Tuesday, October 6, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.35: Mindfulness In Action

ath' aasana-gata-sthaana-
saMprajaanan kriyaaH sarvaaH
smRtim aadhaatum arhasi

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

And so in sitting, moving, standing,

Looking, speaking and so on,

Being fully aware of all actions,

You should bring mindfulness to bear.

Here begins a series of verses, extending to 14.45, the study of which may help us to investigate what the Buddha meant by his exhortation to apply smRti, to bring mindfulness to bear.

A view I begin with is that, at any particular moment, the more the Moro reflex holds me in its grip the less truly mindful I am. Conversely, the more truly I am directing myself up, faulty sensory appreciation notwithstanding, the more mindful I am. My ability to apply mindfulness, then, seems to be profoundly related with (a) my ablity (or lack of it) to inhibit the end-gaining which triggers the Moro response, and (b) my ability (or lack of it), in stillness and in movement, to direct the head forward and up out of a lengthening and widening back.

But views and theories like this are two a penny.

The fact that the fourth line of this verse, smRtim aadhaatum arhasi, is repeated verbatim as the fourth line of 14.45 must be trying to tell us something.

"You should apply mindfulness."
"You should bring mindfulness to bear."

The point might be that, from beginning to end, mindfulness is not something that I cleverly do; it is rather something out there (or in here) waiting to be applied, something that is part of man's supreme inheritance, waiting for us to claim it and bring it to bear in everyday activity.

Perhaps endeavoring to transmit this point, in his own not always skilfull way, my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima espoused the view that smRti is the consciousness we have when our autonomic nervous system is balanced. He seemed to say that people who translated smRti as "mindfulness," not understanding his view, were non-Buddhists. My unconscious reaction, as I struggled to sort wheat from chaff, was to wish to attack and destroy the egotistical pride in his own view that I saw in the mirror of my teacher. That is not to say that my teacher necessarily was exhibiting egotistical pride, but, looking into the mirror, egotistical pride in my own view was a strong tendency I saw.

Now, I notice here that the Buddha never asks Nanda to form or subscribe to a view about what smRti is. On the contrary, the Buddha is exhorting Nanda in practice, in his everyday actions, to bring whatever-it-is to bear.

EH Johnston:
Then fully conscious of all your actions, fix your attention on your sitting, moving, standing, looking, speaking and so on.

Linda Covill:
Then, remaining aware of all your actions, be mindful when you sit, move about, stand still, look, speak and so on.

atha: ind. an auspicious and inceptive particle (not easily expressed in English) , now , then , moreover , rather , certainly
aasana: n. sitting
gata: n. going , motion , manner of going
sthaana: n. the act of standing

prekShita: n. a look , glance
vyaahRta: n. speaking , talking
aadiShu = loc. pl. aadi: ifc. beginning with , et cetera , and so on

saMprajaanan = pres. part. (nom. sg. m.) of saM-pra-jJa (variation of sam-pra-√ jJaa): to distinguish , discern , recognize , know accurately or perfectly
kriyaaH (acc. pl.): f. doing , performing , performance , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour ; bodily action , exercise of the limbs
sarva: all

smRtim (acc. sg.): mindfulness, attention, awareness
aa-: (as a prefix to verbs , especially of motion , and their derivatives) near , near to , towards
-√dhaa: placing , putting
aadhaatum = infinitive of aa-√dhaa : to place on , put down , deposit , put; to impregnate , instil (e.g. good sentiments) , impress , direct ; to apply , appoint ; to give , supply , lend , deliver
arhasi: you should

Saundarananda verses 14.35 - 14.50 scanned from EH Johnston's text in devanagari script.

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