Friday, October 30, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.6: A Seed of Something vs A Bit of Nothing

te hi tasmaat pravartante
bhuuyo biijaad iv' aaNkuraaH
tasya naashena te na syur
biija-naashaad iv' aaNkuraaH

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

For from that source they re-emerge,

Like shoots from a seed.

In its absence they would be no more --

Like shoots in the absence of a seed.

This verse is pure Alexander. The particular teaching it brings to my mind is a phrase favoured by the late American teacher Marjorie Barstow (who I never met): "It's just a little bit of nothing."

When I googled the phrase "a little bit of nothing," I found the following piece from The Journal of Alexander Technique International

Written in light-hearted vein, this sketch also makes a serious point: Alexander work is not, as it is commonly thought to be, a kind of bodywork. It is not all about posture. It is all about desire. In particular, it is about giving up the desire to achieve something, and cultivating the desire to allow a bit of nothing.

That's why people have said, correctly in my view -- for what my view is worth -- that Alexander rediscovered the secret of Zen for our time.

Here is the piece, from the ATI Journal, edited by Andrea Matthews:

[Teacher is onstage, waiting for his pupil. There is a knock at the door.]
TEACHER: Come on in. How can I help?
[Pupil walks in sparkling and free.]
PUPIL: I want to learn the Alexander technique from you. I studied the books and this is what I got from them.
[Pupil demonstrates.] Is this correct?
TEACHER: No. You are doing the undoing. Undo the doing and let the undoing do itself.
PUPIL: But if I undo the doing, isn’t that doing the undoing?
TEACHER: It could be.
PUPIL: Then how do I undo that doing?
TEACHER: By non-doing.
PUPIL: Non-doing?! What’s that?
TEACHER: Non-doing is when you decide not to do the undoing, but let the undoing do itself—I just told you that.
PUPIL: So you asked me not to do something that I shouldn’t do?
TEACHER: [delighted] That’s it!
PUPIL: [deflated] So—um… what do I do now?
TEACHER: Nothing. If you do nothing, you will get it.
PUPIL: Get what?
TEACHER: All the undoing.
PUPIL: The undoing of what?
TEACHER: The doing of course! Are you listening to me?
PUPIL: Sorry—I am trying to.
TEACHER: Ahhh—that’s the problem isn’t it?
PUPIL: It is?
TEACHER: You are trying.
PUPIL: I shouldn’t try?
TEACHER: Trying is only emphasizing the thing you already know.
PUPIL: I shouldn’t do what I know?
TEACHER: Heavens no—you can’t do what you don’t know if you keep doing what you do know.
PUPIL: OK. Sooooo—do I need to know what I am doing in order to undo it?
TEACHER: It isn’t always necessary.
PUPIL: It isn’t?
PUPIL: [determined again] Look—maybe you need to tell me what is it I want to get here?
TEACHER: A little bit of nothing.
PUPIL: [shocked] A little bit of nothing?
TEACHER: Yes. The trouble with you is that you want something, and that something is your habit.
PUPIL: My habit? [Teacher nods.] I see. And when I get “a little bit of nothing” what will I have?
TEACHER: The absence of what you had of course.
PUPIL: Which was?
TEACHER: The habit of a lifetime.
PUPIL: So I can change that?
TEACHER: Yes, change involves making a decision against the habit of life.
PUPIL: But if I make a decision, won’t I be doing?
TEACHER: Look, every non-doing is a kind of doing, it’s true—but non-doing doesn’t do what doing did when you were doing it, d’ya see? [Pupil sadly shakes her head.] OK—I think that’s enough for your first lesson. Don’t be discouraged. All we ever know in this world is when we are wrong.
PUPIL: Thanks. [Pupil walks out in a discouraged slump.]

The deepest happiness I know is enjoying sitting in lotus and having no desire to stop sitting or to do anything else. But if I come to France, or if I approach my zafu in Aylesbury, expecting to experience this kind of happiness, then I have already turned a bit of nothing into a bit of something. This is always the danger: given our instinctive tendency, shared with animals, to go directly for any end relying on unconsious means, even a bit of nothing can easily become a bit of something.

Hence the Marjory who I did meet, FM's niece Marjory Barlow, used to say: "I think of doing nothing. And then I ask myself: What kind of nothing am I doing?"

In this and the previous two verses the Buddha, by setting light against dark, water against fire, and absence against seed, has highlighted a duality, not because this world is originally divided, not so that we might be on the right side, not so we Buddhists might be the good guys as opposed to those non-Buddhist bad guys, but so that we might have a choice.

When I described myself to her once as a terrible end-gainer, Marjory stopped still, looked me in the eye and said: "Listen. It is up to you. Either you go directly for the end, or you follow the means-whereby."

What Marjory was saying, in other words, is: You are neither one of the good guys nor one of the bad guys. You are a human being, and you have a choice.

To do something, or truly to practise non-doing: that is the question.

FM Alexander described the choice as "end-gaining" vs "the means-whereby." For a metaphor, Alexander spoke of two paths through the forest. Path A is the old habit, the path of end-gaining. Path B is to a new use of the self, via the means-whereby.

In terms of the Buddha's metaphors, Path A is the path of darkness and fire, Path B of light and water. Path A has multiple offshoots of desire, Path B has no offshoots of desire.

In this metaphor of two paths through the forest it is not a question of setting out to destroy Path A. It is simply a question of repeatedly giving up the desire to go down Path A, and truly desiring to go up Path B. Soon enough grass and brambles, and eventually shrubs and trees, will grow over Path A. Then Path A itself and all its offshoots of desire will be no more.

EH Johnston:
For they become active again from that tendency, like shoots from a seed; by destroying it they would cease to exist, just as there are no shoots when the seed is destroyed.

Linda Covill:
Because of that tendency the passions re-emerge, like shoots from a seed; when it is destroyed they would not exist, just as shoots would not exist if the seed were destroyed.

te (nom. pl): they, those [desires]
hi: for
tasmaat: ind. from that , on that account
pravartante = 3rd pers. plural pravRt: to roll or go onwards (as a carriage) , be set in motion or going

bhuuyas: ind. once more , again , anew
biijaad = abl. biija: n. seed
iva: like
aNkuraaH = nom. pl. aNkura: m. a sprout , shoot

tasya (gen.): of it
naashena = inst. naasha: m. the being lost , loss , disappearance , destruction
te (nom. pl.): they, those [desires]
na: not
syuH (3rd pers. pl. optative of as): they would exist

biija: seed
naashaad = abl. naasha: m. the being lost , loss , disappearance , destruction
iva: like
aaNkuraaH: sprouts, shoots

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