tad dhyaanam aagamya ca citta-maunaM
lebhe paraaM priitim a-labdha-puurvaam
priitau tu tatr' aapi sa doSHa-darshii
yathaa vitarkeSHv abhavat tath" aiva
And after coming to that realisation
in which the thinking mind is silent,
He experienced a joy deeper than he had ever felt.
But he also found a fault here, in joy,
Just as he had in thoughts.
What Nanda is pursuing, even if it is called freedom or peace or Nirvana, as if it were something, is more truly conceived as a bit of nothing. Having heard the Buddha's exposition of the four noble truths, Nanda had formed this conception, in his mind, and it was guiding him during a process of successive mental realisations.
Nanda had begun by physically sitting in the full lotus posture. This physical act of sitting was the starting point of his actual practice of sitting/realisation. This physical act of sitting in a posture was part of the means-whereby he could pursue freedom, or peace, or Nirvana. His physical sitting in a posture, however, was based on his physical sense of feeling. Therefore, in that physical practice Nanda was tied to what he knew, his old postural habits, connected with fear. In simply trying to maintain a physical posture, Nanda was only emphasizing what he already knew. Even if there was a kind of freedom in that kind of robotic physical practice -- for example, freedom from having to think for oneself -- Nanda knew it was not the kind of freedom he was after.
So Nanda said "Not that," in the first instance to the end-ganing of blind physical sitting based on feeling. In thus leading himself to the first realisation, which is the joy of being liberated from the prison of habitual trying/end-gaining, Nanda relied on his faculty of reason, to discriminate end-gaining and its opposite, and he relied on thoughts. But then he saw that this reasoning and these thoughts were themselves an obstacle to the ultimate peace he wanted.
So Nanda said "Not that," in the second instance to thoughts. In thus leading himself to the second realisation, in which the waters of the thinking mind become still, Nanda felt a joy that was greater even than the joy he had experienced in his relationship with the lovely Sundari. The still water of his thinking mind, however, now reflected that this joy also was not it.
By describing in such detail the progress of Nanda's realisations, Ashvaghosha is demonstrating to us what the essence of mental sitting, as opposed to physical sitting, is. In physical sitting we are each a closed system, having no choice but to sit in the posture that feels right to us. In physical sitting, even when something starts to feel wrong, we still have no choice but to sit in the posture that feels right to us. We can choose to try harder if we like -- in effect, simply turning up the volume -- but trying harder only emphasizes what we know already. In diametric opposition to this closed attitude of physical sitting is the attitude of mental sitting.
The essence of mental sitting is being open to any negative feedback that sitting practice, guided by the goal of Nirvana, provides. What Ashvaghosha is telling us, as I read it, is that the essence of mental sitting is to listen out for progressively subtler forms of interference, not shutting out such interference but rather welcoming it as what is supremely valuable for an open system seeking equilibrium: namely, true negative feedback.
The reason I am so against the practice of pulling in the chin, as it was demonstrated to me in Japan, is that this stupid practice led me in the direction of shutting out negative feedback. Shutting out negative feedback is the essence of end-gaining, and it should be opposed, in the first instance, by reliance on reason.
dhyaanam (accusative): realisation
aagamya (absolutive): after coming
citta: thinking, the thinking mind
mauna: silence, tacurnity; the status of a muni, or sage
lebhe (perfect of labh): found, met with, obtained, got, knew, possessed, had, discovered
paraam = accusative, feminine of para: supreme, great, particularly deep
priitim (accusative): joy
a-labdha-puurvaam (accusative, feminine): not previously gained
priitau (locative): in the joy
tatra: there, in that state
api: even, also, again
doSHa: flaw, fault
darshii = nominative, singular of darshin: seeing
yathaa: in which manner, as
vitarkeSHu (locative, plural): with regard to thoughts, in thoughts
abhavat (imperfect of bhuu): it happened
tathaa: (correlative of yathaa): in that manner, so
And reaching that trance in which the mind is stilled he experienced supreme unprecedented ecstasy, but, just as previously in the relections, so now in that ecstasy he saw there were defects.
And in reaching that level of meditation in which the mind is silent, he experienced a profound joy which he had never felt before. But in that joy too he noticed a flaw, just as he had with regard to thoughts.