Wednesday, April 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.69: Constructive Prescription for the Individual

yathaa bhiShak pitta-kaph'aanilaanaaM
ya eva kopaM samupaiti doShaH
shamaaya tasy' aiva vidhiM vidhatte
vyadhatta doSheShu tath" aiva buddha

Just as a physician,
for a disorder of bile, phlegm, or wind,

-- For whatever disorder of the humours
has manifested the symptoms of disease --

Prescribes a course of treatment
to cure that very disorder,

So did the Buddha prescribe for the faults:


“I drive a gold Rolls-Royce, ‘cuz it’s good for my voice,” sang Marc Bolan circa 1970. I like that lyric. Everybody should do WHATEVER it is that causes his or her original features to appear.

I have a friend who is a homeopath and who tends to observe the individual peculiarities of others in an interested but non-judgemental way, through the eyes of a homeopath. People who are familiar with the principles of homeopathy will know what I mean. If you are a drill-and-fill dentist who believes in amalgam fillings for all, then you will wonder what the hell I am talking about.

When FM Alexander was searching for a title for his second book, he came up with: Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. Somebody complained that it was a bit of a mouthful, and so how about dropping the last three words? “Oh no!” FM protested, “Don’t you see? That is the most important part!”

This and the previous verse are not in the form of a quotation of the Buddha’s instruction. These two verses are Ashvaghosha himself speaking.

In this verse Ashvaghosha seems to me to drive home the point made in the 3rd and 4th line of the previous verse, that the Buddha knew Nanda, as an individual person, inside and out. The Buddha knew Nanda’s peculiarities and his personal history, and the Buddha instructed Nanda on that individual basis.

The thrust of Ashvaghosha’s message, it seems to me, is totally antithetical to what Master Kodo Sawaki called gurupo boke, “group delusion.”

Master Kodo, by all accounts, was himself a very unique individual. The fact that I know, not only on the basis of the Sanskrit dictionary but also with my skin, flesh, bones and marrow, that nimitta does not mean either “subject of meditation” or “meditational technique,” is mainly thanks to Master Kodo -- a man who was truly not interested in meditation and who, I think, was never afraid to be seen by Buddhist scholars, Buddhist monks and Buddhist students as a non-Buddhist. When he felt like a swim, into his swimming costume the old man changed and into the sea he went -- and I have seen the photo to prove it. If driving a gold Rolls-Royce had been good for his voice, I have a feeling Master Kodo might have driven one.

Master Kodo was a truly remarkable individual, and all the more so considering that he was born into Japanese society -- that most conformist of all societies. In a previous post, I expressed criticism of Master Kodo, because I think a lot of bad, doing habits (viz. pulling in the chin to stretch the back of the neck) are traceable back to his wrong instructions. I don’t retract those criticisms. But at the same time, I think Master Kodo was a true individual.

In this verse, “disorder of the humours” and “faults” are the same word: dosha. The faults referred to in the 4th line seem to refer back to the lust, ill-will and delusion that the Buddha has just discussed -- i.e. the three gross faults -- and at the same time to refer forward to the subtler patterns of negative mental chatter that the Buddha is about to discuss.

EH Johnston:
As the physician prescribes the treatment for the cure of disease according to which one of the three humours it is that has become deranged, so the Buddha prescribed the treatment for the faults :-

Linda Covill:
Just as a doctor prescribes a treatment to alleviate whichever among the humors of bile, phlegm, and wind has become irritated, so too has the Buddha prescribed concerning the faults.

yathaa: just as
bhiShak = nom. sg. bhiShaj: m. a healer, physician
pitta: bile, the bilious humour
kapha: phlegm
aanilaanaam = genitive, plural of anila: wind as one of the humors or rasas of the body; rheumatism , paralysis , or any affection referred to disorder of the wind

yah (nominative, singular): [that] which
eva: (emphatic)
kopam (acc. sg.): m. morbid irritation or disorder of the humors of the body
samupaiti = 3rd person singular, sam-upa- √i: to approach, go to (acc.); to occur , happen , appear
doShaH = nominative, singular doSha: m. fault , vice , deficiency , want , inconvenience ; alteration , affection , morbid element , disease (esp. of the 3 humours of the body, applied also to the humours themselves)

shamaaya (dative of shama): for the appeasing, curing
tasya (genitive of sa): of it, of that [disorder]
eva: (emphatic) the same, that very
vidhim = accusative of vidhi: any prescribed act, instruction, formula, method, course
vidhatte = from vidh (weak form of √vyadh): to rule, prescribe

vyadhatta: prescribed
doSheShu = locative, plural of doSha: fault, imbalance, disorder
tath"aiva: so too
buddha (voc. sg. m.): O Buddha! O Awakened One!


Raymond said...


Very good post. Your line "do WHATEVER it is.." is refreshing. If one is naturally inclined to abstract, metaphysical thinking, is trying to "cut off thinking" disenguous - maybe actually be removing us farther from our "original features"? Do we ever really change?


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Raymond.

Interesting question. The Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow advised: “Do whatever you want, as long as you know you are doing it -- then you can stop.” I think that is the point. Drive a gold rolls-royce, or dress up in women’s clothes, or sing Christian hymns at the top of your voice, or express views that are totally politically uncorrect, or join the US marine corps, or skulk off to a quiet corner and have a good old metaphysical abstract think... whatever it is that you really want to do, and to hell with tofu-eating pacifist compassion-preaching Buddhists, or true practical non-intellectual Buddhists, who are liable to judge you as not conforming to their norms.

Having said that, inherent in the practice of sitting, as learning the backward step of turning light and shining, is the dropping off of everything but the simple action of sitting. So it may be better to confine one’s abstract thinking, as far as possible, along with cross-dressing, plotting the annihilation of enemies of the US state, et cetera, to times other than the time set aside for learning the backward step.

Master Dogen cautions against being led by abstract thinking into the gap between how one thinks one is and how one actually is.

To pull one’s chin back and down into one’s neck, thinking that this bit of nonsense is helping one to maintain the correct sitting posture, is just to be a victim of abstract thinking. But people engage in this stupidity in the belief that it is a means to “cut off thinking.” What they are doing is cutting off awareness, and thinking that it is the oneness of practice and enlightenment.

Do people ever really change? Did FM Alexander change in 1954? Did Master Kodo Sawaki change in 1965? If you like abstract thinking, as I do, I recommend you to read Frank Lambert’s articles on the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It may give you some insight into the problems of aging, sickness, and other inevitabilities.

All the best,


Mike Cross said...

The last word of this verse is buddhaḥ -- it is nominative singular masculine buddhaḥ, and not vocative buddha (as I misread it when transcribing the verse).