Thursday, April 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.63: Again, What Not to Do

moh-anubaddhe manasaH pracaare
maitr-ashubhaa c'aiva bhavaty ayogaH
taabhyaaM hi saMmoham upaiti bhuuyo
vaayv-aatmako ruukSham iv' opaniiya

Where there is wandering of the mind, tied to delusion,

Both love and unpleasantness are unsuitable,

For a deluded man is further deluded by these two,

Like a windy type given an astringent.

Being deeply deluded, the primary thing, I have found, is NOT to try to be anything other than deluded. This verse, as I read it, supports that conclusion.

Moha means ignorance or delusion. Milking a cow by the horn, in which context moha is used in 16.50, I would see as primarily an instance of ignorance, that is, lack of knowledge or intelligence or open-minded awareness.

This verse, as I read it, is about delusion rather than ignorance. Although there is obviously considerable overlap between the two, ignorance and delusion can also be somewhat contradictory tendencies -- the less ignorant (in the sense of more intelligent) human beings have become, the more prone we seem to have become to delusion. This is the basic thesis of FM Alexander's second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (CCCI).

Alexander saw human delusion as intimately related with the problem of reliance on unreliable feeling. Ignorant animals, Alexander pointed out, at least in their wild state, generally enjoy reliable feeling -- monkeys do not generally fall from trees -- and therefore they do not tend to suffer from the kind of mind-wandering that is tied to human delusion.

Alexander work, in a nutshell, is a method for dealing with deluded human reaction. Hence it is mainly through Alexander work, applied to sitting practice, that I have understood (at least a bit, in my own experience) that the primary thing, in dealing with one's own delusion, is NOT to try to be anything other than deluded. Again, the first thing to be aware of, is what NOT to do. That is the point of verses 16.53, 16.55, 16.57. 16.59, 16.61, and 15.63: Do not, by intervening to try to make things better, actually make things worse. Better to let delusion play itself out -- let the Lotus Universe turn itself, to paraphrase Daikan Eno.

As regards the particular problem of mind-wandering, and its intimate relation with the general problem of delusion, FM Alexander addressed exactly this in the opening chapter ("Sensory Appreciation in its Relation to Man's Evolutionary Development") of CCCI. If your eyes are beginning to glaze over as blocks of italicized Alexander loom, may I politely invite you to wake up and pay attention as Alexander explains what delusion is -- in terms that made total sense to non-ignoramuses of his day such as the father of modern neuro-physiology Charles Sherrington and the American philosopher John Dewey, and which I am sure would have made total sense to Ashvghosha too. In a section of CCCI sub-titled "Mind-Wandering Recognized as a Shortcoming -- Its Relation to Self-Preservation," Alexander writes:

Most of us are aware of the marvellous accuracy in the use of the organism manifested by the wild animal or the savage in the various familiar spheres of activity concerned with self-preservation. The civilized creature does not manifest anything like the same standard of accuracy in the employment of the organism in the spheres of activity concerned with self-preservation. In other words, the civilized human being does not enjoy the same standard of effective direction and control as the savage and the wild animal, and it is the lack of this adequate standard in the human creature which manifests itself as a shortcoming in some sphere of activity, and, as I have said, in the sphere of learning something and learning to do something, the shortcoming most frequently recognized is that known as "mind-wandering."

Now there exists a close connexion between the shortcoming which is recognized as "mind-wandering" and the shortcoming which manifests itself as a seriously weakened response to a stimulus to an act (or acts) of self-preservation. To make this connexion clear, we have only to consider the psycho-physical processes involved in these two shortcomings to realize that in both cases these processes are the same.

For the lack underlying these two shortcomings is the lack of an adequate standard of direction and control in the human creature, manifesting itself, in the one case, in the broad sphere of self-preservation and, in the other, in the specific sphere of learning something or learning to do something....

As a matter of fact, the defective use of the mechanisms which is responsible for such conditions cannot be adequately described as "mind-wandering," seeing that it is the manifestation of harmful and misdirected action and reaction, not only in connexion with those processes commonly spoken of as "mind" but throughout the whole psycho-physical organism. It is the manifestation of that imperfectly co-ordinated condition which is associated with an unreliable sense of feeling (sensory appreciation)....

When people suffering from unreliable sensory appreciation attempt to practice just sitting, what happens? They notice their mind wandering. Then what do they do? They try to put the problem right by doing something specific, by end-gaining. They try to concentrate their minds.

The seriousness of this inability of the human creature to "keep his mind on" what he is doing is widely recognized, and this recognition has led to the almost universal adoption of what is called concentration as the cure for "mind-wandering." Unfortunately, this remedy, as I shall show later, is in itself a most harmful and delusive psycho-physical manifestation, and has been adopted without any consideration being taken of its effect upon the organism in general or of the psycho-physical processes involved in what is called "learning to concentrate."

Thus, if you follow Alexander's argument, you might conclude that when there is wandering of the mind, tied to delusion, one would be wise not only to shun loving-kindness meditation and impurity meditation, but also to shun every other kind of end-gaining approach too. When deluded, in short, the last thing to do is to try by direct means to gain the end of not being deluded.

"You are an inveterate worrier, aren't you?" FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow once said to me. "I know, because I am too," she added. And when Marjory said she knew, she really did know. She may have been prone to delusion, but she was not ignorant.

EH Johnston:
When the working of the mind is subject to delusion, the subjects of benevolence and impurity are unsuitable ; for from them a man is overtaken by further delusion, as a man of windy temperament is overtaken by further unconsciousnes, if given astringent treatment.

Linda Covill:
When the activities of the mind are related to delusion, neither the loving-kindness nor the impurity meditation is suitable; for a deluded man is further dazed by these two, like a patient with a wind condition treated with astringents.

moha: delusion, ignorance
anubaddha: bound to , obliged to , connected with , related to , belonging to
manasaH = genitive of manas: mind
pracaare = locative of pracaara: roaming , wandering ; manifestation , occurrence , existence, application , employment , use; conduct , behaviour

maitra = vRddhi form of maitrii: friendship, goodwill, loving-kindness, love
ashubhaa (nom. sg.): f. non-beauty, disagreeable, unpleasant
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
bhavati = 3rd person singular of bhuu: become, turn into
ayogaH (nom. sg): m. unfitness , unsuitableness

taabhyaam (ablative, dual): because of/from those two
hi: from
saMmoham (accusative): stupefaction , bewilderment , confusion , insensibility , unconsciousness , ignorance , folly , illusion of mind
upaiti = 3rd person singular of upe (upa-√i): meet with, reach, enter into any state
bhuuyas: still more, further

vaayv-aatmakaH (nom. sg. m.): a windy type
vaayu: (in medicine) the windy humour or any morbid affection of
aatmaka: having the nature of
ruukSham (nom. sg.): n. an astringent
iva: like
upaniiya = absolutive of upa- √nii: to bring near, bring, offer


Raymond said...


This post, in a nutshell, is why I appreciate your blog. There are other paths that stress more outwardly-focused endeavors, such as social action, but, as much as I myself would like to think of myself as "good", my interest has always been in the internal composition of a human being....myself concretely. And, when I have focused on something like traditional "helping others", I have always seen the error in such a pursuit (at least my error).

I appreciate your blog because I think you have a very subtle awareness about the human experience. I have actually tasted the things that you talk about - for instance, the fallacy of trying to escape delusion by directly countering delusive thoughts.

I have also tasted the inability to concentrate on an object - inevitably leading to attachment to a mental state that necessarily is ephemeral. (If the world is comprised of opposites, how could we concentrate on an object without expecting an equal reaction of non-concentration?)

Is our approach too cerebral? Is it too enmeshed in a solipsistic vision? I don't know. It is just our path. I think if we understand the tendency in ourselves, we may, in turn, be able to understand others - which may be helping them more than "helping them".

I don't know exactly where I am going so I'll stop. But I appreciate your blog because you have gone to the depths...and are still going. I think we differ in that I don't yet have the desire to abandon practice inside of the zen framework, but I sense that you are touching on points that are valid as a human being rather than as a "zen buddhist", which may be closer to the intention of original Dogen-based buddhism to begin with. I don't know. I am not there yet. But, I do have a deep gratitude for the transmission of the dharma as is expressed in Dogen buddhism.

Anyway, keep up the good work!


Mike Cross said...

Er.... Thank you, Raymond!

In response I will say that I respect you, along with any reader of this blog, as a student of Ashvaghosha whose teaching, as I understand it, is the dropping off of optimism, pessimism, and every other kind of -ism.

Having been, to the best of my ability, a loyal student and servant of Dogen for many years, I don't think he, either, would ever permit the use of the term "Dogen buddhism."

There is only the one Buddha-Dharma that Gautama taught, identified in Dogen's teaching with sitting itself -- which he called the lifeblood. Master Dogen's teaching is the lifeblood and nothing but the lifeblood.

As a student and servant of Dogen, I make my effort to sit, every day, four times a day, right and left feet on opposite thighs. It is a matter not only of my top two inches, but also very much a matter of my hips, knees, and ankles.

All the best,