Wednesday, September 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.15: Eating to Postpone the Inevitable

dhaaraN'-aarthaM shariirasya
bhojanaM hi vidhiiyate
upastambhaH pipatiShor
dur-balasy' eva veshmanaH

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

For the upkeep of the body

Food is provided

As if to prop, before it falls,

A dilapidated house.

The truth described by the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the principle of impermanence, the certainty of aging, sickness and death, seems never to be far from the Buddha's thoughts.

Sustained by the energy in food, each individual has a possibility of being more or less up for a while, but gravity is going to get us all in the end.

The truth of impermanence, as I read it, is what this verse is about. The verse discusses a physical matter -- upkeep of the body through eating of food -- but along the way it quietly places a time-bomb under a mental idea we are liable to have about the body.

The idea of physical fitness that I used to have, as one who was very keen on physical fitness and who married a very fit Japanese P.E. teacher, is very far from the reality of a body as Buddha sees it here.

FM Alexander, like the Buddha before him, and as far as we know quite independently from the Buddha, came to the conclusion that change is the ultimate reality.

Hence, when asked what he believed in, FM replied, "I believe in everything. And I believe in nothing."

What Alexander work compells one to be increasingly clear about, year by year, is the wisdom, for one who wishes to maintain his body in relatively good order, of the indirect approach.

Direct intervention aimed at physical self-improvement, whether by cosmetic dentistry or by pounding a treadmill like a deranged hamster, is not going to lead anybody to drink the nectar of immortality. What might help, however, is giving up one's idea of physical perfection or physical fitness. And that kind of work, the work of giving up ideas, takes place not so much in the body as in the brain and nervous system.

As Marjory Barlow often reminded anybody who would listen, "The thinking re-educates the feeling, and the feeling re-educates the body."

When we sit with the mind, it is this way round.

Zen Master Dogen taught that there is sitting with the mind which is different from sitting with the body. But people today who are regarded as masters of "Soto Zen," I am afraid, do not understand what Master Dogen meant. My own teacher, Gudo Nishijima, certainly did not understand this point. And I am constantly liable to forget it myself. It goes against the grain of all the physical training I have mindlessly practised and enjoyed from an early age.

A few years ago, as I waited downstairs for an Alexander lesson in Marjory Barlow's 3rd-floor flat, I heard Marjory's voice and was struck by the extent to which her teaching was all about indirectness. She did not know I was listening, but the sound of her voice, and the spirit it expressed, changed my physical being at that moment, albeit very indirectly. So that I might not forget the moment, I tried to capture it in verse:

From downstairs I hear "Lucky me!"
And start letting baggage go.
The wisdom of the indirect
Has more power than we know.

EH Johnston:
For food is intended for the support of the body, like a prop for the support of a weak dwelling that is falling down.

Linda Covill:
For food is provided to support the body, just as a prop is provided for a dilapidated house on the point of collapse.

dhaaraNa: mfn. holding , bearing , keeping (in remembrance) , retention , preserving , protecting , maintaining , possessing , having (ifc. or with gen.)
artham: for the purpose of
shariirasya (gen.): of/for the body

bhojanam (acc.): food
hi: for
vidhiiyate = passive of vi-√ dhaa: to distribute , apportion , grant , bestow ; to furnish , supply ; to put in order , arrange , dispose , prepare , make ready ; to divide , parcel out ;
to ordain , direct

upastambhaH (nom.): m. stay , support , strengthening
pipatiShoH = gen. of pipatiShu (desiderative from √ pat, to fall): being about to fall

dur-balasya = gen. of durbala: mfn. of little strength , weak , feeble
eva: emphatic
veshmanaH = gen. of vesman: house

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