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Demolition Dhamma

By Helen Jandamit


The abandoned old structure was being demolished.

Since the floods of 2011, apart from the occasional rat, only pigeons and trim Thai sparrows had gone into the place.

Floodwaters had warped the thin, wooden planks which previously had lain vertically, stepped one over the other, over the outside of the house. Still painted chalky green, they were now loose and drooping. Some were so misshapen that they had come away from their supports.

Thich greyish sludge obliterated the once decorative floor tiles, yet hints of the grandeur of former days remained. The rooms were spacious and the windows opened wide to let in the wind and the sun. The high ceilings made the interior feel cooler and allowed the use of revolving fans suspended from the middle beams of the ceilings.

The house was built in the style favoured by the moneyed classes at the end of World War 2 but subtly adjusted to conform to Chinese Feng Shui principles, and the needs of the general’s extended family.

The general’s widow remained in the house for a long time after his passing but eventually left to live with one of her sons and his family.

The place remained uninhabited after that but the upstairs fluorescent strip lights kept turning themselves on and off at random and sometimes flashed for hours. The place was left to rot – for nearly a year.


Professional scavengers

Early in 2013, a team of skilled workers from Ayuthaya (a former capital of Thailand) arrived, bringing with them ladders, saws and acrobatic skills.

Unbeknown to the neighbours, the property, which had been on the market for a considerable time, had been sold. The new owner had commissioned the workers to deconstruct the building and salvage the valuable teak wood.

Two and sometimes three wiry, disheveled little men picked their way along the supporting beams tearing the house apart piece by piece.

They had no safety gear and relied on their own sense of balance and knowledge of natural forces. They arrived early to do the hot work on what remained of the roof as the sun rose.

As the sun moved round, so did they.  When they were tired, they rested.

When they were refreshed, they continued. After four days, little but the underlying framework remained - seemingly strong, but actually rotting.

After the wood had been salvaged and loaded on sturdy trucks and taken away, the land was left unattended for three months or so.

For those three months, the wind whistled across the open space and through our place too, clearing the air and sweeping out the cobwebs. Even our ground floor, which had previously been shaded from the sun, was bright in the morning. An uneasy hiatus temporarily reigned.




Bell ringing and chanting

One morning, a Brahmin dressed in white conducted a ceremony for the other-dimensional protectors of the land. Amidst clouds of incense smoke, with much bell ringing and chanting, kneeling and genuflecting, the Brahmin and the new owner of the land and his family asked the ancient protectors for their help during the construction.

The next day, a makeshift tent made from a large, green, plastic sheet mysteriously grew itself near the battered boundary wall.







Demolition Dhamma (part 2)


Cast-in-place concrete piles


Early that afternoon, a massive parrot-yellow compressor arrived, plus a new-fangled magnetic pyramid device that, with the assistance of a synchronized team of construction workers, dug out the place where each of the cast-in-place concrete piles was going to be.

Then, a thirty-metre-long bundle of steel rods was put into the hole and, following a mobile phone call, premixed concrete arrived by lorry and was released down a series of ramps to flow into the hole.

The following two months left the people who lived near the site with shattered nerves, a permanent headache and black circles under their eyes. Those who could, went to stay with relatives or took a very long holiday. Most people however, both lived in and worked from four-storey shophouses that ringed the building site. The noise and the shaking was not going away and neither were the residents.

As the pile-driving work went deeper into the waterlogged earth, black shiny mud was brought up first. After that, the heavy metal cutting tubes were hammered, by means of magnetic pulses, deeper into the earth. The earth brought up each time became more closely packed, lighter and a little drier. When this phase was underway, the pounding became almost unbearable and the local buildings shook from their foundations.

Some of the surrounding neighbours left the area for hours at a stretch, looking decidedly frazzled round the edges. Most did not complain, knowing full well that a certain influence was being brought to bear on the authorities. There had been no known impact assessment on the surrounding areas. The officially-required notice of intent and the name of the new owner, plus a copy of the document giving permission for the construction, were there for a few hours and then mysteriously disappeared.

Although most disliked the constant and health-threatening noise and disturbance, the local community, many of whom had lived there for over thirty years, and whose parents had lived there too, welcomed a new, well-maintained building to replace the abandoned derelict one.


Shaking out deeply buried tendencies

Simply living in that all-but-intolerable environment was shaking more than physical bodies. The constant stress and challenge was shaking out deeply buried tendencies and habit patterns too. It was as if we had literally been put into a sieve and shaken until large lumps and stones became evident amid the sand. The whole physical situation was revealing unfinished business and long suppressed memories. They were being forced out into the open where they could be dealt with.

When the situation becomes unbearable, something has to give.The local community is easy-going and non-confrontational. Many have Chinese relatives and are quite well-educated, hard-working and clever in practical ways. After a couple of months of constant disturbance, tempers were growing short and disagreements more common. Frustration and constant tiredness were very evident.

What were the alternatives? Individually bringing a court case meant spending more money than most families had. Class action, though not unknown, is quite rare and would probably take years longer than the actual construction.

The noise and the shaking were not going away and neither were we. Legal action gives you some wriggle room in which to recharge your energy, create greater solidarity with others similarly affected, deal with your fears and more clearly experience personal power. However in this context, that is not what I am referring to.

Neither is removing yourself from the situation or deliberately closing down your sensitivity by anaesthetizing yourself with aspirin, being busy, soap operas or possibly alcohol. Neither outward action, nor soft pedalling sense input, deal with the inner processes that habitually cause frustration and distress to arise in your mind. They will hopefully permit a temporary reduction of the level of distress. However, should other fraught situations arise later, you will be back to square one because the root of the quandary has not been addressed – merely covered up. The ultimate cause of your discomfort is not ‘out there’.

The Theravadan Buddhist elders tell a story of a flea-infested dog.

The dog is sitting on sandy ground near a makeshift fence. It shakes itself occasionally and lifts a back foot to enthusiastically scratch behind one ear. The dog is still for a short time, then it gets up, stretches and walks towards a shady place at the foot of a nearby tree. It settles down with its chin on one of its front paws. After a few minutes, it shakes a bit then rolls on its back and writhes around trying to scratch a place near its spine. The dog keeps moving from one place to another to get away from the fleas, only to carry them with it wherever it goes.

On the level of relative truth, it is essential to engage with the proximate cause. If you see that there is injustice, it is important to reveal it and root it out. Most of us live surrounded by an infrastructure of greed-based corruption which has been put in place and maintained by individuals or groups who appear to lack both compassion and the ability to empathise with others. Their actions tell us that they are prepared to disempower others for their own selfish ends.On that level, you need to get informed and to stand up for your rights. On the level of ultimate truth, even if you have won court cases against massive odds, you may still be irritated by the unfinished inner business that you may carry with you wherever you go.

Coming into your latent spiritual warrior status

If you realize that you carry your own version of ‘fleas’, you may choose to come into your latent spiritual warrior status and to delve deep within, to locate, know and allow the roots of the discontent, that you have unknowingly carried with you for so long, to be uprooted and come to an end.

In the past, an integrated and awakened person would often take the inner journey first. Then wiser and stronger, that person would be able to choose the most efficient and practical ways to address the outer concerns. [I shall use ‘he’ as the pronoun to stand for that person, but this is just for convenience. The integrated and awakened person is just as likely to be a woman.]

These days, time has sped up to such an extent that many have to deal with both inner and outer challenges at the same time.It is no longer like a nineteenth century steam train driver, happily whistling as he steers his engine along pre-laid rural tracks. Now, we are drivers of a metaphorical magnetic levitation (maglev) train that is hurtling down a track that is being laid by our own and the collective intent - even as we move along it.

A truly integrated and awakened person now frequently has to negotiate the inner awakening and the outer one simultaneously. When outward conditions become unsustainable, he stands tall in his clear perception of what is really happening and what needs to be done about it.

He is able to do that because, after having developed his mind for some time, there is less grime on the lens of his perception and less disturbance and distraction in his mind. At the same time, when there is a pause in the outward commotion, he goes with the eddies and flows of deep mind currents, allowing them to manifest as they will. His clear awareness knows the processes as they are and allows them to go through their changes, to defragment and disperse while maintaining an attitude of bare awareness (Sati).

When the inner warrior neither clings to, nor rejects, the snares and seductions that play out in mind, they lose their power to control him. As a result, he comes again into inner peace.

That exultant peaceful state of consciousness and freedom then becomes his ground of being.When obscurations of mind are cleared, through this standpoint of focused non-judgmental awareness, integral inner freedom shines out its true nature.

When that happens, a person is unshaken by, but still fully aware of, the changing nature of the physical world and all that is playing out around him. He knows it. He feels it but he is not shaken by what he perceives.







Links for Dhamma Stories

Click on the links below to go to other stories


Through the magnifying glass

Demolition Dhamma

The wake-up stick

A sip of water

Tightrope walking over the minefields of conditioning

Links for Dhamma Stories






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