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.
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.'
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
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
yatnaH (nom. sg.): m. activity of will , volition , aspiring after ; performance , work ; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care ,
anupaaya: wrong method, wrong means
puurvaH (nom. sg. m.): (at end of compounds) accompanied by, attended with