entities

POSTCARD#347: Bangkok: I’m sitting in an armchair in front of the television; CNN & the Mueller Report. But the volume is mute; I’m not watching it. I don’t want all these Trumpian entities invading my quiet space. Sidestep that thought in the monkey-mind before we get hijacked by how bad it seems. Not my problem, you could say, I’m not a US citizen. I’m a Scotsman living in Thailand for more than thirty years, with almost nothing to hold on to. But I can feel the pain of America tearing itself apart; my heart is with you all my friends! Eyes closed and everything disappears… allow it all to fall away, for a moment; there’s just the in-breath, and the out-breath.

Sitting in a darkened room, and the story so far is that I’m having one of those substantial headaches I get from time to time, and I’ve taken all the meds I can take but to no avail. The tendency is to take more and more meds but that gets me in a worse place. The headache remains, fills my head with what feels like a huge metal spike. There’s only one thing I can do now, make my way to that little space in the body/mind where I know there’s some comfort to be found. I remember it from last time, get into that place, and hunker down… wait for the hours to pass.

[But where is that little place or space? It is an actual place near the groin, a Latin name I’ve forgotten – I just remember what it it feels like. Serious meditators know this; please send me some links in the comments below, thanks.]

I can search for it in the body/mind, by adjusting the way I sit slightly – leaning away from the seat of the chair until I’m balanced more on the edge. Somewhere during this time and space, the little place appears in the body/mind. Familiarity with how it feels, discovered in this new seated position; feet on floor, elbows on the arm rests, head inclined, as if asleep.

There are one or two instants when I think I must have gone to sleep, but did that happen ‘before’ or ‘after’? Where do I insert the ‘self’ that’s observing this? The body/mind remains in a loosely conscious state with large chunks of time missing and that’s good. This is not meditation, this is how to cope with a headache until it’s time for the next dose of meds… somewhere in future time. It’s the idea of continuity, I reach the end of a piece of time and take a huge leap towards what I believe is ‘next’. There’s nothing to confirm, verify, that there’ll be a ‘next’.

The thought that all this doesn’t exist, unless I think it into being… takes my breath away. ‘When this exists, that comes to be. With the arising of this, that arises. When this does not exist, that does not come to be. With the cessation of this, that ceases.’ Samyutta Nikaya 12.6

Sometime after this I reached the time for the meds and the headache was almost gone right away! Next day it was gone completely, and I wrote the above story of it all in a sequence of time.


Photo: Roy Cohn with DT

painlessness & the twitch

POSTCARD#345: Bangkok: The continuing story of relief from the pain-in-the-head (H = headache) that’s been with me these last 3 years. Yes a time for celebration, but considering my threshold being as low as it is, therefore affected in a big way when even the smallest easing of pain arises, it’s more like being thankful for small mercies. I’m in a world of tiny calibrations these days, the vast Roller Coaster Ride of self medication is over.

Sunday 24th : I didn’t need to take the magic pill until afternoon because there was no serious H – another example of the state of painlessness is that I forgot to take the usual Neurontin dose in the afternoon because there really was no headache. So I’m still walking-on-air, in this pain-free zone I’ve been travelling through for a while.

25 March : This morning, 8 am, there was the usual dose of Neurontin, the H was still there so I waited to see how bad it was and at 10am, take the magic pill. By 11 am I had forgotten all about it – the headache was gone. 12.30pm: no sign of H. I take the usual dose of Neurontin and wait to see if the H will appear. No, nothing ‘till late afternoon, I take the magic pill and H is gone.

Tuesday 26th, I feel so good and empowered, I walk to the Skytrain station, approximately 1 kilometre and got the train downtown to Central Chidlom Food Hall, got all kinds of food items and back in a taxi with all the shopping.

27 March, 10 am: Felt liberated and free, same as the other days except in the late morning when the H started to arise and I had to take the old meds instead of the magic pill (at the Neurologist’s request). The H disappeared, but then came back again pretty quick in the afternoon. This does not bode well, I thought… waited to see how bad it was then took another dose of the old meds. Reasonably effective pain killer but not the same.

27 March, 7pm : A very bad pain started inside the left eye, a huge kind of rolling pain, occupying the whole interior of my head. Four or five rolls, the whole thing lasting around 1 minute from start to finish, tapering off at the end but feeling it was not really gone. I was glad it happened at home because I fell on to the bed and covered my head with pillows and moaning like an animal. Wow! I hadn’t had it that bad before. So I take the magic pill and after a few hours a second dose. The H is gone and, sorry Dr. Ms. Neurologist, that’s the end of your experiment.

28 March, 10 am : Walking to the Skytrain aware there’s pain in the head, stepping out carefully, gliding along as smooth as can be, trying to stay calm and see how it feels. I don’t want to stop and take a pill with swig of bottled water I keep in my bag because of the broad daylight, big wide pavement and so many well-dressed office staff coming and going. What to do? There’s a coffee shop up in the Skytrain station I can get something there and take the magic pill.

I go up the escalators until I’m 3 floors above street level, and the traffic noise, amplified by concrete and steel is incredible, hard to believe. Push open a green glass door with a small whoosh of cool air. Step inside, the door gently closes behind me… traffic noise is suddenly gone. Nearly all the seats are taken, Thai students studying for exams, grouped together at small tables. I feel I shouldn’t be there, the only foreigner in the place… ah well, maybe that’s cool.

I find a seat and order cinnamon tea. Open my bag, get the meds – fast hand-to-mouth movement followed by a quick gulp of water. That’s it done, Relief Coming Soon. Now, one last thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is ‘the twitch’, and I don’t mean the rock band named Nervous Twitch or the Gamers’ Twitch at twitch dot com, I mean ‘twitch’ as a neurological issue, caused by either the neuralgia I suffer from or the meds to treat the neuralgia.

Not a big deal, just a short, small, unexpected jerk in the arms usually or in the upper body, not the face thankfully. Maybe it’s becoming more noticeable, not sure. I’ve just gotten used to it now – but not used to having to cope with it in public. And I think you can guess what happens next; cinnamon tea arrives, elegant cup I lift carefully to the mouth, head inclines towards it, lips protrude slightly to receive the hot liquid… and just at that moment, there’s a really bad twitch. The cup is jerked out of its graceful passage, and cinnamon tea is splashed over the front of my shirt.

Wow, okay so I have deal with that now, hot wetness, dab-dab dabbing with folded tissue paper, here and there and all over the place, acting like it never happened. But after a while the shirt starts to dry out and you could hardly see the stain. So that’s what happened. I got up from that chair, no evidence of cinnamon tea stain, out into the traffic noise, and back into the state of painlessness.


 

beyond victory and defeat

Victory leads to hatred,

for the defeated suffer.

The peaceful live happily,

Beyond victory and defeat.

  1. v. 201

 

Those who live beyond victory and defeat are called ‘the peaceful’, but not because they are devoid of feelings. They are not ‘beyond’ because they have escaped the confidence trick of self. Self is like a rainbow. From a distance it appears real and substantial; as you get closer it appears less solid. If we hold too tightly to our sense of self, we get lost in views about what makes us happy. We believe that winning is all that matters, not seeing that in the process we cause suffering to others. If we hold too loosely to our sense of self we get lost, this time from a lack of boundaries, becoming overly sensitive and lacking in confidence. Self-respect and self-confidence are the natural consequences of a life lived with integrity and understanding. [Ajahn Munindo, Verse 201, A Dhammapada For Contemplation (2nd edition), Aruna Publications 2006]

There’s something about this one that takes me to a place where everything becomes clear. It’s like making space for it all so I can see what’s helpful and what’s not. I’m busy with treating my pain – a 24/7 headache situated in the right occipital nerve. There’s not much else that gets my attention these days.

The following are diary entries at the end of last year when I was working with low doses of meds (Gabapentin and Pregabalin), in order to see the differences and the qualities of each, if possible. Also to try to adjust from two years on a reckless maximum consumption drive, existing in a vague, pain-free haze every day. [H: the headache]

Self in itself is not anything of substance, but it activates all kinds of mind stuff, triggers all kinds of feelings of possessions; ‘me’ and ‘mine’. Basic instincts; catch, hold, kill, eat.

So, for me, it’s necessary to retract the claws that cling to things because it only makes the pain worse. It’s not ‘my’ pain, it’s just pain. Pain is pain no difference between your pain or mine. Pain is a non-countable noun; there is only one pain in the world, in the same way as there is water; there is only one body of water in the world.

Another thing, the negativity surrounding pain; I have pain, therefore I am a bad person. I must have done something bad to deserve this pain. That’s a ‘self’ concocted thing, let go of self and allow that to fall away

  1. One thing I’ve noticed about these pain meds is that they reduce the pain of course, but they also work on how the patient feels about the pain. There’s a distance between me and the pain. This is quite extraordinary sometimes when the pain feels like it’s here, but I can’t feel it because it’s behind a wall, or something. Or it’s in the next apartment, where a noisy party is going on… so I don’t have to pay attention to any of that any more.
  2. Sometimes it feels like a self takes shape and considers the situation… the pain is here but there’s no ‘me’ to whom it is directed. Self dissolves again. Another self comes into being with the question: To whom is this pain directed? “It is happening to me, myself!” Now I have full exposure to the pain! And I learn how to quickly let go of self when it’s not being helpful.
  3. Another self arises and says, “I’m going to suffer this Headache for the rest of my life!” So many times I’ve pondered this – how do I feel about this truth today? (compared with how I felt about it yesterday). Give it the attention it’s due then sidestep the awful self that wants to make a big thing out of it: “This is happening to me!” What are we going to do about it? And other unhelpful things.
  4. Next morning, wake up and no headache! At 9 am I take 900 mg Neurontin although there is still no headache, only small indications. It was like this all day.
  5. 1 pm, second dose of 900 mg Neurontin only small stabs of pain but not the huge deep stabs I’ve had in the past.
  6. 5pm: 900 mg Neurontin, so what’s going on here? I’m taking this medicine as a preventative measure? Let me think for a bit about this… how could it be? Anyway still no noticeable H and the day is over!
  7. Next day, H is back again but the pain not so bad, I’m able to get involved in small activities. Note: If I’m not able to forget the H, things become quickly unbearable, and I’m subject to the needs and requirements of the H. Things quickly get out of hand. This careless self-medicating takes up the whole afternoon, all in a dizzying spin. I’m grateful when 8pm comes around and the night meds send me off to sleep almost immediately.
  8. With these new meds, pain is masked off, forgotten about, for long periods of time… it’s like I forget about it. I forget also, other things I’d normally remember – is it this ‘forgetting’ that seals off pain from the mind? Is it the sense of ‘self’ that gets forgotten? There’s no ‘me’ to whom this is happening?
  9. And for quite a long time, things in the room I’m in are so fluid there’s only the forms I meet from time to time, forming, transforming… quite extraordinary…

mindfulness of pain, part 2

POSTCARD#338: Chiang Mai: Now three months since the event in November of last year, and the recovery from that blow to the centre of the chest, delivered like a heavyweight boxer’s punch – devastating. This is what it felt like. What happened was, around 9pm I was going through the crowds on Nimanheman Road with my Thai niece M, in the almost daylight brightness of studio lights suitable for taking selfies out on the street I suppose. Flashing illuminations distracted me and I stumbled on something in the darkness of a shadowy stretch of unsurfaced sidewalk, lost my balance and fell forward like a tree is felled in the forest. Broke a rib somehow, but the main thing was, I did something to the sternum, (the sternum is that vertical bone in the centre of the chest). This bone took the impact of the fall – I fell diagonally on a concrete step, hands held out to break the fall, but as the floor comes rushing up to meet me, it’s the step that takes the weight BANG!

I’m face-down on the step – small Asian hands reach out to help me get up. M leans forward and says in my ear, “Toong Ting, do you want me to call an ambulance?” I tell her I’m okay, (so practical, M is. She is 14 now and dyed her hair canary yellow, but that’s another story). Also thank you and smiling to all these kind people (note: real concern, anxious faces), more hands held out to help me get back to where I once belonged… the realm of all upright, upstanding, decent, and respectable persons.

What does this look like? Old guy with wispy white beard sinks down in the crowd, has a stroke or something? Falls on the rough un-surfaced sidewalk. No, no, I’m okay, just tripped, slipped, tumbled, stumbled, fumbled? I’ll be allright, thanks for your help, it’s okay – I’m getting some of their anxiety. Best stand up, no matter how inviting that unsurfaced sidewalk looks like a nice place to lie down and get comfortable. No, no, and I start moving around, to reassure everyone that this old guy escaped the clutches of gravity once again.

We made it back to the apartment without me feeling any pain, but next day the agony in the chest was something to behold. The breath-taking scale of it… just turning over in bed would throw me into a trauma of panic, difficult to find the way out of. Ordinary things, like getting up from the sitting position were so overwhelming I’d stay seated for most part of the day.

Meditation was/is a necessity, I had to develop skills fast for this 24 hour, no-choice pain situation. Almost always at night, when sleep would find me seeking a position or a place somewhere, somehow, something bearing the characteristics of rest, and following the pathways leading to a comfortable place to be in, to inhabit for a few hours and the easefulness of that, but not to dwindle there or linger too long, lest it becomes something impossible to extricate myself from – all these tugs and pulls that mindfulness uses to remind us where the Path leads.

Then as far as possible, a quiet investigation into the pain, and the reaction to it, again and again. Contemplation over the breath-taking scale of it; what to do? not much more than that, but by the end of January, I came out of it with a greater awareness of this part of the body… in the East it’s the Chit, the heart, the mind. The idea that identity was situated in the Brain didn’t make sense at all

What’s happening to me? Examining the X-ray of the broken rib I could see all the other broken ribs fused together any old way (this is how they mend themselves), bits sticking up where there shouldn’t be, and seen so clearly because they’re all on the same side of the body. Four broken ribs which occurred separately are all on the left side?

What kind of karma could this be; the ribs, the blow to the center of the chest, and the long surgical scar in the abdomen where a Thai surgeon removed two cancer tumors in the colon more than twenty years ago, and lastly, my Post Herpetic Neuralgia in the right occipital nerve, feels like a blow to the head, never gets better, a permanent headache. It’s all just so intrusive, so violent, how can this be? As far as personalities go, I’d say and others would agree, I’m not a violent person! Doesn’t make sense, karma like this is surely irredeemable!

Ajahn Vajiro was passing through town the other day so we met him at the airport and I asked him about these traumatic circumstances, and what to make of this strange karmic outcome? He shook his head saying, never mind about that, get back to the one who knows. In Thai it’s poo roo (poo: person, roo(v): to know.

Examples: poo ying: lady, poo chai: man.

You could say poo roo is the higher self, except that it’s a personification, which brings us back to the subject/object divide. What was meaningful for me was how Ajahn began articulate the blessings the Four Brahma-Viharas, while explaining the quality and meaning of the words:

1) Goodwill / Metta, Loving kindness.

2) Karuna / Compassion, is what goodwill feels when it encounters suffering: it wants the suffering to stop.

3) Mudita / Empathetic joy), what goodwill feels when it encounters happiness.

4) Upekkha / Equanimity)

The acoustics of Ajahn Vajiro’s words still remain in present time, everything about who I am, disappears for an instant and there’s only awareness. I experience this awareness physically, in the centre of the chest, spreading out to the shoulders. In Pali it’s citta, the heart. Felt exactly in the same place where the huge punch in the chest happened… curious and strange, best left alone, unsaid, unexamined, and questions unanswered do not create the subject/object divide. Thought and language are the apps, while awareness is the operating system. It comes before anything else, here in the centre of my being.

Awareness precedes thought. As soon as I think about it, the whole thing becomes duality, subject/object. This time, I’m inclined to take it further, and that awareness (object) is ‘me’ (subject), ‘self’. This ‘self’ says it’s ‘my’ awareness, ‘I’ am the subject of awareness. But when this ‘self’ that I believe to be ‘me’, starts to look for the ‘me’ that possesses awareness, it finds that it’s the other way round: awareness has to first start looking for the ‘me’ (and the ‘me’ can’t be found).

There are many ways that this metaphor can be constructed. Please let me know how it looks in the comment box.

T

gate 10

POSTCARD#333 Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport: We are awake very early and into the car before sunrise, through the empty streets, darkness and strange yellow sodium streetlights. Then the elevated highway over the rooftops of the town and out to the airport to meet the Air France flight, ETA: 06.15 hrs. As it turned out, the flight was delayed by two hours, so there was time to sit in the seats at the tour group end of Arrivals, near Gate 10 and I have time to open the laptop to write this.

Gate 10, at Bangkok airport, is where the tour groups gather, bleary-eyed and sleepless, having just got off the plane from some distant part of the world. I hear people around me speaking Russian, and see from the Arrivals board it must be the flight from Novobirisk. They assemble at Gate 10 and have their names ticked off a list by the Thai guides. There’s 30 minutes allowed to have a cup of coffee; children run around, and everyone is ready to get on the coach.

But before that happens, the Russian tourists spend the time intensely absorbing everything around them; speaking with the tour guides and taking pictures of everything; roof structure, walls, illuminated adverts, airport signage, and each other posing in front of vases of purple orchids, dressed up in their best summer frocks and smiling for the camera. It’s as if they’d stepped out of the 1950s, remote from anything I know of and yet there’s a familiarity; starting to see people I knew in my childhood in the North of Scotland.

There are so many photos being taken, it’s like a small press event; digital camera lights flashing too much. I’m dazzled by it, blinded for a moment and have to look at the floor to allow normal vision to recover. Look up again and they’re all leaving, the whole place captured in pixels and taken away back to Novobirsk, at the end of the holiday, where all the views of it are reassembled to form one composite image of the waiting area at Gate 10.

When they’re all counted and answering names shouted from a list, the tour leader gathers them together in a long column. The mass exodus of the group is dynamic, following the leader in front who’s holding a coloured flag high in the air so they can see it. Off they go, through the wide passageways and shuffling along with their luggage and running children and moving as one great lake of beings in the direction of the coaches somewhere in another part of the airport.

In a short time all the seats at Gate 10 are suddenly empty, strangely quiet, light slowly coming up and then it’s completely daylight, people again start to assemble in the seating area at gate 10. It’s another group from Beijing, same thing as last time but the conversations I hear this time are in Chinese.

“God experiences Life through each of us, and we experience Life thanks to God.” [Peter Shepherd]


Reflections on an earlier post

hold on and let go (2)

POSTCARD#332: Bangkok: Waking up from a dream on the outskirts of reality, strange doorways, crooked pathways seen in the flickering yellow of a street lamp, and there’s the headache that’s always with me. Recognition of this breaks through everything, as does a piercing shaft of light in a darkened room. I see the headache that hasn’t become anything yet, and allow it to ‘become’ without becoming it. A headache without a ‘self’, a subject without an object; this is not happening to me, there’s no ‘me’ to whom this headache is happening… I insist, refuse to be the headache-ee. It seems to me to make good sense then, that the normal holding-on to everything is not as important as the letting-go of it all.

Elbow props up the body, legs unfold and feet placed on the cold floor. Settle down, awareness of the in-breath/out-breath, and a curious feeling in the air; an atmosphere that’s suddenly different from what it usually is. The cool season, our tiny little winter, and in January, you may have a day when it’s necessary to wear a jacket.

Reach for the meds; two capsules and a gulp of water… everything swept away in speculation of what it might be, or could have been, in the stream of mental chatter, commentary blinkered, dysfunctional; endlessly recreating the world according to the mind’s perception of it, filtering out anything that doesn’t fit.

Supporting elbow removed and body falls back into the warm place where it was, legs follow, feet tucked in. No end, no beginning, leaving everything in the ‘now’, the continuous form of present tense – it never started so it cannot stop – it cannot leave because it never came [Mooji]. No past and no future except for the necessary getting-of-things-in-the-right-order in linear time.

Prompted in a certain way, Mind makes up the reason for things being the way they are; reasons for this, reasons for that, reasons why certain things are done according to some unwritten rule we comply with, and other things not done, as defined by Mind, but when looked for, are nowhere to be found. Dispersed, dissolved as soon as we of think it, and everything comes to a standstill… a sudden lack of things to think about, or an absence of things I think I should be thinking about. No words, no nothing, emptiness, vanishing trick, one two three, gone.

“…your real nature is not-knowing. It is a total absence of all that you think you are, which is all that you are not. In this total absence of what you are not, there is presence. But this presence is not yours. It is the presence of all living beings. You must not try to be open. You are open.” [Jean Klein]


Note: reflections on an earlier post. Art by Jill Lewis

chattering green parrots

POSTCARD#330:Bangkok: Old Notebooks, Delhi 2012: Flocks of chattering green parrots in the tall Eucalyptus tree opposite, disturbed by birds of prey circling around in the upper sky. I watch the whole scene from our place on the roof terrace. All kinds of flowering plants here; bougainvilleas and chrysanthemums. If you have ‘chrysanthemums’, why can’t you have ‘chrysanthedads?’ I ask Jiab, who is reading the Thai news with great scrutiny. But this doesn’t seem to be worthy of comment right now and after a period of silence, I get busy with shifting these heavy flowerpots of chrysanthemums into a beam of sunlight. Much huffing and puffing, when I’m finished with that and sitting on my chair, looking at what I’ve done, Jiab says to me: ‘… happy now?’ And the serial depressionist in me stirs, ‘Yes, I suppose I am.’

Since childhood really, that lingering sense that things are not right… not as I’d want them to be. But I’m happy enough, yes. Why? Because all these things that I think are not as good as they could be or should be (even worse); all these things are just there – then they’re not there, I’ve forgotten about them. ‘First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain then there is.’ That’s how it is; the dark cloud of unhappiness is not hanging over me today on the roof terrace with flowering plants in the sunshine. I can see there is dukkha (suffering) but that’s because I’m unknowingly holding it there. What’s needed is a conscious letting-go and then there’s no suffering – can it be as easy as that? Maybe it needs sustained effort, but that’s the idea of it. One can feel inspired, motivated knowing there is an end to it. And I suggest this possibility to Jiab, who now inclines towards me thinking maybe I seem to be making a more intelligent remark this time.

And we talk about that for a while. It’s always interesting for me to hear what she says because like most Thais she knows the Pali terms, having learned the chanting by heart in elementary school. Jiab is also fortunate because her father was a monk twice in his lifetime, each time for a couple of years. As a result, he was able to explain to his children that life is permeated with suffering caused by desire, and that suffering ceases when desire ceases. Sila, Samadhi, Panya (right conduct, meditation and wisdom) releases one from desire, suffering, and rebirth.

What it comes down to in the end, is everything that arises passes away and the Venerable Assaji statement: “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], and I’m amazed how how Śāriputra was totally blown away by that and people were getting enlightened on the spot as a result of the Venerable Assaji statement. In this context I’m thinking it means if you can see and are aware of the attachment to things you love and hate, that’s all there is to it; ignorance is gone and no matter how much it is held or the tenacity of the habit to hold on, suffering will pass away of its own accord: “Whatever is subject to origination is also subject to cessation.” With that, there’s a sudden burst of noise from the green parrots in the trees opposite, attention shifts and we go over take a look at what’s going on…


reflections on an earlier post

presence

POSTCARD#329: Bangkok: Old Notebooks, Sravasti 2012: There’s a presence about these statues and Buddhist ruins, sunk deeper into the landscape than they were in ancient times. The seasons revolve around them; rainfall, heat, sand storms and the centuries come and go. People come to visit, pray, bow, apply gold-leaf, string garlands, light incense, show reverence and take pictures of their friends standing next to them. Showers of digital flashes light up the old walls like a fireworks display; ‘and here is the place where the Buddha was enlightened’, flash, click!

Thus, a piece of the outer world is taken; perhaps a small landscape showing the shrine, prayer flags strung across branches of a huge Bodhi tree and our friends standing below smiling for the camera. Everybody hurries to look at the picture just taken, but the image somehow, never quite hits the spot, so we reach into the outer world and ‘take’ another one… have a look, but it doesn’t quite hit the spot either.

Taking a picture is a reflex action, a capture; I want to ‘have’ a picture of it, even though there are thousands of images in this camera memory and we have to load them on to an external hard-drive to make room for more. They show us in different locations, in the passage of time… see how we are all getting older. But it’s meaningful to us, a metaphor we’re deeply familiar with, consciousness of outer object and inner sense base.

That’s how it seems to me. I see other beings walking around, some of them appear to know what’s going on, and others preoccupied with taking a photo of the event. Some believe it’s God’s world and contemplate experiential responses to outer stimuli, in the context of their conditioning. The idea that God also gave us the gift of insight to see for ourselves is not something they feel they need to take into consideration and just leave it at that. Others are looking here and there, browsing the options, hoping to stumble upon something soon, otherwise stuck in the samsara of Search Mode.

You could say it’s just a sense of history that’s present in any ancient site, or a building or museum. It’s possible to know how the people, who lived then, felt and understood the world; the things they looked at, and what they heard, smelt, tasted, touched and their mind responses; all of that is the same for me now, here in this place where the bodhisattva walked 2,600 years ago.

I’m connected with the outer world by consciousness, in the same way the people at that time were; the conscious experience of what is seen, is the same for me as it was for the bodhisattva – simply that. The environment I’m in may be different from how it was at that time, but the body/mind organism that receives the experience is universal. All beings are caught in this conscious experience. There’s no need to add anything else.

The sense of ‘now’ is the same today as it was then; the sounds I hear, the feeling of sunlight, the gentle wind blowing on my skin; an awareness of the ever-present sensory data, and the simple truth that there’s a likely possibility the Buddha was standing in the exact same place where I’m standing right now.

‘At Savatthi (Sravasti). Then the Venerable Kaccanagotta approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him… : “In what way, venerable sir, is there right view?”

“This world, Kaccana, for the most part depends upon a duality—upon the notion of existence and the notion of nonexistence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of nonexistence in regard to the world. And for one who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with correct wisdom, there is no notion of existence in regard to the world.

“This world, Kaccana, is for the most part shackled by engagement, clinging, and adherence. But this one [with right view] does not become engaged and cling through that engagement and clinging, mental standpoint, adherence, underlying tendency; he does not take a stand about ‘my self.’ He has no perplexity or doubt that what arises is only suffering arising, what ceases is only suffering ceasing. His knowledge about this is independent of others. It is in this way, Kaccana, that there is right view.

“‘All exists’: Kaccana, this is one extreme. “All does not exist’: this is the second extreme. Without veering towards either of these extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma by the middle: ‘With ignorance as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; with volitional formations as condition, consciousness…. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering. But with the remainderless fading away and cessation of ignorance comes cessation of volitional formations; with the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness…. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.”’[SN 12.15(5)]


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’