Saturday, October 3, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.32: Pulling One's Own Strings

puurvaM yaamaM tri-yaamaayaaH
prayogeN' aatinaamya tu
sevyaa shayyaa shariirasya
vishraam'-aarthaM sva-tantriNaa

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

But having spent the first of the three night-watches

Engaged in active practice,

You should go to bed to rest the body,

Pulling your own strings.

Two key words in this verse as I read it are prayogena, 'by means of active practice,' and sva-tantriNaa, 'acting with self-control, pulling one's own strings.'

The prefix pra-, meaning forward or forth, suggests positive activity. In several places in Canto 16, for example, pravRtti, doing, is opposed to nivRtti, non-doing. Hence I have translated prayoga here as 'active practice,' with an implicit sense that going to bed to rest the body can also be practice, but practice of a more passive kind. Even activities like walking and sitting might not be active practice if they are performed by people who have never kick-started the bodhi-mind. And even an activity like lying down asleep might be a kind of passive practice if, in the background, the will to shed unconscious patterns of reaction is still operating.

In order to learn how to pull one's own strings, it can be very useful to entrust oneself totally for a time to the hands of a skilled puppet-master.

The Alexander Technique teacher Patrick Macdonald was alluding to this kind of conscious entrustment in a passage I have quoted on this blog before:

In learning the Technique considerable effort on the part of the pupil is required. A first step is to learn what sort of effort is necessary. The first essay nearly always produces more muscular tension, particularly in the neck, and this is exactly the opposite of what is required. The pupil must learn to stop doing, "to leave himself" in the hands of the teacher, neither tensing nor relaxing.

Another relevant passage from Macdonald's book The Alexander Technique As I See It is as follows:

You must learn to get out of the teacher's way, learn to get out of your own way, then learn to get out of ITS way.

The Chinese Zen Masters who ate when hungry and slept when tired were totally obedient to the Buddha's teaching of pulling one's own strings, as were those who, after eating a meal, looked forward to a pleasant nap. The Chinese Zen Master who stretched out his neck as if towards the Emperor's sword was pulling nobody's strings other than his own.

In trying to be an English Zen Master who pulls his own strings, I have been known to use foul and abusive language. That kind of tactic has been party conscious and partly unconscious. To the extent that it is an unconscious emotional reaction, expressing my own self-doubt in accordance with the mirror principle, it is part of the wrong doing that I wish, through the means of active practice, to release out of. And to that extent I have felt over the past few days that I should apologize for it, to James Cohen in particular.

At the same time, I reserve the right, should any self-appointed, other-anointed, or democratically elected Buddhist authority try to tell me how to behave, to tell that Buddhist authority to go fuck him or her (she might be a feminist) self. I served my time having my strings pulled by another, and there are four whopping great volumes of the Nishijima translation of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo to prove it. These days I am always for the individual. Millions of Russians, Brits, Americans and others died in WWII to defend the rights and freedoms of the individual against German and Japanese totalitarianism. And the basic truth remains, whatever kind of spin historians with variegated views wish to put on it, that the side which stood up against fascist oppression, for the individual, won.

EH Johnston:
But after passing the first of the three night-watches in activity, you should lie down to rest your body in full control of yourself.

Linda Covill:
However, after spending the first of the night's three watches in a useful way, a self-controlled man should seek sleep in order to rest his body.

puurvam (acc. m.): first (in a series) , initial
yaamam (acc.): m. a watch
tri: three
yaamaayaaH = gen. sg. yaamaa: f. a night-watch , period or watch of 3 hours , the 8th part of a day

prayogeNa = inst. prayoga: practice , experiment (opp. to , " theory ") ; ceremonial form , course of proceeding
atinaamya = gerundive of ati-√nam: to bend aside , keep on one side.
ati: ind. passing, going, beyond
√nam: bend or bow
tu: but

sevyaa (gerundive f.): to be resorted to, to be practised
shayyaa: f. a bed; f. lying , reposing , sleeping
shariirasya = gen. shariira: the body

vishraama: m. rest , repose , quiet , relaxation
artham: purpose
sva-tantriNaa = inst. of sva-tantrin: mfn. free , independent , uncontrolled
sva: one's own, one's self
tantrin: mfn. having threads , made of threads , spun , wove ; chorded (an instrument) ; m. a musician ; m. a soldier


Jordan said...

I'd like to cue the Sid Vicious rendition of "I did it my way."

Rock on Mike!

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I dutifully checked the link, and felt relief when the clip stopped -- not the most resonant voice I ever heard.

Another quote from Patrick Mac that springs to mind:

A good many people, nowadays, confuse gross mal-coordination with originality.

I heard that Frank Sinatra himself wasn't keen on singing "my way", because he didn't see himself as that kind of singer; and for the same reason, doing it "my way" is probably the worst kind of attitude to have in doing a translation like this one.

If my post this morning fell into the viewpoint of individual-ism, I would like to tell myself: "It is not that," and drop off that view too.

All the best,


Jordan said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks for your measured response.

Growing up Sid Vicious was a kind of icon of mine.
A guy who appeared to be pulling his own strings.
And his music really appealed to the anti-authoritarian streak I had
developed as a young teenager.

When documentaries about his life came out it was easy to see that he was
not pulling his own strings at all but had many strings pulling him in many
One of the factors that led me to joining the Marines was that I did not
want to have the same fate as poor Sid.  To this day I still think that was
a move in the right direction.

I was probably being careless in sending that link to you without the back
story, I thought incorrectly that you, being a Brit would know Sid's history
as well.

Ah well, my sentiments that "You Rock!" remain.
Thanks for all your efforts.


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

I think your comment is so real and meaningful in the context of today's verse. Real because you are talking about your own real life. And really meaningful in the context of what sva-tantrin really means.

In the common-sense idea of ordinary people enlisting in the US marine corps would not be an obvious place to grow in the direction of freedom.

But in reality there is no freedom without siila -- i.e. self-restraint, discipline, or practice of integrity.

Even though I have never met you in person, I would bet my life that you are a person who has been and is continuing to move in the right direction.

Keep on keeping on!

And thanks for your sentiments (though I fear faulty sensory appreciation may well be a factor).


Jordan said...

I suspect that faulty sensory appreciation may have something to do with faulty sensory organs.

Recently my sinuses have become so damaged from repeated infection that I have nearly no sense of smell or taste. No perfect vestibuler system here. Although I have read some stuff that makes me think that there may be a way to compensate for that.

Keeping on


Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

A lot of children with vestibular issues have suffered from repeated ear infections -- whether the infections are a cause of problems in the vestibular system, or symptomatic of weakness, is not always clear.

On reflection, if I suggested yesterday that Stalin stood up for the individual, I might have been wide of the mark.

In the end, what do I know about anything?

Only that what I felt in the past to be so right, was in fact wrong -- though I hope it was part of me finding a better direction.

All the best,


Jordan said...

Hey Mike,

So am I off base thinking my poor nasal passages have anything to do with it?

I wasn't thinking about stalin at all but rather the russian boy soldier who would be lowered on to a tank by way of a long rope suspended from a building to open the hatch and drop a firebomb inside of it. Dangerous stuff. Selfless stuff. I would wonder if there was any trace of the individual left at all.

Mike, I think your on a good vector, and my conversations with you have often helped nudge me in a direction that lead to fruits of practice.

So thanks.


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

If you climb into bed with your wife feeling that you are smelling of roses, but she tells you otherwise, then that would be a case of faulty sensory appreciation manifesting itself via the nose. But the sensory organ where I see most of the trouble being centred is the ear.

Having said that, the closeness of the connection between ear and nose (via the eustachian tubes) is reflected in the lumping together of ear, nose, and throat as ENT in medicine.

Speaking of wives and faulty sensory apprecation, if you told my wife that you think I am vectoring in the right direction, I have a feeling she might beg to differ -- particularly at time of writing, when she has just gone to work not in the best of moods, due to certain immature emotional reactions on the part of yours truly.

Jordan said...

Ah yes, upseting the wife has been a big part of my practice too!

Keeping on.

Mike Cross said...

It's the flip-side of what Alexander called Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual:-- Destructive Unconscious Upsetting of Others.

Keeping on too (despite serious efforts to stop).

Jordan said...

Yes but recognizing it has got to be a good place to start. Recognizing the habitual responce and inhibiting it might be better. Or so I hear.

All the best

I hope you are enjoying this exchange as I am.

Mike Cross said...

Yes, accepting this wrongness -- not thirsting for a different outcome -- is the starting point at which Marjory Barlow pointed with her oft-repeated reminder "Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work."

I think it relates to Dogen's phrase JI-JU-YO-ZANMAI, the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

You are an easy bloke to have an exchange with, Jordan, but every thing I write is tinged with a self-doubt about being too verbal and not practical enough.

All the best.