Monday, April 20, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.67: Attending to the Means-Whereby

sampragrahasya prashamasya c'aiva
tath"aiva kaale samupekShaNasya
samyaN nimittaM manasaa tv avekShyaM
naasho hi yatno 'py an-upaaya-puurvaH.

Likewise, for garnering as also for calming,

As also when appropriate for leaving well alone,

One should consciously attend to the proper stimulus;

Because even diligence is destructive
when accompanied by a wrong approach."

Garnering is like blowing molten gold, accelerating an energetic reaction by providing more oxygen.
Calming is like dousing gold in water, intervening to cool it.
Leaving oneself be is like leaving molten gold to dissipate its energy naturally.

Garnering, calming, leaving oneself be: how can we understand these three on the basis of actual human activity?

A garnering stimulus might be a sumo wrestler before a bout, slapping his belly and squatting and tasting salt; or the pre-match warm up of a rugby team.
A calming stimulus might be an old teacher demonstrating with sure, intelligent hands a principle of non-doing that she has spent her life exploring; or it could be turning down the lights and lighting a stick of incense.
Leaving well alone might be a point reached (temporarily) when in a rhythmic activity like walking or running, or chanting or swimming or drumming, a person has got himself or herself in the groove -- a condition which might also be described as a spontaneous flow of energy characterized by ease and efficiency (minimal leakage).

Garnering, calming, leaving be: Buddha/Ashvaghosha have been describing these three as three kinds of stimulus or starting point (nimitta) in formal practice (yoga).

As devotees of sitting-dhyaana, how are we to understand these three in the context of formal sitting practice?

The very act of sitting in lotus it seems to me, can encompass all three of the above stimuli or starting points, viz:
Garnering of one's energy in certain directions (mainly upward).
Inhibition of wrong inner patterns, resulting in the experience of calm or stillness (but do not call it fixity).
Allowing the right thing to do itself.

Just sitting, then, in its true meaning, is not one or two out of three, but three out of three.

So Zen Master Dogen wrote:
Practise full lotus sitting with the body.
Practise full lotus sitting with the mind.
Practise full lotus sitting as body and mind dropping off.

There is not a hair's breadth of contradiction here between Ashvaghosha and Dogen. What Dogen expressed was nothing but the lifeblood of Buddha/Ashvaghosha.

In general, however, Dogen, was writing in Japanese for a Japanese audience, with self-consciousness of starting a new movement in Japan, and in a style suited for a Japanese audience -- "Do it like this." It was as I see it, a more direct and authoritarian style, suited to a people who were not already steeped in the original teaching of the Buddha, a people who were used to copying and imitating Chinese ways, a people never generally noted for originality of individual thought. Dogen saw it as part of his mission to establish a new movement in his homeland, Japan. Ashvaghosha, in contrast, was writing in Sanskrit, a lingua franca for educated people already steeped in the original teaching of the Buddha.

But in not proselytizing not to a Japanese audience, Ashvaghosha recorded in this verse a truth that is totally pertinent to Zen practice in Japan today.

What Ashvaghosha recorded in the 4th line of this verse is exactly what I experienced, with my skin, flesh, bones, and marrow, during 13 years in Japan.

When followers and teachers of Dogen's teaching today blindly and relentlessly pursue "the correct physical posture," disdaining mindfulness, we are liable to do harm to self and others. That is a fact.

And in this regard, Master Kodo Sawaki, much as I revere him, also has a lot to answer for. Master Kodo criticized the Japanese tendency towards gurupo boke, group delusion, and he endeavoured heroically to make a stand against that tendency. He tried but, it seems to me, the delusive Japanese tendency was too strong, even in him, and so he ultimately failed, as his students and non-students also have failed.

Sitting with the body, in a physical, doing way, in an end-gaining way, as I see it, is not totally without merit. There is a time for sitting with the body. Buddha/Ashvaghosha are telling us that wisdom, and moment-by-moment mindfulness, are required in seeing:
(1) when it is time for doing and when it is NOT time for doing;
(2) when it is time for not doing and when it is NOT time for not doing;
(3) when it is time for non-doing and when it is NOT time for non-doing.

EH Johnston:
But one should consider in the mind the proper subject for meditation, whether of effort, or tranquillity, and similarly at the proper time of indifference. For even effort, if not regulated by the proper method, leads to destruction.'

Linda Covill:
Likewise the correct meditational subject of an energy, calm or equanimity meditation should at times be mentally reviewed, for even diligence is destructive if it is accompanied by the wrong method."

sam: (used as prefix) together, altogether
pragraha: holding in front , stretching forth; seizing , clutching , laying hold of
sampragrahasya (genitive): for the extension of oneself, for the garnering of one's energy
prashamasya = gen. sg. prashama: calmness
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

tath"aiva: exactly so, in exactly that manner, in just the same way [as the goldsmith]
kaale (locative): at the proper time, when appropriate
samupekShaNasya = gen. sg. samupekShaNa (action noun from sam-upa-viikS): leaving be, neglecting [see 16.65]

samyak: proper, correct, true
nimittam (nom. sg.): n. target, cause, stimulus, starting point
manasaa (instrumental of manas): in the mind ; in thought or imagination ; with all the heart , willingly
tu: but, and, then
avekShyam = nom. sg. n. from gerundive of ava-√iikSh: to look towards , look at , behold; to perceive , observe , experience ; to have in view , have regard to , take into consideration

naashaH (nom. sg.): m. the being lost , loss , disappearance , destruction , annihilation , ruin , death
hi: for
yatnaH (nom. sg.): m. activity of will , volition , aspiring after ; performance , work ; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care ,
api: even
anupaaya: wrong method, wrong means
puurvaH (nom. sg. m.): (at end of compounds) accompanied by, attended with


jiblet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jiblet said...

That was very clear, Mike. I enjoyed it. Food for thought for a sitting-dhyaana practitioner. Thanks.

I've assumed that by "nimitta" Ashvaghosha is referring to particular, purposeful, meditational "techniques" with which his audience would have been familiar. (I emailed Linda Covill on this point a few days ago - no reply yet). Are you saying that these three "stimuli" are addressed in the practice of "just sitting" in lotus, or that we are to purposefully do (something) with our minds (that "shikantaza" folk might not currently be doing)?
I know you've been trying to clarify this for us for some time now. Forgive me for being slow.

Meanwhile...know any good London based drummers? I believe you may do. I play bass in a gigging, recording, currently unpaid, band looking for the next drummer. Might s/he/they be interested? We have a myspace page. Here's my email address, just in case:

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, jiblet, for the encouragement and for listening.

Fast or slow doesn’t matter but the ability to listen -- including the willingness to have one’s assumptions challenged -- seems to me to be vital for a sitting-dhyaana practitioner. People who call themselves Buddhist, or a Buddhist this or a Buddhist that, surprisingly often do not like to listen to the voice of Buddha. In general, we all prefer the security of what we think we know, and so we fail to listen.

To answer your first question, yes, I am saying that these three stimuli are inherent in the true practice of just sitting, as I understand it, just as blowing, dousing in water, and leaving be are all inherent in a goldsmith’s working of gold; and, yes, I am also saying that these three stimuli are related with three kinds of decision -- a decision to do, based on feeling; a decision not to do, based on thinking, and a decision to allow, which is a stimulus to action itself. The three decisions, in other words, are a decision to direct one’s energy there, a decision not to do that, and a decision to get out of the way and let nature work.

“Shikantaza” folk, as you suggest, are prone to make only the first decision. In general, what we call “just sitting” is liable to be just doing. Even among those who, with the benefit of experience of Alexander work, pay lip service to the decision not to do, a true decision not to do is actually something quite rare -- as Alfred Tomatis thought that a true act of listening was also something quite rare.

I have observed drily in the past that among the few people who have had ears for what I have to say, penniless musicians have been very much over-represented. Are there no hedge-fund managers out there who would like to get behind me? Even a plumber or a car mechanic or somebody else with a trade might come in handy. As regards a drummer, the (penniless) London-based drummer I know is a reader of this blog, and so if he is interested he may be in touch with you. I don’t know if he is a good drummer or not, but I would certainly vouch that he has got the makings of a good listener -- so the two of you between you might provide an exceptional rhythm section. A “Buddhist” rhythm section, maybe? I don’t think so! If you would like to provide a link to your myspace page here, please go ahead...

All the best,


jiblet said...

Sooner or later, quickly or slowly, I may accept your invitation to investigate doing and non-doing. Until I've participated in a demonstration of those things, as F M Alexander understood them, I fear I'll always be in the dark; never being sure what you're really talking about. If I put a £1 in my piggy-bank every day...

Soon as you find that patron, or impresario, Mike, forward my e-mail address, would you? And thanks for protecting my privacy - I'm not so net-savvy.

Maybe when the next bunch of recordings are ready, I'll plaster directions to the band's myspace page all over the non-judgemental (!) Buddhist interblog. Thanks for the offer.