Monday, February 2, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.48: Deep Joy -- Not That

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.

tad: that
dhyaanam (accusative): realisation
aagamya (absolutive): after coming
ca: and
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
tu: but
tatra: there, in that state
api: even, also, again
sa: he
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
eva: just

EH Johnston:
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.

Linda Covill:
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.


Mike Cross said...

Speaking of reason, I am very glad to have somebody following this blog in the Netherlands, a country I have always admired as a bastion of reason -- and never more so than 20 years ago when, while living in Tokyo, I read Karel von Wolferen's brilliant expose of Japanese society "The Enigma of Japanese Power."

Plato said...

"The essence of mental sitting is being open to any negative feedback that sitting practice, guided by the goal of Nirvana, provides."
Could you please explain this a bit more? Give an example perhaps?
Aplologies for my slowness!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Plato,

Good point -- it was a bit of superflous woffle I wrote, not a clear and concrete expression.

An example of mental sitting is listening, with the ear of the body, for the tendency to push the chest forward and narrow the back... listening to that tendency and knowing that the direction towards Nirvana is not that.

Little by little I shall endeavor to make my comments less verbose, more to the point.

All the best,

And thank you for the negative feedback!


Plato said...

Thank you Mike!

Raymond said...


This commentary hits on your meaning behing "mental sitting" quite well. So, if I feel a pain in the body, I should observe it, rather than deny it by "knowing" what the "correctly handed-down" sitting position is? Although, it seems as though I shouldn't try to physically rid myself of the pain, tension, etc...but formulate the intention in my mind to be released from such pain or tension, knowing that I cannot do an undoing? Is that approaching anything resembling your teaching?


Mike Cross said...

Hi Raymond,

KOKORO NO KEKKAFUZA SUBESHI, "Practise mental full lotus sitting" is Master Dogen's teaching, not mine.

But yes, that's right -- that is what I think it means: not to sit as doing, but to sit as not doing.

When I form a clear intention in my mind for my head to release out so that my head leads my spine to release into length and my back to release into width, knowing that I cannot do anything to bring about such release directly, it is a kind of effort to sit upright not based on doing/feeling but rather based on not-doing/thinking.

What FM Alexander noticed, however, is that "when you think you are thinking, you are actually feeling."