Saturday, February 6, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.25: Four Arrows for Four Enemies, whose Substance is Getting Things Back-to-Front, Inside-Out and Upside-Down

sa smRty-upasthaana-mayaiH pRShatkaiH
shatruun viparyaasa-mayaan kShaNena
duHkhasya hetuuMsh caturash caturbhiH
svaiH svaiH pracaar'-aayatanair dadaara

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

With arrows made from application of mindfulness,

Instantly he shot those enemies
whose substance is upside-down-ness:

He split apart four enemies, four causes of suffering,

With four arrows, each having its own range.

In Shobogenzo chap. 73, Sanjushichi-bon-bodai-bunbo, Thirty-seven Elements of Bodhi, Zen Master Dogen lists and comments on "the four abodes of mindfulness" (SHI-NEN-JU) as the first four of the thirty-seven elements.

The Sanskrit term translated as "abode of mindfulness" is smRty-upasthaana. "Abode" is a literal translation of upasthaana, and it corresponds to both of the Chinese characters (JU and JO) which were chosen to represent upasthaana. Ashvaghosha's usage here, however, seems to suggest a more active and dynamic meaning of upasthaana, in line with the first definition in the Sanskrit-English dictionary: "the act of placing one's self near to." So "four applications of mindfulness" might be nearer Ashvaghosha's mark.

In Sanskrit, the four are:

(1) kaaya-smRty-upasthaana:
application of mindfulness to the body,
(2) vedanaa-smRty-upasthaana:
application of mindfulness to feeling,
(3) citta-smRty-upasthaana:
application of mindfulness to the mind,
(4) dharma-smRty-upasthaana:
application of mindfulness to real things,

Anybody who has, for their sins, followed my blogging consistently over any length of time (are you still there, Jordan?) will have heard me ramble on about four vestibular reflexes, which I see as the bases of Alexander's four directions, viz:
(1) to let the neck be free,
(2) to let the head go forward and up,
(3) to let the back lengthen and widen, while
(4) allowing legs out from the pelvis.

With a view to clarifying this connection for self and others, in May 2007 I wrote this article, titled About Four Reflexes, in which I also suggested a further connection to the four abodes of mindfulness.

With that connection in the back of my mind, and as part of an effort to get ear, voice, eyes, memory, et cetera in gear for a renewed effort at translation work, in August 2008 I re-translated for this blog the relevant section of Shobogenzo chap.73. If anybody is interested, here is the post, titled The Four Abodes of Mindfulness.

So it is admittedly not with an open mind that I have come to the translation of today's verse. My prejudice is that the real meaning of mindfulness must have to do with the prevention or circumvention of the faulty sensory appreciation which arises from imperfect integration of four vestibular reflexes.

Maybe it is only my prejudice that makes me see it so, but Ashvaghosha's choice of the word viparyaasa in line 2 fits very well with my vestibular "take" on things. According to the first definition given in the dictionary, viparyaasa literally means "overturning." What this word "overturnig" suggests to my prejudiced mind is the vestibular dysfunction which causes so-called 'dyslexic' and 'dyspraxic' children (aka "the upside down kids") not only to get words and letters the wrong way round, but also to get things in their life arse over tit. (It was on this very subject of getting things arse over tit, incidentally, that in the first half of 2008, I kept a confessional blog whose title was ERRATA -- WHO TURNED FREEDOM INTO ITS OPPOSITE.)

So I submit on the basis of my own long back catalogue of errors that in order to know those four enemies whose substance is upside-down-ness (as well as inside-out-ness and back-to-front-ness, and getting-left-confused-with-right-ness), it might pay to be aware of four vestibular reflexes, which neuro-physiologists call:
(1) the Moro Reflex,
(2) the Tonic Labyrinthine Reflex,
(3) the Asymmetrical and
(4) the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflexes.

For an adult who retains these infantile reflexes in immature form, the quest for the nectar of immortality is bound to be a particularly difficult undertaking in which every step on the way is liable to be hindered by the awesome foursome. Quad Erat Demonstrandum.

Finally, to convolute matters further in the way of connecting this to that, in the Chinese source upon which Master Dogen relied, the four abodes of mindfulness are listed as follows:
(1) "reflection of the body, as impure";
(2) "reflection of feeling, as suffering";
(3) "reflection of the mind, as impermanent"; and
(4) "reflection of the real, as free of self."

Today's verse then, would seem to be intimately connected not only with the inner world of vestibular reflexes but also with the four characteristics of the objective world which Nanda has been investigating in verses 17.16 to 17.21 -- namely, the four characteristics of impurity/emptiness, suffering, impermanence, and non-self.

So svaiH svaiH pracaar'-aayatanaiH in line 4 ("each having its own range") might suggest that mindfulness of the body has impurity in its firing line, mindfulness of feeling has suffering, mindfulness of mind has impermanence, and mindfulness of real things has non-self.

This explanation is necessarily convoluted, rooted as it is in four applications of mindfulness, each one of which must be contained in every other one. For how can there be mindfulness of anything, if there is not first mindfulness of the body? And how can a practitioner be mindful of the body, without first establishing mindfulness itself? And how can a practitioner establish mindfulness itself in isolation from the other four powers, the other six limbs and the other seven branches in the thirty-seven elements of bodhi?

As with four applications of mindfulness, so with four vestibular reflexes, which might be why Charles Sherrington, the grandfather of neuro-physiology, wrote of "the fiction of the simple reflex."

Again, this might be why Zen Master Dogen said that the thirty-seven elements are 1,369 (= 37 x 37) realizations of the real law of the Universe.

And this is surely why Dogen said:

"Cut them out by sitting!"

EH Johnston:
With the four arrows of the application of attention working each along its own line of activity, he destroyed in a moment his foes, the four perversions of knowledge, the causes of suffering.

Linda Covill:
With the arrows of the four foundations of mindfulness, each with its own range of application, in an instant he burst apart the four enemies which consist of distorted views, the causes of suffering.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
smRty-upasthaana n. earnest thought
smRti: f. remembrance, mindfulness, attention
upasthaana: n. (verbal noun from upasthaa) the act of placing one's self near to , going near , approach , access ; coming into the presence of , going near to (in order to worship) , worshipping , waiting on , attendance ; standing near , presence , proximity , nearness; staying upon or at , abiding , a place of abiding , abode ; any object approached with respect , a sanctuary , abode (of a god)
upa-√sthaa: to stand or place one's self near , be present
mayaiH = inst. pl. maya: an affix used to indicate 'made of', 'consisting or composed of', 'full of'
pRShatkaiH = inst. pl. pRShatka: m. a round spot ; an arrow (as being variegated or as being as swift as an antelope)

shatruun (acc. pl.): m. enemies
viparyaasa: m. overturning; perverseness ; error , mistake , delusion , imagining what is unreal or false to be real or true
paryaasa: m. edging , trimming ; rotation , resolution ; end , conclusion (N. of partic. concluding strophes in certain hymns) ; inverted order or position
mayaan = acc. pl. m. maya: (ifc.) made of, etc.
kShaNena (inst. kShaNa): ind. in a moment, instantly

duHkhasya = gen. sg. duHkha: n. suffering
hetuun = acc. pl. hetu: cause
caturaH (acc. pl. m.): to the four [enemies]
caturbhiH (inst. pl. m): with the four [arrows]

svaiH = inst. pl. m. sva: each
pracaara: m. roaming , wandering; coming forth , showing one's self , manifestation , appearance , occurrence , existence ; application , employment , use ; a playground , place of exercise
aayatanaiH = inst. pl. m. aayatana: n. resting-place , support , seat , place , home , house , abode ; a plot of ground
dadaara = 3rd pers. perfect dRR: to burst , break asunder , split open ; to cause to burst , tear , rend , divide

1 comment:

Al said...


I had never read that article you wrote until now. What an excellent analysis. Very helpful. Thank you.