ath' aa-vitarkam kramasho '-vicaaram
ek'-aagra-bhaavaan manasaH prasannam,
dhyaanaM tad aadhyaatma-shivaM sa dadhyau
So gradually dropping thought and deliberation,
Mind calm and clear, because of his unity of purpose,
He realised a second level of joy and ease, born of balance:
He realised that realisation which is inner well-being.
In Line 1, following on from the previous verse, the thought and deliberation that were advocated before, as an antidote to end-gaining and as a function of the first realisation, have now become something bothersome, synonymous with SUFFERING. Picture a father teaching his son to ride a bicycle: with a firm hold on the saddle, the father initially causes the boy to feel safe and secure, so that he is released from the grip of fear and into free movement; then, as the son starts to pedal, the father gradually withdraws his hands from the saddle so that the boy’s own sense of balance and direction can take over. In this metaphor, reliance on reason, as an antidote to fearful grasping for the security of feeling right (i.e. end-gaining), is represented by the father’s helping hands which, as they start to become a hindrance, are gradually taken away.
Line 2 again relates to causation, indirectly pointing to irresolution, or lack of a clear sense of direction, as a CAUSE OF SUFFERING. In developmental terms, a factor which is vital in determining a person's sense of direction, or lack of it, is integration of the baby fencer/pointing reflex, whose name in neurology is the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR). I think that we are now at the point in the progression of Ashvaghosha's description where it may help to understand the importance of reflexes relating to balance and direction. At the beginning of the practice of sitting with the mind, what is vital in the first instance is to discern the difference between sitting based on feeling (end-gaining) and sitting based on thinking (following a means-whereby principle). Associated with this distinction is (a) honest examination of what is going on within oneself, in the way of end-gaining, along with (b) reliance on thought-directions to release oneself from the grip of end-gaining. Those thought-directions may initially take the form of words, for example, as "I wish for an unlocking of the head from deep within the body, so that the spine is released into length, and as the spine lengthens the back is released out in a widening direction, while the legs are released out of the pelvis, and the arms and shoulders are released out, while the wrists remain open, and fingers and thumbs release into length, and the jaw is free, and the muscles of the eyes... et cetera, et cetera." These words are expressing a multiplicity of thoughts, but with persistence, and on a good day, the thoughts can turn a silent function of the thinking mind, like the reflection on calm water, or like the reflection of a moon in a dewdrop. This silent function of the thinking mind can be described as a unified field of awareness (as opposed to the tunnel vision of the fearful), but at the same time it is characterised by unity of purpose (as opposed to the lack of clarity of direction of the irresolute).
In Line 3, the reason I have translated samadhi as balance, instead of, for example, harmony, or integration, is that I am mindful of the a priori developmental hierarchy (a hierarchy preceding even the Buddha’s elucidation of the four noble truths), of four vestibular reflexes. The first of the four, the Mara reflex, or Moro reflex, or infantile panic/grasp reflex, might equally be called “the end-gaining reflex.” This first reflex opposes reason and reason opposes it. So the first realisation described by Ashvaghosha, as I see it, has a lot to do with inhibition of the activity of this most primitive fear reflex. Closely related to the baby panic reflex are two other vestibular reflexes which emerge in the womb a few weeks after the panic reflex. One, the baby pointing reflex, as mentioned above, is the foundation stone of a clear sense of direction. Another is the baby balance reflex, called in neurology “the tonic labyrinthine reflex.” In children and adults who retain this primitive balance reflex in immature form, balance and the many psycho-physical functions which centre upon the sense of balance are compromised. So attainment of balance in all spheres of human functioning is ultimately dependent upon INHIBITION of the baby balance reflex. Success in inhibiting balance and fear reflexes are very interdependent on each other, as is demonstrated by the example of learning to ride a bike -- if the rider freezes in fear and stops pedalling, he will soon topple over; but equally, joyous and energetic pedalling will not remove any rider from the ever-present threat of sickness, aging, and death, if there is no sense of balance and direction.
The use in Line 4 of a verb (dadhyau) and an object (dhyaanam) from the same root is reminiscent of phrases like “a twirling flower is a twirling flower,” “mountains are mountains” and “sitting is sitting.” In writing from the standpoint of A MEANS which, for the purpose of inhibiting suffering, really works, Ashvagohsa described the realisation of a realisation. That is why the practise that I used to call Zazen, using a Japanese word for something that I had not made my own, and then began to call sitting-zen, using a term that is half English and half Japanese, I have now begun to call sitting/realisation. I would like to consign the use of all Japanese terms, beginning with sesshin and extending even to Zazen itself, to the dustbin.
That the well-being expressed by aadhyaatma-shiva is inner, or inherent, again points to the effortless functioning of unconscious mechanisms, including the vestibular reflexes. From the developmental perspective of the four vestibular reflexes, I think it is fair to see: (1) the first realisation in terms of fear and end-gaining centred on the Moro reflex vs joy and ease stemming from that use of reason which constitutes part of a means-whereby fear reactions may be inhibited; and (2) the second realisation in terms of reason and conscious effort gradually giving way to relatively effortless functioning of unconscious, reflex mechanisms -- what FM Alexander called "the right thing doing itself."
atha: so, then
a-vitarka: without thought
kramashas (from kram, to step): gradually, by degrees, in steps
a-vicaara: without deliberation
agra: tip, top, foremost point or part, summit
ekaagra: one-pointed, closely attentive, undisturbed, undivided in one's awareness
bhaava: state, state of being; -ness (when added to an abstract noun)
bhaavaat = ablative of bhaava: due to the state, because of being
ek'-aagra-bhaavaan: due to the one-pointedness, because of the being of one point (like an arrow)
manasaH (genitive of manas): of the mind
prasannam: clear, bright, pure, calm, placid, tranquil, serene
samaadhi: balance, coming together, harmony
dvitiiyam: further, redoubled, the second
dhyaanam (accusative, singular): realisation, level or stage of meditation
aadhyaatma: one's own, belonging to self, inner
shiva: auspicious, in good health; well-being, welfare, happiness; prosperity, bliss
dadhyau (perfect of dhyai, which is also the verbal root of dhyaana): produced, called to mind, realised
Then in due course he produced the second trance in which initial and sustained reflections are absent, which is calm from the intentness of the mind, is born of concentration and has ecstasy, bliss and inward happiness.
Then he gradually entered the second level of meditation, which has no initial or sustained application of the mind to its object. Born of concentration and calm due to mental one-pointedness, it is joyfully blissful and endowed with inner delight.