Saturday, October 17, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.46: Towards Solitude

yog'-aanulomaM vi-janaM vi-shabdaM
shayy"-aasanaM saumya tathaa bhajasva
kaayasya kRtvaa hi vivekam aadau
sukho 'dhigantuM manaso vivekaH

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

To a place suited for practice,
free of people and free of noise,

To a place for lying down and sitting,
my friend, repair in this manner;

For by first achieving solitude of the body

It is easy to obtain solitude of the mind.

In stepping out on the path to the deathless, the Buddha seems to be saying in this canto, the practitioner needs to give particular consideration to (1) food, (2) sleep, (3) mindfulness, and (4) solitude. With this verse begins a series of longer verses (eleven syllables per line instead of the usual eight syllables) whose theme is solitude.

When a person slurs his speech, or a teacher garbles his instructions, the problem as I see it is lack of solitude of the mind (manaso viveka). Solitude of the mind suggests mental clarity as a condition in which thoughts and decisions are not blurred and muddled, but distinct, as if isolated from each other.

To obtain such clarity may be easy in the sense of 'marked by peace and comfort,' but not in the sense of 'involving little difficulty.' To obtain such clarity is hard work, for the non-doing of which a practitioner sometimes repairs to a couch or a table used for lying down (shayyaa), and sometimes repairs to a round cushion used for sitting (aasana) -- and on a good day for not sitting. By 'not sitting' I do not mean not sitting. I mean not sitting as my stupid sleeping body understands what sitting is. To transcend this stupidity can be called 'hard work' or 'war against sleep.'

How can solitude of the mind be easy to obtain (sukho'dhigantum)?

It is not that physical solitude ensures mental solitude, and not that lack of physical solitude makes mental solitude impossible.

In a social gathering such as I attended last night, where conversations are going on all around me, I tend to suffer from 'cocktail party deafness' and unduly excited fear reflexes -- so this is a lack of both physical and mental solitude.

At the same time I am quite capable of spending hours or days alone by the forest worrying -- so this is physical solitude without mental solitude.

Equally, in playing rugby, or eating a meal during a Zen retreat, or in singing 'Happy Birthday' in a choir of people with resonant voices, I have experienced odd moments of mental solitude without physical solitude.

But in the end it is easier (never in my experience easy) for me to be clear in who I am and what I want when I am alone by the forest.

As I write, the day is just dawning over the vale of Aylesbury and I am not sure whether or not I shall be able to repair to France today. I have already had to postpone the trip by a week or so due to a work commitment, and I might have to postpone it again if required to go and pick up my flu-ridden son from university.

Either way it does not matter. Physical solitude is relative. Favourability of circumstances is relative. The absolute is the practice (yoga) of a practice that might take one in the right direction, like lying down and not moving a leg, or like not sitting, or like memorizing an ancient teaching of Buddha, and translating it -- or, better still, not translating it.

EH Johnston:
Thus, my friend, betake yourself to a seat or couch, suitable for Yoga, solitary and free from noise ; for by first making the body solitary it is easy to attain discrimination of mind.

Linda Covill:
My friend, find a private, quiet place to lie or sit, suitable for the practice of yogic discipline ; for once physical solitude is adopted, mental discrimination is easy to reach.

yoga: practice of yoga; practice
anulomam (acc): "with the hair or grain " (opposed to prati-loma q.v.) , in a natural direction , in order , regular , successive; conformable
vi-: (negative prefix) free from, without
vi-janam (acc.): mfn. free from people , destitute of men , deserted , solitary , lonely
vi-shabdam (acc.): free from sound , noise

shayyaa: f. a bed , couch , sofa ; lying , reposing , sleeping ; resort , refuge
aasanam (accusative): n. sitting , sitting down ; sitting in peculiar posture according to the custom of devotees ; seat , place , stool
saumya: my friend
tathaa: in that manner, thus
bhajasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative of bhaj: to allot; to furnish, supply; to partake of, enjoy; to turn or resort to , go or fall into

kaayasya (gen.): of the body
kRtva = absolutive of kR: to do, make, perform, accomplish
hi; for
vivekam = acc. of viveka (from vi- √vic): m. discrimination , distinction
vi-√vic: to sift (esp. grain by tossing or blowing) , divide asunder , separate from (instr. or abl.); to distinguish , discern , discriminate
aadau (locative of aadi): ind. in the beginning , at first

sukhaH (nom): mfn. (said to mean originally " having a good axle-hole ) running swiftly or easily (only applied to cars or chariots); n. ease
adhigantum = infinitive of adhigam: to go up to; to meet , find , discover , obtain ; to accomplish
manasaH (gen.): of the mind
vivekaH (nom.): separation, distinctness, discrimination

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