Sunday, February 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.47: The Second Stage, Born of Balanced Stillness

ath' aa-vitarkam kramasho '-vicaaram
ek'-aagra-bhaavaan manasaH prasannaM
samaadhi-jaM priiti-sukhaM dvitiiyaM
dhyaanaM tad aadhyaatma-shivaM sa dadhyau

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

And so gradually bereft of idea and thought,

His mind tranquil from one-pointedness,

He realised the joy and ease born of balanced stillness --

That inner wellbeing
which is the second stage of meditation.

The first dhyana is viveka-jam, "born of solitude" (17.43).

I translated viveka-jam a few days ago as "born of discrimination," but having sat on it and slept on it, I prefer "born of solitude." Either way, viveka (from the root vi- √ vic, to sift) expresses a separation -- whether it is the separateness of a clear-cut thought or recognition, or the separateness of an individual human being. The first definition of viveka given in the dictionary is discrimination. Both EJH and LC went with discrimination. And a few days ago, discrimination seemed to me to fit, in the context of affirmation at the first stage of ideas and thoughts. But now, it seems to me... "No. That wasn't it."

When I think back on my actual experience of the joy and ease of the first dhyana, what I think it is born of is not discrimination but just solitude -- the solitude of sitting alone by the forest, or equally the solitude of sitting at a temple in a big group of individuals, each of whom has no support for release except the platform under his left knee, under his right knee, and the round cushion under his own backside. So viveka-jam, as I hear it now, means "born of solitude."

The second dhyana is samaadhi-jam, "born of balanced stillness."

Samaadhi literally means "putting together" or "setting to rights." In China and Japan the word is either represented phonetically, as in Shobogenzo chap. 72 Zanmai-o-zanmai, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis, or else it is represented by the character JO, which means settled or fixed.

If we follow the sense of "putting together" or "balanced," a question that tends to arise out of intellectual curiosity is: what is put together with what? what is balanced against what?

Zen Master Dogen saw the standard as JI-JU-YO-ZANMAI, "the samadhi of receiving/accepting and using the self." As a lifelong student of Dogen's teaching, my teacher Gudo Nishijima connected receiving the self with the function of the parasympathetic nerves and using the self with the function of the sympathetic nerves.

The last time we discussed it, Gudo agreed that "accepting" is a wider and therefore better word to use than "receiving."

On the other side of the equation, when FM Alexander wrote of "The Use of the Self," which was the title of his third book, he certainly had in mind a field of investigation much wider than the action of the sympathetic nervous system. In seeking to clarify "the great principle of antagonistic action," Alexander pointed to the primary importance of balance in directing the head "forward and up" and in directing the back to "lengthen and widen." Alexander understood the danger of directing the head up and the spine to lengthen, in such a way that (1) the head is pulled back onto the spine and (2) lengthening of the spine is achieved at the expense of narrowing and arching the back.

This danger of an imbalanced response to the stimulus "Just sit upright" is greatly accentuated, as I have understood from my own experience, when a person's sense of feeling is under the sway of imperfectly integrated vestibular reflexes -- particularly the Moro and Tonic Labyrinthine reflexes.

So my own investigations into Alexander's discoveries, and particularly into the role played by vestibular reflexes in what Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation," have been a kind of response -- and nobody can say that it has been a skillful response -- to the teaching of my teacher, which once seemed to me to fit, but in which I came to perceive a fault.

The fault, which I am ever liable to repeat, is the fault of trying to nail down the whole truth as if it were a partial truth, corresponding to some theory or explanation which the intellect can grasp, attach to, identify with, and take pride in. It might be the fault of failing to drop off a reductionist view.

So in answer to my own question of what is balanced against what, there is a lot that I have written and lots more that I could write as a result of my attempts to answer it, but in the end I do not know nor will I ever know what is balanced against what when the right thing does itself. As FM Alexander truly said, "To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world."

In that spirit, I think "born of discrimination" is not it; and neither "born of balance" nor "born of stillness" is it. It feels to me like the first dhyana is born of solitude, and the second dhyana is born of balanced stillness. Insofar as solitude is the negation of a lot of fuss, "solitude" as a translation of viveka seems to me to fit. Insofar as physical balance is the negation of mental stillness, and mental stillness is the negation of physical balance, "balanced stillness" seems to me right now, as a translation of samaadhi, to fit.

So for the time being, notwithstanding the problem of faulty sensory appreciation, and unable to know intellectually exactly what those translations mean, I feel happy with those translations. But experience has shown that understanding I feel very happy with and confident in at one time, at a later time becomes a target that I would like to shoot down.

Is it only me, notoriously awkward and difficult Mike Cross, who is like that? Or is there some sense in which the practice of sitting-dhyana has to be like that?

What do you think? Leave a comment if you like -- give me some more target practice.

EH Johnston:
Then in due course he produced the second trance in which initial and sustained reflections are absent, which is calm from the intentness of the mind, is born of concentration and has ecstasy, bliss and inward happiness.

Linda Covill:
Then he gradually entered the second level of meditation, which has no initial or sustained application of the mind to its object. Born of concentration and calm due to mental one-pointedness, it is joyfully blissful and endowed with inner delight.

atha: so, then
a-vitarka: mfn. having no idea
kramashas: ind. (from kram, to step) gradually, by degrees, in steps
a-vicaara: mfn. undiscriminating

eka: one
agra: tip, top, foremost point or part, summit
ekaagra: one-pointed, closely attentive, undisturbed, undivided in one's awareness
bhaavaat = abl. bhaava: state, state of being; -ness (when added to an abstract noun)
ek'-aagra-bhaavaat: due to the one-pointedness, because of being undivided in his awareness
manasaH = gen. manas: n. mind
prasannam (acc. sg. n.): clear, bright, pure, calm, placid, tranquil, serene

samaadhi-jam (acc. sg. n.): born of balanced stillness
samaadhi: m. putting together, setting to rights, balance, harmony
ja: mfn. ( √jan) ifc. born or descended from , produced or caused by
priiti: f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy , gladness , satisfaction
sukham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. running swiftly or easily (only applied to cars or chariots) , easy ; pleasant, agreeable ; comfortable , happy; n. ease , easiness , comfort
dvitiiyam (acc. sg. n.): further, redoubled, the second

dhyaanam (acc. sg.): n. realisation, level or stage of meditation
tad: that
aadhyaatma: one's own, belonging to self, inner
shivam (acc. sg. m./n.): m. happiness , welfare; n. welfare , prosperity , bliss
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
dadhyau (3rd pers. perfect dhyai, which is also the verbal root of dhyaana): produced, called to mind, realised

Saturday, February 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.46: Ideas as Noise in the System

khinnasya suptasya ca nirvRtasya
baadhaM yathaa saMjanayanti shabdaaH
adhyaatmam aik'-aagryam upaagatasya
bhavanti baadhaaya tathaa vitarkaaH

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

Just as, to one who is weary,
and fallen fast asleep,

Noises are a source of bother,

So, to one indulging in his original state
of unitary awareness,

Ideas become bothersome.

In 17.44 Ashvaghosha tells us that Nanda decided to let go of ideas and thoughts. Ashvaghosha does not describe the how of letting go, but in this and the previous verse he underlines the why: because ideas disturb the peace of sitting-meditation, like waves disturbing a steady flow of tranquil water, or like noises that a sleeping person has to endure.

For what else can a sleeping person do about bothersome noises except endure them? -- unless the noises happen to be coming from a source that he can get up and switch off, like his wife's beeping mobile phone.

Somehow Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda's decision to let go of ideas and thoughts reminds me of the late Allen Carr's approach to stopping smoking -- there being no special technique involved, but just the recognition that one does not really want the object of one's effort to let go.

The dangers to one's health of a long-cherished fixed idea, however, are liable to be more deeply hidden than the evils of smoking. Which may be why FM Alexander observed: "The most difficult things to get rid of are the ones that don't exist."

EH Johnston:
As noises harass a man who is tired and soundly asleep, so thoughts harass the mean who has attained internal concentration.

Linda Covill:
And just as noises disturb an exhausted person who is sleeping peacefully, so do thoughts become an irritant for someone who has reached inner one-pointedness.

khinnasya = gen. sg. m. kinna: depressed, distressed, wearied, exhausted
suptasya = gen. sg. m. supta: asleep, sleeping
ca: and
nirvRtasya = gen. sg. m. nirvRta: mfn. satisfied , happy , tranquil , at ease , at rest ; extinguished , terminated , ceased

baadham = acc. sg.: m. annoyance , molestation , affliction , obstacle , distress , pain , trouble
saMjanayanti (3rd pers. pl. causative saM-√jan): they cause to be born, generate, create, cause
shabdaaH (nominative, plural): m. noises

adhyaatma: own, belonging to self
aikaagryam (acc. sg.): n. (fr. ekaagra, one-pointed) intentness or concentration on one object
upaagatasya = gen. sg. m.: reached, come towards, entered a state
upa- √ gam: to go near to ; to enter any state or relation , undergo , obtain , participate in ;

bhavanti (3rd pers. pl. bhuu): they are, they become
baadhaaya (dative): for disturbance, for annoyance, annoying, bothersome
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
vitarkaaH (nom, plural): ideas, thoughts

Friday, February 26, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.45: A Disturbance in the Water of One-Pointed Mind

kSHobhaM prakurvanti yath" ormayo hi
dhiira-prasann'-aambu-vahasya sindhoH
ek'-aagra-bhuutasya tath" ormi-bhuutaash
citt'-aambhasaH kSHobha-karaa vitarkaaH

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

For, just as waves produce disturbance

In a river bearing a steady flow of tranquil water,

So ideas, like waves of thought,

Disturb the water of the one-pointed mind.

An English river that, from Clifton Hampden down to Wallingford, very steadily bears along a deep body of tranquil water is the Thames. I have paddled this stretch a few times, while sitting in lotus in an open canoe. Especially during summer week-ends, ex-banking types in motorized pleasure boats ("gin palaces") are liable to motor by, creating waves in their wake. The bigger the boat and the closer to the speed limit it motors, the greater the wake it creates.

These kinds of waves, Ashvaghosha seems to be saying, are like ideas which disturb the mind. The mind is like water, which, when it is one-pointed -- in other words, when it is not disturbed by multidirectional thought-stimuli -- flows calm and clear.

A more literal translation of the second half of the verse might be:

Ideas like waves are similarly disturbance-making in the mind-water of the one-pointed.

I have gone with "one-pointed" as a translation of ekaagra, because I see it is as the closest that can be got to the original meaning. But as with "meditation" as a translation of dhyaana, I think it is a translation that could easily lead to misunderstanding. "One-pointed," as I understand it does not mean tightly focused on one point; it does not mean concentrated as concentration is usually understood. Rather, I think ekaagraa means integrated, unitary, not characterized by neurotic reaction to conflicting stimuli, undisturbed.

Again, there may be a kind of paradox in this verse, in the sense that water is originally just water, not a metaphor for anything, and mind is mind. So the metaphor that mind is like water might itself be the kind of disturbance that is invariably created in the effort to let go of ideas and thoughts and come back to undisturbed one-pointedness.

Similarly, FM Alexander thought that "Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, sending the knees forwards and away," was the closest he could get in words to a state of balanced stillness and psycho-physical integration that was beyond expression in words. So those words are both a gateway and a barrier to the reality of the condition being pointed to; they are both a means of stilling and a disturbance.

EH Johnston:
For as waves disturb a stream running with calm clear water, so thoughts are the waves of the water of the mind and disturb it when it is in a state of concentration.

Linda Covill:
For just as waves make ripples in a river bearing calm, limpid water, waves of thought make ripples in the waters of the one-pointed mind.

kSHobham (acc. sg.): m. shaking , agitation , disturbance , tossing , trembling , emotion; (also) a strong current of water
prakurvanti = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ kR: make, produce, effect; induce, move
yathaa: ind. just as
uurmayaH = nom. pl uurmi: waves, billows
hi: for

dhiira: steady, constant, calm
prasanna: clear, tranquil, placid
ambu: water
vahasya = gen. vaha: carrying, flowing, bearing along (said of rivers)
sindhaH = gen. sindhu: river (esp. Indus), stream, flood, waters, ocean, sea

ek'-aagra-bhuutasya = gen. sg. ek'-aagra-bhuuta: being as if one-pointed, consisting of one-pointedness
eka: one
agra: foremost point or part, tip:
ekaagra: one-pointed, having one point, fixing one's attention upon one point or object, closely attentive, intent, absorbed in; undisturbed, unperplexed
bhuuta: (ifc) being or being like anything , consisting of , mixed or joined with
tathaa: so, likewise
uurmi-bhuutaaH (nom. pl. m.): like waves
uurmi: wave
bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like

citta-ambhasaH (gen. sg.): mind-water
citta: ‘noticed’; thinking, reflecting; mind; intention
ambhas: n. water
kShobha-karaaH (nom. pl. m.): disturbance-making, current-producing
kShobha: m. shaking , agitation , disturbance , tossing , trembling , emotion; (also) a strong current of water
kara: mfn. doing , making , causing , producing (esp. ifc.)
vitarkaaH (nom. pl.): m. ideas

Thursday, February 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.44: Thinking into Not Thinking

tatr' aapi tad-dharma-gataan vitarkaan
guN-aaguNe ca prasRtaan vicaaraan
buddhvaa manaH-kSHobha-karaan a-shaantaaMs
tad-viprayogaaya matiM cakaara

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

Even in that, he realised, ideas about aforesaid things,

And thoughts about what is or is not good,

Are something not quieted,
causing disturbance in the mind,

And so he decided to let them go.

In line 1 tatr' aapi means even in that innocent state of joy and ease -- praise be to it -- which is free of end-gaining desires and tainted things.

In line 2 thoughts about good and not good might have something to do with what Ashvaghosha elsewhere calls parikalpa, fixing. For, to paraphrase some old scribbler or other, there is nothing good or bad, but fixing makes it so.

In line 4 of this verse, as in line 1 of 17.41, a paradox is implied by the use of the dative case.

In 17.41 the paradox is that the dative case includes a volitional sense -- namely, the desire to go beyond the sphere of desire.

In today's verse, the paradox is that the volitional sense of the dative case includes the idea or thought of letting go of ideas and thoughts.

This is the paradox contained in the famous imperative of Ashvaghosha's Chinese descendant Yakusan, spoken in Japanese as:


"Think this state of not thinking!"


"Think into the no-thinking zone!"

EH Johnston:
At that point too, understanding the initial reflections on those elements and the sustained reflections on their merit and demerit to be disturbing to the mind and not to lead to tranquillity, he determined to rid himself of them.

Linda Covill:
He realized that even at this stage the initial application of concentration to the constituents of reality, as well as the sustained application of concentration to a consideration of their virtues and flaws, are not conducive to peace but make undulations in the mind. He decided to break away from them.

tatra: there, at that stage, in that state
api: even, also, very, though
tad: that, his, its, one’s
dharma: practice
gata: going to, about
vitarkaan (accusative, plural): thoughts

guN-aaguNe (loc. sg.): merit and demerit
guNa: m. a quality
aguNa: mfn. destitute of qualities or attributes; destitute of good qualities; m. a fault
ca: and
prasRta: extending to (with locative)
vicaaraan (accusative, plural): investigations, deliberations

buddhvaa = absolutive of budh: to wake up to, realise, perceive, notice, see
manaH: mind
kSHobha: shaking, agitation, disturbance, trembling, emotion
karaan = accusative, plural of kara: doer, causer
a-shaantaan = acc. pl. a-shaanta: unappeased, indomitable, wild; restless , unresigned
shaanta: mfn. (fr. √1. zam) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed; soft , pliant ; gentle , mild , friendly , kind , auspicious ; rendered ineffective , innoxious , harmless (said of weapons)

tad: that, them
viprayogaaya = dative of viprayoga: disjunction, separation from
matim = accusative mati: thought, intention, mind
cakaara: made, made up

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.43: A Groovy Kind of Ease

kaam'-agni-daahena sa vipramukto
hlaadaM paraM dhyaana-sukhaad avaapa
sukhaM vigaahy' aapsv iva gharma-khinnaH
praapy' eva c'aarthaM vipulaM daridraH

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

Released from the burning of the bonfire of desires,

He derived great gladness
from ease in the act of meditating --

Ease like a heat-exhausted man diving into water.

Or like a pauper coming into great wealth.

The repetition of sukha in line 2 and line 3 -- following on from sukha in line 3 of the previous verse -- sets up a description of the four stages of sitting-dhyana, through to verse 17.54, in terms of ease.

I think that in today's verse Ashvaghosha is describing the ease with which the first dhyana is endowed as a not-so-subtle form of ease, but more like a great endorphin rush, as obtained by hordes of holidaying Brits on the beaches of Costa Brava, or as obtained more rarely by winners of Britain's weekly National Lottery.

Chapter 8 of Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit explains that -ana is a suffix frequently added to verbal roots to provide neuter action nouns. So from dRsh 'see', darshana 'act of seeing'; from agam 'come', aagamana 'act of coming, arrival,' and so on. Dhyaana is a neuter action noun from the root dhyai, to think of, imagine, contemplate, meditate on, call to mind, recollect. So literally dhyaana means "the act of meditating," or meditating as an act -- and the act in question is the act of sitting.

At the crudest level of such an act of meditating, if one just sits cross-legged with arse on cushion and knees supported, not even intending to let go of ideas and thoughts but rather allowing oneself to indulge in whatever ideas and thoughts emerge, there is a great deal of ease to be had from that act -- be it an act of meditation or non-meditation.

This grosser kind of ease is succeeded, as ideas and thoughts are gradually dropped off, by a second level of joy and ease, born of balance, stillness, integration (born of samaadhi; 17.47); and this in turn is succeeded in the third dhyana by the ease enjoyed by the noble ones, who have weaned themselves off endorphins (through non-attachment to joy; 17.50). Beyond even this, beyond all discomfort and ease, is the lucidity, endowed with equanimity/indifference and mindfulness/full awareness, which is the fourth dhyana (17.54).

So Ashvaghosha is going to describe progress (or regress) through the four stages of sitting-meditation in terms of three levels of ease, and a fourth level in which ease and discomfort are transcended -- each stage representing a negation of what went before.

EH Johnston:
Released from the burning fire of love, he experienced supreme joy from the bliss of the trance, entering into bliss, like one oppressed by heat on entering the water or like a poor man on obtaining great wealth.

Linda Covill:
Saved from the burns of passion's fire, he experienced great rapture through the bliss of meditation, like the pleasure of a heat-exhausted man when he dives into water, or like the delight of a pauper finding fabulous wealth.

kaama: desire, longing, love
agni: m. fire
daahena = inst. sg. daaha: m. burning, heat
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
vipramuktaH (nom. sg. m.): loosened, released, set free; delivered or freed from (instr. or comp.)

hlaadam (acc. sg.): m. refreshment , pleasure , gladness , joy , delight
√ hlraad: to be glad or refreshed , rejoice
param (acc. sg. m.): far, on the far side, extreme ; ascendant, excellent, supreme
dhyaana-sukhaad = abl. dhyaana-sukha
dhyaana: the act of thinking, meditating, zen
sukha: n. ease
avaapa = 3rd pers. perfect of aap: to reach, meet with; obtain, gain, take possession off

sukham (acc. sg.): n. pleasure, ease
vigaahya = abs. of vi + gaah: to plunge or dive into
aapsu = loc. sg. ap: water
iva: like
gharma: heat
khinnaH (nom. sg. m.): depressed, distressed, exhausted; the/an exhausted man

praapya = abs. of praap: to attain to, obtain, come into
iva: like
ca: and, again
artham (acc. sg): n. purpose, use, utility; substance, wealth, property, opulence, money; thing, object (said of the membrum virile)
vipula (acc. sg. n.): large, great, thick, long, abundant
daridraH (nom. sg. m.): poor, needy, deprived (from the root draa: to run hither and thither; to be in need or poor)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.42: The First Stage of Sitting-Meditation

kaamair viviktaM malinaish ca dharmair
vitarkavac c' aapi vicaaravac ca
viveka-jaM priiti-sukh'-opapannaM
dhyaanaM tataH sa prathamaM prapede

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

Free from desires and tainted things,

Containing ideas and containing thoughts,

Born of discrimination and possessed of joy and ease,

Is the first stage of meditation, which he then entered.

Meditation here means sitting-meditation.

Dhyaana means sitting-dhyaana.

Zen practice is sitting-zen.

This translation is a work in progress, and the translator is a work in progress, but on this particular point I haven't got anything to discuss.

EH Johnston:
Then he reached the first trance which is dissociated from (the various forms of) love and the impure elements of existence, has initial and sustained reflection, is born of discrimination and is endowed with ecstasy and bliss.

Linda Covill:
Then he entered the first level of meditation, in which passion and the tainted constituents of reality are absent. It consists of an initial and a sustained application of the mind to its object, is born of discernment, and is imbued with happiness and bliss.

kaamaiH (inst. pl.): desires, longings, loves, passions; objects of desire
viviktam (acc. sg. m.): separated, kept apart, dissociated; (with inst.) free from
malinaiH: (inst. pl. m.): mfn. dirty , filthy , impure , soiled , tarnished (lit. and fig.)
ca: and
dharmaiH (inst. pl.): m. dharmas, practices, ways of practice, elements, things

vitarkavat: mfn. (speech) 'containing a conjecture or supposition'
vitarka: m. conjecture , supposition , guess , fancy , imagination , opinion; reasoning , deliberation , consideration ; purpose , intention -vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.
ca: and
api: also, even, but
vicaaravat: mfn. proceeding with consideration , considerate , prudent
vicaara: m. mode of acting or proceeding, consideration, pondering, deliberation, investigation
vi- √ car: to move in different directions , spread , expand , be diffused; to rove , ramble about or through ; to act , proceed ; to graze upon , feed upon (a pasture); Causative: to move hither and thither (in the mind) , ponder , reflect , consider ; to doubt , hesitate ; to examine , investigate , ascertain
-vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.

viveka: (from vi + vic, to sift, divide, analyse, distinguish) discernment, discrimination, right judgement; the faculty of distinguishing and classifying things according to their real properties
-jan: born of
priiti: f. joy
sukha: n. ease, happiness, going well
upapannam (acc. sg. m.): obtained or reached, gained, endowed with, possessed of

dhyaanam (acc. sg.): n. (from dhyai) n. meditation , thought , reflection , (esp.) profound and abstract religious meditation; (with Buddhists divided into 4 stages)
dhyai: to think of, imagine, contemplate, meditate on, call to mind, recollect; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative; to let the head hang down (said of an animal)
tataH: thence
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
prathamaM (acc. sg. m.): the first
prapede = 3rd pers. perfect. pra + pad: entered, reached, came to a particular state or condition

Monday, February 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.41: The Fruit of Not Returning

sa kaama-dhaatoH samatikramaaya
paarShNi-grahaaMs taan abhibhuuya shatruun
yogaad anaagaami-phalaM prapadya
dvaar'-iiva nirvaaNa-purasya tasthau

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

In order to go entirely beyond the sphere of desire,

He overpowered those enemies that grab the heel,

So that he attained, because of practice,
the fruit of not returning,

And stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of Nirvana.

In line 1 kaama-dhaatu, "the sphere of desire" is the first of the three spheres of kaama (desire), ruupa (form) and a-ruupa (non-form) that make up the Triple World. The relation between the Triple World and the Buddha-Mind is discussed by Dogen, for example, in Shobogenzo chap. 47 Sangai-yuishin, "The Triple World is Only the Mind." Further detailed information about the six realms that make up the kaama-dhaatu, and the unenlightened gods and men who are thought to inhabit those realms, can be gleaned from Buddhist dictionaries.

But what is Ashvaghosha actually saying, in the first two lines of this verse, about what Nanda did or didn't do in practice, and about what we should or shouldn't do in practice?

For a start, line 1 makes no logical sense, though in practice it does make sense. It makes no logical sense because samatikramaaya, being in the dative case, expresses a kind of desire -- a desire to go entirely beyond the sphere of desire. What is paradoxical in logic makes sense in practice, when a practitioner gives up many kinds of other desire because of the desire to be free. So maybe a distinction needs to be made between two kinds of desire -- for example, the desire for a bit of nothing vs the desire to get something; or the desire to follow an indirect path vs the desire to go straight for an end.

In making this kind of distinction, using the terms "means-whereby" and "end-gaining," FM Alexander explained that the desire to follow the new conscious means has to be stronger than the old instinctive desire to go straight for an end, guided by faulty sensory appreciation. For this reason I think that abhibhuu in line 2 is aptly translated as "overpower."

Among those enemies that seem to sneak up and grab us from behind, enemy number one might be Mara, the personification of the Moro reflex, and at the same time the personification of the end-gaining tendency in all of us. The imagery of being grabbed by the heel, or attacked from behind, seems appropriate in the sense that I am very often blind to my own fearful end-gaining. If I have a hidden agenda the agenda is likely to be hidden most of all from me -- until something I wasn't aware of seems to trip me up... or kick me up the backside, as the case may be.

In Alexander's terms, the overpowering of those end-gaining tendencies that grab the heel has not only a volitional component ("direction") and an inhibitory component ("inhibition") but an additional all-important component of going into action (e.g. moving a leg, or rising from a chair). These are the essential elements, as Alexander saw it, in working on the self. And working on the self is what is expressed in line 3, as I read it, by the word yoga.

The ablative yogaat means through, on the grounds of, because of, as a result of work, or practice. So I think Ashvaghosha is again emphasizing, as in 17.37, that Nanda attained what he attained not by accident, but as a result of hard work.

"Not returning" (an-aagaami) in line 3 means not returning to what or where?

When Johnston took it upon himself to translate aagaami as "rebirth on earth," it must have been on the basis of some Buddhist theory that he, as a Buddhist scholar, had about re-incarnation. But when I as a non-Buddhist read this verse without the filter of belief in some stupid damn theory of re-incarnation, it looks to me that Ashvaghosha is describing a condition in which a practitioner's desire for freedom has been sufficiently strong, and has been sufficiently translated into work on the self, that the practitioner is not subject to the pull of those end-gaining desires which would otherwise enslave him.

And Nanda's attainment of this fruit was not the end of anything. Rather, it took him as if to the gateway of Nirvana. It remained for him to enter, primarily by taking the backward step of turning his light and letting it shine. That backward step, the taking of which will be described in detail in the next twelve verses, is the practice of sitting-dhyana.

EH Johnston:
Having overcome those foes who attack from the rear, in order to pass out of the Kaamadhaatu sphere, and having reached by Yoga the fruit of not being subject to rebirth on earth, he stood as it were at the gate of the city of NirvaaNa.

Linda Covill:
In order to pass entirely beyond the sphere of desire, he had overpowered those enemies who attack from behind, and through yogic practice he had won the fruit of not returning to earth; now he stood as though at the gateway to the city of nirvana.

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
kaama-dhaatoH = gen. sg. kaama-dhaatu: m. the region of the wishes , seat of the kaamaa-vacara
kaamaa-vacara: m. pl. the spheres or worlds of desire (six in number , also called devaloka) ; the gods or inhabitants of the worlds of desire
vacara: m. a low person
kaama: m. wish, desire, longing
dhaatu: m. layer , stratum ; constituent part , ingredient (esp. ifc. , where often = " fold " e.g. tri-dh/Atu , threefold); element
samatikramaaya = dat. sg. samatikrama: m. going entirely over or beyond

paarShNi: f. the heel, the rear of an army (paarShNim √ grah with gen. , to attack in the rear)
grahaan (acc. pl. m.): seizing , laying hold of , holding
taan (acc. pl. m.): those
abhibhuuya = abs. abhi- √bhuu: to overcome , overpower , predominate , conquer , surpass , overspread ; to attack , defeat , humiliate
shatruun (acc. pl.): m. enemies

yogaad (abl.): through practice, because of practice
anaagaami-phalam (acc. sg.): the fruit of no going back
anaagaamin: mfn. not coming , not arriving; not future , not subject to returning
phalam: n. fruit; result
prapadya = abs. pra-√pad: arrive at , attain , enter (with acc.)

dvaari = loc. sg. dvaar: f. gate, door, entrance
iva: like
nirvaaNa-purasya = gen. sg. nirvaaNa-pura: the citadel of Nirvana
nirvaaNa: n. blowing out, extinction; perfect calm or happiness
pura: n. a fortress , castle , city , town
tasthau = 3rd pers. perfect sthaa: to stand, stand firm

Sunday, February 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.40: Three Seats of Release

muulaany atha triiNy a-shubasya viiras
tribhir vimokSh'-aayatanaish cakarta
camuu-mukha-sthaan dhRta-kaarmukaaMs triin
ariin iv' aaris tribhir aayas'-aagraiH

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

And so the hero cut the three roots of shameful conduct

Using three seats of release,

As if three rival princes,
bearing bows in the van of their armies,

Had been cut down by one prince using three iron points.

By the three roots of shameful conduct, symbolized by three enemy princes at the head of great armies, Ashvaghosha clearly means:
Enemy no. (1) raaga : redness; red passion; blind, end-gaining love; lust; vehement end-gaining desire;
Enemy no. (2) vyaapaada: malice, ill-will; or dveSha: hatred, enmity;
Enemy no (3) moha: ignorance, delusion.

What he means by the three vimokSh'-aayatana "seats of release," symbolized by three iron points, is up for discussion -- line 2, as I read it, is an invitation for every reader to dig as deeply as he or she would like to dig.

Johnston notes that the three vimokSh'-aayatana or "bases of liberation" are usually called the vimokSha-mukhas or "means/causes of liberation," which are namely:

shuunyataa: emptiness
a-nimitta: not having a cause
a-praNihita: not having a desire or purpose.

Following EHJ in apparent deference to the Buddhist dictionary, LC notes that the three supports of liberation are the conditionless, the desireless, and emptiness.

If you were brought to this blog by devotion to the practice of sitting-dhyana, you may feel, like me, that these terms on their own do not have much practical value for us.

The Buddhist dictionary has its place in the Universe, diligent Buddhist scholars like EH Johnston certainly have their place in the Universe, a talented linguist and lovely writer of English like Linda Covill certainly has her place in the Universe. But so do the seekers for whom I write this blog -- practitioners who are devoted to the pursuit of release in their own sitting practice, and who cannot therefore be satisfied with superficial explanations. If you are not like that, then I don't need you here holding up a mirror to me with your trivial "takes" on practice and your false pride in the fixed edifices of your intellectual knowledge.... Or there again maybe I do.

Anyway, setting aside external sources of Buddhist scholarship, is it possible for deeper understanding of the three vimokSh'-aayatana to be dug out from the goldmine of Saundarananda itself?

In verses 16.59 to 16.64 of Canto 16 the Buddha, using an analogy from aryuvedic medicine, instructed Nanda exactly in a three-pronged approach to cutting the three roots of passion, malice, and delusion, viz:

When the mind is filled with the red joys of passion,

Direction towards oneself of loving-kindness is not to be practised;

For a passionate type is stupefied by love,

Like a sufferer from phlegm taking oil.

Steadiness lies, when one's mind is stirred up by passion,

In coming back to a disagreeable stimulus;

For thus a passionate type obtains relief,

Like a phlegmatic type taking an astringent.

When a mind is wound up, however, with the fault of malice,

A disagreeable stimulus is not to be dwelt upon;

For unpleasantness is destructive to a hating type,

As acid treatment is to a man of bilious nature.

When the mind is agitated by the fault of malice,

Loving-kindness should be practised, towards oneself;

For kindness is calming to a hate-afflicted soul,

As cooling treatment is to the man of bilious nature.

Where there is wandering of the mind, tied to delusion,

Both loving-kindness and unpleasantness are unsuitable,

For a deluded man is further deluded by these two,

Like a windy type given an astringent.

When working of the mind is deluded in nature,

One should appreciate the causality herein;

For here in the midst of mental delusion lies a path to peace,

Like treating a wind condition with oil.

Echoing this three-pronged instruction, Ashvaghosha in Canto 17 has described Nanda escaping from the net of shabby views and defeating passion and malice, by appreciating everything depending on everything (17.31); by his use of a disagreeable stimulus to kill passion (17.38); and by his use of loving-kindness to beat malice (17.39).

The three elements of this three-pronged approach are liable to be interpreted, by Buddhist scholars and voice-hearers of the small vehicle, as (1) meditation on so-called dependent origination (pratyaya-samutpada); (2) impurity meditation; and (3) loving-kindness meditation.

For Dogen, however, and therefore I assume for his ancestor Ashvaghosha, if there is any such thing as meditation it is only sitting-meditation, in which sitting is the meditation and the meditation is sitting.

Digging deeper then, I would like to understand the three seats of release on a more integrated and unified basis -- for example, as the shiila (integrity), shama (stillness), and prajNaa (wisdom) which are totally centred on the practice of sitting upright with legs fully crossed. This three-way classification of the noble path is as described from 16.30 to 16.37, wherein shiila (integrity) affords protection against the afflictions which are the root of shameful conduct, shama (stillness) repells those afflictions, and prajNaa (wisdom) destroys them without trace.

So above are three interpretations of what Ashvaghosha might mean by three seats of release, or three supports of liberation. The latter two interpretations arise out of seeing a fault in the previous one, and that process of becoming aware of faults in interpretations has not finished yet.

Ashvaghosha neglects to spell out for us exactly what he means by vimokSh'-aayatana. I suspect that this might be intentional, because he wishes to encourage each listener to ask and answer the question for himself or herself -- to embark on his own process of coming up with bright ideas and saying "No!" to them.

What three seats of release do you rely upon for support?
- Three words from a Buddhist dictionary?
- Resorting to a disagreeable stimulus, practice of loving-kindness, and investigation of causality?
- Threefold practice of integrity, stillness, and wisdom?

Truly, it may be that such asking and answering and saying "No, not that answer!", cannot take place for real without face-to-face contact with a teacher who knows the score. Ultimately it may be impossible for a practitioner on his own to dig out the true gold even from Ashvaghosha's own words, much less from the Buddhist dictionary. And even contact with a teacher who knows the score, if there is any such animal on the earth today, could not be sufficient in itself. Ultimately, each person is required to do his or her own digging for gold alone on a round cushion. Ultimate negation takes place only on the round cushion.

And on that basis, when Ashvaghosha wrote of three seats of release, I wonder: might he secretly have had in his mind the mat under his left knee, the mat under his right knee, and the sitting-cushion under his bum?

EH Johnston:
Then the hero cut away the three roots of evil with the three bases of liberation, as an enemy cuts down with three steel-tipped arrows three enemies standing at the head of the hostile array and holding bows.

Linda Covill:
Then he, the hero, cut away the three roots of impurity with the three supports of liberation, like a noble man cuts down three bow-bearing enemies at the head of their army with three metal-tipped arrows.

muulaani (acc. pl.): n. roots
atha: ind. then, now
triiNi (acc. pl. n.): three
a-shubasya = gen. sg. m./n. a-shuba: mfn. not beautiful or agreeable , disagreeable; n. a shameful deed , sin ; m. misfortune , harm , mischief
viiraH (nom. sg.): m. a man , (esp.) a brave or eminent man , hero

tribhiH (inst. pl. n.): with three
vimokSha: m. being loosened or undone ; release ; letting go
aayatanaiH = inst. pl. aayatana: n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode
aa-√yat: to arrive , enter ; to adhere , abide ; to attain to ; to rest on , depend on ; to be at the disposition of ; to make efforts
cakarta = 3rd pers. perfect kRt: to cut , cut in pieces , cut off

camuu: an army or division of an army (129 elephants , as many cars , 2187 horse , and 3645 foot)
mukha: n. the mouth, face ; the fore part , front , van (of an army); the upper part , head , top , tip or point of anything ; cause, means
sthaan = acc. pl. m. stha: mfn. (only ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in
dhRta: mfn. held , borne
kaarmukaan = acc. pl. kaarmuka: n. a bow
triin (acc. pl. m.): three

ariin = acc. pl. ari: m. enemy, a rival prince
iva: like
ariH (nom. sg. m.): an enemy, a rival prince
tribhiH (inst. pl. n.): with three
aayasa: mfn. of iron , made of iron or metal , metallic ; armed with an iron weapon ; n. iron
agraiH = inst. pl. agra: n. foremost point or part; n. tip; n. point

Saturday, February 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.39: And Enemy No. 2

dveSh'-aayudhaM krodha-vikiirNa-baaNaM
vyaapaadam antaH-prasavaM sapatnaM
maitrii-pRShatkair dhRti-tuuNa-saMsthaiH
kShamaa-dhanurjyaa-visRtair jaghaana

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

That gestating love-rival, malice,

Whose weapon is hatred
and whose errant arrow is anger,

He slayed with the arrows of kindness,
which are contained in a quiver of constancy

And released from the bow-string of patience.

I have followed Johnston in understanding antaH-prasavam to mean pregnant, and have understood sa-patnam in light of its derivation from sa-patnii, which means a rival in love.

I think Ashvaghosha's intention might be to personify an opposition, or rivalry, between the two primary afflictions of (1) blind, end-gaining love and (2) hate -- i.e. between (1) the red passion identified in 17.38 as the great enemy, whose armoury includes fixing, and (2) the malice targeted in today's verse.

In translating verse 16.62 last year I translated vyaapaada as "ill-will" and its antidote maitrii as "love." Hence:

When the mind is agitated by the fault of ill-will,

Love should be practised, through self-acceptance;

For love is calming to a hate-afflicted soul,

As cooling treatment is to the man of bilious nature.

Because the English word "love" covers such a multitude of sins and virtues, however, I think on reflection that it is better to translate maitrii as "kindness" or, as has become conventional, "loving-kindness." Hence:

When the mind is agitated by the fault of malice,

Loving-kindness should be practised, towards oneself;

For kindness is calming to a hate-afflicted soul,

As cooling treatment is to the man of bilious nature.

EH Johnston:
Malevolence, the foe who is pregnant (of evil), whose weapon is hate and who discharges the arrows of wrath, he struck down by the arrows of benevolence which are placed in the quiver of firmness and fitted to the bowstring of patience.

Linda Covill:
He killed his adversary, malice, which drives one from within, which has hatred for its weapon and anger for its scattering arrows, with his own arrows of loving-kindness, kept in a quiver of constancy and dispersed by the bow-string of tolerance.

dveSha: m. hatred
aayudham (acc. sg.): n. weapon, implement
krodha: anger
vikiirNa: mfn. scattered , thrown about , dispersed
baaNam (acc. sg.): m. arrow

vyaapaadam (acc. sg.): m. destruction , ruin , death ; evil intent or design , malice
antaH-prasavam (acc. sg. m.): inside-begetting (= gestation, pregnancy ?)
antaH = antar: ind. within , between , amongst , in the middle or interior; (ibc) interior , internal , intermediate
prasava: 1. m. the pressing out (soma juice); 2. m. setting or being set in motion, impulse; 3. m. begetting , procreation , generation , conception , parturition , delivery , birth , origin ; augmentation, increase
sapatna (acc. sg.): m. (fr. sapatni) a rival , adversary , enemy
sa-patnii: f. a woman who has the same husband with another woman or whose husband has other wives , a fellow-wife or mistress , female rival
patnii: f. mistress, wife

maitrii: f. friendship , friendliness , benevolence , good will
pRShatkaiH (inst. pl.): with arrows
dhRti: firmness , constancy , resolution
tuuNa: m. a quiver
saMsthaiH = inst. pl. saMstha: being in, belonging to (loc. or comp.)

kShamaa: f. patience , forbearance , indulgence
dhanurjyaa: f. a bow-string
visRtaiH = inst. pl. visRta: mfn. come forth , issuing or proceeding from vi- √ sR: to run or flow through ; to spread out in various directions , extend (intr.) ; to be separated , part from (instr.) ; to go forth in various directions , disperse ; to come forth , issue from (abl. or -tas)
√ sR: to run , flow , speed , glide , move , go
jaghaana = 3rd per. perfect han: to strike ; to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy

Friday, February 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.38: Seeing Off Enemy No. 1

sa lobha-caapaM parikalpa-baaNaM
raagaM mahaa-vairiNam alpa-sheSham
kaaya-svabhaav'-aadhigatair bibheda
yog'-aayudh'-aastrair a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH

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

A small vestige of the great enemy, red passion,

Whose straining bow is impatient desire
and whose arrow is something fixed, a fabrication,

He destroyed using weapons
procured from the body as it naturally is --

Using the darts of the disagreeable,
weapons from the armoury of practice.

I have translated this verse in a somewhat long-winded and explanatory way, on the basis of the mistake-ridden experience of my own life, a continuing catalogue of errors. For what could be more unedifying than the impatience of a man who has pretensions of being a Zen master?

The term parikalpa in line 1 (line 2 in translation) is one whose meaning is important. Its root is pari- √klRp, to fix, and for reasons explained in comments to 13.49 - 53, in those verses I translated parikalpa as fixing. By extension, however, parikalpa also means making, fabricating, contriving, and by further extension something fabricated, contrived, invented, made up -- i.e. an illusion or delusion.

In this verse, as I read it, parikalpa includes both the sense of:
(1) something fixed, related in my experience primarily with the function of the Moro reflex -- the great red enemy of all human beings who live in fear;
(2) something fabricated, made up or imagined, in which sense parikalpa seems to be contrasted with kaaya-svabhava (the body as it naturally is) in line 3.

In the process of trying to locate my own previous comments from this blog on parikalpa, I googled "parikalpa, Ashvaghosha", and stumbled on a paper by Lynken Ghose, who follows convention in translating parikalpa as "delusion." The paper discusses attachment, and the author observes that in Saundarananda "attachment connotes something like a hardened bond that brings about rigid expectations for a certain result..." Ghose notes further that "Another part of the standard Buddhist view on attachment is that it is intricately linked to parikalpa or delusion...."

It seems to me that if Ghose had understood parikalpa not so much as delusion but more according to its primary meaning of fixing, his explanation of what Ashvaghosha means by attachment might have been strengthened.

In line 4 a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH, "the arrows of non-beauty," or "the darts of a disagreeable [stimulus]," describes coming back to a stimulus that one finds to be disagreeable, i.e. resorting to a passion killer, when the mind is disturbed by some impatient desire. Hence...

Steadiness lies, when one's mind is stirred up by passion,

In coming back to a disagreeable stimulus;

For thus a passionate type obtains relief,

Like a phlegmatic type taking an astringent.

When a mind is wound up, however, with the fault of malice,

A disagreeable stimulus is not to be dwelt upon;

For unpleasantness is destructive to a hating type,

As acid treatment is to a man of bilious nature.

The word which I translated as "stimulus" in 16.60-61, and which EHJ and LC translated as "meditation" is nimittam. But in this context of resorting to a disagreeable or non-beautiful stimulus, certainly, I would like to avoid using the word "meditation." If any word deserves to be translated as "meditation" that word would be dhyaana, as in sitting-dhyaana, sitting-zen, sitting-meditation.

From 17.42 to 17.54 Ashvaghosha will chart Nanda's progress (or regress) through four dhyaana, or four stages of sitting-meditation -- or, if I take the cowardly option and leave dhyaana untranslated, four dhyanas.

I can't help regarding the upcoming series of verses from 17.42 as being particularly important, because they are all about the essential practice of sitting-dhyana. At the same time, just as the whole of Shobogenzo is about sitting-dhyana, it may be that every word of Saundarananda is about sitting-dhyana.

That being so, using the darts of the disagreeable might not require us to engage in any kind of meditation other than the same old practice of sitting on a zafu and directing the body to lengthen and widen. Non-beauty might already be abundantly present in the sitting like this of anybody's body, with all its spots and snot, farts and ear-wax, et cetera, et cetera.

EH Johnston:
The small remains of the great foe, passion, whose bow is greed and arrows imaginations, he overwhelmed by the missiles of the weapon of Yoga, the arrows of meditation on impurity, which are acquired by considering the very nature of the body.

Linda Covill:
That small remainder of the great enemy passion, which has longing for its bow and imaginings for its arrows, he shattered with his own arsenal of the weapons of yogic practice, the arrows of impurity meditation obtained through seeing the real nature of the body.

saH (nom. sg. m): he
lobha: perplexity , confusion ; impatience , eager desire for or longing after (gen. loc. or comp.) ; covetousness , cupidity , avarice
caapam (acc. sg.): m. bow
parikalpa: m. illusion; (= parikalpana) n. fixing , settling , contriving , making , inventing
pari- √ klRp: to fix , settle , determine ; to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make
baaNam (acc. sg.): m. reed-shaft, arrow

raagam (acc. sg.): m. redness, passion
mahaa-vairiNam = acc. sg. m. mahaa-vairin: great enemy
alpa-sheSham (acc. sg.): small remainder, vestige
sheSha: mn. remainder , that which remains or is left , leavings , residue

kaaya: body
svabhaava: m. own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
adhigataiH = inst. pl. m. adhigata: found , obtained , acquired ; gone over , studied , learnt
bibheda = 3rd per. perfect. bhid: to split , cleave , break , cut or rend asunder , pierce , destroy

yoga: m. act of yoking, practice
aayudha: n. weapon, implement
astraiH = inst. pl. n. astra: a missile, weapon , bolt , arrow
a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH= inst. pl. a-shubhaa-pRShatka: arrow of non-beauty
a-shubhaa = nom. sg. f. a-shubha: mfn. not beautiful or agreeable , disagreeable ; inauspicious ; bad , vicious
a-shubhaaH = nom. pl. m. a-shubha: m. misfortune , harm , mischief
pRShatka: m. an arrow

Thursday, February 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.37: Love & Hate Cut Down to Size, Via Broadening of the Chest/Back

sa kaama-raaga-pratighau sthir'-aatmaa
ten' aiva yogena tanuu cakaara
kRtvaa mah"-oraska-tanus tanuu tau
praapa dvitiiyaM phalam aarya-dharme

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

He, firm in himself,
minimised the duality of love and hate

By the yoke of the same old practice:

Being himself big across the chest,
he made those two small,

And so obtained the second fruit in the noble Dharma.

Exactly what practice, or "act of yoking" (yoga) is Ashvaghosha referring to in line 2?

Does he mean the mental practice of investigating things, as characterized by impermanence, suffering, impurity, emptiness, non-self?

Or does he mean the total psycho-physical practice into which Nanda threw himself at the beginning of this Canto, viz:

Having washed his feet in that water,

He then, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root,

Girded on the intention to come undone,

And sat with legs fully crossed.

By first directing the whole body up,

And thus keeping mindfulness turned towards the body,

And thus integrating in his person all the senses,

There he threw himself all-out into practice.

How is it actually possible in practice to cut love and hate down to size?

For a start, there is no question that to have some kind of job to do, to have some concrete action to which to devote oneself, is, in extremis, a life saver. Then a further clue is contained, as I read it, in line 3, which suggests that the secret is to truly let the torso expand. And this true widening of the whole torso (as distinct from puffing up the chest by tightening the back) is a function of the whole body being directed up. When the whole torso truly expands (both front and back) then the whole body goes up. And when the whole body truly goes up, then the whole torso (both chest and back) broadens out.

This lengthening and widening may not get rid of love and hate, but it might help to keep collateral damage from love and hate to a minimum.

When a friend of mine was going through emotional turmoil towards the end of a passionate love affair, his Alexander teacher Peter Ribeaux recommended him, whatever he was going through, to keep lengthening and widening through it. That, I think was, very good advice.

The four fruits of the Dharma are generally explained in Sanskrit as:
(1) srotaapatti; entering the stream
(2) sakRdaagaamin; being subject to one return
(3) an-aagaamin; not being subject to return
(4) arhat; being worthy.

So the second fruit of the Dharma described in line 4 is generally known in Sanskrit as sakRdaagaamin, "once coming" or "being subject to one return" (sakRt = once ; aagaamin = coming). As with the first fruit of the Dharma whose attainment he describes in 17.27, however, Ashvaghosha seems to avoid, or at least does not use, the explanatory term.

The negative term an-aagaamin, "non-returner," in contrast, Ashvaghosha does use in 17.41 to express Nanda's attainment of the third fruit of the Dharma.

The fourth fruit also is not referred to as the fourth fruit, but rather as arhattva ("arhathood", "the worthy state"; 17.56, 17.61).

In conclusion, whether I am right or wrong, it makes me happy to think that by yoga in line 2 Ashvaghosha means sitting in full lotus and directing the whole body to lengthen upwards and at the same time to expand outwards -- like a man, indeed, who uses himself well in carrying a big yoke. And again I may be wrong but I suspect that Ashvaghosha's neglecting to use the terms "stream-enterer" and "one subject to one return," was not incidental. I suspect, but am not sure, that Ashvaghosha might have seen something problematic in people's conception of being srotaapanna "a stream-enterer" or sakRdaagaamin "one who is subject to only one more return."

What is not in doubt, in this verse as also in 17.41, is Ashvaghosha's emphasis that the fruits of Dharma are not obtained as a result of good luck. The emphasis, always, is on yoga, practice.

The essence of this yoga, as far as I for one understand it, is to sit in full lotus in such a way that not only is the spine caused to lengthen but also the torso is allowed to expand in all directions. And true yoga like this, unlike the yoga that is called yoga nowadays, cannot be done by doing (pravRtti). Truly, it is non-doing (nivRtti) -- a backward step.

What number fruit it is, or how many returns it is subject to, I do not always know. But I know that the yoga of being big about the chest, for each person, invariably is a matter of undoing and non-doing, and it can't be done.

EH Johnston:
Firm in himself, with the same Yoga he reduced to small proportions desire and hate, and so he, whose body was broad-chested, by reducing these two obtained the second fruit of the noble Law.

Linda Covill:
Firm in himself, and using the same yogic practice, he minimized the obstacles, desire and hate; himself broad-chested, he made them small, and so obtained the second fruit of the noble dharma.

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
kaama-raaga-pratighau (acc. dual): love & hate
kaama-raaga: love
kaama: m. wish, desire, longing; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; inflammation ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
pratigha: m. hindrance , obstruction , resistance , opposition; struggling against (comp.) ; anger , wrath , enmity (one of the 6 evil passions Dharmas)
sthir'-aatmaa (nom. sg. m.): he of firm self
sthira: firm
aatman: self

tena (inst. sg. tad): by that; ind. in that direction , there ; in that manner
eva: (emphatic -- in its most frequent use of strengthening the idea expressed by any word , eva must be variously rendered by such adverbs as) just , exactly , very , same , only , even , alone , merely , immediately on , still , already , &c
yogena = inst. sg. yoga: m. the act of yoking ; practice ; remedy, means, method ; endeavor
tanuu = acc. dual. m. tanu: thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate , fine
cakaara (3rd pers. perfect kR): he made

kRtvaa = abs. kR: to make
mah"-oraska-tanuH: one of broad-chested body
mah"-oraska: mfn. broad-chested
mahaa: great , mighty , strong , abundant
uraska ifc. = uras: the chest , breast
tanu = tanU: f. the body , person , self (often used like a reflexive noun)
tanuu = acc. dual. m. tanu: thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate , fine
tau (acc. dual. m. tad): those two

praapa (3rd pers. sg. perfect pra-√aap): he obtained
dvitiiyam (acc.): the second
phalam (acc. sg.): n. fruit
aarya-dharme (loc. sg.): in the noble dharma

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.36: Impurity & Emptiness Revisited

kesh'-aadin" aamedhya-gaNena puurNaM
tataH sa kaayaM samavekShamaaNaH
saaraM vicinty' aaNv api n' opalebhe

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

As full of skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, and flesh,

And hair and a mass of other such unholy stuff,

He then observed the body to be;

He looked into its essential reality,
and found not even an atom.

Looking into the essential reality of a human body, what is to be found?

Descartes, if I remember rightly, thought that the pineal gland was important.

Neuro-boffins of recent times drone on endlessly about the amygdala.

My old teacher Gudo Nishijima thought that the two branches of the autonomic nervous system, and the hypothalamus, were very important. To be fair to him, however, what he emphasized as all-important was balance of these two branches of the autonomic nervous system.

FM Alexander observed to be of primary importance the manner in which a person used hs head in relation to the neck and the head and neck in relation to the rest of the organism. Consequently, people of scant understanding point to the atlanto-occipital joints, where the skull sits on the spine, as being the seat of what Alexander termed "the primary control" of the human organism.

Whereas the pineal gland, the amygdala, indeed the whole of the brain including the autonomic nervous system, as well as joints, ligaments, bones, muscles, and the rest, are all anatomical structures, made up of atoms, what wise men through the ages have found to be of primary importance, it seems to me, is what can never be reduced to atoms. What is of primary importance, in short, is not atomic structures per se, but rather balance in how atomic structures relate to each other.

So the essence of a Buddha-ancestor, Dogen tells us in the opening paragraph of Shobogenzo is balance in accepting and using the self.

To those who would like to put on the thick-lensed spectacles of reductionism and pick out from the morass of unholy stuff those atoms that are particularly important in the achievement of balance in accepting and using the self... good luck to them. Maybe they will succeed where Nanda failed. And pigs might fly.

So in conclusion, when we sit and look into the essential reality of a body sitting, what is there? To list off the top of our head Buddhist buzz-words like "emptiness" and "non-self," might not be it. If we glibly say that nothing is essential, in a nihilistic manner, that might not be it. That nothing is essential might not be it, but what is really essential might be a bit of nothing.

I think this is why Ashvaghosha tells us that aNv api n' opalebhe, "he found not even an atom."

For anybody who would like to read up on the true meaning of "shuunyataa" (emptiness), I wouldn't touch with a barge pole the attempts by latter-day Mahayana commentators to interpet the teachings of Nagarjuna et al. The first book I would recommend seekers of emptiness to put on their Amazon wish-list, would be one of the four books written by FM Alexander.

EH Johnston:
Then seeing the body to be but an impure aggregate of skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, flesh, hair etc., and reflecting on its substance, he did not perceive even the minutest (real substance) in it.

Linda Covill:
Then he perceived that the body was filled with a host of impurities such as skin, sinew, fat, blood, bone, flesh, and hair; and in reflecting on its substance, he found not even an atom that was real.

tvak = tvac: f. skin
snaayu: fn. any sinew or ligament in the human and animal body , tendon , muscle , nerve , vein
medo = medas: n. fat , marrow , lymph
rudhira: n. blood
asthi: n. a bone
maaMsa: n. flesh, meat

kesha: m. the hair of the head ; the mane
aadina = inst. sg. aadi: m. (ifc.) beginning with , et caetera , and so on
amedhya-gaNena = inst. sg. amedhya-gaNa: a host of impurities
amedhya: mfn. not able or not allowed to sacrifice , not fit for sacrifice , impure , unholy , nefarious , foul ; n. faeces, excrement
medhya: mfn. (fr. medha) full of sap , vigorous , fresh , mighty , strong ; fit for a sacrifice or oblation , free from blemish (as a victim) , clean , pure , not defiling (by contact or by being eaten) ;
medha: m. the juice of meat , broth , nourishing or strengthening drink; marrow (esp. of the sacrificial victim) , sap , pith , essence ; a sacrificial animal , victim ; an animal-sacrifice , offering , oblation , any sacrifice
gaNa: m. a flock , troop , multitude , number
puurNam (acc. sg. m.): filled , full , filled with or full of (instr. or gen. or comp.)

tataH: ind. from that, thence
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
kaayam (acc. sg.): m. body
samavekShamaaNaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part samavekSh: to look at , behold , observe , perceive , notice ; to reflect or ponder on , consider , mind , heed

saaram: (acc. sg.): mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything ; the real meaning , main point ; a chief-ingredient or constituent part of the body
vicintya = abs. vi- √cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for ; to find out , devise , investigate
aNu: m. an atom of matter; ind. minutely
api: (emphatic) even, [not] a single
na: not
upalebhe = 3rd pers. perfect upa-√labh: to seize , get possession of , acquire , receive , obtain , find ; to perceive

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.35: Impermanence & Suffering, Seen without Fear or Favour

sa naashakair dRShTi-gatair vimuktaH
paryantam aalokya punar bhavasya
bhaktvaa ghRNaaM klesha-vijRmbhiteShu
mRtyor na tatraasa na dur-gatibhyaH

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

Sprung free from pernicious theories,

Seeing an end to becoming,

And feeling horror for the consequences of affliction,

He trembled not at death or hellish realms.

Verses 17.35 to 17.37 chart the lead-up to Nanda's attainment of the second fruit of the Dharma. This lead-up seems to consist of a swift re-capping of the processes of investigation which were described in detail in verses 17.15 to 17.21 and summed up in 17.17:

For, on those grounds,
on the grounds of impermanence and emptiness,

On the grounds of absence of self, and of suffering,

He, by the most discerning empirical path,

Caused the tree of afflictions to shake.

Read in that light the words death (mRtyu) and hell (dur-gati), in line 4 of today's verse, may be taken as synonymous with impermanence and suffering.

In Canto 14, the Buddha tells Nanda:

In fear, in joy and in anguish,

One does not succumb to sleep;

Therefore against the onslaughts of sleep

Resort to these three:

You should feel the fear that derives from death's approach,

The joy from grasping a teaching of Dharma,

And from the boundless suffering in a birth,

You should feel the anguish.

What the Buddha is urging Nanda to fear in Canto 14 might be not death itself, but rather the wasting of time.

In other words, death and hell, for which read impermanence and suffering, are not things to be feared but are rather realities to be reflected upon, as a means of shaking the tree of afflictions.

To put it another way, fear of death is associated with either too much tone in the neck muscles (stiffening) or too little tone (collapse). Whereas when, faced with the prospect of death, a man does not faff about but resolutely takes the backward step, then the neck is free, to allow the head to go forward and up.

Head forward and up...
Head forward and up...

Come hell or high water, let the head go forward and up....

The tree of affliction is not shaken at all, it strikes me this morning, by faffing about with words -- which writing comments is easily prone to become. In order truly to shake the tree of afflictions, it is necessary to be resolute in taking the backward step.

EH Johnston:
Freed from destructive aberrations of doctrine, seeing the end of rebirth and feeling disgust in the manifestations of the vices, Nanda was not afraid of death or of the realms of misery.

Linda Covill:
Liberated from destructive views, seeing the end of rebirth, feeling compassionate repugnance at the extent of the defilements, he feared neither death nor rebirth in the lower realms.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
naashakaiH = inst. pl. naashaka: mfn. destroying , annihilating
dRShTi-gataiH = inst. pl. dRShTi-gata: n. theory , doctrine
dRShTi: f. view
gata: mfn. come , come forth from (in comp); n. the place where any one has gone
vimuktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unloosed , unharnessed &c ; set free , liberated

paryantam: ind. entirely , altogether ; to the end of , as far as
aalokya = abs. aa √ lok: to look at, behold
punar: ind. again, once more (with √ bhuu , to exist again , be renewed , become a wife again , re-marry; further, repeated
bhavasya = gen. bhava (from √ bhuu, to become, exist): coming into existence , birth; becoming

bhaktvaa = abs. bhaj: to obtain as one's share , receive as (two acc.) , partake of , enjoy (also carnally) , possess , have (acc. ); experience , incur , undergo , feel , go or fall into (with acc. , esp. of abstract noun)
ghRNaam (acc. sg.): f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; f. aversion , contempt (with loc.) ; f. horror , disgust
klesha-vijRmbhiteShu = loc. pl. klesha-vijRmbhita: the consequences of affliction
klesha: affliction
vijRmbhita: n. yawning; coming out , appearance , manifestation , consequences
vi- √ jRmbh: to open the mouth , yawn , gape ; to open (intr.) , expand , become expanded or developed or exhibited , spread out , blossom ; to extend , become erect (said of the membrum virile) ; to arise , appear , awake (fig.)

mRtyoH = gen./abl. sg. mRtyu: m. death
na: not
tatraasa = 3rd pers. perfect tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid of (abl. gen.)
na: not
dur-gatibhyaH = abl. pl. dur-gati: f. misfortune , distress , poverty ; f. hell
dur = dus: ind. a prefix implying evil , bad , difficult , hard
gati: f. going, passage; path , way , course ; state , condition , situation , proportion , mode of existence

Monday, February 15, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.34: Seeing Buddha with the Eye of the Body

aaryeNa maargeNa tath" aiva muktas
tathaagatam tattva-vid aarya-tattvaH
anusmaran pashyati kaaya-saakShii
maitryaa ca sarva-jNatayaa ca tuShTaH

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

Exactly so is a finder of reality who,
set free by the noble path,

Is the reality of being noble:

His body being a seeing Eye,
he sees the Realised One,

Gratefully acknowledging his benevolence
and all-knowingness.

Though we have not yet arrived at the section of Canto 17 which is explicitly devoted to sitting-dhyaana, this verse is just about sitting-dhyana. This verse is about nothing but the lifeblood.

As I wrote yesterday, in this and the previous verse, Ashvaghosha is comparing the gratitude of one who has been set free by the Buddha's teaching to the gratitude of one whose life has been saved by the salutary instruction or direction of a healer. On what basis is Ashvaghosha making this comparison? The only possible basis, as I read it, is Ashvaghosha's own gratitude to the Buddha for having been set free by the Buddha's teaching.

So here Ashvaghosha is telling it like it is from his own experience in sitting. In this part he is telling us the truth neither through the device of putting words in the Buddha's mouth, nor through the device of describing Nanda's progressive (or regressive) discoveries. This verse, as I read it, is Ashvaghosha just telling us the truth straight, using his own figurative expressions, on the basis of his own experience in sitting.

Figurative expressions involving the Eye, which feature not only in the title of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo (Treasury of the Eye of True Dharma) but also throughout Dogen's writing in Shobogenzo, are generally not easy to translate.

Figurative expressions in general are not easy to translate with confidence -- so many possible translations would appear to fit. With a phrase like aarya-tattvaH ("the reality of being noble") in line 2, for example, I go to bed thinking I found a phrase that hit the target, but then wake up with another phrase, and while sitting in the morning another phrase emerges.

However I end up translating aarya-tattvaH, my understanding of the meaning of nobility is wholly dependent on the opening lines of Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai, in which Dogen tells us unequivocally what true nobility is.

To do justice to a figurative phrase like kaaya-saakShii ("his body being a seeing Eye") again, is never easy. But what is not in doubt, what one can have absolute confidence in, is that Ashvaghosha is pointing to a practice and experience which necessarily involves the body.

As with aarya-tattva, the reality of being a noble being, kaaya-saakShii, being a body as a seeing Eye, for the 12 ancestors in the line from Sakyamuni Buddha to Ashvaghosha, for the 16 ancestors in the line from Ashvaghosha to Bodhidharma, and for all the ancestors in China and Japan, primarily had to do with sitting in the full lotus posture and directing the whole body upward -- but not in a haughty way.

True nobility, without any vestige of haughtiness, but rather with humility and gratitude, is what is expressed in this verse, and that is what we are gradually working towards, as works in progress.

Or, to put it another way, it might be truly to let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees out from the pelvis -- altogether, and one after the other.

EH Johnston:
So he who is freed by the noble Path, knowing reality, possessing the noble reality and experiencing it with his body, regards the Tathaagata in acknowledgement and is delighted with His benevolence and omniscience.

Linda Covill:
likewise a man liberated by the noble path, who knows reality and possesses the noble truth, is witness to the realized one, and in remembering him is delighted by his loving-kindness and omniscience.

aaryeNa = inst. sg. m. aarya: noble
maargeNa = inst. maarga: m. track, path
tath"aiva: just so, exactly so
muktaH (nom. sg m.): one who is loosened , let loose , set free , relaxed , slackened , opened , open

tathaagatam (acc. sg. m.): one who is in such a state or condition; "he who comes and goes in the same way [as the buddhas who preceded him]" , gautama buddha
tathaa: in that manner, thus
gata: gone; gone to any state or condition , fallen into
tattva-vit (nom. sg. m.): reality-realizing; one who has found reality
tattva: n. true or real state , truth , reality
vid: (1) knowing , understanding , a knower (mostly ifc.); (2) (ifc.) finding , acquiring , procuring
aarya-tattvaH (nom. sg. m.): a man of noble that-ness; a being that is the reality of being a noble being
aarya: a noble man ; a man highly esteemed , a respectable , honourable man
tattva: n. true or real state; the being that

anusmaran: remembering
pashyati: he sees
kaaya-saakShii (nom. sg. m.): being a body/eye-witness; as one who experiences as a physical realization; bodily bearing witness
kaaya: body
saakShin: mfn. seeing with the eyes , observing , witnessing ; an eye-witness , witness (in law) of or to (gen. loc. , or comp.)

maitryaa = inst. maitrii: f. friendship , friendliness , benevolence , good will
ca: and
sarva-jNatayaa = inst. sarva-jNataa: insight into all things
sarva: all, everything
jNataa: f. intelligence
ca: and
tuShTaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satisfied , pleased

Sunday, February 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.33: Seeing a Healer in the Mind's Eye

yath" opadeshena shivena mukto
rogaad a-rogo bhiShajaM kRta-jNaH
anusmaran pashyati citta-dRShTyaa
maitryaa ca shaastra-jNatayaa ca tuShTaH

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

When a healthy man has been freed from illness
by salutary instruction,

And he is aware of his debt of gratitude,

Just as he sees his healer in his mind's eye,

Gratefully acknowledging his benevolence
and knowledge of his subject,

In this and the next verse, Ashvaghosha is comparing the gratitude of one who has been set free by the Buddha's teaching to the gratitude of one whose life has been saved by the salutory instruction or direction (upadesha) of a healer.

It is not mentioned in this verse how much the healer charged for his healing services. The best healers, I am sure, are ones who are not in it for the money, but who are as if called to promote healing. At the same time, it might be that all the truly great healers are not primarily healers but are primarily great teachers or instructors -- great givers of direction (upadesha).

In FM Alexander's day such notables as the American philosopher John Dewey credited Alexander with having saved their life. FM's combined use of directive words and directive hands apparently had such power to effect change that people called him a miracle-worker. FM's reply was that "There are many miracles in nature."

FM, like the Buddha, saw his work primarily as teaching a principle, a fundamental truth or set of truths, as a consequence of whose application healing might come about, indirectly.

Mind you, when FM taught the great and the good, he did so for quite a hefty price. I think it was over £5 for half an hour, which might not sound too expensive, but this was circa 1910!

FM Alexander gave lessons to pupils, not sessions to patients. Yes, FM charged a lot of money for a lesson, and he loved betting on the gee-gees. He didn't see himself as a healer. Much less did he want to be revered as a saint or as a founder of some great mass movement. He believed in the individual. He taught a principle of constructive conscious control, consisting primarily of inhibition and direction, that was for every man or woman to think out for himself or herself as an individual.

FM guessed that in future generations people would gradually understand the importance of what he had discovered and in time they would build "a beastly statue" to him, but while he was still alive, he complained, nobody listened to a word he said!

EH Johnston:
As a man recovered from illness by auspicious treatment regards the physician gratefully in acknowledgement with his mind's eye is delighted with his benevolence and knowledge of the (medical) treatises,

Linda Covill:
Just as a healthy man who was delivered from illness by successful treatment in his gratitude forms a mental picture of his doctor, and in remembering him, is delighted by his kindness and scientific knowledge,

yathaa: just as
upadeshena = inst. upadesha: m. pointing out to , reference to ; specification , instruction , teaching , information , advice , prescription
shivena (inst. sg. m.): auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent
muktaH (nom. sg. m.): freed

rogaad = abl. sg. roga: " breaking up of strength " , disease , infirmity , sickness
a-rogaH (nom. sg.): m. one who is free from disease , healthy , well
bhiShajam = acc. sg. bhiShaj: m. a healer , physician
kRta-jNaH (nom. sg. m.): acknowledging past services or benefits , mindful of former aid or favours , grateful

anusmaran (nom. sg. m. pres. part. anu-√smR): remembering, acknowledging
anu-√smR: to remember, recollect
pashyati: he sees
citta-dRShTyaa (inst.): with the mind's eye
citta: mind
dRShTi: f. seeing, the mind's eye

maitryaa = inst. sg. maitrii: f. friendship , friendliness , benevolence , good will
ca: and
shaastra-jNatayaa = inst. sg. shaastra-jNataa: understanding of medicine, scientific knowledge
shaastra: n. an order , command , precept , rule; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel ; any instrument of teaching , any manual or compendium of rules , any book or treatise , (esp.) any religious or scientific treatise ; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture, science
jNataa: f. intelligence ; mfn. ifc. knowledge of
ca: and
tuShTaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satisfied , pleased, grateful

Saturday, February 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.32: The Eye of Meeting Buddha

shaantaM shivaM nir-jarasaM viraagaM
niHshreyasam pashyati yash ca dharmaM
tasy'-opadeShTaaram ath'aarya-varyaM
sa prekShate buddham avaapta-cakShuH

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

And he who sees as the greatest good the Dharma

That is peaceful, salutary, ageless, and free of redness,

And who sees its teacher as the noblest of the noble:

He, as one who has got the Eye, is meeting Buddha.

How to translate the Sanskrit word dharma?

"Teaching" here might be too abstract. "Sitting" might be too definite. If the easy option is taken and the word is left untranslated, which is better: dharma with a small 'd' or Dharma with a capital 'D'?

The reason this question has not been answered definitively so far, by any translator into English, might be because the true Dharma -- at least where there is true passion for sitting-practice -- is truly unaging (nir-jarasam): it is never not fresh.

The raaga of viraaga (usually translated as "passionless") literally means colour and especially redness. To me it suggests the action of the baby panic reflex -- the Moro reflex.

Dharma in its purest form might be a person, shaven headed and wearing a traditional robe, sitting in full lotus in a non-doing manner, such that the fight or flight action of the Moro reflex is utterly transcended.

When I was a teenager in the 1970s, I used to suffer from chronic blushing -- going bright red and sweating with such intensity that by the time I was through blushing I would be reduced to a pallid dribble of sweat. So I wanted to get to the bottom of that problem, to understand what the hell was going on. What was going on, it seems to me now, 35 years later, was that my Moro reflex was waxing and waning in conflict with a fear paralysis response.

Circa 1987, before I had even heard of the existence of anything called "the Moro reflex," I wrote something down that at that time was my best attempt to answer the question of the relation between sitting-practice, which I was doing a lot of, and emotional reaction, which also I was doing a lot of. Doing lots of sitting, it seemed to me then, did not stop off my emotional reaction at source -- I certainly could not claim to be free of passion -- but there was some sense in which sitting was always sitting. Whether I was sitting at a retreat in a Japanese Zen temple, or sitting by my miserable lovesick self, the action of sitting was, at least on a gross physical level, the same fundamental action. So, at a particulary red-faced moment, while on a 3-week leave of absence from Japan and staying at my parent's house in Birmingham, I scribbled down the following:

Nothing to live for, nothing to gain.
No love lasts forever, no man is his name.
Gold face or red face, we wash them the same.
The truth includes blunders, sickness and pain.

When Dogen wrote that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma and the Buddha-Dharma is sitting, did he have in mind the kind of blind physical sitting I was doing then -- making every effort to keep my spine straight vertically, guided only by faulty sensory appreciation?

I don't know. But I don't think so. There was something good about my practice in those days. At the same time there was something not at all good, something very stubborn and rigid, something that was very much caught in the grip of an immature Moro reflex.

I was aware of one side (sitting with the body, i.e. doing) but blind to the other side (sitting with the mind, in the direction of non-doing). I knew that doing something with the body -- anything -- afforded some kind of relief from emotional suffering, but I did not know how to think in such a way as to cut out emotional suffering at the root. As a matter of fact, I still don't know how to think like that. But maybe, a la D. Rumsfeld, I know that I don't know. Non-doing is now more of a known unknown, whereas then it was more of an unknown unknown.

Truly meeting Buddha, it seems to me now, cannot be only the doing that I knew then. Truly meeting Buddha is not one-sided. And a teacher who only teaches one side while remaining blind to the other, even if he has many excellent qualities, is not the noblest of the noble (aarya-varyam).

As a general rule, Zen teachers in Japan tend to be awake to the importance of traditional form in sitting, but their imitation of the Buddha's upright posture tends to be rather forced. On the other side, the sitting of mindful Theravada monks, at least the ones that I have sat with, is easily liable to degenerate into slumping. There are Alexander teachers who are more enlightened as to the true meaning of non-doing in the middle way, but they tend to fail to see the merit in a westerner enduring the pain of sitting with crossed legs -- they are awake in other words to non-form, but fail to see the importance of the traditional sitting form.

Realisation of both true traditional form and true traditional non-form might be something for us, who are works in progress, to keep working gradually towards -- on the way to gouging out Bodhidharma's eyeball.

A friend and former Alexander pupil of mine, in a phonecall a couple of days ago, contrasted what he called "the pure Dharma" of the Theravada monks his sits with at Amaravati monastery, and my own approach...


Ah, well. Keep on keeping on.

EH Johnston:
And he who sees the peaceful, holy, unaging, passionless Element, the ultimate good, and its Teacher, the Chief of the Saints, has obtained illumination and sees the Buddha.

Linda Covill:
And he who sees that dharma is tranquil, benign, without age or passion, and unexcelled, and sees that its teacher, Buddha, is the best of the noble ones -- he has won insight.

shaantam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. √sham) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed
shivam (acc. sg. m.): auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly; happy
nir-jarasam (acc. sg. m.): not becoming old , young , fresh ; imperishable , immortal
nis: ind. out , forth , away &c
jaras: f. the becoming old , decay , old age
viraagam (acc. sg. m.): passionless , without feeling , dispassionate , indifferent
vi: ind. apart , asunder , in different directions , to and fro , about , away , away from , off , without
raaga: m. colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness ; passion

niHshreyasam (acc. sg. m.): " having no better " , best , most excellent ; n. the best i.e. ultimate bliss , final beatitude , or knowledge that brings it
pashyati (3rd pers. sg. dRsh): he sees
yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
ca: and
dharmam (acc. sg. m.) : m. the teaching, law, method

tasya (gen.): of it
upadeShTaaram (acc. sg. m.): m. one who teaches , a teacher , adviser; a Guru or spiritual guide
atha: (auspicious particle) now, then, moreover
aarya: m. a respectable or honourable or faithful man; a man highly esteemed , a respectable , honourable man
varyam (acc. sg. m.): to be chosen , eligible; excellent , eminent , chief , principal , best of (gen. or comp.)

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
prekShate = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √iikS) : to look at , view , behold , observe;
to look on (without interfering) , suffer , say nothing
buddham (acc. sg.): m. Buddha, the Awakened One
avaapta-cakShuH (acc./nom. sg.):
avaapta: mfn. one who has attained or reached ; obtained , got
cakShus: n. light , clearness ; the act of seeing; sight; n. the eye (often ifc.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.31: Beware of Indra's Net

yo hi pravRttiM niyataam avaiti
n'aiv' aanya-hetor iha n'aapy a-hetoH
pratiitya tat tat samavaiti tat tat
sa naiShThikaM pashyati dharmam aaryaM

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

For he who understands that the doing in this world

Is determined neither by any outside cause
nor by no cause,

Who appreciates everything depending on everything:

He sees the ultimate noble Dharma.

This verse is part of the explanation of what it is to meet Buddha -- because without seeing the ultimate noble Dharma (which hopefully might also carry with it a sense of some practical human duty), there is no meeting Buddha.

What Ashvaghosha means by the doing in this world (pravRtti) needs to understood on the basis of the Buddha's exposition in Canto 16 of the evils of doing, viz:

The many and various disappointments of men, like old age,

Occur as long as their doing goes on.

(For even when violent winds blow,

Trees do not shake that never sprouted.)

And this, the suffering of doing, in the world,

Has its cause in clusters of faults which start with thirsting --

Certainly not in God, nor in primordial matter, nor in time;

Nor even in one’s inherent constitution, and not in predestination or self-will.

Again, you must understand how, due to this cause,

Because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on,

So that those imbued with redness and darkness succumb to death.

He is not reborn who is without redness and darkness.

Then comprehend that suffering is doing

And witness the faults moving it forward.

Realise its stopping as non-doing,

And know the path as a turning back.

To give an illustration of doing in this world with which we will all be familiar from our schooldays, think of that unreasonably unruly or so-called "hyper-active" child who was a pest in the classroom. Such a child is liable to be described as having a so-called "specific learning difficulty" such as "attention-deficit disorder" (ADD) or "attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder" (ADHD) or "dyslexia" (difficulty with words) or "dsypraxia" (clumsiness).

When I was at primary school, nobody thought I had any kind of learning difficulty, since, judged by the criteria of the times, I was always top of the class. But when I was eight years old, Miss Whittle did famously tell my parents at parents' evening "Michael is very bright, but his behaviour is disgusting."

Somehow or other I have managed to end up in my dotage, in a small way, working with children, mainly boys, who struggle in the classroom. And when I endeavour to explain to mothers that their son's doing is likely to be profoudly related with faults in the vestibular system, mothers often ask me back, "What caused him to have those faults?"

If I answered "dependent origination," I might get a funny look and end up with an unsatisfied customer. That would not be a good answer.

The answer I usually give is that genetic factors seem to play a very big role. Then difficulties in the processes of pregnancy and birth. Then illness or other factor that might have prevented the child in infancy from doing the movements it needed to explore thoroughly on its tummy, and then on hands and knees, before getting up and walking.

What about environmental factors, like brain-altering chemicals that have got into the water supply and into the air we breathe: are they also a factor? What about interventions like the MMR jab? Is that a factor?

I don't know. Even if such external causes are a factor, the doing in this world, I think Ashvaghosha is saying here, is not determined by such external factors.

So line 2 can be read as a negation of the viewpoint of determinism; and also as a negation of the viewpoint which denies causality.

And so we come to line 3, which should I think be treated with caution. Line 3 relates to "the doctrine of dependent origination," as sometimes represented by the metaphor of indra's net.

The Wikipedia entry on Indra's net
(indra-jaala) contains the following quote from Alan Watts:

"Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. That is the Buddhist conception of the universe in an image."

"Buddhist conception of the universe" eh, Alan? Hmmmmm.

Jaala means a net or web not only in the sense of a network but also in the sense of a trap or snare that people get tangled up in. And indra-jaala in particular is given in the dictionary, tellingly, as: n. the net of indra ; a weapon employed by arjuna ; sham , illusion , delusion , magic , sorcery.

What is called "the doctrine of dependent origination" is a doctrine, an -ism. And therein lies the trap. When people see a doctrine as true, our unenlightened tendency is to clutch at it, in the absence of anything else to grasp onto.

There is in the "Buddhist" world, as I see it, a lot of intellectual grasping onto the doctrine of dependent origination. And this grasping onto a doctrine is itself just another form of unenlightened doing.

Originally speaking, from where does all this doing arise?

I don't know. In the final analysis, it may be that everything depends on everything.

What I do know is this: when I am working with a lad who is meeting all kinds of difficulty in the classroom and who didn't crawl properly in infancy, I can help that lad to inhibit his wrong inner patterns of doing, by for example encouraging him to crawl now. What I am teaching him, by getting him to re-visit crawling, is the prevention of doing by non-doing. It is a kind of turning back.

It was never my intention when I was captain of the U16 rugby team of King Edward's School Birmingham to work with children with developmental problems, a field which tends to be populated in the main by flocks of soft unambitious women. I rather saw myself occupying some lofty pulpit, pontificating importantly to dragons and elephants from the worlds of politics and business, on such weighty doctrines as dependent origination. Before occupying that exalted platform, however, I understood that there were one or two little issues in myself that I needed to sort out first... and so 35 years later here I am, in the over-50s club already and not one step nearer to macho VIP-hood.

Is crawling about on the floor together with a child with learning difficulties what Ashvaghosha meant by seeing the ultimate noble Dharma? I don't know whether it is the ultimate noble Dharma. But, seeing what I see, it might be my inescapable duty.

It is more fun than getting tangled up in a doctrine, anyway!

EH Johnston:
For he, who recognises active being in this world not to be determined by any outside cause or to be without a cause, but understands that everything is dependent on something else, sees the noble Law that leads to final beatitude.

Linda Covill:
For he who understands that while a particular activity in the here and now is not caused by something else, it is also not without a cause, and who recognizes that everything is dependent on a variety of things -- he sees the ultimate noble dharma.

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
hi: for
pravRttim (acc. sg.): f. moving onwards , advance , progress ; active life , doing (as opp. to ni-vRtti, non-doing)
niyataam (acc. sg. f.): held back or in , fastened ; restrained, restricted ; disciplined , self-governed ; fixed , established
avaiti (3rd pers. sg. ave): he sees, perceives, understands

na: not
eva: (emphatic)
anya: other
hetoH = abl. sg. hetu: m. cause
iha: here & now, in this world
na: not
api: also
a-hetoH (abl. sg.) m. absence of cause or reason

pratiitya: ind. dependent on
(pratiitya-samutpaada: m. dependent arising/origination)
tat = nom./acc. sg. tad: that
tat tat (nom.): this and that, everything
samavaiti = 3rd pers. sg. samave: to regard , consider
tat tat (acc.): this and that, everything

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
naiShThikam (acc. sg. m.): forming the end , final , last; highest , perfect , complete
pashyati: he sees
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. the teaching, the law
aaryam (acc. sg. m.): noble