Sunday, January 4, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.21: Going Up into the Sky

3.21
Sugatas tathaagatam avekSHya
nara-patim a-dhiiram aashayaa
sheSHam api ca janam ashru-mukhaM
vininiiSHayaa gaganam utpapaata ha.


The One Who Went Well saw the king arrive like that

-- The leader of men, his composure lost in hope --

And he saw the rest of the people too, with tearful faces.

Wishing to direct them, he took himself up,
truly, into the sky.



COMMENT:
Is the aim of our life to gain some end, to get to the end of some road, to prove something conclusively? Or is it simply to go well, to keep using ourselves well and to keep improving the way we use ourselves, along the way? Again, does the aim have to be one or the other? Can it be a bit of both?

In principle, as is implicitly suggested in Line 1, the most important thing is simply to Go Well, following the Buddha's example.

In actual practice, however, when we examine ourselves closely, in spite of our professed good intention simply to go well, the composure which is the very means for going well is always getting lost in the hope of becoming or achieving something. In Alexander terms, we lose our integrity because of grasping unconsciously for some end, instead of consciously attending to the means-whereby principle.

Some who call themselves followers of the Buddha describe their unconscious grasping for ends as "practice of mindfulness." Some who call themselves Alexander teachers describe their unconscious grasping for ends as "attending to the means-whereby principle." In both cases, there is a gap. It is the same gap.

In actual practice, if we examine ourselves really closely and honestly, there is invariably a gap between what we believe we are doing, and what is actually going on inside us, mainly unbeknowns to us. What we are actually doing, in practice, almost all the time, is end-gaining.

Ashvaghosha expresses in a nutshell what end-gaining is with two words in Line 2: adhiram aashayaa, composure lost in hope.

The butt of Ashvaghosha's humour -- the one whose own composure was undermined because of his selfish, secular ambition for his son -- was the king of the ancient Indian kingdom of Kapilavastu. Ashvaghosha, in his usual non-preachy way, is describing an ancient legend, a situation very far removed from the present day. Ashvaghosha is not telling anybody the score. He is simply painting a picture.

[The sound of gulping]

At 4.30 this morning I get up, a bitter taste in the mouth, and wonder what is the matter with me. The translation of a-dhiiram aashayaa is going around in my head -- unsteady with expectation; wavering with expectation; out of balance because of hope; out of balance because of ambition....

Ah yes, now I see. Ashvaghosha is not only talking about the ruler of the ancient kingdom of Kapilavastu, and he is not only talking about all you horrible unenlightened readers out there who haven't yet learned in practice the difference between end-gaining and following the means-whereby principle. No, Ashvaghosha's bitter pill is just medicine for this ambitious father, right here and now, sitting on this round black cushion.

Suffice to say that now is the season when British universities are sending out offers to prospective students and yesterday my eldest son received, just as his Dad did 32 years ago, a very thin letter from Cambridge University.

So, again, this is suffering. All the old emotions are stirred up. That tangled mass of tendrils which is energized by the idea that me or mine has been rejected, has again been energized, and the stress hormones are a-pumping.

But even in this maelstrom of emotion, this world of tear-stained faces -- the "shitstorm" as Michael Thaler used to call it -- there is the distant sound of a lion's roar:

THIS IS INHIBITION. THIS IS THE MEANS.

This is inhibition: seeing the idea that is at the root of the trouble for what it is, and renewing the decision not to react to it; remembering that what is wanted is action itself, not reaction to an idea. Because we want freedom in action, we give up the idea that sets off the reaction. This is inhibition.

And this is the means: to sit with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, wrapped in the Buddha-robe, in readiness to release one long, controlled exhalation, to sway left and right, and then just to sit, directing the spine to lengthen in such a way that the breathing is not restricted; knowing in this that there is nothing for Mara to do but, sooner or later, release his grip.

Putting hands together and bowing is an example of an action. It can be a reaction that is stupid, mindless, meaningless, robotic, posed, forced, and so on. But it can also be an action that means something, an enlightened action. When Mara releases his grip, and bowing takes place as an action, then Buddha goes up, into the sky. Then, if Buddha goes for a walk, Buddha is walking up in the sky.

This is what I have learned under Alexander teachers. Ray Evans guided me towards exact study of Mara's grip. Ron Colyer gave me my first most profound experiences of being released from Mara's grip. Marjory Barlow and Nelly Ben-Or, each in her own way, deepened my understanding of the principle of inhibition. These four, and every other Alexander teacher that has directed me up, did so primarily by taking themselves up first. It is an axiomatic principle of Alexander work that, in order to direct a pupil up, the teacher directs herself up first.

Thus, what it means to go up into the sky, and to walk in the sky, can be understood not only with the top two inches. What it means to go up into the sky can also be understood from the knees, and from the hips -- and from the feet. What it means to go up into the sky and walk in the sky can be understood not only as a fanciful metaphor but also on the basis of what is really and truly going on, here on the ground.



VOCABULARY:
Sugata: going well, epithet of the Buddha
tathaagatam: arrived thus, come in such a state
avekSHya: noticing, having noticed, having seen

nara-patim: leader of men; king
a-dhiiram: not steady, not composed; tremulous, excitable; out of balance
aashayaa: (instrumental) because of hope, with expectation, expectant, ambitious

sheSHam: the remainder, the rest
api: also
ca: and
janam: people
ashru-mukhaM: tear-faced, with tear-stained faces

vininiiSHayaa: (instrumental) with the intention of guiding them, with the wish to lead them away, in order to convert them
gaganam: (accusative) to the sky, into the sky, into the air
utpapaata = from ut + pad: arise, rise
ha: (emphatic) indeed, verily, truly


EH Johnston:
The Blessed One, seeing the king arriving thus tremulous with hope and the rest of the people with tearstained faces, flew up into the air in order to convert them.

Linda Covill:
The Sugata noticed that the king had arrived in an excitable state and full of expectations and that the rest of the people had tearful faces, so with the intention of guiding them to insight he rose up into the air.

11 comments:

Uku said...

Mike,

very inspiring post, thank you.

Everything is here, just as it is, right now, right here. Continuous practice.

Thank you for your efforts.

With palms together,
Uku

Mike Cross said...

Hello Markus,

I would like to ask you straight what it is that you are trying to express with these words:

"Everything is here, just as it is, right now, right here. Continuous practice."

Is it your own enlightenment?

Yours sincerely,

Mike

Uku said...

Ha! Screw the enlightenment, I don't know anything about it.

So I have to quote your post. My words were refering to this:

Is the aim of our life to gain some end, to get to the end of some road, to prove something conclusively? Or is it simply to go well, to keep using ourselves well and to keep improving the way we use ourselves, along the way? Again, does the aim have to be one or the other? Can it be a bit of both?

In principle, as is implicitly suggested in Line 1, the most important thing is simply to Go Well, following the Buddha's example.

In actual practice, however, when we examine ourselves closely, in spite of our professed good intention simply to go well, the composure which is the very means for going well is always getting lost in the hope of becoming or achieving something. In Alexander terms, we lose our integrity because of grasping unconsciously for some end, instead of consciously attending to the means-whereby principle.


Very well said, Mike! Everything is here, just as it is, right now, right here. Continuous practice. Thank you for your efforts and translations.

Be cool, Mike. :)

With palms together,
Uku

Mike Cross said...

No, Markus, you haven't understood at all. But thank you for giving me the chance to try to cut through some confusion.

"Screw enlightenment" is the teaching of immature so-called Soto Zen masters who have never entered Dogen's inner sanctum at all. It seems to me that you are imitating the wrong teaching of those Soto Zen masters.

"Screw enlightenment" is negation of gaining the end.

The true teaching is negation of the idea of gaining the end, in order to allow the body its freedom to go ahead and gain the end.

This is the essence of "mental sitting" as I tried to spell out for you on your blog yesterday.

"Screw enlightenment" belongs to the wrong view called DANKEN-GEDO in Japanese, and uccheda-dRSHti in Sanskrit.

I am pointing you in the direction of giving up your one-sided view of what sitting-zen is. You seem to be trying to express to me and to others a certain one-sided viewpoint which you have adopted as a result of reading the books and blogs of the old teacher whom I served for many years while I was in Japan. I am telling you what I have actually understood, as a result of those long years of service -- that the essential challenge of sitting-zen practice is to give up our own view.

Progressively, in his later years, the old master, Gudo Nishijima, has taken to affirming anybody who seemed to affirm to him his own view, which he calls "true Buddhism," while regarding as his enemy anybody who challenged the view he thinks to be "true Buddhism." This has only added to existing confusion in the world of Japanese Zen.

So, having spent more than 10 years unsure of how to go about cutting through the confusion, and vainly hoping that the old master himself might drop off his own wrong viewpoint, I have recently
decided that translating Saunarananda might be a way of starting to cut through the confusion.

So that is what I am doing.

What Ashvaghohsha is leading us to, in his cunning way, is not a view, but an Eye -- an instrument, a means-whereby for liberating ourselves from views.

Uku said...

Well, I tried to be funny with that "screw the enlightenment" but it failed. :)

Right now it seems that it's quite impossible to discuss with you because a lot of what I write in my blog and in your blog is "wrong" or you seem to see it through your negations toward Nishijima Roshi and through your past. But I'm cool with that. I'm learning, I'm practicing and because I really respect your efforts and translations, I'm taking a break with you because you seem to understand my writings in a negative way-

Maybe you could also think how do you write? I don't think it's not so necessary to be so harsh and negative against people. ;)

All the best, Mike.

With palms together,
Uku

Mike Cross said...

Yes, I am too serious, especially when short of sleep. But a wrong view is no laughing matter.

HISHIRYO, "non-thinking," expresses effort of the kind which Ashvagosha describes in many places -- an effort yoked to the noble principle of inhibition.

UKU in his blog quoted a translation of Fukan-zazengi in which HI-SHIRYO is translated as "different from thinking." But that choice of words "different from thinking," emanated from a wrong view. I know it was a wrong view, because it was my view, and the translator was me. It was my mistake.

The understanding at that time was the sitting-zen is just to do, which is different from thinking.

But there was no understanding at that time of the opposite view, which is that sitting-zen is just not to do, which is different from doing.

The view at that time was the view of bodywork, the view that sitting-zen is basically a kind of "physical gymnastics," an effort of pure doing, which is different from thinking.

But no, sitting-zen is not that.

If Uku doesn't want me to negate his attitude on this blog, then he shouldn't give himself airs of understanding words of Master Dogen that he has not understood.

Uku said...

Mike,

thank you for your comment. Of course we don't have to agree with our point of views but I just think that maybe we could be a little more polite to ourselves? I don't think that you're comments like No, Markus, you haven't understood at all." and "Screw enlightenment" is the teaching of immature so-called Soto Zen masters who have never entered Dogen's inner sanctum at all. It seems to me that you are imitating the wrong teaching of those Soto Zen masters. I believe that our practice will help us for calming our mind and body that our speech can be more polite, no need to argue or to be so harsh.

And I believe also like you that sitting-zen is not only physical like I've wrote several times.

Thank you, all the best, Mike.

Uku said...

I forgot to ask:

Mike, do you know when are other volume's of your and Nishijima's Shobogenzo's translations coming online?

Thank you.

Take care, with palms together,
Uku

Jordan said...

For new years I decided to not complain to my wife about the state of the kitchen, laundry, general police of the living room or whatnot.

Instead I instituted a new practice of If I saw something I thought was out of place, instead of bumping my gums about it I would just smile and take care of it not even allowing the grumpiness to come up. Common sense tells us that this would just make my wife lazy... It had the opposite effect. With me not complaining, I feel better and the wife worked harder and now strangely the house appears cleaner.


When I started typing this out I felt it was related...

Keep on keeping on!

Jordan

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan, Uku,

Reading your comments (after a mid-afternoon nap) reminded me of what Marjory Barlow said in this article:

In some way the constant and deep reaction-patterns are more obvious to other people than to ourselves.

I sometimes think that there is a wry sense of humour lurking somewhere in the background of the Universe permitting this tragi-comic state of affairs, where certain characteristics of a person are known and clearly seen by everyone, except the person himself.


Tragi-comic indeed!

But tomorrow is another day, and another four lines to look forward to.

All the best,

Mike

Mike Cross said...

With regard to Uku's question regarding the online publication --nobody has told me when the other volumes will come online, but I should think it won't take too long, judging from how quickly BDK/Numata pressed on with the print publication.