Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.12: Both Body, and Mind, Naturally Suffer

apaaM dravatvaM kaThinatvam urvyaa
vaayosh calatvam dhruvam auShNyam agneH
yathaa sva-bhaavo hi tathaa sva-bhaavo
duHkhaM shariirasya ca cetasash ca.

Fluidity of water, solidity of earth,

Motion of wind, and constant heat of fire,

Are innate in them; as also it is in the nature

Of both the body and the mind to suffer.

We live in an age of holistic hairdressing, where everyone from A to Z, from your local Aromatherapist to the stylist at the Zen Hairdressing Salon, is familiar with the principle of psycho-physical unity.

But nearly 800 years ago Dogen wrote of sitting with the mind, as opposed to sitting with the body, and of sitting with the body, as opposed to sitting with the mind.

In making this distinction, in setting up this opposition between body and mind, Dogen was evidently in the tradition of Ashvaghosha, about a thousand years before him.

The Soto Zen practitioners of today, by definition, are not in the tradition of either of these two great ancestors. They may delude themselves that they are, but truly they are not. Thinking and saying that "Zazen is a kind of physical gymnastics," and practising as such, they see only one side, and are blind to the other.

Gudo Nishijima, the Zen Master who introduced me to the teaching of the ancestors, had me understand that Master Dogen would be totally dissatisfied with all things and matters in the so-called Soto Zen Buddhism of today, and that our joint effort to translate Shobogenzo into English could be part of a solution.

But from where I sit now, Gudo’s understanding at a certain point itself became part of the problem, not part of the solution. When I began to investigate the area of sitting with the mind, which is sitting based on thinking as opposed to feeling, Gudo reacted to me as if I had become his enemy -- as if I had become a threat to his “true Buddhism,” at the centre of which is a philosophy of physical doing, as opposed to thinking, along with strong attachment to a physiological view about the autonomic nervous system.

Gudo’s reaction came as a terrible shock to me. A terrible, terrible shock. I knew from early on in our co-operation that Gudo was not perfect, and I did not expect him to be perfect. But certain things I did expect from him, and from his other disciples. When those expectations were spectacularly not met, I retreated into solitary sitting practice, and into denial. The denial prevented me from feeling the full force of my disappointed expectations. But recently I do feel that bitter disappointment, which all stems from the fact that, even though I lowered my expectations a lot, I failed to lower them enough.

I thought the teaching of pulling in the chin was a root cause of other problems. In fact, the teaching of pulling in the chin was merely symptomatic of views with deeper roots -- for example, in Japanese nationalism and even Japanese militarism.

Life has disappointed very severely expectations with regard to Japanese Zen that, even though I lowered them as low as they could go, still remained unrealistically high. In this way, life has forced me to understand not only in theory what Ashvaghosha meant by suffering of the mind, which in this verse and the following verse he separates from suffering of the body.

apaaM = genitive, plural of ap: water
dravatva: natural or artificial fluid condition of a substance , fluidity , wetness
kaThinatva: hardness , firmness , harshness , severity
urvyaaH = genitive, singular of urvii: the earth

vaayoH = genitive, singular of vaayu: wind
cala: moving
-tva: (suffix for abstract noun) -ness
calatva: motion, movement
dhruva: constant, permanent, eternal
auShNya: heat , warmth , burning
agneH = genitive, singular of agni: fire , sacrificial fire

yathaa: just as
sva-bhaavaH (nominative, singular): native place; own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
hi: for; surely [emphatic]
tathaa: so too, likewise,
sva-bhaavaH: own nature, inherent nature

duHkham: suffering
shariirasya = genitive of shariira: the body
ca: and
cetasaH = genitive of cetas: the mind; consciousness, intelligence, thinking soul, heart, mind
ca: and

EH Johnston:
And as liquidity is the specific essence of water, solidity of the earth, movement of the wind, constant heat of fire, so is suffering the specific essence of the body and mind.

Linda Covill:
As fluidity inheres in water, solidity in earth, motion in wind, and constant heat in fire, so does suffering inhere in the mind and body.


Jordan said...

I know that I am only feeding flames, May be I shouldn't. But it would seem you are not alone in your disappointed expectations these days.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

If realising the four noble truths is akin to recognizing trouble as trouble, understanding what started it, and walking away from it, peaceably, then I would welcome any observations you have made about expectations and disappointment, whether in self or in others.

From where I sit, it is not in your nature to be a troublemaker, so I wouldn't worry about feeding the flames.

I would like to read how things seem from where you sit.

All the best,


Jordan said...

I don’t know if my words can give the real situation justice.
What I can observe is my own thoughts.
How these thoughts temper my body.
And how the condition of my body and mind temper my relations with everything I contact, both directly and indirectly.

What has got me going at the moment is that I find myself rejecting or aversive to what I perceive. When I was a boy I was educated that the mind was the forerunner of all things. It took just short of 30 years for me to realize that and settle on that as being a correct view... I can not rule out that I am deluded on this, but I have yet to see it otherwise. What I see today are people who are in positions that lend them credibility telling others what appears to me to be quite the opposite.

A part of my own practice that has developed is constant self inquiry. I made a kind of (I know wrong now) assumption (shame on me for assuming) that this is something that everyone who is committed to ZaZen engages in. When discussing events with a “teacher” it began to become very clear that this person did not and could not look inward to the source of their suffering.

I am frustrated by my failure as a friend to help this person.
I am frustrated at this person for not understanding my intentions.
And I have a fear of not being understood; not having an intimate connection where I thought one existed.

I think a lot of people are going through this right now.

This is of course just a mater of where my mind is right now, and I am leaving a lot out of this due to time constraints, and I also know that this too will pass. I know that if I dwell on this that it affects my body and that the only place I will find resolution is from within.
So my course of action is to acknowledge the failure, forgive both myself and the source of the failure, and try and learn from the experience. I am still working with that at the time of typing this out.

Thank you for being willing to hear my burden.
You misspelled realizing.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I think what Ashvaghosha is saying is that the trouble starts within, but the resolution is realised (English spelling!) in walking away.

Simple as that: just walk away.

No need to bother lugging all that heavy emotional baggage around: just be clear about where the trouble starts, and walk away, peaceably.

Why didn't I do that back in 1997, instead of going into denial? I don't know. I was afraid of the truth, I suppose. But now I really am walking away, and wild horses could not drag me back into the closed, unquestioning world of chin-pulling Japanese Zen. From now on I am going to keep on walking away from all that, and seeking the truth upstream.