Friday, February 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.1: A Methodical Process

evaM mano-dhaaraNayaa krameNa
vyapohya kim cit samupohya kim cit
dhyaanaani catvaary adhigamya yogii
praapnoty abhijNaa niyamena paNca

"Thus, methodically, by an act of stilling the mind,

With a certain amount of negation
and a certain amount of integration,

The practitioner comes to the four realisations

And duly acquires the fivefold power of knowing:

Line 1 describes an act of sitting-dhyana as the most MENTAL act there is -- not a doing that is accomplished solely by direct physical means.

Line 2, as I read it, has to do with regulation of ENERGY. What I have been struggling towards, in the very nearly 50 years since I was conceived, through a very slow and faltering process, is greater conscious control in directing the flow of that temporary concentration of energy which is me. So that's my basis for understanding Line 2. I think it expresses from a MATERIALISTIC standpoint what goes on in the sitting practitioner's brain and nervous system, through the re-direction of his ENERGY in sitting. The line can be understood as expressing, in even more explicitly neurological terms, the pruning out of certain circuits of neurones and the making of new connections between certain circuits of neurones. So the line could have been translated "Pruning bits here and connecting bits there." What this means in practice I endeavored to express, from the standpoint of a student of Master Dogen and FM Alexander, in this article. Energetic patterns to negate, or neuronal circuits to prune out, might be those associated with emotional clinging to relationships that belong to the past, or emotional grasping for outcomes that belong to the future -- together with all the other kinds of emotional habits associated with infantile fear reflexes. New connections to make, in the way of integration, might be those associated with a new and improved use of the head, neck and back. When this breaking and making of connections is investigated (as verse 17.50 says) "through experience, with the body," then (1) breaking away from unconscious reactions, and (2) making conscious connections between body parts, may turn out to be two ways of describing one process. Hence, "the truest form of inhibition is direction."

Line 3 describes what happens in PRACTICE.

Line 4 describes not the acquisition of knowledge but THE REAL power of knowing. The prefix abhi, which means "over" suggests what is transcendent, or real.

evam: thus
mano = (in compounds) manas: mind
dhAraNayA = instrumental dhaaraNa: holding, bearing, keeping (in remembrance), retention, preserving, protecting, maintaining, possessing; the act of holding, bearing; keeping in remembrance, memory; immovable concentration of the mind upon (locative); restraining, keeping back
kramena = instrumental of krama: step, course, method

vyapohya = absolutive of vya + apa + hRi: to cut off, take away, remove, destroy
kimcit: something, somewhat, a little, a certain amount
samupohya = absolutive of sam + uuh: to sweep together, bring or gather together, collect, unite
kim cit: something, somewhat, a little, a certain amount

dhyAnAni (accusative, plural): realisations, stages of Zen
catvAri (nominative, neuter): four
adhigamya (absolutive of adhi + gam): on coming to, obtaining, accomplishing
yogI = nominative, singular of yogin: a practitioner of yoga, a devotee of bodymind work

prApnoti: he/she acquires
abhijNA: (nominative, singular, feminine): knowing; supernatural science or faculty of a buddha (of which five are enumerated , viz. 1. taking any form at will ; 2. hearing to any distance ; 3. seeing to any distance ; 4. penetrating men's thoughts ; 5. knowing their state and antecedents).
niyamena (instrumental of niyama): as a rule, necessarily, invariably, surely
niyama: any fixed rule or law, necessity, obligation
paNca: five, fivefold

EH Johnston:
'Thus in due course by subtracting something and adding something through immobility of the mind and by attaining the four trances, the Yogin spontaneously acquires the five supernatural powers.

Linda Covill:
"So by using mental concentration to gradually take a little away and to add a little, the practitioner attains the four meditative states, and then inevitably acquires the five supernormal faculties:


Raymond said...


I have a zen-related question that I hope you might be able to answer. I have noticed in myself that I am strongly attached to the feeling that I get during zazen. If I sit in the morning before work, and I calm down, immediately when I stand up I try to touch household objects very gently to preserve this calm mind. I also try to do things slowly.

Then, when my girlfriend wakes up, I am rather rude and unapproachable lest she disturb this state of mind. Even when I go to work I am still holding onto it, speaking less so that I don't lose what feels like a tranquil gathered mindfulness.

Interestly, if someone in the world was like this, I would think they were an ass. Yet, I myself think there is something behind it.

In general, when we get up from zazen, should we detach from that mind state and try to be as "normal" as possible, or should we make an effort to carry something into our everyday lives - something besides the precepts, that might actually run counter to the spirit of the precepts.

Have you encountered zen practitioners like me who want to be more special than they are and seem to have a chip on their shoulders because they sit? Is this a tendency to overcome? Somehow, I know the answer, but it is painful to give up this idea of gain because the act of sitting still for 50 minutes - often before a full day - is so hard.

Can you respond to this?


Mike Cross said...

Hi Raymond,

It seems to me that Ashvaghosha's pill is sometimes able to work like a very highly potentised homeopathic remedy, and does not always require the intervention of a clunking surgeon with his scalpel, saw and hob-nailed boots.

The gold is in the bold!

Raymond said...


In the Shobogenzo it is said that although a three year old can understand it, an eighty year old cannot practice it. The answers are contained in my questions.

Thank you for your response.


Mike Cross said...

abhijñāḥ: acc. pl. f.