171020121486OLD NOTEBOOKS: Chiang Mai: I get woken up in the middle of the night… there’s a sound outside: ‘kop’. What is it? There it goes again: ‘kop!’ It’s a man’s voice, ‘kop?’ It takes me a moment to figure out he’s calling someone whose name is Kop. In the Thai language ‘kop’ means ‘frog’, it’s the sound made by these cute little green frogs they have: ‘kop-kop-kop…’ This is felt to be child-like and sweet, and it’s used as a girl’s name. So he is calling her name, standing outside her door, and she is inside the house, not responding to her name being called. Maybe she’s asleep, it’s very late. Or maybe she’s just not letting him in; she threw him out? It’s a story I just arrived in… missed the beginning.

The man doesn’t lose his patience or get angry; he’s not reacting in any kind of emotional way, or saying anything else other than her name – repeated over and over: ‘kop?’ It’s a voiceless, insistent, urgent, loud whisper: ‘kop?’ There’s something very Thai about this, the anxiety about “losing face” he’s compromised with having to call Kop just loud enough so she’ll hear him but not too loud or the neighbours will hear him. What time is it? 3.30 AM. Oh wow! Come on Kop, wake up, or whatever, let the guy in.

There’s a long silence, she must have opened the door, and now he’s inside. I drift off to sleep but the sound comes again: ‘kop?’ and I’m jerked back into wakefulness. She didn’t let him in. It’s frustrating, frantic loud whispering is not enough, he needs to shout. If this was happening in the West, he’d be making a huge noise probably. But he doesn’t do that – non-confrontational behaviour… there’s an interesting balance in this situation. There’s stress of course but also mindfulness. I’m awake enough to see how it works; the sound comes at random, it’s almost painful. I feel I’m beginning to lose it; stress – okay, I’ll not be averse to it, welcome Stress! Come on in, sit down, make yourself at home.

Then it changes. The next sound I hear is: bhrrrr and then: bhrrrrrrrrrrrrr it’s the sound of a doorbell with a flat battery, or it’s nearly flat – not a sharp piercing ring like: rrrrrrrrrrring! More of a dull rattle: bhrrrrr…. There’s barely enough battery power, I can hear it getting slower and slower. After a while there are just odd buzzing noises and the battery runs out. He persists for a couple of minutes, pressing the button on a dead battery and the click sound of the bell-push striking metallic plate; enough to remind Kop he is still outside.

Desperate but able to remain balanced, not engaging with the emotional side of it, upekkha (equanimity) – not being ruled by passions, desires, likes and dislikes. It’s a bit like that for me too, struggling with the disturbance. There is compassion for his predicament and after a short while the ‘kop’ sound has the quality of birdsong. The Buddha described it as: ‘abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.’

He continues with his enhanced stage-whisper… ‘kop?’, persists with the faulty doorbell until eventually Kop opens the door. I hear it close again, there’s an indistinct mumbling after that. Then there’s no more sound for the rest of the night.


reblogged earlier post. My computer is in the repair shop again and this post created on the iPad, limitations…

valentine palindrome: 14/02/2014

IMG_0532bPOSTCARD#48: Bangkok Airport: Man wearing a bright red shirt leans backwards with hands behind his head just as I take the photo and it looks like a heart shape. Sitting in a coffee shop at Concourse B waiting for the 8.40 pm flight to New Delhi, decided to take the photo of the interesting curved shaped roof structure and didn’t see the heart-shape till I arrived in Delhi. A happy coincidence… and Valentines Day is special this year because of the palindromic sequence of date, month and year: 14/02/2014. Coming into Delhi from the airport, in the midst of pretty fierce traffic, I thought how nice to have this kind of numerical valentine and a day of love in a city that’s normally bristling with displays of proud male plumage and all things unloved. Then, looking through the image gallery in my camera phone, I discovered the photo – a gift, there in all the noisy traffic, a reminder to see beyond the tightly controlled mind state experienced in the driver’s seat.

The contemplation on loving-kindness, metta, begins with a focus on myself, my own well-being, and using that as a point of reference, I can extend it to others: “Just as I wish to be happy and free from suffering, so may all beings be happy and free from suffering!” Then I extend the thought of loving-kindness to a person for whom I have love and respect; and to those who are close to me. Extending then to those who are indifferent and to those disliked. It’s about the necessity of cultivating feelings of kind consideration to others; a conscious act of generosity rather than abiding with the unconscious default holding and keeping things to myself.

Arrived at the house, good to be back after two months away. Unpacked and found the Buddha’s Words on loving-kindness: the Karaniya Metta Sutta.

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
 Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

[Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness (Sn 1.8), translated from the Pali by The Amaravati Sangha]


[See also the Buddhist teaching on The Four Sublime States: Contemplations on Love, metta, Compassion, karuna, Sympathetic Joy, mudita, and Equanimity, upekkha, by Nyanaponika Thera]


synonyms for startled

DE05_PAGE_1_DIW_DE_1642126ePOSTCARD #22: Delhi: “amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised…” looking for a word in the Thesaurus that describes the experience – but language doesn’t stretch that far. Diwali fireworks’ festivities are going on even though it’s after 22.00 hours and we’re just wondering how much longer before the fascination for fireworks fizzles out. I go for a look to see what’s going on outside. People in front of their houses, crouched over and busy with fireworks set up on the pavement; random explosions, fire crackers like machine-gun fire. It’s a war zone with no bullets, children laughing and running around in the smoke and glare. Fireworks displays are quite beautiful seen from some distance away, but here at ground-zero, the high volume, bang-whoosh-crackle is alarming; a struggle to be calm.

Back inside the house with all the windows closed because of the smoke and Jiab is talking about the Buddhist upekkha teaching: balance, equanimity, the state of being calm in the midst of difficulty; equilibrium, or eequeeleeblee-um, as she says – a Thai articulation. This kind of balance leads to freedom from passions, desires, likes or dislikes. Sounds nice and I go through to sit on the meditation cushion for a while to see if I can discover this balance, be with my reactions to the sudden noises and focus on the nature of what’s actually happening.

Watching the breath in this way, things seem to be getting quiet, and I’m just getting settled into this sitting meditation when suddenly there’s a colossal explosion, BOOM… so loud it sets off a car alarm down the street. The glass, brick and concrete of the room resonate like a huge drum. Startled, is not the word – it’s the nearest thing to jumping out of your skin I’ve ever experienced – automatic response. Confusion in time… what happened first? Was it before it happened that it seemed like I saw, in the darkness of mind-space, this amazing bright sky-blue colour appearing behind something like panels of intense black, falling away – parts of the structure that had been holding it contained – falling away in pieces, collapsing, and more and more of this lovely sky-blue colour is revealed.

Sivakasi_fireworks1The word: bardo comes to mind; the blue light of the skandha of consciousness in its purity, the wisdom of the dharmadhtu, luminous, clear, sharp and brilliant. I’m not saying this is what happened to me, it was more like a totally unfamiliar state, the mind doesn’t know what to do – what does it resemble, what’s it like, how can it be categorized? I’m amazed, astonished, astounded, surprised; looking for a word to describe it, but there’s not anything. Fireworks chase away the demons; papañca, proliferating thought, conceptualizing and the constructed ‘self’. The impact of it happening propels it all right out of here – bang!

 ‘… the Brahma-viharas are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, and the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence. They level social barriers, build harmonious communities, awaken slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revive joy and hope long abandoned, and promote human brotherhood against the forces of egotism. The Brahma-viharas are incompatible with a hating state of mind…” [Access to Insight]


Upper image link to newspaper reports: www.thehindu.com/more-fire-incidents-in-delhi-this-diwali
Lower image link to: Diwali wikipedia page

A Sea of People

Bangkok: I arrived at Don Mueang aiport, Sunday 28 October, unusually busy; three or more flights arriving at the same time. Through the exit marked TAXIS, out to the street area and about five hundred people are waiting for taxis; wow! Everything in Bangkok is on such a huge scale. It was the last day of the school holidays so families were returning from the provinces to the city. It looked like it was going to be a long wait, but it wasn’t bad, very well handled, airport officials steering this great sea of people into lines, no problem. And lined up on the other side of the crowd barrier was a virtual convoy of waiting taxis, four lanes wide and stretching back as far as the eye could see.

But the initial reaction is frustration, of course. I’d just arrived from Ch’mai and that small town thing where there’s less of the kind of situation that invites you to get engaged, upset about it and thus vent your spleen. I’m saying this because a part of me wasn’t ready to have a frustrating situation like this, but that’s the thing about frustrating situations, they just come along when you least expect it and there you are, same old story. Interesting to see how fast the energy of aversion arises and you’re locked into an immediate response; struggling with ‘self’ among all the other ‘selves’ – ‘me’ first, ‘me’ first, all trying to get a taxi before there are no taxis left and I’m reminded of a Bob Dylan line: ‘… tryin’ to get to Heaven before they close the door…’ Seeing it in this way means thank goodness there’s mindfulness and an opportunity to bring what I know from the Thai othon (patient endurance) to conscious awareness and immediately there’s a small space in the mind and it’s a bit easier to take. These are the teachings I’ve absorbed from the Ajahns; there’s also uppekha (equanimity) in there somewhere and the fact that this is what life is about; the ups and downs of it and the Eight Worldly Dhammas

Deep breaths… and contemplating the value of standing meditation. I’m in one of three very long lines of people with trolleys and pulling wheeled luggage but no jostling, no push-and-shove; well-behaved, and the Thais are calm. So I get calm too. I realize that what the frustration is about is not being able to see what’s going on – the limitations of our human physicality? All I can see are the backs of people’s heads and I’m moving my head from side to side, trying to see past all the other heads down there to the taxi kiosk at the end of the line, very far away. What’s going on down there? But all the other heads are doing the same thing and my line of vision is obscured by somebody else’s head, moving from side to side because the head in front of him is in the way. Moving my head like this probably causes other heads behind me to have to do the same thing. And there’s a consciousness of this.

Curious and interesting, hundreds of wobbling heads; the face is on the front and there are no sensory receptors on the back, no rear-view mirror either but it’s a possibility? All sensory data is received in the front and ears on the sides. Seeing the back of someone’s head is like looking at a closed-door, so there is a natural tendency to want to get around to the other side see the face. No, can’t do that kind of thing in a line waiting for taxis; we just have to switch off the ‘search’ function and allow things to happen. There’s an Alan Watts observation about it being like the headlight of a car. ‘The headlight illumines the road in front but does not shine on the wiring that connects it with the battery, and the battery with the engine. And so, we are not ordinarily aware of how we are aware.’ [Zen and the Beat Way, Alan Watts]

I got a taxi okay, no problem, and it was a lady driver, Khun Siripon, which was nice because there’s never any hassle with a lady taxi driver, thank you Khun Siripon! When we got to the house, I paid the fare, gave her quite a large tip and she turned round to look at me, face-to-face and the wai she gave in response was so respectful, I was humbled. Amazing.

I was going to write something else about Douglas Harding, ‘On Having No Head’ but that’ll have to be done some other time.



P1000542r3Switzerland: The number nine bus arrives but the destination shown on the front is saying the bus is going in the opposite direction to where it should be going. It takes me a while to figure it out. The driver forgot to change the destination sign for the return journey when he got to the terminus and he’s just carrying on with it as it is. How could that happen? I’m tired. I just want to get home, it’s the end of the day, I step up on to the bus and ask the bus driver where it’s going: où ce bus va, monsieur? Simple question really, it’s not a personal remark: hey, what’s happening? Indirect, where’s this bus going, sir? But he doesn’t reply, the francophone shrug – eyebrows raised, pout of lips, shrug of shoulders and held like that; a freeze in video downloading: buffering … no further response. I get off and look at the front again to make sure and, there it is, according to the sign, this bus is going backwards? I see other people asking the driver the same question and he’s still locked into his downloading ‘freeze’ – the same question being asked over and over can lead to induced hypnosis? I don’t know and neither does anybody else, so I get on, find a seat and wait to see what happens next. Not at ease, turbulent thoughts spinning around: it shouldn’t be like this. Accelerating into different scenarios that end with the same old ‘UNABLE TO FIND THE SERVER’ window. At some point I manage to get it together enough to know it’s necessary to take note of this.

Not getting hijacked by how horrible it is. Everything is okay, the bus is not going backwards; the driver is not involved in a subversive act, he just forgot to change the sign – or maybe it’s broken. Yeh, but there are these waves of unease; passengers are talking about it, grumbling discontent, nursing a negativity about the driver. Deep breathing. I try to allow it to be what it is and not get injured with the thought of it. Meanwhile, tightrope-walking high above the raging inferno of things not being right. Mindfulness keeps the balance. Not easy… it’s not possible to be completely sure that this driver isn’t actually having a nervous breakdown.

What to do? There’s a place coming up where the 9 bus intersects with the 10. The 10 can take me to the station where I can change to a 3 and then I’m on the way home. So jump off the bus, run across the street – fortunately traffic lights change just at the right time – the 10 bus is arriving. I get on and the bus moves off, all in one movement. This in itself is quite a satisfying achievement. Now I’m on the 10, speeding along, looking out the window. The 10 drops me at the station, and it so happens a number 3 is waiting at the stop. Jump on that and I’m on my way home – a fortunate sequence of connections and I’ve already forgotten about the 9 bus going backwards (unless I consciously bring it to mind). Wonderful! And I’m glad it happened as it did, I had an opportunity to practise uppekha. I hope the driver is okay and found out what his problem was.

Later that night I’m up in the apartment, sitting on the cushion and just being with the pleasant quietness up here on the 7th floor. Away in the distance, I can hear the bus just leaving the stop at the end of the road. The sound of it is present here in the room. So familiar; I recognise everything about it. The engine noise increases with the accelerator as it moves away from the stop, I can see it in my mind. It’s coming to the corner. The sound becomes less as it slows down for the corner. Then increases but I can’t hear it as it passes behind the buildings (I know this so well). Then in a short while there’s a break in the buildings and I hear it quite clearly for a moment. After that it becomes faint again and fades away, becomes less and less. It’s really quite far away now. I follow the sound until it becomes just a distinctness in the bzzz of the hearing mechanism… then it’s gone. Some time, soon after that, I bring the meditation to a close, crash out on the bed and fall asleep.

‘When we feel assailed by the fluctuations of experience, where do we turn for refuge? When we can’t see our way through complexity and confusion, how can we make sense of things? Dhamma directs us to an awareness informed by understanding’ [Ajahn Munindo’s Comment in Hilltop Newsletter on the Eight Worldly Winds]

Photo Image: Ajahn Vajiro’s Portugal Collection