Monday, March 2, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.18: Red & Dark Roots of Striving

jNaatavyam etena ca kaaraNena
lokasya doShebhya iti pravRttiH
yasmaan mriyante sa-rajas-tamaskaa
na jaayate viita-rajas-tamaskaH

What you must understand, again,
is this process of causation

Whereby striving is driven by the faults of man,

So that those imbued with redness and darkness
succumb to death,

While one without redness and darkness
is not reborn.

The references to death and rebirth may be understood in the light of the statement in 16.6 that man is hoisted in the swing of mass unconscious reaction, dying in one samsaric realm and being reborn in another. Such demise in one realm and rebirth in another can happen numerous times, it seems to me, in the course of a human lifetime.

In my effort to understand how the movement of the samsaric swing is driven by faults, I came to Alexander work, and an Alexander teacher named Ray Evans drew my attention to the importance of a hierarchy that exists in the development of primitive vestibular reflexes. These reflexes, as I endeavored to explain here, can be regarded as the cornerstones of human behaviour.

The most primitive of all vestibular reflexes is the Moro, or baby panic reflex, an early forerunner of the mature startle reflex. Anybody who is at all familiar with the function of the Moro reflex knows that its colour is the colour of panic, red, and also that this redness tends to be accompanied by its opposite whose colour is the pallour of shock.

Thirty-five years ago my mind was very much occupied with the problem of going red. In certain circumstances, especially in cramped social situations like sitting on the school bus I suffered from what is sometimes known as “chronic blushing.” I did not suffer in other social situations when my energy was being strongly directed into some task, such as lifting weights, or playing rugby, or when I was able to combine social interaction with the consumption of large volumes of beer. So these observations alerted me to the fact that my problem with going red was not merely pyschological but had to do with physical energy, and also to do with brain chemistry. When I started my Alexander teacher training under Ray Evans, from 1995, I began to understand that the problem was rooted in vestibular dysfunction.

At the root of all vestibular dysfunction, in my experience, is the Moro reflex -- also known on this blog as the Mara reflex. The Moro reflex is the infantile panic/grasp reflex. Its dark underbelly is passive, paralytic fear.

Yes, tamas , as the Monier-Williams dictionary indicates, means mental darkness, gloom, depression, the winter of the mind. Darkness as a psychological force is pessimism, worry -- "can't do" as opposed to the Moro compulsion of "must do." But darkness in this verse, as I understand it, is not only psychological. It is physiological. It has to do with the withholding or conservation of energy, as a deep survival mechanism.

As such, darkness is a very deep obstruction to the lucidity of seeing what really is, as it is. Darkness is shock. Darkness is denial. And darkness is ignorance.

The darkness of shock and denial is, speaking from experience of the behaviour of self and others, a kind of fear of the truth. And fear always has at least one foot in the vestibular system.

In short, the red and dark of endgaining behaviour is always rooted in faults in the vestibular system. This is what I was taught by my Alexander head of training Ray Evans and this, I think the Buddha is saying here, is what must be understood -- and not only in theory.

jNaatavya (gerundive of jNaa): to be known or understood or investigated or inquired after
etena = instrumental of etat: this
kaaraNena = instrumental of kaaraNa: cause, reason, the cause of anything; instrument, means; motive; origin, principle

lokasya = genitive of loka: world, the world, mankind, humanity
doShebhya = ablative, plural of doSha: fault
iti: thus, because
pravRttiH (nominative, singular): rolling forwards; moving onwards , advance , progress; active (as opposed to contemplative) life.
[see above; also 16.10; 16.17] end-gaining as opposed to attending to the means-whereby; active striving after ends; going directly for ends, relying on unconscious means, as opposed to the contemplative attitude of one who thinks out conscious means.

yasmaat: from which , from which cause , since , as , because , in order that
mriyante = 3rd person plural, present of mR: to die
sa: with (possessive suffix)
rajas: colour, passion, redness
tamaskaaH = nominative, plural of tamaska: (at end of compounds for tamas): darkness, mental darkness; gloom; ignorance, illusion, error

na: not
jaayate = 2nd person singular, present of jan: be born
viita: gone away , departed , disappeared , vanished , lost (in the beginning of compounds = free or exempt from , without , -less)
rajas: colour, passion, redness
tamaska = (at end of compounds for tamas): darkness, mental darkness; gloom; ignorance, illusion, error

EH Johnston:
And for this reason it is to be known that the active being of the world proceeds from the vices, so that those who are subject to passion and to mental darkness are subject to death and he who is devoid of them is not born again.

Linda Covill:
You must understand thereby that man's active life continues because of its faults. It follows that people who are subject to passion and mental darkness die repeatedly, while someone free from passion and mental darkness is not born again.


Mike H said...

Thanks Mike.

Red and White. I'm familiar with them both but I don't tend to think of Red as a panic reflex but of course Red is the opposite of White in terms of the ANS

Mike Cross said...

You are welcome, Mike H.

Yes, balance of the autonomic nervous system is an important kind of balance. If we express it with a colour, the colour might be gold.

The difficulty in discussing balance of the ANS, it seems to me, is to proceed from the lucidity which is born from balance itself, and not to discuss it through the filter of attachment, or through the filter of aversion, or ignorance, or pride.

In the latter kind of discussion there is trouble of the kind, it now seems to me, that the Buddha taught us to walk away from.

Al said...


This was a very helpful post.

Thank you


Mike Cross said...

I was confusing here rāga, which does indeed mean redness, and rajas, which means dust.

As a compound I think rajas-tamaska means "the dust of the passions (typically greed and anger); along with the darkness of ignorance." So rajas-tamaska is a way of describing the faults (doṣa), the afflictions (kleṣa), or the outflows (āsrava).

Mike Cross said...

rajas-tamaska: mfn. (any one or any thing) under the influence of the two qualities rajas and tamas