thoughts like clouds

img_4536POSTCARD #243: New Delhi: A photo in the photo library of the mind got lost. I had it in a special place because I wanted to use it for this post, but now it’s gone and I didn’t make a note of the file name, I’ve forgotten where I kept it and worse still, I’ve forgotten what it looks like. This is the problem. All I know is that it was a photo of sky that sent me off in the direction of thoughts like clouds drifting through the empty space of mind… blue sky, high altitude clarity – that’s all. So, how will I recognise it if I don’t know what it is? Hmmm I’ll know it when I see it, I suppose, hoping there’ll be some kind of familiarity about it, a pause before moving on to the next, thinking… that reminds me of something, what is it? And suddenly there’s recognition, like meeting an old friend you haven’t seen for half a century. But as I start to go through something like 4000 images, it seems unlikely.

I shall sit quietly for a moment in the space of no thought and, instead of trying to remember the photo, I can contemplate the empty space where it used to be. But that’s not working because the empty space where it used to be suggests an identity for the lost image. Fragments of remembered lost-photo imagery remain, I need to have the mind clear of remembered images, no identity, even the word itself – no ‘it’ and no ‘self’, the Buddhist anatta, ‘no self’, nobody at home.

It’s not working because the effort to create ‘no self’ results in a mind running around everywhere, taking ‘selfies’, you could say, in different places and with various friends. Smile please, pose… click and take another one, okay? Click! And it’s happy doing this, but deep down it’s not satisfied, seeking always for a way to become whatever it is that is permanent happiness. But it’ll never happen, everywhere I look there’s another ‘self’ seeking an identity and becoming that form… but again, it is never satisfactory. Seeking the next opportunity to ‘become’ is the default aspiration; it’s this that holds beings in the cycle of rebirth. Caught in the predicament of becoming.

So I give way to it… and curiously, there’s an immediate awareness of the restless mind held in endless searching. Another kind of awareness enters the picture, seeing the ‘self’ that sees itself seeking. The seeking ‘self’ turns its awareness on the seeing ‘self’ and is, at once, seen. There is seeking but no seeker, and no object is sought. Seeking non-objects is seeking the motionless space in which the answer is, before the question is asked. The place where everything is and is not. No-self is another way of saying nothing exists anywhere, anywhen, ever. Deathlessness, the death of death… this too shall pass, and the fragility of newly born beings, all finely tuned things which appear briefly; vulnerability, perishability, limited lifespan, and all that remains is the breathtaking tracery of what this was, a moment before it passed.

“Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending.” [Rupert Spira]


Note 1) some parts of this post taken from earlier posts, and edited pages for the next volume of Postcards From the Present Moment.
Note 2) the photo, Ladakh, Himalayan North India, taken by Jiab. I opted for this in the end, and maybe it was the one that got lost, or maybe it became the image formed in the mind which recognised the ‘no self’ quality in the expanse of sky, and distance on a scale that overwhelms the small self…

 

are birds free?

img_5495POSTCARD #242: New Delhi: Early afternoon flight yesterday, from Ch’mai to Bangkok gets in around 2pm, and Jiab was waiting for me at Arrivals. She had travelled up from the south that same morning. So we go by taxi into town, planning to get there for the 4pm appointment at a central Bangkok hospital to have the needle in the scalp, right occipital nerve (PHN nerve block treatment).

Clear road, all the way in, elevated highway, seemingly afloat without support, and pointing in a line between these tall skinny glass/steel buildings on either side, reaching up into the sky from foundations somewhere down below – a futuristic sci-fi city perspective image drawn with straight road penetrating into the urban landscape reducing down to a single vanishing point. Our exit comes up about 45 minutes into the drive, and the outside lane slopes off down into the shadowy gloom of street level – traffic yes, but no hold up at all. Good, it’s that time of day when lunch hour is finished and school-pick-up traffic not yet begun.

Suddenly we’re in town and what struck me was, so many people wearing black. Everywhere… you could say the entire population was dressed like this. I’d forgotten the country is in mourning. TV announcers wear black, the backgrounds against which they sit are in shades of black. Blackness is a tangible thing, a world devoid of color, now into the third month since the death of their exceptional King.

The city functions as it normally does and for us, a clear pathway opens up through traffic, green lights all the way. Into narrower streets, and narrower still, then the one-way urban lane (soi) network, typical of Asian cities, with minimum clearance between walls on either side for cars and motorbikes traveling at high speed.

The acceleration and rapid gear change sounds, insistent GPS voice on the driver’s phone in Thai and on Jiab’s iPad in English, overlapping each other, causing them to have to shout to be heard – identifying the turnings to take, no, not this one, the next one the urgency and confusion of it was exactly the wrong thing for my headache. But we’re there in no time, arriving at the place exactly 4pm.

Tumble out of the taxi, along the corridor, into the small neurology/pain management outpatients, and my name is called just then, as if I’d been sitting in the waiting room for half an hour. Good to not have that nervous anticipation of worrying as the clock ticks on. So I get up on the gurney and into the lying-down position, left side, with head on pillow. The nurse pulls curtain: shweesh, all the way round: shweesh, Doc is saying; now you may feel a little pain here. Needle slides in… the initial shock of it is astonishing, barely a hair’s width, narrow-gauge hypodermic, and I’m aware of pressure; he’s pushing it around, trying to get the nerve, then the time it takes to void the syringe. Everything moves up a notch, jaw clench, rigid body and holding in the mind – is this what hell is like? Immediately the small ‘self’ leaves the body. A voice says now take a deep breath, and the needle comes out.

The ease of the anesthetic kicks in immediately. Euphoria and laughter, the silliness of rubbery knees articulating legs, and shock of feet unexpectedly impacting with floor as we walk along the corridor and wait there for a while. It’s over; I’m folded into another taxi home, and must have slept all the way through. Awake again at 3 am for the first flight over here to New Delhi. Anesthetic has worn off by this time and there’s the pain of the bruise where the needle went in and I don’t remember much about that journey, only later I realized the headache came along too.

One good thing is I’m getting nearer to an acceptance of it; the actual pain, and what I make of it, are two different things. At the start, September 2015, all the doctors I spoke with said it would get better after a year, and when you pass the 5-year milestone, it would be much easier. The sort of thing prisoners doing a life sentence might depend on, I thought at the time. But it is true – hectic it may be, I can see in the interval of time passed, the headache seems to be not as bad as it was, because there’s no memory of what life was like without it.

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me, “How good, how good does it feel to be free?” And I answer them most mysteriously, “Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?” [Bob Dylan, Ballad in Plain D]


 

remainderless fading

SunrisePOSTCARD #216: New Delhi: The mind forgets. All the months of headache gone overnight. These days I wake up in the morning feeling normal again and I have to consciously remember what it was like before this, the billiard ball crashing around inside the skull whenever I moved. I understand how it works of course; an injection of anesthetizing agent into the root of the nerve and there’s no pain. It’s almost like it was never there, but the reprieve is for a limited time only. Two or three months then it’ll not be effective anymore and I have to go for the next injection.

This is the interval, the interim, a breathing space, and a time to reflect on how, for the most part, the body/mind organism has the capacity to heal itself. That built-in elasticity comes as a surprise, a kind of awakening. The true meaning of recovery. The Buddha’s Third Noble Truth (nirodha); the realization we don’t have to remain stuck in this unsatisfactory state. Suffering (dukkha) can be overcome when we let go the craving (tanha) that feeds it.

It is an easing of the suffering of mind caused by holding on to things that seemingly reinforces the belief in a small self inside ‘here’ directed by how the ego interprets sensory data received from the world out ‘there’ through the eye, ear, nose, tastes, feelings: nice or not nice, and how I feel about all of the above. Thus ‘I’ am this, or ‘I’ am that, according to what I like and what I don’t like. Neutrality is an option but it usually swings one way or the other in this state of duality.

Wanting things to be different, other than what they are, is the cause of endless dissatisfaction and profiteers’ goods and services have created an opening; phones, tablets and adult toys that hold the mind in this unhappy state. After the newness wears off there’s the seeking for this or that, not included in the current model. Clever advertising creates the perception of ‘me’ in a world of other beings preoccupied with devices that can render the ‘self’ as an actor ‘I’ choose to project to others; mind reflects upon itself in its own sense of being, is aware of its perception of itself as subject in its own blissful states. Other times seeking an escape from that world when things that were blissful turn bad with the same intensity, and the truth arises that all this is not real. How to get out?

It’s here that people wake up to the recognition it’s a dependency, but there is a way out of the sickness, no matter how much the marketeers pull us towards it. There is the natural elasticity in the knowledge it doesn’t have to be like this, true happiness and contentment are possible. Let go of that craving for more, allow for the far reaching concept of renunciation, relinquishment and release, the remainderless fading & cessation of suffering. Let it go and it all comes to an end, the way out of suffering and the Noble Eightfold Path.

“The main affliction of our modern civilization is that we don’t know how to handle the suffering inside us and we try to cover it up with all kinds of consumption.” [Thich Nhat Hanh]

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Header image: the library of Ajahn Vajiro
source of the quote above: Lou @ Zen Flash, “We don’t know how to suffer”
~ G R A T I T U D E ~

a buddhist’s sense of suffering

IMG_2872bOLD NOTEBOOKS: CHIANG MAI: I’m lying with an IV drip in my arm and exactly why, I don’t know right now, but there’s also a laser beam directed into my vein along with the needle. So presumably, laser light is present all through the circulatory system as the chelation fluid enters my body. This special treatment may provide a cure in the long term for the PERMANENT HEADACHE I’m learning to live with… who knows, I’ll try anything, and at least they treat you well here. I’m laid-back in a comfortable soft TV lounger but instead of TV watching I’m looking out into a small garden with birds to watch and scribbling notes on a print-out from the first draft of this post… careful of the pain from the needle in my left arm.

FullSizeRender (7)I have to say, this is about my experience of headaches, discomfort and suffering so if you don’t like the thought of reading more about pain, click the button and get away from here now! But if you’re curious and interested in the buddhist sense of suffering, think of any kind of discomfort you have experienced and consider this: it’s the struggle to get away from pain that causes the suffering. The energy used in trying to get away from it just fans the flames and makes it what it is. And, because it’s habitual, maybe a lifetime of doing it like this, things just go on and on until I see the only thing that’s preventing me from letting go of suffering is that I’m still holding on to it.

This insight into suffering comes about, not by choice, but by allowing yourself to be in a no-choice situation – or maybe it’s like that; there’s no other way, absolutely no escape. And, what I’m talking about here will be familiar to sufferers of chronic pain, usually you do everything in your power to not even think about this kind of thing, so there’s a kind of unpreparedness about it. Unknowingly you’re caught like the proverbial rabbit hypnotized by the circling predator. Helpless, you give up, go stumbling towards the pain and unexpectedly, a door opens inside that place and there’s an easing. You discover it’s a mind thing; the habitual action to get away from it is the cause of the pain… it’s this vortex you get to in the end that leads to the discovery of the moment of easing held in the center of pain. I feel the moisture of an eye-blink, the absolute physicality of being here.

There’s a strange kind of time shift about it, it’s somehow not until after it’s happened you notice time skips a beat. It’s somewhere around here that the realization happens; ignorance is displaced by the knowledge of it, awareness floods in and there’s an acceptance of this new direction towards pain; you let it in enough to somehow find a release from it. It’s an immediate understanding that somehow you know you’ve gone through it, so you can’t be ‘held’ by it anymore There’s a real sense of achievement, you are bigger than it; there’s motivation, energy, freedom.

How to apply this? A conceptual understanding of the release forms; it’s more than an acceptance of the pain, it’s an embracing of the pain – an expanding awareness that pain is not a thing you carry along with you. Dispose of all the heaviness; it’s something to be travelled through. It’s this that lets it go (frees it). The knot in the string is undone. Can’t be explained, not a conscious understanding… just that something is changed inside the thinking process, a felt difference – “felt” rather than “thought to be” – and the suffering is suddenly not there anymore.

‘We learn how to let go, in the process of observing the consequence of our grasping.’  [Ajahn Munindo, Dhammasakaccha]

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Note: excerpts from an earlier post: things not being right and special thanks to Pennycoho for our short exchange in the comments box long ago   –   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   –

the two-hundredth

watpohguardian-e1459584335688bPOSTCARD #200: CHIANG MAI, THAILAND: the two hundredth postcard leaves this keyboard with a question I’m hoping will find an answer. There’s more of a familiarity with the characteristics of my perpetual headache, but the months slip by and I’m postponing the plan I had to come to terms with the dependency on the medicine I need to numb the pain. Future time slides into present time, tomorrow becomes today, and everything I was doing a moment ago has disappeared into the past again – the enhancement created by the meds masks many things. No sooner has it been seen than it’s gone. On the rebound, senses are alert, listening, feeling, searching… how can this be? But I’m caught in the conundrum of not being able to see it’s the searching for the way out that maintains the state of being lost.

After the illness came to stay (September 2015), it took a while to focus on the functioning of Mind as I’d previously known it; as the cognitive sense, the sixth sense that knows the other five senses and knows itself as the ‘self’ until attachment to that self aspect is seen through. Everything from there onwards is understood in a different way. There’s the seeing of events without the story and it all can be deconstructed carefully – indeed nowadays, there’s a fascination with this investigation, somehow believing that by taking things to pieces I’ll be able to see where the problem of dependency lies. But the investigation goes deeper and deeper, Mind changes its focus, and I discover I’m not able to find what it was I was looking for because I’ve simply forgotten the train of thought that brought me here. An uncomfortable place of attachment to something but no idea what it is. It doesn’t seem worthwhile to try to return to how things were before I started this, even if I could remember how it all fits together, which I can’t. Besides, things being as they are, putting it back together is impossible because everything has changed.

The confusion of mind like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces missing that can only be put together in chunks and not ever completed, means there’s always this dissatisfaction and returning to it again and again; this coming-back to look for the beginning of it… then, as if to remind me, and before I am properly aware of it, the parts come together as a felt pain. A thought now appears in a small window and the recognition of it as pain unfolds with ‘me’ suddenly playing the role of the person to whom this is happening – this is a story about ‘me’ and I’ve learned to take the dosage as soon as possible, and I leave the story and the window closes.

In the vast ease that follows I recognize an important piece of the puzzle; selected attention affects perception. What I think is the solution has been displaced by my attachment to searching for it. So, it just looks like it’s complete because time has moved on in the duration of thought arising, and everything now has the quality of being seen in hindsight.

In the peace and quiet ease of those moments when there is no driving urge to take the meds to correct this perceived pain, it’s possible to see that my attention to it is both the problem and the solution; trying to get what I want or to get rid of what I don’t want, but unknowingly caught in attachment to it. The desired state I’m seeking already belongs to ‘me’. Everything I have, everything I want, all of this is ‘mine.’ Even the pain, that which I consider to be the thing I hate the most, is also ‘mine’. What to do? How to learn the skill of detachment in these circumstances?

How wide are the horizons of the spinning earth! The moonlight leads the tides and the sun’s light will not be confined within the net of heaven. But in the end all things return to the One. The deaf and the dumb, the crippled and deformed are all restored to One’s perfection. [Hsu Yun]

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Photo: detail of a Wat Poh Guardian taken by P Henderson. Note: special thanks to Ellen Stockdale Wolfe who kindly sent me the link to the video below of Mooji’s remarks about pain. Go to 25.50 to bypass a lengthy introduction

http://mooji.tv/freemedia/he-sees-only-the-infinite-sky-of-your-being/

voice-over

IMG_3377POSTCARD #198: THAILAND: Arrived in Bangkok, then a small propeller plane to Hua Hin, 41 mins flight, ninety miles down the coast. Unaware of the Brussels bombings we walked on the beach, no people anywhere, where’d everybody go? Came upstairs to our room on 6th floor, switch on TV and there it was; the Brussels Bombings filling our hotel room from nearly ten thousand miles away. We were stunned by the coverage; BREAKING NEWS, coming to you live from CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN reaches the whole of the US, and as far West as Pacific Islands and Japan. Then the other way from Atlanta, all countries in South America broadcast in Spanish and Portuguese, East through Europe in all languages including Arabic and the whole continent of Africa. On through Asia to Australia who are so far down-under, the rest of the world is up-over to them. CNN facilitates this news and within minutes, the bombs in Brussels are exploding all over the world.

FullSizeRender (5)We wake up the next day and it’s the same thing, the assumption is that many people in the world haven’t heard the news yet. At breakfast there are developments that seemingly, we need to hear about, also in-depth analyses of what happened and why, with experts discussing it – showing the same footage with voice-over and the production beginning to take a particular form. But we can’t pay much attention to it, busy with getting ready for our walk along the beach. Understandable really, I think, being the only white guy here. Brown people over here and everywhere with black hair and dark eyes, who are not Americans but the majority of the world’s population, puzzled and a bit embarrassed by the CNN presentation. Inclined to ask what caused the extremists to do such a thing? Sorry but that’s the wrong question… CNN is broadcasting its opinion in all countries of the world, stepping into everyone’s lives and figuratively speaking blasting everyone with the aftermath of the bombings using the dismay, distress, and consternation as a vehicle to convey the consensus point of view.

My niece M who is 12, asks me ‘Why?” I have to provide a satisfactory answer, but the same ‘why?’ follows me and my explanation. Then the extended form: ‘but why?’ all the way through my reasoning as we get into the elevator and she stops asking only when we reach the bottom, running out and down to the sea. Our early morning walk along the sand, and again we are the only people there, leaving a trail of footprints and the only others are those of the birds, M running ahead stopping to take close-up photos with my phone and her ‘why?’ more concerned with why do the footprints look as if they’re embossed on the surface, relief sculptures, rather than hollowed in the sand, strange – once you see it that way it’s difficult to see it the other way.

M footprintsBack up to the hotel room and the show must go on. Intense music, bright red colors and talking heads appear. They seem to ask and answer questions but the dialogue has been scripted. Frightening scenes of devastation from an on-the-spot location in the danger zone while we are in a safe place at home, made to feel like voyeurs at the battle scene: ‘This is coming to you live’ yes but it’s an act, rehearsed, decided on by an editorial team  who take advice from those obscure unseen advisors making decisions, about how the facts should be portrayed.

The dialogue looks spontaneous, and informative (I’d like to be a fly on the wall of these studios and see how much of an act this really is), welcoming the invisible third party, that’s us, the part we play as passive listeners mesmerised by the act, struggling in a bewilderment of feelings, holding on to this induced attachment to TV that we’re kinda comfortable with anyway and only later realise that by passively acknowledging this version of events, we are committed to seeing it that way.

CNN is now established ‘in the danger zone’, with easy-to-understand explanations and we allow the hypnosis to deepen by passive acceptance of it entering our living rooms – George Orwell’s 1984 propaganda TV reassures the population it’s all being taken care of by those who know what to do, although the threat of it continues. We know there’s something happening, it’s as if it were orchestrated, quite obvious really, but somehow hidden. Curious why we allow it to be there, but we feel we’re already committed to the CNN point of view, and that rewarding, induced, comforting mind-state takes over as we fall into our places in front of TV.

IMG_2852The next day I go into Google and find it has a Wikipedia entry already. Still there’s the question: why are these Islamic extremists targeting us? Could it be that it’s the result of something we did to them? Sorry but there’s something wrong with that question. History is made by those who won the war.

I’d like to explain to M how this illusion is constructed but cannot. So I’ll just have to hope she’s has a good enough grasp of English soon so she can read this post sometime and understand it after I’m not around any more.

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Photos:  view from our hotel room at the top and the others are footprints made by a bird and M’s footprints as she studied the image on the screen that made it appear to be embossed on the surface.

of this faring on

IMG_2061 (2)POSTCARD #197: DELHI: Skating along with our trolleys on the smooth floors of airport halls and passageways, all these people coming and going. That feeling of familiarity, that déjà vu… I become you, he, she or it, we, you, they. We’ve been away and on our way back, or we’ve gone away and gone is gone… surrender your documents to the immigration officer, passport examined for as long as it takes the facial recognition system to get a hit. Passport stamped thump and through to the other side. Take out computer, remove your watch, phone, belt, and shoes and stand up on the box for a full body search. Wow! By the time we’re done and getting dressed again I feel like I’m a member of the family.

The relief from officialdom, we’re through at last, and welcome to the duty-free shopping mall extravaganza. Gold, diamonds and good-looking people; Hollywood celebrities posing as themselves wearing a watch or a necklace that costs a small fortune. There’s that familiarity, I look closely, but can’t remember the name, Mark Wahlberg, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio? Trying to remember who is who, like this, and thus the idea is beginning to rise to the surface that I could get that watch and be like them, posing as myself. The three-quarter turn, they smile at me, comfortable with themselves, don’t seem to suffer from that great yawning chasm of emptiness situated in the center of everything – they become all I want to see, in my seeing of them: confident, secure happy and yes, this is how it should be….

With just the right amount of energy required to wrench myself free, the polished steel of the purchasing trap snaps shut on itself, and the ricocheted impact propels the escapee forwards in the direction we all seem to be heading anyway. You can’t miss it, the massive head sculpture in the departures hall – dramatic indeed (see photo above). I’ve walked around it a few times looking for an information plate explaining what it’s a sculpture of – the Buddha or a monument to the exaltation of self? It looks feminine, maybe somebody reading this can tell me. No time, no time. Into the queue, on to the aircraft, fasten your seatbelts, and we’re catapulted up in the air for a 3-hour flight. The hydraulics of retracting landing gear is such a reassuring sound, and audible click as it locks into place. We’re part of the sky and clouds, just this is enough.

Incalculable is the beginning of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the running on, faring on, of beings cloaked in ignorance, tied to craving [Saɱyutta-Nikāya, Nidāna-vaggo]

tanhã, craving

Wheel.of.Life-largeOLD NOTEBOOKS: Craving perpetuates the fever of unsatisfied longing, this is the state of tanhã. The opposite of a sense of well-being, tanhã is not a happy bunny. It constantly feeds the hunger of desire but the action of feeding it only sharpens the edge of appetite. Too much is never enough. It explains very well the reason why some people are committed to ‘wrong view’ with an intensity that takes your breath away. Tanhã is this deep craving for the ‘self’ we construct in fear of ‘no self’, a result of tanhã. I am ‘me’, in this world, due to tanhã, the reason for rebirth.

In the story of King Assaka and Queen Upari, Queen Upari died and became a cow dung beetle in the next life. But she felt quite at home in her lowly existence as a cow dung beetle, because of tanhã which is delighting in whatever sense object presents itself and wherever it finds rebirth. Reborn as a dog, it takes delight in a dog’s existence; reborn as a pig, as a chicken, there is always delight in each existence. [‘Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective’ by Mark Epstein].

In the causality sequence that forms the 12 step cycle of the wheel of existence (paticcasamuppada), tanhã is step 8. The way to stop tanhã arising, is to cut off the conditions that lead to its beginning; interrupt the sequence before tanhã happens, and bring the whole thing to an end. The entry point in the cycle is just before tanhã: step 7 feeling (vedana). At the vedana stage, there are three possibilities: pleasure, pain or neutral feelings. If feelings of pleasure or pain arise, then craving or aversion will take place and tanha will be the result. If, by an act of will, only the neutral feeling is allowed to arise, the 7th link will be neutralized, de-activated. That being so, tanhã cannot arise, and the next link (upadana) will fail to arise and so on. [See “Fundamentals of Mainstream Buddhism”, p214-215, Eric Cheetham]

For me, the discovery that interrupting the sequence at vedana changed the momentum of everything was awesome, to say the least. This is how I quit the tobacco habit and my whole attitude changed. By allowing the neutral response at vedana to be present for a moment, I noticed an easing in the craving, a cessation, just enough to trigger my curiosity. The cessation took place when I noticed it was the way out of the cycle of repetition, and I understood then how to be free of it. The neutral feeling didn’t register as anything, just the awareness that there’s a space, a gap that wasn’t there before; a vantage point where I could see how to change the cycle of events. It’s in the nature of tanhã (as with everything else) to be transient like this, it’s something that comes and goes. Knowing it leads to Suffering, we can stay distant from tanhã for a moment, and allow it  to start the process of cessation by itself. Trying to confront or defeat tanhã will not work because willed action only causes it to arise again.

Situations that used to completely overwhelm and demolish me disappeared; other habitual behaviour began to fall away. I began to notice the wonderful emptiness, the wholeness, a peace of mind that comes about when you understand there is a way out of Suffering; everything that arises, ceases.

…there is a noble truth about the cessation of suffering. It is the complete fading away and cessation of this craving [tanha]; its abandonment and relinquishment; getting free from and being independent of it. [Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta]

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Source for header image
this is a summarized form of an earlier post titled, ‘too much is never enough

created fragrances

nose_sinuses_smellOLD NOTEBOOKS: Switzerland: Industrial Zone: Waiting for the bus home. There’s that slightly odd fragrant smell in the air again. Somebody told me about it; there’s a laboratory here that creates commercial smells: odorants, aromas. The air is always full of fragrances. It’s the smell of fruity jam today. Another day, it’ll be a different smell, a more subtle thing you can’t identify, a component of a popular smell – not unpleasant, just odd. The fragrance of fruity jam, which strikes the nose when I open a new jar, is  a ‘replacement aroma’ created under laboratory conditions by chemists.

The manufactured smell is a chemical compound designed to trigger an olfactory experience. I’ll react in the same way even though the smell/aroma/fragrance is completely artificial. I fall into the ready-to-purchase mode – mind is saying, yes, yes, yes, get it, own it, have it… the familiarity of the smell is all that it takes. A perfect example of the Buddha’s Paticcasamuppada, the chain reaction of consciousness (dependent origination). The wonderful smell of bread from the bakery section in the supermarket. I’m drawn to it because of the aroma even though there’s no baker’s oven in a supermarket. I know it’s an illusion, but still respond to it as if it were real.

The artificial smell starts a sequence of mini events in the mind instantly when it makes contact (phassa) with the memory/ recognition/ acceptance, and there’s feeling (vedana). As soon that point is reached there’s the craving for it (tanha). I experience a state of wanting, a kind of greed, (upadana) and it’s very likely that I’ll go into the ‘bakery’ just to take a look, caught by the nose… it’s not real, it’s a chemical compound pumped into the air or sprayed somehow inside the bakery section.

Airline food served at 600 mph, and an altitude 38,000 feet; an exotic olfactory experience of roast potatoes, beef, onions, cheeses, French cognac, a hint of cigar smoke, ground coffee, crème caramel, port, liqueur. And we are served sad-looking pre-heated food… a bit disappointing. Do they really expect us to not see through this? But I think that’s part of it; somehow we’re satisfied with the illusion, a puff or a spray that releases the manufactured odorant in the air we inhale. There’s a knowing acceptance of it: “well isn’t it interesting how they can create artificial fragrances these days?” It’s okay to do this. Not only food, there’s the smell of leather upholstery in a new car, that distinctive odor created by chemical processes sneaks into our consciousness and we allow it to happen. All kinds of products, the smell of a new carpet triggers something in the brain, a physiological change and in the mind there’s recognition and the familiarity about it. An acknowledgment of the illusion being part of the whole panorama of illusion we create in our world of perception. The characteristics of the illusion lock into place and it becomes as real as anything or everything else. Does it really matter if it’s artificial… the whole world of perception is artificial.

The bus arrives at the stop and we all get on. It rumbles off down the road into town and the smell of fruity jam is still in the atmosphere, I can smell slight traces, then I get distracted and soon after that I’ve forgotten all about it.

‘Though my view is as spacious as the sky, my actions and respect for cause and effect are as fine as grains of flour.’ [Sogyal Rinpoche]

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Summarized from an earlier post titled Fragrant Illusion, written during my time as a teacher of English in banks and offices and small industries in a small town in Switzerland.
Source for header image. Please visit the original page for the interactive version of the image.

 

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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