Thursday, May 14, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.91: Sharadvati-putra to Gavam-pati

sa-shaivalau revata-kauShThilau ca
maudgalya-gotrash ca GavaaMpatish ca

The son of Sharadvati, Subahu, Chunda,

Kondeya, Kapya, Bhrigu, Kuntha-dhana,

Plus Shaivala, Revata and Kaushthila,

And he of the Maudgalya clan and Gavam-pati --

These twelve individuals are the 51st through 62nd of the 62 names on the list, including him of the Maudgalya clan, i.e., Maudgalyayana, another of the ten major disciples.

In seeking to clarify what the Buddha & Ashvaghosha might be saying on the subject of true individuality, I have quoted words that seemed relevant from FM Alexander, Master Dogen, Marjory Barlow, Elisabether Walker, and Kodo Sawaki. Finally, I will say something from my own experience.

Belief in the value of individual freedom was very much in the air during my upbringing. My father's uncle, Eugene Cross, was a close friend of Nye Bevan and a leading light in his own right in the early trade union movement in the South Wales valleys. Sir Eugene Cross was sometimes known in later life as "Mr Ebbw Vale." My father who was generally known in Ebbw Vale as Eugene Cross's nephew, could not wait to escape to the relative anonymity of the big city, Birmingham -- a city which, as a Welshman, he has remained in but never of. My mother, as the only child of a single mother, was brought up in poverty in the house of her grandmother, a worker in a Lancashire cotton mill. My mother's mother was a very hard worker, and my mother herself worked her way to and through a grammar-school education. At family gatherings my maternal grandmother was fond of the toast: "Here's to us. Who's like us? Bloody few!" My paternal grandfather, a steelworker, always encouraged me in the direction of rugged individuality -- "You've got to be tough, see?" He encouraged me to avoid the company of girls in favour of manly pursuits like rugby and boxing. I remember him taking me to the training camp of local boxing hero Howard Winston, his epitome of individual toughness...

All that was part of the background of me setting off by myself in 1982 to seek a way in Japan, where I lived for the next 13 years. There were many things about living in Japan that I liked -- for one thing, the anonymity of living as a foreigner in Tokyo was like living as a Welshman in Birmingham, only moreso.

Still, I did suffer a strong culture shock. My values might have been more Christian than I realised, and I was very sensitive to, and shocked by, a certain totalitarian tendency in Japanese society. This tendency went with the paying of lip-service to universal values, like democracy, and a profound sense of us and them. I rarely encountered overt malevolent racism, but the air was constantly suffused with something more insidious: We (ware-ware) are like this; they, intellectual foreigners with brains that work like computers, are like that. We Japanese (ware-ware Nihonjin) are practical, unlike those intellectual white people. True Buddhism resides with us, the true Buddhists, not with those non-Buddhists who disagree with our view.

In 1987 I read "The Informed Heart" by Bruno Bettleheim, in which he gave an account of his time interned in a Nazi concentration camp, and railed against totalitarianism. One chapter I remember was titled "Men Are Not Ants." The book resonated deeply with me.

A couple of years later I read "The Enigma of Japanese Power" by Karel van Wolferen, a brilliant expose of how Japanese society worked that helped me to understand more clearly the tendency within Japanese society that disturbed me. Even though I hated that tendency, I had somehow become susceptible to it -- just like the Jewish capos that Bruno Bettelheim described becoming integral to the working of the concentration-camp system. I was somehow being pulled into a spider's web of Japanese habit, based around such heavily emotion-laden notions as giri, sense of obligation, and ninjo, human feeling. These restrictive notions are very Japanese, and to struggle against them also is quintissentially Japanese -- as the director of every Tora-san film and yakuza movie is well aware. That is why I use the analogy of a spider's web; because to struggle to get out of it is just to be caught more deeply in it.

So when I returned to England and began Alexander teacher-training in 1995, I got a second culture shock that was in some ways even harder to deal with, because I was older and more set in my ways, than the first culture shock of going to live in Japan. It was as if 13 years on what Dogen called SHUSSHIN NO KATSURO "the vigorous path of getting the body free," had left me totally tangled up in a web of attachment to views that were not my own, and to stiffening reactions that masked my own original features.

I think it was some time during my 3rd year of Alexander teacher training when I began to realise that there was no "Alexander teacher" mould that I had to try to force myself into. It was OK to be me. In fact, not only was it OK to be me: it was absolutely necessary to be me if I was going to be any use to anybody else in the Alexander work. It was truly essential to the work that I learn to inhibit my tendency to stiffen up in politeness and deference when my Alexander head of training, Ray Evans, approached. And I had to get used to calling the head of training not Evans Sensei or Evans Roshi but just the name that his parents had given him: Ray.

What is true in Alexander work is equally true, as far as I see it, in sitting practice as was practised by the Buddha and his followers. People who make a big thing of sewing a robe immaculately and wearing it on top of a black Japanese uniform, while trying to force themselves into what looks from the outside like a buddha's posture, are missing the point. There are people who have never even been to Japan and yet they do this kind of thing, wishing to imitate the formalistic, conformist behaviour of group-minded Japanese.

But this list of 62 names, as I read it, includes the Buddha's affirmation, again, of pursuit of freedom on an individual basis.

EH Johnston:
Sharadvatiputra, Subahu, Cunda, Kondeya, Kapya, Bhrigu, Kunthadhana, Saivala, Revata and Kaushthila, and Maudgalyayana and Gavam-pati :

Linda Covill:
the son of Sharadvati, Subahu, Chunda, Kondeya, Kapya, Bhrigu, Kuntha-dhana, Shaivala, Revata and Kaushthila, and Maudgalyayana and Gavam-pati --

putra: son
sa (prefix expressing conjunction or possession): along with, plus
ca: and
gotra: cow-shed , hurdle ; " family enclosed by the hurdle " , family , race , lineage , kin ; the family name

No comments: