Sunday, November 30, 2008



From the 17th Canto of Saundarananda, trans. Linda Covill

Then he entered the first level of meditation, in which passion and the tainted constituents of reality are absent. It consists of an initial and a sustained application of the mind to its object, is born of discernment, and is imbued with happiness and bliss.... He realized that the initial and sustained application of the mind... are not conducive to peace but make undulations in the mind. He decided to break away from them....

Then he gradually entered the second level of meditation, which has no initial or sustained application of the mind to its object. Born of concentration (samaadhi-jam) and calm due to mental one-pointedness, it is joyfully blissful and endowed with inner delight. And in reaching that level of meditation in which the mind is silent, he experienced a profound joy that he had never experienced before. But in that joy too, he noticed a flaw, just as he had with regard to thoughts. For he who takes profound joy in anything will also find unsatisfactoriness in it.

He attained the third level of meditation... bliss greater than any other bliss.... But since he considered the highest to be peaceful and without fluctuation, he detected a flaw even in meditation at this level -- that his mind fluctuated continuously due to modulations in the working of bliss.

Then, because he had given up... he attained the fourth level of meditation.

With the support of the fourth level of meditation, he made up his mind to win the worthy state, as a king joins with a mighty and noble ally when he wishes to conquer unconquered territories.

Friday, November 28, 2008



From Buddhacarita Canto 12, The Meeting with Arada

atha kaSHTa-tapah-spaSHTa
vyartha-kliSHTa-tanur munih
bhava-bhiirur imaam cakre
buddhim buddhatva-kaankSHayaa,

Harsh ascetic practice, it was clear,
Was torturing his figure to no purpose, and so the sage,
Wary of this cycle of becoming,
Resolved, in his longing for buddhahood:

[[n' ayam dharmo viraagaaya,
na bodhaaya, na muktaye;
jambu-muule mayaa praapto
yas tadaa, sa vidhir dhruvah

"This is not a way to detachment,
Or to awakening, or to release;
The state I realized at the foot of the rose apple tree:
How I was then is surely the way to be.

na c'aasau dur-balen' aaptum
shakyam]] ity aagat'-aadarah
sharira-bala vRddhy artham
idam bhuuyo 'nvacintayat:

And that mode of being, for one who is weak,
Is unattainable." So, soberly,
With a view to increasing his bodily strength,
On this, more deeply still, he reflected:

shramaad a-svastha-maanasah
phalam katham a-nirvRtah?

"Clapped-out by hunger, thirst, and fatigue,
A mind that, through fatigue, is not itself,
Is reaching for the fruit that is for a mind to enjoy:
But how, if the mind is uneasy, can it enjoy that fruit?

nirvRtih praapyate samyak
manah-svaasthyam avaapyate

The joy of effortless ease is properly gained
From constant appeasement of the senses;
From senses that are well integrated and content,
The mind recovers its health.

samaadhir upapadyate,
dhyaana-yogah pravartate

When the mind is well and serene,
Physical balance asserts itself;
And when balance is in the harness of intelligence,
Zen practice gets going.

dhyaana-pravartanaad dharmaah
praapyante yair avaapyate
dur-labham shaantam a-jaram
param tad a-mRtam padam]]

Teachings, through zen practice,
Are realised; and by those means is gained
The hard-won state of peace and agelessness --
That supreme, deathless state."

tasmaad aahaara-muulo 'yam
upaaya iti nishcayah
aahaara-karane dhiirah
kRtv' aa-mita-matir matim

Food, therefore, is the foundation of this process,
A means-whereby. Having decided so,
He was steadfast in his taking of food --
He of unbounded mind had made up his mind.



atha: [connective particle] then
kaSHTa: harsh
tapah: austerity, ascetic practice
spaSHTA: clear, distinct, evident

vyartha: useless, unprofitable, vain
kliSHTa: tormented, afflicted, damaged, worn out
tanur: body, person, form, one's self
munih: sage

bhava: becoming, being, existence
bhiiru: timid, fearful
imaam = accusative (f) of ayam: this
cakra: wheel

buddhim: one's mind, resolution, resolve
buddhatva: buddhahood
kaankSHayaa = instrumental case of kaankSHa: desire, long for, strive after

na: not
ayam: this
dharma: method, law, way of practising, etc.
viraagaaya = dative case of viraaga: loss of colour, indifference, absence of passion, DETACHMENT

na: not
bodhaaya = dative case of bodhi: awakening, enlightenment
na: not
muktaye = dative case of mukti: setting or becoming free, release, liberation

jambu: the rose apple tree [sitting under which the young Gautama had experienced samadhi spontaneously gripping him]
muule: locative case of muula: root, foot, base, low part
mayaa: instrumental case of aham: I
praapta: gotten, gained, attained

yat: [relative pronoun] that, what, that which
tadaa: then, at that time
sa: [pronoun] that, the
vidhi: method, manner or way of acting, mode of being, conduct or behaviour
dhruvah: firmly, constantly, certainly, surely

na: not
ca: and
asau: that, that state
dur-balena = instrumental case of dur-bala: one who is weak
aapta: reached, obtained

shakya: possible
iti: thus, so
aagata: entered into [a state of mind]
aadara: care, trouble, attention, sober consideration

sharira-bala: bodily strength
vrddhi: increase
artham: purpose, in order to

idam: this
bhuuyah: further
anvacintayat: pondered, reflected, considered

kSHut: hunger
pipaashaa: thirst
shrama:fatigue, exhaustion, weariness
klaantah: fatigued, exhausted, withered, emaciated, worn out

shramaad = ablative case of shrama: fatigue
a: not
svastha: self-abiding, being in oneself, being in one's natural state, contented, sound, well, healthy, at ease, confident, composed
maanasa: mental; mental faculty, mind

praap: to attain to, reach, arrive at, meet with, find
manasa: mind
avaap: to reach, attain, obtain, gain, get
avaapya: (1) having obtained; (2) to be obtained

phalam: fruit, result, reward
katham: how?
a: not
nirvRtah: satisfied, happy, tranquil, at ease

nirvRti: complete satisfaction or happiness, bliss
praapyate: reached, attained, got
samyak: properly, fully, out and out

satata: constantly
indriya: faculty of sense, sense, organ of sense
tarpaNaat = ablative case of tarpana: satiety, refreshment, satisfaction

saMtarpita: satiated, satisfied
indriyatayaa = ablative case (?) of indriya: sense

manah: mind
svaasthya: self-dependence, sound state, health, ease, comfort, contentment, satisfaction
avaapya: to be obtained, to be got

svastha: being in its natural state
prasanna: clear, bright, pure; distinct, true, plain; placid, tranquil, soothed; spirituous licquor made of rice.
manasah: mind

samaadhi: samadhi, physical stillness, physical balance, physiological balance encompassing the integrative fucntion of the vestibular system and balance of the autonomic nervous system.
upapadyate: go towards, approach; come forth, happen; spring into action

samaadhi: balance, stillness
yukta: [MW853] yoked or joined or fastened or attached or harnessed to;
(in compounds) joined, united, connected, combined; furnished or endowed or filled or supplied or provided with, accompanied by, possessed of.
Thus, Johnston translates samaadhi-yukta-cittasya as "when the mind is possessed of concentrated meditation" i.e. when citta is possessed of samadhi, i.e. when citta possesses samadhi, i.e. when samadhi is in the harness of citta.
cittasya = genitive case of citta: thinking, intelligence, reason.
citta [MAC94]: observation; thought, purpose, will; mind, heart, intellect, reason.
citta [MW395]: 'noticed'; attending, observing; thinking, reflecting, imagining, thought; intention, aim, wish; memory, intelligence, reason.

dhyaana-yoga:[MW520] profound meditation, or meditation and abstraction
dhyaana: meditation, thought, reflection; Zen meditation, meditative action
yoga: [MW856] the act of yoking, joining, harnessing; use, performance, practice; a means, expedient, way, manner, method; undertaking, business, work; any junction, union, combination; fitting together; exertion, endeavor.
pravartate: to roll or go onwards, be set in motion, proceed, commence

dhyaana: Zen
pravartanaad = ablative case of pravartana: being in motion, rolling forth; walking, roaming, wandering; activity, procedure, engaging in; going on.
dharmaah: dharmas, teachings

praapyante: get, obtain
yair = instrumental, plural of yah: [relative pronoun] those which
avaapyate: to be got, to be obtained

dur-labham: hard-won
shaanta: composed, calm, peaceful
a-jara: ageless

param: highest
tad: that
a-mRtam: deathless
padam: step; footing, place, abode; station, office; rank

tasmaad: accordingly, therefore
aahaara: food, sustenance
muula: root, foundation, basis
ayam: this

upaaya: method, means-whereby
iti: thus
nishcaya: decision; conclusion, resolve

aahaara-kri: take food
dhiirah: lasting, steady, firm; resolute, courageous; steadfast; firmly adhering to

kRtva = past participle of kri: make
a-mita: boundless, unbounded, immeasurable
mati: intention, purpose, determination; understanding, mind, wit, judgement
matim-kri: resolve upon, make up one's mind


Previous translations, for reference:

Thereon dreading existence the sage, whose body was clearly tormented to no purpose by pernicious austerities, thus resolved in his longing for Buddhahood:--

"This is not the way of life for passionlessness, for enlightenment, for liberation. That is the sure procedure which I won that time beneath the jambu tree.

Nor can that be obtained by one who is weak." So in all seriousness he pondered further on this point in order to increase his bodily strength.

How can the result to be attained by the mind be reached by a man, who is not calmly at ease and who is so worn out with the exhaustion of hunger and thirst that his mind is unbalanced with the exhaustion?

Inward tranquility is rightly gained by constant appeasement of the senses, and from full appeasement of the senses the mind becomes well-balanced.

The man whose mind is well-balanced and serene develops concentrated meditation; when the mind is possessed of concentrated meditation, the practice of trance begins.

By the practice of trance those dharmas are obtained, through which is won that highest, peaceful stage, so hard to reach, which is ageless and deathless."

Accordingly the steadfast seer of unbounded wisdom concluded that this method was based on the eating of food and made up his mind to take food

-- E. H. Johnston, 1936

Then, the sage, his body clearly tortured
for no purpose by vile austerities,
and afraid of continued existence,
made this resolve, longing for Buddhahood:

"This dharma will not lead to detachment,
to Awakening or release;
The path I attained at that time
under the rose apple tree
was indeed the certain path.

But that path cannot be traversed
by a man who is weak."

Thus, with a sense of urgency
he reflected on this again
to increase his bodily strength:

"When a man is worn out
by hunger, thirst, and fatigue,
his mind unwell with fatigue,
How will he, who is not tranquil, attain
the fruit that the mind alone can attain?

Tranquility is properly attained
by always making the senses content;
when the senses are well content,
wellness of the mind is attained.

Mental concentration springs up
when one's mind is well and serene,
And practice of trance advances
when concentration grips one's mind.

And by the advancement of trance,
one attains the dharmas by which
Is attained that supreme state hard to obtain,
a state that is unaging, immortal, and calm."

Having concluded, therefore, that
this process was rooted in food,
steadfast, and with boundless wisdom,
he resolved to partake of food.

-- Patrick Olivelle, 2008


It seems to me that Johnston's translation is tremendously useful as an aid to understand the literal meaning of the original Sanskrit, whereas Olivelle's translation reads more easily, especially to a modern ear.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008




-- Ashvaghosha, circa 50 AD

For the tree of knowledge, when flourishing, should not be cut down, the tree whose fibres are forbearance, which is rooted deep in resolution, whose flowers are good conduct and whose boughs awareness and wisdom, and which yields the fruit of dharma.

-- trans. E. H. Johnston, 1936

For it's not proper to cut down this flourishing tree of knowledge,
That provides the fruits of dharma,
whose fibers are patience,
whose deep roots are resolve,
whose flowers are good conduct,
And whose boughs are mindfulness and wisdom.

-- trans. Patrick Olivelle, Clay Sanskrit Library version, 2008

The fact that Buddha-carita is written in four-line stanzas tempts me to look for a four-phased structure in each verse, as I became accustomed to doing while translating 4-line verses in Shobogenzo. For the present, not all, not even most, of the four-line stanzas of Buddha-carita seem to cry out to be translated in this way, but I think that the verse quoted above definitely does. So here goes:

With soft root fibres of forbearance and roots dug deep in doggedness;

With flowers, each a course of action; with remembering, intelligent limbs,

A tree of knowing, which will bear its dharma-fruit,

But now is growing, up and out, ought not to be torn down.

This is a verse in praise of Sitting-buddha. According to legend, with this and other verses in Buddha-carita Canto 13, Victory Over Mara, an invisible being in the sky scolded Mara, who was bent on bringing the Sitting Sakyamuni down. But the legend is only a legend. The truth is that Ashvaghosha, in the guise of a gifted yarn-spinner, is drawing our attention back to the living reality of Sitting-buddha, whose essence, I venture to suggest, is not know-ledge, but know-ing -- knowing up and out, and growing up and out. In the original Sanskrit, the final word of the fourth line of the verse (the word that, in 4-line Chinese poetry, often points the reader away from words) is VARHADAMAANAH, growing.

With soft root fibres of forbearance and roots dug deep in doggedness;

With flowers, each a course of action; with remembering, intelligent limbs,

A tree of knowing, which is going to bear its dharma-fruit,

Should not be torn down, for it is growing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Eightfold Awakening of a Great Human Being -- Ashvaghosha / Johnston version

When I received the Clay Sanskrit Library version of Buddhacarita a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was turn to the end of Ashvaghosha's biography of the Buddha, to see if there might be, as I had hoped, some account of the Buddha's final eightfold preaching, as recorded by Master Dogen in the final chapter of Shobogenzo.

Unfortunately, the original Sanskrit has been lost for the second half of Canto 14 through to Canto 28 of Buddhacarita, although the content has apparently been preserved reliably in a Tibetan translation, and also via translation into Chinese.

In the Clay Sanskrit Library version of Buddhacarita, these translations are summarized very briefly. Hence, the summary of Canto 26, The Maha-parinirvana, relates simply that:

The Buddha then gives his final instructions to his disciples by telling them that after he is gone they should consider the Pratimoksha, the code of monastic rules, to be their guide. There follows a long discourse on how the monks should conduct themselves.

The Clay Sanskrit Library version gives no clue as to the content of this final discourse.

The day before yesterday, however, a copy arrived through the post of Ashvaghosha's Buddhacarita, or Acts of the Buddha, translated by E.H. Johnston and first published in 1936.

This version contains, among other things, a mind-numbing scholarly discussion of which sect of Buddhism Ashvaghosha might be regarded as belonging to. Johnston thus announces himself as something of a sand-counter -- one whose years of Ashvaghosha study did not result in him getting even to first base in understanding for himself what Ashvaghosha was really intending to convey.

To his eternal credit, on the other hand, the scrupulously conscientious Johnston evidently went back to the Tibetan and Chinese versions in order to arrive as nearly as he could at the meaning of Ashvaghosha's original text. And so, in his translation from the Tibetan of Canto 26, Johnston relates the Buddha's final teaching as follows:

42. "...Pass the entire day and also the first and last watches of the night in the practice of yoga, and lie down in the middle watch, full of awareness so that the time of sleep does not bring on calamity.

43. For when the world here is being burnt up by the fire of Time, is it proper to sleep for the whole night? When the sins, which strike down like enemies, abide in the heart, who would go to sleep?

44. Therefore you should sleep, after exorcising with knowledge and the repetition of sacred texts the snakes of the sins which reside in the heart, as one does black snakes in a house by magic and charms; besides it is a question of self respect.

45. Self-respect is an ornament and the best clothing, the ankus for those who have strayed from the path. Such being the case, you should act with self-respect; for to be devoid of self-respect is to be devoid of all the virtues.

46. A man is honoured to the extent to which he has self-respect, and he, who is lacking in self-respect and who is devoid of discrimination between what is and what is not his real good, is on a level with the brute beasts.

47. Even should anyone cut off your arms and limbs with a sword, you should not cherish sinful thoughts about him or speak unforgiving words; for such action is an obstruction to you alone.

48. There are no austerities equal to forbearance, and he who has forbearance has strength and fortitude, whereas those who cannot tolerate harsh treatment from others do not follow the way of those who lay down the Law, nor are they saved.

49. Do not allow the slightest opening to anger, which ruins the Law and destroys fame, and which is the enemy of beauty and a fire to the heart; there is no enemy to the virtues like unto it.

50. While anger is contrary to the profession of religion, like the fire of lightning to cold water, it is not contrary to the life of the householder; for the latter are full of passion and have taken no vows about it.

51. If pride arises in your heart, it must be controverted by touching your head shorn of its beautiful locks, by looking on your dyed clothes and your begging bowl, and by reflecting on the conduct and occupations of others.

52. If worldly men who are proud strive to overcome pride, how much more should those do so, whose heads are shaven, who have directed themselves to salvation, and who eat the bread of mendicancy and have proved themselves.


53. Since deceitfulness and the practice of the Law are incompatible, do not resort to crooked ways. Deceitfulness and false pretences are for the sake of cheating, but for those who are given to the Law, there is no such thing as cheating.

54. The suffering which comes to him whose desires are great does not come to him whose desires are small. Therefore smallness of desire should be practised, and especially so by those who seek for the perfection of all the virtues.

55. He who does not fear the rich at all is not afraid of the sight of stingy people; for he obtains salvation, whose desires are small and who is not cast down on hearing that there is nothing for him.


56. If you desire salvation, practise contentment; with contentment there is bliss here and it is the Law. The contented sleep peacefully even on the ground, the discontented are burnt up even in Paradise.

57. The discontented man, however rich is always poor, and the contented man, however poor, is always rich. The discontented man, seeking the beloved objects of sense, creates suffering for himself by toiling to obtain satiety.


58. Those who desire to obtain the highest bliss of peace should not give themselves up to the pleasures in such degree. For even Indra and the other gods envy the man in the world who is solely devoted to tranquility.

59. Attachment is the roosting-tree of suffering; therefore give up attachment, whether to relations or to strangers. He who has many attachments in the world is stuck fast in suffering, like a decrepit elephant in the mud.


60. A stream, whose waters ever flow, however softly, in time wears away the surface of the rock. Energy finds nothing impossible of attainment. Therefore be strenuous and do not put down your loads.

61. The man who stops repeatedly in drilling with fire-sticks finds it hard to get fire from wood, but by the application of energy it comes easily. Therefore where there is diligence, the task is accomplished.


62. When awareness is present, the faults do not enter into activity; there is no friend or protector equal to awareness, and if awareness is lost, all certainly is lost. Therefore do not lose hold of awareness directed towards the body.

63. The firm in mind, putting on the armour of awareness towards the body, conduct themselves in the battlefield of the objects of sense like heroes, who gird on their armour and plunge fearlessly into the ranks of their foes.


64. Therefore, keeping your feelings level and restraining your minds, know the origin and passing away of the world and practise concentration. For no mental ills touch him who has obtained concentration of mind.

65. Just as men diligently make embankments for holding up water that is overflowing, so concentration is declared to be like the embankment for bringing the water of knowledge to a stand.


66. The wise man, who abides giving away his possessions and entirely devoted to this Law in his heart, is saved; how much more then should the mendicant, who has no home, be saved?

67. Mystic wisdom is the boat on the great ocean of old age and death, a lamp, as it were, in the darkness of delusion, the medicine that smites all illnesses, the sharp axe that cuts down the trees of the sins.

68. Therefore practise learning, knowledge, and meditation for the increase of mystic wisdom; for he who has the eye that is of the nature of mystic wisdom, though without ocular vision, has indeed sight.


69. Although a man has left his home, yet, if he is engaged in the varied activities of the mind, he is not saved; those who desire to obtain the supreme tranquility should know this and become free from all activities.

70. Therefore adhere to heedfulness as to a guru, and avoid heedlessness as an enemy. By heedfulness Indra obtained sovereignty, by heedlessness the arrogant Asuras came to destruction.

71. I have done all that should be done by a compassionate sympathetic Master, Who aims at others' good; do you apply yourselves and bring your minds to tranquility.

72. Then, wherever you may be, on the mountains or in empty dwellings or in the forest, ever be strenuous in religious practice and do not give way to remorse.

73. It is for the physician, after full consideration of their constitutions, to explain the proper medicines to his patients, but it is the sick man, not the physician, who is responsible for attending to their administration at the proper time.

74. When the guide has pointed out the magnificent straight level road which is free from danger, and those who hear him do not proceed along it but go to destruction, there is no debt in the way of instruction still due from the guide.

75. Whoever of you has any desire about My teaching of the Four Truths, suffering and the rest, let him confidently speak out to Me at once and cut off doubt."

76. When the Great Seer thus spoke aloud, they were free from doubt and said nothing.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Deathlessness is lost to him whose mindfulness goes outwards, but when he stays mindful of his body, he holds deathlessness in his hand. Where is the noble plan of a man lacking mindfulness? And if he does not have a noble plan, then he has lost the true path.

Saundarananda 14.42, trans. Linda Covill

"Noble plan" in Linda Covill's translation is AARYO NYAAYAH.
AARYO means Aryan, noble.
NYAAYA is as in the phrase discussed previously NYAAYENA YUKTAA SMIRTIH, mindfulness yoked to a leading thought, or a plan, or a means-whereby principle.

So here is another clue as to what Ashvaghosha meant by NYAAYA -- Ashvaghosha evidently had in mind not something that is base and coarse, not something swilling around in the world of what FM Alexander called "lowly evolved swine" (ordinary, subconsciously-controlled human beings who are going around the whole time simply reacting to stimuli perceived through the senses, on the basis of faulty sensory appreciation which is rooted in immature vesibular reflexes and smeared with the poison of fixed and wrong conceptions).

I think that Ashvaghosha, with the word AARYO, is pointing our human heads not back and down into our bodies, as if we were fearful turtles, but courageously forward and up towards what FM Alexander called "conscious control, as primarily a plane to be reached."

What was I taught by Marjory Barlow, the niece of FM Alexander, if not mindfulness of my own body, yoked to the noble principle of inhibition?

What is the fundamental teaching of Zen Master Dogen, if not the forgetting of my own body, through conscious effort to remember it, through the backward step of turning light and glowing?

Friday, November 21, 2008


For one obtains fire by rubbing the wood,
and one finds water by digging the earth;
There is nothing that is impossible
for the man who is persistent;
Everything can be accomplished,
when it is done the proper way.

Buddha-carita 13.60, trans. Patrick Olivelle

The final line in Sanskrit is:

In this passage, Patrick Olivelle has translated NYAAYENA YUKTAM as "when it is done the proper way."

NYAAYENA YUKTAM corresponds to the phrase discussed in the previous post, NYAAYENA YUKTAA, where it was used in relation to mindfulness or remembering.

So NYAAYENA YUKTAA... SMIRTIH might be translated "remembering practised the proper way."

What Ashvaghosha seems to be saying in the above passage is that everything is possible for the persistent man, as long as what he does is yoked to a method, as long as his effort is systematic, as long as his energy is directed in accordance with a conscious means-whereby principle -- and not scattered here and there by end-gaining in an unconscious, willy-nilly fashion.

(Why do I have a nagging sense that with the words "end-gaining in an unconscious, willy-nilly fashion," I have just exactly described my own blogging efforts over the past few years, charging here and there like a locomotive off the rails? Or like a blind donkey seeking a lost carrot.... yes, I am afraid it is the latter metaphor that hits the target with tragic accuracy.)

A further clue in Saundarananda to the meaning of NYAAYA is that Ashvaghosha seems to use the word as synonymous with UPAAYA, which definitely means "method" or "means-whereby" -- as in the title of the 2nd chapter of the Lotus Sutra.

"... for even diligence is destructive if it is accompanied by the wrong method [AN-UPAAYA]" In this way, the Sugata spoke to him concerning right method [NYAAYAM] and the retreat from the wrong method [A-NYAAYA].

Saundarananda 16.70, trans. Linda Covill

The Clay Sanskrit Library translations of Ashvaghosha provide a tremendous resource. Using them as a starting point, I now firmly intend to clarify for myself, by studying for myself Ashvaghosha's words in their original Sanskrit, what Ashvaghosha was really driving at.

Little by little I aim to continue progressing like this, in small degrees, from greater to lesser misunderstanding of Ashvaghosha's words, as if removing grosser then finer impurities from gold.

By manifesting myself groping in the dark like this, as a novice of Sanskrit, I am probably making even more of a fool of myself than I have already done to date. But as Ashvaghosha concluded, "serviceable gold necessarily comes from ore-born dust."

So, in the Ashvaghosha / SAS spirit of Who Dares Wins, I will try again:

Out and out remembering -- yoked, for the purpose of getting at the truth, to the means-whereby principle -- along with out and out stillness: this pair constitutes the two precepts on [body-mind] integration, whose purpose is mastery, seated in peace, of the practice of thinking.

Saundarananda 16.33

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Out and out remembering, driven by the intention of getting at the truth, along with out and out stillness -- this pair constitutes the two precepts on [body-mind] integration, for the purpose of mastering, while seated in peace, the practice of thinking.

Saundarananda 16.33

Linda Covill's translation of the same sentence is:

Right mindfulness, conjoined to the plan for the discovery of the truth, and right concentration -- these two occur in the ordinance on yogic practice, and are a basis for peace in order that one's thoughts may be circumscribed.

As already mentioned, I like very much Linda Covill's style as a writer and translator of Ashvaghosha's words. And anybody can see from the dictionary definitions below that LC's translation is literal enough. Still I have dared to have a go myself at this important passage from the section on the fourth noble truth. I hope my translation conveys something of the sense of urgency that Ashvaghosaha's words convey to me. As old-age and/or death rapidly approach, and notion after notion that we held to be true turns out to have been false, while the world continues to burn, as it has always burned... in this situation we need a definite plan, like a plan of military action, so that, binding on the armour of mindfulness, we may defeat those foe-like faults that have so far been defeating us. No! more than anybody else's plan, we need to find within ourselves the courage and strength of purpose that lead to the kind of thinking by which faults are eliminated. That is the kind of thinking that FM Alexander discovered -- inhibitory thinking, thinking that inhibits the reptilian faults, thinking that will not take 'no' for an answer.

The original Sanskrit is:

NYAAYA [Monier-Williams pp. 528] plan, design; leading thought, principle, system, method, doctrine.
NYAAYENA [instrumental case] by the leading thought
SATYA the truth
ABIGAMA [MW61] approaching, visiting
ABIGAMAAYA [dative case: indicating purpose] for the purpose of approaching, for the discovery of, with the intention of getting at
YUKTAA yoked to, yoked with
NYAAYENA ... YUKTAA literally means, I think, "by the leading thought [remembering] is yoked..." So the image that is conjured is not the all-too-easily evoked remembrance of the war veteran or the pining lover; it is closer to the effort that I make to remember when I have forgotten what I went upstairs for. If we call it "mindfulness," then it is mindfulness whose energy is harnessed to a strongly directed driving force, like a cart harnessed to a horse. And this horse is pulling in one direction, towards liberation, which is synonymous in Ashvoghosha's eyes with elimination of faults.

SAMYAK out & out, straight, true
SMRTI remembrance, reminiscence, thinking of or upon, calling to mind, memory
ATHO [connecting particle] next, then, along with
SAMAADHIH samadhi, stillness
For SAMAADHI, Monier-Williams [MW1159] gives: putting together; bringing into harmony, agreement; fixing the mind on.
For Master Dogen, however, the king of samadhis is the act, with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, of sitting still (but without fixing anything on anything).

IDAM [nominative, singular of AYAM] this
DVAYAM couple, pair
YOGA [MW856] the act of yoking, joining, harnessing; junction, union, combination
VIDHI [MW968] a rule, formula, injunction, ordnance, statute, precept
VIDHAU [nominative, dual of VIDHI] two precepts
PRAVRRTAM [MW693] resulted, arisen, produced, happened, occurred

SHAMA tranquility, peace
AASHRAYAM [MW158] that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests [or sits]
CITTA thinking, thoughts, mind
PARIGRAHA [MW593] to take hold of on both sides, embrace, surround, enfold, envelop; to fence round, to occupy on both sides; to seize, clutch, grasp, catch; to take or carry along with one; to take possession of, master, overpower; to take, adopt, conform to, follow
PARIGRAHAAYA [dative case, denoting purpose, of PARIGRAHA]
for the purpose of practising

I have suggested already at the end of this post that to me the purpose denoted is not so much the quashing of thoughts as the practice of inhibitory thinking of the kind that Ashvaghosha proceeds to describe -- thinking in a friendly manner towards oneself as an antidote to ill-will, contemplating the impurity of the body as an antidote to passion, et cetera.

The three characters below, taken from the Fukan-zazengi scroll thought to be written in Master Dogen's own hand, may be understood as expressing the original meaning of the word YOGA. The first character, JO, means become or realize. The second two characters, IPPEN, mean one piece. JO-IPPEN means becoming one piece, or realizing/rememembering that one is already, has already been from the beginning, one piece.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


"But when the fault of ill-will is disturbing one's thinking, then [thinking] should be practised by supplying oneself with goodwill."

Saundarananda 16.62

This translation is a kind of groping in the dark. Please don't quote me.

Still, what is not in doubt is that Ashvaghosha is advocating, as an antidote to the fault of malice or ill-will (VYAAPAADA), the introduction of its opposite, which is goodwill (MAITRII).

MAITRII is conventionally translated, rather wetly to my ears, as "loving-kindness." Hence Linda Covill's translation of the above sentence is:

But when the mind is disturbed by the fault of malice, the loving-kindness meditation should be practised with reference to one's own position.

My understanding of Sanskrit grammar is not yet adequate to understand exactly in my own mind, or to explain for others, how each word of Ashvaghosha's relates to the others in this sentence, but I am able to look up each word in the dictionary, thus:

VYAAPAADA malice, ill-will, evil intent
DOSHA fault, defect, taint
KSHUBHITE (case?) shaken, agitated
TU but
CITTE (locative case of CITTA?) thinking, mind
SEVYAA practised [I am not sure about the grammar - can anybody help?]
SVA-PAKSHA one's own wing/side/half/place; oneself
UPANAYENA (instrumental case of UPANA) by supplying, by introducing
MAITRII goodwill, friendship

With each passing day I am more determined that I will learn Sanskrit properly (though my facility for picking up languages is not what it once was), and I will clarify for self and others what Ashvaghosha really meant. And this time I will do it independently, with the intention of serving nobody other than Ashvaghosha himself and whoever reads my stuff. Insofar as I am able to direct my energy simply towards this service of one who is truly worthy of being served, the Great Arhat Ashvaghosha, I think that I might be able to turn over a new leaf. I might manage to supply even myself with a bit of goodwill. I might feel that this field of misfortunes which is my body, insofar as it might become a kind of wheelbarrow for transporting the serviceable gold of Ashvaghosa, might be worth redeeming.

In so redeeming myself, however, I do not think that I will need to bother resorting to a meditational technique of loving kindness. I think Ashavghosha's message is not about a technique of meditation, but is, more directly and simply, about learning how to think.

I think that what Ashvaghosha is saying is along the lines of what FM Alexander used to say, as quoted to me by his niece Marjory Barlow, that "This work is an exercise in finding out what thinking is." And "In this work being wrong is the best friend you have got."

From this bias, I suspect that Ashvaghosha is saying that what is to be practised, by supplying oneself with friendship, is thinking itself, by which faults are eliminated and peace ultimately won.

Or this interpretation could be a prejudice which the process of approaching a direct and literal translation of Ashvaghosha's words will require me to drop off.

Translation as I enjoy doing it is like this. It is rather like Alexander work under a good teacher -- repeatedly finding that you were wrong; repeatedly finding that what you thought might be it, was in fact not it.

Translation as I enjoy doing it is like this -- a work in progress.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Vowing to win release,
The great seer, born in a line of royal seers,
Sat there, and the world rejoiced.
Shaking with fright, however, was the enemy of true dharma -- Mara.

The opening verse of the 13th canto, "Victory over Mara," of Buddha-carita is translated by Patrick Olivelle like this:

When that great seer, who was born in a line
of royal seers, sat down there with the pledge
to win release, the world rejoiced, and yet
Mara, foe of true Dharma, shook with fright.

I don't see anything to criticize in Patrick Olivelle's translation.
But when I examine the original four-line verse, through (I cannot deny it) the eyes of my teacher Gudo:

the first line is about the Buddha's mind;
the second line expresses objectively, in terms of his royal ancestry, who the Buddha was;
the third line centres on the actions of sitting and rejoicing; and
the fourth line describes, with poetic license, the real effect on the evil one -- poor old Mara.


All that I know, really and truly, is this: fixing the head down on the front of the spine by pulling in the chin, as I was taught to do it, for the purpose of stopping thought, is never part of the solution to the problem of suffering. It is part of the problem.

Fixing, as FM Alexander said, is our worst evil. I think fixing is the fault at the centre of all faults, as the Moro reflex is at the centre of the whole tangle of vestibular problems. Fixing is right at the center of the tangled skein of faults that, as Ashvaghosha described, sets dukha in motion.

If I sometimes seem strident it is because I know the above, I have had it clearly demonstrated to me, whereas if any of the so-called Soto Zen masters of the present know it, I do not see the evidence of them knowing it. I see the evidence of them not knowing it, and yet teaching others. They put on a show as if they might be sitting in the enlightened glow of ancestors like Ashvaghosa and Dogen, while actually they are manifesting the gross stupidity and delusion of the bad teachers of recent times who taught them, throwing away mindfulness, unconsciously to pull in their chin. Kodo Sawaki, Shunryu Suzuki, Taisen Deshimaru... I don't care how great and famous the Roshi was; if he advocated pulling in the chin, then the "right posture" that he thought of as enlightenment was actually the very essence of subjective delusion. And Gudo Nishijima, my own teacher, has continued to be a prime example of this stupidity, this arrogant madness. Now, in his old age, he thinks he has got enlightenment at last. But I know for sure that he is not enlightened. He is just a stubborn old man who did not like, when I confronted him with the reality, to look in fact at the reality he preached in theory. He opted for denial. He preferred to listen to people who curried favour with him, wanting to get his Dharma so that they could believe themselves to be -- even announce themselves ridiculously on their web-pages to be -- a certified Zen Roshi. Gudo in recent years has taken to calling those who revere him "Venerable." That became his criterion -- whether a person reveres him or not. What a joke. What a tragedy.

Gudo is like one of those old dentists who, having made a career of putting mercury into people's mouths, would rather die in ignorance than admit that amalgam fillings can have a very toxic effect on some, if not all, people.

Even though I know, I have been taught, I have been shown, by Alexander teachers, that fixing is never part of the solution but is invariably part of the problem, I continue to do it, because I forget, I fail to remember, what I have already been shown.


As this breath passes in,
I try to remember not to interfere.
As this breath passes out,
I try to remember not to interfere.
What was it, not to interfere?
It is difficult to remember.
But one thing I know:
It was not that.

Finally there is nothing to do but express gratitude to the stupid bad teachers of recent times like Kodo and Gudo. They did their best, in a degenerate age, to go back to the source. Binding on the armour of mindfulness, let us try to follow their example of heroic endeavour -- while striving to be freer of foe-like faults like fixing, than they have been. For, as Ashvaghosa said:

Even a hero is not considered heroic if he is struck down by the foe-like faults.

Saurandananda 18.28, trans. Linda Covill

Saturday, November 15, 2008


The characters in the photo, from the edition of Fukan-zazengi written in Master Dogen's own hand read SHO-NEN, representing the Sanskrit SAMYAK SMRTI, which is conventionally translated into English as "right mindfulness."

What is SMRTI?

Setting aside the secondary issue of what English word to use as a translation of SMRTI, and going back to the source, what did Ashvaghosha really mean by SMRTI?

We see from Saundarananda that Ashvaghosha emphasized very much the vital importance of SMRTI, as a safeguard against faults. Faults can be understood as manifestations of a lack of integrity and self-restraint -- Ashvaghosa cites hypocrisy along with passion, malice, delusion and the rest. So what did he mean by SMRTI? How does it work?

The origin in Sanskrit of the word SMRTI is the verb whose root is SMR, to remember. SMARATI means "he remembers."

On November 11th, I was watching on TV the faces of people involved in remembrance day services, especially the faces of very old people who really were remembering. Clearly, there is a part of the brain that is particularly deeply implicated in the act of remembering, and these old people were allowing that part of the brain to function unimpeded.

Sitting outside in the sun just now, listening to low-flying aircraft buzzing overhead, like missiles straight from Mara, it occurred to me that SMRTI must have to do with using those parts of the brain that are particularly implicated in memory, in order to suppress, or inhibit, the "reptilian faults" (DOSHA-VYALAN) arising from within the deepest and oldest parts of the brain.

FM Alexander called this kind of inhibitory activity "thinking" -- by which he most certainly did not mean intellectual thinking.

My Sanskrit is not yet good enough to make the argument convincingly, but I suspect that Ashvaghosha also used the word "thinking" (CITTA) to express this kind of inhibitory activity.

In Saundarananda 16.33, Linda Covill translates Ashvaghosha as follows:

Right mindfulness conjoined to the plan for the discovery of the truth, and right concentration -- these two occur in the ordinance on yogic practice, and are a basis for peace in order that one's thoughts may be circumscribed.

The final words of this sentence in Sanskrit are CITTA PARIGRHAAYA.

CITTA is here translated by Linda Covill as "thoughts," but the Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary defines CITTA as "attending, observing; thinking, reflecting.... etc."

PARIGRAHAAYA is here translated by Linda Covill as "in order that... may be circumscribed." -AAYA represents the dative case, denoting purpose or result ("in order that"). Monier-Williams defines PARIGRAH as "to take hold of on both sides, embrace, surround, enfold, envelop; to fence round, to occupy on both sides; to seize, clutch, grasp, catch; to take or carry along with one; to take possession of, master."

So maybe a case can be made that CITTA PARIGRHAAYA expresses not so much the circumscribing, or fencing around, of thoughts but rather the mastery of thinking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


This is a review I wrote, for the Amazon website of Ashvaghosha's Saundarananda (Handsome Nanda), translated by Linda Covill and published by Clay Sanskrit Library.

For anybody who would like to know the original teaching of the Buddha's four noble truths, as it was preserved through twelve generations in India, here it is, straight from the horse's mouth, in Sanskrit and in English.

The teaching of the four truths first appears, in a nutshell, in the third of this book's eighteen cantos:

"This is suffering, this is the network of causes producing it, this is its pacification, this is the means." [3.10]

How great it is for the reader to be enabled not just to take the translator's word for it, but to check for himself with the Sanskrit on the facing page, and thereby know that the original words with which Ashvaghosha expressed the second noble truth were SAMUDAYA-LATA PRAVARTIKA. The dictionary tells us that SAMUDAYA means "combination" or "aggregate," that LATA originally means "creeper," and that PRAVARTIKA means "setting in motion" or "producing."

Aha! So the Master seems to be describing that which sets suffering in motion as a network of faults, a tangled skein, a many-tentacled monster of misuse.

Seeking to extricate Nanda from this tangled skein, the Buddha acts craftily: first he lures his younger brother away physically from the comforts of home, and then, to help release Nanda's mind from the continuing pull of his wife's sensual charms, the Buddha conjures up a bevy of truly heart-stopping heavenly stunners, in comparison with whom Mrs Nanda suddenly seems less sexually appealing than a one-eyed monkey!

The story of Handsome Nanda's path to liberation progresses through cantos dwelling on the joy he finds in faith (SHRADDHA), and the merit he acquires by binding on the armour of mindfulness (SMRTI). The primacy of integrity / self-restraint (SHILA) is emphasized, as is the need for heroic endeavor (VIRYA) in the fight against the foe-like faults. Then, in the final three cantos, we are given a detailed exposition of the four noble truths themselves, together with an account of Nanda's ultimate success in penetrating them.

Along the way, Ashvaghosha, who holds liberation to be paramount, is relentless and remorseless in tearing apart any fanciful notion that may present an obstacle to the reader's own progress along the path towards liberation. These efforts to rid us of sentimental conceptions and thoughtless assumptions about our own health and immortality are particularly concentrated in Canto 15, titled Abandoning Notions. Thus, "In this world, by nature separate, nobody is truly dear to anybody... Nowhere is happiness found... Where this body goes, it is followed by sorrow... Expectations of well-being or continuing life do not occur to a truly seeing man as he drags around his body, that field of misfortunes."

Is this all too pessimistic for one who has taken the Mahayana vow of a bodhisattva? I think not. Ashvaghosha has gone far, far beyond the optimism and pessimism of philosophers of the large and small vehicles. Ashvaghosha is just telling us, as the Buddha taught it, the bitter truth.

The bitter pill is sweetened with many evocative, memorable, sometimes surprising, and sometimes humorous images:

"A glance at Sundari, her waist compact between her swelling breasts and thighs like a golden fissure in a mountain, could no more satisfy Nanda than drinking water with one hand. Reverence for the Buddha drew him on, love for his wife drew him back again. He hesitated, neither going or staying, like a king-goose pushing forward against the waves." [4.40]

"Even yogic practice can lead to failure, not success, if practiced at the wrong time or in the wrong way. A man milking a cow at the wrong time, when her calf is not yet born, will get no milk; and even at the right time, he would get no milk if, in ignorance, he were to milk her by the horn." [16.50]

"Just as a man weary of excessive love-making will, for example, go for a brisk walk, so should the wise man proceed in relation to the faults." [16.80]

As her introduction demonstrates, as also do the above excerpts, Linda Covill herself has got a very nice way with words, and she translates very unobtrusively, in a way that never draws attention to herself as a translator. I like her approach very much. She uses one or two terms that strike this reader as dubious, or at least that offend his prejudices: "meditational technique," which seems to be a translation of NIMITTAM, is the prime example. Relying on conventional terms like "the four foundations of mindfulness," may be regarded as a fudge, or a virtue, depending on one's point of view. It may be a bit of both, on the one hand reflecting the difficulty of coming up with a new, more literal and yet still meaningful translation of SMRTY-UPASTHANA, and on the other hand reflecting the same modesty of approach by which Linda Covill generally stays out of the way and allows Ashvaghosha's brilliance to shine through.

Oft-recurring metaphors are part of that brilliance. They speak to the reader's soul more deeply than any amount of dry philosophy possibly could.

The fathomless sea of hypocrisy, greed, malice and other faults (DOSHA) is introduced as such in the third canto:

"The seer had passed over the fathomless sea of faults -- which is watered by conditioned existence, which has anxious thoughts for fish, and which is disturbed by waves of anger, desire and fear -- and he carried the world across too." [3.10]

Thereafter the faults, are variously portrayed as snakes (DOSHA-VYALAN is intriguingly translated as "reptilian faults" [14.30], causing this reader to come back to the question of how deeply rooted the nexus of faults might be in brain physiology and body chemistry); as symptoms of a disease to be cured; as enemies to be defeated in battle; and as impurities to be removed from gold.

Appropriately indeed does Ashvaghosha finish his epic poem with the words UPAKARAM CAMIKARAM, "serviceable gold":

"Seeing that the world generally holds the pleasure of sensory experience uppermost and is resistant to liberation, I, holding liberation to be paramount, have described the truth in the guise of poetry. Knowing this, that part which relates to peace should be carefully extracted from it, not the entertaining part; serviceable gold necessarily comes from ore-born dust."

Since obtaining a few weeks ago this handily pocket-sized volume, together with its companion volume in the Clay Sanskrit Library "The Life of the Buddha," this reviewer seems constantly to have been carrying around one book or the other. Both books are hard to put down. This one has the added virtue of being from a Sanskrit text which is complete. The words of the noble Ashvaghosha are conspicuously clear and unambiguous, his whole poem has a coherence to it, and he speaks to the English speaker very really -- as if there were no cultural filter. Certainly, there is no Chinese Confucian influence here, and nothing Japanese either.

A friend and fellow Ashvaghosha fan commented on this book, "To my eyes it's not shrouded in mysticism; it seems to go straight to the heart." I agree. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Reading it makes the reader want to start afresh and dig deeper, so that, notwithstanding this fathomless tangle of faults and fanciful notions that causes suffering, the Buddha's teaching might be caused to yield up, again, its true gold.