Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.42: Sitting/Realisation Practice - The First Realisation

kaamair viviktaM malinaish ca dharmair
vitarkavac c' aapi vicaaravac ca
viveka-jaM priiti-sukh'-opapannaM
dhyaanaM tataH sa prathamaM prapede

Having nothing to do with emotional longings
or with practices that are tainted,

But having to do with reason
and methodical investigation,

Born of discernment and possessed of joy and ease,

Is the first realisation, to which he then came.

The context is that in Canto 16 the Buddha for Nanda's benefit has elucidated the four noble truths: the truth of suffering; the truth of the cause, in tangled circuits of neurones, of suffering; the truth of inhibition of suffering; and the truth of a path, or a means-whereby, for the inhibition of suffering. After jumping forward now to verses 17.42 to 17.56, which offer up a rich seam of gold to any devotee of sitting practice, we will return in two or three weeks time to Canto 16 and dig out that chapter's abundant gold too, all being well.

So now we are joining Nanda in the middle of Canto 17: with the Buddha's help, he has reaped the third of the four fruits of the Dharma, which is the fruit of not being pulled down any more by old attachments. He is no longer dragged down, in particular, by emotional longing for Sundari, his old partner in sex. The Buddha has spelled out, for Nanda's benefit, the four noble truths. Now Nanda sits on his own round cushion, facing a choice between two different, nay opposite, approaches to sitting practice.

One way is just to sit in the way that feels right to him. If Nanda goes down this route, then in response to an idea like 'sit upright,' his body will respond unconsciously, instinctively, mindlessly. This way is called end-gaining. Practice like this, sitting with the body, has the merits that accompany the doing of any physical exercise. But practice like this has the demerit of being tainted by instinctive and ignoble end-gaining.

Alternatively, relying as a first step on the faculty of reason, Nanda can begin to apply the principle of inhibition which is the heart of the four noble truths. In this way, sitting can be a means-whereby for Nanda to embody, with his own skin, flesh, bones and marrow, the Buddha's teaching of inhibition.

This is Nanda's choice: end-gaining vs means-whereby. Either go directly for the end of upright sitting posture, relying on feeling/instinct; or inhibit the desire to go directly for the end, relying instead on thinking/reason.

Nanda's discernment of the two opposing paths, and his decision to take the inhibitory one, lead him to the first of the four dhyanas, or four realisations, in his practice of sitting/dhyana, or sitting/realisation.

A criterion for the authenticity of this first realisation is joy and ease. The inhibitory decision, as Marjory Barlow used to say, "has to be real." If the decision is real, muscles release and endorphins flow: joy and ease follow "as surely as day follows night." But if the inhibitory decision is not real, if the practitioner is fooling himself, if he secretly has fish to fry, if he is paying lip service to the principle of inhibition while still secretly hankering after some end, then he will continue to be prey to the grim determination of the end-gainer.

In this article I attempted to relate as best I could in words how FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, taught me a way of making the inhibitory decision real, and of investigating methodically what it means "to let the head release out to let the spine lengthen and the back widen," so that muscular release really did take place, before, during, and after I took a decision to move.

What I thus experienced in Marjory Barlow's teaching room was, I think, closely related to what the Buddha experienced under the rose-apple tree: not what he experienced in earth-shaking fullness as a realised man sitting under the bodhi tree, but what he began to experience as a boy sitting under the rose-apple tree -- the first realisation, a freedom of sorts from energetic leaks.

kaamaiH (instrumental, plural): desires, longings, loves, passions; objects of desire
viviktam (accusative, agreeing with dhyaanam in line 4): separated, kept apart, dissociated; (with instrumental) free from
malinaiH: (agreeing with dharmaiH): dirty, impure, tarnished
ca: and
dharmaiH (instrumental, plural): dharmas, practices, ways of practice, elements

vitarka: 'containing a conjecture or supposition'; thought, doubt, uncertainty, reason
-vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.
ca: and
api: also, even, but
vicaara: mode of acting or proceeding, consideration, pondering, deliberation, investigation
-vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.

viveka: (from vi + vic, to sift, divide, analyse, distinguish) discernment, discrimination, right judgement; the faculty of distinguishing and classifying things according to their real properties
-jan: born of
priiti: joy
sukha: ease, happiness, going well
upapannam (accusative): obtained or reached, gained, endowed with, possessed of

dhyaanam (accusative, from the verb dhyai): realisation, trance; stage of meditation; level of "Zen"
dhyai: to think of, imagine, contemplate, meditate on, call to mind, recollect; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative; to let the head hang down (said of an animal)
tataH: then
saH: he
prathamaM (accusative): the first
prapede (perfect of pra + pad): entered, reached, came to a particular state or condition

EH Johnston:
Then he reached the first trance which is dissociated from (the various forms of) love and the impure elements of existence, has initial and sustained reflection, is born of discrimination and is endowed with ecstasy and bliss.

Linda Covill:
Then he entered the first level of meditation, in which passion and the tainted constituents of reality are absent. It consists of an initial and a sustained application of the mind to its object, is born of discernment, and is imbued with happiness and bliss.


Jordan said...

I have been thinking quite a bit about energy leakage lately. It seems difficult to inhibit. And even more difficult too explain.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

When I wrote my "Notes on the Translation" for the publication of Shobogenzo Vol. 1 in 1994, I discussed the word aasrava, or "leakage," then, sensing it must be important.

That was more than 15 years ago.

Those 15 years have been largely devoted to trying to understand and apply Alexander's principe of directing, or channeling, one's energy.

But reflecting on myself, I don't feel that I have got very far. I see that channeling energy effectively has a lot to do with being able to inhibit "aberrant" primitive reflexes, and especially the Moro reflex. Still, I don't feel that I have got very far, either in terms of being able to inhibit or in terms of being able to explain.

So I am with you there. Let's hope we are given another 15 years or so to progess in.

Thanks, as always, for your dogged persistence,


Raymond said...

I have been thinking a lot about energy leakage, too. I think about what my suffering feels like, what it entails. I am slowly gaining some insight. Usually, I suffer when I let down the guard of mindfulness, thereby leaking energy. For some reason, I feel compelled to loosen the armor of mindfulness, usually because I mistakenly think I am being called to take it off from an external persuasion. Then, I suffer. And it usually takes zazen or aloneness to gather myself.

I think this may be why Keizan Zenji, in Zazen Yojinki, said," out of ten times remain silent 9. Mold should grow around your mouth." Perhaps mold growing is inhibiting our tendency to mistakenly believe energy leakage is called for.


Mike Cross said...

I would like to say to Keizan:

Throwing away Japanese rigidity, see if you can find the freedom, out of ten times, to remain silent anywhere between ten and zero times -- however many times that you, acting with integrity in the moment, decide.

In short, Keizan, instead of looking for a rule or Japanese formula to hide behind or restrict yourself to, why don't you, as a human being, make your own mind up?

Is it because you are a stupid man who belongs to a culture where stupidity was elevated to a fine art?

I wonder: Are you, Keizan, the original champion of Soto Zen?

I don't know if you are or not, but judging from these stupid words quoted in your name, it sounds like you might be.

Raymond said...


The first thing I was going to write back was, " Mike, your rigid spitefulness is ironic." But then I thought, is engaging in this type of banter against the spirit of the precepts. After all, we are both trying to clarify the dharma. I don't know you, but I care about you. Is it compassionate action to be blunt if you feel a person is in error, or avoid the situation and let the perceived heat of rage subside.

If, rather than a rigid rule we should make a decision my decision is to turn the question around. If you were me, how would you respond, or not respond, to your previous post?


Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Raymond.

I think your response to my response is an admirable one, and my response to your response is this:

If I were you, Raymond, I would not seek clarification of the Dogen's Dharma downstream of Dogen. I would seek clarification of Dogen's Dharma upstream of Dogen, and in the Dharma of Dogen himself.

Going further, if I were you, I would seek clarification of Dogen's Dharma not so much from a religious standpoint, and especially not from a sectarian standpoint, but by adopting a more scientific approach. And as part of the latter approach, I would recommend you to look into the discoveries of FM Alexander.

All the best,