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

- = - = = - - = - = -
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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


Harry said...

Hi, Mike.

I hope you and yours are well.

I think there may be different types... 'softly, softly' types and 'big crash and burn' types... and maybe mixes of both... and maybe it changes with time and circumstance... and maybe I'm full of it!

Anyway, if you'd fallen in with a Rinzai posse, I think they'd have been able to power the national grid off your zafu!

Best Regards,


Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry, likewise to you and yours.

The Rinzai crowd generally tends to be somewhat arty-farty and to belittle the use of reason. For me, that kind of attitude was never it.

Many of them like to use exotic-sounding Japanese artefacts like Mondo, Kensho, Satori, Kyosaku, Sesshin, et cetera, et cetera.

I aspire more to the natural simplicity and truth of just sitting.

Mondo & Kensho? Give me a pint of Guiness and a bag of fish and chips, any day.

All the best,