Friday, December 12, 2008

BUDDHACARITA 13.69; Inhibiting the Mara Reflex

tan maa kRthaaH shokam, upehi shaantiM,
maa bhuun mahimnaa tava Maara maanaH;
vishrambhituM na kSHamam a-dhruvaa shriish,
cale pade vismayam abhyupaiSHi.]]

So be not grieved but come to quiet.

Being great and famous, Mara,
is naught for your pride --

There are no grounds to be confident
in fickle political power.

You are puffed up with startle and bluster
on an unsteady base."

What does it mean "not to be grieved"? It might mean not to be unduly swayed by the Mara reflex, not to be governed by the Mara reflex, not to react blindly and emotionally, out of touch with one's reason, as a result of an aberrant Mara reflex. The Mara reflex, more conventionally know in scientific circles as the Moro reflex, exists to support us, to prevent us from curling up and dying, at the time of our strongest emotions, such as grief. But if this primitive reflex is not kept in check, if it is not inhibited, then it tends to cause our energy to be continually drawn away from the centre and up to the head, neck, and shoulders -- so that sensory information is not well integrated, and thoughts and feelings are not well grounded.

"To come to quiet," similarly, might have to do with inhibition of undue excitement in the nervous system resulting from unresolved antagonism between fear paralysis and the Moro reflex.

Patrick Olivelle's translation of the fourth line, "you are puffed up as your base is reeling," nicely describes the manner of use of a person suffering from a poorly integrated Moro reflex.

tat: so
maa: [prohibitive particle] do not
kRthaa: made, be done
shoka: grief
upe = approach, come to
shaanti: calm, quiet

maa: do not
bhuu: become, be
mahimnaa = instrumental case of mahiman: greatness
tava = genitive of tvam: you
Maara: Mara
maanaH: pride

vishrambhaH: confidence
na: not
kSHama: patient, suitable
a-dhruvaa: inconstant, fickle
shriiSHu = locative plural case of shrii: splendour; prosperity, fortune, wealth; high position, glory, majesty, royal dignity, sovereignty

cala: moving, trembling, tottering, unsteady, wobbling
pade = locative case of pada: footing, position, base
vismaya: surprise, startle, pride, arrogance
abhyupe: get into a state

Therefore be not grieved, calm yourself, Mara, and be not over-proud of your might. Inconstant fortune should not be relied on; you display arrogance, when your very position is tottering."

So, do not be sad, calm yourself, Mara,
do not become proud because of your might;
Sovereign power is fickle, don't trust in it;
you are puffed up as your base is reeling."


Jordan said...

Hi Mike,

I hope you don’t mind if I continue to share what I see, with my own faulty sensory appreciation and all.

Do not be brokenhearted; come to stillness instead,
Perceived greatness can generate (delusional) pride.
Positions of rank are impermanent; they are not grounds for confidence.
Arrogance puts us in unsteady state.

A note that I am vectoring away from a literal translation, and looking for a more pragmatic approach for “what this means to me.”

Thanks for all your hard work!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

No, I certainly don't mind -- I am heartened that my pedantic efforts have stimulated you to think for yourself and for others what Ashvaghosha really means.

I like your first three lines but take issue with the fourth, for the following reason:

What people are prone to interpret as a psychological phenomenon, arrogance, very often has its real basis in vestibular dysfunction, i.e. being unsteady.

For me, the vestibular is primary, the psychological secondary. So unsteadiness makes us liable to be arrogant. For me, it is definitely that way round.

An immature Moro reflex makes a person puffed up. The vestibular is causal, the psychological is symptomatic.

Isn't intuitive recognition of the above, over centuries, at least part of the reason why basic military training emphasizes marching in step, standing upright and still on parade, et cetera?

Isn't that why the primary matter in Master Dogen's teaching is sitting, upright and still -- bodily, mentally, and as body and mind dropping off?

The great strength of Gudo's teaching has always been his primary emphasis on the physical --balance of the autonomic nervous system, condition of the spine, et cetera. And in that strength, needless to add, I came to perceive a weakness -- something that was off the middle way, something that made me think and say: "No, not that!"

Thank you for listening, and for thinking!


Plato said...

Hi Mike!
I went for an Alexander lesson the other day. I went all inflated, thinking that I have finally discovered the right uprightness. The teacher deflated me and helped me to taste an uprightnes of another kind! I find what you translated very relevant with my experience. Mara's uprightness is very seductive isn't it? Thank you for your devotion to the way!

Mike Cross said...

Thank you very much for sharing this, Plato.

Yes, Mara tricks us into feeling that our own subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) uptightness is true uprightness. And his main means-whereby for doing so is people's faulty sense of self, centred on the vestibular system, but also tangled up with false and fanciful notions of how great and important I am.

Your experience is exactly the same as mine -- same teacher, same sense of being deflated, same noticing of relevance of this experience, for our struggle in sitting-zen towards ultimate release.

Thank you again. I think your struggle is very valuable. If only we could truly convey in words the experience of deflation that you refer to. But unfortunately we cannot -- we can only point a finger at the moon.