Tuesday, December 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.52: Obliterating My Own Bright Idea

atha kash cid vitarkas te
bhaved a-maraN'-aashrayaH
yatnena sa vihantavyo
vyaadhir aatma-gato yathaa

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

Any idea you might have, then,

That has to do with not dying,

Is, with an effort of will, to be obliterated

As a disorder of your whole being.

In this verse as I read it a bright idea (vitarka) of becoming immortal is not compared to sickness invading a person's whole being: the idea is just sickness invading a person's whole being.

What is the relation, then, between a-maraNa (not dying) here, and the a-mRta (deathlessness, nectar of immortality) which Nanda makes into his own possession in Canto 17, whose title a-mRt'-aadhigamaH means "Obtaining [the Nectar of] Immortality"?

I think it is like the relation between giving up the idea of moving a leg, and actually allowing a leg to move, in the Alexander procedure described here.

The point is to completely give up the idea of moving a leg, and thereby to render oneself free of anxiety, free of undue tension, free of undue noise in the system, free... to carry on not moving the leg ... or ... to let the leg move.

What is required is not so much a physical effort as an effort of attention, an effort of thinking, an effort of will (yatna). It is not so much an effort to do, more an effort to listen, and to allow.

To understand what kind of effort is required, and to make that effort, is our effort.

In his twenties, Zen Master Dogen wrote in Fukan-zazengi Shinpitsu-bon that when an idea arises during practice of sitting-dhyana, we should just wake up, and that just in our act of waking up, the idea vanishes. So Master Dogen's own idea, in his younger days, was that the essential effort that is required is a kind of waking up.

By the time he wrote Shobogenzo Zazengi, in his forties, Master Dogen seemed to have given up his own idea about how to express the secret of sitting-dhyana, preferring to open his ears, eyes, and heart to the traditional instruction of the Chinese ancestor Yakusan who said words to the effect of:

"Think into the non-thinking zone."



So what kind of effort is this non-thinking? FM Alexander described his lifework as "an exercise in finding out what thinking is."

Maybe dropping off one's own idea is a process that even Zen Masters have to continue to go through, as works in progress. In their immaturity they tend to want to make a name for themselves, to establish their own position in the list of immortals. In that state they have the idea that their own idea should stay on the globe, even after their death. What the Buddha is saying here, as I hear him, is that such an idea is itself just a disorder of the whole being -- what my old teacher would call an imbalance of the autonomic nervous system -- which with an effort of will should be eliminated.

Redoubling that effort, we will revisit in the spring of 2010 Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda's progression (or regression), on his way to obtaining the nectar of immortality, through four stages of sitting-dhyana practice, and finally to his cutting of "ties to the first person singular" (uttama-bandhana; 17.57).

EH Johnston:
Or if you should have any thought not based on the inevitability of death, you must exert yourself to drive it away, like a disease attacking the body.

Linda Covill:
Next, any conception that you might have that isn't grounded in the fact of death should be strenuously fought off, as you would your own illness.

atha: ind. now, then, next, indeed etc.
kash cid (nom. sg. m.): any
vitarkaH (nom. sg.): m. idea, thought, fancy
te (gen. sg.): of you, in you

bhavet (3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu): there might be, it might occur
a-maraNa: n. the not dying , immortality
a (negative prefix): not
maraNa: n. the act of dying , death
ashrayaH (nom. sg.): m. that to which anything is annexed or with which anything is closely connected or on which anything depends or

yatnena (inst.): with effort , carefully , eagerly , strenuously
yatna: m. activity of will; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care
saH (nom. sg. m.): it
vihantavyaH (nom. sg. m. gerundive from vi-√ han): mfn. to be destroyed
vi-√han: to strike apart or asunder , disperse , shatter , break , destroy; to tear off ; to unbind , loosen (hair) ; to ward off , repel ; to keep back , withhold , refuse

vyaadhiH (nom. sg.): m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness
aatma-gataH (nom. sg.): mfn. gone to oneself
aatma = aatman: one's self, one's own body; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body
gata: come to , approached , arrived at , being in , situated in
yathaa: as

No comments: