loving-kindness for the critical mind

Chmai arrivalPOSTCARD#92: Chiang Mai: Writing this on the iPhone keyboard, shadowy index finger blocks out the whole letter. The letters ‘O’ and ‘P’ are difficult, I try to type ‘M’ and hit the backspace instead. Requires a certain kind of patience… it’s amazing what you can do if you have to. My computer is with the technician — went there immediately after arriving in Chiang Mai Tuesday morning. A red-eye flight from Delhi, only three and a half hours, no time to sleep – watching videos all night. Arrive in Bangkok at 5.30 am, a huge commercial project, the bright lights and glitz of 24/7 enhanced shopping experience. Passengers from all parts of the world gather at the domestic terminal lounge — we all wear a yellow transit sticker on the lapel — everybody having spent the night in an aircraft, bleary-eyed and hypnotised by inflight videos.

Then dispersed on different domestic flights North, South, East, West, and I arrive in Chiang Mai at 9.15am, a bit bewildered in the daylight of the arrival hall. Waiting for my bag… waiting, and waiting, but it doesn’t come. All the other bags have gone and now there’s just the belt itself moving round. Where’s my bag? My small volume of clothes folded flat, papers, books, computer cables zipped up tight, X-rayed and pushed into its space in the aircraft baggage. WHERE is it? My bag is ‘me’ an assembled ID, a costumed and shoed, hair-combed identikit. This is who ‘I’ am!

Man in uniform comes along, competent, in-charge attitude; looks at me over his glasses and asks to see my luggage tag number. He takes it to his desk, studies his document for a moment and makes a call (I’m watching him at his desk), comes back and informs me my bag was not loaded on the plane and it’s still in transfer at Bangkok… pause, he looks me in the eye, assessing my capacity for patience. Please write your address here and we will deliver it later today. His demeanour tells me he knows about this problem; he also knows how to handle worn-out passengers living in a video world. There’s an empathy and ease about his movements. Maybe he used to be a monk, a Maha Thera, all men in Thailand become monks for a short time. Some for a long time.

Meanwhile, I’m standing there like a satellite dish antenna pointed at the sky, receiving the signal, interpreting data – how should I respond to this devastating news? Make a huge scene? No, let’s not do that, long inhalation of in-breath, relaxed release of the out-breath. Man in uniform still waiting for a reply… there’s  something quiet and easy about him. Just looking at me… calm eyes, one eyebrow lifted slightly, as if to say, is that going to be okay with you sir? Inner well-being, and there’s a feeling that, yes, it could be okay. Even if I did get upset, it still means my bag is not here, and having to wait for it anyway.

He walks me over to his desk and holds the form in the centre of my vision, finger pointing at a space where I’m supposed to sign my name. Is this the no-responsibility waiver? Am I signing away all my rights? Everything written in Thai, do I have to get my dictionary out? Oh no, it’s in the bag. Sign it, sign it! Thank you very much, bye-bye, nice man. Walk away to the taxi area with no bag, no trolley, hands free, hands in pockets, hands swinging by my side as I walk. Get to the apartment, shower and dress up in a bizarre arrangement of light cotton beach-wear. Fall asleep on the sofa for two hours, then the doorbell goes ping-pong, it’s my bag delivered and rolling in on its wheels, just like the man said.

‘… have loving-kindness for your dislike of the way it is, so you are not even criticizing yourself for being critical… Even if you are sitting here hating yourself, thinking of yourself as selfish and critical and not a very nice person, you can have metta for that; you can have loving-kindness for the critical mind.” [Ajahn Sumedho, ' Liberating Emotions']




Rooftop2POSTCARD #91: Delhi: The laptop crashed. Not once, many times. I had to take it to the technician and he said he wasn’t sure if he could fix it but anyway it would take a few days. Doesn’t speak English well, confusion, then there was the weekend too, another two days to wait and see, catastrophic feeling arising: Oh no! There’s something wrong, it feels like an illness, a kind of death; ‘All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become separated from me.’ I’m offline, the blogging world goes sailing by and I’m marooned on a desert island. Standing on the beach waving, shouting, jumping up and down, trying to get the attention of passing ships but they don’t see me. What to do? Sit at the desk among all the unplugged cables where the computer used to be. Write with a pen on a pad of paper – doodle and draw pictures instead. No focus in my life, no screen to look at. No need to be at the desk… why am I sitting here?

Rooftop5Get up and walk around; phone in pocket, go upstairs and walk on the roof terrace. It’s a sort of walking meditation path, jongkrom. Up and down, thirty five paces from end to end. Fifteen-hundred paces equal one mile, I need to walk the path 42 times to cover a mile – quite often I lose count and forget… the mind wanders. Basic mindfulness is about remembering what it is you’re supposed to be doing. Returning to the action itself, looking at the feet touching the earth one by one: left then right. The human body, this place I inhabit; it seems strange. I was a child once, learning to walk. How did it feel? Getting myself up here in the vertical position, stumble and fall – world goes sideways, get up again, walk… fall down. Try again, learning how to live my life. Seeing it all through the eyes of a person called ‘me’, a localised experience in a world of fifty million square miles of land space to walk on, and one of seven billion people on the planet. I’m the guy in the street; the ‘you’, the ‘me’. I am a single cell in an organism so vast it’s inconceivable.

Thirty five paces to the end, turn around and walk back. The brick floor looks like an abstract painting, take some photos, back to the walking. How does it feel? This sensation of stepping out from the past into the future but never getting there. Always in transit, housed in a kind of wobbly, thud-thud-thud, rubberoid, physical experience of present time that’s just rolling along. Awareness sees the ground spinning towards each foot like a treadmill driven by my walking… hamster in its spinning wheel. A fun thing to do, hamster’s idea of meditation. Everything happens in the movement towards a place I think I’m going; an arrival point that’s one among many, fixed end to end and disappearing into the perspective. I am the vanishing point; no beginning, no end, always only a part of the continuum. The seed sprouting from the earth is not how the story began, there was another tree before that…

Phone rings, Hello? It’s Jiab saying she’s on the way home with a laptop borrowed from the office. Relief floods through me – aware of the craving; that which is always seeking engagement. I understand what attachment is, so good to see it like this. I’m glad the laptop was taken away… glad too that another one is coming back. The walking has a new kind of ease. Electrical energy of Mind is grounded through footsteps touching the earth.

‘The purpose of walking meditation is walking meditation itself. Going is important, not arriving. Walking meditation is not a means to an end; it is an end. Each step is life; each step is peace and joy. That is why we don’t have to hurry. That is why we slow down. We seem to move forward, but we don’t go anywhere; we are not drawn by a goal. Thus we smile while we are walking.’ [Thich Nhat Hanh]



9/11/2014 “the big lie”


A Buddhist Reflection: I’m trying to find a way to write this post to fit with how I’ve been writing it these last two years [2013 and 2012] and not get caught up in the greater catastrophe that 9/11 has become in the 13 years since it happened. It’s impossible to think about the event and not include the possibility that there’s more to this than meets the eye. The realization weighs heavily on us. The sadness and grieving now is that the big lie is here, situated amongst the ordinary things in our world; lives being lived, sleeping, eating, busy with work, women bearing children, raising families, birth and death.

‘… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation more readily fall victim to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.’ [Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X]

The big lie needs to be brought into the light where it can be seen clearly because the tendency is for things that look like they should be hidden to stay hidden. So many things hidden and nothing revealed in the official 9/11 investigation in 13 years, except that it’s been proved there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction, Osama bin Laden was captured, killed and body thrown in the sea. The parallel ‘Truth’ investigation, however, continues to come up with more and more scientific evidence revealing the big lie. It’s this that has convinced me I need to know more about what really happened, painful though it may be. Yesterday I spent 5 hours looking at the video: September 11 – the new Pearl Harbour. It’s in three parts (link below) and if you watch it, you’ll come out the other end a different person.


Whether the truth comes out or not, or to what extent, is not as important as dealing with the strong possibility of it being true. What effect does that have on me, how do I feel about it? The following is an excerpt from, ‘A Buddhist Reflection on the Tragedy of September 11’ by Ajahn Jayasaro, published in 2001:

“As Buddhists, we devote ourselves to learning how to maintain clarity of mind, fundamental compassion and intelligence, as a constant inner refuge. It is not so difficult to be clear about issues which don’t personally affect us, or those which provoke no strong feelings. The real challenge is to be awake even in the midst of a hurricane of emotions — when we are hurt and betrayed, angry and afraid. Clarity of mind means that when things get rough we can still receive the blessings of the principles we uphold. Inner clarity is thus the ground in which the dignity and meaning of life can grow.

An inner refuge does not come easily. It can only be brought about by a thoroughgoing commitment to this life education, a training of the way we live internally and externally. Buddhist teachings are seen then, in summary, not as dogmas to be believed in (or rejected), but tools to be made use of. We use the teachings to understand ourselves and our experiences in life, to understand other people and the world we live in. Then basing ourselves on that understanding, we seek to create as much authentic happiness and benefit for ourselves and others as we can.”


Source for header image: Rob Clark/Institute – From my roof on 9-11


ordinary miracles


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]


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/


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]


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


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’]

‘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]



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


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

the hide-and-seek game


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]


the kamma of not seeing it


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]