where there is no christmas

IMG_0164POSTCARD #34: Bangkok: No snow here, of course, winter is just a slight coolness that happens once a year. It lasts about a week. There’s no Christmas either because it’s a Buddhist country. I am the only thing resembling a real christmasee here. Christians in Thailand amount to 0.7% of the population. Yet there are Christmas carols playing in all the malls, and also in the supermarket where I was this morning: ‘… the ho-lee bible says, mary’s boy-child, jee-sus christ, was born on christ-mas daaay…’ twirling around the fruit and vegetables and frozen food section. Gift-giving as purchasing incentive, the season of goodwill has a place here even though the population are 95% Buddhist, 4% Moslem. Thai society is joyful, they like to share everything. They like playfulness – the word in Thai is sanuk (fun), everything has to be sanuk and if it’s not, it’s mai sanuk (seriously boring) and that’s bad style. I was downtown yesterday, saw the yellow duck wearing sunglasses stuck on the red taxi, took the photo. The Thais recognise the 25th December as a happy event but it’s also an ordinary day. People go to work, government offices are open, mail gets delivered, transport systems are normal, it’s all open for business, same as usual.

Heavy rain last night woke me up, and the room is cold this morning. Don’t need any fans, no air conditioning and without the slightly deafening sound of these machines it’s strangely quiet in the house. I’m noticing noises coming from the neighbours; a clatter of sounds enters through the open windows. Screen door opens, and there’s an interval of time to allow someone to enter, then screen door closes again. I get up to see who came in… but there’s nobody there, it’s not this house – it must be the house next door. Somebody else’s cutlery; plates go clink, voices echoing off the tiled floor and cement plaster walls… in which house? A dog barks, a child cries; it feels like everybody out there is in here.

I can feel chilled air in my ears; in the tiny inner surface of the eardrum. There’s a coolness in nasal passageways, emptiness of mouth cavity, tongue stuck in the wetness of the upper palate. The surface of the eye is cold. The body is a sensory organism in the environment of this room; four walls, the ceiling. The smooth wall surfaces holding the enclosed space like a 3 dimensional photographic negative of the room. The shape of motionless space within which things exists. Open the door and the volume of the room escapes. This is how it was when the sound of the rain woke me up this morning in the darkness. I went to sit on the cushion and the whole thing suddenly came crashing into consciousness as if it had been waiting all night for me to wake up.

‘… have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them.’ [Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet #4]

————————-

redefining the question

800px-Asoka_KaartNew Delhi: 04.00 hours. Awake at some time of darkness that’s neither night nor morning, getting some coffee and toast ready for Jiab going to the airport for the Gujarat flight at 06.00. Car comes, she gets in, bye… door-slam and she’s gone. Stars shining in the dark sky, then I come inside and look at a Google map of India with Gujarat there on the coast of the Arabian Sea – so that’s where it is… really not that far from Europe. Then take a look at the wiki map (shown above) of the Buddhist routes going out in all directions from North India in the time of Emperor Aśoka the Great, 273 BCE to 232 BCE. It looks like an explosion of consciousness that took place in North India, and spreading out from there; North, South, East, West, along the Old Silk Road directions. It goes West as far as the South-East Mediterranean countries; arriving there in pre-Christian times. Not impossible that the Buddha’s Dhamma had an influence on the Jesus Teachings. Maybe that’s why I had this strange recognition of it, déjà vu, when I first went to Wat Pah Nanchat. Studying Buddhism revealed fragments of an innate knowledge.

Text comes in, Jiab: ‘boarding soon’. It’s a two-hour flight, Delhi to Gujarat. Looking at the map again, I notice wiki uses the word, ‘proselytism’, but it can’t have been like that. There’s no doctrine of God-worship in Buddhism, ‘I believe (I believe) in God (there’s no real Teaching other than belief for me to study). In Buddhism (and Advaita Vedanta and the Tao), the separate ‘self’ is an illusion, ‘a cluster of memories, thoughts, habits and conditioning’, maintained due to this basic human tendency to hold on to stuff. It’s not about that, it’s not about our origin, our Creator or what we are made of, it’s about how the whole thing works. It’s a 2600 year-old teaching about learning how to see what our hang-ups are, and easing the burden. It’s not about living for our(selves): seeking, acquiring and hoarding, it’s about generosity, relinquishment and giving it all away*. It’s about mindfulness and the way things exist, rather than what exists. It’s about realities that fit into our world today, exactly as it was in ancient times. The Buddha anticipated modern physics: all matter is energy; beings exist as “bundles of energies” (five khandhas). It’s not about ‘self’, it’s no-self, anatta, it’s about consciousness, viññāna, and the big question: what is consciousness?

Central_Asian_Buddhist_MonksI go through to the bedroom to lie down for an hour or so; still not yet dawn. Watch the breath, conscious of the sound of the ceiling fan above me in the shadows, constant spinning cycle that somehow says something about the weight of the rotary blades. It looks like how it sounds: a spinning propeller of an old fashioned aircraft – consciousness of the visual image. Always there’s consciousness of something: consciousness of the smell of coffee and a crust of toast in the kitchen, the taste of it; consciousness of the soft bedding I’m lying in. There’s consciousness of thought and then there’s consciousness of no-thought – including my perception of it. Consciousness without an object, the still mind, unsupported consciousness – unconditioned? The non-dual perspective is that it’s like this anyway…. So it’s without an object in the sense that it is different from the basic functions of interacting with the world through sensory organs: eye, ear, nose, skin, mouth and mind; different from the state of being conscious of what’s going on in the body/mind organism, phassa, as a result of responses to the world outside. Not consciousness of… just consciousness itself – what is that? No answer… is this the kind of consciousness that’s needed to find the answer to the question or to redefine the question, maybe, or whatever… is it the true self?

If so, it’s not what I thought it was: ‘…this true self is also the fundamental source of all attachment to being and becoming… attachment to the allure of this primordial radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander indefinitely through the world of becoming and ceasing.’ [Luangta Maha Boowa]

If it’s not that, then it goes beyond words: ‘When all phenomena are done away with, all means of speaking are done away with as well.’ [Upasiva’s Questions (Sn 5.6)]

It all needs a larger context. Some time later, another text comes in, Jiab: ‘having breakfast in the hotel’. It’s 08.30 and she’s nearly 600 miles away….

‘Consciousness cannot be known by mind. The mind is an object. It doesn’t know anything. It is itself known by Consciousness.’ [Rupert Spira – Link to: Spiritual Artwork]

————————-

“If a monk abandons passion for the property of consciousness, then owing to the abandonment of passion, the support is cut off, and there is no base for consciousness. Consciousness, thus unestablished, not proliferating, not performing any function, is released. Owing to its release, it stands still. Owing to its stillness, it is contented. Owing to its contentment, it is not agitated. Not agitated, he (the monk) is totally unbound right within. He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ [Bija Sutta: Means of Propagation” (SN 22.54)]

*This post contains excerpts from: ‘Beyond The Dream, Tao Te Ching7: Selfless
Lower photo image: Central Asian monk teaching East Asian monk, 9th century fresco

the who-I-am thing

BTS_Skytrain_over_Sala_Daeng_Intersection

Bangkok: Flying above street level and over the rooftops in the BTS Skytrain on elevated track, bright yellow seats, red holding straps and blue wall sections. Primary colours; diminutive, childlike and cute; it’s a toytown train. Brushed steel, shiny chrome and a smooth metallic click of wheel on rails, rushing through a landscape of blue sky over the city as far as the eye can see; billboards and upper storeys of town houses, moving past in the foreground, tall buildings of steel and glass standing like pillars in the background urban concrete environment. Here and there on the train, are TV monitors fixed at eye level with adverts running continuously so that we can enter into a world of consumer preferences: the Western model, East Asian style, adapted to fit Thai cultural attitudes to spending. Stories acted out by adults who look like children; cute ‘faces’, attractive personalities, ‘charm’. Products presented as if it were a game, makes it all seem acceptable; we don’t see the high-voltage sales strategy, cloaked in naïvity – a new society, a whole new generation of consumers – the corporate entity engaged in long term planning.

coke ad.ploenchitBKKI can get caught by it, drawn towards the TV screen, something I see in the advert triggers it, and the who-I-am thing arises: I LIKE THIS and it all gets to be really important, relevant, vivid and intense. I feel suddenly energised, compelled and, I WANT TO HAVE IT, ready to start discussing with sales staff at the retail point and proceed with the purchase; the plastic in my wallet, the samsara of advertising. For me, no worries, it will cease of its own accord if I can allow it to become nothing, and fortunately it’s all in a language I can switch off from so it fizzles out…

To become a person, I have to ‘believe’ in it – I have to consciously engage with it. To become me, I have to think ‘me’. The ‘me’ that I believe in depends on me thinking it. I am conditioned to be attached to my opinions, my emotionality, and the sense of self in all kinds of ways. I can manipulate the conditioned world so that, from this perspective of thinking, I see (my)self situated favourably – or it could be unfavourably if I’m caught in being the victim (but there is a way out). Everything arises due to causes and conditions, then thinking about it, excessively and often enough to have it embedded in the fabric of this self construct I recognise as ‘me,’ subject to its perceived whims and waywardness, as some kind of fictional character.

But there is a way out; an intelligent reflection on the human predicament; a proximity-to but distance-from situation: the Middle Way. The practice is about this simple truth: don’t mess with it, it won’t arise if I don’t think it into being. And I am my own boss, the nearest thing to God, as we know it, is viññāṇa, conscious awareness, self-sustaining; I don’t create it. There’s the body, sitting here in this yellow plastic seat, minding its own business, other than that, anatta, no personal essence or substance or core or soul given to me by the grace of (some external force); nothing added, nothing extra. The simplicity of this seems to immediately throw everything to do with ‘self’ into disarray; enough to cause it all to come tumbling down; a house of cards. And an artificial voice announcement gets my attention: Siam-interchange-station-doors-will-open-on-the-right-hand-side-of-the-train. I join the throng of passengers squeezing through the door and pouring out like liquid into the centre of the shopping mall heaven realm experience. There’s nothing wrong with personality, it’s the attachment to it that’s the problem…

————————-
Upper photo image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABTS_Skytrain_over_Sala_Daeng_Intersection.jpg
Lower photo image: Coke ad Ploenchit, collection author

seemingly continuous

BtnBuddha2Chiang Mai: 05.00 hours. Darkness of early morning. I can hear a motorbike some way off, coming nearer, and voices talking loudly. They’re shouting to be heard over the sound of the engine. The motorbike passes below my balcony on the third floor, sound fills the room, and I realize it’s the driver with a friend on the back having a converstation as they are going along. Curious acoustics here in this narrow street; concrete and glass buildings face each other. The sound of the two voices disappears quickly past my windows and moves on further down the street, contained in the little capsule of their moving world. I hear it again, faintly now, and fading into the distance.

Strange dream-like event; receiving pieces of an animated conversation moving past me at 30 mph. Then it’s gone from my auditory awareness and (I assume) is being heard by other people further along the street. There’s something here about consciousness creating a sense of continuity; like how you string beads on a necklace and it appears to be one whole piece. A continuous stream of individual events taking place and, in the context of the body, it appears to be one, on-going connected reality – an illusion. When I wake up in the morning, it takes a moment, and everything is a development of the night before.

It must have been the motorbike that woke me up; windows wide open all night in the hot air, with just the mosquito mesh separating me from the world outside. Only 20 miles to go, straight up in the sky, before you reach outer space; no gravity, the universe (where did I read that?). Wow! outer space is so near, half an hour’s drive to get there, if there’s no traffic problem. So, what does that feel like? I suppose it feels pretty… precarious, balanced on the end of a flagpole fixed on top of a monument – the absolute verticality of it… quite scary. The only thing that gives me any sense of stability is the ‘self’ I’m inclined to depend on sometimes? No wonder there’s this tremendous attachment to it; can’t let it go, irretrievably lost in thought; I am contained in this body, stumbling around in this small area I inhabit, on the surface of the planet. I am a bit uncomfortable with the reality of what exists only 20 miles above my head. And go through life assuming that all there ever is, or all there ever can be, is ‘me’; the experience of a created self.

I hear a sound, and think: if that sound is out ‘there’ then I must be hearing it in ‘here’: the subject/object duality: ‘I’ am my body, I am my feelings, I am my consciousness and everything else (that’s not ‘me’) is out ‘there.’ In here, I’m me, I have a personality, it’s myself. And Bert0001 refers to it as: the ‘my’ in ‘myself.’ A distinct feeling of focus that disincludes other evidence – it’s all about me. Fortunately, I can understand and know that the idea of a self just seems to be there, seemingly continuous – a kind of mirage. Delete the ‘my’ from ‘myself’ and I’m free of all the tugs and pulls of likes and dislikes, emotions are not ‘my’ emotions, they’re just emotions; things that happen – liberated from the papañca, proliferating concepts, and concocted thought trying to make something real that’s just not real at all.

I’m glad to be awake early, leaving this place tomorrow and I’ll have to pack bags and get ready. Why can’t I just walk on to the plane not check in any bags at all, only passport, ticket and the contents of my pockets? Why bother with luggage? Ah… if only life were so simple.

Some time after this I hear the Tuk-kae lizard chuckling in a corner somewhere: tuk-kae-tuk-kae tuk-kae. And the Coucal, (whoop-whoop bird) (centropus sinensis) clambering around in the branches; whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop-whoop…

————————-

‘Just as a monkey moving through the forest or the woods holds on to a branch, lets it go and holds on to another; in the same way what we call viññāṇa (consciousness) arises as one thing and ceases as another, by day and by night.’ [SN.II.95]

References in this post: Sue Hamilton: ‘Identity and Experience’
Photo: Buddhist shrine in Bhutan, collection Khun Pornchai