Thursday, March 26, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.42: Forward and Backward Steps

tasmaat pravRttiM parigaccha duHkhaM
pravartakaan apy avagaccha doShaan
nivRttim aagaccha ca tan-nirodhaM
nivartakaM c' aapy avagaccha maargaM

Accordingly, comprehend suffering as end-gaining,

And understand the faults as doing.

Realise the stopping of all that as non-doing,

And understand the path as a turning back.

The first difficulty with this verse has been plucking up the courage to translate pravRtti as "end-gaining," instead of a less overtly Alexandrian term such as "progressive striving."

A second difficulty has been deciding what is the object of nirodha in the 3rd line. Does tan-nirodha mean the inhibition/suppression/stopping of those [faults], the stopping of that [suffering], the stopping of that [end-gaining], or the inhibition/stopping of all that [stuff in the first two lines]?

My ears are, I hope, open to feedback.

Notwithstanding the above difficulties, I am very happy to have arrived at this translation of this verse. My sense is that the argument I have been struggling to make for 15 years has, with this translation of this verse, already become obsolete -- because this verse is just Ashvaghosha's teaching, just the Buddha's teaching, just the teaching of all the ancestors in India, and there is not any room for argument.

This verse is also just the teaching of FM Alexander. There is, as I see it, no contradiction at all.

That being so, I would like to illustrate the meaning of each of the four lines of this verse with some quotes from FM Alexander and some of the teachers he taught.

Whenever a person sets out to achieve a particular end his procedure will be based on one of two principles which I have called "end-gaining" and the "means-whereby" principles. The "end-gaining" principle involves a direct procedure on the part of the person endeavouring to gain the desired "end." This direct procedure is associated with dependence upon subsconscious guidance and control, leading, in cases where a condition of mal-coordination is present, to an unsatisfactory use of the mechanisms and to an increase in the defects and peculiarities already existing.

(FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual)

When a person has reached a given stage of unsatisfactory use and functioning, his habit of end-gaining will prove to be the impeding factor in all his attempts to profit by any teaching method whatsoever. Ordinary teaching methods, in whatever sphere, cannot deal with this impeding factor, indeed, they tend actually to encourage 'end-gaining.'

(FM Alexander, The Use of the Self)

"In most people their direction of the use of themselves is habitual and instinctive... Unfortunately, with the increasing prevalence of untrustworthy sensory appreciation, this instinctive direction of use tends, as time goes on, to become more and more a misdirection, having a harmful effect, as was proved in my own case, upon functioning and consquently, upon the reactions which result."

"The wrong inner patterns are the doing which has to be stopped."

(Marjory Barlow, 1965 Memorial Lecture)

Non-doing is, above all, an attitude of mind. It's a wish. It's a decision to leave everything alone and see what goes on, see what happens. Your breathing and your circulation and your postural mechanisms are all working and taking over. The organism is functioning in its automatic way, and you are doing nothing.

If you're going to succeed in doing nothing, you must exercise control over your thinking processes. You must really wish to do nothing. If you're thinking anxious, worried thoughts, if you're thinking exciting thoughts that are irrelevant to the situation at hand, you stir up responses in your body that are not consistent with doing nothing. It's not a matter of just not moving--that can lead to fixing or freezing--it's a matter of really leaving yourself alone and letting everything just happen and take over.

This is what we're aiming at in an Alexander lesson, and if we're wise, and we understand, it's also what we aim at in our own practice of non-doing. It is something that requires practice. Like most other things in life, it isn't some-thing that you can achieve by simply wishing to do so, by just thinking, 'Well, I will now leave myself alone and not do anything.' Unfortunately, it doesn't work out like that. The whole process requires a lot of practice, and a lot of observation. Out of this process a tremendous lot of experience is to be gained...

(Walter Carrington, Thinking Aloud)

Of course, non-doing is a kind of doing, but it is very subtle. The difference is that, in doing, you do it, whereas in non-doing, it does you.

(Patrick Macdonald, The Alexander Technique As I See It.)

It is owing to this habit of rushing from one extreme to another -- a habit which, as I have pointed out, seems to go hand in hand with subconscious guidance and direction -- to this tendency, that is, to take the narrow and treacherous sidetracks instead of the great, broad, midway path, that our plan of civilization has proved a comparative failure.

(FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual)

I venture to predict that before we can unravel the horribly tangled skein of our present existence, we must come to a full STOP, and return to conscious, simple living, believing in the unity underlying all things, and acting in a practical way in accordance with the laws and principles involved. (Ibid.)

tasmaat: from that, on that account, therefore
praVrttim (accusative): moving onwards , advance , progress; active life (as opp. to ni-vRtti [q.v.] and to contemplative devotion)
parigaccha = imperative of pari-√ gam: to go round or about or through , circumambulate , surround , inclose; to come to any state or condition , get , attain (acc.)
pari: ind. round , around, fully

pravartakam (acc. sg.): acting , proceeding; setting in motion or action , setting on foot , advancing , promoting , forwarding
api: also
avagaccha = imperative of ava-√ gam: to understand
ava: ind. off , away , down
doShaan (accusative, plural): m. faults

nivRttim (accusative): returning; ceasing , cessation; ceasing from worldly acts , inactivity , rest
aagaccha = imperative aa-√ gam: to come, arrive at , attain , reach ; to fall into (any state of mind) , have recourse to
aa: near, near to towards; with roots like gam it reverses the action ; e.g. aa-gacchati , " he comes "
ca: and
tat: those [faults]; that [suffering/end-gaining]; [all] that; the
nirodhaM (accusative): suppression, inhibition, stopping

nirvartakam (acc. sg.): turning back ; causing to cease , abolishing , removing; desisting from , stopping , ceasing
ca: and
api: also
avagaccha (imperative): understand
maargam (acc. sg.): m. the path

EH Johnston:
Accordingly recognise suffering to be identical with active being and understand that the faults are the cause of active being; realise that inactivity is the suppression of active being and understand that it is the Path which leads to inactivity.

Linda Covill:
Therefore accept that active life is suffering, and understand faults as being related to active life; recognize cessation of suffering to be the ceasing of active life, and know the path as being related to cessation.


Jordan said...

Hey Mike, is there a single "must have" Alexander technique book you would recommend?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan

Here are my top recommendations:

Thanks for asking!


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

FWIW, It seems possible to me that, rather than using 'tad' as a demostrative referencing something particular in the same verse, he may be using it to generally indicate the nirodha already discussed (perhaps the 'nirodha-satya' of the 3rd line in the previous verse?) So, just '(the) nirodha'.

After all, he's got to find his syllables somewhere, to conform to the 11-per-line, triSTubh metre.

Have I understood your question?

I'm suggesting based on very shaky foundations, so please don't assume I know what I'm talking about!

jiblet said...

Erm...that's 'demonstrative'.

Mike Cross said...

Many thanks, jiblet.

Yes, you understood my question, and your answer to it makes good sense.

Reflecting on it further, I think that "sitting with the body" expresses a kind of effort just to sit as a physical act, whereas "sitting with the mind" includes a conscious mental effort to inhibit the habitual doing that accompanies blind physical action.

But "sitting as body and mind dropping off" is the right thing doing itself, that is, non-doing, which is characterized by a sense of effortless ease.

And in the 3rd line, as I read it, Buddha/Ashvaghosha is exhorting us to realise non-doing.

In my life in Aylesbury I feel that I tend to be making more of an effort to inhibit unwanted patterns of thought and reaction (as in sitting with the mind).

Whereas sometimes when I am alone by the forest in France (where I am looking forward to being next week), the act of non-doing amid Nature seems to take care of the inhibition of unwanted patterns, without much sense of effort on my part -- a kind of spontaneous flow that I think was described as "body and mind dropping off."

So, for me, as I read the 3rd line now, it means "realise the stopping of that [unwanted stuff] as [effortless] non-doing."

Hope this makes sense to you, too.

In any event, I much appreciate the intervention.

jiblet said...

What you write does, indeed, make sense to me, Mike. I appreciate your efforts to find words - which can be so treacherous.

Mike Cross said...

Many thanks, jiblet.

And, having been slept on, the doubt remains in my mind that the less interpretive, shorter translation that you pointed to might be the true one.

I am glad this is not purporting to be the definitive translation of anything!

Thanks again.

To be continued.... (I hope)