ordinary miracles

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POSTCARD #90: Delhi: Now it’s September and there’s been some proper rain, temperatures have started to drop. Wonderful, no need to have the AC running, I go around the house in the morning when it’s not raining and open every single door and window that’ll open. Screen doors closed to stop the insects but fresh air passes though, enters into these enclosed spaces where only the Hoover has refreshed the air for so long. Indoor plants sway in the breeze for the first time since June. Glass doors to the garden are pushed back on their hinges – so widely open it feels like outside is ‘in’, or inside is ‘out’… I don’t know which. The walled garden that used to be situated ‘out there’ is now a contained part of my room ‘in here’. The roof is the sky; birds fly through and inhabit my world.

Playing a music track on the speakers, and why does it sound so different? It’s because it’s echoing through the open doors, into the new acoustics created by the walled garden, the space by which my room as been extended. And what’s this? I’d forgotten about the sounds from the neighbourhood; people chatting on the other side of the fence, a phone rings: “hello?” Somebody somewhere, banging with a hammer. A shout, a barking dog. A Hindu ceremony far away – maybe a wedding. I hear reed instruments with drums – it must be on the other side of the park. Sounds carry a sense of location, near and far; the distance I’m aware of measures my world. I can explain this in terms of sound frequency, wind direction, but that’s not it. The experience itself is more than can be accounted for in words. When I become aware of something larger than I can find a reason for, it becomes a miracle. Science says there are no miracles, explains it all away by means of technical descriptions; telling us, the uninformed, that this is how a miracle works – yeh, but it’s still a miracle, isn’t it? Butterflies in the rain, (Sue Vincent’s Post)

It reminds me of the bell. A long time ago I lived in Japan. For three years, I had the top floor of a simple house in the grounds of Zuisenji Temple, high up on a cliff face near Kamakura. It was completely quiet there of course and I became acclimatised to the silence of the place. Except that sometimes the monks would ring the large bell… a horizontal pole suspended on chains swings over and hits the bell DONG! I’d be at home, alone in my house down below, sitting in my chair reading a book and WOW! this extraordinary sound suddenly hits the atmosphere. Jump with the shock of it; the acoustics – not the loudness… the pitch, deep and resonating, something from the 14th Century is suddenly intimately present in my small space… staggered by the closeness of it.

yun_13781For the duration of that one chime, the sound had presence, it entered the rooms immediately and was everywhere at the same time. Then an indefinite period before the next one – waiting to see… but maybe it’ll not ring this time – and then it happens just as I’m thinking it’s not going to. Pause, turning the page in my book: DONG! Same thing, heart-attack stuff, a curious presence of sound, an event that extends beyond hearing; more than something just felt, almost seen… can’t be explained, a miracle.

Held by the memory of it, fixed in that time and I discover I’m not there at all, I’m here in Delhi, more than twenty years have passed unnoticed, hair has turned white, sitting by the glass doors looking at the rain and not seeing anything…

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” [Thích Nhất Hạnh]

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G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E
Sue Vincent for her post Butterflies in the rain’, which helped inspire this post. Upper photo by Sushil Kumar Verma, The Hindu Newspaper 02/Sep/2014.  Lower photo: Zuisenji temple bell photo source: http://www.yunphoto.net/en/

enigma

Not-to-Be-Reproduced-1937POSTCARD #89: Delhi: Why is it that the back of somebody’s head is so much like a closed door? I’m standing in a line of people in the food store waiting with my purchases for my turn to pay at the check-out. It’s taking a long time and I’m wondering if I’m feeling a bit miffed about that, yes or no – anyway there’s this quiet awareness, curious and interesting. When I see the back of somebody’s head I immediately want to turn that person around with a hand on the shoulder and see who it is…. Hi there! How’re you getting on? But, can’t do that in the food store check-out line, of course, we’re all strangers and each of us isolated in this slightly tetchy discontent about having to wait… what’s happening down there? This is our predicament, looking at the backs of people’s heads in front of us, all the way down to the front. I’m moving my head from side to side, trying to see past all the other heads. But all the way down the line, other heads are doing the same thing and my line of vision is blocked by somebody else’s head moving from side to side because the head in front of them is in the way too. Funny to see all these sideways wobbling heads. I have a quick look behind me and everybody is having to do the same thing to see past me… no laughing matter, there’s a grumbling in the air.

Stand quietly, feet apart, evenly balanced and look at the back of the head of man in front. There’s a kind of frontality about the head. The face is on the front, of course, eyes look forwards, incoming data is received mostly from the front – ears are on the sides, but sideways functioning is limited. No sensory receptors on the back that have the function of sensing what’s going on in the world. Any backwards movement is blind, no rear-view mirror… trucks reversing out with that automatic beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep sound.

The human body is like a picture painted on a flat cardboard cutout. The whole back of my head and body is one large blind spot; a not-seeing that I know is there. Turn away, and suddenly the thing I was looking at is gone! Ignorance is a kind of ignoring – it has intelligence. I have the ability to overlook things, watch TV every day, and have ‘preferences’. I choose to be unconcerned about wars created by politicians. Prefer to be mesmerized by the reflected screen-glow of the digital device...searching for an object and never finding it. Move on, click something else, the appearance of reality holds my attention for a moment, then click on the next one. Am I really the ‘me’ I think I am? I can see that the ‘self’ is a construct, but the truth is hidden from me because there is no solid enduring self that sees it like this.

Idiosyncratic humanness caught in an unexpected circumstance. Waiting, but not that suspended state of waiting for the thing I’m waiting for; more like just waiting with the waiting. Being with the gentle in-breath/out-breath, the temperature of the air, the feel of the body standing there, and an easy observation of everything that’s happening. Balance, openness – poised between things in a place of emptiness. It’s all just moving along. There’s a gentle questioning of events as they arise… what’s this now? The moment transforms itself, observing the curiosity of it, mindfully placing one foot after the other, slowly and carefully, on stepping-stones that lead out into the river and over to the other side.

Let the water settle and you will see moon and stars mirrored in your being. [Rumi]

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Upper image, ‘Not to be Reproduced’ (La reproduction interdite), a painting by Magritte 1937. excerpts from an earlier post: a sea of people. For the insight into ‘waiting’, special thanks to Zen Doe and The Path of Waiting –  G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E  -

 

future in the past

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POSTCARD #88: Delhi: In a taxi with Jiab heading out to the domestic terminal. The taxi driver said yesterday he was going to pick her up at 2.00pm – future in the past, now it’s 2.30pm and she might miss the plane. No problem, he’s intending to make up the time, he says with foot on the accelerator the whole way. We’re going so fast it’s like we’re on the edge of linear time. Everything is a blur, the “now” I experience at this moment was the future for me when I was in the past… this thought repeats over and over. Driver ignores the built-in audio system that tells us when he’s going over the speed limit; a recorded voice message can be heard in the car, which says, ‘you are going too fast!’ Innovative idea… needless to say we have to listen to this voice repeating: ‘you are going too fast!’ all the way out to the airport. Driver overtaking everything, nearside, offside, hand on the horn, and the penetrating little voice coming unexpectedly: ‘you are going too fast!’

Jiab, with her conditioning in Bangkok traffic, is maybe more used to this kind of thing than me. I’m adhered to the seat, doing my utmost to bond with the structure of the vehicle. It’s like I’m not going through these streets, these streets are going through me. There’s an alertness locked in place you could call mindfulness but it’s more like an urgency, and struggling a bit with the idea that the driver is doing all the wrong things, this shouldn’t be happening. Round a sharp corner and we swerve to avoid a small motorbike coming straight at us on our side of the road; that motorbike guy is doing all the wrong things too. Then there’s a great show of outrage at the traffic lights, because of a man on the back of a motorbike holding a vertical panel of pressboard that’s 5ft x 4ft (see photo) and the motorbike can’t go fast because of wind resistance… pedestrians running about in the traffic risking life and limb – everybody’s doing all the wrong things.

Yeh, well, it’s my perception of this that’s all wrong, of course. The people out there obviously feel they’re doing the right thing, and I’m the one who’s got it wrong. How to see it as they do when gravity seems to disappear at times? Focus on the breath, don’t look in the direction of travel, and I find a small island of calm abiding… ah yes, this is the way it is, extraordinary and exhilarating. Enjoy the show, I’m in a speedboat, everything seems fluid, things merging with other things and entering into everything else. The velocity of this vehicle rushing through the streets washes aside other vehicles as waves do in the sea; everything is like flotsam; how we normally receive experience is so near to universal unity, it’s the same thing.

Taxi arrives at the terminal, I get the bags onto trolley, Jiab jumps out, bye-bye… then I’m into the same taxi, and going back the way we came, same cacophony of noise, same breakneck speed. Get to the house and the whole journey was so quick, there and back again, it was like I’d never left. Give the driver 500 Rupees, and it’s too much I know, but I’m in a state of astonishment. Inside and crash on the sofa for an hour. A text message rouses me; it’s Jiab saying she’s in Ranchi, about 800 miles away.

“According to Vedanta, there are only two symptoms of enlightenment, just two indications that a transformation is taking place within you toward a higher consciousness. The first symptom is that you stop worrying. Things don’t bother you anymore. You become light-hearted and full of joy. The second is that you encounter more and more meaningful coincidences in your life, more and more synchronicities. And this accelerates to the point where you actually experience the miraculous.” [Deepak Chopra, ‘Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles’]

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‘Future in the Past is used to express the idea that in the past you thought something would happen in the future’ For a grammatical explanation of Future in the Past, click here. ‘The “now” I experience at this moment was the future for me when I was in the past…’ developed from an idea in Silentlyheardonce. This post contains excerpts from an earlier post ‘Going Too Fast”. Special thanks to Mindfulbalance/Observing everything, for the Ajahn Amaro quote that inspired the idea: ‘I’m not going through these streets, these streets are going through me.’

third person singular

2013-04-27 16.55.11cPOSTCARD #87: Delhi/Chiang Mai (Skype call): The whisper of a felt-tip pen on paper: shashee shashee shoo shoo shoo… otherwise, silence in the room. M is drawing a picture, colouring in, and this is a Skype call to Thailand – the picture and sound quality so good, it’s almost real. Sadly, though, it’s not real and you’d expect more animated conversations from a 10-year-old girl, but that’s not how it is right now. She stops what she’s doing for a moment and asks me: When you come here Toong Ting? I tell her in about one month from now, mid-September, not long. But it has no meaning, social media is not real, the Skype call only proves I’m not there. M calls me Toong-Ting, she’s my Thai niece and English is a 2nd language for her so, understandably, conversation runs out sometimes. It’s hard to look for words all the time. Skype calls are a fun thing to do but there’s a limit to the novelty of it… looking at a talking head, a portrait of a person with lips moving – it’s not the same as actually being there.

So she’s drawing a picture. No talking now, she’ll show it to me later, just the sound of the artwork taking place, and all I can see is the parting in her hair, the top of her head moving slightly with the movement of the pen. I have nothing to contribute here, just be the recipient of this drawing, be the voice coming through the speakers. I am he who isn’t here now… third person singular (‘he/she/it’); I am ‘it’, the face in the video screen. I am ‘him’, the object pronoun – him over there in India somewhere, 2000 miles away from here, and not able to help with her English homework.

I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with this… what do uncles do? I don’t have much experience, no children of my own. What do I have to offer, a West/East migrant, living in somebody else’s world? Why am I here? M often asks me that, ‘WHY?’ It’s her favourite question. Toong-Ting, why you go away from Inkland (England)? Why you come to Thailand? I usually say something about travelling for a long, long time in different countries, then getting married to Jiab. She’s always interested in the bit about getting married and all kinds of very carefully structured questions follow on from there. Now it’s ended, everything has been asked already. ‘I’ have been placed forever in the third person singular; I am ‘he’ who married her Auntie.

I want to see the picture she’s making. Wait Toong-Ting, she says and takes the iPad off its stand, walks around the room with it. I’m disorientated and getting a kind of vertigo with all the blurred movement, and just about to say something about it, when she puts the iPad down somewhere and goes away. I see a bit of upholstery and a corner of the ceiling… this must be the sofa. I can hear a clatter/clunk sound and then scissors cutting paper. I call out, hoping she can hear me: what are you doing now? But she doesn’t answer… focused on the cutting – long, extended scissors work. What can it be? M comes back, looks in my screen, smiling a bit, secretive face, eyes wandering off-centre to the tiny window in the corner, watching herself, her posture, her hair – is this how it is to be… ‘seen’?

You want to look Toong Ting? Some more hesitation, then she holds up a heart shaped paper with the words: ‘Love You’, done in colours. There’s no ‘I’ pronoun, and a reversed ‘y’ – its tail going the wrong way. So much more than I’d thought, so much greater than how I feel about myself. The generosity of it takes my breath away. Later Jiab helps her to stick it on the bookshelf with scotch tape; they take a photo and send it to me in an email.

“The self has no form. You cannot grasp it, you cannot see it, you cannot really define it. You can never say, “Ah, there it is”, (because) you are the consciousness, the perceiving. You are ‘it’. You can never see it as an object, external to yourself. It’s the essence. You are not what is seeing, you are the seeing.” [Eckhart Tolle – source: My Inner Medium]

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Upper image: photo of M in the park last year. Lower image: M’s drawing, stuck in the bookshelf. Thank you to My Inner Medium for the Eckhart Tolle quote  – G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E -

surfing on the edge of dawn

birds-at-sunrisePOSTCARD #86: Delhi 05:00 hours: When I open the glass doors to the garden, the temperature outside is the same as it is inside. This is such a novelty for me, having recently arrived from Northern Europe where there’s always that early morning chill separating outer from inner. Over here, it’s all of a oneness. I want to drag my mattress and bedclothes through, spread them out on the paving stones here and lie down with my pillow. Then I could gaze up at the tall trees in the early morning sky and listen to the birds. A birdsong extravaganza, surfing on the edge of dawn… why this wild party and glorious singing? What’s going on? Such an accumulation of voice – is this what we call God? …somehow, it doesn’t cover it, ‘god’ is just a word, man-made. The actuality of it is as far as the eye can see, daylight spreading over the curvature of the planet and an immeasurable sense of sky.

Impossible to understand the totality of it, of course, the mind is a filter, selecting the data to suit the software, and this may be a sound-realm on a scale only birds are aware of. In the darkness they can hear the sound of the other birds over there on the other side of dawn, where it’s already light, and that’s the signal to engage in this shared event. It’s like a football stadium crowd performing “the wave.” A movement in time that’s always present in the here-and-now – same at every location. Light-colour-sound, daybreak and birdsong are inseparable. It fills the air for about 20 minutes then disappears. At the next place in time and space, the birds respond to it there; the Mother Ship – applause, celebration, rejoice, and it moves on. Incredible mystery… it’s the movement of the planet, I need to remind myself, the rotation of the Earth at more than 1000 miles per hour, and always happening like this, of course. The dawn chorus is always being experienced in some part of the world. Continuous birdsong since whenever birds first populated the planet…

From this location in North India, it’s shifting away Westerly, in the direction of the Middle East and on to the Mediterranean countries. The birdsong of Palestine, of Israel, Greece, then Florence, Portugal. Over the Atlantic Ocean, isolated flocks of gulls rise up from the water’s surface, calling and mewing in the golden sky. On from there to the Eastern Seaboard of the US, across the forests, rivers and mountains of the continent and out over the Pacific.

It does not appear or disappear.


It is not born and does not die.


It is neither constructed nor raised up,


Neither made nor produced. 

It is neither sitting nor lying,


Neither walking nor standing still,


Neither moving nor turning over,


Neither at rest nor idle. 

It does not advance or retreat,


Knows not safety or danger,


Neither right nor wrong.


It is neither virtuous nor improper. 

It is neither this nor that,


Neither going nor coming.

 

From the Lotus Sutra

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Photo: Birds in sunrise sky/ID 7756984 Xdrew/ Dreamstime.com

the hide-and-seek game

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POSTCARD #85: Delhi: The house seems different; everywhere there’s the sound of Thai voices like the songs of birds echoing off the walls, ceilings and tiled floor. Guests in the spare room, girlfriends of Jiab here for a visit. They are greng-jai with me (reluctant to impose themselves) knowing I’ve had to move some of my things out of the way to allow space for them. I try to convince them, mai pen rai khap, no problem. I don’t mind having to use the bathroom on the roof… there’s a bathroom on the roof? Yes, it’s a partially built second floor, just the stairwell and the bathroom up there (see photo). There are also two thatched shelters to create shade in the hot season so that it’s cooler in the rooms below.

Hot, though. I can feel it as I’m going up with my bathroom things, but there’s a fan in there. Close the door and I’m in this personal space. Only one small window I can’t see out of. Feels like I’m hidden away from the world… birds sit on the roof, wondering where I’ve gone. Trees and the sky wait for me to come back. There’s a small mirror on the wall, I see my own face looking back at me, always the eyes are held – the awareness that looks out of the mirror. Is this my “self”… is this it? I feel like I’m “it” in the hide-and-seek game: Do you want to be “it”? No, not me thanks, I was “it” last time. Then I decide to volunteer, okay, I’ll be “it”, the one who has to stay at the designated base, close my eyes and count to 100, while everybody runs away to hide.

Commence ablutions, run the shower, get under the showerhead, hoping for cool water but it’s hot. Fierce sun shines all day on the outside water pipe that connects to the water tank on top. So I’m standing there waiting for the hot water to be used up and the cool water that’ll come from deeper down the water-tank. Sure enough, the cool water starts to come through… nice. Then it gets too cold, a gust of cool air from the fan whips up the cool temperature. It becomes icy for a moment – sharp needles – jump back from the shower to let the cold water run through, then under the showerhead again. The cool water starts to be replaced by surface tank water, which is warm, nice, and then it’s scalding hot – woa! Jump back from the shower again, dry off and open the door.

The world outside opens it eyes… ah, there you are. Towel around the middle for decency’s sake and step out. It’s possible to dry off in the sunshine – stand in the doorway of the bathroom to brush my teeth, shoosha-shoosha-shoosha… stop for a moment and look again at the face in the mirror. Is this the same “it” who played these hide-and-seek games so long ago? Is this the seeker? Looking out of these eyes in a reflection of itself, and seeing a world that’s separate from the sense of “me-ness” situated inside this body. We see each other like mirrors of ourselves, even though there’s no self to speak of, nobody at home. The closer I look, the more it’s not found. The enigma of stuck-ness…

Laughter of the Thais coming up from below, I go downstairs and make my way through them all… cognitive hybrid who speaks their language like a simpleton – they say I speak it well, this is why I never learned to be fluent. Really no need to ‘be’ anything, living in both worlds…

“You will never find it, because you are it. Therefore, seeking it is the denial of its presence. In seeking it, you compel it to seem as if hidden or lost. It is You that does not alter, You, Awareness. You are that for which you long and your longing is this very presence of love coupled with a thin veil of belief that it is absent, that it is an object that can be lost and found.” [Rupert Spira, All We Ever Long For]

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the kamma of not seeing it

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POSTCARD #84: Delhi: Eight thirty in the morning, coming into town from the airport, great rivers of traffic and car horns hooting and tooting like flocks of geese in a poultry market. Shym is driving, I’m in the back… an opportunity for me to consider how difficult all this could be. Confrontations up-front and in-close brinkmanship… give-and-take becomes push-and-shove, not enough space, no room to move. Scarred and scratched vehicles, smashed rear lights, dented bumpers. Trumpets blare, somebody blocking the lane – get out of the way! Insist on it thru the sheer force of horn blasts: plaaaaah, PEEEE, pap-pap-pap! Everybody gets into it, scenarios of outrage, high octave shouting in a language I don’t understand. Then Shym starts singing in Hindi, a voice with trembling vibrato. Maybe I should ask what’s that nice song he’s singing and we can have some light conversation? But I see his hands gripping the steering wheel, white-knuckling it, a sense of the radiant nuclear fury of the sun. This is how it must have been in the Wild West – except they had guns. The ever-present sound and odour of gunfire, young cowboys wearing holstered revolvers and composure like stainless steel. Somebody loses their cool, chairs fly away and everybody dives for cover under the tables.

Things being as they are it takes longer to get to the house than planned, driving with extra caution through these hair-trigger hazards in Delhi traffic, and me with these whispered voices I try not to listen to, voices telling me, it shouldn’t be like this, and seeking calm, steadiness in the intention to be mindful. Remembering to disengage the automatic irritation response. Just notice it – yep, that’s it, and leave it alone. Let sleeping dogs lie. Lessons learned from a lifetime of kamma-vipaka, cause/effect – this is the result of something that happened in the past. Whatever that was, caused this. And what caused that cause? There must have been another cause and this is the effect of that effect, then… and before that cause? Another cause, same thing. My presence here, ‘me’, is the result of a very long cause/effect sequence stretching all the way back through the ages to the Big Bang (The Original Cause, or was there something that caused that?). I am here as a result of generations of those who came before ‘me’, believing it was an inevitability, destiny tattooed on one’s forehead. Going about their lives and managing likes, dislikes; the desire to have, want and get-away-from. The kamma of not seeing it – not seeing that there’s an end to kamma.

So, everything is holding together reasonably well and we reach home in the end. Out of the car, hi everyone, I’m okay yes, thanks, just been sitting in an aircraft economy class seat all night. Into the house, drop bags where I stand and collapse on the sofa. It’s been three weeks but feels longer; three Buddhist monasteries, a funeral and a wedding – and the 4000-year-old stone circle in NE Scotland. I came back to India to take a rest from all that… watch the breathing, heartbeat all a flutter, lying here in the horizontal position. There’s a trembling vibration running through my body, is it the sofa, the floor? Raise my head, is it an earthquake? Look around, no indications of it, nothing falls off the shelves – not an earthquake, just life itself….

“… in its fullest sense, liberation from kamma is liberation from cause and effect in the mind. It’s a process of mentally, emotionally, stepping back from any state and seeing it just as a state, without reactions and attitudes. This simple skill, which most of us can do from time to time, is what we develop in Buddhist practice.” [Ajahn Sucitto, Kamma and the End of Kamma]

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over the horizon

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‘Through our eyes, the Universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the Universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the Universe becomes conscious of itself.’ [Alan Watts]

POSTCARD #83: London – Delhi flight: Clouds cover the landscape, with openings here and there where I can see the ground below. England is a patchwork quilt of very small fenced enclosures, little houses built with brick and stone that last for hundreds of years. Concrete bulwarks along the coastline, the idea of the sea engulfing the land is psychological. A united Kingdom huddled together on land space so small it’s almost not there at all. Travel across from East to West and in a few hours you come to the sea again. Geographical aloneness, an island mentality, the idea of ‘self’, marooned, I am contained, separate from everything, surrounded by water, the world is out ‘there’. Not much room, just enough space for everything, a smallness, memories are close by and everything is near at hand. The buildings and the land were all here before I was born and will be here after I’m gone. Children learn about the everlasting ‘soul’ living in an objective world; belief in a ‘self’ yet… seeing only the lack of it, a lifetime spent looking for an answer to this puzzle – it must be… over the horizon somewhere.

Somewhere far away from not ‘being’ but being busy doing things. Somewhere distant from the default settings the world of money and power depends on. The system hijacked the Jesus Teachings and now there’s no place in society for a contemplative spiritual life. Nothing to encourage children to look beyond sensory gratification and see through perception because it works better to have an unknowing population addicted to television and consumer goods. Living with an intensity fueled by greed, hatred and delusion, instead of generosity, loving-kindness and insight. The worship of self rather than selflessness.

In a discussion with one of the monks at Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery in UK the question came up, what does the word ‘contemplation’ actually mean? Contemplating contemplation… the state of mind where everything is seen as an awareness of present experience, circumstances which can’t be explained in any terms other than what they are. Thinking stops and the mind opens up to experience as it is – not as it’s verbalised. Sometimes language just gets in the way. Like waking up after a good night’s sleep and there’s the solution to the puzzle I was thinking about before I went to sleep. No words, no memory, no markers in the mind for thought to attach to and somehow everything falls into place.

We call it a grain of sand,
but it calls itself neither grain nor sand.
It does just fine, without a name,
whether general, particular,
permanent, passing,
incorrect, or apt.

The window has a wonderful view of a lake,
but the view doesn’t view itself.
It exists in this world
colorless, shapeless,
soundless, odorless, and painless.

The lake’s floor exists floorlessly,
and its shore exists shorelessly.
The water feels itself neither wet nor dry
and its waves to themselves are neither singular nor plural.
They splash deaf to their own noise
on pebbles neither large nor small.

And all this beneath a sky by nature skyless
in which the sun sets without setting at all
and hides without hiding behind an unminding cloud.
The wind ruffles it, its only reason being
that it blows. [Wislawa Szymborska]

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The header image source: Aruna Ratanagiri Monastery.
Poem source: superaalifragilisticView With A Grain Of Sand
The Alan Watts quote source: Zen Flash, Through our eyes the Universe is perceiving itself 
- G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E -

 

arrivals – departures

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POSTCARD #82: South East England: Somebody I know died. There was a ceremony, the monks came, chanted blessings and now she’s gone. All that remains is her absence, her empty rooms, her pictures on the walls, objects chosen, placed on shelves and now there’s no one here who made the choices. Sadness… her clock-radio still starts at 8.00 in the morning and the bedroom is suddenly full of classical music. Empty bed, bedclothes made up neat, tidy and not slept in. Nobody in the house can bear to change it. My task is to pull away the bed from the wall, find where the cable leads to the socket, and disconnect it. Orchestral music spinning around the walls and ceiling as I search for the socket. It’s next to the skirting board I can just reach it… click, the music is gone. Push the bed back in place and contemplate the silence. A nice, quiet room with morning light coming in through the windows. She was a musician who became a Buddhist, then was a Buddhist Chaplain visiting hospices and caring for dying people, until she finally reached that stage herself.

Memory is all there is… faded like an old sepia tint photo. The enigma, the empty space where that person used to be. There’s ‘nothing’ left here, it’s not ‘something’, it’s not ‘anything’. Try to see past the words, concepts in the mind and there’s nothing remaining, only the holding-on to whatever it is that was defined in words but was never really there in the first place. Language is a tool for explaining how it appears to be, what it resembles, what it’s like… a wonderful shared software that names things, identifies feelings, etc. Poets and artists are compelled to use words and there are others, spiritual advisors, who refer only to cessation. Truth is inexpressible, no words for it; a ‘nothing’ that carries the feeling of no-thingness and brings with it a great sense of release, of peace, of rest, of ease and gentleness. I no longer have the burden of my thoughts. I let it all in, let it all out and everything fades away, ‘melted into thin air … the baseless fabric of this vision… we are such stuff as dreams are made on…’ [The Tempest]

A lifetime is a story told. Details accumulate and it appears to have form and direction as it goes on, but only when the end comes near does it have a context. The route by which I arrived at this point becomes somehow, explained – it was the right way, the best way to come here and everything I did in my life seems to fit together now I’m at the end. A curious reversal… I’m on the way to get here and yet seem to be able to look back on the journey and know how it came to be as it is. Buddhist cause/effect is an illusion, sequenced in linear time. In the totality, everything is ‘now’, an ‘everywhere-shared instantaneity’ and each moment is simply a shift in focus.

Why does it have to be like this? There’s something about the question/answer relationship that’s always gently considered, without directing it too much. Trying to understand what this sort of thing might possibly be is enough to begin to know it – no need to go any further. More to do with indirect action. Death must be the true meaning of the ‘past tense’. Standing here in her room, the tidy bed, empty wardrobe, eyes move towards the window, look out at her overgrown garden. Birdsong, and the light of this particular time in the morning. Colour and images form, conscious awareness is the same for me now as it was for her then, standing as she was, in this same place….

“For life in the present there is no death. Death is not an event in life. It is not a fact in the world. Our life is endless, in just the same way that our field of vision has no boundaries.” [Wittgenstein”]

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Excerpts from an earlier post: sense of release. Also Michael’s post: Special Effects, thank you for the word: instantaneity. Upper photo: Edinburgh airport, waiting for the flight to Gatwick
–  G  R  A  T  I  T  U  D  E  –

the thingness of things

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POSTCARD #81: NewcastleFive days in a Buddhist monastery in Northumberland, sitting meditation in the early morning and last thing at night. The photo above was taken at 5.15am. I wanted a picture of the sunrise and didn’t see the sheep in their places next to the wall – slightly startled by a human being leaning over into their enclosure and the click sound of the phone camera. They wait to see if he comes back, forget about it and only the fragrant grass remains… early on a summer’s morning.

After that I’m in the Dhamma Hall, sunlight shining through the roof windows on the Buddha statue, benign and welcoming. Monks with shaven heads sitting on the floor, faded tangerine-brown robes, flowers, incense and candles. Focused on the silence, watching the inbreath/outbreath, seeing the thinking process coming and going. Fragments of a thought pieced together from associated thoughts, memories of a past time brought into present time, together with things thought about in future time. Pause for a moment and everything stops… just the circumstance itself. It takes some effort to get it started again. Maybe there is only one moment – only one, all the time.

Everybody sitting completely still, listening to this shared silence. Suddenly there’s the faint sound of somebody outside doing something. He whistles part of a tune it’s not noisy, quite pleasant. Nobody moves, of course, nobody turns around to look. We all continue to sit, the quietness interrupted by a small clunk noise… then he whistles his small tune again. It’s the farmer next-door, busy with things. A wooden door goes bonk… something is dropped on the ground, and there’s an interval of quietness. Then a rustling noise, and the whistled tune re-enters, invading the space. It’s an amazing sound, a kind of warbling around a melody. It trills like a bird – how could anyone whistle so well! It’s a chorus from an old song I can’t quite remember. Then it’s silent again… waiting for the whistle to come back, but it doesn’t come back and I realise he’s gone.

Consciousness seems to move from one moment to the next and there’s only just enough time to decide what this is before it changes into something else. In the interval that the mind is engaged in ‘thinking it’, everything moves on and I can never seem to catch up – can never find the right words to express it… wordless and indefinable. Language is an overlay placed on reality, gives everything an identity, tells the story, creates a fiction I get lost in. Nothing is what I think it is. The present moment feels like it’s an immediate event occurring ‘now’, but there’s also a feeling that maybe it’s not. Time is a measurement I apply – applied time. Maybe this is something that’s not happened yet… it happens later, gets reflected upon and what I think is ‘now’ is actually a fraction of a moment of hindsight situated in future time. How can I be sure things are what I think they are when I’m only always just feeling my way through something not experienced yet? Looking at what it’s not and everything on the other side of that, must be what it is. The absence of ignorance…

Moon unchanged,

Unchanged flowers.

I, however, am now

The thingness of things.

[Bunan]

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