a somewhere-else place

POSTCARD#391: Bangkok: Awake in the darkness before 6 am, lift the body up into the folded legs position, get seated on two hard pillows sinking into the mattress so I can hold my position comfortably just above the level of the bed, kinda floating there with the knees supported by the mattress and rolled up edges of quilts pushed into the gaps. It takes a moment or two to get it feeling right… then there is only the breath.

Breath entering the body. Impact of incoming air in the nasal passage, “Breathe in slow-ly, breathe out lo-ng”. The breath hurries away, then comes back again as if it has forgotten something – searching all through the body, then it withdraws. Breath enters the body again, this time like a gust of wind, blows everything all over the place. Withdraws in a moment and it’s gone.

Vivid sweeps of colour and a curious light illuminating the space perceived behind the eyes. Mind is aware of the pain that’s always here, otherwise mesmerized by the form and function of the body, only slightly held in this limited temporality; thin skin of eyelid lizard-like slides over surface of smooth eyeball and that strangely seen light entering my darkness; just this…

Twittering birds in the trees outside tell me it’s near daybreak, sensory processes perceive the world, aware that it’s an upside down reflected hologram the brain and optic nerve make sense of – understood but impossible to see it as it is. Or is this how it is… in its as-it-is-ness? Was this world here before I was born? Duality. Everything just going on as it is now, without that person called ‘me’ in it. There’s an anonymity about this that’s quite liberating; birds in the trees and all the other random events taking place as they are now, here in this thin slice of time, revisiting the discussion; all that was said, received, held, seen, nurtured.

Then, a window opens. There’s a visitor arriving from somewhere, thousands of miles from here and in a great expanse in time. He appears in the form of a small boy, bowed head, string showing round the neck at the collar; latch-door key kid, scruffy uniform, bleeding at the knee. Teacher in a gentle voice says, ‘You have to think about what you’re doing before you do it, okay?’ Small boy nods, says ‘yes Miss, and shuffles out of the room to go and see the nurse about the knee. Teacher was talking about mindfulness decades before it came to be what it is today. For me, as an adult it remained something unlearned, but bearing a familiarity and intuitively known when it became conscious.

Daylight is here and I’m now lying on the bed, thinking about the small boy as he was in a state of anxious urgency every day and for many years to come. No one at home for support, forgetful and undecided because of the struggle to ‘get it right’ and nobody to reassure him that yes, you can leave book-work and use intelligent guesswork. The built-in reasoning of mind in these circumstances is enough.  

I’m telling myself this of course too late for it to be to be acted upon. I had to take the long way round; wasted years disappeared, searching for motivation in situations that offer comfort, shelter, gratification, everything thrown to the wind. Stumbling and crashing through the successes and failures of many lives, and coming to India more than thirty years ago – there to be suddenly awakened to “The Whole Story”. It took me a very long time to grow up, and even now at the age of 73 years, I feel like an adolescent. Maybe I stayed young and it’s the world that got old…?

I continue to return to these windows that open in memory. There must be a larger awareness that includes this, here-and-now… an awareness of one thought that includes awareness of another. There’s something that allows me to consider this, I’m seeing it from a somewhere-else place.

delete the ‘my’ in myself

POSTCARD#390: Bangkok: After hours of inert television watching I switch it off just to see what the room I’m in, looks like. The severity of greyness is devastating. All the appealing colour and images, and perfect celebrity dental work, all of it sucked into the silence of a room ‘on hold’. I’m not used to being absolutely with body and mind… by the way, where is Mind? Intrusive thinking nearly shoves me off my seat into an elbow-supporting-head and eyes blinded by the squabbling politician of recent TV watching, downloading a self that I hope knows how best to cope with these bad feelings that are quarreling and heckling in my head! The desire to punish, hurt destroy – the sheer hatred of a person/situation, generating energy both seductive and addictive. So much political ill-will and ambient anger about the place, a spark could ignite a storm.

Uninvited thoughts gate-crash the party, shouting out: “Stand back and stand by!” I shudder at the thought, four more years, maybe ongoing, and in a dystopian world, Donald and Covid re-elected (⌘C ⌘V) over and over. All I can see and hear is dark and does not bode well. Bleak TV documentaries showing in the Mind; a clamor of conjured-up characters and the story of their sad lives. “What am I looking for?” but the way is blocked by a dense cloud-like thought that states: “Searching for something creates the certainty that it’s lost.” I attempt to disown everything that belongs to me. Delete the ‘my’ in my-self. They’re not ‘my’ thoughts; they are just thoughts. None of this is ‘mine’, I don’t think these thoughts, these thoughts think me. I don’t breathe the air – the air breathes me.

Cognitive functions synchronize things so the world appears to be how I choose to see it. I don’t look out at the world, the world looks in at me, sees me, watches me… there, waiting for instructions. It’s another illusion of self because there is no “me” of substance in here. Sounds are heard, but there’s no listener. Smells, touch, tastes trigger responses I’m pulled towards or repelled by. It’s not what I thought – that the five senses are there to serve and protect the body. The body is there to serve the five senses ever seeking pleasure and delight one way or another.

Mind contemplating the experience of the body seated on the chair; aware of the places where legs touch the seat, the touch of arms on armrests, bearing the weight, and everything else is just this invisibility. I’m not aware of the mass of internal organs… slightly unnerving; get up and walk around. Feet appear down below: left, right, left, right. Images of wood-block-patterned flooring enter my vision, floor mats, legs of furniture – objects seem to pass through the body. All I can see is the flooring and bare feet walking, now left, now right. Now on the staircase descending, further and further away from the television room, reaching the downstairs room and (outdoor shoes on) out to the garden.

“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”[Thich Nhat Hanh]


Photo: [Link] Sibylle Berg with T.Roadz, one of the British grime artists who joined her on a reading tour of Germany

a deep familiarity

POSTCARD#389: Bangkok: Somebody asked me if the headache was physical or mental, and it is difficult sometimes to say which is which, because the physical pain takes place in the same general area where mental or cognitive functions take place. Let’s say, it’s physical pain with associated mental events that are the origin of it sometimes; alarm signals that may bring my attention to some physical problem. Also, mental/cognitive activities in the form of discernment, investigate the best means of easing the discomfort. At the outset, I find it helps me travel through the pain if I can attribute it to the pain itself or to what extent it’s the pain I feel about having pain.

There are other situations, where I identify specific pain locations and relax the tightness. But these are all things I used to do at the beginning, finding my way around in a state of urgency. After five years of it, the actions have become automatic, I suppose. Or I don’t feel the pain as much as I did at the beginning when it was full catastrophe living, not the title of a book by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was the escapee trying to disengage from the pain, but it would catch me again and again.

Remembering my lost non-pain state of mind, with a yearning for a world of impossible things, leads to nowhere (now here). There were some pain-free intervals created by nerve block treatment and pulsed radiofrequency procedures, lasting a few weeks only. Now there’s no motivation to continue with these neurological techniques because that non-pain state is long since dead and gone. Thinking about pain is pushed out of the way most of the time, there’s a particular focus of mind that just doesn’t go there. The meds sometimes give me a pain-free space – serotonin receptors and dopamine signaling, techno-speak, mumbo-jumbo… applause, and the curtains open on a short performance where the pain is almost not there at all.

Recently I bought a set of DIY tools and during these pain-free times I fixed  a flat-screen TV on the wall and mounted a set of shelves in the kitchen. But it took me a very long time, due to actions carried out in slow motion and short term memory loss; forgetting what I was doing and having to go back and do things again (and again), and sitting down to think about it for long periods.

Despite these blank states and on-going projects I ponder over, what I’m aiming at is simply a heart-felt state of well-being and regular visitors here will know that many years ago, I learned the Buddhist steps that lead to the end of suffering. There was a deep familiarity about this, as if it were a genetic code built into consciousness just waiting to be discovered). [Gratitude to the monks in Thailand, Switzerland and the UK]

The First Noble Truth: Pain is caused by wanting it to not be there (in a manner of speaking). The Second Noble Truth is finding the way out of suffering means I let go of the craving that feeds it – seeing it is really caused by holding on to the longing for impossible things. Then looking more carefully into the Third Noble Truth; the realization I don’t have to remain stuck in an unsatisfactory state. There is a way out: the Fourth Noble Truth; the Path and getting to know what all this actually means.

I understood the headache as an entity with detachment, it goes without a self to whom it would otherwise cause suffering. Long before it comes to be a headache, when it’s just neural sparks and a kind of ‘jitterieness’, there’s a transparency about it – a ‘becoming’ but no one who ‘becomes’. There’s no become-ee; a headache but no ‘headache-ee’ – it doesn’t belong to ‘me’. There’s an awareness of the headache, but no awareness of to whom it is happening. This is how it is at the best of times, less satisfactory states are forgotten and lost to memory.


“..when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence your deeper self behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.” [Eckhart Tolle]

Photo: Phrenological diagram of the bumps in the head. Phrenology was a pseudoscience in Victorian times which involves the measurement of bumps on the skull to predict mental traits.
Many thanks to Elle who brought me back to Eckhart Tolle

letting it go

POSTCARD#388: Bangkok: The photo of the boy and his mum, and the old monk with hands that have done a lifetime of physical work reminds me of the automatic generosity of the Thais and how nothing is ‘held on to’ more than is necessary at the time. As far as I can see, the Thai culture is free of most of the typical psychological problems we have in the West.

There’s so much we could learn from sharing, giving things away, good-heartedness. Generosity, is letting it go; releasing the persistence of holding on to things; all that baggage we burden ourselves with can be removed in one single act of generosity.

I’m the same as most of us Western folks, internalizing all kinds of stuff without realizing. Holding on like that for a month or so and I’m talking here about a physical problem I had, uptight and worried about it. My health condition being as it is with my large consumption of water, a side effect of whatever it is in the meds for the headaches that makes me feel dry all the time. What happened was the sodium level dropped well below the norm, but more serious than that, was the throat now painfully raw due to what I thought was the excessive swallowing of liquid.

Whether it was that or not, I became aware by observing this sore throat, it did not feel like a benign thing. When the pain arose, it was like something that reached to the centre of my being. What could this be! A malign tumor hidden away somewhere in the digestive tract?

I wrestled with the thought for ages and eventually went to see the ENT doctor and in a few minutes, we were looking at a video screen showing the inside of the mouth cavity seen from the nasal passages, by way of an endoscope camera tube, passed through a nostril.

I was surprised and interested to learn the tube could not enter through the right nostril at the time because it was almost completely blocked, but the other nostril was clear. This is the nasal cycle where the actions of the blood flow according to the inflow/outflow of air, switch from one nostril to the other every 2 hours or so, and that’s just the way it works.

I was quite comfortable sitting there with this nice doctor and her assistant. Having the camera tube inside the throat cavity was painless and the video screen where I could see the funny-looking vocal cords and I felt even more relaxed when the ENT doc said there was no evidence of a tumor! The ghoulish presence hanging over everything was swept away and forgotten.

The doc said the deep pain was probably an aspect of the same neuralgia condition that causes the headaches. The Right Occipital Nerve Root is near to the back of the throat, and when a nerve is activated it sends off the same erroneous alarm signal that is characteristic of Post Herpetic Neuralgia. Ah well, same old thing, no worries I have learned how to cope with that ‘scary monster’.

It was learning about the nasal cycle, switching from one nostril to the other that was remarkable. I looked it up in Google and this is the gist of it: blood vessels in the sides of the nostrils warm and humidify the air coming in through the nose before it reaches the lungs. The process uses one nostril at a time rather than both at the same time. Blood flow is sent first to one nostril so that it warms the air coming in. The interior of the nostril receiving the blood flow starts to swell and blocks the space slightly. As a result, there’s less room for air to get in, that’s when it switches to the other nostril.

This little gem of info is important to meditators who spend time in meditation every day, focused on the in-breath and out-breath. It’s also a great example of the allowing, the giving of space, the widespread generosity found in nature; systems in place to allow more than enough of whatever it is.

“Species as diverse as bees, birds, bats, rats, and chimpanzees all exhibit forms of generosity, or what can be broadly described as ‘prosocial behavior’—acts that benefit others. The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own.” [Summer Allen, Ph.D.]

Generosity is a glad willingness to share what we have with others. Give it away, we have more than enough. Ease the discomfort of being driven to fulfill that urge to ‘have’, to ‘possess’, a hunger created by always wanting more. All of it is gone when you’re generous.

Brainstorm the word ‘generosity’ and you come up with compassion, empathy, well-being, freedom. You find gratitude, grace, honour, motivation, encouragement. Generosity is everything. It’s nature is to share, recycle, circulate; it can only be given and never taken.


 

a hollowness

POSTCARD#385: Bangkok: 4.30 am: Alarm clock goes off, blinding light and deafening sound, touch-screen-tap and it’s silent again – getting up early today because Jiab has business down town. Car comes to collect her at 6.00 am,

5.30 am: So we’re getting ready, finishing off breakfast, and conversation comes around to how I’m going to manage the day. A slice of toast with peanut butter and coffee is not much if after that, you have to wait 7 hours until lunchtime at 12.30 pm (no snacks between meals). I’ll not be able to do that… have to bring lunch forward, say 11.00 am.

06.00 am: Jiab leaves and I close the gate. This is the first day of my 3-day-diet cycle, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day – a bit more generous with snacks between meals. Then back to the three days again. This is the 14th week, give or take, I’ve managed with eating smaller amounts, eventually got round to seeing meals as a 3 minute non-event.

It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest. I have to cope with the headaches of course and there have been times when the diet gets abandoned in favor of a handful of meds and lying in bed in a darkened room. I’ve lost 12 kg (26.5 pounds) and it seems to have settled there, in fact it’s not the weight loss that motivates me now, it’s the mystical experience of fasting and “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind).

10.00 am: I go upstairs to the bedroom to lie down, conscious of the in-breath and out-breath. Consciousness of the hunger pangs, a yawning cavern of hunger. Just allowing it to happen without resistance so that what might be a huge agony is a sense of weightlessness because of that meditational state “bhavaṅga”. There’s a headache nearby that’ll need to be treated soon, in the meantime bhavaṅga has altered what could have been a desperate state of suffering and I’m feeling ok; the world has become gentle and dreamlike.

11.00 am: lunch brought forward by one hour… toast, two spoons hummus and half an avocado – consumed, and the plate washed in 3 minutes. Now there’s the long wait till dinner which may be a seven-hour wait, at 6pm, when Jiab gets back. For the time being the body is at peace, I take the headache meds and that goes down without nausea because of the food in the system.

I’ve been looking at some old YouTube videos of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Papaji and other Nonduality teachers and just ordinary people like David Bingham and Sailor Bob who woke up to this kind of Self-enquiry. These guys are outside of the meditation and contemplation of Theravada Buddhists who focus on and abide in ‘No Self’ – things are done and there is no ‘do-er’. Anywhere, everywhere and nowhere (now here), things in nature happen without a ‘happen-er’. It’s not about me, not about you, or him, or her, or them. It is anatta and the Buddha did not speculate on anything further than that.

These days we are more and more aware of Non Duality. Life is just happening, life is/was always just happening… but to whom? Happening to ‘me’, therefore in this state of plurality and separateness. Eventually we see there is a step beyond No Self, different from the state of being conscious of sensory responses to the world ‘out there’, in the body/mind organism. “Who is the meditator?” No subject and no object.

I remember Ajahn V saying, “Outside the thinking mind there is the uncreated”. I look for the extended, stretched-out moment where there’s no thought at all. The ‘uncreated’ cannot be found. I can only experience something if I’m separate from it… and this is how I see it now, Nonduality, seen from Duality. The ‘seeing’ happens and after that you can’t ‘unsee’, inexorable change. Tat Tvam Asi “That thou art,” Chāndogya Upaniṣad, circa 800 BCE to 600 BCE

4.00 pm: a headache and the hollowness of body is calling for my attention and “bhavaṅga” takes charge of the situation. I’m in my chair, mind focused on just being here, the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the headache pain and discomfort, therefore allowing the time to pass in a gentle reflective mind state. Any other difficult feelings arising from separateness is not helpful at all. I’m able to find that space before it happens, wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then back to watching the in-breath, the out-breath. There is something about making do with less…

6.00 pm: Jiab is back, lays out two small tinfoil food containers and eats the contents with a white plastic spoon. I come downstairs and realize this food is not for me. “I didn’t have any lunch! Too busy”, she says and swallows audibly – but that’s just my consciousness of the act of eating. I could go through to the kitchen and steam the tofu and green beans that’s on the menu, but decide not to, because right now, the smell of exotic food is too much to bear. I go upstairs and return to the bhavanga state and wait until I’m called for dinner.


 

mind is the sixth sense

POSTCARD#382: Bangkok: In Buddhism, there are 6 senses. The mind is a sense organ along with the other five senses. Mind is devoid of self, to become ‘self’, I just have to think ‘me’, and get it going in the head. I’ve known how to do this since we were all children in the reading class. We learned how to project a ‘self’ into the story when reading those brightly coloured picture-books, where we were invited to become a character in the story.

Then there were all the hundreds of books we studied in the schooling years, same extrapolative approach to finding an answer to the question, ‘who?’ with associated context, perspective, circumstance. Thus we know how to enter a situation as a person playing a part in a story. When it comes to an end we can become another player usually, or bring the session to a close.

If I’m watching a video – and nowadays I watch more videos than I read books – I recognize ‘self’ in the various actors and the parts that they play – some of which have been created deliberately to induce very strong emotional responses. I suspect I could become addicted, as others are, driven to seek more and more situations that’ll satisfy the ego cravings of ‘selfhood’.

“When the mind contains unknowing (avijja), it inevitably experiences all things as being ‘self’, the vast myriad of things seen as independent entities.”

I used to think that ‘self’ was the state of mind that attaches to ‘me’ and that’s how it goes for all of us. I didn’t realize there was more to it than that until I read the above B. Buddhadasa quote, and: the ‘vast myriad of things seen as independent entities’. Now I see how everything is subject to the naming function in language, also the Buddhist usage in ancient Indian Sanskrit: nāmarūpa (name and form)

“The mind and heart, thoughts and feelings, each thing is characterized by emptiness, absence of a permanent, independent entity.”

Politics has entered the television studio in a larger-than-life, dynamic form. A simple manipulation of events, insisting it’s the truth, but it’s a lie of course, and immediately I notice an uneasiness in the ‘self’ and distressing narratives in the mind. I don’t know how to get my ‘self’ out of here. Not so easy because the fact that it cannot be extricated from its context becomes what it is. My struggle simply enhances an already complex situation.

This is how it becomes like a bad dream – there’s no escape, it seems, and I struggle to create a way out by way of a kind of split ‘self’. One part listens to the dialogue, absorbing images and all kinds of stuff that support what’s being said, meanwhile the other part sees it as totally false. The urgency of it all causes me to split into two or more selves again and again.

I can’t bear this conflict of ‘selves’ and I feel I could give way to it all. Let them have what they ask for. I just want to hide somewhere and sleep for a long time. This is where we can return to Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings – in some quiet place, away from the television room. The focus of contemplation is on the empty mind.

“The word ’empty’ refers to the characteristic of mind that is free from all grasping and clinging. Although the mind is empty of self, it doesn’t realize that it is empty, because ordinarily, it is constantly enveloped and disturbed by the conceptual thought that feeds on sense contact.”

Note that these talks were recorded in 1961 and Ajahn doesn’t talk about ‘self’ in the context of television, movies, or radio because these kinds of media were not as developed as they are today. My own feeling regarding the mind as a sense organ is that ‘self’ arises as a result of sense contact (phassa) in the same way as the other sense organs. Speech, language are a trigger, of course, also conceptual thought, images arising in the mind as past memories or speculations about the future.

“[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.”

“… ego – consciousness has no way of arising in the future, in other words, not allowing it to arise at any moment.”

“Whatever sort of insight meditation you do, if you do it correctly, it will be in this same one form, that of not letting sense-data be compounded into the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.”


Photo: statue of the Buddha’s disciple Śāriputra. SadahamYathra – https://pixabay.com/photos/buddha-meditation-religion-3153417/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85420637

 

bhavaṅga

POSTCARD#380: Bangkok: I’m in the 8th week of my diet – three days approx 1450 calories per day, followed by four days approx 1500 calories per day. Then back to the three days again. I’ve managed the change in eating patterns without too much difficulty. It’s the long hours between meals that are the hardest.

Looking at my state of mind during these times, one thing that helps in the mornings in coping with the contractions of the empty stomach, is the remains of my Nortriptyline night medicine for the (PHN) headache condition I live with, and those chemicals may be still active in the dopamine receptors… neurological technospeak. Later in the morning when that medicine wears off I start the Neurontin and that goes for the rest of the day.

So today, I’m noticing there haven’t been any serious headaches and it’s been like this these last few days which is unusual. Does it have something to do with the way I’m managing the headache with pain meds and the same meds help with the hunger pangs? What I’m saying is, the reciprocal nature of the thing means I’m learning how to tolerate the hunger pangs at the same time as tolerating the headaches. Just allowing it to happen and there’s no conscious memory of it being painful.

It requires a certain kind of meditational attitude and I do have that, spending typically many hours seated in my chair with laptop on my knees, arms on each arm rest, and feet flat on the floor. and what might be a yawning cavern of hunger is simply a light, floating sensation because I’m in that meditational state “bhavaṅga” (luminous mind). “Bhavaṅga” occurs when there is no active cognitive processes going on. I’m in my chair, mind focused on nothing, or the space between things and this is the preferred state; agreeable enough to overlook the discomfort, therefore allowing the hours to pass in a gentle introspective mood.

Looking back on this whole thing, although I’d read about bhavaṅga a long time ago, I simply stumbled upon the way to do it in these circumstances; noticing how the body reacts, responds, and the mind reveals there’s a slightly deeper awareness in here, dormant until something like the correct password is entered then it’s activated… and I don’t need to know the password of course. It’s enough to know that this is how it works.

All kinds of other difficulties however and this morning is particularly awkward because I have to go and see the Neurologist about the headaches, and I need to have a blood test done before the appointment. So they tell me I have to fast (take no food) before the blood test. It means I can’t have breakfast until after 11.30 am – four hours later than the usual breakfast time, and I cannot take my headache medicine on an empty stomach, so if a serious headache comes along, no medicinal relief… I have to put up with it.

A ‘self’ arises, comes into being full of anxiety and scenarios of distress, anger and outrage… so it’s not hard to understand that this embodied identity I call ‘me’ is just not helpful at all. No, thank you. I will not get into this, and drawing confidence from the reserve of underlying calm, I’m able to find that space before it happens, and wait there for a moment until bhavaṅga arises, then watching the in-breath, the out-breath…

When I got to the Out Patients, the blood test was done then into the sandwich shop and the feeding frenzy (I must have eaten more than the approx. 450 calorie limit per meal). After that there was the medicine, three capsules of forget-me-nots in their crinkly acetate enclosures with a couple of gulps of water from a bottle I carry with me. I noticed again, to be honest, there hadn’t been any strong headaches that whole morning.

In to see the neurologist and she asked me how I was, I said yes ok, told her about the diet, now 2 months and about the meds, just last week I noticed I was forgetting to take the Neurontin doses. So I thought I’d try to intentionally reduce the Neurontin and it was easy, no problem. Now I’m taking less than 3000 grams per day, reduced by nearly half, and there are headaches but I’m able to put up with it until it eases off and lessens intensity.

That’s how it feels, but I don’t yet have the words to describe it adequately. Pain Management of headaches aligned with hunger pangs due to dieting for nearly 2 months (weight loss: 12 kg = 26.4 pounds). Also something learned is that the bhavaṅga practice can alter perception which enables me to endure the all-round discomfort better than before.

 

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.]