Thursday, January 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.44: Thoughts vs Decision-making

tatr' aapi tad-dharma-gataan vitarkaan
guN-aaguNe ca prasRtaan vicaaraan
buddhvaa manaH-kSHobha-karaan a-shaantaaMs
tad-viprayogaaya matiM cakaara

At that level, though, thoughts about one’s practice

And investigations into what is or is not good,

Are causes of mental agitation;
they are not inhibitory, on seeing which,

He decided to go on without them.

Line 1 expresses an aspect of SUFFERING that is familiar to every blushing teenager; namely, self-conscious thoughts about one's own conduct. To think about one's own practice is a kind of suffering. At the same time, as we have been told in 17.42, at the level even before the first realisation, while we are still caught in the grip of end-gaining, the most important thing may be to remain in touch with our reason -- rather than to spit the dummy, or throw the toys out of the pram, in an infantile, end-gaining manner. It may be a question of choosing the lesser evil, the less harmful form of suffering -- e.g. lack of spontaneity vs out & out uninhibited end-gaining. The first words of the line tatra api, "At this level, though," are important: it is a question of what level one is at. If one's wife, for example, decides to put the washing machine on first thing in the morning, and one fails to inhibit the arising of anger, even then, as long as one stays in touch with one's reason, two reasonable (if not ideal) courses of action are available: to get up off the round cushion and ask her nicely to switch the washing machine off, or to decide to stay on the round cushion and endure the noise -- notwithstanding one's deep-seated auditory processing problem.

Line 2 represents the viewpoint which is opposed to the discomfort of self-consciousness; that is, OBJECTIVE consideration of the ins and the outs of this and that -- for example, what approach to upright sitting meets the criterion of purity (=good), and what approach is tainted by end-gaining (=not good). On a more mundane level, to return to the example of the noisy washing machine and the person with the auditory processing problem, as long as he stays in communication with his reason, he is more or less able not to express any anger that arises but instead to observe anger objectively, investigating it as a big black block of something not good, a kind of ENERGY that, having arisen, inevitably will pass. The point of this verse is to negate such reasoning investigation. What I am trying to say, in response is: OK, but not yet! Maybe later on today. Maybe by the forest in France in the spring. Maybe when I am in "the other monastery."

Line 3 relates, as usual, to the practice of INHIBITION, and highlights a paradox inherent in this practice: the very faculty which we use to get started on the path of inhibition, that is, reason, is itself an obstacle to further progress on the inhibitory path. Beyond the first realisation, intellectual processes are not, to borrow Linda Covill’s phrase, conducive to peace. In a hunt for buried gold, there comes a time to throw away the map -- or switch off the sat-nav -- and take up a spade. But, I would like to add again in protest, that time is when one has arrived at the spot marked X, not before. Our main obstacle to peace, the pattern of wrong doing that we are seeking to inhibit, centres on the infantile panic reflex, called the Moro reflex, or, on this blog, the Mara reflex. Every uninhibited thought we have of doing something, however tiny the idea may be, is liable to stimulate this pattern of wrong doing, centred on the panic reflex. The panic reflex is at the centre of a mechanism whereby the tiniest thought can produce ripples of agitation throughout the nervous system. That is what Ashvaghosha is saying here. My protest this morning is that to practise this level of inhibition is a luxury afforded to those who are already in possession of the first realisation. Big stimuli need to be dealt with before small ones. In other words, in pursuing the the treasure of nirvana, one should search first with the map, then with the spade. One shouldn't think that one can dig one's way to the beach starting from the hard shoulder of the M40, with trucks roaring by -- possibly with washing machines in them.

What I would like to express in Line 4 as a translation of viprayoga, lit. "disjunction," is the practice of giving up the thought of doing something and yet going ahead and doing it. During my morning sitting, before swaying left and right, I consciously practice giving up the idea of doing one long exhalation, in order that such a breath might sort of do itself, freely. This is a MEANS of practising inhibition that was taught to me, very explicitly, by FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow. As I explain in this article, Marjory taught me (1) to give up thoughts about being right, and thereby stay on the PATH OF INHIBITION, which will take us in the right direction; (2) to give up any thought of lengthening the spine by direct means, and thereby allow the spine to release itself into length; and (3) to give up any thought of doing a movement (e.g. moving a leg, or a whisphered 'ah'), and thereby allow the freedom for the movement to happen in a new way. In the end, what we are working towards like this is allowing a decision to take itself. It is using thought in order to experience a decision/movement which is most definitely not a thought. Line 4, as I read it, is describing this kind of decision.

tatra: there, at that stage, in that state
api: even, also, very, though
tad: that, his, its, one’s
dharma: practice
gata: going to, about
vitarkaan (accusative, plural): thoughts

guNa: merit
aguNa: demerit
guN-aaguNe (locative): [extending] to merit and demerit
ca: and
prasRta: extending to (with locative)
vicaaraan (accusative, plural): investigations, deliberations

buddhvaa = absolutive of budh: to wake up to, realise, perceive, notice, see
manaH: mind
kSHobha: shaking, agitation, disturbance, trembling, emotion
karaan = accusative, plural of kara: doer, causer
a-shaantaan = accusative, plural of a-shaanta: unappeased, indomitable, wild; uninhibited, not inhibitory

tad: that, them
viprayogaaya = dative of viprayoga: disjunction, separation from
matim = accusative mati: thought, intention, mind
cakaara: made, made up

EH Johnston:
At that point too, understanding the initial reflections on those elements and the sustained reflections on their merit and demerit to be disturbing to the mind and not to lead to tranquillity, he determined to rid himself of them.

Linda Covill:
He realized that even at this stage the initial application of concentration to the constituents of reality, as well as the sustained application of concentration to a consideration of their virtues and flaws, are not conducive to peace but make undulations in the mind. He decided to break away from them.

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