Monday, August 31, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 13.56: Heeding Faulty Sensory Appreciation

tasmaad eShaam a-kushala-karaaNaam ariiNaam
sarv'-aavasthaM bhava viniyamaad a-pramatto
m" aasminn arthe kShaNam api kRthaas tvaM pramaadaM

saundaranande mahaakaavye shiil'-endriya-jayo naama trayodashaH sargaH

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

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

So towards those mischief-making foes --

Seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, and feeling --

In every situation show a vigilance born of restraint.

You are not for an instant to be heedless in this matter.

The 13th Canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'Thwarting the Power of the Senses through Practice of Integrity'

Shravana means hearing as the sense which is centred on the ear. That sense is the sense of movement, whether the movement be a relatively rapid movement like the sound of a computer whirring through the air at around 1,500 cycles per second, or whether the movement be a relatively slow one like one's own body being propelled round a bend on a motorbike at 60 miles per hour. What I am getting it, in other words, is that I would like to understand shravana as including both the auditory sense (sense of faster moving sound vibrations) and the vestibular sense (sense of the body's relativelly slower movement or non-movement in space).

Sparshana, similarly, I would like to understand as including not only the superficial touching felt through the skin, but also the deeper proprioceptive sensing done through muscle spindles, joint capsules, and Golgi tendon organs.

In other words, I would like to understand that the lost sixth sense, the compound sense of proprioception in which the vestibular system plays a central integrating role, is included implicitly within the five senses listed in the 2nd line. Because when we talk about fauly sensory appreciation misguiding us in the matter of upright sitting posture, we are talking mainly about proprioception.

Speaking of sitting posture, yesterday was an interesting day. With my wife and older son I drove down to London for the afternoon and spent a few hours wandering around the vicinity of the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. In the latter I was especially struck (apologies for not having a photo) of a Buddha sculpture from the 4th or 5th century from the area which is modern-day Pakistan. Even though it was scuplted in stone, the image had a tremendously strong dynamic sense of the head going forward and up. Also impressive was a wooden arhat carving from China, from maybe the 7th or 8th century, which showed no concern at all for correct sitting posture but was tremendously life-like. The arhat, leaning his arm on one leg, seemed to be engaged in animated debate.

When we re-joined our younger son for dinner, the conversation got round to the topic of posture in connection with their recent trip to Japan. My younger son, though a keen player of football and cricket, tends to sit at the table as if he had no backbone. He is a slumper. Mindful of Marjory Barlow's injunction never to use the Alexander Technique as a stick to beat children with, I make a point of never getting on my son's case about his posture -- as far as I am concerned it is his choice how he sits. In Japanese culture, however, to hold oneself upright is regarded as a kind of politeness, and certain stiffness is even regarded as a virtue. So it seems my wife and older son were putting a certain pressure on my younger son to put on a bit of a show for his grandfather, and stiffen up a bit, at least when they were eating out in public, or sitting at the table with other relatives. My younger son, who is neither fool nor fighter, did not react one way or the other. He neither stiffened up as requested, nor fought against the social pressure. When he got back home to Aylesbury, however, I noted that he seemed mightily relieved to get back to his X-box, his own room and his good mate over the road.

When I saw my son this morning, having slept on this problem of posture, I asked him, "When somebody puts pressure on you to sit up straight, what is the enlightened thing to do?" His instant answer was: "Say No." Good answer, I thought. But often when people say No, their conception is that they are saying No to the stimulus, which isn't quite it. The truly enlightenened thing to do is to say No to one's own reaction to the stimulus. So I asked again, "Say No to what?" My son paused for a couple of seconds, "To fixing."

Viniyamaad a-pramatta, vigilance born of restraint, as I understand the phrase, relates to the virtuous circle that spontaneously forms around a person's saying the magic word "No." It is a virtuous circle of stopping and becoming aware. I have never tried to guide my 16-year-old son in the matter of posture, but I have tried to teach him through deed and word the virtue of saying No, and my sense this morning is that I have not done too bad a job of it.

Viniyamaad a-pramatta, vigilance born of restraint, is required in every situation (sarv'-aavastham) because faulty sensory appreciation is an ever-present. So it is necessary that at least a part of me remembers at every moment, it is necessary that I do not completely forget even for a moment (kshanam api), that I do not want to fix. I do not want to stiffen my neck, pull my head back and down, compress my spine into itself, and hold everything in so that my breathing is restricted.

The problem that the Buddha has addressed in this canto, the problem of circumventing the power of the senses through the mindful practice of integrity, is not similar to the problem that FM Alexander devoted his life to addressing. The problem, as I see it, is just exactly the same problem.

When so-called Zen masters instruct others in the matter of 'correct sitting posture,' without ever having truly understood or even recognized this problem, their fault is not their failure to embrace the teaching of FM Alexander. Their fault is their ignorance in regard to the most fundamental teaching of the Buddha Gautama.

The most fundamental fault to fight against, mischief-making enemy number one, in every situation (sarv'-avastham), internally and externally, might be the ignorant fixing that is tied up with faulty sensory appreciation.

EH Johnston:
In all circumstances, therefore, you should be attentive to restraining these sin-causing enemies, namely, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. In this matter do not be neglectful even for a moment.

Linda Covill:
In every situation, therefore, be careful to place restrictions on those enemies -- sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch -- which produce unwholesome states. Don't be negligent about this even for an instant!"

tasmaat: from that, on that account, therefore
eShaam (genitive, plural): of these
a: not
kushala: good, healthy; n. welfare , well-being , prosperous condition , happiness
a-kushala: mfn. inauspicious , evil ; not clever ; n. evil
karaaNaam = gen. pl. of kara: a doer , maker , causer
ariiNaam = gen. pl. of ari: an enemy

cakShus: n. the act of seeing; n. faculty of seeing , sight ; n. the eye
ghraaNa: m. n. smelling , perception of odour; n. the nose
shravaNa: n. hearing; m. the ear
rasana: n. tasting , taste , flavour ; n. the tongue as organ of taste
sparshanaanaam = gen. pl. of sparshana: n. the act of touching , touch , contact ; n. sensation , sense of touch , organ of sensation or feeling , sensitive nerve

sarva: all, every
avastha: state , condition , situation
bhava = 2nd person, imperative of bhuu: to be, become
viniyamaad = ablative of viniyama: m. limitation , restriction to (loc.); restraint , government
a: not
pramatta: mfn. excited , wanton , lascivious , rutting ; drunken , intoxicated ; mad , insane ; inattentive , careless , heedless , negligent
apramatta: mfn. not careless , careful , attentive , vigilant
a-pramattaH (nom. sg. m.): a man who is not careless

maa: a particle of prohibition or negation, most commonly joined with the Subjunctive... rarely with the augmentless impf.
asmin (locative): in this
arthe (locative): aim, purpose, thing, matter
kShaNam: an instant
api: even
kRthaaH = augmentless impf. of kR: to do, make
tvam (nom.): you
pramaadam (acc.): m. intoxication ; madness , insanity ; negligence , carelessness about

saundaranande mahaakaavye (locative): in the great poem Handsome Nanda

shiila: practice of integrity, discipline, good conduct
indriya: sense, sensory power
jayaH (nom.): m. conquest , victory , triumph , winning , being victorious (indriyaanaam-jaya victory over or restraint of the senses)

naama: named, by name
trayodashaH sargaH (nom.): 13th Canto

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