Friday, December 19, 2008

SAUNDARANANDA 3.5; The Readiness Is All

atha n'aiSHa maarga iti viikSHya
tad api vipulaM jahau tapaH
dhyana-viSHayam avagamya paraM
bubhuje var'-aannam amRtatva-buddhaye

Having ascertained, then,
that this was not the path,

He abandoned that extreme asceticism too.

He knew from past experience
that the realm of Zen was ascendant,

And so he ate most wholesome rice,
in readiness to realise the deathless.

The realm of Zen has to do with going back, and going up. Even with the best of intentions, it is very difficult to inhibit those ideas which, at the deepest level (generally unbeknowns to ourselves), impel us forward towards the gaining of some end. And neither is it easy to counteract in a skillful way the various forces -- pyschological, political, socio-economic, emotional, gravitational, et cetera -- that tend to pull us down. But Gautama, when he was down and almost out, remembered, thinking back to his youthful experience under the rose-apple tree, that the realm of Zen has to do with going on up. The realm of Zen has to do with learning the backward step; at the same time, it has to do with going on up. The realm of Zen has to do with dropping off end-gaining (the backward step) and yet still somehow causing the spine to lengthen (going on up). The great challenge is to achieve this lengthening of the spine through muscular release, and not in an end-gaining way. Immature vestibular reflexes makes this challenge all the more difficult, as does poor diet (written while scoffing two chocolate digestive biscuits).

atha: then
na: not
eSHa: this, this here
maarga: path
iti: that ["this is not the path"]
viikSHya = from vi + iiksh: understand, ascertain

tad: that
api: also
vipulaM: large, extensive, great, extreme
jahau = from the root ha: abandon
tapa: ascetic practice, asceticism, austerity

dhyana: Zen
viSHayam: sphere of sensory experience, objective world, realm
avagamya: (absolutive) having understood, having known -- a reference to young Gautama's experience under the rose-apple tree
para: farther; superior, higher; ascendant; best, highest, supreme, utmost; transcendent beyond.

bubhuje: ate
vara: choicest, best, most excellent
aannam: food, especially rice
amRtatva: deathlessness, immortality
buddhaye = dative (denoting purpose) of buddhi: understand, comprehend, be present to, realise.

EH Johnston:
Then seeing this to be a false path, He gave up that extended course of austerity too and, realizing that the sphere of trance was the highest, He ate choice food to prepare His mind for the understanding of immortality.

Linda Covill:
Then, ascertaining that this was not the path, he abandoned that extreme asceticism too. He understood that the practice of meditation was best, and he ate good food to prepare himself for comprehending deathlessness.


Raymond said...


Can you say anything more about the ascendant aspect of Zen practice?


Mike Cross said...

Thank you for asking, Raymond.

In the words of Chumbawumba:

"I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never going to keep me down."

Maybe there is too much exuberance in those words. Old age and death are going to get us all, if sickness doesn't get us first.

But in the meantime we sit, sometimes holding ourselves upright bodily, unconsciously, with too much rigidity; sometimes doing the dialectical opposite, by directing ourselves up mentally, consciously, wishing for release; and sometimes something else takes over -- the anti-gravity reflexes, spontaneous flow of energy up along the spine... whatever it is.

So there are these three kinds of ascendance at least -- physical, mental, and body and mind dropping off.