a hugeness of ordinary things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


photo: Monsoon in Bangkok

doerless doing part 6b, editor’s notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo source: Dewdrop

the time of physical death, doerless doing part 6

POSTCARD#377: Bangkok: Another short piece from the revised text of “Heartwood From The Bo Tree” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In this section Ajahn describes our situation when faced with the acceptance of death and the elimination of our contrived needs (self) ‘to have’ and ‘to be’.

Buddhist teachers and scholars over the years have noted Ajahn Buddhadasa’s wider view on religion and spirituality, and his interpretation of Paticca-samuppada. He is/was definitely more than just another ‘loyal to the old traditions’, orthodox Thai Buddhist monk – he was someone truly wise. (Aj. K.)

Section 3. How to practice at the time of physical death.

The mind is extinguished and the body breaks up and dies, it is old and has reached its end. This is to have fallen from the ladder. As you fall from the ladder, you leap on to the practice of remainderless extinction. This is done by establishing in the mind the feeling that nothing is worth having or being.

Those who are old and unlearned, but for whom death is something definite and sure, can depend on taking remainderless extinction as their basic principle. The mind then will hold no hope of having or being anything at all. The phrase ‘absence of hope’ may be used in regard to the attainment of arahantship, not the resignation of the foolish and lazy – that’s a different matter altogether. It is this absence of hope of one who with true wisdom sees that there is nothing in this or any world that one should wish to have or be. Truly nothing is worth having or being at any time or at any place. There being no desire to have or be anything, the mind dissolves into emptiness.

When the time of death arrives let this feeling be present. You should remember that close to death the mind will gradually slip away. As the body runs down nearing its end, consciousness will gradually disappear. You will forget more and more until you forget everything. You won’t know what time it is, whether it’s day or night; you won’t be able to tell where you are or whose house you’re in, you won’t even be able to remember your name or your family. But the way for you to stay as the companion of the mind until the end is to be aware that nothing is worth having or being.

Volunteer for the remainderless extinction! Let that feeling of volunteering for the remainderless extinction, that readiness to accept it and be a partner of the mind until the very end. With this skillful means the mind will be able to dissolve itself into the emptiness that is Nibbana. This is the practice at the moment of physical death for those of little knowledge. With it an unlearned grandma or grandpa can reach the final extinction. We call it the skillful means of turning a fall from a ladder into a measured leap.

In the event of accidental death, such as getting run-over by a car, having a building collapse on top of you, being gored by a bull or getting blown up by an atom bomb, what should you do? If there is even a tiny amount of awareness left in that moment, resolve on the remainderless extinction. Through having previously developed the feeling that there is nothing worth having or being, until it is completely fluent and natural to you, on reaching the moment of death, you will be able to bring it to mind for a split second before the end. For example, someone run-over by a car doesn’t die immediately there is always an interval even if it’s only a fraction of a second or a single thought-moment, and for the flash of feeling resolving on remainderless extinction that is plenty of time.

The sublime Dhamma not only provides an infallible protection when faced with an unnatural death, dying but not wanting to die, dying unexpectedly, but can also provide Nibbana right there at the wheel of the car, beneath the collapsing building, at the horns of the bull or in the pile of bodies charred by the atomic blast. There is no violent unnatural death, instead there is Nibbana.

It is interesting to consider the way that people in the time of the Buddha prepared for death. For those who kept the Precepts of Virtuous Conduct, fasting was not at all difficult because they were used to abstaining from an evening meal on Uposatha days (The full-moon and dark-moon days when laypeople would come to the monastery and keep the Eight Precepts of Virtuous Conduct). When their illness reached the point that they felt that they had no more than ten days left to live they would stop eating and taking only water or medicine. As death got closer, they would stop taking even water or medicine in order to focus their mindfulness and self-awareness, so as to die in the way of remainderless extinction.

Unlike the people of the Buddha’s time, people today usually look for the most comfortable bed, the most comfortable room, the most expensive foods and medicines, and then die with a great fuss. They want to go on living, to put off their death even if it’s only for a single minute. They start having all sorts of injections and treatments and die with no mindfulness or self-awareness. It is the action of delusion.

/continued in doerless doing part 6b/


[Photo: A simile from the Pali scriptures (SN 22.95) compares form and feelings with foam and bubbles.]

doerless doing part 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

doerless doing

POSTCARD#372: Bangkok: “The doing is done but there is no doer. The principle of doerless doing must be taken up and utilized in our daily lives. Whether we’re eating, sitting, laying down, walking, using, seeking, whatever we’re doing we must have enough truth-discerning awareness to prevent the arising of ‘I’ – the feeling that ‘I’ am the doer. ‘I’ am the eater, the walker, the sitter, the sleeper, or the user. We must make the mind constantly empty of ego, so that emptiness is the natural state and we abide with the awareness that there is nothing worth having or being.” [Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, “Heartwood from the Bo Tree”]

Practical Dependent Origination, emphasis on the word: ‘Practical’… otherwise difficult to understand – the Buddha describes the confusion arising from wrongly perceiving it, as follows: beings have become entangled like a matted ball of thread, become like muñja grass and rushes, unable to pass beyond the woeful states of existence and saṃsāra, the cycle of existence.”

Back Story

I found this slim book the other day, in a cupboard inside a box with manuals for electrical appliances and other stuff 20 years old or more. It must have been put here by accident – the size, maybe it got picked up along with the washing machine manual and got lost here for two decades. It was such a precious thing to have it leap into my hands again with all the memories of how things were then, discovering the study of Buddhism for the first time and how it opened up an understanding in my world that had never happened before.

“Whenever one sees a form, hears a sound, smells an odour or fragrance, touches a tactile object, or has a thought arise in the mind, the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ arises, and it can be taken to mean Dhukka, suffering, which manifests itself therefore we are caught; the mind disease is fully developed.”

Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya: Nothing whatsoever should be clung to.

“If anyone realizes this truth that there is not a single thing to be clung to, it means that there is no ‘germ’ to cause the disease of greed, hatred and delusion, or of wrong action of any kind, whether of body, speech, or mind.”

“[Thus] whenever forms, sounds, odours, flavours, tangible objects, and mental phenomena crowd in, the antibody, ‘nothing whatsoever should be clung to’, will strongly resist the disease. The ‘germ’ will not enter or if it is allowed to do so, it will be only in order to be completely destroyed. There will be an absolute and perpetual immunity.”

Usually, the ego is thinking ‘I am me,’ and ‘this is mine.’ It’s divisive and selfish. So Ajahn asks that whenever possible, we mindfully drop all claims to our Self. “If we are empty of egoism, there is no consciousness of ‘I’ and ‘mine’. We have the truth-discerning awareness that can extinguish Dukkha and is the cure for the spiritual disease.”

The Diagram

The cycle begins with Ignorance and ends with Aging & Death. It might seem curious that Birth is only one stage before Aging & Death, but Birth is to be understood as a momentary ‘birth’ and death is the end of the cycle. It is possible to go around the cycle in an instant.

We have to try to stop the cycle at Phassa (sense-contact) and not allow the cycle of dependent arising to take place; by sheer force of mind, cutting it off right at the moment of sense-contact. As soon as there is contact with a sense-object there is Phassa, and the subsequent development of Vedana, Tanha and so on, it happens immediately – right around the cycle. If, at the moment of sense-contact, when there is only Phassa, the cycle can be stopped, there is no arising of ‘I’, ‘me’ or ‘mine’.

If it is too difficult to stop the cycle at Phassa, we can focus on the next stage, Vedana and stop it there. By not allowing the development of Vedana, not allowing feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction to arise, there is no development of the next stage, Tanha (craving) and Upadana (clinging). So the cycle completes in an instant and there is no arising of the ‘I’ ‘me’ and ‘mine’.


Link to Heartwood from the Bo Tree

causally connected momentary dhammas

POSTCARD#371: Bangkok: A couple of weeks ago I wrote a very long post about the dentist. This post will be as short as possible. It’s like this, I went back for the follow-up appointment and started to think about aspects of No Self and the Paticca-samuppada Dependent Origination. That’ll come after this.

So anyway I went back to see the lady dentist on Tuesday 26 May and after five minutes of inserting needles to numb the nerves, a lower jaw extraction happened; so easy! Then prolonged drilling in the bone of my jaw to situate an anchor for a dental implant (in the x-ray it looked like a rawlplug in a masonry wall).

It was painless, amazing – yes my head was jerked around a bit, and there was the dentist adjusting her tools to get a hold of the tooth, to get maximum clench, grasp, grip so that it wouldn’t slip, then steady pulling to extract the tooth, with dental assistant behind me, arms around my head and holding, while pressing down hard on the lower jaw. Then one, two, three: ‘pop’ and it was out.

The painless aspect of it was breathtaking, especially as the lady dentist quietly told me what was going to happen next; drilling a hole in the jaw bone for the implant. It took about 30 minutes to get it finished – all without any person to feel the pain. An example of the Buddhist selflessness (anatta). There was no Self to whom this was happening – I could hear all the sounds of drilling inside my head… and there was nobody there to hold out against the sustained pain, It wasn’t happening to me. I felt like laughing out loud.

A note about the flow of changes to do with normal cognition: All dhammas (“phenomena”) arise in dependence upon other dhammas: “if this exists, that exists; if this ceases to exist, that also ceases to exist”. As a dhamma vanishes, it gives rise to a new dhamma which appears immediately afterwards. In this way, there is an uninterrupted flow of causally connected momentary dhammas. In this flowing continuum, there is no enduring Self since everything Is dependently originated.

Changes take place in the context of this momentary arising and falling away of dhammas. In the first list below, we see transitional stages that lead to Suffering. In the second list we can see how the problem can be solved; the step by step cessation of the preceding stage leads to the end of suffering

The Standard Description Of Dependent Origination

By Ajahn Bramavamso (click on this link for the whole essay)

From delusion as condition, volitional formations [come to be]; from volitional formations as condition, consciousness; from consciousness as condition, name-and-form; from name-and-form as condition, the six sense bases; from the six sense bases as condition, contact; from contact as condition, feeling; from feeling as condition craving; from craving as condition, clinging; from clinging as condition, existence; from existence as condition, birth; from birth as condition, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair come to be. Such is the origin of this whole mass of suffering.

But from the remainderless fading away and cessation of delusion comes cessation of volitional formations; from the cessation of volitional formations, cessation of consciousness; from the cessation of consciousness, cessation of name-and-form; from the cessation of name-and form, cessation of the six sense bases; from the cessation of the six sense bases, cessation of contact; from cessation of contact, cessation of feeling; from the cessation of feeling, cessation of craving; from the cessation of craving, cessation of clinging; from the cessation of clinging, cessation of existence; from the cessation of existence, cessation of birth; from the cessation birth, aging-and-death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure, and despair cease. Such is the cessation of this whole mass of suffering.

(SN 12, 1)

(dhamma = an aspect of the mind that captures the quality of an object, and that has the ability to colour the mind)


 

coronavirus: a living organism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

COVID-19 Vesak Day 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo: Great Buddha Statue Bodh Gaya

 

COVID-19 connectedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

the new-normal

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

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

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

Total number of infected to date: 2826

Treated and recovered: 2352

Deaths to date: 49

Still in hospital: 425

New cases: 15

Died today: 1

Start opening: May 1st or May 4th

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How are you today?

And he says:

“I’m okay but I have a headache”.

Even my headache has a headache, no surprise there.

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

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

May all beings be well.