Sunday, February 7, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.26: Five Powerful Ground-Breakers and Eight True Elephants

aaryair balaiH paNcabhir eva paNca
cetaH-khilaany a-pratimair babhaNja
mithy"-aaNga-naagaaMsh ca tath"-aaNga-naagair
vinirdudhaav' aaSHhTabhir eva so 'ShTau

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With the five incomparable noble powers,

He broke five uncultivated areas of mental ground;

And with the eight true elephants
which are the branches of the path,

He drove away eight elephants of fakery.

In Shobogenzo chap. 73, Zen Master Dogen lists and comments on the five powers as elements no. 18 - 22 of the 37 elements of bodhi.

In Sanskrit the five powers (paNca-balaani) are:
(1) shraddhaa: confidence
(2) viirya: directed energy
(3) smRti: mindfulness
(4) samaadhi: balance
(5) prajNaa: intuitive wisdom

Lines 3 and 4 again refer to the eightfold noble path, listed by Dogen as elements no. 31 - 37 of the thirty-seven elements of bodhi, in the following order:

(1) right insight (samyag-dRShTi)
(2) right thinking (samyag-saMkalpa)
(3) right speech (samyag-vaac)
(4) right bodily action (samyak-karmaanta)
(5) right livelihood (samyag-aajiva)
(6) right exertion (samyag-vyaayaama)
(7) right mindfulness (samyak-smRti)
(8) right balance (samyak-samaadhi)

In verses 16.31 - 16.33 of the previous Canto the eight branches of the eightfold noble path are enumerated by the Buddha in a three-way classification based on integrity (shiila), wisdom (prajNaa), and tranquillity (shama), in the following order:

-- Integrity (shiila) --
(1) using the voice well (samyag-vaac)
(2) using the body well (samyak-karmaanta)
(3) making a clean living in a suitable manner (samyag-aajiva)
-- Wisdom (prajNaa)--
(4) insight into the noble truths (samyag-dRShTi)
(5) thinking straight (samyag-saMkalpa)
(6) initiative (samyag-vyaayaama)
-- Tranquillity (shama) --
(7) mindfulness (samyak-smRti)
(8) balance (samyak-samaadhi)

The word that the Buddha uses for exertion/initiative in Canto 16 is not vyaayaama (m. struggle , exertion , manly effort) but paraakrama (m. bold advance , attack , heroism , courage , power , strength , energy , exertion , enterprise).

So much for information that can be gleaned from a Buddhist dictionary. But what is Asvhaghosha really saying in today's verse?

This verse speaks to me of inhibition and direction, and of going into movement.

That is to say, lines 1 and 2, as I read them, are about the nobility of transcending instinctive or unconscious behaviour, and the only means I know for doing this is to stop oneself doing one's old unconscious thing (= "inhibition") while consciously directing a new use of the self (= "direction") in, say, sitting upright.

And lines 3 and 4, as I read them, relate to FM Alexander's aphorism "We get it in movement." Inhibition and direction is the noblest of practices, but lying down all day saying NO to the idea of moving a leg while thinking "Neck free, head out, back to lengthen and widen, knees up to the ceiling, et cetera".... will not by itself change a damn thing. There has to be not only the giving up of the idea of moving a leg but also a real intention to move the leg, as manifested, sooner or later, in an actual movement of the leg. So, just as the proof of a pudding lies in the eating, the proof of Ashvaghosha's elephant might lie in the moving.

In sitting on a zafu and joining hands and bowing, for example, how do you manifest yourself? As a true dragon, or as a fake elephant?

The phrase mithy"-aaNga-naagaan ("false-branch-elephants"), suggests to me what Dogen indicates in Fukan-zazengi by the phrase "fake elephant" (MO-ZO).

The world of Alexander work, like the world of Zen, is full of fake elephants -- people who think they see the truth and proffer their own imitation of it. Such tossers sometimes (insofar as my fear remains unconscious) make me angry when I see them, because I fear I might be one of them. At the root of the problem, it seems to me, in a hundred cases out of a hundred, is an uninhibited Mara reflex.

Fearing our own wrongness, we try to be right. That is the essence of fake elephantery.

Contrasting "fake elephant" (MO-ZO) with "true dragon" (SHIN-RYU), Dogen writes:

"Do not, having spent ages imitating a fake elephant, doubt the true dragon!"

EH Johnston:
With the five unequalled noble powers he burst asunder the five obstructions of the mind and he put to flight the eight elephants of the constituents of the false path with the eight elephants of the constituents of the true Path.

Linda Covill:
With his five incomparable noble powers he broke up the five barren places of the mind, and with his eight elephants which were the constituents of the right path he drove off the eight elephants which were the constituents of the wrong path.

aaryair = inst. pl. aarya: mfn. noble
balaiH = inst. pl. bala: n. power
paNcabhir (inst.): five
eva: (emphatic)
paNca (nom/acc.): five

cetaH: consciousness, heart, mind
khilaani (acc. pl. khila): m. a piece of waste or uncultivated land situated between cultivated fields , desert , bare soil; n. " a space not filled up , gap " ; n. pl. remainder ; n. obduracy
a-pratimaiH = inst. pl. a-pratima: mfn. unequalled, incomparable , without a match
babhaNja = 3rd pers. perf. bhaNj: to break , shatter , split ; to break into , make a breach in (a fortress , with acc.) ; to rout , put to flight , defeat (an army)

mithyaa: ind. invertedly; ibc. often = false , untrue , sham
aNga: n. limb, branch, sub-division
naagaan = acc. pl. naaga: m. snake; a naaga or serpent-demon; an elephant
ca: and
tathaa: ind. thus; true [opposed to mithyaa]
aNga: n. limb, branch, sub-division
naagaiH = inst. plt. naaga: m. snake; a naaga or serpent-demon; an elephant

vinirdudhaava = 3rd pers. sg. perfect: vi-nir-√dhuu: to shake off , drive or blow away , scatter
aSHhTabhiH (inst.): eight
eva: (emphatic)
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
aShTau (acc.): eight

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