Monday, October 26, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.2: Truly Being Inside The Head

naas'-aagre vaa lalaaTe vaa
bhruvor antara eva vaa
kurviithaash capalaM cittam

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

... towards the tip of the nose
or towards the forehead,

Or actually being inside the eyebrows,

You can make the inconstant mind

Engage with the fundamental.

The 2nd line of this verse presents a problem. I don’t want to go out of my way to produce an off-beat translation, but the case of antaraH if I understand the sandhi and grammar correctly is not locative: it is nominative. AntaraH (“being in the interior”) is the same case as anvitaH (“being attended [by mindfulness]”) in the previous verse. So I think the 2nd line literally translates as "Or actually being in the interior of the eyebrows."

In other words, I think that the intention of the 2nd line may be to express the possibility of the practitioner actually being inside his own eyebrows.

And possibility is the operative word, because however one understands the second line, an important word in this verse, occurring three times in the first two lines, is vaa, “or.” The point is that here, at least, freedom of choice is permitted.

Notable for the same reason in the 3rd line is the optative kurviithaaH (“you might/can make”). As discussed in 14.34, the 2nd person singular optative seems to express that you have an option.

So whereas picking & choosing is ruled out, for example, in the eating of food, when it comes to sitting, the Buddha seems to be saying to Nanda, basically you are free to find what works for you -- the criterion being dropping off body and mind and enjoying the samaadhi of accepting and using the self.

In the 3rd line, capala, "inconstant," might be describing the monkey mind as restless, impulsive, impetuous; or it might be describing the Buddha-mind as momentary.

Either way, the 3rd and 4th line, as I read them, point us back from abstract thought to engagement with the fundamental.

Is the Buddha saying that to take a physical posture is one fundamental thing, and then to practice mindfulness is another fundamental thing, so that there are two fundamental things? Or is he saying, more simply, that there is one fundamental thing, how one sits, which has a physical and a mental aspect?

My questions are heavily loaded. As I see it, sitting in lotus and aligning the body (i.e. directing the body in an upward direction) is the fundamental thing.

What is the meaning of aalambana-paraayaNa, or "engaging with the fundamental"? I do not know with confidence exactly what aalambana-paraayaNa means. But it is clear from the context what it does not mean. It does not mean abstract thought.

It might, however, include another kind of thinking that is different from abstract thought -- non-thinking. And to practice this latter kind of thinking might truly to be inside the eyebrows.

A Buddhist who has struggled with his own tendency to think too much, one who is maybe afraid that that too much abstract thought can turn a person into a non-Buddhist, is liable to react emotionally to this suggestion. So it could be a provactive and controversial suggestion.

What is undeniable is that aligning the body while sitting is intimately related with a very fundamental force of the universe, that which gives us the upward and downward directions with which to align the body, that which can make us heavy or make us light.

Several years ago at the instigation of Gudo Nishijima I briefly started studying Nagarjuna's muula-madhyama-kakaarikaa. I found that my heart was not in that project, and soon gave it up, but not before my attention was drawn to the word aalambana. I was sure when I read it then that aalambana (which the dictionary defines as "depending on or resting upon ; hanging from ; supporting") had to do with gravity. The reason my impetuous mind jumped so quickly to this conclusion was the influence in particular of the Alexander teacher Ray Evans, who described Alexander work as "vestibular re-education." The way Ray seemed to see it, the most fundamental problem in human life is a vestibular problem -- how a supposedly upright human being relates to gravity.

Now, is there any connection between being inside the eyebrows, or being inside the head, and engaging whole-heartedly with the fundamental force of gravity?

It depends on how one understands being inside the head. Usually among Zen practitioners -- especially in Japan, tainted as it is with its anti-intellectual and militaristic/totalitarian history -- being inside the head is a perjorative term. But some very experienced Alexander teachers regard being inside the head, or staying in the brain, as essential in the matter of consciously directing the body up (as opposed to being guided by the body's own unreliable sense of feeling).

So is there some sense in which a sitting practitioner can actually exist inside his eyebrows and from there allow his whole body to be led (forward and) up?

My conclusion, again, is that I don’t know. What I do definitely know is that what I felt for many years to be an upright sitting posture was in fact very diligent and conscientious practice of the direction that FM Alexander called “back and down.”

EH Johnston:
You should make your wandering mind wholly intent on an object such as the tip of your nose or your forehead or the space between the brows.

Linda Covill:
you should settle the restless mind wholly on an area such as the tip of the nose, the forehead, or the space between the eyebrows.

naasaa: f. the nose
agre = loc. agra: n. foremost point or part , tip
vaa: or
lalaaTe = loc. lalaaTa: n. the forehead , brow (llalaaTe ind. on the forehead , in front ; the destiny of every individual is believed by the Hindus to be written by brahmaa on his forehead on the 6th day after birth)
vaa: or

bhruvoH = gen. dual of bhruu: an eyebrow
antaraH = nom. sg. m. antara: mfn. being in the interior , interior
eva: [emphatic]
vaa: or

kurviithaaH = 2nd pers. sg. optative of kR: to do, make, cause
(paraayaNaM- √kR , to do one's utmost)

capala: mfn moving to and fro ; wanton , fickle , inconstant ; inconsiderate , thoughtless , ill-mannered ; quick , swift , expeditious ; momentary , instantaneous
cittam (acc.): n. thinking, the mind

aalambana: n. depending on or resting upon ; hanging from ; supporting , sustaining ; foundation , base ; reason , cause ; (in rhetoric) the natural and necessary connection of a sensation with the cause which excites it; n. the mental exercise practised by the yogin in endeavouring to realize the gross form of the Eternal; n. (with Buddhists) the five attributes of things (apprehended by or connected with the five senses , viz. form , sound , smell , taste , and touch ; also dharma or law belonging to manas).
paraayaNam = acc. sg. paraayaNa: n. final end or aim , last resort or refuge , principal object , chief matter , essence , summary (paraayaNaM- √kR , to do one's utmost); (ifc.) making anything one's chief object , wholly devoted or destined to , engaged in , intent upon , filled or occupied with


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

I've slowly, intermittently, been working my way through BhagavadgItA. This verse of Saundarananda immediately rang a bell with a verse of the gItA that I've recently read; verse 5.27.

This (within quotes) is from Winthrop Sargeant's 1984 translation - forgive my attempt to romanize without diacriticals, using lazy Harvard-Kyoto:

"sparzAn kRTvA bahir bAhyAMz
(contacts having made outside [to be] expelled,)

cakSuzcAivAntare bhruvoH
(and the gaze in between the two brows,)

prANApAnAu samAu kRtvA
(inhalation and exhalation equal making,)

(the nose within moving,)

Expelling outside contacts
And fixing the gaze between the two eyebrows,
Equalizing the inhalation and exhalation,
Moving within the nostrils,"

- (The next verse completes the meaning) -

" The sage whose highest aim is release;
Whose senses, mind and intellect are controlled;
From whom desire, fear and anger have departed,
Is forever liberated."

WS's footnote:
"These are elementary Yoga exercises, well-known to all yogins. It might be remarked that, according to modern physiology and psychology, eye movement is apt to accompany thought, even such unconscious thought as occurs in dreams. 'Putting the gaze between the two eyebrows', in other words rolling the eyebrows to their highest attainable point and drawing them toward the nose, keeping them there steadily, is a method of inhibiting thought. The other directions are for yoga breathing exercises."

Apologies if you're already aware of this. In any event, interesting and worth pointing out, I thought.

jiblet said...

...Of course the reverse word order in the gItA verse: "...antare bhruvoH", reveals "antare" - in that case - to be locative. You're right, Mike, that the sandhi here IS ambiguous; "...e" before any vowel other than "a" becomes "a...", so "antara eva" = "anatare eva" OR
"antaraH eva".

Take your pick.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you very much indeed for this intervention, jiblet. Once again I am indebted to you.

I hadn't realised that "antara eva" = "antare eva."

In this situation, I think the best translation is one that permits, or goes along with, the conventional interpretation but which is suffiently ambiguous also to permit the kind of digging that I (albeit labouring under a partial misapprehension) endeavored to do this morning.

So I think I will change the translation to:

...on the tip of the nose or on the forehead,

Or, indeed, in between the eyebrows,

You can make the inconstant mind

Engage in the fundamental.

I would add as a P.S. that the gross form of doing which WS describes as "a method of inhibiting thought" is not truly a method of inhibiting anything. It sounds to me like a method for giving oneself a headache. The so-called yogic practice that WS describes has got nothing to do with the practice of smRti as I hear the Buddha describing it, and everything to do with end-gaining.

Thank you again.


jiblet said...

I hear what you say about WS's remarks, Mike. Certainly smRTi rarely gets a look-in in the Bhagavadgita.

I've not practically investigated yogic techniques or read anything much of Hindu philosophy, but the common roots of that tradition and what the Buddha taught are sometimes very clear, as are the differences.

Mike Cross said...

I am not convinced by this latest statement of yours, jiblet.

With awareness of the mirror principle, I must on some level be worried that my own comments have a tendency to be too glib.

I think that in the true practice of yoga the essence is NOT to do. But such practice is very deep and very subtle. It involves the giving up of ideas that we may not even realize are holding us in their grip.

So do I really know what the Buddha taught?

Do you?

I think that in these kind of exchanges, I never really get closer to knowing the other. But by noticing my own reaction to a comment, I sometimes see myself, who undoubtedly needs to dig deeper.

Sincere thanks, anyway, for your help with the Sanskrit.


jiblet said...

I think I often seek refuge in the glib, Mike, as I've not the first idea what the Buddha taught. Thanks for reminding me.

Glad to have been of some help.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for reminding me, too.