Thursday, April 9, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.56: Consciously Garnering Energy

pragraahakaM yan niyataM nimittam
layaM gate cetasi tasya kaalaH
kriyaa-samarthaM hi manas tathaa syaan
mandaayamaano 'gnir iva' endhanena

A stimulus ascertained to be garnering,

Has its time when one's mind is lifeless,

For thus the mind becomes fit for work,

Like a feebly-burning fire plied with fuel.

What is under discussion here, it seems to me, is again neither meditation nor formalistic sitting practice. I understand "garnering" to mean the conscious garnering of a flow of energy in a certain direction.

"Just sit upright!" is, in my book, the primary instruction that stimulates such garnering of energy.

First thing in the morning or following an afternoon nap, for example, when the mind is refreshed and yet somehow low and dissipated, not quick, not really awake; in that state of mind, the practice of sitting upright in a full lotus, and wishing/allowing a flow of energy to be directed up along the spine, is how I understand, primarily, what it means for energy to be garnered.

But singing, chanting, or reading aloud are also activities that can be good for consciously garnering one's energy. Taking a dog for a walk (as opposed to being taken for a walk by a dog) can also be an excellent means of garnering one's energy. Lifting weights or swimming or playing a musical instrument or performing the set forms of a martial art, or any energetic and regulated activity that one loves doing, can be a means of consciously garnering one's energy.

All these activities can also be a means, however, for unconsciously leaking one's energy all over the place -- it all depends on how a person reacts to the particular "garnering" stimulus, and the way a person reacts to any stimulus depends very much on how the person uses himself. Hence the wisdom of the title of FM Alexander's third book, "The Use of the Self."

I remember reading somewhere, I think it may have been in Marjory Barlow's book "An Examined Life," the story of how FM Alexander was asked to help rehabilitate a young man whose vital energy had become dissolute. Drawing on his experience with horses, FM got the young man to walk uphill wearing a warm overcoat. That kind of walking was a garnering stimulus FM judged to be appropriate in that particular case.

They say that FM was very good at calming down nervous pupils, knowing how to put them instantly at ease. But confronted with this dissolute young bloke, he decided to put him to work like a horse in need of some steady exercise, in order to garner his vital energy.

In more formalistic sitting practice as advocated by Soto Zen Masters, it seems to me, the essence of the practice is unconscious reaction to the garnering stimulus "Just sit upright." If a person naturally uses himself well, this stimulus will not put the person wrong. But if a person's use of himself is poor, his unconscious reaction to the stimulus "Just sit upright" will have unfortunate results -- aches, pains, poor decisions, et cetera.

In the more extreme versions of formalism, moreover, there tends to be little or no recognition of what we are told in 16.53, that a "garnering" stimulus does not serve when the emotions are excited. So formalistic sitting is, in my experience, a one-sided kind of practice, tending to lead to various kinds of insecure and imbalanced behaviour.

Formalistic sitting, it seems to me, does not tend towards the true goal of formal sitting practice, which is mastery of the mind: rather, formalistic sitting arises out of group ignorance and conduces to group ignorance.

This is why, as I read this series of verses, Ashvaghosha took pains to begin his description of how the mind is mastered with the precautionary
verse 16.53.

EH Johnston:
It is when the mind is sluggish that it is the time for the subject of meditation prescribed for inducing energy; for thus the mind can become capable of action, like a sinking fire through fuel.

Linda Covill:
When the mind is depressed, it is time for the meditational technique prescribed for energy, for thus the mind, like a slow-burning fire plied with fuel, becomes useful.

pragraahakam (nom. sg. n.): seizing, garnering -- see 16.53
yat: [that] which
niyatam (nom. sg. n.): determined, established, ascertained
nimittam (nom. sg.): n. stimulus

layam (accusative): sluggishness, lethargy, mental inactivity
gate = loc. gata: gone to a state or condition
cetasi = locative of cetas: mind
tasya (gen.): of it
kaalaH (nom. sg.): is the time

kriyaa: doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour; bodily action , exercise of the limbs' ; medical treatment or practice , applying a remedy , cure ; means, expedient
samartham (acc. sg.): suitable or fit for (gen. or comp.)

hi: for
manas (nom. sg.): n. mind
tathaa: thus
syaat (optative of as): may be, may become

mandaayamanaH = nom. sg. m. present participle mandaaya: to go slowly , linger , loiter; to be weak or faint
agniH (nominative, singular): m. fire
iva: like
indhanena = instrumental of indhana: kindling , lighting; fuel; wood , grass et cetera used for this purpose.

No comments: