Tuesday, June 30, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.38: The Arrow and the Jewel

rakShaN'-aarthena dharmasya
tath" eShiik ety udaahRtaa
loke 'smin dur-labhatvaac ca
ratnam ity abhibhaaShitaa

= - = = - = = -
- = = = - = - =
= = = - - = = -
= - - - - = - =

For its protection of the Dharma,

I call it the Arrow,

And from the difficulty of finding it in this world

I call it the Jewel.

The use of the action noun rakShaNa (the act of protecting) plus arthena (on account of, for) with the genitive dharmasya (of/for, with respect to the Dharma) seems to have an indirectness about it which reflects the indirect way that confidence confers its benefits. The same construction appears in the 3rd line of the following verse.

How does confidence defend or protect the Dharma? The answer, I think, has to do with the fact that behaviour which corrupts or taints the original teaching of Buddha is rooted in fear. When we are seriously afraid it is very difficult for us not to grasp for or to hide behind whatever it is that makes us feel secure -- which might be our -ism of choice, or our drug of choice, or our habit of choice. In any event, the true Dharma is always not that.

So it is not that something called confidence intervenes directly to ward off the enemies of the Dharma; it is rather that the absence of fear prevents -isms and the like from arising in the first place. Confidence, as I see it, is not like using radiotherapy to battle lung cancer; it is more akin to not smoking cigarettes in the first place.

Why is real confidence so hard to find in this world? Because we human beings, we tottering bipeds with our precarious upright posture, are creatures of fear. Faced with fearful social situations, I for one was known in my youth to reach too often for my pint of beer and packet of Players No. 6. Later on I cultivated the habit of deliberately stiffening up, sitting as if I had swallowed a ruler, pulling my chin into my neck. Both responses were the same in essence: a deluded response to a deep lack of confidence, a vestibular-based fear, that I wanted somehow to beat -- or failing that, to mask.

From work as an Alexander teacher, and especially from work with children with immature vestibular reflexes, it seems to me that I am not the only one with that kind of deluded tendency. What Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation" seems to be a universal human problem. At least, when you look for a person who isn't guided by faulty sense of feeling most of the time, but who is instead guided by real confidence (not just lip-service) in something other than their own feeling... it is very difficult to find such a person.

EH Johnston:
It is called the Reed-arrow from its power of protecting the Law, and is named the Jewel from the difficulty of finding it in this world.

Linda Covill:
It is declared to be 'the arrow' by reason of its protection of the dharma, and it is named 'the jewel' because it is so hard to find in this world.

rakShaNa: the act of protecting
arthena (instrumental of artha): cause, reason, purpose, point
dharmasya = genitive of dharma: the teaching, the truth, the Dharma

tathaa: thus, so
iiShiikaa: f. a reed, cane; an arrow
iti: " "
udaahRta: said, declared, illustrated; called, named, entitled

loke (locative): in the world
asmin (locative): in this
dur-labhatvaat (ablative): because it is hard to find, from its rarity
ca: and

ratna: jewel, gem, treasure, precious stone
iti: " "
abhibhaaShitaa: addressed, spoken to

Monday, June 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.37: Sensory Power, Strength, Wealth

praadhaanyaad indriyam iti
sthiratvaad balam ity ataH
dhanam ity abhivarNitaa

= = = = - - - =
- = = - - - - =
- - = = - - - =
- - - - - = - =

From its primacy I describe it as Sensory Power;

From its constancy, as Strength;

And because it relieves poverty of virtue

I describe it as Wealth.

The primacy of confidence is related, on the deepest level of the use and functioning of the human organism, with the influence of fear on the vestibular system.

The primacy of confidence is related in particular with that use of the head, neck and back in relation to each other that FM Alexander termed the Primary Control, whose influence extends to all the senses. From where I sit it is not a question of identifying A with B, but rather a being awake to the fact that, in recognizing the primacy of confidence, A and B were singing from the same hymn sheet.

What is constant in the matter of confidence might be the tendency that energy has to spread out, as described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics; again, what is constant might be the reality that effect follows from cause, that oak trees grow from acorns, that corn grows from corn seed, and that freedom from suffering follows from stopping off the end-gaining idea that triggers the faults that cause suffering.

Greedy end-gaining impoverishes human virtue. Even a servant of the Buddha, if he goes about his work with an avid desire to get somewhere, impatiently, eagerly, selfishly, with an attitude of "I am going to fulfil my own all-important historical mission regardless of how much collateral damage I cause," then even service rendered to the Buddha becomes something ignoble. (This is not the mirror principle at work; I am talking about a tendency in nobody but myself.)

When there is real confidence that the right thing does itself, in contrast, there is no temptation to try to get the right thing to do itself by virtue-impoverished end-gaining.

EH Johnston:
It is described as the Faculty from its being the most important, as Strength from its steadfastness, and as Wealth from its abolishing poverty of virtue.

Linda Covill:
It is described as 'the sense organ' because of its prevalence, and as 'strong' because of its persistence, and as 'wealth' because it allays the impoverishment of virtue.

praadhaanyaad = ablative of praadhaanya: predominance , prevalence , ascendency , supremacy
indriyam (accusative): fit for or belonging to or agreeable to indra ; power , force , the quality which belongs especially to the mighty indra ; bodily power , power of the senses ; sense , organ of sense
iti: as " "

sthiratvaad = ablative of sthiratva: hardness, stability , constancy, steadfastness
balam (accusative): power, strength, might
iti: as " "
atas: hence, for this reason

guNa: good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
daaridrya: poverty
shamanaad = ablative of shamana: n. the act of calming , appeasing , allaying , tranquillization , pacification , extinction , destruction

dhanam (accusative): prize, booty, prey; any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift; capital
iti: as " "
abhivarNitaa: (f.) described

Sunday, June 28, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.36: The Hand of Confidence

atash ca hasta ity uktaa
mayaa shraddhaa visheShataH
yasmaad gRhNaati sad-dharmaM
daayaM hasta iv' aakShataH

- = - = - - = =
- = = = - = - =
= = = = - = = =
= = = - - = - =

And so I call it the Hand,

Because it is this confidence, specifically,

That grasps the true Dharma

As a hand takes a gift, naturally.

MW defines akShata as not crushed, and LC's translation evidently follows this definition, interpreting akShataH as the nominal singular of akShata. EHJ's translation "of itself," however, seems to interpret akShataH as an adverb composed of the stem akSha and the ablative suffix -taH. MW gives akSha as axle, axis, or wheel. So can akShataH mean "following from the rolling of a wheel," i.e. naturally, effortlessly, of itself? If jiblet, Karttikeya, or any other student of Sanskrit who might be reading this can shed light, I would be grateful.

The point of the words shraddhaa visheShataH, "specifically confidence," as I read them, may be to specify the particular form of confidence described in the previous verse, which is confidence that a particular effect (growth of corn) follows from a particular cause (sowing a seed).

This confidence is not at all the same as optimistic belief.

A person in possession of what has been sold to him as gold by a good gold salesman might prefer to maintain his optimistic belief that his gold is true gold. He might maintain this optimistic belief for many years, or even for a lifetime. But if he is willing to submit his gold to scientific verification, i.e. if he is open to finding out that his former belief about his gold might have been wrong, then he has the real possibility of finding out that his former belief was wrong. If it transpires that he has indeed been sold fool's gold, if his attitude is purely scientific he will feel happy to have drawn closer to the truth. Otherwise, he may feel that his former optimistic belief has been totally crushed. The initial shock is most likely to lead to a process of grieving beginning with denial, followed by stages of anger, cycles of aggression and passivity, tears, et cetera, before the final stage of letting go.

To maintain a view that whatever gold I seem to own is true gold is a kind of optimistic belief, which is ever liable to be crushed. What the Buddha is describing here, as I hear him, is something totally different from optimistic belief about what belongs to me.

This work that I am doing now, which I call mining Ashvaghosha's gold, is an exercise in building confidence in the real existence of the true gold which is not anybody's true Buddhism, but which is the original teaching of the Buddha, the true Dharma.

A central prejudice I have brought to this translation work is that the SHOBO, or "True Dharma" of Master Dogen's SHOBOGENZO "Treasury of the Eye of True Dharma," means sitting upright in lotus with body, with mind, and dropping off body and mind.

But this work asks me to drop off even that prejudice and listen to what the Buddha is actually saying, as recorded by Ashvaghosha.

In the context of the previous verse, and also in the context of Nanda's request in 12.16 (It is the eradicator of all suffering, / Your most excellent Dharma, that I rejoice in), the compound sad-dharma, as I read it now, refers particularly to the Buddha's teaching, to be expounded in detail in Canto 16, that suffering is an effect whose cause is the faults that begin with thirsting.

This teaching seems to be presented in Saundarananda as a scientific law, akin to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, observable everywhere, and open to operational verification by anybody in the laboratory of the self.

This teaching or law, then, cannot belong to Buddhism, or any other -ism. Really to have confidence in this teaching, which is an objective law of cause and effect, is to abandon the security of ones former -ism.

If the original meaning of Islaam is submission, can Islaamism be true Islaam? I don't think so. If the original teaching of the jew Jesus was "Thy will be done," can true followers of Jesus be adherents to Judaism or Catholicism or Protestantism or Calvinism or Methodism, or even Non-conformism? I don't think so.

Can the true Dharma be somebody's true Buddhism, or realism, or humanism? In former days, I believed so, with very great optimism.

We cling in fear to our -isms, and in the process do harm to others. Speaking for myself, I have never been harmed by Islaamism. But I have been severely hurt in the name of true Buddhism.

Gudo's Nishijima calling me a non-Buddhist was in some sense a gift. Truly to understand the fault that was behind the old man's jibe, which was not meant in an ironic sense, is to understand the fear which lies behind my own faults, and which lies behind everybody's faults.

Now I am sitting at my laptop surveying the evening sunlight on ash and hazel trees, expounding a view on what sad-dharma really means. The view I am expounding might be called non-ism-ism. But if I find security in this view of mine, I am only buying once more into fool's gold. The reality of true Dharma is always not that.

EH Johnston:
Therefore I call faith especially the Hand since it grasps the Holy Law of itself, as a hand takes a gift.

Linda Covill:
That is why I refer to faith particularly as 'the hand,' since it reaches out to the true dharma like an unimpaired hand reaches out for a gift.

atas: from this
ca: and
hasta (nominal): hand
iti: " "
uktaa: (f.) , uttered , said , spoken
mayaa (instrumental): by me

shraddhaa: f. faith , trust , confidence , trustfulness, faithfulness, belief in
visheSha: distinction, peculiarity
-taH: (ablative suffix)
visheSha-taH: in particular, spacifically

yasmaat: since, from which
gRhNaati = 3rd person singular of grah: to seize, take by the hand, grasp, to take possession, to lay the hand on
sad-dharmam (accusative): true teaching, the true Dharma
sat: (pr. p. of √as) being , existing , occurring , happening , being present; real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right
dharma: that which is established or firm , steadfast decree , statute , ordinance , law ; nature , character , peculiar condition or essential quality

daayam (accusative): m. gift , present , donation
hastaH (nominal): hand
iva: like
a-kShataH (nominal): not crushed; uninjured , unbroken , whole
akSha: axel, axis, wheel
-taH: (ablative suffix)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.35: Confidence in Biological Cause & Effect

sasy'-otpattiM yadi na vaa
shraddadhyaat kaarShakaH kShitau
arthii sasyena vaa na syaad
biijaani na vaped bhuvi

= = = = - - - =
= = = = - = - =
= = = = - = - =
= = - - - = - -

Without the confidence that corn will grow

In the soil he tills,

Or without the need for corn;

The farmer would not sow seeds in the earth.

My two sons have parents who sit, following the Buddha's teaching, and they attended a Church of England primary school, where they were told some fairly spurious things about Jesus turning water into wine et cetera. Notwithstanding these various influences, my sons recently show little if any interest in sitting, and no interest at all in so-called theology. They have also given up on formal study of physics. But they are both students of chemistry and biology, and this suits me fine.

Physics, chemistry, biology. The three natural sciences studied in English schools to advanced level are in the generally accepted descending order of difficulty: physics, chemistry, biology. But in another sense there is an ascending progression in physics, chemistry, biology -- in the direction of life.

The tendency of water to find its lowest level is extremely difficult to understand to the extent that understanding of the effect depends on understanding of the cause which is gravity. At the same time, water returning underground is a simple physical process in that it does not involve a chemical reaction.

The tendency of wood to burn, once activation energy barriers have been overcome, does involve a chemical reaction: it is a relatively simple chemical reaction in which energy is released.

The tendency of living things to grow upwards, opposing gravity, involves a more complex series of chemical reactions, depending on the construction of activation energy barriers. These molecular dams prevent corn from dissipating its energy until such time as it is ground into flour, baked, chewed, and digested. (Note to self: to deny oneself the energy in bread is never the Buddha's teaching. The Buddha's teaching is to be content with just enough bread -- not too much.)

So in the progression of the last three verses there seems to be a certain order. It can be seen as a progression in the direction of life, that direction also being the direction of upright sitting -- upward.

Order seems to exist in the natural world, and the human mind seems to be adapted for finding order, even in chaos. This tendency to find order involves identifying hierarchicies, in which some things are primary, some secondary, and so on. Hence FM Alexander's term "primary control" to describe a person's use of his head, neck, and back in relation to each other (a dynamic relationship in at least four dimensions; never the same as "correct posture").

In these three verses, actions are secondary to the motivation of those actions. Digging, twirling, and sowing are secondary. The primary factors in each case are a need that must be fulfilled, and the kind of confidence that can be engendered by study of physics, chemistry and biology -- not religious faith, not optimistic self-belief, but confidence that certain effects follow from certain causes.

EH Johnston:
Similarly the husbandman would not sow seed in the earth, unless he believes in the growth of corn in the ground and has need of it.

Linda Covill:
And if a farmer did not believe that corn is produced from the earth, or if he had no need of corn, he would not sow seeds in the ground.

sasya: corn , grain , fruit , a crop of corn
utpattim (accusative): arising, production
yadi: if
na: not
vaa: or

shraddadhyaat = 3rd person singular optative of shraddah: to believe
kaarShakaH (nominative): one who ploughs or lives by tillage , a husbandman
kShitau = locative of kShiti: the earth, soil of the earth

arthii = nominative of arthin: one who has need
sasyena = instrumental of sasya: corn
vaa: or
na syaad: there were not

biijaani (accusative): seeds
na vaped (optative): would not sow
bhuvi = locative of bhuu: earth

Friday, June 26, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.34: Confidence in the 2nd Law

n' aarthii yady agninaa vaa syaac
chraddadhyaat taM na v" aaraNau
mathniiyaan n' aaraNiM kash cit
tad-bhaave sati mathyate.

= = - = - = = =
= = = = - = - =
= = = = - = = =
= = = - - = - =

If a man had no need of fire,

Nor confidence that fire is in a firestick,

He would never twirl the stick;

Those conditions being met, he twirls the stick.

What is expressed in this verse is not belief in something for which there is no evidence, and not self-confidence, nor trust in another, nor even trust in a process.

What is expressed in this verse, as I read it, is confidence in the 2nd law of thermodynamics. The 2nd law describes a tendency that exists not only in the fire and wood which are the elements of this verse but also the earth, metal, and water which are the elements of the previous verse. The 2nd law is always relevant to the meeting of real human needs; in a world that wasn't described by the 2nd law, conditions for the meeting of human needs could never be met.

The wood of the firestick has a wish or tendency (chanda) to release its energy, for example via the process of combustion whereby carbon in the wood spontaneously forms bonds with oxygen in the air. That process is prevented from getting started by activation energy barriers, but these barriers can be surmounted by the energy which is directed by the human action of twirling.

The confidence under discussion, in other words, is the confidence that, if one is able to do the work of breaking down activation energy barriers, a process of spontaneous flow will do itself "as surely as day follows night" (as Marjory Barlow used to say).

EH Johnston:
Again, no one rubs the fire-stick, if he has no need of fire or does not believe in its existence in the fire-stick ; if the contrary is the case, he does so.

Linda Covill:
If a man doesn't need fire, or if he does not believe that fire comes from firesticks, then he would not rotate the firesticks; but when that condition is true, he rotates them.

na: not
aarthii = nominative singular masculine of arthin: one who wants or desires anything
yadi: if
agninaa = instrumental of agni: fire
vaa: or
syaat (optative): he might, he would

shraddadhyaat = 3rd person singular optatitive of shrad-dhaa: to have belief or confidence
tam (accusative): that [fire]
na: not
vaa: or
aaraNau = locative of araNi: firestick

mathniiyaan = from math: to twirl
na kash cit: not at all
araNim (accusative): the firestick

tad: it, that, in that case
bhaave = locative of bhaava: being, state, condition
sati = present participle of as: being (added in locative absolute constructions to express attendant circumstance)
mathyate = 3rd person singular of math: to twirl a firestick round

Thursday, June 25, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.33: Digging Here With Confidence

antar-bhuumi-gataM hy ambhaH
shraddadhaati naro yadaa
arthitve sati yatnena
tadaa khanati gaam imaam

= = = - - = = =
= - = - - = - =
= = = - - = = -
- = - - - = - =

When there is water under the ground

Wherein a man has confidence

And has need of water

Then, with an effort of will,
here the earth he digs.

The treasure that lies buried might be water or might be gold, but its existence is not in doubt. The man who digs has neither the puffed-up self-confidence of the inflated ego, nor optimistic belief in what might not exist. He has total confidence in the existence of water, not as a concept but as a reality into which he was born; and he has belief that water may lie beneath the earth he is digging.

A family member of mine asked me if I wasn't a little concerned that scholars might ridicule my efforts to dive into this translation work, on the basis of only a few weeks study of Teach Yourself Sanskrit. My honest answer was that No, I was never even a bit concerned in that way. The opposite is true. This translation work has been serving as a confidence-rebuilding exercise. Before I started this work, I had been suffering from stomach pains for several months. Very soon after I started directing my energy into this work, the stomach pains cleared up. Finding and starting this work restored my confidence -- which is not to say that I don't still often wake up full of doubts and regrets about my own inadequacies.

The word I have translated as "has confidence," shraddadhaati, could equally well and maybe more elegantly have been translated as "believes": "When a man believes there is water under the ground and is need of it, then here he digs the earth with an effort of will."

I have engineered the verse as I have firstly as part of the ongoing effort to preserve the four-line structure, and secondly because I believe in the primacy of confidence. When a human being wishes, as a practical matter, to convey the energy of intention to a dog, or to a horse, or even to an elephant, or to another human being, or to a nail being hammered into an oak beam, or to a tennis racket transferring kinetic energy to a tennis ball, or to a sharp spade being trodden through tough turf, the primary thing is confidence.

In the work of directing energy in a consciously chosen direction, true confidence leads to success, and success breeds true confidence.

Conversely, belief in the form of unfounded optimism invites disappointment, and disappointment saps confidence.

First to stop the vicious circle, and thence to allow the virtuous circle, and thereby to cleanse the mind of the fearful taint of end-gaining, might be the teaching of the buddhas.

From here on this Canto, as I read it, is all about confidence.

EH Johnston:
For instance, when a man believes that there is water in the earth (at a particular spot) and he has need of it, then he makes the effort of digging the earth there.

Linda Covill:
When a man believes there is water underground, and is in need of it, then he digs the earth assiduously.

antar: in the middle, in the interior
bhuumi: ground
gatam = accusative of gata: gone to, being in
hi: for

ambhaH (nominal): water
shraddadhaati = 3rd person singular of shrad-√dhaa: , to have faith or faithfulness , have belief or confidence , believe
naraH (nominal): a man

yadaa: (correlative of tadaa) at which time
arthitve = locative of arthitva: n. the condition of a supplicant
arthin: one who wants or desires anything ; longing for , libidinous ; m. a beggar , petitioner , suitor
-tva: (abstract noun suffix)
sati = present participle of as: to be
yatnena = instrumental of yatna: m. activity of will, volition, aspiring after ; performance, work ; effort, exertion, energy, zeal, trouble, pains, care

tadaa: at that time
khanati: he digs
gaam = accusative of go: f. the earth
imaam (f. accusative): this

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.32: Ideas in Action

satyaaM gamana-buddhau hi
gamanaaya pravartate
shayyaa-buddhau ca shayanaM
sthaana-buddhau tathaa sthitiH

= = - - - = = -
- - = = - = - =
= = = = - - - =
= - = = - = - =

As long as an idea of moving is there

One mobilizes for the act of moving;

And with an idea of staying at rest
there is an act of staying at rest;

With an idea of standing,
likewise, there is standing up.

If chanda in the previous verse is translated as "tendency," then as a translation of buddhi in this verse "intention" might fit well. But the reason I have provisionally chosen "idea" comes from my experience over the last 15 years in Alexander work. Before entering into Alexander work I had not begun to understand the tangible, practical power of an idea.

It might be more accurate to say that 45 years ago, on some level, my old dog Kim began to teach me the tangible power that an idea can have, and then my experience in rugby, weight training, and karate began to teach me the tangible power than an idea can have, but then when my top 2-inches became over-stimulated by the way I reacted to the content and style of teaching of Gudo Nishijima, and his "true Buddhism," I veered off in totally the wrong direction.

Except it might not be accurate to say that my veering was total, because something in me remained aware that the wrong direction was the wrong direction. And that little seed of awareness eventually led me back to Alexander work.

So dogs can really teach human beings a lot, it seems to me, about the tangible power that an idea can have in channeling energy in a consciously chosen direction. Unless we really learn this in practice, whether under a dog, or under a true human teacher, or under a tree in the garden, we are liable to dissipate our energy in non-constructive ways, by our unconscious reactions to more or less unconscious intentions. Q.E.D.

EH Johnston:
Thus if a man wants to move, he makes the action of moving ; if to lie down, of lying down ; if to stand, of standing.

Linda Covill:
For when one has a mind to walk, one undertakes the actions for walking; likewise lying down occurs when one has a mind to lie down, and standing when one has a mind to stand.

satyaam (locative of satii) = f. present participle of as: to be
gam: to go, move
- ana: action noun suffix
gamana: the act of going , moving
buddhau = locative of buddhi: mind, idea, intention

hi: for
gamanaaya (dative): for the purpose of walking, in order to walk
pravartate = 3rd person singular of pra-√vRt: to roll or go onwards (as a carriage) , be set in motion or going ; to set out , depart , betake one's self ; to produce , create , accomplish , devise , invent , perform , do , make

shayyaa: a bed, couch, sofa; lying, reposing, sleeping
buddhau = locative of buddhi: idea, intention
ca: and
shayanam = accusative of shayana: the act of lying down or sleeping, rest, repose, sleep

sthaana: the act of standing
buddhau = locative of buddhi: mind, idea, intention
tathaa: likewise
sthitiH (nominative): f. standing upright

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.31: Where There's A Wish There's A Way

dharma-cchandam imaM tasmaad
vivardhayitum arhasi
sarva-dharmaa hi dharma-jNa
niyamaac chanda-hetavaH

= = = - - = = =
- = - - - = - -
= - = = - = - -
- - = = - = - =

This wish for the truth of Dharma, therefore,

You should nurture;

For all realisations of the Dharma,
seer of the way of Dharma,

Invariably have wishing as their cause:

The word dharma appears three times in this verse, once in the 1st line and twice in the 3rd line.

In the 1st line, dharma is the object of Nanda's desire, that which he is tending towards. Dharma in the 1st line, then, would seem to mean Dharma as the truth / practice which the Buddha taught.

The epithet dharma-jNa "Dharma-knower," would seem to praise Nanda for having recognized the direction in which the truth lies. Dharma in this compound, then, would seem to mean Dharma as a way or direction of practice; and knowing would seem to mean noticing, making out, spotting or seeing.

Appearing in the 3rd line in the plural, dharma is used to express all those happenings which have wishing or willing as their cause. The compound sarva-dhaarma, then, would seem to mean all instances of Dharma being realised in action. This usage is clarified, as I read it, in the following verse, which gives examples of actions which happen because a person wishes them. Except maybe the word "wish" is too strong in the contet of the next verse. What the Buddha literally says in the next verse, as I hear him, is that an action takes place because of an idea of doing it.

Fifteen years ago I read a very good book on the work of FM Alexander titled "Thinking Aloud," by Walter Carrington. The memorable title of the first chapter was "Willing, Wishing and Fairy Tales." The theme of the chapter, as I remember it, was that people tend to think that an action like sitting upright is all to do with bones and muscles and reflexes -- and in a sense it is. Still, the business of changing the way a person sits, even more fundamentally, is to do with willing and wishing. "This work," FM said, "is the most mental thing there is." This statement is not at all easy to understand, but I think it is distant echo of what the Buddha was expressing all those centuries ago with words like chanda, wishing or willing, and buddhi, mind or idea. What the Buddha and FM Alexander both struggled with, was how to express in words that supreme and subtle higher good which is the practice of non-doing.

On the one hand, I very much regret that for 11 years when I could have been studying Sanskrit, between 1997 and 2008, I more or less gave up translation work. On the other hand, I could not have done then the translation work I am doing now. I would not have understood then how chanda could really mean nothing more than a wish or how buddhi could mean nothing more than an idea. So maybe that fallow period wasn't entirely wasted.

EH Johnston:
Therefore take heed to foster the desire for the Law ; for desire, O knower of the Law, is specifically the originating cause of all the elements of existence.

Linda Covill:
Therefore you should cultivate this predilection for the dharma, for all factors of existence, dharma-knower, necessarily have desire as their cause.

dharma: teaching, law, method
chandam (accusative): m. pleasure , delight , appetite , liking , predilection , desire , will
imam = accusative of ayam: this

tasmaat: from that , on that account , therefore
vivardhayitum (infinitive from vRdh: to increase, cause to prosper or thrive): to foster, to cultivate
arhasi (2nd person singular of arh): you should, please

sarva: all
dharmaaH (nominative, plural): dharmas, practices, things, teachings, works, truths
hi: for
dharma-jNa: dharma-knower
jNa: knowing, familiar with ; intelligent, having a soul, wise, (m.) a wise and learned man

niyamaat (ablative of niyama): as a rule , necessarily , invariably , surely
chanda: pleasing , alluring , inviting ; m. pleasure , delight , appetite , liking , predilection , desire , will
hetavaH = nominative, plural of hetu: cause, motive

Monday, June 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.30: In Good We Trust

yukta-ruupam idaM c' aaiva
shuddha-sattvasya cetasaH
yat te syaan naiShThike suukShme
shreyasi shraddadhaanataa.

= - = - - = = -
= - = = - = - =
= = = = - = = =
= - = = - = - =

And this is fitting indeed

For the consciousness
of one whose essence is simplicity:

That in a supreme and subtle

Higher good you should have confidence.

What the Buddha is talking about here, as I hear him, is the supreme and subtle practice of non-doing, the key to which is the principle of inhibiting unconscious reaction to a stimulus -- a stimulus, for example, such as desire for celestial nymphs. This principle of inhibition is not only a principle to believe in, and is not only a principle to trust, but it is a principle one can actually have confidence in, and that confidence can grow year by year, like an acorn growing into a bush which can, if the conditions are right, become a mighty oak.

The difference between faith and belief as cultivated in spiritual religion, and trust and confidence as cultivated in practical work on the self, it seems to me, is that the former arises out of fear whereas the latter arises out of knowing that there is nothing to fear. And nowhere is this better seen than in the application of the principles of Alexander work to the teaching of very nervous swimmers.

In Alexander work we get to know from our own experience that when we really apply the principle of inhibition, it really works. The supreme and subtle principle of inhibition makes a bridge between wrong doing and non-doing, and non-doing is a higher good.

Non-doing is a higher good. That is to say, in the continuing story of human evolution, non-doing dharma is higher up the food chain than doing dharma.

I keep the ignoble cycle of doing going by blindly acting on the desire to gain some end, based on my faulty sense of feeling which, in turn, is deeply rooted in fear.

The higher principle of non-doing requires me to give up that idea which sets off the cycle of end-gaining and doing.

Doing means I just do it, relying on faulty feeling rooted in fear.

Non-doing means I allow to do itself, based on a decision not to do, that decision being rooted in confidence.

Confidence in the principle of non-doing, moreover, makes for simplicity. In the words of FM Alexander, "I am going to give you as few details as possible, because of the primary control."

In doing sitting practice, for example, learning how to control one's posture by direct doing leads to enormous complications What looks or feels like improvement in one area, gained by direct intervention, leads to unintended side effects in another area, and so, as one direct intervention follows another, the whole becomes more and more 'controlled' i.e. held, and spontaneity is lost. Finally, as all the fiddling about and subtle fixing causes the breathing gradually to become restricted, one has to become an expert in abdominal breathing. Thus would-be Zen masters write web pages to share with the unenlightened the secrets of how to breathe, and so the cycle of doing goes on and on.

The indirect principle of non-doing, in contrast, though by no means easy to apply, is enormously simple: Just stop doing the wrong thing and allow the right thing to do itself.

Sitting with the body is doing. Sitting with the mind is effort not to do. Sitting as body and mind dropping off is non-doing. The three can be seen as forming a triangle, whose base is body and mind, and whose apex is body and mind dropping off.

The essence of Master Dogen's teaching, as I understand it, is to practice all three, with the understanding that body and mind dropping off is the higher good.

A final observation I would like to make is that the 3rd and 4th line are particularly rich in long syllables: of 16 syllables, 12 are long. To my admittedly inexperienced Sanskrit ear, this gives the Buddha's voice a re-assuringly unhurried, confidence-inspiring quality.

EH Johnston:
And truly your belief in the ultimate immaterial good befits the mind of one whose being is purified.

Linda Covill:
This is surely an appropriate course for your mind when purified in its essence -- that you might have confidence in the ultimate, subtle Excellence!

yukta-ruupam (accusative): suitably formed , fit , proper (with loc. or gen.)
idam: this
ca: and
eva: (emphatic) truly, surely

shuddha: cleansed , cleared , clean , pure , clear ; free from error , faultless ; pure i.e. simple , mere , genuine , true , unmixed ; upright (» comp.)
sattvasya = genitive of sattva: being , existence ; true essence , nature , disposition of mind , character ; vital breath , life
cetasaH = genitive of cetas: consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

yat: which
te (genitive): of you, in you
syaat (optative): there might be
naiShThike locative of naiShThika: forming the end , final , last ; definitive , fixed , firm ; highest , perfect , complete
suukShme = locative of suukShma: minute, small ; acute , subtle , keen ; intangible

shreyasi = locative of sreyas: higher good, ultimate good
shraddadhaana: having faith , trustful , believing
shraddadhaanataa: f. belief , faith

Sunday, June 21, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.29: Nanda's Consciousness Blossoms

saa jighaaMsus tamo haardaM
yaa samprati vijRmbhate
tamo naishaM prabhaa saurii
vinigiirN" eva meruNaa

= - = = - = = =
= = - - - = - =
- = = = - = = =
- - = = - = - =

Seeking to dispell darkness of the heart

It now blossoms forth

Like the light of the sun
dispelling the darkness of the night

When poured forth by mount Meru.

In this verse, light and darkness may be understood as symbolizing consciousness and unconsciousness.

What is light? Nobody knows. Not even Einstein knew. But light is not dark. That much we know.

What is consciousness? Consciousness is not unconscious reaction. That much, with the help of Marjory Barlow in particular, I figured out for myself.

I don't believe in Buddhism. I believe in the truth of the Buddha's teaching, which each of us has to work out for himself or herself, by working on the self.

Aged 8-9, while attending Ms. Higgin's class at Chilcote Primary School, I gained an overblown confidence in my ability to solve problems, and to some extent this confidence has stayed with me all my life. As a teenager, however, I came up against a problem that I couldn't figure out, which was chronic blushing, wherein fear of the reaction would set off the reaction. The mere thought of a girl sitting next to me on the bus would make me go hot and red, and sweat, and go redder and hotter, and sweat more, until eventually by the time I got off the bus I would have the sense of being reduced to a deathly cold and pale dribble of sweat. A struggle was going on within my system between two opposing fear responses: the red of the panic reflex vs the white of fear paralysis.

For the past 35 years, this is a problem I have been working on, and I am still working on it -- how not to be a slave to this kind of unconscious emotional reaction, rooted in undue excitement of fear reflexes.

My initial lines of enquiry were physical. Doing things with the body, like weight training and rugby, and then karate, and eventually doing Zazen, clearly seemed to help, up to a point.

For the past 15 years, I have been gradually waking up to the other side, through Alexander work -- "the most mental thing there is."

I still don't consider that I have got close to solving the problem, but maybe like Nanda at this point in his story, my trials and tribulations to this point have caused me to gain a hold on the problem.

The essence of the problem is how to be more conscious, and less at the mercy of emotional reactions rooted in fear.

So to return to the verse in question, I think that tamo haaRdaM, the darkness of Nanda's heart means unconsciousness rooted in his fear paralysis response -- this response having been described, as I read it, in verse 12.8.

Growth of consciousness is stimulated, I think, insofar as I understand the process at all, by inhibiting unconscious reactions which are rooted in such fear paralysis, or rooted in the Moro reflex which is the antagonist of fear paralysis, or rooted in an unresolved struggle between those two opposing fear responses.

When exactly does "inhibiting unconscious reactions" mean? It means myriad different things in myriad situations, but it always means:

Not that.

EH Johnston:
It strives now to destroy the darkness of your heart, as the light of the sun, when poured forth by mount Meru, diffuses itself to dispel the darkness of night.

Linda Covill:
Now it spreads out, seeking to dispell the darkness that is your emotionality, just as the sunny radiance put forth by Mount Meru seeks to disperse noctural darkness.

saa: (f.) it (buddhi)
jighaaMsu: desirous of destroying or ruining
tamaH = accusative of tamas: darkness
haardaM = accusative of haard (fr. and = hRd): the heart, as seat of emotion

yaa: (f) which
samprati: now
vijRmbhate = 3rd person singular of vi-√jRmbh: to open the mouth , yawn , gape ; to open (intr.) , expand , become expanded or developed or exhibited , spread out , blossom ; to extend , become erect (said of the membrum virile) ; to arise , appear , awake

tamaH (accusative): darkness
naisham = accusative of naisha: relating to night , happening at night , nightly , nocturnal
prabhaa: light
saurii: f. the wife of the sun

vi-: prefix, sometimes giving a meaning opposite to the idea contained in the simple root (e.g. √ krI , " to buy " ; vi- √krI , " to sell ")
nigiirNa: swallowed , devoured ; left out , not expressed
vinigiirNaa: spewed out, poured forth
iva: like
meruNaa = instrumental of meru: N. of a fabulous mountain

Saturday, June 20, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.28: Consciousness Gains Hold

iidRshii naama buddhis te
niruddhaa rajas" aabhavat
rajasaa caNDa-vaatena
vivasvata iva prabhaa

= - = = - = = =
- = = - - = - -
- - = = - = = -
- = - - - = - =

This consciousness awakening so evidently in you

Was blocked by the dust of passion,

Just as the dust of a sand-storm

Blocks the light of the sun.

The word buddhi in the first line could be translated in many equally valid ways: mental prowess, power of reason, presence of mind, mental power, brain power, power of discernment, and so on. I decided on "consciousness awakening" because that translation fits well with the following verse, which seems to describe a blossoming forth, opening up, spreading out.

The title of Canto 12, pratyavamarsha, Gaining Hold, in its maybe deliberate ambiguity can be seen as fitting at least three metaphors:

Firstly, it could suggest the gaining of a foothold on a path, the metaphor of verse 12.20, which seems to be picked up in the title of Canto 14, aadi-prasthaana, Marching Out.

Secondly, it could suggest gaining hold of the nectar of deathlessness, the metaphor of verse 12.25, which seems to be picked up in the title of Canto 17, amRt'aadhigama, Making the Nectar of Deathlessness One's Own.

Thirdly, this verse and 12.29, along with later verses including particularly 12.41 and 12.43, seem to describe the gaining hold of a seed of consciousness that awakens into willpower, and thence grows into a tree of confidence. Perhaps the title of Canto 15, vitarka-prahaaNa, Dropping Off Ideas, can be seen as the culmination of this metaphor.

As I sit
more or less upright
aware of breathing
what is consciousness?
Not thoughts
not feelings
not habit
not instinct
not emotion
not desire
not attachment
not views and opinions
not -isms.
Not ideas.
Not body.
Not mind.
Not that.

EH Johnston:
Such a decision of yours was indeed obstructed by the dust of passion, as the light of the sun by the dust of a sand-storm.

Linda Covill:
This kind of reasoning was obviously blocked in you by the dust of passion, just as the light of the sun is obscured by a strong gust of dust.

iidRshii: (f) of this kind, such
naama: ind. (acc. of naaman) by name i.e. named , called; indeed , certainly , really , of course
buddhiH = nominative, singular of buddhi: f. the power of forming and retaining conceptions and general notions , intelligence , reason , intellect , mind , discernment , judgement ; comprehension, understanding ; the faculty of mental perception ; presence of mind, ready wit ; intention, purpose, design
te (genitive): of you

niruddhaa: held back , withheld , held fast , stopped , shut , closed , confined , restrained , checked , kept off , removed , suppressed; covered, veiled
rajasaa = instrumental of rajas: vapour , mist , clouds , gloom , dimness , darkness; impurity , dirt , dust , any small particle of matter; the " darkening " quality , passion , emotion , affection
abhavat: was

rajasaa = instrumental of rajas: dust, passion
caNDa: fierce , violent , cruel , impetuous , hot , ardent with passion , passionate , angry
vaatena = instrumental of vaata: the wind

vivasvata = instrumental of vivasvat: " the Brilliant one " , N. of the Sun
iva: like
prabhaa (nominative, singular): (f.) light

Friday, June 19, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.27: Towards More Conscious Direction

raag-oddaamena manasaa
sarvathaa duShkaraa dhRtiH
sa-doShaM salilaM dRShTvaa
pathinena pipaasunaa

= = = = - - - =
= - = = - = - =
- = = - - = = =
- - = - - = - =

With a mind unbridled by passion

It is exceedingly difficult to be steadfast,

As when dirty water is seen

By a thirsty traveller.

This verse, as I read it, is not opposed to unbridling of the mind per se: it is rather opposed to allowing the mind to be unbridled by an instinctive, unconscious impulse.

A mind that is habitually bridled, by its intellect and by its attachments, can become rapidly unbridled through passion, with sometimes comical results, as happened to John Cleese's character in A Fish Called Wanda; and with sometimes tragic results, as in Othello. This kind of unconscious unbridling of the mind tends to lead not to steadfastness but to errant unconscious behaviour, to breaking of promises, and failure to stick to decisions.

Unbridling of the mind corresponds to the breaking down of activation energy barriers in a spontaneous process of energy release. This can be seen in spontaneous explosions of lust and anger, or in the mass reactions of a mob. Another kind of spontaneous unbridling is realised in learning the backward step, so that body and mind spontaneously drop off and the original face of a true individual emerges.

The former spontaneity is governed by instinct, by unconscious impulses; the latter is consciously guided by reason.

What the Buddha's teaching is now progressing toward, as I read this and the following verses, is the growth of consciousness, reason, will and confidence as opposed to unconsciousness, emotion, instinct and irresolution.

EH Johnston:
Self-control is ever as difficult for the mind which has given a free rein to passion as for the thirst-stricken traveller who sees water which is foul.

Linda Covill:
Steadfastness is in every respect hard to accomplish when the mind is given to unfettered passion, just as it is hard for a thirsty traveler to maintain self-control when he sees dirty water.

raaga: redness, passion
uddaamena = instrumental of uddaama: unrestrained , unbound ; violent , impetuous, fiery ; wanton
manasaa = instrumental of manas: mind

sarvathaa: in every way , in every respect , by all means ; altogether, entirely, in the highest degree ; at all times
duShkaraa: hard to be done or borne , difficult , arduous
dhRtiH = nominal, singular of dhRti: holding , seizing , keeping , supporting ; firmness , constancy , resolution, will, command

sa: (possessive suffix) having, with
doSha: fault, vice, badness, disease
salilam (accusative): water
dRShTvaa = absolutive of dRsh: to see

pathinena = instrumental of pathin: a way , path , road , course
pipaasunaa = instrumental of pipaasu: thirsty

Thursday, June 18, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.26: Re-directing the Energy of Fear & Passion

maan'aarhaM te cikiirShitam
raag'-aagnis taadRsho yasya
dharm'-onmukha paraaN-mukhaH

- = - = = - - =
= = = = - = - -
= = = = - = = -
= = - - - = - =

In its fear of worthless flux

Your intention is worthy of respect,

For a fire of passion such as yours

Is being re-directed, upwards,
in the direction of the Dharma.

I wish I could be more confident in my understanding of Sanskrit grammar, but the 3rd and 4th lines, as I read them, are constructed in the style of a nominal sentence whose essence is nominal subject (raag’-aagniH; a fire of passion) and nominal non-verbal predicate (paraaN-mukhaH; a turning away).

So a literal reading, as I understand it, is:
“A fire of passion such as yours is a turning away which is Dharma/upwards-looking.”

I suspect that EH Johnston veered from the literal translation, as translators are ever prone to do, because he could not understand it. But maybe it is me who has got it wrong, in which case, if anybody knows or thinks I have got it wrong, I would be grateful to be corrected or happy to be challenged.

What the Buddha is praising, as I hear him, is Nanda’s intention to re-direct his emotional energy of fear and lust. The Buddha in this verse is encouraging Nanda, I think, not to disown or deny his emotional energy, not to turn his back on it, but rather to channel it for a higher good -- to “sublimate” his energy, to borrow a word from the alchemists who, in their own way, were also after gold.

This description of energy being re-directed then leads to the Buddha’s description in the following verse of how difficult it can be to keep one’s re-directed libido flowing constantly in the new, consciously-chosen direction -- which might primarily be up along the spine.

If I have got the grammar wrong then by continuing with this comment I am only digging myself into a deeper hole. Anyway, here goes:

At the place Master Dogen called “the inside of sitting,” there might not be any Dharma to look up at. But going up might be the Dharma itself.

So in the compound dharma’onmukha, or “Dharma/upwards” as I read it, there may be a hint that the up of upright sitting is the Dharma, and the Dharma is the up of upright sitting.

The syllable pronounced as on in the compound dharm’onmukha is originally ud, which means up.

ud + mukha = un-mukha;
dharma + unmukha = dharm’onmukha.

If we find a place where nobody can hear us and try reciting the verse in Sanskrit, the first two syllables of the fourth line are heavy, or long, and they are bordered by four light syllables. So those two long syllables seem to have pride of place in the verse.


Dharma / Up

I think Ashvaghosha is giving us a clue here as to what is of primary importance.

The ud of dharm’onmukha is the up of upright sitting. The difficulty for many of us who sit is that our senses, centred on faulty vestibular functioning, are set against it: what we feel to be up is liable to be down. For such a faulty individual, learning the backward step includes learning not to feel up but to think up.

EH Johnston:
Your intention deserves to be honoured, in that it holds the dangers of the cycle of existence to be unworthy ; for you are facing towards the Law and have turned your back on so great a fire of passion.

Linda Covill:
Worthy of honour is your intention and its fear of a worthless samsara. You have put that kind of fiery passion behind you; you are facing the dharma.

an-arha: unworthy
saMsaara: flowing together, mass unconscious reaction
bhayam (accusative): fear , alarm, dread, danger

maana: consideration , regard , respect , honour
arham (accusative): worthy
te (genitive): of you
cikiirShitam (accusative): n. " intended to be done , designed " , purpose , design , intention

raaga: redness, passion
aagniH (nominal): fire
taadRshaH (nominal): of such a kind, so
yasya (genitive): of whom

dharma: the teaching, the Dharma, the Truth
unmukha (ud + mukha): mf(i)n. raising the face , looking up
ud: up, upwards
mukha: face
paraaN-mukhaH (nominative): having the face turned away or averted , turning the back upon

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.25: Gaining Hold of Good, Preventive Medicine

sarva-duHkh'-aapahaM tat tu
hasta-stham amRtaM tava
viShaM piitvaa yad agadaM
samaye paatum icchasi

= - = = - = = -
= = - - - = - -
- = = = - - - =
- - = = - = - -

But that which prevents all suffering,

The nectar of deathlessness,
you have in your hands:

It is an antidote which, having drunk poison,

You are going in good time to drink.

Nanda, in 12.16, expresses his belief to the Buddha that "it is your most excellent teaching that is the eradicator/destroyer/terminator (kShaya-kare) of all suffering." Here is the Buddha's response: what not so much terminates but repells or prevents all suffering is not only abstract teaching or even eternal law. Dharma is real preventive medicine, like liquid nectar that can be cupped in the hands here and now, and drunk. Neither is this nectar of immortality a matter only of the gods; its real substance might be a drop of the bodhi-mind which, the Buddha seems to be saying, neither belongs exclusively to me nor exists out there: you already have it, in the midst of your shame, as you stand devoutly listening, with head slightly lowered and palms slightly cupped. In the sincerity of Nanda's wish to listen to the truth, as is embodied in his manner of standing, the Buddha seems to be saying, Nanda already has the real substance of deathlessness in his own hands, and he is about to drink it.

The Buddha seems to have intuited already that Nanda is going, in time, to realise the realisation described in Canto 18, amRt'aadhigama, Making the Nectar of Deathlessness His Own. Here in Canto 12, Nanda has not realised that realisation yet, because his senses are still set against it, but he is going to start, when he begins in earnest to address the problem of faulty sensory appreciation, which is the theme of Canto 13.

EH Johnston:
But you have within your reach that elixir which removes all suffering, the antidote which you wish, as having drunk poison, to take in good time.

Linda Covill:
Having drunk poison, you wish to drink a timely antidote; that cup of deathlessness is within your reach, and it destroys all suffering.

sarva: all
duHkha: suffering
apaham = accusative of apaha: mfn. ifc. keeping back , repelling , removing , destroying
tat (correlative of yat): that [which]
tu: but

hasta: hand
stha: standing , staying , abiding , being situated in
hastastha: mfn. being in or held with the hand
amRtam (accusative): immortality; the nectar (conferring immortality , produced at the churning of the ocean) , ambrosia ; antidote against poison
tava (genitive): of you

viSham (accusative): poison
piitvaa = absolutive of paa: to drink
yat: [that] which
agadam (accusative): m. freedom from disease; m. a medicine , drug , (especially) antidote

samaye: at the appointed time; at the right moment; in good time
paatum = infinitive of paa: to drink
icchasi = 2nd person singular of ish: to wish or be about to do anything

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.24: For Twenty-four Carat Happiness, Dig Deeper

ari-bhuuteShv a-nityeShu
satataM duHkha-hetuShu
kaam'-aadiShu jagat saktaM
na vetti sukham avyayam

- - = = - = - -
- - = = - - - -
= = - - - - - =
- = - - - = - -

Upon transient whims which are akin to enemies,

Being eternally the causes of suffering,

Upon whims like love, the world fixates.

It does not know
the happiness that is immune to change.

This verse is an encouragement to believe in, and thence to pursue, the kind of happiness that is always there, as opposed to the temporary ups that are invariably followed by downs.

The four elements of the four pada ('steps' or 'feet') of this verse, as I read it, are (1) the changeable, (2) the eternal, (3) the fixed, and (4) that which is neither fixed nor subject to change.

The verse seems to ask me to ask myself:

(1) What is transient?

(2) What is eternal?

(3) How, why, and upon what does the world fixate?

(4) Do I myself know, or at least believe in the existence of, this happiness of which the Buddha speaks, which is imperishable, or immune to change?

Here for what it is worth is my attempt to answer those questions:

(1) Things that we tend to presume to be permanent, like concrete floors, or mountains, or the strong chemistry between two human beings who fall in love, on further investigation turn out not to be permanent after all, but to be transient. Everything which has energy turns out to be transient, because sooner or later the energy dissipates. Thus, marine fossils defy our presumptions by turning up on top of the highest mountains, and the majority of marriages defy the sincerest of vows that "till death do us part," by ending up in divorce.

(2) If permanence is to be sought anywhere, it might be sought in certain laws of the universe, chief among which might be impermanence itself, a.k.a. "the 2nd law of thermodynamics." Another law that might be eternally valid, the 2nd line suggests, is the noble truth of the origin of suffering.

(3) "You all fix!" said FM Alexander to his student-teachers, and "Fixing is our greatest evil." Why is it that we cling irrationally to things from which we derive a false sense of security? It might have something to do with faulty sensory appreciation, and it might equally have something to do with the infantile panic/grasp reflex. Again, faulty sensory appreciation and the panic reflex might, in many cases, have a lot to do with each other.

(4) FM Alexander said to his niece Marjory Barlow, "You know, dear, I am always happy." And Marjory said how she treasured those words. So I quizzed on her on them: What did FM mean? From his biography FM clearly had plenty of troubles to contend with, not least the libel case that he decided to contest in his old age. So what did he mean by saying "I am always happy"? Marjory's answer was given not only in words. When I think back to how Marjory answered my question, and try to put Marjory's answer into a word or two of my own choosing, Marjory's answer was to point me back in the direction of learning the backward step.

I am impelled to keep writing about the backward step, like a person with failing memory writing out a list, because my mind is so fickle that I wake up every morning more or less lost, full of surface doubts and regrets, seemingly having forgotten everything. Then I get up and sit and remember and want to write it down and publish it for posterity (as if the blogosphere were eternal): The backward step. The backward step. The backward step.

Do I believe in the sukham avayayam, imperishable happiness, of the fourth line? Yes, I do. Do I know it? I don't know if I know it or not. I know that I don't understand it. Though I dare to judge that it must be profoundly related with acceptance of the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and with learning of the backward step of turning light and shining, I do not understand what it is. I do not understand imperishable happiness any more than a miner understands the sub-atomic particles that constitute gold. I only know that happiness for me, these days, lies in endeavouring to answer Ashvaghosha's call through the centuries to dig deeper for it.

What's Nirvana?
I don't know.
A loser losing
His will to flow?
Submariners say
When hurricanes blow
That it gets stiller
The deeper you go.

EH Johnston:
The world clings to love and the rest, which are perpetual causes of suffering, transitory, and in reality its enemies, and it does not know the pleasure which does not pass away.

Linda Covill:
The world fastens on lust and other desires, which are inimical to us, transitory, and an ongoing cause of suffering. It does not know imperishable bliss.

ari: not liberal , envious , hostile ; an enemy
bhuuteShv = locative, plural of bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of
anityeShu = locative, plural of anitya: impermanent, transient

satatam: constantly , always , ever
duHkha: suffering
hetuShu = locative plural of hetu: cause

kaama: wish, desire; pleasure, enjoyment; love, especially sexual love or sensuality
aadiShu = locative, plural of aadi: beginning with, et cetera
jagat (nominal, singular): people, mankind; the world
saktam (accusative): clinging or adhering to , sticking in (loc); committed to; fixed or intent upon, addicted or devoted to (loc)

na: not
vetti = 3rd person singular of vid: to know
sukham (accusative): happiness, ease
avyayam (accusative): not liable to change , imperishable , undecaying

Monday, June 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.23: Illusory & Delusory Happiness

duHkhaM na syaat sukhaM me syaad
iti prayatate janaH
sukhaM tac ca na budhyate

= = = = - = = =
- = - - - = - =
= = - = = - - =
= = = - - = - =

'I would not suffer; I would be happy:'

People labour under this illusion;

And respite from incessant suffering

They sense not as such, but as happiness.

This verse, as I read it, addresses firstly illusory thoughts about, and secondly delusory feelings about, happiness.

What happiness is I do not understand. Illusions and delusions, on the other hand, I do know a bit about.

“If only ....., I would be happy.” Fill in your own missing words. In the last fifty years I have filled in plenty of mine.

But what actually happens when those kind of wishes are fulfilled? What happens when we finally get to embrace the celestial nymph of our dreams, or when we pass the test and get our own wheels, or when we finally get to go home, or when we finally get to the end of some energy-sapping job?

For a starker example, what happens when an irresponsible layabout suddenly wins the lottery? The greed and other faults that made the irresponsible layabout an irresponsible layabout will continue to make him an irresponsible layabout even after he has won the lottery. Fundamentally, the fulfilment of his wish to hit the jackpot will not change anything for the better.

For hard labourer or layabout, as long as the faults that cause suffering are constantly generating noise in the system, any thought of real, lasting happiness is but an illusion.

And yet in the world of ordinary people, among labourers and layabouts, one does see sporadic outbreaks of apparent happiness, from the satisfaction of a job well done to the air-punching elation of a number that came up. How can we account for this?

When a faulty person feels happy, it is not that the faults have been eradicated, even for a moment: it is just that the underlying noise arising from faults has been temporarily drowned out. We see this happening under the influence of drink or drugs, for example. Subjectively the drunk feels like a million dollars and feels confident in his driving ability, but the feeling is unreliable: objectively the drunk looks in bad shape and is a menace on the roads.

The way that FM Alexander saw it was that if a person’s manner of using himself is bad, he might feel happy, due to “faulty sensory appreciation“ or “debauched kinesthesia,” but the feeling is unreliable.

Because my kinesthesia is still, more than 30 years after first stepping into a dojo and bowing, more or less debauched, whatever I do is liable to produce harmful side effects, i.e. suffering. If I just sit with the body, that is just doing, and it is liable to produce suffering. Because just sitting with the body is doing, we oppose it by the mental work (sometimes called ‘mindfulness’) of not reacting to that stimulus but rather allowing a response to this stimulus. And as a result of both those kinds of effort, sitting with the body and sitting with the mind, sitting can be the dropping off of body and mind. This is not only my experience and not only Alexander’s wisdom: it is the wisdom which Buddha/Ashvaghosha are expressing here. It is the wisdom expressed in the previous verse by the word nivRtti, non-doing.

Each of us brings to the reading of this ancient Sanskrit text our own illusory thoughts and delusory feelings, and yet we somehow know, in spite of ourselves, that the text itself is gold of a very pure form. It is a purity of gold that may not have seen the light of day for many hundreds of years. That may be why Linda Covill, with her keen eye and ear for the appropriate metaphor, wrote of her happiness that this text is being given “a thorough airing.”

EH Johnston:
Men labour that they may avoid suffering and feel pleasure, and they do not understand that that pleasure of theirs is but surcease from excessive suffering.

Linda Covill:
People are stimulated to effortful activity by the thought that there might be no suffering and that they could be happy, unaware that their happiness is just the absence of major suffering.

duHkham (accusative): suffering, hardship
na syaat (optative): there might not be
sukham (accusative): happiness, ease

me = genitive of aham: of me, for me
syaat (optative): there might be
iti: thus
prayatate = 3rd person singular of pra-√yat: strive, endeavour
janaH (nominative): person, people

atyanta: mfn. beyond the proper end or limit ; excessive , very great , very strong ; endless , unbroken , perpetual
duHkha: suffering
uparamam (accusative): m. cessation , stopping , expiration ; leaving off , desisting , giving up

sukham (accusative): happiness, ease
tat: that
ca: and
na: not
budhyate = 3rd person singular of budh: to wake , wake up , be awake ; perceive, realise

Sunday, June 14, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.22: Rarity of Non-doing

loke 'sminn aalay'-aaraame
nivRttau dur-labhaa ratiH
vyathante hy a-punar-bhaavaat
prapaataad iva baalishaaH

In this world which likes what is close to home,

A fondness for non-doing is rare;

For men shrink from the end of becoming

Like the puerile from the edge of a cliff.

Non-doing involves going against the habit of a lifetime, which we find uncomfortable, and it is a journey into the unknown, which we find fearful.

How rare is a fondness for non-doing? Maybe rarer than we realise.

Alexander work is supposed to be all about non-doing, but when one looks deeply into it, a lot of what passes for non-doing, both within and without the self, is actually a subtle form of doing.

Marjory Barlow said that the wrong inner patterns are the doing that has to be stopped. I think those ‘wrong inner patterns’ generally have to do with noise emanating from aberrant survival reflexes. If that noise had a voice, it might say: “What’s in it for me?”

Similarly, to work in service of the Buddha is to give up one’s own agenda, but again when one looks deeply into it, a lot of what passes for obedient service of the Buddha, both within and without the self, is actually more or less subtle pursuit of a personal agenda. A noisy trace too often remains of “What’s in it for me?”

I could easily criticize others at this point, following the mirror principle, but the only noise I have any hope of preventing is the noise in my own system. That, after all, is what I am here on my own in France for. To get to the end of becoming in myself.

When Zinadine Zidane dropped the nut on his opponent’s chest in a World Cup Final, I wrote in a blog post at the time that I saw great beauty in Zidane’s act. Zidane’s action, as I saw it, was tempered by compassion: if it had been an untrammelled act of brutal malevolence, Zidane would have gone for his opponent’s nose, or throat, or testicles. What I saw in Zidane’s action was a kind of total negation of “what is in it for me?” It was not the kind of puerile petulance to be seen among the pampered premiership prima donnas of today. In Zidane’s spontaneous release of energy there was a kind of full stop, a decisive expression of the end of becoming.

The phrase a-punar-bhaava, as I read it, is by no means lending any support to the dubious ancient idea of karma and rebirth, which has nothing to with true scientific pursuit, not being subject to empirical verification, but everything to do with maintaining a political status quo. The only end of becoming that I know is a moment of leaving it all on the pitch, or in the dojo, or in the garden, or on the round cushion. I think of Stuart Pearce, former left-back for England, going in for a tackle, with a certain manly commitment, without any trace of boyish shrinking back from the edge.

To have done my best to translate one verse per day, and to have spoken my mind on it without fear or favour, might be a kind of end of becoming. If I die tomorrow, so be it. I refuse to be in a hurry about this translation, or to worry about heaven or hell. If, aided by the wonderful natural energy of this place where I am, I could manage some time today to allow just one moment of true non-doing, that would be great.

From in the womb
The end of becoming
Is a stream flowing
And a bird singing
All out

EH Johnston:
In this world, which rejoices in attachment, it is hard to find delight in the cessation of active being ; for fools shrink back from release from rebirth as from a precipice.

Linda Covill:
In this world with its liking for the household life, it is hard to take pleasure in abstention from activity; for fools shrink from the prospect of the end of rebirth as from the edge of a cliff.

loke = locative of loka: world
asmin = locative of ayam: this
aalaya (from aa-li): a house , dwelling
aa -li: to come close to ; to settle down upon ; a receptacle, asylum
aaraame = locative of aarama: m. delight , pleasure ; place of pleasure , a garden , grove

nivRttau = locative of nivRtti: abstention; ceasing from worldly acts , inactivity , rest , repose; antonym of pra-vRtti, end-gaining
dur-labhaa: difficult to be found, rare
ratiH (nominative): f. rest , repose ; pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc.)

vyathante = 3rd person plural of vyath: to tremble , waver , go astray
hi: for
a-punar-bhaavaat (ablative): not again becoming

prapaataad = ablative of prapaata: a steep rock , cliff , precipice
iva: like, as if
baalishaaH = nominative, plural of baalisha: mf(A)n. young , childish , puerile , ignorant , simple , foolish; m. a fool , simpleton , blockhead

Saturday, June 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.21: Anxiously Desiring Detachment

adya te sa-phalaM janma
laabho 'dya su-mahaaMs tava
yasya kaama-rasa-jNasya
naiShkramyaay' otsukaM manaH

Today your birth bears fruit;

Your gain today is great;

For though you know the taste of love,

Your mind is yearning for indifference.

Quite unlike the dog which is right now pining and whimpering and straining at the leash to which he is tied in my neighbour’s front garden, in blind reaction to the scent of love he has sensed in the morning air through his moist nostrils, a human being can be inspired to aspire to the state of zero. Guided by a skilful trainer, service dogs, guard dogs, sniffer dogs and the like can achieve remarkable things, but their training is always driven by instinct, especially the instinctive desire to please their pack leader. Again, balanced though dogs tend to be, that balance is not a function of intelligence. After a while next door’s dog, as he did yesterday, will stretch out in the sun and fall asleep. Dogs, more quickly than humans tend to do, quickly and naturally return to balance. Dogs, however, do not consciously aspire to balance; they do not consciously aspire to that freedom of the neck which is not caring. The story of Handsome Nanda, in contrast, is the story of a human being who is consciously inspired by the Buddha to aspire toward the state of zero. And in telling Nanda’s story, Ashvaghosha’s conscious intention is to inspire us consciously to aspire in the same direction.

This all sounds very reasonable and conscious. At least it made sense to me as I thought it out. So I thought of translating the last line “Your mind aspires towards detachment.” Then a nagging doubt arose and I went back to the dictionary, which seems to confirm that the word utsuka, in the fourth line, includes a greater sense of negative emotion than does the word “aspire.” Utsuka carries a connotation of restlessness, disquiet, anxiety, unease. These words certainly describe the kind of vibes that my neighbour’s dog is emanating right now, really, unconsciously, instinctively; maybe they also describe Nanda’s state as he stands trembling before the Buddha, with tearful eyes and lowered head. So the use of the word utsuka in the fourth line requires us to dig deeper.

How come the Buddha is praising Nanda for being in an anxiously desirous state?

The anxiety associated with attachment to the gaining of an end is prone to be regarded as a bad thing. Isn’t that why as a translator I am liable to be drawn unconsciously, notwithstanding the dictionary definition, to a translation such as 'aspire toward,' that does not carry the negative connotation? A teaching that contradicts this unconscious tendency (which might be regarded as a variety of naive optimism) was expressed to me by a woman who had unshakeable confidence in the conscious means-whereby principle she taught. That teaching was: “Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work.”

From the little experience I myself have got of teaching the means-whereby principle, it is true: a pupil who is openly and anxiously desirous of gaining some end is a pupil who is likely to be very receptive to being taught a reliable means-whereby for consciously gaining that end. Aqua-phobic swimmers who wish to lose their fear of the water might be a case in point.

Whether or not a dog has the Buddha-nature, I do not know, but not for the first time in my life a dog, which is always primarily interested in energy, has pointed me in the direction of what the Buddha’s teaching is fundamentally all about.

That the mind, whether of dogs or humans, strains painfully and energetically towards the end it desires, is neither good nor bad: it is just how the mind really is. Optimistically thinking, aspiring towards our natural state of balance ought not to be such a struggle. But in reality the journey Nanda is making is a struggle, always, for everybody.

In this verse, seeing that the goal Nanda’s human mind was straining for was not the positivity of love but rather the zero of indifference, the Buddha saw that as very good. And from here onwards, the Buddha proceeds to spell out for Nanda the means-whereby he may consciously gain that end which is indifference, detachment, the state of zero -- which is, in other words, to sit immovably in lotus with a truly free neck.

My mind thinks,
Quite unlike a dog’s.
But the mind of that whimpering dog,
Is just like mine, which strains.

EH Johnston:
To-day your present existence has become fruitful, to-day your profit is extreme, since, though you know the taste of love, your mind yearns for renunciation.

Linda Covill:
Today your birth bears fruit, today you profit greatly, in that your mind longs for withdrawal though you know the taste of passion

adya: today
te (genitive): of you
sa-phalam (accusative): together with fruits , having or bearing fruit
janma = nominative singular of janman: birth

laabhaH = nominative singular of laabha: obtaining , getting , attaining , acquisition , gain , profit
adya: today
su-mahaan: great (in space , time , quantity or degree)
tava (genitive): of you

yasya (genitive of yat): of whom
kaama: love, sensual pleasure, longing
rasa: taste
jNasya = genitive of jNa: knowing

naiShkramyaaya = dative of naiShkramya: n. indifference (esp. to worldly pleasures) , resignation
utsuka: uneasy, anxious ; anxiously desirous, zealously active , striving for any object ; eager for, fond of, attached to ; sorrowing for
manaH: nominative/accusative of manas: mind

Friday, June 12, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.20: Vision that Can’t Be Clouded by Faulty Sensory Input

ciram unmaarga-vihRto
lolair indriya-vaajibhiH
avatiirNo 'si panthaanaM
diShTyaa dRShTy" aa-vimuuDhayaa

Long carried off course

By the restless horses of the senses,

You have now set foot on a path,

With clarity of vision, happily, that will not dim.

In this verse, as I read it, the reactive stallions and errant mares of the senses, which pull us from one side to the other, are contrasted with the kind of detached, reasoned insight that is constant and irremovable, because it is cut off from the flux of sensory experience.

The late Marjory Barlow, niece of FM Alexander, memorably impressed on me that the four verbal directions "(1) to let the neck be free, (2) to let the head go forward and up, (3) to let the back lengthen and widen, (4) sending the knees forwards and away," are constant. They express the direction of muscular release, all of the time, whatever activity one is engaged in, while breathing out and equally while breathing in.

This means that, however faulty is the functioning of one's vestibular system on a particular day, however hopeless is one's own sense of direction, one thing remains the same. Just as I did yesterday, I wish today (1) to let the neck be free, (2) to let the head go forward and up, (3) to let the back lengthen and widen, while (4) sending the knees forwards and away. Even if I don't get what I wish for, even if the result is different, the central direction of the wish is always the same: it is the direction of growth. The four directions that Marjory taught in lesson one, and that I also teach in lesson one, are the same four directions that I return to after 15 years in the Alexander work, and they are the same four directions that Marjory returned to after 70 years in the Alexander work. The directions do not change because, the human condition being as it is, the causes of the noise that the directions are designed to prevent do not change. The human faults of the time of the seven ancient buddhas are the human faults of the Buddha’s time are the human faults of Ashvaghosha’s time are the human faults of Dogen’s time are the human faults of Alexander’s time are the human faults of our time.

So the directions are always the same; they do not change in any circumstance. After Marjory had impressed this point upon me, I remember feeling very happy. I left Marjory's teaching room with a spring in my step. It was not the spring one gets from a temporary sensory buzz, thanks to an Alexander teacher's magic hands. It was the kind of spring one gets on understanding something that one is never going to forget. It was indeed the gaining of a kind of foothold in this struggle towards... what? I do not know. In this struggle not to stop growing.

Nanda, in the same way, has seen something not only through his visual sense but with his mind’s eye. Optimism leads to disenchantment, just as surely as 2 + 2 = 4. The bliss of union with a celestial nymph always proves to be impermanent, just as surely as 2 + 2 = 4. The rules of the game of love never change. Again, falling in love turns the ordinary human world into an earthly paradise, but there is something unsatisfactory about paradise, even before it turns into its opposite, with the white of shock, denial, despair, and then the red of anger and the rest. The cycle of samsara is impermanence itself. There is no permanence to be found in it -- except that impermanence itself is a law, like the 2nd law of thermodynamics, or like 2 + 2 = 4, in which there is constancy. A person can always rely on that. And once a person has seen that clearly, no amount of confused input from a faulty visual system can dim that clarity of seeing.

To sit in the full lotus posture with head shaved and body wrapped in a robe is also a matter of 2 + 2 = 4, although there are many who do not like to think so. My teacher, Gudo Nishijima, was a teacher who, very unusually for a Japanese man of his generation, had highly developed powers of independent reasoning. But when I drew his attention to the wrongness of forcibly pulling in the chin in order to straighten the neck bones, he seemed to have too much invested emotionally in teaching the wrong thing that he could not recognize his mistake -- at least not in public. In Confucianist-influenced Japan it is rather scandalous to highlight the mistake of one’s benevolent teacher. But 2 + 2 = 4 in Japan just as 2 + 2 = 4 in England. If apologists for Japanese culture would have it any other way, they can stuff their cultural arguments up their jumper. What is supreme in the Buddha’s teaching is not anybody’s culture. What is supreme in the Buddha’s teaching is the truth of truly sitting upright.

The truth of sitting upright is a matter of 2 + 2 = 4, and a matter of much more than 2 + 2 = 4. It is a matter of not being able to do an undoing. It is a matter of up being up, not being down. However faulty my vestibular system may be on a particular day... and yesterday was a particularly bad day as my sleep (along with the sleep of my disgruntled French neighbours) was cut short by the howling through the night of my neighbour’s dog, whose keen sense of smell seems to have picked up, during our recent daily walks, the scent of a bitch on heat... however faulty my sense of up and down may be on a particular day, up is not down. Even if, with my “debauched kinesthesia” as FM put it, what I sense as up is actually down, the truth remains that up is not down. Up is always up. Up, happily, is always up.

EH Johnston:
What good fortune it is that you who have been carried away for so long down the wrong road by the restless horses of the senses have now entered the true path with unconfused gaze.

Linda Covill:
For a long time the frenzied horses of the senses have carried you the wrong way. How wonderful that with clear vision you have alighted on the right path!

ciram: for a long time
unmaarga: taking a wrong way , going wrong or astray
vi-√hR: to carry away, remove
vihRtaH (nominative, singular): one who is carried away

lolaiH = instrumental, plural of lola: moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless
indriya: senses
vaajibhiH = instrumental, plural of vaajin: swift , spirited , impetuous , heroic , warlike RV. &c &c (with ratha m. a war-chariot); m. the steed of a war-chariot; m. a horse , stallion

avatiirNaH = nominative, singular of avatiirNa: mfn. alighted , descended
asi: you are
√panth: to go, move
panthaanam = accusative of panthan: path (??)

diShTyaa (instrumental of diShTi, good fortune): ‘by good fortune,’ used to express strong pleasure
dRShTyaa = instrumental of drShti: f. seeing , viewing , beholding (also with the mental eye) ; sight , the faculty of seeing ; the mind's eye , wisdom , intelligence
a: not
vimuuDhayaa = instrumental of vimUDhaa: (f) perplexed; foolish, stupid

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.19: A Foothold On the Way to Spontaneity

aho pratyavamarsho 'yaM
shreyasas te purojavaH
araNyaaM mathyamaanaayaam
agner dhuuma iva' otthitaH

"Aha! This gaining of a foothold

Is the harbinger of a higher good in you,

As, when a firestick is rubbed,

Rising smoke is the harbinger of fire.

The spontaneous exclamation expressed in Sanskrit as aho we might render into English as Ah! or Oh! or Aha! It is a sound that doesn't mean anything. At the same time, it means a lot.

The pratyavamarsha of the first line I have translated as "gaining of a foothold." I understand it to mean Nanda's gaining of a foothold in his struggle to consciously direct his own energy, autonomously, instead of allowing energy to leak out here and there as happens when we are a slave to emotional reaction. This gaining of a foothold, equally, might be called an insight or a true conception: as described in 12.8, 12.14, and 12.16, Nanda has become acutely aware of, and shocked by the changeability of, the cycle of unconscious reaction.

The pratyavamarsha of the first line of this verse is also the chapter title. EH Johnston notes:

It is hard to determine the exact meaning of pratyavamarsha as it does not apparently occur in any other Buddhist work, Sanskrit or Pali... The original meaning of mRsh with pratyava seems to be 'lay hold of,' which suggests that it means the first step in the path of enlightenment, consisting of laying hold of the Law by faith in the Buddha.

The dictionary gives primacy to the mental aspect of pratyavamarsha, i.e., making contact mentally, forming a mental conception. But the more concrete original meaning that Johnston indicates also appeals. If we go with the more concrete meaning, that the kind of hold intended might be a foothold fits with the title of chapter 14 aadi-prasthaanaH, which carries a connotation of walking; e.g., "The First Steps" or "Initial Marching Out," and with the meta-metaphor of truth of a path, the fourth noble truth.

There is evidence to support both "gaining a foothold" and "touching mentally" in the next verse, where the Buddha tells Nanda he has set foot on a true path, with the kind of insight that does not become confused.

For the moment, as a title of this chapter, I am leaning towards "Gaining a Foothold," because this wording suggests in particular Nanda's readiness to stand on his own two feet. Whereas Nanda has hitherto shown a dependent attitude, from here he is deemed ready to assume responsibility for working on himself -- like a patient who has become well enough to take care of himself without medical supervision, or like a child ready to ride a bicycle without the stabilizing hand of a parent.

In the metaphor of the firestick, it is not that fire is created by twirling the firestick. The 2nd law of thermodynamics describes the tendency that wood always has to combust spontaneously, unless prevented from doing so by activation energy barriers. What the twirling of the firestick does is break down the activation energy barriers so that combustion can begin, whereupon combustion will tend to continue as a spontaneous process.

This, as I see it, is why twirling of the firestick to start a fire is such an excellent and recurrent metaphor. The point is that we have to persist with consciously directed effort, in order to initiate a spontaneous process of energy flow. That is the central irony of sitting practice: the need to make a great and sustained conscious effort in order to initiate a process that we wish in the end simply to allow, as a spontaneous flow of energy.

Sitting with the body is the breaking down of mental barriers, and sitting with the mind is the breaking down physical barriers. As physical and mental activation energy barriers are thus broken down, sitting tends to assert itself, so that body and mind spontaneously drop away and our original features emerge.

I am afraid this attempt to express spontaneity, by the worst of listeners, is too long-winded and convoluted. The Best of Listeners put it much better in a word:


EH Johnston:
' Ah! This discernment arises as the harbinger of the highest good for you, as the smoke, rising when the stick is rubbed, is the harbinger of the fire.

Linda Covill:
"Oh! This comprehension is the precursor of Excellence arising in you, just as when a firestick is rotated, smoke arises as a precursor of fire.

aho: Ah! (expressing praise)
mRsh: to touch, stroke, handle ; to touch mentally, consider, reflect, deliberate
pratyava-mRsh: to touch; to reflect, to meditate
pratyava-marshaH (nominative, singular): inner contemplation, profound meditation; counter conclusion ; recollection ; consciousness
ayam: this

shreyasaH = genitive of shreyas: most excellent, the best ; the better state ; good (as opposed to evil)
te (genitive): of you, belonging to you, inherent in you
purojavaH (nominative, singular): m. one who goes before

araNyaam = locative of araNi: f. firestick
mathya: to be rubbed out of, to be extracted from
mathyamaana (present participle): being extracted by rubbing

agneH = ablative/genitive of agni: fire
dhuuma: smoke
iva: like
utthita: risen or rising

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 12.18: Ultimate Good Is Not Groped by Feeling

tatas tasy' aashayaM jNaatvaa
vipakShaan' indriyaaNi ca
shreyash c' aiv' aamukhii-bhuutaM
nijagaada TathaagataH

Then, knowing where he was coming from,

And that, though his senses were set against it,

Ultimate good was now emerging,

The realised one spoke:

Apologies in advance that this comment will be too long, but the above verse counter-poses two elements about which much more could be written: indriyaaNi, the senses; and shreyas, Ultimate Good.

In seeking to understand this opposition, I am prejudiced by 27 years as a student and translator of Zen Master Dogen, by 15 years in Alexander work, and by 10 years in the work of primitive reflex inhibition, but from where I sit Ultimate Good can never be groped by the senses of balance, touch, hearing or sight.

In the autumn of 1984, with a head full of missionary zeal and with a hold-all full of copies of my teacher's book To Meet the Real Dragon, I set off from Tokyo to San Francisco. Staying there at the San Francisco Zen Centre I was struck during a one-day sitting retreat by the easy uprightness of a Danish practitioner. When I complimented him on his form in sitting, he simply said, "Ah, it is because I am a student of the Alexander Technique." It was another ten years before I got round to looking into the Alexander Technique myself. Shortly after that I ended up in Aylesbury at the training school run by late Ray Evans, who used to describe Alexander work as "vestibular re-education" and who emphasized the fundamental importance, in working towards understanding of the human condition, of primitive reflexes.

Following Ray's lead, after graduating from Ray's training school run, I trained at INPP (Institute of Neuro-Physiological Psychology), Chester under Peter Blythe and his wife Sally Goddard, in the diagnosis and remediation of aberrant primitive reflexes. A baby is born with very many of such primitive reflexes, the orderly emergence and inhibition of which helps the baby to survive and to develop. But in the course of my work over the past ten years, encouraged on since Ray's death by Ray's assistant Ron Colyer, guided by the ultra-practical Alexander teachers Marjory Barlow and Nelly Ben-Or, and motivated by my own wish for clarity and simplicity in working with the reflexes, my interest became more and more concentrated on just four vestibular reflexes. I see these reflexes as primary, and I see a direct correspondence between Alexander's four primary directions and these four reflexes.

So I think that Ultimate Good might be to sit shaven-headed in lotus while the body, wrapped in a Buddha-robe, liberates itself from disharmony between those four reflexes.

That might mean, in Master Dogen's words, to sit with the body, to sit with the mind, and to sit as body and mind dropping off.

Again, that might mean to sit in lotus allowing (1) the neck to be free, to allow (2) the head to go forward and up, to allow (3) the back to lengthen and widen, while allowing (4) the arms and legs to release out of the back.

Ultimate Good, then, from what I have experienced of what I believe it to be, is not something out there that comes into the range of our senses, whereupon we pursue it. It may rather be something that spontaneously emerges from within during those rare moments when we are able to get out of the way and allow it. FM Alexander put it more succinctly: "The right thing does itself."

Ultimate good does itself.
Our job is to allow it.

Then what does it mean to allow? I do not know. It does not mean to think about, to discuss endlessly, to intellectualise. But neither does it mean blindly to do, to pull the chin in, to push the knees down, to hyper-extend the back, and all that other nonsense which is pure doing based on feeling. To allow does not mean to feel. To feel, to rely on the senses, is to limit oneself to sitting with the body.

In general it is the job of the senses to feel something, as opposed to feeling nothing. In swaying left and right as Master Dogen instructs in his rules for sitting, for example, one has a fairly reliable sense that three or four inches left or right of the midline is to the left or to the right -- the vestibular system, with input from tactile senses (and visual senses too if the eyes are open), senses the imbalance. Such an imbalance, after all, might be dangerous in circumstances like walking a tightrope or riding a bike. To approach the midline, however, is to enter an area of uncertainty. The vestibular system seems better adapted to sensing something (an imbalance) as opposed to sensing nothing (the absence of imbalance).

This being so, insofar as Ultimate Good is a bit of nothing, a bit of freedom from the faults that cause suffering, a bit of absence of noise, and in the end a bit of body and mind dropping off, a bit of the right thing being allowed to do itself, then it may be not only Nanda's whose senses were set against it: it may be that everybody's senses are set against it.

Now the Knower of Ultimate Good, the Best of Listeners, is about to speak. That the Buddha was the best of listeners was not only a matter of his auditory sense: his listening was also a matter of what he intended to hear and, most importantly, what he was able to filter out. The Buddha's listening was a matter of how the whole of his ear processed sound. The whole of the ear means everything involved in inner and outer listening, right down to the auditory and vestibular nucleii in the brainstem, and on into the bones, and on into the internal organs through the circuitous route of the wandering vagabond which is the vagus nerve. When Buddha sits in what Paul Madaule calls a good listening posture, it may be that the whole body-mind is an ear -- an ear whose listening is body and mind dropping off.

Whatever understanding I have gleaned about what FM Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation," and the need to transcend it, I have gleaned from the standpoint of a person with a listening problem struggling to get round that problem. I myself am terribly bothered by noise. Two or three years ago, as I sat here by the stream, trying not to listen to engine noise, and being mindful of the mirror principle, I seriously asked myself what the problem was. The conclusion I came to was that the external noise that bothers me so much is a mirror for internal noise which I tend unconsciously to suppress, as it arises from my faulty vestibular system. I think that conclusion was true, and the conclusion is supported by everything Ashvaghosha records about the primary importance of eradicating the faults.

A couple of years ago a so-called Zen Master, a professed Dharma-brother of mine in the lineage of Zen Master Dogen, despite never actually having met me, recommended that, as a pre-condition for joining an organisation to which he belongs, I should undergo a course of psychological treatment. Aside from the personal affront, the shocking thing about this was the lack of insight it revealed into the teaching of Dogen, Ashvaghosha, and all the other ancestors. What Dogen and Ashvaghosha are telling us is that the faults which are the cause of suffering are primarily rooted, not in psychology, but in neuro-physiology.

Does anybody out there understand what I am banging on about -- what I have been banging on so clumsily through all these hundreds of blog posts? Does anybody understand why this verse has stimulated such a long comment from me? What this verse is saying is that what is opposing the emergence in Nanda of Ultimate Good is, primarily, his senses. Senses means balance, touch, hearing, vision, taste and smell, but most of all it means balance, because the vestibular system is the integrator of all sensory input.

When people with superficial understanding of the human condition look at behaviour that they don't understand, they attribute the behaviour they don't understand to psychological causes. But if people's primary problem were psychological, then what would be the point of crossing the legs and endeavouring to direct oneself upward?

No, what leads me astray, primarily, is my faulty vestibular system. It has led me so far astray in my life I would like to crawl back into the womb and start all over again. Fortunately, to sit all wrapped up in the lotus posture with rain pattering down on the roof and a cow mooing intermittently in the distance, is not a bad substitute.

I am a congenitally bad listener, the worst of listeners. Being the worst of listeners, I have sought out and am seeking to clarify the teaching of the Best of Listeners.

Now the Best of Listeners is about to open his mouth and speak. Will he voice a sound? Or will sound voice itself?

EH Johnston:
Then the Tathagata, knowing his disposition and that, while his senses were still contrary, the highest good was now within his range, spoke thus:--

Linda Covill:
The realized one understood his disposition, and that though his senses were still opposed to it, Excellence was now within his sight, and he spoke:

tataH: then
tasya (genitive): of him
aashayam (accusative): m. resting-place , bed ; seat , place ; an asylum , abode or retreat ; a receptacle ; any recipient ; thought , meaning , intention ; disposition of mind , mode of thinking
jNaatvaa = absolutive of jNaa: to know

vipakShaaNi = accusative plural of vipakSha: m. " being on a different side " , an opponent , adversary , enemy (mfn. " counteracting ")
indriyaaNi = accusative plural of indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses
ca: and

shreyas: n. the better state , the better fortune or condition; m. good (as opp. to " evil ") , welfare , bliss , fortune , happiness ; m. the bliss of final emancipation
ca: and
eva: (emphatic) now
aamukha: commencement
aamukhii-bhuu: to become visible
bhuuta: being, become

nijagaada = perfect of ni-√gad: to recite , proclaim , announce , declare , tell , speak
tathaagataH (nominative singular): the Thus-Come, the realised one