Monday, January 5, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.22: Staying All of a Piece

sa vicakrame divi bhuv' iiva
punar upavivesha tasthivaan
nishcala-matir ashayiSHTa punar
bahudh" aabhavat punar abhuut tath" aikadhaa

He went up into the sky
as freely as if roaming the earth:

Even while sitting, perfectly still;

Even while lying down,
an unmoving flow of direction.

He showed many changing forms
while thus remaining
all of a piece.

Going up into the sky as freely as if roaming the earth means, for example, allowing the spine to lengthen upwards in sitting, not in a rigid, self-arranging kind of way -- as if you knew what "correct posture" was -- but with the ease that there is in free movement. Gautama, Ashvaghosha is telling us, had this ease of free movement even when his body was sitting perfectly still, even when his body was lying down.

To convey the sense of freedom and ease, even in stillness, my Alexander head of training, Ray Evans, used to say: "Sit as if to stand."

FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, used to say to me, while I was lying on her teaching table: "That's what we want. The whole body informed with thought!" What Marjory meant by "thought" was not intellectual thought. She was talking about a flow of direction. This desired flow of direction, she used to emphasize, is always the same, irrespective of position or movement. The direction for openness of the hand, for example, is the same whether the hands are opening out or making fists, whether the fingers are still or playing the piano. The direction for release of eye muscles is the same whether the eyes are open or shut. The direction for a lengthening flow along the spine is the same whether you are walking upstairs or downstairs, whether you are bolt upright or in a foetal curl, whether you are 35 years old or 85, whether you are a model of symmetry or a wizened and twisted old drill.

Maybe I could have understood the above if -- perhaps inspired by a statue of an old and crooked Bodhidharma -- I had searched out and followed a master of Chinese chi-kung. In 1994, I seriously considered that option. But, wary of oriental ways, I opted instead for a route more in sympathy with Western scientific method and came back to England to train as an Alexander teacher.

So, if I have understood Ashvaghosha's intention in this verse, it is thanks to the efforts of FM Alexander and teachers in his line. Indeed, to my ears, Ashvaghosha could be just describing in this verse a good student on an Alexander teaching-training course, constantly going up while sitting and standing, while doing lying down work, while walking, talking, humming, squatting, going on hands and knees, running, swimming, et cetera, et cetera -- all the time maintaining that use of the head, neck and back which is optimal for the working of the organism as a whole.

Master Dogen wrote in the original edition of Fukan-zazengi of naturally becoming one piece. It is very difficult to say what it means to become one piece. But we can at least be clear in regard to what it is to be disconnected, so that the head, ribcage and pelvis are out of alignment with each other. In this article, Marjory Barlow describes the general pattern of disconnection, or misuse, which takes the same form for everybody, centred as it is around Mara's universal grip.


sa: he
vicakrame = from vi + car: move in different directions, spread about, roam freely; to be situated in (locative, applied to heavenly bodies)
divi: (locative) in the sky, up into the sky, in the air
bhuvi: (locative) on the earth, over the earth
iva: like

punar: while, but, and yet, and then, again
punar... punar: at one time.... at another time, now... now....
upavivesha: seated, sitting
tasthivaan: lit. 'in the state of having stopped'; perfectly still.

nishcala: not moving, motionless, steady, constant, invariable, unwavering, without a flicker
matiH: (nominal case) mind, thinking, mental tendency, intention, thought-direction, directing
ashayiSHta: lay down
punar... punar: at one time.... at another time

bahudhaa: in many ways, forms or directions; in many parts or places; variously
abhavat: (imperfect, from the root bhuu) became, brought into being, manifested, exhibited
punar: while, again, at the same time
abhuut: (aorist of root bhuu) became, was, realised
tathaa: thus, in that manner, in such a manner
ekadhaa: in one piece, singly, simply, at once, all together

EH Johnston:
He walked in the air as if on the earth, then He stopped and sat down, then He lay down unhesitatingly; He divided Himself into many forms and then became one again.

Linda Covill:
He walked in the air as though on the earth, and then stopped and sat down, then lay down, his mind immoveable. He multiplied himself into many forms and then became just one again.


Anonymous said...

In a translation of Fukan zazen-gi by one Yuho Yokoi it says: "How is this done? By thinking beyond thinking and nonthinking." How do you feel about this interpretation?

Mike Cross said...

As an interpretation, it seems OK.


Think this not-thinking bottom.

Not-thinking bottom how to be thunk?


If the interpretation is that HISHIRYO is a kind of thinking -- not what people usually understand as thinking but a kind of thinking -- which is beyond affirmation and negation of thinking, then I agree with it.

Many years ago I read the translation of a selection of chapters from Shobogenzo by Yokoi and Daizen Victoria. Those chapters were fairly straightforward ones -- not so philosophical. But the translations were, I thought, a job well done.

From my knoweldge of how things work in Japan, I suspect that the reason the translations were good had more to do with Daizen Victoria than with Yuho Yokoi.

I think Daizen Victoria, like me, eventually became very fed up with Japanese ways. He wrote a book called Zen at War, which was a kind of blowing the whistle on some shameful aspects of the history of Japanese Zen.

Good for him!

Jordan said...

It is getting to be unnervingly easy to pick out the pattern of the four views.
I feel slightly dumber than I did a few moments ago.
Thanks, I think.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Jordan.

I have been looking at the place in Canto 17 where Ashvaghosha describes the four stages of Zen -- the first being characterized by joy and ease, the second by redoubled joy and ease, the third by indifference to joy and ease, and the fourth by transcendence of joy and ease.

I am writing this as an antidote to the "negative mental chatter", to use your phrase, from which I also tend to suffer. Joy and ease! Joy and ease!

Thanks very much, as always for listening and understanding.

All the best,


Mike Cross said...

Having nothing to do with passions 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 level of Zen, to which he then came.

Then he took that step beyond reason and beyond deliberation,

In which clarity of mind is the sole priority.

Born of harmony, it is a second level of ease and joy.

He realised that stage of Zen, which is inner well-being.

The ease enjoyed by the noble ones, through non-attachment to joy,

He then experienced clearly, through his body.

Remaining indifferent, mindful,

And steady, he was ready to be received into the third stage of Zen.

Then, because of giving up and ease and hardship

And also mental self-arrangement, which had dropped off already,

He realised, through indifference and awareness, lucidity.

Such, beyond difficulty and ease, is the fourth stage of Zen.