Sunday, February 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.3: Fundamental Steps

ataH paraM tattva-pariikShaNena
mano dadhaaty aasrava-saMkShayAya
tato hi duHkha-prabhRtiini samyak-
catvaari satyaani padaany avaiti

From then on, through investigation of what is,

He applies his mind to stopping off energy leaks,

For on this basis, fully, suffering and the rest --

The four truths -- are understood as fundamental steps:

Line 1 describes finding out what is, or finding out what does and doesn't work. This is a MENTAL effort in the true sense, as opposed to meaningless repetition. I heard from a graduate of the Trinity music college in London that Japanese piano students there were renowned for the latter kind of practice, robotically and unthinkingly playing the same score over and over again. That kind of attitude is actually a great strength of 'practical' and 'traditional' Japanese culture, as well as a weakness. But finding out what is, through the kind of investigation Ashvaghosha has in mind, I venture to suggest, also requires a totally opposite attitude to practice -- an open, questioning, attitude. A real and constant desire to find out what is may bring a person eventually to recognition of: the influence of misconceptions and fixed prejudices; the problem of unreliable feeling, usually associated with uninhibited infantile panic/grasp reflexes and other vestibular reflexes; and the force of habit. Such recognition, it is recognized in the world of Alexander work, is typically associated with a condition known as "Alexander gloom."

Line 2 is about ENERGY and about the ROOT CAUSES of its misdirection. To stop off energy leakages means to channel one's energy effectively in a direction of one's choosing -- "direction is the truest form of inhibition." The dog whisperer, Cesar Millan, strikes me as an absolute master at stopping off the energy leakages of dogs, taking the role of their pack leader. But whereas dogs don't think but simply react, you and I are faced with the added complication of a (more or less highly) developed thinking brain. Plus, if we look around, with due circumspection, for a truly enlightened person who might be willing and able to lead us, and to whom we might be willing and able to entrust ourselves, it is difficult to find one -- at least in the realm of the living. Cesar Millan, evidently, gets dogs to teach their owners what balance is, and what it is to be in the moment. In a similar way, some teachers of baby yoga seem to teach by enhancing the natural process whereby babies teach their mothers what balance is, and what it is to be in the moment. That kind of work, it seems to me, is very much about stopping off leaks of ENERGY.

In Line 3, samyak means well and truly, not in theory but in PRACTICE, properly, thoroughly, fully. The thoroughness is not necessarily the thoroughness of setting off from A and getting to B. The thoroughness might be the thoroughness of setting off from A and already being at A. "Fully" might describe a walk of the kind described by Tich Nat Hahn -- a walk that becomes so full of indifference and awareness that the walker in taking each step looks and feels like he has already arrived.

In Line 4 the word padaani suggests the four truths as not only (1) philosophical viewpoints but also (2) the concrete cornerstones of practice, (3) actual steps on a PATH of practice, and (4) the very footprints of the Buddha.

ataH: from then, thence
paraM: onward, afterward
tattva: it-ness, the nature of it; true or real state, truth; (in philosophy) a true principle
pariikSHaNena = instrumental of pariikSHaNa: trying, testing, experiment, investigation

manaH (accusative): mind
dadhaati = 3rd person singular of dhA: to put, place, set; to direct or fix the mind (manas) upon, think of (dative), fix or resolve upon (dative)
aasrava: a door opening into water and allowing the stream to descend through it; and (hence) leakage, leakage of energy.
saMkShayaaya = dative, saMkShaya: complete destruction or consumption, wasting, waning, disappearance

tataH: from there, from that, and so,
hi: for
duHkha: suffering
prabhRtiini = accusative, plural of prabhRti: beginning, commencement (at the end of a compound, 'commencing with')
samyak = (in compounds) samyaNc: correct , accurate , proper , true , right; in one line , straight; completely , wholly , thoroughly , by all means; correctly , truly , properly , fitly , in the right way or manner , well , duly

catvaari: four
satyaani = accusative, plural of satya: truth
padaani = accusative, plural of pada: step, pace, stride; footstep, the foot itself; footprint; footing, standpoint; quarter or line of a stanza
avaiti = 3rd person singular of ava + i: understand

EH Johnston:
Thenceforward by the investigation of reality he applied his mind to the abolition of the infections; for thus he understands rightly the four statements of the Truth, suffering and the rest.

Linda Covill:
From then on, by an examination of reality, he positions his mind to destroy the rebirth-producing tendencies, for it is then that he correctly understands the Four Truths starting with the statement about suffering--


Plato said...

Hi MIke!
Do you think that fear of death is a result of "uninhibited infantile panic/grasp reflexes and other vestibular reflexes"? Some times it visits me and I feel completely paralysed, I completely loose contact with reality!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Plato,

Ashvaghosha reminds us that it is totally reasonable to be afraid of death, which, for every one of us, is fast approaching.

But the kind of fear paralysis that you seem to be describing is, as I understand it, a response which is not at all rational, but which is a very primitive response, even more primitive than the vestibular reflexes.

Fear paralysis is a totally unconscious response, like that of a rabbit caught in the headlights, or like an amoeba shrinking from a noxious stimulus.

The fear paralysis response, as I understand it, is latent in us all, but in some of us it is better insulated than in others. A so-called "elective mute" is an example of a person suffering from deep gaps in the insulating layers. Sally Goddard Blythe, who together with her husband Peter Blythe, initiated my training as a reflex inhibition therapist, drew our attention to the case of these people, elective mutes, whose vocal organs in certain situations become gripped with fear paralysis and unable to function.

This problem, as I understand it, is a kind of unconscious leaking of energy at a very deep level.

So, for those of us who are suffering from a lack of inhibitory circuits at this deepest level of activity in the brain and nervous system, it truly is a long way to Tipperary!