Sunday, September 27, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.26: The War Against Sleep, Continued

bhaye priitau ca shoke ca
nidrayaa n' aabhibhuuyate
tasmaan nidr"-aabhiyogeShu
sevitavyam idaM trayam

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

In fear, in joy and in anguish,

One does not succumb to sleep;

Therefore against the onslaughts of sleep

Resort to these three:

What the Buddha seems to suggest here is that some other bloke who behaves disgracefully is not my true enemy, much as I may despise his behaviour. Interestingly, if I try to describe what it is about the other's behaviour that I object to, I find that I am only expressing what, at root, might be the fear of being wrong in myself. This is in accordance with the mirror principle by which, looking at the same enigmatic behaviour, one person says, "He is all talk and no action"; another person says, "He is a charlatan, a fraud, a liar"; and still another person says, "He is an ambitious political strategist out to usurp my position, my enemy."

But a truer enemy than any other person, this verse as I read it suggests, is the tendency in me to be asleep, so that when a noxious stimulus reaches my consciousness, more often than not I fail to inhibit an emotional reaction to that stimulus.

The portrayal of sleep as not a passive thing but an enemy is in keeping with the tradition of the epic poem, which helps to inspire emotion in us, to move us, to rouse us to action.

And that, in the end is the point: there have been in this world real examples of human beings truly called "eternal buddhas" -- whose mind was fences, walls, tiles and pebbles. In pursuit of the nectar of immortality which they possessed, yes, we need to endeavour to stop off at source our emotional reactions based on faulty feeling, and yes, we must continue to pay attention to maintaining our own integrity. But in the end we have to step out into action. And to that end, whether emotion per se is judged to be good, bad, or indifferent, emotion has its job, which is to get us going.

A final reflection on this verse is that it reminds me of advice that Ray Evans gave to the Alexander Technique teachers that he trained, including me. Ray told us that anything was OK to use in our teaching that promoted the proper use of the primary control -- i.e. that use of the head, neck, and back that conduces to moving, sitting, and being all of a piece. (But please don't call it "good posture.") Thus, in Alexander work at its best, there is a certain Zen-like simplicity.

EH Johnston:
Drowsiness has no hold on a man affected by fear, love or grief. Therefore practice these three feelings when drowsiness assails you.

Linda Covill:
Sleep cannot overwhelm someone in a state of fear, joy, or grief, so focus on these three during the onslaught of sleep.

bhaye (loc.): in fear
priitau (loc.): in enjoyment, joy, pleasure
ca: and
shoke (loc.): in grief
ca: and

nidrayaa = inst. of nidraa: f. sleep , slumber , sleepiness , sloth
na: not
abhibhuuyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive of abhi-√bhuu: to overcome , overpower , predominate , conquer , surpass , overspread

tasmaat: ind. from that , on that account , therefore
nidraa: sleep
abhiyogeShu = loc. pl. of abhiyoga: m. application ; energetic effort , exertion , perseverance in , constant practice (with loc. or inf.) ; attack , assault

sevitavyam: mfn. to be followed or practised, to be resorted to
idam: this
trayam: n. threesome, triad, three

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