velocity

IMG_2403POSTCARD #192: DELHI: Photo shows the hoarding (with part of the word ‘caution’ in Hindi) behind which, work on the Delhi Metro underground is taking place. The construction zone encroaches on to an already crowded roadway as three lanes of slo-mo traffic are bottle-necked into two, then one – all that earth has got to be shifted out of the hole I suppose… traffic congestion so bad, road rage is a palpable thing… static electricity flashing and sparking in the spaces between metals very close but don’t actually touch; a kind of unseen neon percussion hi-frequency zizzle in the surround-sound of car horns in a musical composition on alto sax, trumpet, trombone and all the various combinations of horns in the brass section of the orchestra. Yes it is quite bad. Ok for me, I’m not the one driving, just sitting in the car interior here, trying to not be upset by it and get a headache coping with the traffic jam in my mind, What’s needed here is breathing; a long deep in breath, and slow outbreath….

Thoughts without substance arise and fall away. The good feeling is nice when it’s here, the bad feeling is nice when it’s not here – and the often overlooked position of neutrality situated between the two extremes; the Buddha’s Middle Way. It was a turning point in my life when I first saw that if I could remain in neutrality as the feeling comes on and be aware, observe how it’s possible to sidestep the clinging thing, the Velcro of self that’s always inclined to attach itself to the same old thing: this-is-mine-so-it-belongs-to-me, then the chain of events is interrupted and everything that happened moves on, ungrasped-at… as simple as that.

The sense of being in a state of no-self is one of astonishment and the relief that the whatever-it-was THING did not take place… wow! how good is that! This feeling moves it all forward in such a sensible and wholesome direction. These small successes are necessary in a world that doesn’t educate children about this basic truth and the moments of conscious experience are instead allowed to form events that occupy our thoughts. No teaching on how to liberate oneself from unrest and the state of always having to make something out of it; the present moment cloaked by Mind pondering over either some past memory or preoccupied with something in future time that hasn’t happened yet. Never really at ease, never able to witness this peace… the inherited karma of generations.

Forever unable to see that thought processes lead nowhere in the end, maintain themselves hesitantly, and are forgotten in the on-going awareness of what’s happening now. I’m part of it, but I’m not ‘in’ it. The present moment is not the near future, it’s happening now – so fast, you could say, look, there it goes, into the past. Yep, history taking place before our very eyes…

We learn from the principle of dependent origination that things and events do not come into being without causes. Suffering and unsatisfactory conditions are caused by our own delusions and the contaminated actions induced by them. [Dalai Lama]

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spaciousness of being

IMG_0085POSTCARD #17: Nontaburi, Thailand: Here in this large house, surrounded by a garden of tall trees. Monsoon season, heavy rain all day, all night – oceans of frogs all around, hundreds of them, l’amour, croaking throughout the night in rising and falling waves as I sail off into sleep. Still raining next morning, then it stops about 10 o’clock, and the frogs are quiet now – I don’t know where they can be… submerged in mud with a bubble of air to breathe in? Frog heaven. A time for quiet reflection, the actuality of just being here; conscious experience. I’m alone in an empty house, walking around the hallway, bare feet on cool marble tiles; pita, pata, pit, pat, pata, pit, pit… stop and look out the window; everything is totally wet out there.

IMG_0170Conscious of cold feet – an unusual feeling in Thailand, it’s usually hot all the time. The skin sense (touch), contact with the world, consciousness of a physical object. Standing on the cool floor – the sensation. And the mind sense (cognition), ‘I like this coolness’, consciousness of a mind object. A pleasant wanting… hovering in a created sense of ‘self’. A whole lifetime taken up with the body/mind’s responses, reactions to the ‘outside’ world. Preoccupied with the doing of it, actively engaged with it; this is happening to ‘me’. Everything I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel and think, received through sense organs mostly situated around the face, means the head is thus spinning around constantly to engage with whatever it is; the object of consciousness.

‘A life guided by desire, a life contracted to the mind’s thirst, seldom has the spaciousness of being. That pure awareness which wants nothing, which yearns for nothing, which simply takes on the shape of whatever form comes within its natural spaciousness.’ [Stephen Levine]

There’s consciousness of thought and consciousness of no-thought; consciousness of the cognitive function triggered by a simple curiosity: what is going on here? Unattached consciousness, released from sensory experience – awareness of the awareness, seeing the seeing, knowing the knowing. One way or another, conscious experience is what I’m writing about; an all-inclusive thing. I try to be minimalist, writing as if it were text messaging. No real ‘story’, no sequence of events; it lacks content, barely enough to hold the reader’s attention. It just evolves, becomes something, gets broken down again and rebuilt. Often it feels like once it’s been taken apart, it’s not worthwhile putting it back together; everything in a state of disarray, prepositions and verbs scattered around, a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, no subject, no object; no actual finished state.

After another couple of days of just ‘me’ and the frogs in the rain, and I realize it must be Sunday because Naa J and Naa M arrive that evening with a take-out dinner. We talk for a while and they spend the night. Early next morning I hear the monks outside. Go to take a look, rain has stopped and it’s dry again, takbat, offering food. Generosity, J and M have this kindness. An hour later I come downstairs, and they’re gone…

‘Awareness could be said to be like water. It takes on the shape of any vessel that contains it. If one mistakes this awareness for its various temporary forms, life becomes a ponderous plodding from one moment of desire, from one object of the mind, to the next. Life becomes filled with urgency and the strategies of fear, instead of lightly experiencing all these forms, recognizing that water is water no matter what its form.’ [Stephen Levine , Ondrea Levine: Who Dies]

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Note: ‘a small tribe of semi-colons nibbling at my ankles’, quote from Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo/ Sharpening The Quill. Thank you! (link in text)
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the look of eyes (2)

flightPOSTCARD08: Bangkok/Delhi flight: Large men standing in the aisles of the passenger area look along the length of the plane in one direction, turn the head around and look in the other direction. Hold that for a moment, then look to the left, to the right, and back to the central position: ok, so here we are on this plane… Sensory receptors positioned around the face and the cranium spins around, up/down on its axis, moving in response to received vision, sound, smell. The mind coordinates, thinks about things… ‘60,000 thoughts per day by each and every human being on the planet.’ [Deepak Chopra]. No wonder it’s such a novelty to discover a space where there’s no thought, no stories unfolding in the mind.

Maybe it’s something cultural; the male authority figure standing there like a tall pillar and everyone else is seated. I’m reminded of Meerkats, these cute creatures who stand up on their hind legs and look at everything in a kind of philosophical way. See and be seen. I catch the look, and glance away… a brief encounter, not held; no dialogue: hi how are you today? No, no need for that; no language required to interpret events and engage the mind. Just the look of eyes, and our shared space up here in thin air; a passenger jet travelling at 600 miles per hour, 10 kilometres above the curvature of the Earth.

Bundles of conditioned reflexes squeezed into the volume of a body, the experience of being a human ‘being’ – only this. Seeing the events without the story, like screenshots in a sequence; a few gestures, the meaning is not quite there. It creates a pause, taking a moment to receive that data before mind gains control and ‘self’ gets a hold; before ‘I’ perceive what it is, or what it could be; pleasant, unpleasant, neutral – how should I feel about that? Maybe no feeling at all… It’s as if there’s a small seed of wisdom buried deep in the layers of unknowing; lying there, dormant, waiting for things to evolve and the right conditions to be there, in order to wake up. But it hasn’t happened yet… contemplating the noble truth of waking up in some future lifetime.

I can’t read text, cross-eyed vision after an operation on the left eye. It’ll be okay after the operation on the right eye. Mildly deafened by the white noise of air pressure systems and the velocity of the plane displacing the air. And there’s a stewardess announcement: the plane is now making its descent, this concludes our inflight service, thank you…. [Link to: the look of eyes (1)]

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“And what is the origination of the world? Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance. From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming. From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth. From birth as a requisite condition, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair come into play. This is the origination of the world. [Loka Sutta: The World” (SN 12.44), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight, 17 June 2010]

passive voice

IMG_0083aBangkok: No taxis available at the airport, and all trains into town are seriously crowded. I am one of a very large number of individuals caught in the rush on a Friday evening. Somebody said later it’s because all the international schools start again on Monday. No other way, it’s decided for me, okay, I accept, I am subject to the system, the public transport system and I have no control over it. I am being ‘taken’, it’s about the process, rather than any particular person controlling the process. 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 better to not do that…. There’s not a ‘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), and I came across an interesting post about this the other day [Link to: Just A Little Dust].

The ‘self’ is absent. Sounds are heard, food is tasted, the chill wind of September is felt upon the skin. And there’s nobody there that feels it, unless I consciously put together an identity composite, in which case I feel the chill (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 works’ 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 means of an industrial process and somehow the ‘me’ part of it is not there like it used to be. The lens inside my left eye is made of plastic, there’s a particular clarity in the colours, the quality of light and a fascination with the way plastic surfaces refract the light; plastic food wrapping, mineral water bottles, car windscreens. 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 Thais 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 reality. A couple of hours and I’m at Morchit BTS near Chatuchak standing in the rain and D comes to get me in the car. The thought arises, the car is driven but there is no driver….

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 ‘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]

 

redefining the question

800px-Asoka_KaartNew Delhi: 04.00 hours. Awake at some time of darkness that’s neither night nor morning, getting some coffee and toast ready for Jiab going to the airport for the Gujarat flight at 06.00. Car comes, she gets in, bye… door-slam and she’s gone. Stars shining in the dark sky, then I come inside and look at a Google map of India with Gujarat there on the coast of the Arabian Sea – so that’s where it is… really not that far from Europe. Then take a look at the wiki map (shown above) of the Buddhist routes going out in all directions from North India in the time of Emperor Aśoka the Great, 273 BCE to 232 BCE. It looks like an explosion of consciousness that took place in North India, and spreading out from there; North, South, East, West, along the Old Silk Road directions. It goes West as far as the South-East Mediterranean countries; arriving there in pre-Christian times. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanchat. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.

Text comes in, Jiab: ‘boarding soon’. It’s a two-hour flight, Delhi to Gujarat. Looking at the map again, I notice wiki uses the word, ‘proselytism’, but it can’t have been like that. There’s no doctrine of God-worship in Buddhism, ‘I believe (I believe) in God (there’s no real Teaching other than belief for me to study). In Buddhism (and Advaita Vedanta and the Tao), the separate ‘self’ is an illusion, ‘a cluster of memories, thoughts, habits and conditioning’, maintained due to this basic human tendency to hold on to stuff. It’s not about that, it’s not about our origin, our Creator or what we are made of, it’s about how the whole thing works. It’s a 2600 year-old teaching about learning how to see what our hang-ups are, and easing the burden. It’s not about living for our(selves): seeking, acquiring and hoarding, it’s about generosity, relinquishment and giving it all away*. It’s about mindfulness and the way things exist, rather than what exists. It’s about realities that fit into our world today, exactly as it was in ancient times. The Buddha anticipated modern physics: all matter is energy; beings exist as “bundles of energies” (five khandhas). It’s not about ‘self’, it’s no-self, anatta, it’s about consciousness, viññāna, and the big question: what is consciousness?

Central_Asian_Buddhist_MonksI go through to the bedroom to lie down for an hour or so; still not yet dawn. Watch the breath, conscious of the sound of the ceiling fan above me in the shadows, constant spinning cycle that somehow says something about the weight of the rotary blades. It looks like how it sounds: a spinning propeller of an old fashioned aircraft – consciousness of the visual image. Always there’s consciousness of something: consciousness of the smell of coffee and a crust of toast in the kitchen, the taste of it; consciousness of the soft bedding I’m lying in. There’s consciousness of thought and then there’s consciousness of no-thought – including my perception of it. Consciousness without an object, the still mind, unsupported consciousness – unconditioned? The non-dual perspective is that it’s like this anyway…. So it’s without an object in the sense that it is different from the basic functions of interacting with the world through sensory organs: eye, ear, nose, skin, mouth and mind; different from the state of being conscious of what’s going on in the body/mind organism, phassa, as a result of responses to the world outside. Not consciousness of… just consciousness itself – what is that? No answer… is this the kind of consciousness that’s needed to find the answer to the question or to redefine the question, maybe, or whatever… is it the true self?

If so, it’s not what I thought it was: ‘…this true self is also the fundamental source of all attachment to being and becoming… attachment to the allure of this primordial radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander indefinitely through the world of becoming and ceasing.’ [Luangta Maha Boowa]

If it’s not that, then it goes beyond words: ‘When all phenomena are done away with, all means of speaking are done away with as well.’ [Upasiva’s Questions (Sn 5.6)]

It all needs a larger context. Some time later, another text comes in, Jiab: ‘having breakfast in the hotel’. It’s 08.30 and she’s nearly 600 miles away….

‘Consciousness cannot be known by mind. The mind is an object. It doesn’t know anything. It is itself known by Consciousness.’ [Rupert Spira – Link to: Spiritual Artwork]

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“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it stands still. Owing to its stillness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ [Bija Sutta: Means of Propagation” (SN 22.54)]

*This post contains excerpts from: ‘Beyond The Dream, Tao Te Ching7: Selfless
Lower photo image: Central Asian monk teaching East Asian monk, 9th century fresco

the end of the world

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‘In my beginning is my end. In succession
, houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
 are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
 is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
 Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, 
old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth 
which is already flesh, fur and faeces. Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
 Houses live and die: there is a time for building 
and a time for living and for generation 
and a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
 and to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
 and to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.’ [T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, East Coker 1]

Delhi-Bangkok flight: The stewardess comes to my seat and asks me, would you like a hot towel sir? I say OK, thinking, do I need that too…? Altitude of 28,000 feet, travelling at 500 miles per hour; we must all be moving along here like extended strings of spaghetti in a streak of light. She takes one out with her little forceps from the small box she’s holding, drops it in my hands so I can catch it and it burns my fingers for a moment then becomes a cold and clammy thing with which to wipe the face and hands. Not the ‘hot-towel’ experience I thought it’d be and I notice in passing it’s like all other sensory experience, a bit of a let-down. The sensitivity of the mind is not held by the limitations of the body and I’m always looking for more than what there is. The mind continually searching beyond the present instance; using one thing as a springboard to get to the next, means that everything is driven on and on, and the present time is not here at all.

Consciousness, perception, and reality interact by way of the six sense doors: eye, ear, nose, tongue, feeling, and mind. The one that is accessible is the mind sense-door, leading to awareness of all the other senses, including the sense that it is self-aware; a cognitive functioning focussed on the sense of awareness. Everything falls away, leaving only the arising and ceasing of things. Then that falls away too and there is ‘the end of the world’. Beyond that, awareness continues – not dependent on conditions supporting awareness.

‘When no personal image is created… there is nothing to lose, a sense of gladness, uplift, joy and serenity.
 With the cessation of such a death-bound frame of reference there is the living of the True life, the Holy life. [Ajahn Sucitto, from the Introduction to “The Way It Is”
 by Ajahn Sumedho]

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“And what is the ending of the world? … Dependent on the intellect & mental qualities there arises intellect-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact. From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling. From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving. Now, from the remainderless cessation & fading away of that very craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging & death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress & suffering. This is the ending of the world.” [Loka Sutta: The World” (SN 12.44), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu]

things left undone

IMG_4170New Delhi: 05.00 hours. Jiab’s got a cold, she’s been coughing all night, I’m sitting in the front room, hunched over an electric fire, feeling the heat and staring at the glowing bars, I have to blink, even the surface of the eyeball feels hot. It triggers a childhood memory about sitting at the fireside during the long winters in Scotland. Not as cold here, I have to take Jiab to the doctor at 10.30. And considering now, Ajahn Chah’s expression: mai neh (Thai), ‘not sure’, uncertainty: and how, at this time of year in Scotland, ‘uncertainty’ means that if the heating should fail, we’ll all be in sub-zero conditions. Things are just that bit more vital in these circumstances, closer to the edge. Mindfulness is a requirement.

And it feels like I’m just filling in time here, pondering over some future event. It arrives in present time, finds I’m not here, still thinking about it in its future context, far away in a hypothetical state beyond the ‘now’ where all the other schemes, plans and things are left undone. I have a mind to put an end to this, abandon all of it. Half-formed entities without reality that I’ve cherished for years, give them their liberty, let them escape; knowingly release the attachment to all them. Let them go.

Light is coming up. There’s a curious bird perched on the branch outside the window, lively and alert. I’d like to go nearer to see it, but it’s too cold over there so I watch it from my place by the heater. At the point where the eye and the object meet, phassa, a conscious sensory event takes place; a moment of contact between the subjective state and the outer world. It mirrors a similar moment of cognition in the inner being. This basic truth holds my attention for a while and when I look again the bird has flown away.

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PHOTO: CANDLE FLOATING ON THE RIVER GANGES

the thinking thing

hNew Delhi: It’s the middle of the night, it’s cold, I’m in bed and covered with a mountain of bedcovers. Can’t sleep, just lying here thinking about things in the darkness. All the stories of my life come and go, click the channel-changer and there’s another one. I remember this, yes… so, he said that… and I said this… and then what happened? Click the channel-changer again and I’m somewhere else. It’s the thinking thing, continually pondering over this and that and when I ask myself how to stop thinking the mind starts to look for a solution, drawing conclusions from known facts ad infinitum and I’m thinking again. It’s my Western cultural inheritance – separate from God, we are created by Him –  studying the ‘object’ and logical, applied, deductive reasoning. Here in the Eastern context it’s more like a gradually accumulating lake of inductive reasoning; the ‘whole’ is a pre-existing pattern composed of its parts. I can ‘feel’ my way into it and see where that takes me.

So I stop thinking. There’s an awareness of the cold air on my face, sensory response vedanā; the mind engaged with the other senses tuned to reception from the outer world like satellite dishes search for a signal. When there’s no thinking, there’s an empty space where the thoughts used to be. I’m aware of the desire to be actively thinking, I see the invitation to be engaged with thinking – same as other forms of ‘wanting’ and mindfulness kicks in. But it occurs to me this is the Buddha’s teaching about the origination of the world: ‘Dependent on the eye & forms there arises eye-consciousness. The meeting of the three is contact….’ (phassa) and I’m back into thinking again.

There’s something obvious about this, the mind is one of the six senses and functions like a receptor in the same way as the others do, except that it also has the purpose of ‘guarding’ the entry point; sense object activates the chain of events and mind has an intuitive, cognitive function; it is capable of discerning the object, like a security system. The exact nature of the cognitive mind holds my attention. I experience the absolutely empty space of no-thinking and either there’s not any sensory input the mind needs to be engaged with, or the apparent emptiness is caused by the mind’s awareness of being aware. There’s more of this empty space. Thoughts come in and go out again and the mind is watching the whole process. Sometimes I’m here as an observer, watching from behind the curtain. Other times the observer disappears, and it seems like only the mind itself is left there. That disappears too and in its place, a sequence of momentary mental events, each one linking with the next as if it were electronic activity. It’s like a small fireworks display, arising and falling away. Some time later sleep comes and the world disappears.

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