Right Speech & Donald Trump

POSTCARD#317: Bangkok: Trump making mileage (one way or another) from outrageous actions that take place every few days. Maybe we need to take 5 minutes to look at Right Speech and Buddhist ethics. Trump becomes transparent then, because we are not held by his harmful performance . It is obvious, everything is intended to induce dismay, after that it’s like the weasel and the rabbit; hypnotic, chaotic speech, a wild stab in the dark, perplexing and puzzling manoeuvring of events.

As a rule, Right Speech is not something politicians are good at, but Trump pushes it to the extreme; wrong speech, the intention is to create disorder and our reality becomes an an illusion. Showmanship… probably not very different from how things were 2600 years ago when the Buddha encountered leaders like Trump. There have always been politicians manipulating the truth for all the usual reasons.

And that’s why we have the Teaching on Right Speech. It’s called ‘right’ speech because language doesn’t stretch far enough to accurately express all the subtleties of how people normally communicate. The important thing is to get it right and Trump is an example of someone getting it wrong, deliberately.

‘The importance of speech in the context of Buddhist ethics is obvious: words can break or save lives, make enemies or friends, start war or create peace. The Buddha explained right speech as follows:

  1. to abstain from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully,
  2. to abstain from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others,
  3. to abstain from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
  4. to abstain from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.’

‘Abandoning divisive speech… What he has heard here he does not tell there, to break those people apart from these people here…Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord…

Abandoning abusive speech… He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large…

Abandoning idle chatter… He speaks in season, speaks what is factual, what is in accordance with the goal, the Dhamma, and the Vinaya. He speaks words worth treasuring, seasonable, reasonable, circumscribed, connected with the goal… [The Samaññaphala Sutta, Kevatta Sutta and Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta]

‘In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing and agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings.’ [Abhaya Sutta]


 

image: Yak, dynamic presence of a strange being at the entrance to the Golden temple in Bangkok. note, an older post refreshed

mindful attention

POSTCARD#316: Bangkok: I’ve been here long enough to remember what some districts looked like without the huge shadow of the elevated highway and overhead Skytrain. Congestion underneath; traffic jams, and not much room. Small markets, street food, but the population were okay with it – maybe forced out because a massive concrete pillar had to be situated right in the middle of where they used to be. But mostly they found another location, moved back a bit, shared the space among themselves giving way to the changing infrastructure.

The photo above shows the North/South Highway at Nontaburi that meets the city network of raised highways. On the right stands the Buddhist Wat Bua Kwan temple – buildings coloured red and cream. I don’t know if they lost a bit of land in the intrusion of the highway, they probably did. One thing the monks and laypeople who lived there lost, was the relative silence of how things used to be before the highway came. The noise level now must be incredible.

Then the road was finished and we’d pass by above the temple often, seeing only the exotic peak of the roof at first. After some time the roof was taken down and scaffolding appeared instead, then an upper floor was built. When the floor was completed, an enormous Buddha statue was placed in the centre facing East and the sunrise over the rooftops below. Then the walls and roof were built up around it.

It sounds like all this happened very quickly but it took special artisans 5 to 6 years, working  slowly and carefully, and allowing time for blessings and ceremonies to take place. Each part of the upper floor and walls were done in the same way and the special curved roof was completed with the whole extent of mindful observances.

Now it’s finished and we pass the building on the left side (lower photo) as we go into town (Thailand drives on the left). Coming back at night the whole thing is lit up and… it just blows me away.

Also the sense of the monks there, and in meditation morning and evening, otherwise occupied with household tasks, teaching in that beautiful place – but surrounded by this colossal sound of traffic 24/7. It says something about patient endurance, the way one can tolerate external things mindfully and allowing internal narrative to be in balance. The monks living there are sending a clear sign to car drivers and passengers passing by that it is possible to calmly persevere with mindful attention, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Remembering too that all things arise and pass away.


Ajahn Chah was in London, staying at the Hampstead Vihara. The monks were troubled by the noise that was coming from the pub across the road. Ajahn Chah told them that the cause of suffering was their sending attention out to trouble the sound. Sound itself is just so. Suffering only arises when we ‘go out’ and add something extra. Seeing our part in creating problems, a shift in the way we view struggles takes place. Instead of blaming, we simply ‘see’ what we are doing, in the moment. Let’s not get into a fight with hatred; exercising careful restraint and with Ajahn Chah’s reflection, we let it ‘fall away’

Initially we see this only after we have reacted and created suffering. With practice we catch it sooner. One day, we will catch ourselves just as we are about to create the problem. (Ajahn Munindo)

 

have metta for the fear

POSTCARD#312: Bangkok: 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 the reason I’m here is that I have to have eye surgery on both eyes for cataracts. I don’t want it to be like this, causes and conditions, waiting for the traffic is like the changes in 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. It’s just the mind blowing like the wind that can cause the restless, uneasy feeling. In its original state, the mind is still and calm.

‘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 minimize the fear by recognizing 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.”]


Reflections on an earlier post titled: “necessity of mindfulness”

 

sure-footedness

POSTCARD#308: Chiang Mai: Headache stabs me in the Right Occipital Nerve, on the walk back from the market with backpack full of vegetables, and living things I wash and slice and eat, whispering to myself forgiveness, in the discomfort and heat of the day. Yes, I could stop, fumble in pockets and squeeze out two capsules from their crinkly enclosures, bring to the mouth and swallow with a practised swig from my bottle of water I keep in an outer pocket of the backpack. But not yet, balancing backpack, stumbling slightly on these unfinished side-walks, lumps of concrete roughly rendered, landscapes of pavements we encounter everywhere in the ‘Developing World’ – tell me, is there ever a time when a country becomes ‘developed’, or is it an on-going state of development? Just look at Trump and American politics – okay, enough already… forgiveness.

If only… if only we had the sure-footedness of youth… I almost slip on the wet shiny tiles some fashionable shop has proudly cemented in place in the threshold of its brand new frontage… forgiveness. I shall not, today, slip and fall into the road, and be run down by a heavy cement truck careering through the narrow streets, as they do, on the way to, and coming back from a construction site somewhere in the centre of the town. Not today shall I meet my end under the muddy wheels and tarmac thoroughfare, forgiveness, forgiveness, said in a whisper of unvoiced consonants, over and over.

Then later in the day, comfortable in my room, and what is it? There’s always something about the question that’s gently pondered, not posed, poised, considered… the pause before the dancer consciously walks across the stage; left foot point toe, place on floor, right foot point toe, and so on – complete the action swiftly. It has to be exactly the right question, but always not quite decided upon; what is it? Could it be that the contemplation of what this question is, is enough to begin to know it, without actually knowing it, for all intents and purposes? It just begins to be known, somehow… a kind of indirect situation that just falls into place, as we recognize it and see it thus, induced then deduced, who can say?

Words don’t hold meaning for very long, the question gets forgotten about, or possibly it’s still there in the detached state, just not functioning as a specific inquiry now, more like a wide-openness that’s waiting for an answer. In the same way as there are answers, lying in their own wide-openness waiting to be discovered. A non-verbal alertness, a strange familiarity, a passing recognition that seems to go on opening and opening and opening.


Photo taken from the aircraft window of the Bangkok flight yesterday. Excerpts from an earlier post: Somewhere in a former life

 

the forever war

POSTCARD#307: Chiang Mai: The image here, was taken while we were on a visit to the holy Buddhist sites in North India. It shows a group of men involved in some sort of argument, viewed from the window of our tour bus, as it was moving through crowds of pedestrians and various kinds of vehicles. The sound of very loud angry voices and heavy blows got everyone’s attention, all I could see was the top of their heads because other passengers crowded the bus window. No room to squeeze in, so without seeing where to point the camera, I held it in a downward position and ‘click’. It was guesswork, thinking it’ll probably not come out, but it did – the group perfectly positioned in the centre of the frame. The bus made its way slowly through the crowd then accelerating along empty streets and we were gone in a moment.

Looking at the image now, the man in the green shirt is trying to do something with that pole and the other guys are preventing him or pushing back. The tremendous intensity coming from the green-shirted man is noticeable.  Murderous thoughts ready to explode on the surface. There’s another emotion too, he looks determined but tearful, as if he might start to cry. It was significant, I suppose because there we were on a tour of the Holy sites where the Buddha had spent most of his life, and now this 2500 years later, an example of Greed Hatred and Delusion. The Buddha must have come across many such disputes, and quietly observed aspects of the argument, or sometimes he would have been asked how best to resolve the issue.

Looking at what’s written about the three defilements, or three poisons, and contemplating these, I see that the natural human preference is that conflict be forgotten, and as long as no effort is there to keep it going, conflict falls away by itself. There’s all kinds of other stuff that engage the mind however, conflict is gratifying, feeding the base sensory driven state. We fuel the fires to maintain conflict in the mind; in our world media coverage and war-mongering, the opportunity arises to build up tension, involving narratives in the mind, peaking in justified outrage. If the political manipulation of circumstances were not there, we could just as easily allow the conflicted mind go, but we’re drawn in, and it gets to a point when engagement with the consequences of conflict is inevitable; this is always how it is.

I started up my laptop this morning Thai time, and discovered that the US led coalition had sent missiles into Syria. I wanted to write something about it, then found an old post titled ‘Conflict and Release’ that seemed somehow unfinished, waiting for events to be right for its conclusion. So that was all I could do, and here it is rewritten. Regarding the event itself, all sorts of things come to mind, mainly to do with cover-ups, otherwise the same as all other kinds of war and arguments forever unfinished. The Buddha offered a way to understand how the mind works and to see, through ordinary human experience, the way to bring an end to Suffering.


I seem to be rewriting old posts these days, rather than writing new posts. This is how it is at the moment, busy in the studio and not active in front of the screen. I hope to be able to offer up some examples of new Art soon.
Be well
T

 

somewhere in the city

POSTCARD#306: Bangkok: Alarm goes off at 04.00, hand-reach and it’s silenced in a quiet darkness. My footsteps going downstairs seem to me to be too loud for the baby sleeping. Thankfully, I reach the ground floor without waking the boy. I make coffee and half a toasted bagel for Jiab who is going to a meditation centre near Pak Chong – a three hour journey. We speak quietly, the car comes, filling the gated entrance with headlights, a soft door-slam and she’s gone

Jiab’s elder sister Pi Sao comes downstairs, she is the smiling grandmother of the child, visiting here from down South, an overnight journey by train. Pi Sao gets up early to offer food to the three monks who come into our part of the city, just after daylight.

She goes into the kitchen for the three small bags of food she prepared last night. They are placed on a tray and she brings them into the room. I’m watching her from the computer table as she goes out and kneels at the entrance to the house with the tray raised to a point that’s level with her forehead. She stays in that position for a longish time, could be a minute. Suddenly I’m aware of an extraordinary easeful peace. The monks appear in a blaze of colour, pale tangerine robes, and accept the food placed into their metal bowls. They chant blessings anumodana, on receiving the food and they’re on their way.

I allow the blessings to fall over me and come inside me, and for a moment it becomes me. I’m overwhelmed with boundless bliss, then it’s gone. There’s so much I don’t know, I want to say to her, thank you and how much this small moment of samadhi means to me. Yes, but my baby-babble of the Thai language is not enough to express these uncommon things. Besides I’m pretty sure Pi Sao doesn’t want to talk about anything thought to be near to the mystical experience, for fear of stepping into the realm of ghosts, and supernatural beings.

All these years and all that I have are these tentative steps into learned processes of cultural behaviour, requiring an alert watchfulness I discovered long before hearing the word ‘mindfulness’. Remembering over and over again that the focus is on the intention to stay mindful always, and somehow this got deeply embedded. It has been more than two decades after all, and now this attention has become a built-in wake-up bell that rings every time mindfulness wanders: ting-ting-ting-aling-ting-aling

And these days, now the headache is with me, I’m watching the breath go in and go out much more than I used to. Depending on the wake-up bell, ting-aling-ting-aling. It’s the alertness of samadhi and great peace and bliss that goes with it, but more often than not, it’s the on-going narrative and I’m engaged in deconstructing familiar patterns of habit where I criticize myself for having the pain: pain is bad – I must have done something ‘bad’ to deserve this.

Strong angry emotions, and the wake-up bell rings, ting-aling-ting-aling…. return to watching the breath, in-breath, out-breath – heart beat – the utter functioning of being alive, and the alertness of choosing not to get locked into the ways and means of endurance, tolerating the suffering allows an attachment to it and an associated habitual response forms over the years.

The effort is in separating the pain into two parts; there’s the pain itself, and the pain of resisting the pain; I-don’t-want-it-to-be-there… desiring it to not-exist, vibhava-tanha – wanting it to go away. The alertness is directed towards the pain of resisting the pain and allowing that to withdraw.

It’s about finding the Middle Way, the truth of suffering and the path leading to the extinction of that suffering is the most pressing need, the only true and worthy purpose in life – for the sake of well-being, peace-of-mind and all things considered are considered….

“Peace is not a destination, but a starting point. Find that peace that rests behind anything and anybody and bring it into your world”. [Shakti Caterina Maggi]



Excerpts from an older post, also some notes I made and can’t remember the original source.

auld acquaintance

POSTCARD#295: Bangkok: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” The first line of Burns’ song, sung at midnight at the end of the year, could be seen in a Buddhist way – shouldn’t we simply let go of things? Relinquish whatever is held, be it for good reason or otherwise. The Second Noble Truth: suffering is caused by attachment, therefore detach from the object.

The old year is going, the new year waiting behind the curtain. I am another manifestation of awareness, a world of sensory data passes through me at entry points: eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, and mind. There’s no tangible self here, life looking in through the eyes, as well as out, input/output, and the experience of this room, outside-in space that contains the embodied sensory apparatus I identify as ‘my’ self… and a self slips into view, as if beckoned; flimsy, insubstantial ghostlike being, a temporary presence appearing in an agreed-upon reality.

In another sense, the question: “Should auld acquaintance be forgot? “ helps me to understand there’s nothing to be gained further by fighting with this headache that sometimes stabs me unexpectedly and grumbles in a discontented way the rest of the time. So I live with it, and take the medicine. It means I’m a bit unsteady on my feet, and I forget things not clearly stated in their own place and time – otherwise I’m okay.

Yes, it’s been so long now, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not have a headache all the time. The medicine does seem to work, or maybe the headache is not as bad as it was. I don’t feel it as much as I did, it’s just always there – I’m aware that my life is not quite the ‘it’ that it was… but thankful for small mercies, as one of my aunties would say.

And surely they would be aware of the need simply to be mindful (although the word mindfulness wasn’t in the collective vocabulary in their day, when paying attention to what was wise), thus being careful not to misjudge the dimensions of a step in going upstairs and thus fall in a heap. It’s like ‘fumbling the ball’ the object leaps free from our grasp inexplicably (how could that have happened?) and you’re in hospital with two broken ribs.

I’ve been there, recovered from it, and have a wary eye open for the next attempt by gravity to bring me down. As long as that level of mindfulness is present, all is well. So I’ll take this opportunity to wish fellow members of the blogosphere, one and all, a Happy New Year 2018.


Photo by Berti Buffy, Shwedagon Burma

sadness of passing things

POSTCARD#288: Chiang Mai: It’s all coming to an end here, I go back to Delhi tomorrow and today is the 5th of November… remember, remember the fifth of November. Scary things, monsters and Halloween coming to an end too, for my Thai niece M aged 13 who is not interested in it any more. Not interested in witches hats and dressing up – dressing up maybe yes, interested. Or dressing down, torn jeans and earbuds in, and deaf to the world. It’s about how one is seen, ‘selfing’ like an actor playing a part, and the audience is swept away. “Bye-bye Toong-Ting, see you in December”, and she’s in the car and gone. I go downstairs to get something, along the lane to the main road, warm air, tall buildings create shade. Sadness; remembering M as a cute kid holding my hand and skipping along beside me… these days are gone.

Sadness still, over the passing of the King, noticeable in the absence of remembrance wreathes that were there everywhere in the town (and all over the country) for a year of bereavement. The feeling that something important has been taken away; this is how it is all through Thailand these days. A sense of his presence remains in the hearts of the population, manifest in all of the thousands of rural projects he initiated over a lifetime. I feel the presence too, it’s simple, the King lives on… he was a devout Buddhist, and the way I see it now, he reached enlightenment – I thought, surely it must be that everyone else can see it this way too, but then understood such a thing was best left unsaid.

This is how the experience was for me; I’d been watching the cremation ceremony on TV until quite late, and in the morning I felt his presence all through the apartment, out on the balcony, in the sky, the clouds, reflected light in the fields of paddy and all the way, it must be, to everywhere in the country. I feel his presence in the air, assimilated in the structural elements of materiality; the buildings and all through my surroundings now walking along the lane, as I used to with M as a child, holding on to one of my fingers as if it were the branch of a tree.

Out of the shadow, into the sunlight. Same sunshine we all feel as it strikes the retina… reaching for my sunglasses. A wetness in the eye, vestiges of mourning almost gone with the experience of the passing-away of someone dear to us. A large part of the Thai has simply gone… yet things just go on. Behind me comes the sound: toot-tootle-toot! And a man on a three-wheeled bicycle gets my attention with his little horn: toot-tootle-tee-tootle-too. He’s selling pieces of cut fruit – inquires with raised eyebrow if I’d like to buy some. I fell drawn to it but politely decline, thanks no; I’m just looking around.

As silence is not silence, but a limit of hearing.
As some strings, untouched, sound when no one is speaking.
So it was when love slipped inside us.
As this life is not a gate, but the horse plunging through it.
The heart’s actions
are neither the sentence nor its reprieve.
Salt hay and thistles, above the cold granite.
One bird singing back to another because it can’t not
[Jane Hirshfield, Come, Thief]


Photo, Buddha Rupa Ayutthaya: http://13966960783_a630225cb8_b.jpg

attachment becomes generosity

POSTCARD#284: Delhi: Packing household objects for the move is simple enough, there are two categories: a) things to Give Away, b) things to Keep. There is, also, c) things I have to give away, but want to keep. Still some reluctance there, gazing fondly at these possessions, do I really need this? In the end it all gets caught up in the momentum of leaving. I begin to see how it belongs in the ‘Give Away’ group, except there’s this tenacity of attachment; fingertips adhere to surfaces of the object – it would have to be pulled from my grasp.

The urgency of having to pack up and leave, sweeps the attachment into another place where it becomes generosity. Much-loved objects become gifts, rather than possessions. Generosity is letting-go, and the Buddha’s teaching on self/no self reveals the suffering inherent in the human condition caused by holding on, when we should be letting go. Compassion for those of us caught in the suffering of possession and ownership; the system creates the predicament – across the board consumerism stimulates a hunger that doesn’t lead to satisfaction but to a sharper edge to appetite.

A change in acoustics, the rooms are emptying fast, the sound of a single handclap creates an echo: “clap!” Household objects are disappearing at the same rate as large sealed boxes are appearing – rooms starting to vanish, space enters through the windows, floor gives way, and for a moment, everything turns inside out. Then seeing it the way it was before this, is impossible… memory gives way and it’s gone.

Parts of the interior are deleted; a blank space appears where something large used to be – the place where a thought used to be but it got forgotten; what was I thinking about there? Can’t remember. More of these blank spaces, objects wrapped in bubble wrap lose their identity. Everything packed away in boxes, cubed, diced up on the chopping board. I can’t remember what it was before this… there’s a world of things, and then there’s not.

This is a difficult time, earthquakes, hurricanes, and natural disasters of the Trump kind. The world is watching, not sure, uncertain. The urgency of thought seeks the safest place to be, the midway point and holding the balance; a place of equanimity in the midst of uncertainty, find a calm abiding there and cultivate the disposition to be free of bonds of ownership – attachment becomes generosity, relinquishment, letting go, metta and loving kindness.

In Asian languages, the word for ‘mind’ and the word for ‘heart’ are the same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention. [Jon Kabat-Zinn]


Contains excerpts from an earlier post

when words run out

POSTCARD#275: Bangkok: I don’t remember much about the flight except for the continuity of monsoon rain from Delhi and flying through it at 600 mph – between raindrops, then above the rain clouds where it is always blue sky. Descending again into the rain over the edge of Burma and the north of Thailand. From there, a taxi into town. Slow moving traffic, floodwaters  slosh around under the floor of the car alarmingly. I ask the driver if there’s been a lot of rain and he says not much.

But before that, there was a moment sitting on the aircraft when I became startled by the presence of my hands; left hand held in right – one the mirror image of the other. So I search for a pen and write this example of duality down in my notebook, and disturbed further when I see the left hand lying there by itself, fingers curled inwards, as if asleep. To whom does this hand belong? Maybe, in this crowded space, someone sitting behind me left it there, or does it belong to “me”? That edgy feeling.

When words run out, there’s only the silence left behind… raindrops dripping somewhere. Metaphor becomes reality, water finds its own level, everything seeps through the barriers I build to keep it out. Close the door on reality and it comes in through the window. Polarizations, ‘good or bad’, or whatever in a library of reversals, schisms and splits. It’ll be two years in September with this constant headache, and truth be told, part of me is still in denial, inventing reasons why I don’t want to admit the headache is part of me.

The fact is I’m on the run, putting distance between me and the thought I’ll be with it for the rest of my days. “(The) mind’s ear, hearing what it’s feeling, substituting imagination for the lack of investigation” – as HK says, and although time would be better spent with pain management exercises, it’s pain treatment I’m after… seeking the one-size-fits-all drug that sends the pain away.

I stumble over the reluctance to have it in my life. Things seem to get in the way, obstacles created in the mind – at the best of times it’s like this. Rain in Bangkok, the same rain 30 years ago when I arrived. The confusion and bewilderment then and even now, I’ll find myself facing a Thai reality; culturally remote, aware of what I know, but what I don’t know works better. Dismayed by a world I’m unfamiliar with – no kidding, the absolute honesty of it, and somehow that’s it. Done. All of it is seen, the perception of it revealed – no such thing as a headache.

Events have a momentum of their own; it’s Tuesday and I’m lying in a university hospital downtown Bangkok, prepped for the PRF surgery. Communication problems mean I don’t know much about the procedure that’s about to happen; I may or may not be told, it may or may not be painful. One thing I know, the operation will watched by a number of resident doctors, and their question/answer dialogue with the professor who stands over the patient guinea pig with an electric needle – what am I letting myself in for? There is only the capacity to be open to experience and it’s this that defeats fearsome images unfolding in the mind.
Time I wasn’t here…


photo: sculpture at New delhi Airport