Friday, October 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.45: Mindfulness in Moments of Action

tasmaac caran caro 'sm' iiti
sthito 'sm' iiti ca dhi-ShThitaH
evam-aadiShu kaaleShu
smRtim aadhaatum arhasi

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

Therefore walking like this: "Walking, I am";

And standing like this: "Standing, I am" --

At opportune moments such as these --

You should cover yourself in mindfulness.

To be or not to be?

In the 1980s Channel Four did a documentary on the FM Alexander Technique which featured two teachers who later had the misfortune to have me knocking on their respective doors, demanding to know without delay the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The title of the programme was "A Way of Being." Funnily enough, I heard from both teachers, Ray Evans and Nelly Ben-Or, that it was he or she who had given the programme-maker the idea for the title -- and I am sure that each was telling the truth.

What this verse is saying, as I read it, is that moments of being, as opposed to doing, are opportune for covering oneself in mindfulness.

Working as an Alexander teacher has caused me to see with more clarity than I saw before that moments of being, as opposed to doing, are opportune for causing (indirectly) 'the whole body to be informed with thought.' Being is what an Alexander lesson is for: it is time that an Alexander pupil is encouraged to set aside for being, or non-doing, as opposed to doing.

Asmi in the first and second lines is the first person singular of the verb as, to be, exist, be present. So asmi means "I am."

Asmi might be the "I am" of the biblical "Here I am, Lord."

Ajahn Sumedho, a teacher in the tradition of the Thai forest monk, has observed with great insight that seekers of the Buddha's truth need not be afraid of these words "I am." The following is taken from Sumedho's booklet The Four Noble Truths:

The Buddha was on his way from Bodh Gaya to Varanasi when he met an ascetic who was impressed with his radiant appearance. The ascetic said, 'What is it that you have discovered?' and the Buddha responded: 'I am the perfectly enlightened one, the Arahant, the Buddha.'

I like to consider this his first sermon. It was a failure because the man listening thought the Buddha had been practising too hard and was overestimating himself. If somebody said those words to us, I'm sure we would react similarly. What would you think if I said, 'I am the perfectly enlightened one'?

Actually the Buddha's statement was a very accurate, precise teaching. It is the perfect teaching, but people cannot understand it. They tend to misunderstand and to think it comes from an ego because people are always interpreting everything from their egos. 'I am the perfectly enlightened one' may sound like an egotistical statement, but isn't it really purely transcendent? That statement, 'I am the Buddha, the perfectly enlightened one,' is interesting to contemplate because it connects the use of 'I am' with superlative attainments or realisations. In any case, the result of the Buddha's first teaching was that the listener could not understand it and walked away.

In the third line kaala means a time or the proper time, an appropriate moment. Stimulated by this line to reflect on the momentary nature of mindfulness, I remembered a phrase which appears in a couple of places in Master Dogen's Shobogenzo. The phrase is NEN-NEN.

The character NEN is generally the one that was chosen to represent the Sanskrit smRti, mindfulness, but the same character is used to mean any idea, image or thought, any instant of consciousness and, by extension, an instant, a moment.

Here is the character, in Dogen's own hand, as it appears in his rules for sitting-zen (Fukan-zazengi Shinpitsu-bon).

The phrase NEN-NEN, translated as "at every moment," appears first in Shobogenzo chap. 12, para [107], in the following sentence:

8) When the kasaya covers the body, it extiguishes the karma of sins and promotes at every moment the practice of the ten kinds of good.

The same phrase, NEN-NEN, originally translated as "image and image" but translated below as "mindfulness, mindfulness," appears again in Dogen's commentary on a line of a verse by the mandarin Cho Setsu (Shobogenzo chap. 43, para [40]).

The line is:
"When not one (ICHI) idea (NEN) arises, the whole body emerges."

Master Dogen's comment is:
It is mindfulness, mindfulness (NEN-NEN), one, one (ICHI-ICHI). This is invariably non-arising, and is the total emergence of the whole body. For this reason he says that unitary mindfulness (ICHI-NEN) is non-arising.

The intention of the fourth line of Ashvaghosha's verse, similarly, might be that the practitioner should cover himself in the total body armour of the mindfulness that is both momentary and unitary.

I began my comments on this series of verses on mindfulness by quoting my old teacher's assertion concerning mindfulness (or whatever it is that NEN represents)-- that mindfulness is the consciousness a person has when his or her autonomic nervous system is balanced, and the autonomic nervous system becomes balanced in action.

I must admit that there is no evidence in verses 14.35 to 14.45 to refute this assertion. On the contrary, this verse in particular might be taken as supporting Gudo's basic assertion regarding mindfulness: that true mindfulness is consciousness in a moment of action.

Hence the repeated exhortation to cover the self in mindfulness fits with the overall them of this canto, which is going into action.

EH Johnston:
Therefore when moving you should think 'I am moving', and when standing, 'I am standing', keeping your attention fixed on these and the like occasions.

Linda Covill:
Therefore when walking, be aware that you are walking, and when standing still, know that you are standing still. That is how you should maintain mindfulness at these times and others.

tasmaat: therefore
caran = pres. part. car: go, move, walk
caraH (nom.): going, moving, walking
asmi: I am, I am present
iti: ".... "; thus

sthitaH = nom. sg sthita: mfn. standing (as opp. to " going " , " sitting " , or " lying")
asmi: I am, I am present
iti: ".... "; thus
ca: and
dhi = adhi (e.g. in dhi-ShThita for adhi-ShThita)
adhi: ind. , as a prefix to verbs and nouns , expresses above , over and above , besides
sthitaH (nom. sg. m.): standing, standing firm
adhiShThita: mfn. settled, inhabited, superintended, regulated, appointed, superintending

evam: such
aadiShu = loc. pl. aadi: ifc. beginning with , et cetera , and so on
kaaleShu = loc. pl. kaala: time; the proper time or season for (gen. dat. loc.)

smRtim (acc.): f. remembrance, mindfulness, etc.
aadhaatum = infinitive aa-√dhaa: to place on , put down , deposit , put arhasi: you should

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