have this problem. Even after 30 years in the East, I still struggle with my Western conditioning; an everlasting identity, the idea of it still lingers; a shadow of ‘self’.

Train moves along and Thai passengers behave with courtesy. I’m suddenly aware how it is in a crowded train in the West and the confusion of ‘self’ that’s going on there. Here it’s about being quietly patient, soon it’s my stop. Night, car headlights reflected in puddles, I’m standing in the rain, feet are soaked and D comes to get me in the car. The thought arises, the car is driven but there is no driver….

‘Where water, earth, fire, & wind have no footing; there the stars don’t shine, the sun isn’t visible. There the moon doesn’t appear. There darkness is not found. And when a sage, a Brahman through sagacity, has realized [this] for himself, then from form & formless, from bliss & pain, he is freed.’ [Bāhiya Sutta]


Reflections on an earlier post, ‘passive voice’

that which is seen

POSTCARD#323: Bangkok: After the operation on the right eye, and the world seems different, everything suddenly seen in clear three-dimensionality. Reflected light, rich, deep colors and a strange familiarity of objects, things become somehow known. I’ve seen these things so often before but now seeing them with an expanded awareness. It sounds visionary, you could say revelatory but it’s the result of eye surgery, rather than insight… nonetheless quite astonishing. I have this clarity in one eye only; vision in the other eye is like an old yellowed photo, dull and indistinct.

The operation on that eye will be in October, back to the Rutnin Eye Hospital in Bangkok. The surgeon makes a hole in the eye and puts in a tool that uses ultrasound to emulsify the lens. The lens becomes liquid and is sucked away, then a plastic foldable lens is inserted in the place where the natural lens used to be. That’s it, done. Local anesthetic is enough, or general if you feel claustrophobic about the covers over the face as the procedure is going on. After the op there are different kinds of eye-drops that go on for about three weeks and it feels a bit itchy but that’s all.

I’m amazed that it’s possible to do this; the plasticity of the human body, parts can be taken out, replaced; systems are deconstructed, reconstructed, subject to change. It all supports the idea of anatta: no abiding self. There’s an underlying flexibility about the mind/body organism (namarupa). One example of this is that I have a very refined piece of plastic in my eye instead of a natural lens. And, looking through this at the world, I find there’s an affinity with clear-wrap, cling-film, transparent plastic food packaging – the way the plastic surface refracts the light. In this strong sunlight in Thailand, I notice the reflections on chrome and glass – the clarity is sparkling and beautiful. Also these enhanced colors, reds mostly, and an overall bright clear blueness in the white areas. All this has the quality of an iPad screen, retina display; high-density pixels merge into one – an extraordinary brightness.

At home, curious Thai faces examine my new eye, and I’m looking back at them looking at me, seeing subtleties in their features that I’ve never seen before. It’s all quite new, an extended reality. So, I’ll be going around for the next few weeks, looking at my surroundings and considering the phenomenon that I am experiencing this and the mystery of that which is seen.

‘… the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release, & letting go of that very craving. (the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha)’ [SN 56.11 (dukkha nirodho ariya sacca)]


Photo image: Skyline at Ploenchit Bangkok. Reflections on an earlier post The Beholder

 

a world of our own creation

POSTCARD#321: Chiang Mai Airport: Waiting in departures for the delayed flight to Bangkok. Very crowded and all seats near the gate are taken. Young Americans, Australians, in ‘Hang Out’ mode, sprawled around in the seats, on the floor, wearing nearly nothing at all; long legs, pointed elbows sticking out – a sea of brightly coloured T-shirts, shorts, rubber slippers. In the coffee bar, a forest of exposed limbs, tattooed legs, bosoms, identity obscured behind peaked caps worn down over the eyes, mirror reflecting sunglasses, headphones, iTunes and hunched over their devices, sucking up drinks through a plastic straw, the tubular proboscis of insectoids. Sensory-experience junkies, have to have that input by way of the sense gates.

They do know, though, that the ego of the West is a self-sustaining concept running out of battery and most likely to fizzle out quite soon, impermanence, everything changes. There’s no substance to it, same with all things. This is the Christian God of the West, the one-and-only-God that doesn’t include two thirds of the world’s population because they’re not Christian. It’s like a right wing supremacist movement, same as Muslim extremist groups; there’s a war and both sides pray to God to win. God gets confused, so there’s another war, and another…. Everyone is dying or dead and among the survivors there is one who can see they they’re not talking about God, the Ultimate Reality, what they’re talking about is one of the gods of the conditioned realm. The logic of this is inescapable – how could God be something that one religion has and another doesn’t have? Yes, inescapable but there’s a kind of nobody-at-home look on the faces of my Christian friends when it seems like I’m going to want to try to discuss this point further.

Some people wake up, but some just don’t wake up at all. It gets too complicated and that’s why the Buddha was saying life is difficult enough as it is so let’s not get engaged with the God concept, okay? Attachment to the idea of it becomes a desire in itself and that’s what’s causing the problem. Ultimate reality is so fragile and subtle you can never be absolutely sure you’re not still setting it up so you’re seeing it the way you want it to be, still in the conditioned realm and far from the Truth. The best thing to do is not call it anything, cultivate mindfulness, clear comprehension, discerning awareness and take care; see how that goes…

“… the illusory world is through attachment. We think we all live in the same world as personalities, but every one of us lives in a world of our own creation. We have certain things in common but so much of our life is personal and unique to ourselves. That world we create is not the objective world we believe we’re living in; we’re living in a world of our own creation. That’s why it’s so difficult relating to each other, isn’t it? We’re coming from different worlds – you feel, sometimes, you’re living with a bunch of aliens!” [Ajahn Sumedho, ‘In Awareness There is No Dukkha’]


Photo: Louk Vreeswijk

 

a twinkling diamond light

POSTCARD#320: Bangkok: Remembering North India, Bodh Gaya: 04.00 hours: This is where the Buddha’s enlightenment took place. I’m in a hotel not far from where it happened, the window is open, sitting on a cushion and comfortably watching the breath. There’s a sense of being near the epicentre, ground zero – the sparkling, twinkling diamond light. From here, it spread through everyone who were able to listen, then, in the course of time, reaching out to all parts of the East. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from Tibet, China, Japan, Korea, South East Asia and other places eventually came here to see for themselves, the places where the Buddha walked.

Something I’d really like to do before running to catch the last bus, is to visit all the Buddhist countries in the world. I’ve been to Bodh Gaya, Śrāvastī, and the other sites in North India, where that sparkling diamond light can be seen. All those centuries ago, the presence of the Buddha, – although typically, we have to line up with hundreds of other visitors and shuffle through these neatly restored monuments with a fence all around and guards at the gate to keep out the beggars.

Better just to find a place in the grass comfortably situated in the shade of these huge Pipal trees. How much of this is as it was, 2,600 years ago? I’m seated on the earth, with the others in my group. I am distinctly aware that the Buddha walked near to here when it was called Jeta’s Grove – Thus Have I Heard. The wind gently moves across my face, becomes tangled in the hair on my head. The sensation of the breath gently touching the inner nasal passages, and the consciousness that arises with that feeling – look around, the same blue sky, brown earth, green foliage, even though the objects I see may not be the same as they were then, the process of seeing is the same, received in the ever-present conscious experience – a manifestation of consciousness experiencing itself in that twinkling diamond light.

“Where there is the mind, where there are mental phenomena, mind-consciousness, things to be cognized by mind-consciousness, there a being exists or the description of a being. Where there is no mind, no mental phenomena, no mind-consciousness, there a being does not exist nor any description of a being.” [SN 1.65]


Reflections on an earlier post titled Now As It Was Then

the look of eyes (1)

POSTCARD#318: Chiang Mai: Moving through the main road traffic in a tuktuk, going at an unforgivable speed, just amazed by the noise of it. Lying back on the seat in the slouched position, holding on to everything, and the body kind of adhered to the seat. We make a fast turn into a soi (narrow road), lurch to the right in this flimsy three wheeled vehicle, lightweight structure with a wide seat, shiny chrome poles support a canvas hood overhead and nothing to separate outside from inside.

We’re now in a residential area, careering down a narrow path; the engine noise is louder here. Pedestrians turn and look as the tuktuk approaches and step back out of the way. There’s just enough time to see the person’s head turning in my direction, I glance and have eye contact, wish them well in my mind, and I’m gone. Turn another corner and somebody else looks up from what they’re doing. It happens again and again, an old woman, a child, and a man just sitting on the wall. He hears the sound of the approaching tuktuk, head rises, shoulders turn and face comes round to where I am, looks at me sitting in the back seat, I smile and he does too. We’re in a moment, a shavingth of time and it’s gone. Again and again it all takes place in a couple of seconds – not unusual, quite ordinary… a fragment of a shared moment.

Heads move in my direction: who is that in the tuktuk? The human reaction eyes and ears; vision and hearing, and mouth is there to speak or call out if necessary. All these sensory receptors are positioned together in or about the face and the flat plane of it moves round like a small parabolic TV satellite dish reaching out for a signal, ready to respond. Sometimes it’s too fast and the thinking process doesn’t engage. I see the beginning of recognition, mind takes over and ‘self’ locks in, then released and the tuktuk is gone in that same instant. A brief glimpse; an excerpt from a sentence; a few words that don’t have a context.

Each person I see is ready to respond, smile, say hello when we have eye contact. It’s my responsibility to smile and wave because the place where I am at, is moving too fast and they see first I’m not anybody they know, white face, pale eyes, kind of invisible. Sorry, have to rush, bye! It’s a brief encounter then zoom round the corner and there’s somebody else. Face turns, eyes look and mind engages gear… she looks at me sees the prepared smile, smiles in recognition of my polite intrusion in her space and that is somehow hugely reassuring for me. The face turns away, and ‘I’ am not here, I never was here really, it just seemed like that for a moment; the look of eyes, and our shared world, the air takes the volume of a space where there’s always enough room for it, and the water in the lake is for fish to find somewhere to swim around in….


Photo: Chiang Mai Tuktuk

 

generosity

POSTCARD#315: Chiang Mai:  Click on ‘generosity’, then click on synonyms for that word, and you get loving-kindness, compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honor, motivation, encouragement.

Generosity is everything. Its nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given, never taken. With generosity we can accept, we can share, we can forgive. Generosity leads to wisdom – the truth is without bias. There is an understanding of things as they really are.

There is ‘generosity of spirit’, a quality we all possess. Generosity, as a mental, emotional letting go, means releasing the tenacity of holding on to things. All that heavy stuff we burden ourselves with is removed in one single act of generosity.

What’s wrong with being generous, cultivating an inward disposition to give? A glad willingness to share what we have with others – why not? We have more than enough. Give it away. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Generosity is seen as a way to counteract greed. It’s a way of helping others and a means of lessening the economic disparities in society. Generosity is part of the Buddha’s ‘Right View’. The dhamma of generosity is a gift for all of society as we struggle for meaning in a world of Trump, criminality and so on. The dhamma of giving is a disinfectant, a gunk dissolver, and an antidote for all the greed, hatred and delusion.

“Curiosity endows the people who have it with a generosity in argument and a serenity in their own mode of life which springs from their cheerful willingness to let life take the form it will.” [Alistair Cooke]


Photo of the deva at the entrance to Dhammapala Buddhist Monastery, Switzerland, DHP Archives. Reflections on an earlier Post: More Than Enough

limitlessness

POSTCARD#310: Bangkok: 5.30 am. In the quietness of where we are, deep in the narrow lanes of the city where there’s only mature trees heavy with foliage, inhabited by exotic birds, and the first solitary songbird interrupts the silence. It sings its song as if it were a voice saying something in a language I can’t understand, and comes to the end like an unanswered question…

A picture seen in an instant then it’s gone, I lost the word; the memory of an event is displaced by the next moment of remembering. Body moving through the choreography of early morning routine in a background of dawn chorus, huge melodies played on an instrument with a great number of strings… then an awareness of the headache – something that’s bothered me for a long time… it bothers me that it bothers me.

I can see from these explorations into mind-states, that the reason for things being the way they are comes out of nowhere. It just happens by itself, a narrative appears that seems to explain why we are here. Conscious awareness has to penetrate these stories through the layers of belief that Mind is the centre of it all. Mindfulness of it is not enough, it’s more like I have to consciously take the step in order for things to develop of their own accord – and all of a sudden, that thing that bothers me is gone. A little door opens in the mind… “Ping” I can feel it open. I can enter that space, and there it is; the thing that all this is only a small part of – a clear, sharp, vivid, state of clarity – a there-and-then, here-and-now understanding of the limitlessness and vast regions of how things are.

……….

Some time after that, suddenly a shrill squeal from the baby’s room downstairs, a group of aunties laugh and encourage the child to do it again. Silence then another joyous squeal, diphthong two-tone quality of what sounds like a group of words. So this is how we learn…

“Be an island to oneself be your own refuge, having no other; let the Dhamma be an island and a refuge to you, having no other. Those who are islands unto themselves… should investigate to the very heart of things: ‘What is the source of sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair? How do they arise?’ [What is their origin?]” [Attadiipaa Sutta: An Island to Oneself]


Photo shows our sculpture of Thalia Goddess of comedy, placed safely on a cushion while we get our house in order after the shipment of furniture arrives from India

 

 

its as-it-is-ness

POSTCARD#309: A village near Hat Yai: Exotic red Hibiscus flowers and butterflies as big as birds. A zizzle of insects in the night and numerous coconut palm trees just standing around contemplating the situation – if a tree falls in the forest… does the world continue to exist when I close my eyes? Was this world here before I was born? Hard to believe it was, everything just going on as it is now, probably, farmyard animals, birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, experienced from here on the top floor of the house where the treetops are level with the roof terrace and higher.

There was a time when I wasn’t here – not born yet. I can understand that, so it means I can understand what the world is without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating, and undeniably, the present moment is all around the place, taking the form of objects, I see (as soon as they are ‘seen’), becoming the surfaces of things I touch (as soon as they are ‘held’). I keep bumping into it, the present moment is all there is, and it is as it is, whether I am aware of it in its as-it-is-ness or not.

Sometimes it gets stuck, like a failed Internet connection. The internet room at Hat Yai Airport was closed when I was there, all the computers covered with their old covers and a sign written in English: “could not make a connection” – okay, everybody can go home now. Is this what Death is like? It could happen any time – it does that sometimes, the ‘fatal error’ – quit all programs and try restart. If that doesn’t work, ah well, it’s just the ‘as-it-is-ness’, probably, yes, whatever.

Happy enough with the present mind state that’s free of all the tugs and pulls. Maybe it’s the meds, the all-inclusiveness of my condition; continued awareness applied to everything in the environment and engaged in the various happenings of the day. It’s really interesting to be in this pleasant rural remoteness, and So What if I’ve been trying to get a connection all day? I’m just hoping for the best, without clinging to the idea there’s a problem about that. Meanwhile, the world and everything is going along, death arrives one day…  that letting-go thing again. Falling asleep like a dark veil falls over my eyes; the transparency of a transitional state, the forgetfulness of holding on to things; an easing away somewhere…

“… How much more harmoniously the days are passing compared with those when we gave in to the slightest stimulus for interfering in the world by deed, word, emotion or thought. As if protected by invisible armour against the banalities and importunities of the outer world, one will walk through (the) days serenely and content, with an exhilarating feeling of ease and freedom. It is as if, from the unpleasant closeness of a hustling and noisy crowd, one has escaped to the silence and seclusion of a hilltop, and with a sigh of relief, is looking down on the noise and bustle below. It is the peace and happiness of detachment which will be thus experienced.” [“The Heart of Buddhist Meditation” Nyanaponika Thera]


Adapted from an older post, July 21 2012, If A Tree Falls

samsara of advertising

POSTCARD#307: Bangkok: Everywhere in shopping malls, magazines, TV channels, images exerting the ‘pull’ 24/7 so that we can easily, unknowingly enter into a world of choices – the idea that ‘I’ can have a personal preference, thus am I caught in ‘self’. The Western model, reshaped by East Asian style and adapted to fit Thai cultural behaviour. Stories acted out by adults who look like children; cute faces, attractive personalities, charm. Products presented as if it were a game, makes it all seem quite real and acceptable; the high-voltage sales strategy is unseen, cloaked in naivety – preparing for a whole new generation of consumers, a new Thai society – the corporate entity engaged in long term planning.

I can get caught by it, drawn towards the TV screen, something I see in the advert triggers it, and the who-I-am thing arises, and a voice inside me says: I LIKE THIS and it all gets to be really important, relevant, vivid and intense. I feel suddenly energized, compelled and, I WANT TO HAVE IT, ready to start discussing with sales staff at the retail point and proceed with the purchase; the plastic in my wallet getting hot, I’m being swept away by the samsara of advertising. Too bad because I can apply the brakes at this point, as it is in the patticcasamupada, remembering the way to stop craving (tanhã) arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before craving happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. I know it will cease of its own accord if I can allow it to become nothing, and fortunately it’s all in a language I can switch off from so it all fizzles out…

To become the owner of a purchased product, I have to believe in it – I have to consciously engage with it. To become me, I have to think ‘me’. The ‘me’ that I believe in depends on me thinking it. I am conditioned to be attached to my opinions, my emotionality, and the sense of self in all kinds of ways. I can manipulate the conditioned world so that, from this perspective of thinking, I see (my) self situated favorably – or it could be unfavorably if I’m caught in being the victim (but there is always a way out). Everything arises due to causes and conditions, then thinking about it, excessively and often enough to have it appear to be embedded in the fabric of this self construct I recognize as ‘me,’ subject to its perceived whims and waywardness, as some kind of fictional character.

But there is a way out; everything that arises falls away. Let it go and it’s gone. The simple truth is don’t mess with it, don’t think it into being, and it won’t arise. Maintain a proximity-to but distance-from position: the Middle Way. There is viññāṇa, conscious awareness, self-sustaining; I don’t create it. There’s the body, moving through the population, minding its own business, other than that, no personal essence given to me by (some external force); nothing added, nothing extra. The simplicity of this seems to immediately throw everything to do with ‘self’ into disarray; enough to cause it all to come tumbling down; a house of cards. Knowing this, we can rebuild the concept with an awareness of its parts. Leading to a more enhanced sense of ‘self’ if that’s what seems preferable… nothing wrong with personality, it’s the attachment to it that’s the problem…


Excerpts from my earlier post: March 28, 2013. Photo image: Coke ad Ploenchit