Saturday, October 10, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.39: Knowing the Vulnerability of Non-Mindfulness

a-naathaM tan mano jNeyaM
yat smRtir n' aabhirakShati
nir-Netaa dRShTi-rahito
viShameShu carann iva

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

Know to be vulnerable that mind

Which mindfulness does not guard --

Like a blind man without a guide

Going over uneven ground.

This verse might be read as the Buddha exhorting Nanda never to leave his mind open to the faults, never to be unprotected, never to be vulnerable. If that's how you read the verse, so that the verse inspires you to make a super-human effort never for a moment to leave your mind open to the faults, the best of British luck to you.

I don't necessarily read the verse like that. Reading the verse more literally, I hear the Buddha exhorting Nanda to know vulnerability.

On Friday mornings my wife and I go to assist (allegedly) at an Alexander teacher training school. Then, on the way back in the car, and at least for the rest of the day, I am generally left in a state of self-doubt and remorse about stupid things I did or said, failures of inhibition, et cetera, et cetera.

It is, as my wife pointed out to me earlier on this very Friday afternoon, a kind of vulnerability. "You are vulnerable," she observed. Whether it is good for me to experience this vulnerability, or whether it is bad, I do not know. But I know that the experience of this kind of vulnerability is what regularly happens on Friday afternoon after spending Friday morning at the Alexander school.

When one's mind is tired and weary, with barely a shred of mindfulness left covering it, what else is to be done, other than knowing the vulnerability as vulnerability?

What is a blind man without a guide going over uneven ground supposed to do, other than keep going?

Late on Friday night, having written the above in my vulnerable Friday afternoon state, I received a potentially wounding email from a Zen practitioner who in the past saw me as a trusted friend, but who now expresses his contempt for my espousing of the mirror principle -- "Mirror principle my arse," he writes. He tuts that I think it fine to make a public apology to "the wicked person" James Cohen. But how can I, who has never met James Cohen, know James Cohen to be particularly wicked? If a wicked deed makes a person wicked, who is not a wicked person?

What I truly know is that lusty ambition in combination with faulty sensory appreciation led me astray in life. What I truly know is only my own wrongness. Included in that wrongness, at many times in the day, is a lack of mindfulness, which makes me vulnerable. And what the Buddha is telling Nanda in this verse, as I hear him, is to know just this vulnerability.

To truly know this vulnerability, it seemed to me this Saturday morning as I sat, requires me for a start to give up three kinds of desire: the desire to feel mindful, the desire to become mindful, and the desire to get rid of this vulnerability.

In order to cover oneself in mindfulness, it seems to me, such very indirect means are called for. Mindfulness may protect the mind like a suit of armour, but a person cannot hurriedly put on mindfulness as if it were a suit of armour. Going for mindfulness directly, it seems to me, does not work. Covering oneself in mindfulness calls for indirect means, such as the means Alexander called inhibition and direction. And included in inhibition is acceptance -- first of self, then of others.

Zen Master Dogen began Shobogenzo by writing that the standard for the transmission of the Buddha-Dharma is the samaadhi of accepting and using the self. I think that my unconscious reactions to the enigmatic deeds of James Cohen clearly demonstrated my failure to meet the standard. It has been a failure, in the first instance, to accept the self. Apologizing for that failure does not mean that I acknowledge that the other was right. It means that I accept that I was wrong, and that I am wrong. At the same time it means that I accept that I am Buddha. To accept that I am Buddha means also to accept that the other is Buddha. It means that I accept that human existence, even including its wicked deeds and its times of vulnerability, is just Buddha.

EH Johnston:
The mind which is not guarded by attention is to be recognised as unprotected, like a sightless man walking over uneven ground without a guide.

Linda Covill:
The mind unguarded by mindfulness can be regarded as defenseless, like a blind man stumbling over rough ground without a guide.

naatha: m. a protector , patron , possessor , owner , lord
a-naatha: mfn. having no master or protector
tan: that
manaH (nom/acc.): mind
jNeya: mfn. to be known; to be learnt or understood or ascertained or investigated or perceived or inquired about

yat: which
smRtiH (nom. sg.): f. remembrance, mindfulness etc.
na: not
abhirakShati = 3rd. pers. sg. abhi-√rakSh: to guard , protect , preserve

nir: without
netaa = nom. sg. netR: mfn. leading , guiding , one who leads or will lead m. leader , guide , conductor
dRShTi: f. seeing, sight
rahitaH = nom. sg. m. rahita: mfn. deserted by , separated or free from , deprived or void or destitute of (instr. or comp.)

viShameShu = loc. pl. viShama: mfn. (fr. vi + sama) uneven , rugged , rough ; hard to traverse; n. unevenness , uneven or rough ground or place, bad road; n. a pit , precipice
caran = pres. part. of car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir ,roam about , wander ; to move or travel through
iva: like

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