Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Self and Sunglasses

Selflessness is the goal of Buddhist practice. The acceptance of no-self leads to liberation from suffering, from the pain caused by the ego's demands.

Pim returned from Kalasin last week without her new sunglasses. "I gave them to my mom," she told me. "She thought they looked nice and asked me for them." I bought them for her not long ago at MBK for about $20 to replace another, cheaper, pair she had lost. That she could give them away so easily I found amazing, and admirable.

"Any other guy would be angry," Jerry said when I told him about it. We both knew, however, that Thais have been socialized differently than we western individualists. That it was her mom whom she gave the sunglasses to was important, but I think Pim would have done the same for a good friend. I think her self has less of a hold on her than mine. I can barely be generous to beggars.

Pim's relative lack of self-interest came up in another way last week. She told me that her mother was going to divorce her step-father after ten years of marriage. Neither of the sisters like him; he speaks little and gambles too much. Her mother has a large house in a small village, left her by the husband who died when Pim was 12. After the insurance money ran out, Pim told me, times were hard. Her mother "sold things" from a street stall. Now that she will be on her own again, she has asked Pim to contribute 6,000 baht for her monthly support (she currently gives her mother 1,000 baht a month).

This means, Pim told me, that she will have to get a second job, like the one she had two years ago when she worked as a cashier in a Khao San Road bar/restaurant, making 200 baht ($6) for an eight-hour shift from 6 pm to 2 am six days a week. She would only get five hours of sleep a night before getting up to go to work at the Thailand Post, and would have no time for anything, much less me. She told this to me as if it was a fait accompli, with no second thoughts. "I don't have a Ph.d.," she once told me. "I can't get any kind of work like you."

I am unable to solve the problem of the world's poverty, but I can have an impact here. I told her I would give her 5,000 baht a month for her mother so she wouldn't have to take another job. This donation, according to Pim's account of the conversation, was accepted gratefully. But the gift was not devoid of self interest on my part. I want Pim's mother to know and accept that we are living together. Pim thought the contribution would show my love and intention, but she has not yet said anything yet behind the bare bones of "I have an old farang man as a boyfriend. He loves me and I love him."

We're not out of the woods yet. Pim returned from Kalasin thinking that she should move back into a dormitory room because he mother would be upset if she knew her unmarried daughter was living with a man. Support from me was a possible way to get around this (with a promise of marriage in the future). Although her mother and sister now know about me, she has yet to tell any of her friends and fellow workers at the post office. She told me she is too concerned about what they might think of her, of losing face by revealing her secret love affair with an old man (the self has to find a foothold somewhere). This morning her aunt, who lives several streets away with her Japanese husband and three children, saw us walking together to the motorbike taxi stand. Pim has long been worried this might happen and sent me a troubled text message after she got to work. "I have to think," she said.

The self is "all in a tangle," David Holmes told the monthly gathering at the World Buddhist University in Bangkok last Sunday. The Canadian teacher and author has lived in Asia for many years and has been an editor for the Buddhist Publications Society in Sri Lanka since 1986. He quoted the Brahmanasamyutta, in which the Buddha is addressed by a brahmin:
A tangle inside, a tangle outside
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
I ask you this, O Gotama
Who can disentangle the tangle?
This is a question that can be asked of every generation, Holmes said, and indeed of every so-called self. The reason "the mind gets all enmeshed and entangled in feelings and thoughts" is because we see things "as other than they actually are," and get attached to our perspectives. Lust and hatred are among the cravings that result, but it is in the idea of self-importance that much energy is exerted, he said.
If people could only see themselves as they actually are, they would know that all their lusts and desires and hatreds are all delusional, and based on the idea of 'self' having certain rights to enjoyment in the world without considering the rights of others.
The method of deliverance is a process of total discipline, the Buddha's Eightfold Path, on which I frequently stumble. The training in virtue, meditation and wisdom leads, Holmes said, to disentanglement, to "liberation and deliverance from this world." That I am not yet ready to leave should be apparent, and perhaps explains why I remain selfishly attached to so many beautiful facets of this world, like Pim.

My self is dug in with both feet. I don't want to lose her. I'm aware of the absurdity of our position, a young Thai girl and a very old farang man who has less money than the general run-of-the-mill expatriate in Bangkok. The "bride price" Pim's mother would require to save face in her village would likely take a third of my dwindling savings, money I want to keep for medical and dental emergencies as well as travel, necessary and for pleasure. Right now Pim and I live in a bubble, insulated from most of her world. Either she will be able to come to terms with the displeasure of others who find me unsuitable, or we will have to separate.

I told Jerry yesterday that I am becoming a full-fledged hedonist in Thailand, letting my ascetic spiritual practices atrophy. I know it would be better for Pim to find a younger man, one who could give her children. If I love her and want what's best for her, I should encourage her to leave me. But it is also possible that she would not find anyone. She is in her late twenties, over the hill for a Thai woman, and her preference for farang men, with whom she can speak English, narrows the field considerably. There are alot of unprincipled sex tourists in this city looking for one-night stands (her previous "boyfriend" was one of them). Until her sister graduates from college, Pim will be the sole support of her mother and will have to work all the time. She is neither glamorous nor conventionally beautiful. She thinks her breasts and legs are too big, and it will be another year before her braces are removed. I find her naturalness and simplicity attractive. She doesn't paint her toenails!

Somehow the situation will have to be resolved, and soon. Last week, when I feared she would move back to a dormitory room, I was distraught. A brain storm of the first magnitude. But then the dark clouds passed. They could come again.

1 comment:

Lady from yesterday said...

What is Love? Most of people must to say that we have to sacrifice for our love like let them find out new lover whom will suitable than ex-lover.But I think we should ask our lover that they really need to do like our thinking? So let's talk!