Thursday, December 31, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.68: First Let Go of Faults ...

krameN' aadbhiH shuddhaM kanakam iha paaMsu-vyavahitaM
yath" aagnau karmaaraH pacati bhRsham aavartayati ca
tathaa yog'-aacaaro nipuNam iha doSha-vyavahitaM
vishodhya kleshebhyaH shamayati manaH saMkShipati ca

- = = = = = - - - - - = = - - - =
- = = = = = - - - - - = = - - - -
- = = = = = - - - - - = = - - - =
- = = = = = - - - - - = = - - - -

Just as gold, washed with water,
is separated from dirt in this world, methodically,

And just as the smith heats the gold in the fire
and repeatedly turns it over,

Just so is the practitioner's mind,
with delicacy and accuracy,
separated from faults in this world,

And just so, after cleansing it from afflictions,
does the practitioner temper the mind and collect it.

Stop doing the wrong thing, and the right thing does itself.

It is that way round. To start by trying to do the right thing is to put the cart before the horse.

That is why concentration on the breath is not a technique that has ever been advocated by any of the Buddha-ancestors in my lineage, up to an including my own teacher Gudo Nishijima.

Gudo was a very stupid man, but he wasn't so stupid as to advocate concentration on breathing. Gudo clearly understood that the primary thing was sitting itself, and that if sitting was not wrong then breathing would take care of itself. Gudo painted in very broad strokes and, though he was happy for me to tidy up the mess he had made of the Shobogenzo translation (so long as I did so in such a way that allowed him to delude himself that it was still his own translation), he wasn't open to the truth of FM Alexander's discoveries about "right sitting posture," which falsified his own crude understanding, on the basis of which he had taught me and others very badly -- without any delicacy or accuracy -- how to practice sitting-dhyana.

The point I am making is that even such an ignorant individual as Gudo Nishijima, at the end of a long line of Japanese ancestors, wasn't so stupid as to advocate concentration on breathing. So how much less should we who are not Japanese start concentrating on our breathing? To concentrate on breathing is to go against the most fundamental teaching of all the buddhas, which is first to stop doing the wrong thing.

This is the main point of this verse, as I read it. First, stop doing the wrong thing.

Kramena means gradually, methodically, in steps or in stages -- like the four stages of sitting-dhyana for example, which, as Ashvaghosha describes them in Canto 17, progress through a practitioner's ability to recognise a fault in his own practice.

AadbhiH means with water, using water. It includes as I read it the principle of allowing -- for it is truly not the dirt-washer who separates dirt from gold, it is rather that the dirt-washer allows water to do the work.

means in this world. It points to the fact that dirt actually exists in this world like human faults actually exist in this world. And it is because facts like dirt and human faults actually exist in this world that the Buddha's most fundamental teaching is never to concentrate on breathing. The most fundamental teaching of the Buddha is the not doing of wrong. I thought Jews were supposed to be clever. But it seems that there are some Jews for whom this teaching is just too difficult to understand. And if a person who I perceive to be like that gets on my nerves, it can only be the mirror principle at work -- because Jews who I perceive to be clever but lacking the Buddha's wisdom and lacking the Buddha's compassion for all living beings, are one of my favourite mirrors.

NipuNam in the 3rd line means in a clever or delicate manner. NipuNam also means completely, as in the EHJ and LC translations. In practice, however, even gold bullion that is refined using modern industrial processes is not completely free of impurities. Similarly, if a sitting-dhyana practitioner waited for his mind to be completely separated from faults before, let us say, breathing out fully and swaying left and right, then the practitioner would never get to the stage of breathing out fully and swaying left and right. He would be stuck waiting impossibly for complete separation from faults. So I have not translated nipuNam as completely. I have translated nipuNam as "with delicacy and accuracy," mindful of a famous conversation between two great teachers of the FM Alexander technique.

Teacher A described release of the head forward and up in terms of delicacy of movement. Teacher B observed, "And in that delicacy, there is very great accuracy, is there not?" Teacher A beamed from ear to ear and said: "Yes, there is!"

So this verse, as I read it, is about not putting the cart before the horse. When all is going well, horse and cart proceed together, and we might even talk of oneness of horse and cart -- though hopefully not in the manner of the holistic hairdresser.

Even though horse and cart may seem to be one, the Buddha's teaching here, as I read it, is not to put the cart before the horse. What that means, in other words, is the primary thing is not concentration or collection of the mind. The primary thing is to let go of the faults.

Mention of the gradual or methodical letting go of faults presages the detailed discussion of this topic in Canto 16, which I am intending to go through again in the first couple of weeks of the New Year, taking several verses per day.

EH Johnston:
Just as the goldsmith in this world heats in the fire and turns over repeatedly the gold, after it has been gradually separated from the dirt by washing it with water, so the Yoga adept cleanses his mind from the vices till it is completely separated from the sins in this world, and then he brings it to tranquillity and concentrates it.

Linda Covill:
Just as in this world a goldsmith takes gold that has been washed with water and separated from the dirt in gradual stages, and heats it in the fire and turns it frequently, so the practitioner of yoga, having first cleansed his mind of defilements so that it is completely separated from the faults in this world, then makes it calm and concentrated.

krameNa (inst. of krama): in regular course , gradually , by degrees
aadbhiH = inst. pl. ap: f. water
shuddham (acc. sg. n.): cleansed, cleared
kanakam (acc. sg.): n. gold
iha: in this world, here and now
paaMsu: m. dust , sand ,dirt
vyavahitam (acc. sg. n.): separated

yathaa: just as
agnau = loc. sg. agni: m. fire
karmaaraH (nom. sg.): m. an artisan , mechanic , artificer ; a blacksmith
pacati = 3rd pers. sg. pac: to burn, bake; to ripen , mature , bring to perfection or completion
bhRsham: ind. strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very much ; harshly , severely ; quickly , without hesitation ; often , frequently ; eminently , in a superior manner
aavartayati (3rd pers. sg. causitive aavRt): he causes it to turn over
ca: and

tathaa: so, likewise
yogaacaaraH (nom. sg. m.): a practitioner, a devotee of practice
yoga: practice
aacaara: m. conduct , manner of action , behaviour , good behaviour , good conduct ; custom , practice , usage
nipuNam: ind. in a clever or delicate manner ; completely , perfectly , absolutely , exactly , precisely
nipuNa: mfn. (said to be from a √ puN) , clever , adroit , skilful , sharp , acute
√ puN: to act piously or virtuously (invented to serve as base for puNya , ni-puNa &c ?)
puNya: mfn. (perhaps fr. √ pusk , from √ puu ; also √ puN) auspicious , propitious , fair , pleasant , good , right , virtuous , meritorious , pure , holy , sacred
iha: in this world, here and now
doSha: fault
vyavahitam (acc. sg. n.): separated

vishodhya = abs. vishud: to become perfectly pure (esp. in ritual sense); to become clear (said of the senses)
kleshebhyaH = abl. pl. klesha: m. affliction
shamayati = 3rd pers. sg. causitive sham: to toil at , fatigue or exert one's self (esp. in performing ritual acts); to prepare , arrange ; to become tired , finish , stop , come to an end , rest , be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented ; to cease , be allayed or extinguished
manaH (acc. sg. manas): mind
saMkShipati = 3rd pers. sg. saM-√kShip: to throw or heap together , pile up ; to concentrate (the mind) ; to suppress , restrain
saM: together
√kShip: to throw , cast ; to put or place anything on or in (loc.) , pour on ; to direct (the thoughts) upon
ca: and

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.67: How the Ready-Minded Go for Release

vimokSha-hetor api yukta-maanaso
vihaaya doShaan bRhatas tath" aaditaH
jahaati suukShmaan api tad-vishuddhaye
vishodhya dharm'-aavayavaan niyacchati

- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - -

So one whose mind is ready,
having the motive of release,

Lets go first of the gross faults,

Then of the subtler ones, so that his mind is cleansed,

And by the cleansing
he retains the rudiments of Dharma.

This verse seems to suggest that the raw material for ultimate realisation of the Dharma is a ready mind, and that a mind is ready when it is motivated by the desire for release.

A further implication of the verse is that the rudiments of Dharma -- for example, integrity (shiila), balance (samaadhi), and intuitive wisdom (prajNaa) -- are not constructs but are already present in a ready mind, like gold dust in dirt.

Why did Bodhidharma go to China? Chinese Zen masters of later generations pointed to a tree in the garden; at the same time, Bodhidharma must have intuited that the raw material of mental readiness existed in China (though not in the shape of stupid Emperor Wu).

In the past day or two, diplomatic relations between Britain and China have abruptly chilled due to the execution of a British citizen in China, for drug smuggling. The issue caused me to ask again: Why did Bodhidharma go to China?

The verse to unwrap the bowl which I sometimes chant at mealtimes goes:

The Buddha was born in Kapilavastu,
He realised the truth in Magadha,
Preached the Dharma in Varanasi,
And entered Nirvana in Kusinagara...

Kapilavastu, Magadha, Varanasi and Kusinagara are all sites in ancient India, whose lingua franca was Sanskrit. Ashvaghosha was the 12th ancestor in the Buddha’s lineage in India, and Bodhidharma was the 28th ancestor, again in India, where the lingua franca was Sanskrit.

Sanskrit, according to Wikipedia is a historical Indo-Aryan language which is one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family -- the family which includes English and most European languages. So why did Bodhidharma go to China? Why didn’t he join his Aryan cousins by going west?

We will never know all the circumstances that fed into Bodhidharma’s decision. Why did FM Alexander leave his native Australia and come to London? Probably because at the turn of the 19th century London was the centre of the then mighty British Empire, and FM wanted to be at the centre of the action. But also because a £5 double came in at long odds and enabled FM to pay off his debts and book his passage.

Why did Bodhidharma go to China? I don’t know. But what is not in doubt is that Bodhidharma neither travelled west, towards Europe, nor south to Sri Lanka, nor even north, to Tibet. Bodhidharma travelled east, to China. Bodhidharma went to China.

If China executes a British citizen, and people in Britain get angry about it, the anger falls into the category of reactions that are called in this verse “gross faults.” Anger is a gross fault associated with a certain pattern of misuse of the self -- a stiffening of the neck and a tightening up of the chest, a reaction rooted in other words in an infantile panic reflex.

What do I know of letting go of a fault like that? Not much. The evidence of everyday life proves that I am well versed in anger, but not such an expert at letting go of it.

Still, if I truly give up the idea of being right, or becoming something, or doing something, then what is there to trigger the many-tentacled monster of my misuse?

Just for that moment, there might not be anything. And in there not being anything the tree in the garden might be.

When Bodhidharma went to China, he didn’t take a preachy message of human rights and democracy. I don’t think he even took the rudiments of Dharma. It may rather have been that, knowing the rudiments of Dharma to exist in China already, Bodhidharma went without anything.

EH Johnston:
So the man, who has concentrated his mind for the sake of emancipation, first eliminates the grosser vices and then the subtler ones to cleanse his mind and, having cleansed it, retains the constituents of the Law.

Linda Covill:
To obtain liberation, a man of focused mind will likewise abandon first gross faults, and then, to further refine his mind, he abandons also subtle faults. After this cleansing, he retains the constituents of dharma.

vimokSha: m. the being loosened or undone ; release
hetoH = gen./abl. sg. hetu: m. " impulse " , motive , cause
api: even, also
yukta-maanasaH (nom. sg. m.): a man ready in mind
yukta: mfn. yoked, harnessed, set to work, engaged, ready to, prepared for ; fit, suitable
maanasa: mfn. belonging to the mind or spirit , mental ; n. the mental powers , mind , spirit , heart , soul (= manas)

vihaaya = abs. vi- √ haa: to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon ; to give up , cast off , renounce , resign ; to be deprived of , lose ; to get rid of or free from (acc.)
doShan (acc. pl. m.): faults
bRhataH = acc. pl. m. bRhat: great , large , wide , compact , solid , massy tathaa: [correlative of yathaa in 66b] so, likewise
aaditaH: ind. from the beginning , from the first , at first

jahaati = 3rd pers. sg. haa: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish ; to discharge , emit ; to put away , take off , remove , lay aside , give up , renounce , resign , avoid , shun
suukShmaan = acc. pl. m. suukShma: mfn. minute , small , fine
api: also
tad: it, that, them
vishuddhaye = dative vishuddhi: f. complete purification , purity

vishodhya = abs. vi-√shudh: to become perfectly pure (esp. in ritual sense) ; to become clear (said of the senses)
dhaarma = vRddhi form in comp. of dharma: the law, the teaching
avayavaan = acc. pl. avayava: m. a limb , member , part , portion
niyacchati = 3rd pers. sg. ni-√yam: to stop (trans.) , hold back , detain with (loc.) ; to stop (intrans.) , stay , remain

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.66: How a Dirt-Washer Goes for Gold

suvarNa-hetor api paaMsu-dhaavako
vihaaya paaMsuun bRhato yath" aaditaH
jahaati suukShmaan api tad-vishuddhaye
vishodhya hem'-aavayavaan niyacchati

- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - =
- = - = = - - = - = - -

Just as a dirt-washer who is after gold

Washes away first the coarse grains of dirt,

Then the finer granules, so that the material is cleansed,

And by the cleansing he retains the rudiments of gold,

It seems to me that the primary thing in sitting-dhyana is to allow something out of nothing. If we succeed in this, breathing changes for the better. So mindfulness of breathing is a useful device to register success or failure in allowing release, but it is secondary. The primary thing is allowing. This is what I was getting at in yesterday’s discussion of mindfulness of breathing and counter-measures against ideas. In countering ideas, in the first instance, the idea of allowing is important. But allowing itself is opposed to the idea of allowing. And a criterion for judging whether one is stuck at the level of the idea of allowing, or whether one is actually allowing release, is the ease of this in-breath and the ease of this out-breath.

The final four verses of this canto are given over to the metaphor of the raw material of dirt -- presumably from a river bed -- being washed with water to separate out grains of gold, which are then by heating in fire turned into molten gold, which can be molded according to a goldsmith's intention into various shapes.

In this first of the four verses, the practitioner is compared to a dirt-washer who is after gold.

I think it is important to translate it, literally, that way round: not a gold-seeker who washes dirt, or even a man who washes dirt to obtain gold (as per EJH), but a dirt-washer who is after gold (as per LC).

The importance of translating it this way round somehow relates to the teaching that in working on the self being wrong is the best friend we have got. In other words, washing dirt is not a demeaning phase to be lightly skipped over by a gold-seeker: rather being a dirt-washer is a job to be embraced totally.

As practitioners, how should we see ourselves, primarily: as gold-seekers, or as dirt-washers?

When a dirt-washer who is after gold is washing dirt, does the merit of washing dirt depend on whether or not there is any gold in the dirt?

In theory, there may be merit just in the action of washing. (I spent a lot of time in Japan being taught that principle.) But really speaking, what dirt-washer who is after gold wants to waste his time washing dirt that has got no gold in it?

For a washer of dirt it may be important to be totally a dirt-washer. And it is also important to really be after gold. So not for nothing did the Buddha compare a practitioner to a dirt-washer who is after gold.

When a gold-seeking dirt-washer is washing dirt, what is his approach to separating particles of dirt from particles of gold? Does he intervene as if with minute tweezers and separate each particle out? No, he does not. He lets water do that work for him. The essence of his job is not to do, but to allow.

The root √ haa which appears in the 2nd line in vihaaya, and in the 3rd line in jahaati, is the same √ haa which appears in the title of this canto -- vitarka-prahaaNa, “Giving Up Ideas” or “Letting Go of Ideas.” √ haa means to leave, to let go of, to give up.

In the 2nd line I wanted to translate vi-√haa-ya not as “getting rid of” but as “letting flow away.” And in the 3rd line, similarly, I had the idea to translate jahaati not as “he removes” but “he lets go” or “he lets remove themselves.” I wanted to bring out the meaning of letting, or allowing, which I have learned from Alexander work to be -- as opposed to doing conceptions of “keeping the spine straight vertically” and “sitting in the right posture” -- the primary thing.

“Allow the neck to be free to allow the head to go forward and up,
” FM Alexander said, and then the right thing -- in terms of breathing, circulation, digestion and the rest -- does itself.

Alexander’s fundamental wisdom was to see that the primary thing is not to do, but to allow. I think Alexander’s fundamental wisdom was just the Buddha’s fundamental wisdom, and it is expressed in this verse, albeit hidden in the metaphor of an industrial process, in the words vihaaya, which means “getting rid of” or “letting flow away;” and jahaati which means “he eliminates” or “he lets go.”

In preparing this verse for translation I had the idea that “let flow” and “let go” would be better translations than “get rid” and “remove.” But on reflection interposing “let” in that way just didn’t sound right. So in the end I had to let go, if not get rid, of that idea.

EH Johnston:
Just as a man, who washes dirt to obtain gold, first eliminates the grosser pieces of dirt and then the finer ones for its cleansing and, having cleansed it, retains the particles of gold,

Linda Covill:
To obtain gold, a dirt-washer discards first the large bits of grit, and then, to refine it further, he discards also the tiny bits of grit. After this cleansing, he retains particles of gold.

suvarNa-hetoH (gen./abl. sg.): out of the gold motive, because of wanting gold
suvarNa: n. gold
hetu: m. " impulse " , motive , cause
api: even, also
paaMsu: m. crumbling soil , dust , sand (mostly pl.); dung , manure
dhaavakaH (nom. sg.): m. a washerman

vihaaya = abs. vi- √ haa: to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon ; to give up , cast off , renounce , resign ; to be deprived of , lose ; to get rid of or free from (acc.)
paaMsuun (acc. pl. m.): bits of dirt
bRhataH = acc. pl. m. bRhat: great , large , wide , compact , solid , massy yathaa: just as
aaditaH: ind. from the beginning , from the first , at first

jahaati = 3rd pers. sg. haa: to leave , abandon , desert , quit , forsake , relinquish ; to discharge , emit ; to put away , take off , remove , lay aside , give up , renounce , resign , avoid , shun
suukShmaan = acc. pl. m. suukShma: mfn. minute , small , fine
api: also
tad: it, that, them
vishuddhaye = dative vishuddhi: f. complete purification , purity

vishodhya = abs. vi-√shudh: to become perfectly pure (esp. in ritual sense) ; to become clear (said of the senses)
hema = in comp. for heman: n. gold
avayavaan = acc. pl. avayava: m. a limb , member , part , portion
niyacchati = 3rd pers. sg. ni-√yam: to stop (trans.) , hold back , detain with (loc.) ; to stop (intrans.) , stay , remain

Monday, December 28, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.65: Counteracting Ideas

ity anena prayogeNa
kaale sevitum arhasi
pratipakShaan vitarkaaNaaM
gadaanaam agadaan iva

= - = = - = = -
= = = - - = - -
- - = = - = = =
- = = - - = - -

Using this device

You should take in good time

Counter-measures against ideas,

Like remedies against illnesses.

Mindfulness of breathing, at least as it is used in my practice, is not in itself a means of counteracting ideas, any more than a tachometer is a means of driving a car. Mindfulness of breathing, at least as I use it, is a means to be used, not the means itself. In other words it is a feedback device, not the primary thing.

The primary thing is what I came back to England to investigate, under teachers of the FM Alexander Technique, and as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique. "If you want to meditate," FM Alexander said (or so his niece Marjory Barlow told me) "this is how." What FM might have meant by "this" I attempted to convey in an article written eight years ago, titled Practising Detachment. Since I relied heavily on quotations from Alexander himself and other very experienced teachers, I think the article might still be worth reading.

Teachers of meditation who have never seen what Alexander saw, even in a dream, speak of letting ideas come and go like clouds passing in a blue sky. From the standpoint of this verse, the ideas of those teachers are just ideas to be opposed, as if they were illnesses, using a device or a contrivance such as mindfulness of breathing.

And, the Buddha tells Nanda in the 2nd line, this counteraction of ideas needs to be accomplished in good time -- otherwise we are liable to wake up one morning and find ourselves very tired and weary, after 30, 40 or maybe even 50 years of trying too hard on the basis of an idea.

Sometimes very good remedies against illnesses have very little in the way of active ingredients.

Over the Christmas holidays I saw on TV a comedy routine by a big fat Irish comedian named Dara O' Brian in which he suggested that homeopaths be included in a large sack, along with nutritionists and other therapists and quacks whose work he does not consider to be evidence-based, and he would like to beat them all with a big stick. My feeling was that I would like to put the scientific Mr O' Brian in a sack along with dentists who use mercury fillings, the top surgeons in the 19th century who opposed the use of anaesthesia as a kind of cheating, clinical researchers who are in it for the money, Zen Masters who think their own idea is the one true Buddhism .... et cetera, et cetera. You think that the ideas of others are laughable, Mr. O' Brian, whereas your own idea, as a bona-fide "scientist" might be true. If I feel anger about your arrogant know-it-all attitude, and call you a fat Irish scum-bag....

I am afraid it is only the mirror principle at work.

Sometimes nothing but a glass of water, or a listening ear, is a very excellent remedy for an illness. And just as the very best remedy for an illness may be a bit of nothing, the very best counter-measure against an idea may also be a bit of nothing.

Not an emotional reaction. A bit of nothing!

EH Johnston:
So take heed by this practice to resort at the due time to the counteragents of these evil thoughts, as to antidotes of diseases.

Linda Covill:
With this procedure you can adopt countermeasures against such fancies in good time, as a medication against sickness.

iti: thus
anena = inst. sg. ayam: this
prayogeNa = inst. prayoga: m. joining together , connection ; a design , contrivance , device , plan; application , employment (esp. of drugs or magic) , use (prayogena = by means of); practice , experiment (opp. to , " theory ")

kaale: ind. (loc. kaala) in time , seasonably
sevitum = inf. sev: to resort to (acc.); to devote or apply one's self to , cultivate , study , practise , use , employ , perform , do ; to tend , cherish (plants)
arhasi: you should

pratipakShaan = acc. pl. pratipakSha: m. the opposite side , hostile party , opposition ; an obstacle ; an adversary , opponent , foe
vitarkaaNaam = gen. pl. vitarka: m. idea, fancy

gadaanaam = gen. pl. gada: m. disease , sickness
agadaan = acc. pl. agada: m. freedom from disease; a medicine , drug , (especially) antidote
iva: like

Sunday, December 27, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.64: For the Giving Up of These Ideas

tasmaad eShaaM vitarkaaNaaM
prahaaN'-aarthaM samaasataH
aan'-aapaana-smRtiM saumya
viShayii-kartum arhasi

= = = = - = = =
- = = = - = - =
= = = = - = = -
- - = = - = - -

So for the giving up,

In short, of all these ideas,

Mindfulness of inward and outward breathing, my friend,

You should make into your own possession.

What the Buddha is saying here, to use a gardening metaphor, is for the purpose of giving up of wrong gardening practices, observe your crops. He is not saying that watching crops grow helps crops to grow.

Again, for the purpose of driving out impurities, a goldsmith turns molten gold back upon itself. A goldsmith, however mindfully he attends to his work, never creates gold.

So the Buddha is not saying here, as I hear him, that we should pro-actively pay attention to (i.e. concentrate on) our own breathing, in order to promote better breathing. I know from experience that if I try to concentrate on my breathing, I can't help interfering. And the root of that interference lies with the idea that I might be able by my direct intervention -- be it ever so subtle -- to make my breathing freer, fuller, and better.

So if I have some idea about how to breathe, and practice mindfulness of breathing on that basis, that might be precisely NOT what the Buddha here is pointing Nanda towards.

A better idea to begin with, for me, is the idea of taking a backward step in the direction of a bit more ease, and, in the taking of the backward step, allowing light to fall on this in-breath and on this out-breath -- as breath passes through the nose, for example, or passes as if into the pelvis. In this case, what I am shining light on is not the breath. But in shining light not directly on the breath, the breath can be as if bathed in reflected light.

Among metaphors for sitting-dhyana, the backward step is for me the most useful and best. It is a backward step of turning light on, in, for, and by oneself.

Because sitting-dhyana is a backward step, the Buddha is not instructing Nanda to master mindfulness of breathing in order to get somewhere -- in order to make his mind balanced, for example, or in order to improve his breathing. The Buddha is instructing Nanda to master mindfulness of breathing in order to give up ideas. Then secondary benefits like mental balance and better breathing can follow indirectly.

This is exactly how Marjory Barlow taught me to breathe better. She taught me to breathe better by never, or hardly ever, mentioning breathing. What she taught me mainly, as I recorded here, was to give up ideas.

My experience on Marjory Barlow's teaching table was that I would become as if enveloped in mindfulness, mainly as the indirect result of saying no to an idea of doing something. And this, it seems to me, is also how the Buddha speaks of mindfulness -- not like a concentrated beam of light, but like a protective suit of armour.

The Buddha tells Nanda that he must make such mindfulness his own. Even the Buddha cannot do for Nanda what Nanda must do for himself.

Now, what was that point, again, about mindfulness of ... No, I mean about giving up ideas.

EH Johnston:
Therefore to put it briefly, my friend, for the abolition of these thoughts obtain mastery over attention with regard to in- and out- breathing.

Linda Covill:
So to be brief, dear friend, you should make yourself proficient in mindfulness of inward and outward breathing in order to eliminate such fancies.

tasmaat: ind. from that, on that basis, therefore
eShaam (gen. pl. m. ayam): these
vitarkaaNaaM = gen. pl. vitarka: m. idea, thought, notion, fancy

prahaaNa: n. relinquishing, abandoning, avoiding
artham: aim, purpose (very often artham , arthena , arthaaya , and arthe ifc. or with gen. " for the sake of , on account of , in behalf of , for ")
samaasatas: ind. in a summary manner , succinctly , concisely

aana: m. (fr. √ an) , face , mouth , nose ; exhaling the breath through the nose ; inhalation , breath inspired , breathing , blowing
√ an: to breathe , respire , gasp
apaana: m. breathing out , expiration; (opposed to praaNa) that of the five vital airs which goes downwards and out at the anus
smRtim (acc. sg.): f. remembrance, mindfulness, attention
saumya (voc.): my friend

viShayii = in comp. for viSaya, object
kartum = inf. kR: to do, make
viShayii-kR: to make anything an object; to make anything one's own, take possession of (acc.)
arhasi: you should

Saturday, December 26, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.63: Towards Less Imbalance

niH-saaraM pashyato lokaM
kasy' aa-mara-vitarko hi
syaad an-unmatta-cetasaH

= = = = - = = =
= - = - - = - =
= = - - - = = -
= - = = - = - =

Seeing the world to be without substance,

Fragile as a water-bubble,

Who, when his mind is not imbalanced,

Could harbour the notion of not dying?

For whom of not imbalanced mind could there be the idea of not dying?

The title of this canto is vitarka-prahaaNa, Giving Up Ideas -- the point being that an idea can be the cause of unlimited trouble to a human being, and so following a peaceable way requires us along the way to give up ideas.

At the same time, in verse 15.52, for example, the Buddha brings us back to the principle of psycho-physical unity. That is to say, not only do ideas cause imbalance, but imbalance also gives rise to ideas.

So giving up an idea, and letting the nervous system come back to balance, might be two different things, and then again they might not.

In this verse, then, does balance cause seeing, or does seeing cause balance?

It is like asking which is primary in sitting-dhyana practice: sitting with the body, or sitting with the mind?

The answer might be in the question.

We usually ask, for example,"Which comes first, the chicken or the egg." We don't usually say: "Which comes first, the egg or the chicken?"

There is a traditional method for allowing the mind to come back to balance. It is a method that Dogen observed, recording it in Eihei Koroku, and it is a method that Ashvaghosha records in the next verse. It has to do with mindfulness of breathing. But before it has to do with mindfulness it has to do with parking one's bottom on a zafu, crossing one's legs, and sitting in something approaching upright balance.

To add a reflection on some tenuously related points, the counter for visitors to this blog from the US ticked over 2,000 yesterday and looks set to overtake the UK visitors total sometime next year. So what is it about the US vs the UK?, I am wondering.

Yesterday night the Cross family slouched around the TV watching a romantic comedy set in London called "Love Actually." It was only a fairy story, but I couldn't help seeing it as a reflection of how pathetic Britain is.

Labour's best chance of doing well at the forthcoming election seems to lie in portraying David Cameron and George Osborne as a pair of toffs who don't really care about the ordinary British person. It is a pathetic tactic, playing to inverted class snobbery. But it works for me. I couldn't bring myself to vote for a party led by that pair of toffs. Class war is by no means a thing of the past in Briain, and on the individual level it is still alive and kicking in yours truly. Conservative politicians from more ordinary backgrounds like David Davis or Ken Clarke or David Willets I could maybe have voted for. But I wouldn't vote for Cameron or Osborne because of the issue of class. How pathetic is that? How very British is that?

In another establishment-related reflection, on the radio last thing last night I heard it said that the Catholic Church in Ireland is much healthier now than it was 25 years ago, when it was busy suppressing shameful truths in a misguided effort to safeguard the Church's reputation. That kind of effort is also a very British, and especially middle English trait: to suppress an embarrassing truth, to pretend it never happened.

The Japanese say Kusai mono ni futa, "Put a lid on what stinks." It could also be a British or Irish proverb. But an American proverb? Less likely, I think.

One of the things that has struck me in the past year of translating Ashvaghosha's writing is how non-oriental it is. In style it resonates more with the Latin epic poetry of Virgil that I was studying and translating 35 years ago, than it does with anything that Dogen wrote in Japanese. But my sense is that Ashvaghosha's teaching is going to find Western ears open to it, more than in the Old World of Europe, in the North American New World. That's what the visitor counter is suggesting, and that is what my intuition tells me.

Why? Because Ashvaghosha's teaching is too dynamic, too far removed from stuffy Old-World concern for position, culture and the rest of it.

So, truly, this teaching is not a matter of balance before seeing or seeing before balance. It is not about what or who was first yesterday. It is about going somewhere, here and now. It is about Gaining Confidence, Beating the Power of the Senses, Stepping Out and Giving Up -- canto titles all with emphasis on the "-ing."

What the Buddha, through Ashvaghosha is saying to me and saying to you, whoever you are, is get moving: sit with the glimmer of a true idea and realise the first dhyana. Then, seeing the fault in that, give up that idea and realise the second dhyana, born of better balance. Then seeing the fault in that, get a bit more ease, and go beyond difficulty and ease into the fourth dhyana, whereupon you will be as if standing at the gate to the city of Nirvana, in which case, what are you waiting for? Get in there! Go for it!

Dogen said: "Sit with body. Sit with mind. Sit as body and mind dropping off."

What the Buddha is saying here, through Ashvaghosha, is to my ears the same thing, and in language that is easier for me to understand clearly -- in language that is closer than Japanese or Chinese to my own mother tongue. The Buddha is not asking us to try to be right, to seek confirmation for ideas which thousands of years of our culture have caused us to hold to be true. The Buddha is rather asking us to be open to seeing our own faults and, in eliminating those faults, to move towards being less imbalanced.

The trend of the visitor counter gives an indication of who is listening.

EH Johnston:
For who would think he could escape Death, if his mind is sane so that he sees the world to be without substance and frail as a bubble of water?

Linda Covill:
What sound-minded man, seeing the world to be insubstantial and fragile as a water-bubble, would harbour thoughts of immortality?

niH-saaram (acc. sg. m.): mfn. sapless , pithless , worthless , vain , unsubstantial
pashyataH = abl./gen. sg. pashyat: seeing
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world

toya: n. water
budbuda: m. (onomat.) a bubble (often as a symbol of anything transitory)
durbalam (acc. sg. m.) mfn. of little strength , weak , feeble

kasya (gen. sg.): of / for whom
aa-mara-vitarkaH (nom. sg.): m. the idea of no death, the idea of not dying
hi: for

syaad (3rd pers. optative as): could there be
an-unmatta-cetasaH (gen. sg.): of sound mind
an-: not
unmatta: mfn. (from ud- √mad) disordered in intellect , distracted , insane , frantic , mad; drunk , intoxicated , furious
ud-: up, upwards, over, above
√mad: to rejoice , be glad , exult , delight or revel in (instr. gen. loc. , rarely acc.) , be drunk (also fig.) with (instr.); to boil, bubble (as water); to gladden , exhilarate , intoxicate , animate , inspire
cetas: mind

Friday, December 25, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.62: Zero Life Expectancy

tasmaan n' aayuShi vishvaasaM
caNcale kartum arhasi
nityam harati kaalo hi
sthaaviryaM na pratiikShate

= = = - - = = =
= - = = - = - -
= = - - - = = -
= = = = - = - =

So place no trust

In teetering life,

For Time is always carrying it off

And does not wait for old age.

According to Britain's Office for National Statistics, life expectancy for a 50-year old British male is around 30 years.
The Buddha in this canto, in contrast, is telling us:
Don't even expect the next breath!

EH Johnston:
Therefore place no trust in this transitory life ; for Death is ever carrying people off and has no reverence for old age.

Linda Covill:
So place no trust in this fleeting life, for time is always seizing people and need not wait for old age.

tasmaat: ind. on that basis, therefore
na: not
aayuShi = loc. sg. aayus: n. life , vital power , vigour , health , duration of life , long life
vishvaasam (acc. sg.): m. confidence , trust , reliance , faith or belief in
vi-√shvas: to draw breath freely , be free from fear or apprehension , be trustful or confident , trust or confide in , rely or depend on

caNcale = loc. caNcala: mfn. (fr. intens. √cal) moving to and fro , movable , unsteady , shaking , quivering , flickering &c; unsteady , inconstant
kartum = inf. kR: to do, make
arhasi: you should

nityam: ind. always , constantly
harati = 3rd pers. sg. hR: to take , bear , carry ; to take away , carry off , seize , deprive of , steal , rob
kaalaH (nom. sg.): m. time , destiny , fate ; time (as destroying all things) , death
hi: for

sthaaviryam = (?) acc. sg: sthaavira: n. (fr. sthavira) old age
na: not
pratiikShate = 3rd pers. sg. prati-√iikSh: to look at , behold , perceive; to look forward to , wait for , expect ; to look at with indifference , bear with , tolerate (acc.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.61: Impetuous Death

saamnaa daanena bhedena
daNDena niyamena vaa
praapto hi rabhaso mRtyuH
pratihantuM na shakyate

= = = = - = = -
= = - - - = - =
= = - - - = = =
- - = = - = - =

For cajoling, bribing, dividing,

Or the use of force or restraint,

When impetuous Death has arrived,

Are powerless to beat him back.

Why does the Buddha call death "impetuous" (rabhasa)?

In preparing this verse, I found myself leaning more towards words like obdurate, unyielding, adamant. But the dictionary says impetuous, violent, wild.

My preferred image of death is like a good doorman -- one who, when he says "You're not coming in" in a voice without doubt or anger, clearly really means it. A good doorman has the same quality as one who is good with dogs -- what Cesar Milan ("the dog whisperer") calls calm assertiveness -- whereas a doorman who has assertiveness without calm is more liable to be assailed, in accordance with the mirror principle, by some customer who has his own issues with anger.

Anger, as my wife pointed out to me a few days ago, tends to make a person weak. Quad Erat Demonstrandum. Sometimes when I get angry the accompanying surge of energy makes me feel strong, but the feeling is not reliable: the strength is not durable; it is more akin to a sugar rush. It is a rush that, for better or for worse, I seem to access all too easily. I probably wouldn't have made a doorman of the kind I would like Death to be -- the fair-minded, calm assertive kind who, like the World Cup-winning England rugby team Thinks Clearly Under Pressure (T-CUP).

In my picture of the inevitable encounter with Death, I see myself arriving at some venue -- let's call it "Eternal Life" -- around 11 o' clock at night with a group of good friends, all of whom are told matter-of-factly, "You are not coming in." In my imagination, Death is reasonable and fair-minded, not impetuous. He might not be inclined to wait around, but why would he need to be in a hurry? He knows that time's arrow is pointing inexorably in his direction.

By calling Death impetuous -- rabhasa, from the root √ rabh, to grab -- the Buddha inconveniently spoils my metaphor of the calm assertive doorman waiting at his door. He turns my calm assertive doorman into a psychopath who comes running in when the evening is but young -- while I am all alone in the shower, say -- and violently grabs me in a manner which strikes me as unwarranted and unfair.

So, with the inconvenient word "impetuous," the Buddha seems to subvert an idea of Death from which I draw some comfort.

And in thus having my own idea turned upside down, I am reminded again of the question Frank Lambert asks in connection with the 2nd law of thermodynamics:

How knowledgeable are we in this modern era if our view of the physical world is so upside down that we consider anything that is disadvantageous to us to be unwarranted and unfair?

EH Johnston:
For Death arrives raging and cannot be combated by conciliation, gifts, sowing dissension, force of arms or abstinence.

Linda Covill:
For impetuous Death, when he arrives, cannot be countered with diplomacy, gifts, sowing dissent, force or sanctions.

saamnaam = inst. sg. saamnan: n. acquisition , possession , property , wealth , abundance ; calming , tranquillizing , (esp.) kind or gentle words for winning an adversary , conciliation , negotiation
daanena = inst. daana: n. the act of giving
bhedena = inst. bheda: m. (from √ bhid, to split) breaking , splitting; a cleft , fissure , chasm; separation , division ; disuniting , winning over to one's side by sowing dissension

daNDena = inst. daNDa: m. a stick , staff , rod , pole , cudgel ; a staff or sceptre as a symbol of power and sovereignty (cf. nyasta-) , application of power , violence ; the rod as a symbol of judicial authority and punishment , punishment
niyamena = inst. niyama: m. restraining , checking , holding back , preventing , controlling
vaa: or

praaptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at
hi: for
rabhasaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. impetuous , violent , rapid , fierce , wild ; strong , powerful (said of the soma); shining, glaring
√ rabh: to take hold of , grasp , clasp , embrace; to desire vehemently; to act rashly
rabhas: n. violence , impetuosity , zeal , ardour , force , energy
mRtyuH (nom. sg.): m. death

pratihantuM = inf. prati- √ han: to attack , assail ; to strike down ; to strike in return , strike back , ward off, remove , dispel , check , prevent , frustrate
na: not
shakyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive shak: to be capable; to be able or capable or possible or practicable (with an inf. in pass. sense)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.60: Making of Ends vs Flowing of Lifeblood

prasuutaH puruSho loke
shrutavaan balavaan api
na jayaty antakaM kash cin
n' aajayan n' aapi jeShyati

- = = - - = = =
- - = - - = - -
- - = = - = = =
= - = = - = - -

No man born into the world,

However endowed with learning and power,

Ever defeats Death, maker of ends,

Nor has ever defeated him, nor ever will defeat him.

Here is a strong statement that, in the history of human beings since the Buddha made it, nobody has so far falsified. He who was born, invariably, has died.

As an example of a man who was plentifully endowed with power but could not defeat Death, in spite of efforts that spared nobody, there is the Yellow Emperor (Qin Shui Huang) who united China in around 200 BC (between the eras of Buddha and Ashvaghosha). The Taoist teachers who he entrusted to find for him the elixir of immortality could not, in the end, come up with the goods. Foreshadowing the behaviour of modern dentists, they poisoned their emperor instead with mercury.

Gautama the Buddha, Ashvaghosha, Bodhidharma, and Dogen are notable example of great listeners/learners, who looked that old bugger Death in the eye. They neither expected to defeat him nor in fact defeated him. And so they are all long gone.

But has their lifeblood stopped flowing, or not?

Alexander work can be a very useful tool for observing how easy it is to believe that one is allowing flow when in fact one is just blocking the flow -- generally in response to some end-gaining idea.

Can an effort like this to translate into English the words of dead ancestors help the lifeblood to keep flowing?

On its own, undoubtedly not, because the lifeblood is sitting-dhyana.

That my sitting-dhyana has been, is, or will become the lifeblood, however, is just a flow-blocking idea, an idea to be given up.

How might my sitting be if I truly gave that idea up? How would my sitting be if I had no wish to make my own great mark on the world, no sense of self-importance?

So far I'm not sure if I know. Maybe joining the over-50s club of sitting-zen wrinklies will help.

EH Johnston:
No man born in the world, however strong he may be, however learned in religion, conquers or has conquered or will conquer Death.

Linda Covill:
No man born into the world, though he be learned and mighty, can defeat Death, maker of ends, nor has ever defeated him, nor will defeat him.

prasuutaH(nom. sg. m.): mfn. procreated , begotten , born , produced
puruShaH (nom. sg.): m. a man
loke (loc.): in the world

shrutavaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one who has heard ; possessing (sacred) knowledge , learned , pious ; connected with or founded on knowledge
balavaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. possessing power , powerful , mighty , strong , intense
api: even

na: not
jayati = 3rd. pers. sg. ji: to win or acquire (by conquest or in gambling) , conquer (in battle) , vanquish (in a game or lawsuit) , defeat
antakam = acc. sg. m. antaka: m. border , boundary; mfn. making an end , causing death ; m. death ; m. yama , king or lord of death
kash cid (nom. sg. m): anyone

na: not
ajayan (3rd pers. sg. imperfect): he defeated
na: not
api: also
jeShyati (3rd pers. sg. future): he will defeat

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.59: What Goes Up ...

garbhaat prabhRti yo lokaM
jighaaMsur anugacchati
kas tasmin vishvasen mRtyaav
udyat'-aasaav araav iva

= = - - - = = =
- = - - - = - -
= = = = - = = =
= - = = - = - -

He who stalks humankind, from the womb onwards,

With murderous intent:

Who can breath easy about him? -- Death!

Like an enemy with sword upraised.

What is being negated in this verse, again, seems to me to be the same complacency that Frank Lambert negates in his articles on energy's tendency to spread out.

Lambert asks:
How knowledgeable are we in this modern era if our view of the physical world is so upside down that we consider anything that is disadvantageous to us to be unwarranted and unfair?

His point is that we tend to assume that activation energy barriers won't be overcome, that a wooden house won't burn down, that a stone house won't fall down, that water won't drip through the roof of either, and that the computer won't crash, so that life will continue on as normal.

To counter such complacency, the Buddha in this verse turns Death into a murderous stalker.

What does it mean, then, not to be complacent?

For a start, I always have to remind myself, it should not mean going out of one's way in an effort to be right. It should not mean conceiving some grand ambition -- because the ultimate teaching of the Buddha is to want little.

Might it mean to master the art of easy breathing? Maybe again that is too ambitious.

Not being complacent might mean, while sitting on a zafu, to pay attention to how one is breathing.

(I must confess that I came to this conclusion having already had a sneak preview of the right answer which is coming up in 15.64.)

EH Johnston:
From the womb onwards Death follows a man to strike him down ; who can trust him any more than one trusts an enemy with sword upraised?

Linda Covill:
Who would trust Death, who with murderous intent stalks people from the womb onwards, any more than one would trust an enemy with upraised sword?

garbhaat (abl.): from the womb
prabhRti: ind. (after an abl. adv. or ifc.) beginning with , from--forward
yaH (nom. sg. m.): who
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of human beings

jighaaMsuH (nom. sg. m. ): desirous of destroying or ruining (ifc. or with acc.)
anugacchati = 3rd pers. sg. anu-√gam: to go after, follow

kaH (nom. sg. m.): who?
tasmin (loc. sg.): in him
vishvaset = 3rd pers. sg. optative vishvas: vi- √ shvas :, to draw breath freely , be free from fear or apprehension , be trustful or confident , trust or confide in
mRtyau = loc. sg. mRtyu: m. death

udyata: mfn. raised , held up
ud-√yam: to lift up, raise
asau = loc. asi: m. a sword , scimitar , knife (used for killing animals)
arau = loc. sg. ari: m. an enemy
iva: like

Monday, December 21, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.58: Will Wonders Never Cease?

idam aashcaryam aparaM
yat suptaH pratibudhyate
svapity utthaaya vaa bhuuyo
bahv-amitraa hi dehinaH

- - = = - - - =
= = = - - = - =
- = = = - = = =
= - = = - = - =

Here is another wonder:

That one who was asleep wakes up

Or, having been up, goes back to sleep;

For many enemies has the owner of a body.

Energy everywhere is spontaneously spreading out, unless something prevents it from doing so. Just like a page of my notebook which is dying to burn up, if only a match would get it started, every cell in this body would love to dissipate its energy all over the place, if the bio-chemical bonds of life (in possible association with some kind of will to live and be useful) were not doing their best to hold things together.

In this situation, as chemistry prof. Frank Lambert has eloquently explained in articles like this one, the wonder is not that things go wrong and people die earlier than expected: the wonder is that so many of us keep defying the 2nd law of thermodynamics for so long. That is to say, instead of dissipating our energy and dying this minute, as we easily might, we keep on breathing, keep on waking up and going back to sleep, keep on living from day to miraculous day.

As Frank Lambert asks: How knowledgeable are we in this modern era if our view of the physical world is so upside down that we consider anything that is disadvantageous to us to be unwarranted and unfair?

While the impermanent damming of energy that people call Mike Cross continues, is it true to say that I own a body? Or is my ownership of a body one of those troublesome ideas that causes me to have many enemies and prevents me from experiencing the fourth sitting-dhyana?

If some person comes along wanting to steal from me what I believe I own, then what? Then survival reflexes are liable to come into play, beginning with fear paralysis vs panic. And in that situation it is very difficult even to paddle in the shallow waters of the first dhyana.

Still, I am very determined to carry on with this translation of Saundarananda, like this, day by day, and I do not intend to share ownership of this translation with anybody else. Thinking like a Buddhist, I may be only one dewdrop in Indra's infinite web and not the true owner of this translation. At the same time, I know from bitter non-Buddhist experience that what is even more troublesome than the idea of owning what is mine, is the idea of not owning what is mine.

This body might truly belong not to me, but to the law and to the energy which is Dharma. At the same time, even though this body might truly belong not to me, this body as sure as hell does not belong to anybody other than me. So, for as long as the wonder of continuing life does not cease, I would like to continue owning this body, both for the purpose of doing this translation, and for the purpose of sitting it on a zafu and practising giving up the idea of ownership.

EH Johnston:
This too is another wonder that having slept he wakes up again or that after getting up he goes to sleep again ; for whoever has a body has many enemies.

Linda Covill:
Another thing of wonder is that a sleeper wakes up, or that after getting up a man later goes to sleep again; for embodied creatures have multiple enemies.

idam (nom. sg.): n. this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
aashcaryam (nom. sg.): n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy
aparam (nom. sg. n.): another

yat (relative pronoun): that
suptaH (nom. sg. m.): one fallen asleep
pratibudhyate = 3rd pers. sg. prati-√budh: to awaken (intr.) , awake , wake

svapiti (3rd pers. sg. svap): he sleeps
utthaaya (abs. utthaa): having risen
vaa: or
bhuuyaH: ind. once more, again

bahu: many, numerous
amitraaH (nom. pl.): enemies
hi: for
dehinaH = gen. sg. dehin: mfn. having a body , corporeal ; m. a living creature , man
deha: mn. ( from √ dih, to plaster , mould , fashion) the body

Sunday, December 20, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.57: Wonders of Breathing Easier on the Wheel

prashvasity ayam anvakShaM
yad ucchvasiti maanavaH
avagaccha tad aashcaryam
avishvaasyaM hi jiivitaM

= - = - - = = =
- = - - - = - =
- - = - - = = -
- = = = - = - =

That a man draws breath

And next time around breathes in again,

Know to be a wonder,

For staying alive is nothing to breathe easy about.

Some Alexander teachers speak of "breathing on the wheel." It means allowing the head to move in the direction Alexander called 'forward and up,' in order to breathe out, and renewing that direction in order to breathe in, and renewing again, and so on, so that breathing might become progressively (or regressively) easier.

In Canto 17, Ashvaghosha describes sitting-dhyana as a progressive (or regressive) discovery of ease, until ultimate negation of ease and hardship in the stillness of just sitting -- i.e. "the fourth dhyana." So the fourth dhyana includes a kind of negation of ease.

But this verse is not negating ease of breathing. It is negating the casual expectation or easy assumption of continuing life.

My life has somehow managed to continue now for very nearly 50 years and if I have really learned anything in those 50 years, it might be that expecting too much or assuming too much -- of modern technology, of human teachers, but more especially of oneself -- is not a recipe for breathing easy. Being born on Christmas Day and being top of the class at primary school, then passing an exam to go to the local elitist school in Birmingham... et cetera, et cetera, I seem to have wasted too much time as if struggling with a heavy burden of responsibility to achieve great things. But what really helps me to breathe more easily and to sleep more easily is the Buddha's teaching of wanting little and being content. Even if, paddling in the shallow waters of the first dhyana, I can get just a little bit of progress (or just a little bit of regress), just a little bit more ease, that is something to be grateful for -- a step in the right direction.

EH Johnston:
Understand how wonderful it is that this man breathes in and immediately after breathes out again ; for there is no relying on (the continuance of) life.

Linda Covill:
Life is unreliable, so consider it a marvel when a man breathes in and straightaway breathes out again.

prashvasiti = 3rd pers. sg. pra-√zvas: to breathe in , inhale
pra: forward, forth
√shvas: to blow , hiss , pant , snort ; to breathe , respire , draw breath (also = live) ; to sigh , groan
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this one
anvakSham: ind. (from akSha) afterwards , immediately after
akSha: m. an axle , axis ; a wheel ,

yat (relative pronoun): [that/it] which
ucchvasiti = 3rd pers. sg. (from ud-√shvas): to breathe hard , snort ; to take a deep breath , breathe ; to breathe again , get breath , recover , rest; to sigh , pant , respire
ud: up, upwards
maanavaH (nom. sg.): m. a man, a human being

avagaccha = 2nd pers. imperative avagam: to hit upon , think of, conceive , learn , know , understand ; to recognize , consider , believe any one (acc.) to be (acc.)
tad (correlative of yad): ind. it
aashcaryam (acc. sg.): n. a wonder , miracle , marvel , prodigy

a: (negative prefix): not
vishvaasyam (nom. sg., from vi- √shvas ): mfn. to be trusted, trustworthy
vi-√shvas: to draw breath freely , be free from fear or apprehension , be trustful or confident , trust or confide in , rely or depend on
hi: for
jiivitam (nom. sg.): n. life, duration of life

Saturday, December 19, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.56: Precarious Antagonism

nirvRtaH ko bhavet kaayaM
mahaa-bhuut'-aashrayaM vahan
ahiinaam iva bhaajanaM

= - = = - = = =
- = = = - = - -
- = - - - = = =
- = = - - = - -

Who could be complacent carrying around a body

Which is a receptacle for the elements,

Like a basket of snakes

Each opposed to another.

In Indian thought before the Buddha, apparently, there were considered to be five elements of ether, air, fire, water, earth.

But, for example, in his description of suffering in Canto 16, the Buddha refers to four elements: water, earth, wind, and fire.

Fluidity of water, solidity of earth,

Motion of wind, and constant heat of fire,

Are innate in them; as also it is in the nature

Of both the body and the mind to suffer.

So the Buddha pointed to four noble truths, four abodes of mindfulness, four dhyanas in the practice of sitting-dhyana, and not five elements but four elements.

Are there four elements in this body of mine that are opposed to each other like snakes in a basket?

Ashvaghosha sometimes uses snakes as symbols of the reptilian faults, and for me that metaphor applies here. So suit yourself, but for me the essential big four is as follows:

(1) The fear reflex (Moro Reflex) is like water in that it has the very passive component of fear paralysis, like still water, which changes very fluidly into a very active component of fight or flight, or panic, which is more akin to white water.
(2) The head-balance reflex (TLR) is the vital one in determining a human being's relationship with mother earth.
(3) The twist reflex (ATNR) involves turning the head to one side and pointing in that direction with eyes, ears, and fingers: it is like wind in that it is all about movement in space and the tendency/intention to move or not move.
(4) The cat-sit reflex (STNR) is like fire in that it energizes a baby's energy in an upward direction. Only when this reflex emerges, at around 6 months, can the baby bring itself into an upright sitting position.

What makes the basket of snakes particularly fitting as a metaphor for the vestibular reflexes is that the reflexes work through antagonistic opposition.

Within the fear reflex, there is mutual antagonism between the passive and the active, and this antagonism is intimately related with the opposition within the autonomic nervous system between its parasympathetic and sympathetic branches.

The head-balance reflex, similarly, involves either flexion or hyper-extension.

Whereas both the first two reflexes involve symmetrical patterns of movement, the twist reflex (or Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex) is, as its name suggests, a-symmetrical. So the ATNR is antagonistic to Moro/TLR.

And finally the cat-sit reflex opposes elements of each of the three previous three reflexes. The cat-sit reflex opposes the first two reflexes, which involve either extension or flexion, by combining neck extension with hip flexion. And the cat-sit or Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex opposes the a-symmetry of the twist reflex with its own symmetrical pattern.

So the relation between the four vestibular reflexes, whether they are working for the good or ill of the organism as a whole, is always a manifestation of what FM Alexander called "antagonistic action."

Because antagonistic action is everywhere the rule, a crawler who wants to be loved and appreciated sometimes shows a strong tendency to non-conformist iconoclasm. I mention no names.

Anyway, I don't usually pay too much attention to altars, but while preparing this one yesterday I was thinking: "Let the neck be free like water, to let the head go forward and up like something growing out of the earth, to let the back lengthen and widen as a movement in space like the wind, while sending the knees out of the pelvis like a tiger sitting with fire in its belly."

To prepare an altar like this might be a kind of non-Buddhist ceremony in which, as a starting point, non-Buddha gives up the idea of becoming Buddha and accepts himself as non-Buddha.

In Chinese and Japanese the Buddha's four elements are called SHI-DAI, lit. "the Big Four." So for me, in sum, the Big Four are like this:
(1) Water; neck free; Moro reflex.
(2) Earth; head forward and up; Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex.
(3) Wind; back to lengthen and widen; Asymmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex.
(4) Fire; legs out of the pelvis; Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex.

Even for a vestibular basket-case, the starting place has to be to accept oneself, like water. The alternative starting place is fear induced by trying to be right. This trying, in its turn, rests on the idea that there might be, in future, rightness to be had. Whereas the Buddha is in the process of telling Nanda exactly what every human being without exception can expect, which is not me finally becoming right, but rather aging, sickness, and death.

EH Johnston:
Who can feel true bliss, while he inhabits a body which is but a receptacle for the great elements, resembling a pot full of snakes at war with each other?

Linda Covill:
Who could be happy carrying around a body which hosts the great elements, as though one were carrying a container full of snakes fighting each other?

nirvRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satisfied , happy , tranquil , at ease , at rest; extinguished , terminated , ceased ; emancipated
kaH (nom. sg. m.): who?
bhavet (3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu): might be
kaayam (acc. sg.): m. body

mahaa-bhuuta: n. a great element , gross element (of which 5 are reckoned , viz. ether , air , fire , water , earth, as distinguished from the subtle element or tanmaatra
mahaa = mahat: mfn. great (in space , time , quantity or degree); n. a great thing , important matter , the greater part
bhuuta: mfn. actually happened , true , real (n. an actual occurrence , fact , matter of fact , reality); n. an element , one of the 5 elements (esp. a gross element = mahaa-bhuuta; but also a subtle element = tan-maatra; with Buddhists there are only 4 elements)
aashrayam (acc. sg.): m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or rests ; a recipient
vahan (nom. sg. m. of present participle of vah, to carry): carrying

paraspara: mutual , each other's
viruddhaanaam = gen. pl. viruddha: mfn. opposed ; hostile , adverse , at variance or at enmity with (instr. gen. , or comp.)

ahiinaam = gen. pl. ahi: m. a snake
iva: like
bhaajanam (nom. sg.): n. " partaker of " , a recipient , receptacle , (esp.) a vessel , pot , plate , cup

Friday, December 18, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.55: The Observant Expect Not Much

kShetra-bhuutam an-arthaanaaM
shariiraM parikarShataH
svaasthy-aashaa jiivit'-aashaa vaa
na dRShT'-aarthasya jayate

= - = - - = = =
- = = - - = - =
= = - = - = = =
- = = = - - - =

As he drags about that field of misfortunes

Which is a body,

Expectations of well-being or of continuing life

Do not arise in one who is observant.

Human life is a delicate balancing act whose uncertain foundations, I found out along the way, are four vestibular reflexes.

To help us survive and develop as a baby, each of us was born with (1) a fear reflex, (2) a head-balance reflex, and (3) a twist reflex. Then, at around 6 months, if all went well, (4) a cat-sit reflex emerged. These four reflexes, called by neuro-physiologists the Moro Reflex, TLR, ATNR and STNR, are very fundamental. But they are not always very reliable: they might be compared to a pot of four snakes tangling with each other.

I think for the same reason that there are these four main reflexes, there are four main Alexander directions, namely: to let the neck release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while releasing the limbs out of the torso.

Similarly, there are four noble truths, four abodes of mindfulness, and four stages of sitting-dhyana.

The prejudice or knowledge that I bring to this translation is expressed in the URL at the top of this screen:

My confidence -- be it a prejudice which I should drop off or be it pra-jNaa ("pre-knowing") for which I should be grateful -- is that the lifeblood is sitting-dhyana and sitting-dhyana is the lifeblood.

This lifeblood was transmitted from the Buddha through 12 generations to Ashvaghosha, through a further 16 generations to Bodhidharma, through many generations in China to Dogen, and then through many generations in Japan to yours... truly?

So what has this verse got to do with the lifeblood?

In Canto 17 Ashvaghosha describes Nandas progression (or regression) through four dhyanas. The first stage of realisation, or the first level of thinking (because dhyaana literally means "thinking") has to do with the joy that follows from letting go of end-gaining. It has to do, in other words, with the joy that follows from giving up trying to be right. It corresponds, in Alexandrian terms, with the joy associated with letting the neck be free. The second dhyana, in Alexandrian terms, corresponds to the more one-pointed awareness associated with directing the head where it wants to go, out of where it needs to release out of. The third dhyana has to do with the psycho-physical ease, for example ease of breathing, associated with a lengthening and widening torso. And the fourth dhyana is just sitting, like a great big cat before its mountain stronghold.

The Buddha here expressing human life as the dragging around of a field of misfortunes seems to me to relate to negation of the idea of me being right, or to express it positively, self-acceptance, belonging to the first dhyana.

Any expectation, be it realistic or unrealistic, is liable to cause the neck to stiffen. So letting the neck release, as an observant man named FM Alexander observed, may depend in the first instance on giving up the expectation of being anything other than a fragile human being, the four cornerstones of whose existence are like a pot of four tangling snakes.

EH Johnston:
The man who understands the facts entertains no hope of well-being or of life, as he drags round a body which is merely a field for calamity.

Linda Covill:
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.

kShetra-bhuutam (acc. sg. n.): consisting of a field
kShetra: a field
bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of
an-arthaanaam = gen. pl. anartha: m. non-value , a worthless or useless object ; disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil

shariiram (acc. sg.): n. body
parikarShataH = abl. sg. n. pres. part. pari-√kRSh: to draw or drag about

svaasthya: n. (fr. sva-stha) self-dependence , sound state (of body or soul), health , ease , comfort , contentment , satisfaction
svastha: being in one's self, doing well, being at ease

aashaa (nom. sg.) or aashaaH (nom. pl): f. wish , desire , hope , expectation , prospect
jiivita: living
aashaa (nom. sg.) or aashaaH (nom. pl): f. wish , desire , hope , expectation , prospect
vaa: or

na: not
dRShTa: n. perception , observation ; n. a real or obvious danger
aarthasya = gen. sg. m./n. aartha: mfn. (fr. artha) relating to a thing or object; material , significant ; resulting from or based on the possession of a thing
jayate = 3rd pers. sg. jan: to be born or produced , come into existence

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.54: Warning: Death Kills

balastho 'haM yuvaa v" eti
na te bhavitum arhati
mRtyuH sarvaasv avasthaasu
hanti n'aavekShate vayaH

- = = = - = = -
- = - - - = - -
= = = = - = = -
= - = = - = - =

That "I am young," or "I am strong,"

Should not occur to you:

Death kills in all situations

Without regard for sprightliness.

Speed Kills, road signs warn us. And in some situations speed clearly does. But Speed Kills seems to invite the assumption that if I drive nice and slowly, then I might be able to avoid either suffering or causing death -- which is by no means true.

Similarly, when cigarette packets announce Smoking Kills, there is something faintly reassuring about this statement for a non-smoker.

With Death Kills (mRtyuH hanti), in contrast, the Buddha offers us here no wiggle room at all. I may be a sprightly non-smoker who has not yet turned 50 but one of these days, as sure as eggs are eggs, death is going to kill me.

Q: What is the biggest killer of Zen bastards between the ages of 50 and 60?

A: Death.

EH Johnston:
Do not reflect that you are strong or young. Death strikes on all occasions and is no respecter of youth.

Linda Covill:
The thought that you are young or strong should not exist for you; death kills in all circumstances, without noticing a person's age.

balasthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. " being in strength or power " , strong , powerful , vigorous
aham (nom. sg. m.): I
yuvaa = nom. sg. m. yuvan: mfn. young , youthful , adult (applied to men and animals) , strong , good , healthy
vaa: or
iti: ".... ", thus, that

na: not
te (gen.): of/for/in you
bhavitum (infinitive bhuu): to be, exist, occur
arhati: it should not

mRtyuH (nom. sg.) m. death, dying
sarvaasu (loc. pl.): all
avasthaasu = loc. pl. avasthaa: f. state , condition , situation

hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to strike , beat (also a drum) , pound , hammer; to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy
na: not
avekShate = 3rd pers. sg. avekSh: to look towards , look at , behold
vayaH = acc. sg. vayas: n. energy (both bodily and mental) , strength , health , vigour , power , might ; vigorous age , youth , prime of life , any period of life , age

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.53: Grrrrrr....

muhuurtam api vishrambhaH
kaaryo na khalu jiivite
niliina iva hi vyaaghraH
kaalo vishvasta-ghaatakaH

- = - - - = = =
= = - - - = - =
- = - - - = = =
= = = = - = - =

Not a moment of trust

Is to be placed in life,

For, like a tiger lying in wait,

Time slays the unsuspecting.

Since the artist in 15.39 falling in love with the image of a girl he dreamed up by himself, there hasn't been any sign of a really memorable metaphor -- just the odd mention of burning. But here a bloody great tiger, far deadlier than "time's arrow," lies silently in wait.

In the face of mortal danger, it is no use trying not to be afraid. The point is to be ready, in spite of fear, to look the bugger straight back in the eye.

Easy to write; not so easy to do -- just as the idea that puts one wrong is easy to renounce, but not so easy really to give up.

EH Johnston:
No reliance can be placed on life for even a single moment. For Death, like a tiger lying in wait, strikes down the trustful man.

Linda Covill:
Don't trust in life even for a moment, for time slays the trusting man like a tiger lying in wait.

muhuurtam (acc. sg.): m. n. a moment , instant , any short space of time
api: even
vishrambhaH , confidence in (loc.)

kaaryaH (nom. sg. m. gerundive of kR): to be made or done
na: not
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly; (as a continuative particle) now , now then , now further;
na khalu: by no means , not at all , indeed not
jiivite = loc. sg. jiivita: n. a living being ; n. life

niliinaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. clinging to , sitting on , hidden in (loc. or comp.)
iva: like
hi: for
vyaaghraH (nom. sg.): m. a tiger

kaalaH (nom. sg.): m. time (in general); the end; death by age; time (as destroying all things) , death , time of death
vishvasta: mfn. full of confidence , fearless , bold , unsuspecting
ghaatakaH (nom. sg. m.): killer , murderer

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.52: Obliterating My Own Bright Idea

atha kash cid vitarkas te
bhaved a-maraN'-aashrayaH
yatnena sa vihantavyo
vyaadhir aatma-gato yathaa

- - = = - = = =
- = - - - = - =
= = - - - = = =
= - = - - = - =

Any idea you might have, then,

That has to do with not dying,

Is, with an effort of will, to be obliterated

As a disorder of your whole being.

In this verse as I read it a bright idea (vitarka) of becoming immortal is not compared to sickness invading a person's whole being: the idea is just sickness invading a person's whole being.

What is the relation, then, between a-maraNa (not dying) here, and the a-mRta (deathlessness, nectar of immortality) which Nanda makes into his own possession in Canto 17, whose title a-mRt'-aadhigamaH means "Obtaining [the Nectar of] Immortality"?

I think it is like the relation between giving up the idea of moving a leg, and actually allowing a leg to move, in the Alexander procedure described here.

The point is to completely give up the idea of moving a leg, and thereby to render oneself free of anxiety, free of undue tension, free of undue noise in the system, free... to carry on not moving the leg ... or ... to let the leg move.

What is required is not so much a physical effort as an effort of attention, an effort of thinking, an effort of will (yatna). It is not so much an effort to do, more an effort to listen, and to allow.

To understand what kind of effort is required, and to make that effort, is our effort.

In his twenties, Zen Master Dogen wrote in Fukan-zazengi Shinpitsu-bon that when an idea arises during practice of sitting-dhyana, we should just wake up, and that just in our act of waking up, the idea vanishes. So Master Dogen's own idea, in his younger days, was that the essential effort that is required is a kind of waking up.

By the time he wrote Shobogenzo Zazengi, in his forties, Master Dogen seemed to have given up his own idea about how to express the secret of sitting-dhyana, preferring to open his ears, eyes, and heart to the traditional instruction of the Chinese ancestor Yakusan who said words to the effect of:

"Think into the non-thinking zone."



So what kind of effort is this non-thinking? FM Alexander described his lifework as "an exercise in finding out what thinking is."

Maybe dropping off one's own idea is a process that even Zen Masters have to continue to go through, as works in progress. In their immaturity they tend to want to make a name for themselves, to establish their own position in the list of immortals. In that state they have the idea that their own idea should stay on the globe, even after their death. What the Buddha is saying here, as I hear him, is that such an idea is itself just a disorder of the whole being -- what my old teacher would call an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system -- which with an effort of will should be eliminated.

Redoubling that effort, we will revisit in the spring of 2010 Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda's progression (or regression), on his way to obtaining the nectar of immortality, through four stages of sitting-dhyana practice, and finally to his cutting of "ties to the first person singular" (uttama-bandhana; 17.57).

EH Johnston:
Or if you should have any thought not based on the inevitability of death, you must exert yourself to drive it away, like a disease attacking the body.

Linda Covill:
Next, any conception that you might have that isn't grounded in the fact of death should be strenuously fought off, as you would your own illness.

atha: ind. now, then, next, indeed etc.
kash cid (nom. sg. m.): any
vitarkaH (nom. sg.): m. idea, thought, fancy
te (gen. sg.): of you, in you

bhavet (3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu): there might be, it might occur
a-maraNa: n. the not dying , immortality
a (negative prefix): not
maraNa: n. the act of dying , death
ashrayaH (nom. sg.): m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or

yatnena (inst.): with effort , carefully , eagerly , strenuously
yatna: m. activity of will; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care
saH (nom. sg. m.): it
vihantavyaH (nom. sg. m. gerundive from vi-√ han): mfn. to be destroyed
vi-√han: to strike apart or asunder , disperse , shatter , break , destroy; to tear off ; to unbind , loosen (hair) ; to ward off , repel ; to keep back , withhold , refuse

vyaadhiH (nom. sg.): m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness
aatma-gataH (nom. sg.): mfn. gone to oneself
aatma = aatman: one's self, one's own body; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body
gata: come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in
yathaa: as

Monday, December 14, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.51: Bright Ideas vs Energy Spreading Out

yadaa tasmaan nivRttas te
chanda-raago bhaviShyati
jiiva-lokaM tadaa sarvam
aadiiptam iva maMsyate

- = = = - = = =
= - = = - = - -
= - = = - = = -
= = - - - = - =

When your enthusiasm

Is turned back from all that,

The whole living world

You will deem to be, as it were, on fire.

Here begins a series of more than ten verses whose theme is the inevitability of death. So this verse as I read it is pointing squarely to the empirical fact that energy, unless prevented from doing so, spontaneously spreads out.

The second law of thermodynamics is nobody's bright idea. It is a fundamental law of the universe that describes what actually happens in the whole of the living and non-living world: energy tends to spread out. That is why water spontaneously flows, why a fire spontaneously burns, and why everybody is going to die.

All living beings die because we are all just a temporary concentration of energy that -- through combustion, or through processes analogous to combustion, like digestion and respiration -- tends to dissipate.

We revere Gautama Buddha, Ashvaghosha, and Zen Master Dogen as past masters of the backward step of turning light and shining. But however brightly their light may have shone for a time, they are not able to turn their light and shine any more, for the simple reason that they all died in ancient times. They went the way of all flesh: they stopped respiring and digesting, whereupon they were consumed either by fire or by worms. And so the energy that had been temporarily concentrated in their skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, eventually spread out.

An alleged Zen Master in the line of Gautama, Ashvaghosha and Dogen once told me his expectation that I, if I managed to transcend family life, would become the most excellent Buddhist master in the world. That was a bright idea, and something in me enthused greatly over it. What is not a bright idea is that the old man in question is, in the not too distant future, going to die. And it will not be too long before I also breathe my last.

The bright ideas of Zen masters, it seems to me these days, cannot hold a flame to the second law of thermodynamics.

EH Johnston:
Therefore when this passion of desire is extinct in you, you will deem the entire living world to be, as it were, on fire.

Linda Covill:
When your passion and will have turned away from them, you will come to regard the whole world of living beings as burning.

yadaa: when
tasmaat: ind. from that
nivRttaH = nom. sg. nivRtta: mfn. turned back ; retreated ; ceased
te (genitive of tvam): your, of you, in you

chanda-raagaH (nom. sg.): will and passion; predilection-redness; enthusiasm
bhaviShyati = 3rd pers. sg. future bhuu: to be, become

jiiva-lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world of living beings
tadaa (correlative of yadaa): then
sarvam (acc. sg. m.): all

aadiiptam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. set on fire , blazing up
iva: like
maMsyate = 3rd pers. sg. future man: to think; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as (acc. with or without iva)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.50: Neither Enthusiasm Nor Iconoclasm

duHkhaM sarvatra sarvasya
vartate sarvadaa yadaa
chanda-raagam ataH saumya
loka-citreShu maa kRthaaH

= = = = - = = -
= - = = - = - =
= - = - - = = -
= - = = - = - =

While suffering, everywhere and for everyone,

Continues at every moment.

You are not to enthuse, my friend,

Over the world's shimmering images.

This and the next verse seem to form a bridge between negation of two kinds of worldly mirage: the idea (from 15.42) of happiness abiding at some place, and the idea (up to 15.63) of life carrying on happily ever after.

A shimmering worldly image that springs readily to mind at the moment is the Tiger Woods brand, for so many years an object of global enthusiasm. If viewers mistook the image for a real person -- in the manner of my senile great granny nodding sweetly to the newsreader on TV -- and now feel let down, whose fault is that? If we turn a human being like Tiger Woods into an icon, an immortal, a god, and then feel either outraged or thrilled when he proves prone to suffer like the rest of us, that tells us nothing about Tiger Woods but it tells us something about us who prefer to use celebrities as a mirror, rather than turning our light around and looking honestly at our own stupid selves.

People in India in the Buddha's time had their pantheon of immortals, with Indra in the centre; and we in our time have our own immortals, clustered (if Saturday night viewing is anything to go by) around the mighty Cheryl Cole, of Girls Aloud fame. The gleaming white smiles of stars like Cheryl and her mentor Simon Cowell may seem to sparkle with celebrity immortality, but truly it is only cosmetic dentistry.

Is the Buddha, then, advocating the smashing of icons -- as Mao advocated in the cultural revolution in China, or as Pol Pot advocated in Cambodia? No, definitely not. The Buddha's teaching is that we should look in here and stop enthusing over images, not that we should go out there and smash them up.

When I turn my light around and look honestly at my own stupid self, I cannot deny a certain iconoclastic tendency that, unless inhibited, could easily lead me to reach, like Mrs Woods, for a 3-iron. But Cheryl Cole, when all is said and done, is evidently quite a sweet individual. Who in the end wouldn't wish her well?

EH Johnston:
Since suffering is the lot of everyone everywhere at all times, do not, my friend, hanker after the glittering objects of the world.

Linda Covill:
Dear friend, since suffering operates in everybody everywhere, and at all times, do not set your passion or your will on the bright things of this world.

duHkham (nom. sg.): n. suffering
sarvatra: ind. everywhere
sarvasya (gen.): of all

vartate = 3rd pers. sg. vRt: to turn , turn round , revolve , roll; take place , occur; to be , live , exist , be found ; to continue ; to hold good , continue in force
sarvadaa: ind. always , at all times
yadaa: ind. when, whenever

chanda-raagam (acc. sg.): redness from liking; passion from pleasure in; enthusiasm
chanda: m. pleasure , delight , appetite , liking , predilection , desire , will
raaga: m. colour, redness, any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
atas (correlative of yadaa): ind. from this, hence
saumya (voc.): my friend

loka: world
citreShu = loc. pl. citra: n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes ; n. a brilliant ornament , ornament; n. a bright or extraordinary appearance , wonder ; n. a picture , sketch , delineation ; n. a forest of variegated appearance
maa: a particle of prohibition or negation
kRthaaH = 2nd pers. sg. injunctive kR: to do, make

Saturday, December 12, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.49: Ease Not Got by Going Somewhere

lokasy' aabhyaahatasy' aasya
duHkhaiH shaariira-maanasaiH
kShemaH kash cin na desho 'sti
svastho yatra gato bhavet

= = = = - = = -
= = = = - = - =
= = = = - = = =
= = = - - = - =

In this world beset

By hardships physical and mental,

There is no cosy place

To which one might go and be at ease.

In Canto 17, Ashvaghosha describes Nanda's progression (or regression) through:
(1) the first dhyaana, which is possessed of ideas (vitarkavat) and at the same time possessed of joy and ease (priiti-sukh'-opapannam);
(2) the second dhyaana in which he finds a deeper joy still in giving up ideas;
(3) the third dhyaana in which he finds supreme ease in giving up attachment to joy; and
(4) the fourth dhyaana in which Nanda gives up all difficulty and ease.

"At ease" in the above verse is svastha, which has more of a connotation of robust health, whereas "ease" in the description of the four dhyanas is sukha, which has more of a connotation of happiness. Still, the point might be that ease is got not by going somewhere but by giving something up.

First steps on this path, the Daily Mail reported yesterday, have been taken by none other than Victoria Beckham (aka "Posh Spice"). Welcome, Posh, not to a place, but to a way of being, and maybe to a way of finding a bit more ease in the practice of sitting-dhyaana.

EH Johnston:
In this world, which is overwhelmed by suffering of body and mind, there is no peaceful country to which one may go and be at ease.

Linda Covill:
The world, stricken by physical and mental suffering, has no safe place to which one could go and be at ease.

lokasya = gen. sg. loka: n. the world
abhyaahatasya = gen. sg. n. abhyaahata: mfn. struck , wounded ; seized by , afflicted with
abhi: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon
aahata: mfn. struck , beaten , hit , hurt ; fastened , fixed
asya (gen. sg. n.): this

duHkhaiH = inst. pl. duHkha: suffering, hardship, trouble
shaariira-maanasaiH (inst. pl): body-mind, psycho-physical, physico-mental

kShemaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. ( √kSi) habitable ; giving rest or ease or security ; at ease , prosperous , safe
√kSi: to abide , stay , dwell , reside (used especially of an undisturbed or secret residence)
kash cit (nom. sg. m.): any
na: not
deshaH (nom. sg.): m. point , region , spot , place; country
asti: there is

svasthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self ; being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound, well , healthy , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed ; self-sufficient , independent
yatra: where, in which, wherein
gataH (nom. sg. m.): gone to, being in
bhavet (3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu): one might be

Friday, December 11, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.48: Location, Location, Location?

ramaNiiyo 'pi deshaH san
su-bhikShaH kShema eva ca
ku-desha iti vijNeyo
yatra kleshair vidahyate

- - = = - = = =
- = = = - = - -
- = - - - = = =
= = = = - = - =

Even an area that is pleasant,

Abundant in provisions and safe,

Should be regarded as a deprived area

Where burn the fires of affliction.

This verse brings to mind the old joke that France is the most beautiful country in the world, apart from the French.

Equally, the English county where I live, Buckinghamshire, is supposed to be one of the most desirable locations in the United Kingdom. Bucks is regarded as scoring relatively highly on the criteria of pleasantness, prosperity and safety. But I mostly seem to experience the Buckinghamshire village where I live -- through the filter of my faulty sensory appreciation -- as a backward place, over which people fly around in light aircraft just for fun, polluting the skies with fumes and noise. The noise in particular is a stimulus that regularly sparks (or fuels more likely), the fires of affliction in me.

So the point of this verse, as I read it, is that everywhere is a deprived area. If we think, on the contrary, that the nectar of non-deprivation might reside somewhere, such a thought is just a troublesome idea to drop off.

When the Buddha recommends Nanda to go to practise in the forest, then, it is not because the nectar of non-deprivation resides there, but rather because the solitude of the forest can be a good place to drop off a troublesome idea.

In obtaining the nectar of non-deprivation, or in letting the fires of affliction burn themselves out, the most difficult thing to get rid of might be that which does not exist: a troublesome idea.

Hence, before Nanda is ready, and before we are ready, to hear the Buddha's exposition of the four noble truths in Canto 16, the Buddha asks in this Canto for vitarka-prahaaNa, i.e. "Emptying the Mind" [EHJ], "Abandoning Notions" [LC], or "Giving Up an Idea."

EH Johnston:
A country in which the fires of the vices rage may be pleasant, prosperous and peaceful, but it must be recognised as a bad country.

Linda Covill:
Even a safe and delightful country where alms are given generously should be regarded as a flawed country, burned by defilements.

ramaNiiyaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. to be enjoyed , pleasant , agreeable , delightful , charming
api: even, also
deshaH (nom. sg.): m: a place, a country
san = nom. sg. m. sat: mfn. (pres. part. of √as) being , existing

su-bhikShaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having good food or an abundant supply of provisions
kShemaH (nom. sg. m.): habitable ; giving rest or ease or security ; at ease , prosperous , safe
eva ca

ku-deshaH (nom. sg.): m. a bad country (where it is difficult to obtain the necessaries of life); a country subject to oppression
ku: a prefix implying deterioration , depreciation , deficiency , want , littleness , hindrance , reproach , contempt , guilt
iti: thus
vijNeyaH (nom. sg. m. gerundive of vijNaa): to be known, to be regarded as

yatra: ind. (used for the loc. of the relative pron.) wherein, in which case
kleshaiH = inst. pl. klesha: m. pain , affliction , distress
vidahyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive vi- √ dah: to burn up, scorch, consume by fire