Silence

June 9, 2009 - Chiang Mai, Thailand



"Perhaps one of the saddest things in life is the recurrent illusion of human beings that they can improve on the truth." - Laurens van der Post


Well aware of the fact that you haven't heard too much of me during this trip through Asia, yet approaching the end of the journey, I'd like to make an attempt to some kind of concluding statement.

At the very beginning of my first trip to Asia, five years ago, I attended a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat. During this retreat, the distinction between an experience (any experience) and the story or report of that experience that we construct immediately afterwards became crystal clear to me. So clear, that in fact, any statement made about any experience is no more and no less than a mental reconstruction of it and can never even approach the reality of the experience. Thereby, it is effectively a lie. It is apparently no coincidence that the French word for lying is "mentir".

All that did not stop me from writing extensively about my experiences in Asia, impressed and inspired as I was by all the news this continent was offering me.

This time, on my second long trip through Asia - after having spent several vacations there, it is different. I am still impressed, still inspired, but not everything is as new as it was before and on the surface it is less overwhelming. Yet I think the impact of my experience runs deeper than before, and though the effects may be less obvious, they are probably longer lasting. And more than before, I am rather speechless. Being less obvious, less on the surface - and not so much about direct appearances, experience is becoming more difficult - or, as stated above: actually impossible to express accurately. Thereby it is becoming clear to me that by not expressing the experience one is honouring the truth of it much more profoundly than one ever could by constructing some mental reproduction of it.

There are good reasons for not saying much. Around the 8th century there lived a great master and scholar in northern India called Shantideva. When challenged by his fellow monks to give a sermon on his realizations, he countered the question by asking them whether he should convey one of the Buddha's great teachings, or teach them something new. When replied "tell us something new", he answered: "There is nothing the Buddha hasn't taught."

In another far more recent book, interestingly enough titled: "What the Buddha Never Taught" by a Canadian called Tim Ward, he is being told by his Thai masters to "only speak when you can improve the silence."

And finally, the great Dutch master (imho) Ton Lathouwers leaves no occasion unused to emphasize that any word uttered on the truth is "mere stammer".


All that being humbling enough, it is with great restraint that I will nevertheless make an attempt to keep the promise I made in my weblog-profile before I set-out: "When I've found it, I'll let you know", referring to the possibility of finding an integrated balance between the best of an "Eastern" and a "Western" lifestyle. Although whatever an "Eastern" or "Western" lifestyle precisely might be remains questionable at all times, as I will argue below.

To cut things short, let me give you the answers upfront. One conclusion I've decided on when it comes to integration, is that location doesn't really matter. It doesn't really matter that much whether one lives in the East or the West. Not only because the answer is always here and now, but rather because the East is westernizing at great speed - meaning it is becoming more and more materialistic - and yet many Eastern teachings and masters have come to the West and are available, more or less just around the corner - the West is becoming more spiritual. Yet the Western lifestyle, regardless whether it occurs in the West or the East, desperately needs that spiritual component, and the more people engage in some practice of such a spiritual component, the more it will also affect, stimulate and inspire others to do so. It is therefore to be hoped that the East, despite its westernizing tendencies, will not lose its classic spiritual values and identity. They are needed in the East as much as in the West. But by now, the West has perhaps an equal role to play in maintaining old Wisdom and Knowledge, of both Western and Eastern origin.

With that being said, what does matter after all, is that one is able to establish and maintain a balanced, contemplative lifestyle that values and respects one's inner truth and needs to their full extend. This may seem a simple and obvious statement, but it is really not as it has become clear to me how difficult this is to achieve. The "West" - and as stated, more and more also the East have simply become too busy. We live in a world where everything is becoming a commodity (yes, Karl Marx was perhaps more of a spiritual being than most of us would suspect...) and religious engagement tends to take the form of an "extra-curricular activity, or hobby" (Khandro Rinpoche - Amsterdam, 19-6-2008) - which it cannot be in essence.

Demands on the individual in this globalized 24-hour "on demand" and economized age have often gone beyond what is reasonable. A friend of mine, whom I've met in India and who is specialized in issues of labor-unfitness made the statement that nowadays one should consider in many such cases whether labor has become human-unfit, rather than the other way around. But not only labor, also leisure and more specific the dynamics of our social lives seems to put extremely high demands on the individual nowadays.

In my humble opinion, Western society is completely lost in the sense that it has lost all direction from any culturally embedded spiritual guidance. Making money has effectively become our highest value. We have truly come to believe that money equals happiness. Although everybody will deny this at the verbal level, our behaviour effectively proves it. Even though this can be seen as a side-effect of a necessary development of secularization, renaissance and getting over superstition, that does not negate the fact that it does bring about a profound state of despair in our minds regarding any meaningful explanation of life, death and mere existence itself.

Now, as for any attempt to a satisfactory answer we need to go beyond superstition indeed, where-else can we turn than to reality itself? Yet how can we know reality as we seem to have no other choice than to rely on our primitive mental reconstructions of it - as mentioned before? This renders also science basically in the same position as any medieval superstition or primitive believe. Modern science may be able to explain many phenomena on a material level, it provides no answers whatsoever to the human mind's natural bewilderment regarding its own existence.


Yet, there are ways. However they require that we have the courage to put these principle, existential question(s) back in the centres of our lives. In other words: We need to get passed our denial. In order to do that it is necessary that one finds and establishes some basic faith in the possibility of finding an answer, rather in reality itself. As only truth can liberate - for by nature any untruth can only be deceiving - one could revert to the option of stating that "if it is not to be found in reality, then I will face and accept the fact that it does really not exist". Although this (non-existence of truth in reality) is utterly nonsense, at the same time it can be extremely frightening, because one needs to take ones refuge in it before one can be sure by means of having any such experience, that reality is going to provide a comforting answer. Unfortunately, most people will rather believe a lie.

At the end of my previous trip I wrote: "Have I learnt anything? At least, that there is truth in reality. The challenge is not to run away from it. (...) That it requires determination and dedication to keep looking. Old habits are very strong."

Those last two sentences contain exactly the challenge we have to face. This second trip has changed nothing in that perspective. The challenge is still there and will remain to be there, every day again and again, whether in the East or in the West; whether working or travelling - in either and whatever occupation one chooses in life, the challenge is not to run away from reality. Any solution will have to come from the experiential level. No science, philosophy, or religious doctrine can do that. An open door? Again, that may seem so, but try applying this insight in all honesty in your own life, and you'll face a gate-less brick wall, rather than an open door. The first obstacle is that we are commonly not capable of perceiving reality as it is, to begin with: "Could we just stop the mind from overlaying reality.." - Tan Dhammavidu


Have I got no relief to offer whatsoever? Well yes, I do in the sense that I have found some pointers, insights, teachers and techniques that may help.
And I've given them, throughout this article, however they are of no value unless you take-up the challenge stated above, that is putting the principle existential quest in the centre of your life. You may not feel the need or urge to do so, and I will not blame you for that. A zen story that goes around is that an aspiring student came to a zen master and asked to be taught. This being at the shore of a lake, the master dragged the aspirant into the water and pushed him under with all his weight. Nobody knows how long it took before the student realized that this was no joke and that the master was not going to let him go. Only when the student started to panic for air, realizing that he was about to drown, he worked up an almost supernatural strength needed to free himself from the masters grip and come to the surface. Astonished and angrily he asked the master what he was trying to do. The master replied: "Only when you are in need of insight as desperately as you were for air just a minute ago, you will be ready to receive the teachings."


That's it. Below, you'll find some of my notes (most of which were published here separately, just recently), thoughts and experiences encountered during this trip. Along with it, perhaps one or two useful tips. And a number of quotes, as there is no need to re-invent the wheel - after all:

"There is nothing the Buddha hasn't taught." - Shantideva


Hans van Dijk

 




Citations

  • "If we don't go within, we go without." (- Anonymous)


Laurens van der Post

  • "Perhaps one of the saddest things in life is the recurrent illusion of human beings that they can improve on the truth."
  • "There can be no thrust into what is unknown in the external world without being accompanied, if not preceded, by an equal and opposite thrust into the world of the spirit."
  • "A smile formed lightly on the face could have been that of a mother watching a child falling in its first effort to walk; seeing its defeat already as the beginning of a final victory over the impossible." (about a Kwan-Yin / Kanzeon statue in Nara, Japan)


Tan Dhammavidu:

  • "These are all words, concepts; the experience is necessarily different."
  • "Could we just stop the mind from overlaying reality.."


Tim Ward (What the Buddha Never Taught):

  • "Without the questions, the craving for answers soon disappears"
  • "People don't realize that conditions change. What once was a message becomes a dead ritual. People become so attached to words and ideas."
  • "The only answers to take with me are the ones I have found for myself"


Marijn de Vries AKA Deepika (in Dutch):

  • "Wie ophoudt met zoeken komt thuis in zichzelf"
  • "De taal van de stilte, is de stilte zelf"

 



HAPPINESS - Koh Chang (Thailand), 20-2-2009

Happiness is not depending on anything, except the decision to be happy.

 



GO BEYOND - Bangkok (Thailand), 22-2-2009

Never go back - one thing I have finally learned. It is simply not possible. There is no way back. You may go back to a spot where you've been before, but it will not be the same place. Every great discovery (of the past, or present) was and is an expression of the inner journey, your inner state of mind of that moment or episode in your life. That state of mind could and can only exist at that particular time. In addition the place itself changes; develops or deteriorates, so both your inner state and the spot have changed and what was there before can never be found again - not even the memory, because the memory only exists in your mind.

Always go beyond. Go beyond the past. Go beyond the known. Go beyond your mental projections and expectations. Go straight into the unknown. Only there you'll find the unexpected. Only there you will find yourself. And Buddha.

"It's not down in any map, Real places never are." (-Herman Melville)
I think and hope my journey is finally starting.

I'm in Bangkok, where I've been several times before. I know a few places in Bangkok. Yet there are much more places I don't know. I have memories of Bangkok. Yet I am not living in my memories. I am looking at the city with new eyes. I'm on a new and different journey, perhaps with new goals and new objectives. Yet I'm not sure what these goals and objectives are. Only that I'm heading in a new direction. And that changes everything.

 



HOW MUCH CAN WE LOVE? - Bangkok (Thailand), 25-2-2009

You can only love a person as much as (s)he allows him/herself to be loved,
You can only love a person as much as you allow yourself to love and be loved,
This how we live our lives. This is how we shape them,
This is how mankind shapes the world.

As love = the omniscient, awakened mind, Buddha,
We are awake as much as we can love,
We are aware as much as we can love.

As much as we can handle,
As much as we can handle ourselves, to begin with,
As much as we can forgive ourselves, as much as we can re-conciliate,
As much as we can face.

That is all.

 



IN THE HEART - Chaiya (Suan Mokh) (Thailand), 7-3-2009

I think I've found my little secret. The answer to the question why on my previous trip I constantly found what I was looking for, why I almost constantly felt happy and at home - and also to the question what it was what I actually found and where I found it.

The answer is: It was with me all the time. I found it before I left. It was my own dedication and determination regarding what my goal or aim was for the trip. I knew what I was looking for, even though it was described as vaguely as "Buddha" or "Buddhism". Probably the vagueness contributed to the success because also due to that, I was finding it everywhere.

First of all it was in my heart. But then it was everywhere: In the first big Buddha-statue on a mountain in Thailand; and then in the second, the third and every subsequent Buddha-statue; in every temple and every shrine; in the peoples' devotion and the entire culture. Then I found it on the Burubudur in Indonesia and in the kindness of the people there, regardless whether they were Buddhist, Christian or Muslim. Then I found it in Japan, in the Zen gardens and the temples of Kyoto and Nara, in the little monastery where I practiced for a week and - this is the mystery of Japan - I found a Buddha there in every rock and every stone and pebble. And then I found it in Dharamsala, in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in the teachings and retreats and in the hearts of exiled Tibetans as well as in those of sincere travelers and pilgrims, with whom I was finding it together at that time. And finally, I found it in Bodhgaya, at sunrise on the first day of the new year, under the Bodhi-tree. In my heart it was There and Then that I took refuge in the Buddha, The Dharma and the Sangha.

However, I would have found nothing all these places if it hadn't been already in my heart in the first place.

I did not become Buddhist because I wanted to be a Buddhist. I became a Buddhist when I realized that I am Buddhist.





THIS IS THE PLACE - Chaiya (Suan Mokh) (Thailand), 8-3-2009

An insight during today's meditation:
This place, this my karma, this is my state of mind.
This is where I will (start to) find my liberation.
There is no other place to do it.
There is no other place to be.


You will not find it anywhere; the way inward is always here.

You will not find it anywhere, except here.
It is always here, never there.





WORDS - Chaiya (Suan Mokh) (Thailand), 10-3-2009

From Tan Dhammavidus' lecture:
- "These are all words, concepts; the experience is necessarily different."
- "Could we just stop the mind from overlaying reality.."

 



TRUE RELIGION - Train from Surat Thani to Bangkok (Thailand), 14-3-2009

A nations culture -, a peoples soul is most of all defined by the ways it has found to deal with hardship. Its basic beliefs and its religion have a major role in that. "Modern society" has become a place in which hardship is largely denied or even attempted to be eradicated (which is futile). And through institutionalization, religion is gradually loosing its role as the true refuge from peoples hardship. Religious institutions often become part of this "society in denial" and their role changes to one to help smoothen things and keep-up the illusion of a society that provides infallible happiness at all times.

But the hardship in human life does not go away just because we want it to. A new, creeping form of hardship evolves out if the denial - because it is a lie, and society becomes a prison with golden bars, with religious institutions often being important representatives of that which sustains the suffering - by denying it, rather than a refuge from it. At that point people will have to rediscover true religion - starting with the acknowledgement that society is not perfect and suffering cannot be denied, successfully suppressed, or eradicated.

"People don't realize that conditions change. What once was a message becomes a dead ritual. People become so attached to words and ideas." -Tim Ward; What the Buddha Never Taught

 



WHAT IS BUDDHISM? - Boudha / Kathmandu (Nepal), 20-3-2009

So, what is Buddhism? Looking at the different traditions - which are really just that: tradition, and tradition is not Buddhism. Yet there would be no Buddhism known as such without the traditions handing down the knowledge. Yet the knowledge is not Buddhism. Then looking at the practices within the different traditions, however differently presented and different the emphasize may be, when cutting through to the more essential elements, the differences become less and less.

It was an enlightening (ahum..) discovery to notice that Annapannasati as taught by the Theravadin school of Buddhadasa Bikkhu (Thailand) is leading down almost exactly the same path of Shamata and Vipassana  as the Tibetan Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, although using different techniques. These are actually different traditional representations of the inner path (Shamata, Vipassana, Nirvana / Enlightenment), the inner path, which is probably the one thing that comes closest to that which can be called Buddhism.

Buddh = Awake, Buddha = The Awakened One, Buddhism = the path to Awakening, Buddhist = the person on that path. Or, as Ven. Thubten Dhondrup explained it in the one-month introduction to Buddhism course in Kopan monastery, Kathmandu: "A Buddhist is an "Inner Being", as the path to Awakening is an inner path, a path that leads inward, not into the outer world", nor necessarily into outer representations of any tradition. Although as stated, tradition does play an important role in handing down the knowledge of Buddhism and thereby in its very existence - this is an eternal paradox.

"If we don't go within, we go without." - Anonymous

 



EAST OR WEST - Boudha / Kathmandu (Nepal), 23-3-2009

It doesn't matter if you're in the East or West. It doesn't matter if you're home or abroad. It doesn't matter if you're working or traveling. What does matter is whether you are maintaining a lifestyle that allows you to stay focused on the inner path, the inner world, the realm of the mind - staying mindful and contemplative - or not.

Stay focused - living from within, and realize that the world is always a reflection of your own state of mind and there is no need to go out and run after anything, regardless you are home or abroad, working or traveling, in the east or the west.


 



TERRIFIC - Boudha / Kathmandu (Nepal), 24-3-2009

How can it be, that every morning the sun rises and sheds it warmth upon the earth and upon us; the earth is here again like before the sunset - and so are we - and yet we are not amazed and terrified?

 



BREATHING - Boudha / Kathmandu (Nepal), 27-3-2009

Today I wish I was a photographer. After getting up a bit early and making my way towards the stupa. The little girl with a thin woolen hat sitting with her back against the wall by the side of the road, playing with the hair of an old broken barbie-doll, which she is holding between her knees. Another girl, still younger, brushing her teeth with a grin and naughty eyes, hanging over the wall that fences off the grounds of her home. Schoolgirls and -boys in their neat little uniforms and schoolbooks under their arms - always touching me in a soft spot as they represent both a society that educates its youth as well as youth itself; just setting off on their journey through life.

And suddenly I am struck by all the sounds and smells and all of life around the stupa, making me realize that all of us touch and breath the same air and that same air trembles against my eardrums making me aware of life - their is not a single creature not breathing this air.


Today I can hear the music of life. I am hearing it, touching it, smelling it.
I am breathing it.


 



SMASH THE GLASS! - Pokhara (Nepal), 3-4-2009


After every drink, smash the glass!

Perhaps we think we accumulate things, but that isn't true. Things are just passing-through. Nothing remains, except heaps of memories. And even those pass-away. Nothing remains.

At the end of ones' life, one can truly say: "It wasn't me!"

Previously, I wrote that "there is truth to be found in reality". Now, I will add in support of this point, that there is no way to force this truth, knowledge of it, any awareness or insight, out of reality. It remains a gift.

Neither is it possible to use this truth or any insight to change or alter reality into something it is not, whether more beautiful or less painful, or according to whatever wish or desire we might have. There is no instrument to avoid reality. Only acceptance and Love of reality, reconciliation and forgiveness can bring us there.

In Truth, there is only Love.




ANGER - Pokhara (Nepal), 5-4-2009

I've tried to look a little deeper into the essence of anger and this is what I found.
What is anger? In essence anger is only the interruption of the stream of life's energy, which builds-up a charge that can then be released at a targeted object. Anger is holding back. One stops the natural flow of life, of love, builds up a charge and releases it. On a small scale this can be functional and useful. For example: One morning I was eating muesli for breakfast when just at the moment I was about to put a spoonful into my mouth, a fly attempted to land on the spoon. I stopped the movement and my mind wanted the fly to move away. I was ready to wave it off with my free hand if necessary, but it didn't come to that; the fly moved on by itself and I continued to eat. Now, this stopping of the movement, the moment of alertness and subsequent relaxation of the mind were functional to me as I didn't want the fly on my food, let alone in my mouth.

However, it is important to recognize that I did not need to put down the spoon and start chasing the fly around until I killed it - let alone wage a war against all flies or fly-dom aiming for their extinction, before I could ever have breakfast in peace.

But exactly that is what we do most of the time with our anger and that is why it becomes so destructive. It is destructive towards ourselves, because we stop doing what we need to do - and would have come naturally (in this case: eating); it is destructive towards others, and ultimately against life itself. It is refusing to live and be happy before a certain condition in the outer world is met. It falls into the category of "improve oneself, start with the world". It is childish and essentially a fundamentalist-type of behaviour. After all, happiness is not depending on anything, except the decision to be happy (provided that basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are met. But even if not, excessive anger will not effectively solve the problem, let alone produce happiness)  - and that requires forgiveness.

As the Buddha said: "Holding on to anger, is like holding on to a burning piece of coal with the intention to throw it at someone else. It is you, yourself who gets hurt first and foremost."




Pictures

Nepal bus
Himalaya Sunrise
Himalaya Sunrise
Himalaya Sunrise
 
 
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