Wednesday, August 4, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.56: Brightness Like Sitting

samaayayau yashaH-ketuM
shreyaH-ketu-karaH paraH
babhraaje shaantayaa lakShmyaa
dharmo vigrahavaan iva

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

To one who was a lamp of honour

Came a supreme bringer
of the brightness of higher good:

He shone with tranquil splendour

Like dharma in a separate bodily form.

This verse, as I read it, and as LC also read it, means that the baby Gautama (supreme maker of the brightness of higher good) was born to King Shuddhodhana (a lamp of honour). EHJ understood that the Buddha was both subject and object of samaayayau.

In line 4 Ashvaghosha compares the shining baby to dharma in a separate bodily form (dharmo vigrahavaan). This expression dharmo vigrahavaan, as I read it, can only mean the bodily form of a person sitting upright with spontaneous ease, free from the fetters of bad habits, wrong views and conceit, right leg on left thigh and left leg on right thigh.

In the earlier verses of this Canto the word dharma seems to carry more of a connotation of duty, and especially the duty of an ancient Indian king to his ancestors, to his brahmins, and to his other subjects. With discussion of the dharma-loving denizens of heaven in 2.46 - 2.47, the meaning of dharma seems to be freed up a bit so as to include the sense of something (or a bit of nothing) in movement. And in the previous verse, 2.55, true dharma (sad-dharma) that is held in high esteem would seem to mean truth itself.

When Ashvaghosha's great grandchild Dogen proclaims that sitting is the Buddha-Dharma and the Buddha-Dharma is sitting, these three senses of dharma -- as a buddha-ancestor's sole duty, as something in movement/non-movement, and as truth itself -- would seem to be relevant.

Dogen does not say that Dharma takes a bodily form; he says that Dharma is sitting and sitting is Dharma. Similarly Ashvaghosha as I hear him does not say that the baby Gautama was sitting; he says that the baby Gautama, in shining with tranquil splendour, was like sitting.

Yesterday I was flicking through Brian (Daizen) Victoria's book Zen At War which on page 32 contains a cartoon, from the March 1937 issue of the nonsectarian Buddhist magazine Daihorin, showing a line of soldiers on a parade ground all keeping their neck bones straight vertically and pulling in their chins. The cartoon is to illustrate a point made by a contributor that KI O TSKETE NO SHISEI WA ZAZEN TO ONAJI KYOCHI, "The attitude in standing to attention is the same state as sitting-zen."

Oh really? So when the baby Gautama emerged he was like a Japanese soldier of the 1930s standing on a parade ground, was he, with his neck held straight and his chin pulled in?

No, he bloody well was not. I may not have got very far in 30 years of pursuing true dharma, but I do know that the true dharma is not that.

When my Zen master taught me to hold my neckbones straight and pull my chin in, he was just totally and utterly wrong. Because of esteeming true dharma so highly, I believed the dharma he was teaching as a buddha-ancestor must be true. But the real truth is that what he was teaching was not true dharma: it was just a wrong view.

What FM Alexander taught with regard to the matter of upright posture, in contrast, was, the other side of abandonment of all views, just true dharma.

So we have had a situation where so-called Zen masters have been endeavouring to propagate a "true Buddhism" that is originally rooted in a wrong view, while Alexander teachers have been endeavouring to clarify true dharma. In the 15 years I have been aware of this problem, an increasing number of Zen practitioners have become aware of Alexander's discoveries, and, conversely, more and more Alexander teachers and students have got into Zen. So confusion reigns.

Fifteen years ago I thought that I was just the guy to cut the roots of the confusion, as Bodhidharma cut through confusion when he came to China. When I look back now at what I thought and felt then, it just seems like faulty sensory appreciation and vanity.

EH Johnston:
The Supreme One, the banner-bearer of the highest good, attained the pinnacle of fame and shone with the majesty of holy calm like the Law of Righteousness in bodily form.

Linda Covill:
To him whose banner was fame came the bearer of the banner of Excellence, the supreme one, radiating calm splendor like dharma incarnate.

samaayayau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sam-aa-√yaa: to come together , meet ; to come near , come to (acc.) ; to fall upon , get into any state or condition (acc.)
yashaH-ketum (acc. sg.): him who was a lamp/banner of honour
yashas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth; honour , glory , fame , renown
ketu: m. (fr. √cit) , bright appearance , clearness , brightness (often pl. , " rays of light "); lamp , flame , torch ; sign , mark , ensign , flag , banner ; a chief , leader , eminent person
√cit: to perceive , fix the mind upon , attend to , be attentive , observe , take notice of

shreyaH-ketu-karaH (nom. sg. m.): maker of the brightness of higher good
shreyas: mfn. most excellent, best ; n. the better state , the better fortune or condition ; m. good (as opp. to " evil ") , welfare , bliss , fortune , happiness
ketu: m. brightness; lamp; banner etc.
kara 1. (from √kR) a doer , maker , causer , doing , making , causing , producing (esp. ifc. ; duHkha-kara, causing pain)
2. (from √kRR) , a ray of light , sunbeam , moonbeam
paraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. far , distant , remote (in space) , opposite , ulterior , farther than , beyond , on the other or farther side of , extreme ; best , highest , supreme , chief

babhraaje = 3rd pers. sg. perfect braaj: to shine , beam , sparkle , glitter
shaantayaa (inst. sg. f.): mfn. (fr. √sham) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed
lakShmyaa = inst. sg. lakShmii. a good sign , good fortune , prosperity , success , happiness ; wealth , riches ; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre

dharmaH (nom. sg.): m. dharma, the law etc.
vigrahavaan = nom. sg. m. vigraha-vat: mfn. having form or figure , embodied , incarnate ; having a handsome form or shape , fine , beautiful
vigraha: m. keeping apart or asunder , isolation ; separate i.e. individual form or shape , form , figure , the body
vi- √ grah: to stretch out or apart , spread out ; to distribute , divide ; to hold apart , separate , isolate
iva: like


Jordan said...

Thank you for your efforts to cut through delusion and vanity.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for your encouragement as always, Jordan. No shortage of delusion and vanity here to cut through...

Harry said...

Hi Mike,

Sorry, I'm a little more cautious than Jordan, because you sound so 'right' again here:

"...So we have had a situation where so-called Zen masters have been endeavouring to propagate a "true Buddhism" that is originally rooted in a wrong view."

... and an alarm bell sounds when I hear you being right.

Have you considered that tucking the chin, standing on one's head, uttering mantras, or evoking a saviour buddha may actually, effectively, be right for certain people at certain times as opposed, say, some AT inspired psycho-physical fundamentalism that you concoct in your head on their behalf?

I think maybe what is right for people may change from moment to moment and is a very relative and diverse matter, besides being very complex (if considered in a certain way).



Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry,

I didn't feel any kind of trying-to-be right-attitude in Jordan's comment, but just the usual staunch encouragement of a bloke -- though I haven't met him in person yet -- that I have come to regard as a friend.

Even in my worst moments of self-righteousness, the tendency to want to be the one who is right doesn't seem to bother Jordan.

Probably you are correct in perceiving in my stupid self-indulgent comments a vestige of my horrible old tendency to want to be the one who is right and who knows everything ... but why does that bother you?

If you hear me trying to be right and an alarm bell sounds, did it occur to you that it might be the old mirror principle working?

I don't say that I know what is right, but some things I know from experience are wrong.

I understand that all -isms are in some sense wrong... and that includes relativism, which might be another kind of trying to be right.

All the best,


Harry said...

Hi Mike,

I mention this because you seem to be offering a pretty thin gruel here: 'chin pulled in', or whatever, as the shitty principle versus your own preferred golden principle.

It's that age-old old tactic we have of setting up all that's right and true against all that's wrong and phony, no?

I think you've proven (at least you have to me) that the 'mirror principle', when it's used to affirm our narrow assumptions about others, is to be treated with the same sort of caution we should extend to any of our own cherished simplistic principles or assumptions.

I wasn't revelling in proving you wrong (if what you are doing is really wrong for you I suspect you would have stopped doing it by now), I was just pointing out something that strikes me as pretty flimsy that you seem to have thrown a bit of weight behind.

...And, sure, we all like to be right, and that needn't be so very wrong.

It seems fitting that Bodhidharma was likely a myth, or a person who many things were later ascribed to at least. I think you certainly are the person to cut the roots of confusion, but I don't think that it's a matter of bouncing golden principles like 'chin pulling', 'chin freeing', 'mirror principle', 'ANS' etc etc off each other in a superficial way.

I'll gladly accept that this is all quite wrong and look forward to some excellent root-cutting reasoning (not just some half-assed, borrowed golden principle) to the contrary.

Regards to you and yours,


Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry,

In Alexander work, how one wears one's head on top of the spine is the primary thing. One has to do the work to understand why it is regarded as such a big deal.

All the best,


Harry said...

...just thinking a bit more about this, Mike.

All this conflicting ideology you ream off, I don't hear your gentle, guiding hands when you act it out here, nor the 'soft and supple mind', the 'bit of nothing', that Dogen brought back from China.

When Gudo tells me I'm full of shit on his blog I feel that pain too, and I try to fix it in the wrong way too by proving that I'm right and trying to fill the void with myself. I think we're alike in this way (this could be a wrong perception on my part of course), but it must be so much more highly charged for you as you were much closer to the old teacher and have invested so much more.

I wonder how the likes of us can renounce the curse of affirmation and certitude and enter the way that makes something of the cesspool where true religions and philosophies and potential great actions go to die?

Just today I was reading the Vimalakirti Sutra with all that juicy Mahayana cosmic imagery, and all the magical acts and mysterious beings and vast acts of selflessness... some people really get inspired by that stuff, they get off on it, and I sort of envy them (I find it all pretty dubious and can barely tolerate it while getting at the actual, useful content), because life might be easier on them. I think that people like me (and possibly you) when we adopt these things, and great ideas and principles in general, we are just setting ourselves up for another inevitable belly ache. Don't you think? Is there another way for us?