9/11/2015: perception

September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02A Buddhist Reflection: Survivors describe how, after the debris and dust settled, there was only blue sky where the twin towers used to be. It was as if the awful devastation hadn’t occurred, mind turns away… natural reaction, a kind of sleight-of-hand,  conjuring trick – one thing becomes something else, what is seen and what it appears to be merge together. Human beings have a deep familiarity with the illusion – everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch is perceived. Consciousness of the world unfolds and thought rationalises how it appears to be. It’s this, it’s that, the illusion insists on being there until things hidden and obscured are revealed and we cannot return to the unknowingness of how it was before… ignorance is a kind of ignoring.

Form and formlessness; there are planes, explosions and buildings disappear. The video running continuously on YouTube for 14 years, I know the sequence in detail. I also know how the mind habitually joins up all the loose ends of awareness input, interpreting reality, perception is interpretation. Now you see it, now you don’t… a technology that can break up the molecular structure of concrete, turns buildings to dust – hoover it all up, remove melted steel remnants and everything is gone. I try not to think about it anymore; war and disaster, samsara of violence, distress, pain, fear and that underlying sense that something about this is not what it seems to be… learning to live with that uncertainty.

Mind is powered and driven by TV news – forgetting that it’s just a presentation, a performance in the studio. Hair-styling, cosmetics, the newsreader is an actor reading from a script. TV news is a created product based on an event manipulated to get it to fit into media format. TV news producers create a scenario of righteous anger, Sodom and Gomorrah retributional justice; it’s all ‘their’ fault, not our fault, blame and guilt… complicity. The tendency to contract into self, ‘I’ caused it to be ‘wrong’ – no, I don’t want to think about this anymore, don’t want to dwell on anything sinister…

People living in war-ravaged countries (such as Iraq for example) know that when a traumatic event takes place everything changes. After the disaster, our surroundings are seen in a different way; in the aftermath of this truly catastrophic circumstance we come to realise that the smoke was actually dust. What we believed in before this happened disintegrates, a basic truth now included in our worldview… nothing is permanent – history taking place before our eyes. Fourteen years after the experience, some ease can be found in simply knowing the ‘terrorists’ created a shockwave that unknowingly opened a window of awareness to world attention.

Dependent on the eye and forms, visual-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is contact. With contact as condition there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives. What one perceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates. With what one has mentally proliferated as the source, perception and notions resulting from mental proliferation beset a man with respect to past, future, and present forms cognizble through the eye (Majjhima Nikaya, I, 111–112).

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Photo source: Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg#/media/File:September_14_2001_Ground_Zero_02.jpg
[See also earlier posts:
9/11 2014,
9/11 2013
9/11 2012]
Related source: ‘Working with Perception’ by Ajahn Sucitto

 

too much

IMG_2110bPOSTCARD #117: Chiang Mai: Walking to school with M and we pass this 30 foot high sculpture of a cat with a moustache and a small handbag… too much. That’s how it looks to me, thinking of the many poets who died for love of the metaphor – and is this a monument to their too-muchness? But that’s only how I see it, a European living in Thailand. I ask M if she knows what it’s supposed to be? And look down at this small person walking beside me, backpack bouncing slightly always out of sync with the motion of her walk. She tells me something at length, but I can’t hear properly, so acknowledge with hmmm, really? Wait to see if there’s a follow-up response, but we’re focused on going to school and besides, we’re in this public place.

It’s too much – me being here, walking with this eleven-year-old Thai child holding my hand, and she with her Thai cultural behavior. When I ask M if I’m walking too fast, because she’s so small maybe I should slow down? She says, no Toong Ting, is okay and places her cheek against my forearm as we’re walking along in the heavy traffic, no pavement … it’s that too-much thing again. She’s on the inside all the way until we get to the main road and turn right. Then I need to change hands so I’m on the outside shielding her against the traffic and little M is on the inside. Three people on a small motorbike go past us, looks dangerous – but I’d be wrong to say that’s too much; it’s ordinary low budget. For them, it’s just right. What’s too much is that I think it’s too much, and my views and opinions are not relevant here.

A few people recognize us, smile; night shift security guards salute… too much; I’m not sure how to react when I’m being saluted at. We get to the school; other kids are there, the familiarity of it. M takes her shoes off, waves bye-bye and enters the building. I set off back the way we came, my too-much reaction is unavoidable and have to struggle to see it just as a reaction. For the Thais it’s different, there’s this built-in sense of ‘too much’; food is too spicy; too many colours in a room interior… that’s what they call ‘too much’. The word is bprung dtàeng, ปรุงแต่ง. There’s the mind form of it too; thinking too much, ‘conceptual proliferation’ the Buddhist term papañca. Human beings are like this; the reaction to follow thought is as automatic as the eyes see, nose smells… thoughts proliferate.

“It is quite amazing to watch as the mind takes the simplest thought, jumps on it, and runs off in all directions. Just as the ear hears without any effort (and in fact it takes a lot of effort to make the ear not hear), the mind proliferates effortlessly, and it takes a lot of effort and/or training to hold this tendency in check. It’s the unbidden “going” of the mind to so many different subsequent thoughts that is important, rather than the diverse places it goes […] By becoming masters of the directions in which our thoughts proliferate, we can achieve freedom. The Buddha recognizes that the mind’s tendency towards Papañca is unavoidable, and instead of fighting the inevitable, he teaches us how to ride (and tame) the tiger.” [Leigh Brasington]

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synonyms for startled

DE05_PAGE_1_DIW_DE_1642126ePOSTCARD #22: Delhi: “amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised…” looking for a word in the Thesaurus that describes the experience – but language doesn’t stretch that far. Diwali fireworks’ festivities are going on even though it’s after 22.00 hours and we’re just wondering how much longer before the fascination for fireworks fizzles out. I go for a look to see what’s going on outside. People in front of their houses, crouched over and busy with fireworks set up on the pavement; random explosions, fire crackers like machine-gun fire. It’s a war zone with no bullets, children laughing and running around in the smoke and glare. Fireworks displays are quite beautiful seen from some distance away, but here at ground-zero, the high volume, bang-whoosh-crackle is alarming; a struggle to be calm.

Back inside the house with all the windows closed because of the smoke and Jiab is talking about the Buddhist upekkha teaching: balance, equanimity, the state of being calm in the midst of difficulty; equilibrium, or eequeeleeblee-um, as she says – a Thai articulation. This kind of balance leads to freedom from passions, desires, likes or dislikes. Sounds nice and I go through to sit on the meditation cushion for a while to see if I can discover this balance, be with my reactions to the sudden noises and focus on the nature of what’s actually happening.

Watching the breath in this way, things seem to be getting quiet, and I’m just getting settled into this sitting meditation when suddenly there’s a colossal explosion, BOOM… so loud it sets off a car alarm down the street. The glass, brick and concrete of the room resonate like a huge drum. Startled, is not the word – it’s the nearest thing to jumping out of your skin I’ve ever experienced – automatic response. Confusion in time… what happened first? Was it before it happened that it seemed like I saw, in the darkness of mind-space, this amazing bright sky-blue colour appearing behind something like panels of intense black, falling away – parts of the structure that had been holding it contained – falling away in pieces, collapsing, and more and more of this lovely sky-blue colour is revealed.

Sivakasi_fireworks1The word: bardo comes to mind; the blue light of the skandha of consciousness in its purity, the wisdom of the dharmadhtu, luminous, clear, sharp and brilliant. I’m not saying this is what happened to me, it was more like a totally unfamiliar state, the mind doesn’t know what to do – what does it resemble, what’s it like, how can it be categorized? I’m amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised; looking for a word to describe it, but there’s not anything. Fireworks chase away the demons; papañca, proliferating thought, conceptualizing and the constructed ‘self’. The impact of it happening propels it all right out of here – bang!

 ‘… the Brahma-viharas are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism. The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind…” [Access to Insight]

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Upper image link to newspaper reports: www.thehindu.com/more-fire-incidents-in-delhi-this-diwali
Lower image link to: Diwali wikipedia page

necessity of mindfulness

2012-03-31 12.35.44Bangkok: Getting into town from the airport is okay to start with, gliding along the elevated highway in a huge open landscape, and all the good-looking 21st Century buildings pointing up into the evening sky like some futuristic sci-fi heaven realm. Then, as we get near the exit, the traffic slowly starts to fuse together in a mass of end-to-end steel/chrome-plated metal units, creaking along like the glacier I visited a long time ago in Switzerland moving so slowly, the end of its 133 kilometer length is four hundred years older than its beginning. Struggling with the thought that I don’t want it to be like this, causes and conditions, the traffic is like nature, the ocean, the weather. Reminded of the Ajahn Chah image of leaves in the trees blowing in the wind in a rising and falling motion for as long as the winds last. And how it’s the moods of the mind blowing like the wind that cause the restless, uneasy feeling. In its original state, the mind is still and calm.

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The next day I have to go to the eye hospital, blurred vision in the left eye, and procrastinating about that for a long time. Sometimes stumbling into things and I’m gently squeezing through the crowds at the skytrain entrance to get the ticket in the turnstile, remembering how it all works. There’s an alertness, awake and mindful, I am a foreigner living in someone else’s country. Getting off the train is complicated, it’s a place I’ve not been to before. Not finding the correct exit because the signs are unclear, I can read Thai but I choose to go with the North/South orientation of the map, knowing that if I face the way the train is travelling as I get off, in this case North, and as I go down the staircases and escalators to street level, I’m always orientated in that same Northerly direction and the traffic will be going North. All this because doing a U-turn can be a lengthy process here; somebody said the whole of Bangkok is one large, U-turn…. A pink and white cab is waiting and I tell the driver where I’d like to go – will he take me? He thinks for a bit (doing U-turns in his head), yes, ok. So we’re off.

At the hospital, it’s a long session. They put some drops in my eyes to enlarge the pupils so their equipment can see inside the eyeball. The doctor asks me if there’s anybody to take me home because the drops in the eyes will make things a bit indistinct for a few hours. Understatement. When I step outside the world is a blur, a smear, a sea of colour, yellow, green and pink taxis, red tail lights of vehicles in vivid splashes. No form or definition anywhere; I’ve lost my North/South orientation, having come in by a different door. Get on the first motorbike taxi that comes along and allow him to sort it out. We get up to a surprising speed going along what I believe to be the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic, weaving in and out of the other lane, wherever there’s a space. A great whoosh of hot wind, noise and get to the Skytrain station so fast it’s like we arrived before we set off. Give the guy a good tip and then it’s just a case of getting the North/South thing sorted out, following the crowds up the escalator, on to the train, and into the coolness of the AC carriage, with this wild wind blowing through the mind; papañca, proliferations arising from the single thought that I have an eye operation on August 9th. Necessity of mindfulness…

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‘To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear — meaning that you don’t build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimise the fear by recognising that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It’s not my fear, it’s not a person’s, it’s an impersonal fear.’ [“Mindfulness: The Path to Deathlessness: The Meditation Teaching of  Venerable Ajahn Sumedho.”]

halfway through the hot season

roofsala2New Delhi: I wake up sometime deep in the afternoon. No need to look at the clock, the haze of light tells me it’s not yet 4pm, the time when it turns towards late afternoon and the cooler evening. So I continue lying there on the sofa, for a while, letting it sink in that I need to go upstairs to the roof terrace and get my laundry off the line – left for too long, the clothes get crisp and semi-baked. In a few minutes I’m upstairs, open the door at the top landing and step out into +40° centigrade, a blaze of mature, afternoon sunlight reflected off the concrete floor and walls. The air is a tangible thing, heavy like liquid, consistency of thick translucent soup. It has weight; there’s a sense of displacing the quantity of it that equals the mass of your body as you walk through – it squelches around the back and over your head and occupies the place where you were a moment ago. The presence of this extraordinary heat causes the mind to create reasons for it. Difficult to see clearly, most of the time I am involved with it (or I am it), depending on perceptions and understanding of the circumstances:

lnvestigating the mind… requires the use of the very thing we want to study. The mind functions as both the subject and object in this case. ln a conventional sense, this limits us to a superficial understanding, possibly coupled with a glimpse of some deeper aspects in the mind (or qualities of mind) that we recognize only through intuition. The superficiality is locked in by our descriptive language that attaches labels to the surface of things, preventing a meaningful exploration of either subject or object. Meditation is the entering into this process. It allows us to penetrate the barrier of chaotic language, taking us beyond rationality and placing the mind’s eye beyond the influence of the intellect.’ [Ajahn Sumano, ‘Meeting the Monkey Halfway’]

I go over to look at the tap where the monkeys come to drink and when they’ve finished, leave the water running and the tank goes dry. Then we have to start up the pump more often than usual. But no sign of any activity here, no puddles, no monkeying around. There’s a large basin full to the brim sitting below the tap. Jiab suggested we put it there, instead of the monkeys allowing the tap to run like that, and they can drink and fool around with the water – generosity. The neighbours would probably not approve of us providing facilities for the monkeys, even though we’re just allowing them to do what they do and be what they are – monkeys. For me it’s a novelty; they’re our near cousins, there’s a mutuality, we have some understanding of how we each see the world.

I was in a taxi one day, passing a garbage recycling area at the side of a road; workers sifting through the trash with long rakes and forks and the whole thing watched by a large troop of silent monkeys sitting in the branches of an overhanging tree. Suddenly this big monkey tumbled out of the tree, so fast I didn’t see how it was done, rolled across the ground and with very long outstretched arm, pointed fingers, grabbed an orange that nobody had noticed lying there in the trash. And in a moment was back up in the branches again, unpeeling it and guarding against covetous looks from other monkeys. I noticed the workers smiled and laughed at this amazing skill. Then the taxi moved on…

I get my laundry off the line quickly. Held in the fold of an arm, the clothes are hot and burning. Open the door, scald fingers on door handle, step into the stairwell, close the door behind me to stop the furnace heat from getting in. Down the stairs, drop the laundry in the basket and into the L-shaped room; two air-conditioners running, three ceiling fans, and my desk is in there, in the coolest corner of it. Smooth tiled floor where I walk barefoot and all curtains drawn closed to keep out the glare, except for one that offers a shaded view through the foliage of the large leafy tree outside in the garden and the various tints of transluscent green leaves through which sunlight filters. I see in the newspaper today the southwest monsoon arrived in Kerala, South India. Here in Delhi, we’re maybe only halfway through the hot season…

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‘… the impact of the innumerable impressions crowding in upon man from the world of outer and inner multiplicity, papanca.’ [The Heart of Buddhist Meditation Nyanaponika (Thera)]

Note: The monkey and the orange story developed from a discussion with Lisa A. McCrohan

seemingly continuous

BtnBuddha2Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours. Darkness of early morning. I can hear a motorbike some way off, coming nearer, and voices talking loudly. They’re shouting to be heard over the sound of the engine. The motorbike passes below my balcony on the third floor, sound fills the room, and I realize it’s the driver with a friend on the back having a converstation as they are going along. Curious acoustics here in this narrow street; concrete and glass buildings face each other. The sound of the two voices disappears quickly past my windows and moves on further down the street, contained in the little capsule of their moving world. I hear it again, faintly now, and fading into the distance.

Strange dream-like event; receiving pieces of an animated conversation moving past me at 30 mph. Then it’s gone from my auditory awareness and (I assume) is being heard by other people further along the street. There’s something here about consciousness creating a sense of continuity; like how you string beads on a necklace and it appears to be one whole piece. A continuous stream of individual events taking place and, in the context of the body, it appears to be one, on-going connected reality – an illusion. When I wake up in the morning, it takes a moment, and everything is a development of the night before.

It must have been the motorbike that woke me up; windows wide open all night in the hot air, with just the mosquito mesh separating me from the world outside. Only 20 miles to go, straight up in the sky, before you reach outer space; no gravity, the universe (where did I read that?). Wow! outer space is so near, half an hour’s drive to get there, if there’s no traffic problem. So, what does that feel like? I suppose it feels pretty… precarious, balanced on the end of a flagpole fixed on top of a monument – the absolute verticality of it… quite scary. The only thing that gives me any sense of stability is the ‘self’ I’m inclined to depend on sometimes? No wonder there’s this tremendous attachment to it; can’t let it go, irretrievably lost in thought; I am contained in this body, stumbling around in this small area I inhabit, on the surface of the planet. I am a bit uncomfortable with the reality of what exists only 20 miles above my head. And go through life assuming that all there ever is, or all there ever can be, is ‘me’; the experience of a created self.

I hear a sound, and think: if that sound is out ‘there’ then I must be hearing it in ‘here’: the subject/object duality: ‘I’ am my body, I am my feelings, I am my consciousness and everything else (that’s not ‘me’) is out ‘there.’ In here, I’m me, I have a personality, it’s myself. And Bert0001 refers to it as: the ‘my’ in ‘myself.’ A distinct feeling of focus that disincludes other evidence – it’s all about me. Fortunately, I can understand and know that the idea of a self just seems to be there, seemingly continuous – a kind of mirage. Delete the ‘my’ from ‘myself’ and I’m free of all the tugs and pulls of likes and dislikes, emotions are not ‘my’ emotions, they’re just emotions; things that happen – liberated from the papañca, proliferating concepts, and concocted thought trying to make something real that’s just not real at all.

I’m glad to be awake early, leaving this place tomorrow and I’ll have to pack bags and get ready. Why can’t I just walk on to the plane not check in any bags at all, only passport, ticket and the contents of my pockets? Why bother with luggage? Ah… if only life were so simple.

Some time after this I hear the Tuk-kae lizard chuckling in a corner somewhere: tuk-kae-tuk-kae tuk-kae. And the Coucal, (whoop-whoop bird) (centropus sinensis) clambering around in the branches; whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop…

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‘Just as a monkey moving through the forest or the woods holds on to a branch, lets it go and holds on to another; in the same way what we call viññāṇa (consciousness) arises as one thing and ceases as another, by day and by night.’ [SN.II.95]

References in this post: Sue Hamilton: ‘Identity and Experience’
Photo: Buddhist shrine in Bhutan, collection Khun Pornchai

how it is

2013-01-10cables1‘All conditioned Dharmas are like dreams, illusions, bubbles, shadows. Like dew drops, a lightning flash. Contemplate them thus.’

Chiang Mai: It’s late morning, getting near to noon and I have to go out and get something from 7-Eleven. Down in the elevator and it’s not far, along to the end of the lane, tall buildings on either side and the brightness of the daylight is astonishing as I step out of the shadow into the open space of the main road. Intensity of colour, noise, people and everything is undeniably what it is, no room for considering what it might be or might have been, a tendency we have – those of us originating in the indistinct climates of the northern hemisphere, colourless eyes and no pigmentation of the skin – to ponder like this over hypothetical situations, papañca, that proliferate without end.

This is the tropical, the equatorial, and all in uncompromisingly vivid maximum pixel, vibrant colour. This is how it is; clearly defined, good looking people with black hair and golden skin. And all with a will to go out there and get it done. We’re all in this together, including the pale foreigners, who live here with us for part of the year. This is the public domain, the shared environment, we are a large population accommodated in small houses and rooms and we like it like that. No allowances for personal space – what is ‘personal’ space? It’s structured to allow for large numbers of human beings who may carry with them their ‘personal’ space and other needs and requirements, their babies their infrastructural support systems, schools, hopitals, shopping malls, cars, motorbikes and everything as it is here and now, inherited from generations before us to whom we are grateful and pray for earnestly.

I’m having some resistance to the immediacy of it, I don’t want it to be like this; too bright, too public; I feel like an owl in the daylight, a nocturnal shadow, like I shouldn’t be here, cloaked in the darkness of my quiet space, buddhist vampires wither away. Same old story, just see this aversion without being overly attached to the thing.  Have metta for the state of mind. There’s the getting into it; there’s the attachment, the ‘hook’ to get caught… or is it a ‘perch’ to rest on for a moment and look at the view… waves of samsara all around; I’m wanting ‘it’ to be ‘this’ and believing this is really how it is – the experience of being able to change the image in the mind’s eye, to make it be how I want it to be – a skill I  learned as part of childhood conditioning. I can see the folly of it, the baseless fabric of this vision… all which it inherit, shall dissolve…’  it leads nowhere, exists for it’s own sake, momentarily and comes to nothing in the brightness. The sun shines through all parts of it; they become shadows, vapours and disappear.

It’s that ‘letting-go’ thing again. Why does it have to be like this? You could say there’s a kind of glue spread over objects and attention gets stuck on that. Seeing it like this means, of course, I recognise the possibility that there’s also a solvent that renders the glue unstickable, it doesn’t adhere and, there’s no need to remind myself to ‘let go’ because everything has been let go of already? There isn’t anything anyway that has the power to cause one to attach. It’s the mind that’s doing it. Stop creating it and there’s nothing there!  I get what I need from 7-Eleven and back upstairs to the apartment, where it’s cool and quiet and shady.

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‘Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
 As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
 The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
 Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve, 
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
  Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
 As dreams are made on; and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep.’ [The Tempest Act 4, Prospero, scene 1, 148–158]

the end of the line

IMG_4239 (1)Safdurjung station: Welcoming committee, red carpets and flower petals strewn around the platform, it’s the end of the line; the end of the trip. It’s where the train stops and we get off, but not really the end of the line. The line goes on from here and connects up with other lines in the network and links up with neighbouring countries then ultimately with the network that stretches out over the whole planet. It doesn’t start anywhere and it doesn’t end. There’s an interesting reference to this in the Hermann Hesse novel, ‘Siddhartha’, saying that time doesn’t exist in a flowing river, it’s everywhere at the same time, only the present exists, no past, no future….

There’s something about being on a train that imposes a kind of inevitability of circumstances on everything. There’s no deviation from the direction the train is moving in. The thought sequence, following an ongoing linking, travels along of its own volition, and takes shape as it goes; episodes from an anthology of short stories. It stops sometimes but that’s not the end; the stopping/starting of it is a characteristic of the story’s unfolding.

A particular event occurs somewhere in the process that suggests how the beginning might have taken place. Later this goes into ‘refresh’ and there’s a new possible beginning. Then another one after that and again, then it’s not important anymore. Mind links it all up or associates random parts of it in some barely satisfactory way and this is how the whole thing seems to sustain itself from moment to moment. It’s samsara; driven by some kind of underlying seeking-for-something that can never be found; there’s only the ‘seeking’. A slightly suffocating, enclosed feeling about it all – it can’t be “held” beyond a certain limit, and eventually I wake up. Everything still quite clear in the memory for a while then completely forgotten.

With mindfulness of papañca (mental proliferation), the process of conceptualising is just a process – no person there doing it. The application of mindfulness, which puts an end to belief in the fictional ‘self’, is also just a process – no person there doing it. It sort of does it itself. As long as there is an intuitive notion of “wholesomeness”, the recognition that what I’m doing is ethically correct sila, then there’s an opportunity to sense if something is right, or it’s the right way to go about it and the process of mindfulness runs by itself. No self, anatta, nobody at home; just an operating system, Windows 8, MacOS Lion, and beyond. A determined and purposeful search to find out exactly where this ‘no self’ exists will yield nothing, of course, because ‘no self’ doesn’t exist. Follow this reasoning to its obvious conclusion and it’s a way of saying nothing exists. So, if there is no ‘self’, who or what ‘sees’ there is no ‘self’ and I asked Ajahn about it: ‘If everything without exception is “not self” including the “I” that’s investigating this – then where does it all lead?’ Without hesitation, Ajahn said “enlightenment” and looked at me with these grey eyes, waiting for the next question ….

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Many thanks to Khun Witit Rachatatanun for the photos in this series of posts