Friday, October 9, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.38: Mindfulness as Armour

sharavyaH sa tu doShaaNaaM
yo hiinaH smRti-varmaNaa
raNa-sthaH pratishatruNaaM
vihiina iva varmaNaa

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

But he is a target for the faults

Who lacks the armour of mindfulness:

As for enemies is he who stands in battle

With no suit of armour.

In emphasizing the protective, preventive function of mindfulness, the Buddha is comparing mindfulness to a suit of armour.

Since aadhaatum literally means to place or put on, it may be that in 14.35 and 14.45 the line smRtim aadhaatum arhasi -- lit. "You should put on mindfulness" -- also carries the connotation of mindfulness as a protective covering to be applied. So, rather than the present translation "You should bring mindfulness to bear," I think I may change the translation to "You should cover yourself in mindfulness."

If what the Buddha is indeed saying in this series of verses is "cover yourself in mindfulness," then, at the risk of repeating myself, I think the closest I have come to experiencing what the Buddha means has been on the teaching table of Marjory Barlow, being guided to apply the Alexander principles of (a) inhibiting one's unconscious reaction to a stimulus, and (b) giving 'orders' to inform the whole body (neck, head, back, and limbs) with thought. The gist of this process of inhibiting and giving orders (or 'directing'), by which I came to experience under Marjory's hands and eyes what seemed like a momentary force-field of awareness, I endeavoured to explain in this article titled The Marjory Barlow I Knew.

SmRti comes from the root smR, to remember, not to forget, not to fall back into unconsciousness. And the means-whereby a person accomplishes this, in Alexander work, is to continue with awareness of the orders to "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen."

Having by these means covered his pupil with upwardly-directed mindfulness, FM Alexander was heard to say: "If you continue with the orders, you could not lose that in a thousand years, but if you forget your orders you can lose it in a second."

Another quote from FM Alexander's teaching aphorisms, which may be totally relevant to what the Buddha was saying in 14.35 is as follows:

"The essence of the religious outlook is that religion should not be kept in a compartment by itself, but that it should be the ever-present guiding principle underlying the daily round, the common task. So also is it possible to apply this principle of life [i.e. mindfulness] in the daily round of one's own activities without involving a loss of attention in these activities."

An old Alexander teacher named Peggy Williams, so the story goes, suffered a burglary at her home. The detective who came to search for the thief's fingerprints expressed amazement that of all the fingerprints he found from Peggy's own fingers, not one was smudged -- an excellent trace of true mindfulness in action?

Such not forgetting of the orders does not necessarily entail walking around like a zombie, in an overly careful state of false concentration.

EH Johnston:
But he who lacks the armour of attention is a target for the vices, as the unarmed man is a target on the battlefield for the enemy.

Linda Covill:
A person lacking the armor of mindfulness is a target for the faults, as a soldier without armor is a target for his enemy.

sharavya: mfn. capable of wounding or injuring; n. a butt or mark for arrows , aim , target
sa (nom. sg.): he
tu: but
doShaaNaaM = gen. pl. doSha: fault

yaH (nom. sg.): who
hiinaH (nom. sg.): bereft or deprived of , free from , devoid or destitute of , without
smRti: mindfulness
varmaNaa = inst. varman: n. " envelope " , defensive armour , a coat of mail

raNa: m. delight , pleasure , gladness , joy; n. battle (as an object of delight) , war , combat , fight , conflict
sthaH (nom. sg. m.): standing, one who stands
pratishatruNaam = gen. pl. pratishatru: m. an adversary , opponent , enemy

vihiina: mfn. destitute or deprived of , free from (inst.)
iva: like
varmaNaa = inst. varman: " envelope " , defensive armour , a coat of mail ; a bulwark , shelter , defence , protection

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