Thursday, August 20, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 13.45: Always in Sensory Territory

evaM te pashyatas tattvaM
shashvad indriya-gocare
bhaviShyati pada-sthaanaM
n' aabhidhyaa-daurmanasyayoH

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

In your observing what is, like this,

Always in the territory of the senses,

There will be no foothold

For longing and dejection.

In this canto, as I read it, the Buddha is laying the foundations upon which Nanda will make the four noble truths his own. The Buddha is laying down for Nanda, on broad, general lines, the preventive principles whereby integrity may be maintained, even in the face of the grim truth of suffering. The Buddha is not at all concerned in this canto, as I hear him, with gaining the end of realising big-R Reality. He is thinking out, rather, a reasonable means whereby Nanda may eventually make the noble truths his own. So tattvam in the first line, as I read it, means not big-R Reality but this mundane painful reality, what really is.

Alexander work and Zen sitting practice are both nominally concerned with real integrity -- i.e. not intellectual integrity, but integrity in the use of the whole body-mind. But we are all prone to lie to ourselves, to delude ourselves, to believe in fantastic stories about our own lives. Inspired by the image of a moon reflected in a dewdrop, we wish to identify ourselves with it. And in so wishing, we are prone to fail to notice what is actually going on with our own end-gaining and faulty sensory appreciation. This is the painful, shocking truth of how we really are -- tattvam -- what is.

I wanted to quote a passage at this point from FM Alexander's book Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, in which he describes life as a constant process of reacting to stimuli perceived through the senses. I couldn't find the particular passage, but the whole book is full of passages that are totally relevant to the present discussion of faulty sensory appreciation.

The truth is, we have not given sufficient consideration to this essential matter. We have merely acted on the presumption, in the usual subconscious way, that if we have a potentiality such as sensory appreciation (feeling), it must as a matter of course be reliable. (pp 24)

To sum up, we have seen how, in his choice of "physical exercises" as a remedy for what he recognized as physical deterioration, man overlooked certain important facts. Firstly, he left out of account the fact that he had developed a state of unreliability in his sensory appreciation, which was therefore no longer a reliable guide in psycho-physical activity. Secondly, he did not think of his body as a co-ordinated mechanism, and was therefore misled into choosing a specific remedy for a specific malcondition, instead of laying down on broad, general lines preventive principles, by which a condition of co-ordination of the entire psycho-physical mechanism could be restored and maintained. Above all, he did not apply to his problem the one great principle on which I claim man's satisfactory progress in civilization depends -- namely, the principle of thinking out the reasonable means whereby a certain end can be achieved, as opposed to the old subconscious plan of working blindly for an immediate "end." (pp. 42)

The moon reflected in a dewdrop is all very well, but here we all are, in fact, with faulty sensory appreciation. Recognizing just this mundane reality, the two buddhas, Gautama and FM, are saying nothing about meditating, visualizing a balloon floating up to the ceiling, or establishing a new school of philosophy. They are talking about being always in the territory of the senses.

As regards the overall logic of the verse, rationally thinking, the observer of what is cannot be the one who longs for, and who is dejected about, what is not.

As Marjory Barlow once taught me when I described myself to her as a terrible end-gainer: "It is up to you. Either you end-gain or you follow the means-whereby. Your choice!"

EH Johnston:
If you thus regard persistently the reality in the sphere of the senses, you will give no foothold to desires to possess or avoid.

Linda Covill:
If, in the realm of the senses, you continuously observe what is real, then neither attraction nor aversion will leave a footprint in your mind.

evam: thus
te (genitive): of you
pashyataH = gen. sg. of pashyat (pres. part. of pash): seeing, beholding, etc.
pash: to see , behold , look at , observe , perceive , notice &c ; to be a spectator , look on (esp. part. e.g. tasya pashyataH , while he looks on , before his eyes)
tattvam (acc.): n. true or real state , truth , reality

shashvat: ind. perpetually , continually , repeatedly , always
indriya: sense, power of the senses
gocare = loc. of gocara: range , field for action , district (esp. ifc. " abiding in , relating to " ; " offering range or field or scope for action , within the range of , accessible , attainable , within the power ")

bhaviShyati = 3rd person singular, future of bhuu: to become, be, arise
pada: n. a step , pace , stride ; a footstep , trace , vestige , mark , the foot itself ; a footing , standpoint
sthaana: n. the act of standing , standing firmly ; position or posture of the body (in shooting &c )
pada-sthaana: n. footprint, footmark

na: not
abhidhyaa: f. wish , longing for , desire
abhi: (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon.
dhyaa: f. thinking, meditation
√dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect; to brood mischief against
daurmanasyayoH = genitive, dual of daurmanasya: n. dejectedness , melancholy , despair

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

In any discussion of human reaction certain well-known facts about the nature of human activity may be taken as premises. Human activity is primarily a process of reacting unceasingly to stimuli received from within or without the self. The first breath taken by a newly born child is a reaction to a stimulus to the respiratory centre, and the child remains a living organism only so long as it is capable of receiving stimului and of reacting to them. No human being can receive a stimulus except through the sensory mechanisms, and supposing one could prevent the sensory mechanisms from receiving a stimulus, no reaction would be possible and therefore no further activity. Life itself would then cease. When once it is recognized that every act is a reaction to a stimulus received through the sensory mechanisms, no act can be described as wholly 'mental' or wholly 'physical.'

The Use of the Self pp. 52.