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.

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