Friday, January 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.10: End-gaining vs Means-whereby

sa tad-vighaataaya nimittam anyad
yog'aanukuulaM kushalaM prapede
aartaayanaM kShiiNa-balo bala-sthaM
nirasyamaano balin"aariN"eva

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

In order to fend against it
he went to the alternate starting point

-- To that which is constructive, favourable to practice --

Like an enfeebled prince
who goes to a powerful protector

When being overthrown by a mighty rival.

I will endeavor to illustrate what I think this verse means out of my own practice and experience of sitting-dhyana. But first, following on from the question I posed yesterday as to whether there is one fundamental inauspicious conception and/or whether there are many, I will start with my tentative conclusion:

It seems to me that all inauspicious ideas are variations on the theme of one fundamental inauspicious conception, which the Buddha personified as Mara, and which Alexander called "end-gaining"; and that all alternate starting points are variations on the theme of one fundamental constructive conception, which is the means-whereby principle.

So the enfeebled prince being overthrown by a mighty rival is a metaphor for the practitioner who, fighting a losing battle against the accumulated might of his own end-gaining, seeks refuge in the means-whereby principle. (The enfeebled prince in question reminds me very much of yours truly, circa 1994 onwards....)

The means-whereby principle is a principle, a theory, but it is more than that: like its opposite, end-gaining, it is a conception, an idea that is as if woven into the fabric of a person's being. As FM Alexander wrote in his second book, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual: "The process of conception, like all other forms of psycho-physical activity, is a process the course of which is determined by our psycho-physical condition at the time when the particular stimulus (or stimuli) is received." Just as the end-gaining conception is very much tied up with unduly excited fear reflexes (aka Mara's retinue), the process of conceiving the means-whereby conception is a psycho-physical process.

So when Alexander wrote of end-gaining and means-whereby as opposite conceptions, he wasn't talking of them as philosophical constructs. Furthermore, in the opening chapter of his fourth book, he described them not only as opposite conceptions but also as different procedures....


These terms stand for two different, nay, opposite conceptions and for two different procedures. According to the first or end-gaining conception, all that is necessary when an end is desired is to proceed to employ the different parts of the organism in the manner which our feeling dictates as necessary for the carrying out of the movements required for gaining the end, irrespective of any harmful effects due to misuse of the self during the process; a conception which implies the subordination of the thinking and reasoning self to the vagaries of the instinctive guidance and control of the self in carrying out the activities necessary to achieve the end. It will be seen therefore that end-gaining involves the conception and procedure of going direct for an end without consideration as to whether the "means-whereby" to be employed are the best for the purpose....

The opposition that FM is describing here, in other words, is that between "keeping the spine straight vertically" relying only on one's faulty sense of feeling (end-gaining), and allowing the spine to lengthen as an indirect result of conscious re-direction of one's energy (means-whereby). The difference may sometimes appear subtle, but actually it is like chalk and cheese.

So in the first line of 17.10, as I read it, nimittam anyat means a means-whereby procedure as an alternate starting point to end-gaining.

"Another subject of meditation," as per the translations of EHJ and LC does not mean anything to me as a translation of nimittam anyat, because in my practice of sitting-meditation, there is no other subject of meditation. The sitting is the meditation, and the meditation is the sitting. Another subject there is not.

Sitting-meditation is always just sitting-meditation, and not any other kind of meditation. Within the practice of sitting-meditation, however, different variations on the theme of end-gaining emerge, and for each variation there may be a particular starting point to go to -- as outlined by the Buddha from 16.53 onwards.

When I try to be right in my sitting-meditation, that is the end-gaining conception re-asserting itself, and in order to fend off that inauspicious conception, I take refuge in a different, nay opposite, conception, which is the means-whereby. In this case, the inauspicious conception could be summed up as "trying" and the alternate starting point as "allowing." But the allowing is not a separate "subject of meditation" -- allowing is not something separate from sitting itself. It is an allowing of the neck to release, to allow the head forward and up, to allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen, while allowing the limbs out.

For another example, sometimes while sitting I am prey to deluded thoughts along the lines of "That was not fair. I did not deserve for that to happen to me.... and so on" -- thoughts along the lines of denying cause and effect. Again, these thoughts can be seen as rooted in the end-gaining conception that I am always right whereas others are prone to be wrong. So in this case, the inauspicious conception could be summed up as "denial" and the alternate starting point as "taking responsibility." But again the taking responsibility is not a separate "subject of meditation": it is taking responsibility for what is going on, here and now, in neck, head, back, and limbs -- altogether, and one after another.

For still another example, a small plane flies noisily overhead and I feel keen hatred for the person who is flying it. Though I have never met him, the pilot strikes me as a selfish end-gaining bastard pursuing his own self-important recreational agenda, and not really caring how his behaviour might impinge on others, especially those who he sees as below his exalted self. Now, who does that remind me of? In this case, the inauspicious conception could be summed up as "the problem is out there" and the alternate starting point as "the problem is in here." But again 'problem in here' is not a separate "subject of meditation": it is accepting one's own wrongness in terms of what is going on here and now in neck, head, back, and limbs -- altogether, and one after another.

I hope this long-winded analysis demonstrates why, for me, Alexander's discoveries do not offer a new "take" on how the Buddha taught us to sit. As I see it, it is discussion of "subjects of meditation" that introduce a new "take" on what the Buddha taught. What Ashvaghosha is describing here using the word kushala (constructive), as I read him, is nothing other than what Alexander called "constructive conscious control of the individual" as opposed to the lowly-evolved end-gaining conception.

EH Johnston:
To overcome it he had recourse to another good subject of meditation favourable to Yoga, as a man whose power has failed and who is being overthrown by a mighty enemy has recourse to a powerful protector of the oppressed.

Linda Covill:
To eliminate it, he started another subject of meditation, wholesome and favourable to yogic practice, as an enfeebled man harassed by a forceful enemy sets out for a secure refuge for the oppressed.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tad: it, that
vighaataaya = dat. vighaata: m. a stroke ; driving back , warding off; destruction , ruin ; removal , prohibition , prevention
nimittam (acc. sg.): n. butt, mark, target ; cause , motive , ground , reason; [EHJ/LC: subject of meditation; MC: stimulus, starting point]
anyat (acc. sg. n.): other, different, alernate

yoga: m. the act of yoking; practice
anukuulam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. following the bank, favourable
kushalam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. right , proper , suitable , good
prapede = 3rd pers. perfect pra-√pad: to fall or drop down from (abl.); to throw one's self down (at a person's feet); to go forwards, set out for , resort to, enter (with acc.)

aartaayanam (acc. sg. n.): place [or person?] for the protection of the oppressed; protector
aarta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed ; injured ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
ayana: n. walking a road a path (often ifc.) ; n. way , progress , manner ; n. place of refuge
kShiiNa-balaH (nom. sg. m.): [a man/prince] of diminished strength
kShiiNa: mfn. diminished , wasted , expended , lost , destroyed , worn away , waning (as the moon) ; weakened , injured , broken , torn , emaciated , feeble
bala: n. strength, power; mfn. strong , robust
bala-stham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. " being in strength or power " , strong , powerful , vigorous

nirasyamaanaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part. nirasya: mfn. to be expelled or driven out
nir-√as: to cast out , throw or drive away , expel , remove , banish from
balinaa = inst. balin: mfn. powerful , strong , mighty , stout , robust
ariNaa = inst. sg. ari: m. enemy
iva: like

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