Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.1: Eating for Realisation & Health

atha smRti-kavaaTena
pidhaay' endriya-saMvaram
bhojane bhava maatraa-jNo
dhyaanaay' aan-aamayaaya ca

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

And so using the floodgate of mindfulness

To close a dam on the power of the senses,

Be aware, in eating food, of the measure

That conduces to realisation and to health.

The first two lines, as in the opening verse of Canto 13, recap the content of the previous canto. Lines 3 and 4 introduce what will be the theme of the next twenty verses -- how to take food.

In line 4 no English word seems to quite hit the target as a translation of dhyaana (Chinese: ch'an; Japanese: Zen).

Contemplation, reflection, thinking practice, and meditative practice could be candidates for a literal translation.

I am not keen on meditation as a word on its own. Is avoidance of that word symptomatic of a remnant of fixing on my part? It could be. During my years in Japan, and beyond, I laboured under the fixed, one-sided conception that sitting-Zen is a physical practice, to do with keeping the spine straight vertically, and not a meditative one.

In the Nishijima-Cross translation of Shobogenzo the original word zazen is generally left untranslated or rendered as something like "sitting in Zazen." I have come to regard such abdication of the translator's job as a kind of laziness of thought, or, worse, as a symptom of a tendency towards eastern obfuscation of a teaching that originally came out of an aryan civilization.

Sitting-meditation, as a translation of the Japanese word zazen, I think is not a bad one. The hyphenated phrase suggests that the sitting is the meditation, and the meditation is to sit.

However dhyaana is translated, the substance of the practice of dhyaana, as elucidated in Canto 17, is evidently one instance after another of realising "No, not that."

The most fundamental realisation might be that if one stops doing the wrong thing, the right thing tends to do itself. So the first of the four realisations described in Canto 17 seems to have to do with not trying to be right, that is, realising that to taint one's sitting practice by end-gaining, by going directly for some specific result, is not it.

In that sense, realisation seems to me to fit. Through sustained daily practice of sitting-dhyaana, it seems to me, one is encouraged to realise (though a person can always resist) that whatever kind of fixing one has been engaging in, is not it. And the measure of food that conduces to such realisation might be the measure of food that conduces to good health -- not too much and not too little.

EH Johnston:
'Then, closing up the dam of the senses with the sluice-gate of attention, learn exact measure in the eating of food for the sake of mystic meditation and of freedom from disease.

Linda Covill:
"Next, having closed off the dam of the senses with the gate of mindfulness, be measured in your food intake, for the sake of meditation as well as good health.

atha: (inceptive particle)
smRti: remembrance, mindfulness, attention
kavaaTena (inst): panel of a door, door

pidhaaya = apidhaaya = absolutive of apidhaa: to close
indriya: sense
saMvaram (accusative): m. a dam [see also 13.54]

bhojane = locative of bhojana: n. the act of eating ; n. a meal , food
bhava (imperative): be
maatraa: measure, quantity; correct measure
jNaH (nom.): knowing, one who knows

dhyaanaaya = dative of dhyaana (fr. √dhyai): n. meditation, thought, reflection
√dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative
an-aamayaaya = dative of an-aamaya: n. health, freedom from disease
ca: and


Anonymous said...


I have steadily been developing a stronger belief that nutrition - both type and amount - is intimately connected with a more deft utilization of energy throughout the day. Looking forward to learning what you and Ashvaghosha have to say about it in the verses ahead.

Keep going, keep going!

Anonymous said...


One question, though. I still don't understand the difference between sitting as a physical process and sitting as meditation in which the meditation is the act of sitting. Can you expound on that at all, or is this one of those times where sadly if I don't know it I can't know it?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Raymond,

For example when most people go swimming in order to get physically fit, they just physically swim up and down -- just doing it, more or less mindlessly.

But when people go to my brother to re-learn, or un-learn, their swimming, they pay detailed attention to NOT doing the wrong thing, to give the right thing more chance of doing itself.

My brother's approach tends to be more user-friendly than mine is. For one thing he teaches "swimming-meditation" as a business, and is concerned to be kind to his customers; for another thing his character is milder than mine is, and he tends to write in a clearer, less wordy way.

So if you check out his website, that might help to clarify for you what I am getting at.

All the best,