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

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

Both palm-leaf and paper manuscripts have cintāmbhasaḥ.

ekāgra-bhūtasya (gen. sg. n.): being one-pointed
tathā: so
ūrmi-bhūtās (nom. pl. m.): like waves
cintāmbhasaḥ (gen. sg. n.): water of anxiety
kṣobha-karāḥ (nom. pl. m.): disturbance-making
vitarkāḥ (nom. pl. m.): ideas

"So ideas, like waves, are disturbance-making for being-one-pointed anxiety-water."

Difficult to argue against the emendation to cittāmbhasaḥ.