Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.48: Like a Well-Ordered Orchestra

vasumadbhir a-vibhraantair
alaM-vidyair a-vismitaiH
yad babhaase naraiH kiirNaM
mandaraH kinnarair iva

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

Thronged by men who were wealthy but not wanton,

Cultured but not conceited,

The city seemed like Mt. Mandara,

Thronged by ensembles of kinnaras.

The kinnara virtues that Ashvaghosha has in mind are probably those identified by EHJ, namely, possession of jewels, diligence in hiking the mountain, being skilled especially in the musical arts, and having charming smiles.

The picture of Kapila-vastu that is being formed, at least as I envision it, bears an increasingly strong resemblence to a modern gated community. Due to the particular historical circumstances that Ashvaghosha has been outlining, the Buddha was able to enjoy a privileged and sheltered upbringing within the walls of a special city whose development was not all higgedly-piggedly but was rather carefully centrally planned -- just like a modern gated community.

Otherwise, does this verse relate directly to the actual practice of sitting-zen itself?

Being wealthy without being wanton might be like allowing the head to release forward without pulling the head down.

Being cultured without being conceited might be like allowing the back to lengthen without making the back arch and narrow.

Incidentally, this post is late because I got the overnight ferry and cycled 70-odd miles before getting to the computer and publishing it -- there is life in the old dog, yet. (Hope the ticker holds up through the night and these do not turn out to be famous last words.)

EH Johnston:
The city, in being thronged with men who were wealthy, well-ordered, learned and without arrogance, resembled Mandara which is thronged with Kinnaras who are possessed of jewels, wander on the mountain, are skilled in the arts (of song &c.) and have charming smiles.

Linda Covill:
Crowded with wealthy, orderly, knowledgeable and modest citizens, the city seemed like Mandara filled with kinnaras.

vasumadbhiH = inst. pl. vasumat: mfn. having or possessing or containing treasures , wealthy , rich
a-vibhraantaiH = inst. pl. a-vibhraanta: mfn. not distorted , firm (as the eye-brows)
vibhraanta: mfn. wandered or wandering about &c; rolling or ogling (as the eyes); spread abroad (as fame) ; confused , bewildered
vi- √ bhram : to wander or roam or fly about , roll , hover , whirl ; to reel , quiver , shake ; to fall into disorder or confusion , be disarranged or bewildered

alaM-vidyaiH = inst. pl. alaM-vidya: knowledgeable, learned, well informed
alam: ind. enough , sufficient , adequate , equal to , competent , able
vidya = vidyaa (ifc.)
vidyaa: f. knowledge , science , learning (cf. kRta-vidya : mfn. well informed , learned)
a-vismitaiH = inst. pl. a-vismita: mfn. not proud
vismita: mfn. amazed , surprised , perplexed ; proud , arrogant

yad: which
babhaase = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect bhaas: to appear (" as " or " like " nom. or instr. of an abstract noun)
naraiH = inst. pl. nara: man, person
kiirNam (nom. sg.): mfn. filled with , full of (instr.)

mandaraH (nom. sg.): m. a pearl chain consisting of 8 or 16 strings ; m. N. of a sacred mountain (the residence of various deities ; it served the gods and asuras for a churning-stick at the churning of the ocean for the recovery of the amRta and thirteen other precious things lost during the deluge); m. heaven (= svarga ; cf. meru)
kinnaraiH = inst. pl. kiM-nara: m. " what sort of man? " a mythical being with a human figure and the head of a horse (or with a horse's body and the head of a man ; originally perhaps a kind of monkey ; in later times (like the naras) reckoned among the gandharvas or celestial choristers , and celebrated as musicians )
iva: like


Jordan said...

Please take good care of yourself Mike.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for the thought Jordan. I feel very good this morning. This old heart of mine has always been good at rising to physical challenges -- shame about its ineptitude on the emotional front!

I'll bet if you look diligently enough you will find some old guys on Okinawa who can teach you a lot about sitting -- but they may not be advertizing themselves. For a start you could ask the master of Okinawan Go-ju Ryu Karate-do, Morio Higaonna, if he knows any rumours. I learnt a huge amount about sitting from Higaonna Sensei -- simple things like, if you make a mistake in performing a kata in front of everybody, don't worry about it, just carry on; or never give up on yourself; or that the true fight is never with others but only with yourself.

Nobody knows for sure whether it is true that the Okinawa Hard-Soft kata were developed to strengthen the body-mind of practitioners of the Zen of Bodhidharma, but they worked like that for me.

You take care,


Jordan said...

Hi Mike,
Glad the ticker is in good shape.

I'm pretty resistant to looking into karate right now.
I can't even begin get in to all of the excuses my brain housing unit throws up there.

Taking care,

Mike Cross said...

Though we haven't met, Jordan, you seem to me to be a very sincere bloke. But being sincere does not exempt anybody from having seriously faulty sensory appreciation.

When I look back on my career thus far, what I learned from the likes of Higaonna Sensei saved me from the wrong teaching of Gudo Nishijima around "correct posture" and caused me to find my own way to the true teaching of FM Alexander around the right direction.

I wasn't necessarily recommending you to look into karate itself. But I would recommend you not to trust your own sense of feeling about how sitting-zen should be.

What the historical connection is between the sitting-zen of Bodhidharma and the hard-soft kata of Okinawan Go-ju ryu, I don't know.

Gudo Nishijima once said to me "Karate is only a secular situation. It has as much importance as nothing."

I can only say in reply, with the benefit of many years of hindsight, that the hard-soft kata of Okinawan Go-ju ryu karate-do, were not of no importance to me. Rather, dililgent practice of those kata under a teacher like Morio Higoanna helped to guide me in the right direction.

Keeping on keeping on...


Jordan said...

Thanks Mike,

I've sent an email asking about Zazen to an address I found on the web for Morio Higaonna, I'll see what that turns up.

Keeping on...

Mike Cross said...

Good for you, Jordan. Don't take 'no' for an answer! Your good karma must have taken you for a reason to Okinawa, a small island in the middle way between China and Japan.

The first time I entered Higoanna Sensei's dojo in Naha we stood by side doing practice on the makiwara (punching board) -- a mighty oak one in his case, a less challenging one in my case. Before long the skin had fallen off my knuckles and they were bleeding, but I understood that I was to carry on until told to stop, which I quite happily did.

Again, during the same trip to Okinawa, I visited a dojo in Naha that was not Higaonna Sensei's but belonged to one of his friends.

All I remember the Sensei there doing with me was a practice where we blocked each others' front kicks in a way that caused the shins to really hurt.

I think what both Senseis were interested in was mainly what kind of spirit I had. 30 years later I see more clearly where they were coming from.

When Gudo nominated Brad Warner as his successor, for a while my spirit became really weak. I'm not proud to admit that, but it is the truth.

And yet somehow in that weak-spirited state, I understood that the way to rebuild my confidence lay in the wisdom of mo-ichi-do, one more rep, then one more rep, and so on... And that's how I started on this translation one verse at a time.

Higaonna Sensei used to speak of "karate power," centred in the tanden. It is the power, in other words, of keeping on keeping on...