Monday, August 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 13.49: Enemy Number One?

n' endriyaM viShaye taavat
pravRttam api sajjate
yaavan na manasas tatra
parikalpaH pravartate

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

The power of the senses, though operative,

Does not become glued to an object,

So long as in the mind, with regard to that object,

No fixing goes on.

According to the Monier-Williams dictionary, parikalpa has a technical 'Buddhist' meaning, namely, "illusion."

Thus far in Saundarananda, however, I have not noticed the Buddha or Ashvaghosha resorting to technical Buddhist terms.

So, setting aside 'Buddhist' interpretations, what might be the real, original meaning of parikalpa in the fourth line of this verse? The first non-Buddhist definition given in the dictionary is "fixing." And that definition, to me, makes a lot of sense.

If we understand, following on from the previous verse, that we are in the business of constructive conscious control of the individual for the individual by the individual, then enemy number one might be fixing.

A sense getting glued to an object, or the combined power of the senses becoming stuck on an object, can be understood as a general expression of the end-gaining attitude, i.e. the desire to go directly for a specific end, without conscious consideration of the means and the wider side-effects. So the object in question could be understood as the completion of some task, like this translation project for example, or it could be the acquistion of knowledge on some subject, like the Buddha's teaching.

Alternatively, the object in question can be understood more literally as a sensory object upon which a man's sensory system is liable to fixate -- an object like an aircraft buzzing overhead, or like a snake shuffling about in the loft, or a raging fire, or that most dangerous of all objects, another man's wife (3.32).

Either way, whether the object is understood as a mental aim or as a physical thing, fixing on an object was, in the view of FM Alexander, our greatest evil. To illustrate the general aspect of FM's opposition towards fixing, here is an excellent passage from the end of his 2nd book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, in which the object in view is knowledge.

We find that the people who are satisfied that they "know" are the least observant people, and at the same time the most unhappy and discontented. Most people will admit that realization too often is not equal to anticipation, but this again is in consequence of the psycho-physical conditions present. If realization is not only to equal but even sometimes to surpass anticipation, our psycho-physical plan of development must be fundamentally one of continuous growth and of new experiences, and consequently we never reach the point when we may be said to finish learning. This connotes a continuous anticipation of new experiences in growth and development, so that the realization of some new experience in psycho-physical functioning does not bring a sense of finality, with a consequent loss of interest, but is a clear indication that a step forward has been made in growth and development, which again is a stepping-stone to the next stage of advancement, and so on.

Here is another illustration of the evil of fixing, from my own experience in the distant past, given the immediate sensory object of an opponent's fist: If two martial artists are competing, one of them may mount a diversionary attack. If the defender falls for the ploy, he will focus his senses on the diversionary attack and thereby leave an opening for a real attack. The freer in mind, the less fixed in attitude, the defender is, the less likely it is that the power of his senses will be glued to the diversionary object. If the mind of the defender is truly free from fixing, his senses will register a feint as a feint, and he won't react to it. If, however, the attacker comes in for a real attack, and the defender's mind is free, then it is possible that a counter-attack will take place, as if by itself, as an instantaneous manifestation of prajna, or mirror-wisdom.

Finally, and for me most tellingly, here is still another illustration, this time from recent experience in Alexander work, of how fixing in the mind can prevent a person from gaining new sensory experience: A few months ago I was doing some Alexander work with a friend and fellow sitting practitioner whose sitting practice is impeded by a certain stiffness, this stiffness being most evident in his hip joints (where his legs are supposed to be separate from his head/neck/back). I wanted to give him the experience of his whole torso being taken back and up off his hips, so that simply by allowing his knees to bend, he might experience a new quality of ease and lightness in the process of moving towards the chair -- going up and bending his knees in order to arrive at the chair, instead of contracting down towards the chair in his habitual manner. In fact, as soon as I began to take my friend back and up, that is, off balance, he tightened his knees and hips as if his life depended on it. So I asked him why he was doing that. "Because otherwise I wouldn't be in control," he said.

Voila! His vestibular system was stuck, glued to an object (i.e. what he understood to be a state of being in balance or control). And the root of the sticking was a fixed conception in his mind ("I have to be always in control"), which, in turn was rooted in fear (i.e. fear of not being in control). And not only this particular friend is like that. In my experience, beginning with myself, everybody is a little bit like that. Or a lot like that. Because, at the deepest level of the fear reflexes, everybody is prone to lack integrity. Precisely because we are all like that, as I hear him, the Buddha is exhorting each individual to work on his or her own integrity, relying on conscious awareness and reason, and treating the senses with vigilance at every moment, as if they were enemies.

What I would like to suggest with these layers of my dust & fluff, then, is that the mirror-wisdom of buddha is not necessarily a state of freedom from intellectual illusions and fanciful imaginings, but real wisdom is always a state of freedom from fearful fixing. So when I wish to allow my neck to be free, that is the first freedom I am wishing for: freedom from fearful fixing.

Direction of Energy.
Freedom from Fearful Fixing.
And so Finally, F.... well, work it out for yourself.

EH Johnston:
The senses, even though in activity, do not adhere to their objects, so long as imaginations about the latter are not conceived in the mind.

Linda Covill:
So long as fanciful imaginings do not operate in the mind, the senses, though operational, will not be glued to sensory objects.

na: not
indriyam (nom.): n. sense power
viShaye (locative): to sense object
taavat: so long

pravRtta (past part. of pra-√vRt): come forth , resulted , arisen , produced ; commenced , begun ; acting, proceeding, existing
api: though
sajjate = 3rd person singular, passive of saJj: to cling or stick or adhere to , be attached to or engaged in or occupied with (loc.)

yaavat (correlative of taavat): as long as
na: not
manasaH (genitive): of/in the mind
tatra: therin

parikalpaH = nom. sg. of parikalpa (from pari-√klRp): (1) = parikalpana: n. fixing , settling , contriving , making , inventing , providing , dividing , distributing; (2) m. illusion (Buddhist)
pari-√klRp: to fix , settle , determine , destine for ; to choose ; to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make ; to distribute , divide ; to admit or invite to (loc.) ; to suppose , presuppose
pravartate = 3rd person singular of pra-√vRt: to roll or go onwards (as a carriage) , be set in motion or going ; to come forth , issue , originate , arise , be produced , result , occur ; to act


Dave said...

I would like to know what the final F stands for. Thanks

Mike Cross said...

A Fox is too wild and furred, Dave. So I'll just say Fare-thee-well.

Frankly I don't always know myself.

A bit of Fun?

Forgive me.