Saturday, August 7, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.59: Original Features

madhu-maasa iva praaptash
candro nava iv' oditaH
aMgavaan iva c' aan-aMgaH
sa babhau kaantayaa shriyaa

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

Like a first month in spring having arrived,

Like a new moon having risen;

like the non-physical having taken a physical form,

He radiated sheer loveliness.

A first month in spring having arrived is not an abstraction like "spring coming." An actual month in spring having arrived is frogspawn in the pond and green shoots on lilac branches.

A new moon having risen, similarly, is sometimes a distinctive yellow crescent shining in the black night sky -- but not always. Sometimes it is a thin white crescent shining in a clear blue sky, reminding us that concrete moon reality invariably falsifies our stereotypical human assumptions, about the moon, and about other matters.

According to a certain view, when I stumbled on the discoveries of FM Alexander and saw the truth in those discoveries, my old Zen master stopped affirming me unquestioningly, and I reacted to this emotionally, and as a result of this emotional reaction I was not able in the end to be nominated as the Master's true successor. The concrete reality, however, was much more complicated.

Invariably concrete reality is different, and sometimes it is totally opposite, to what people think.

Against a concrete backdrop like this, the real meaning of today's verse hangs on the 3rd line, which seems to say that Nanda was "like No Body ( = Kamadeva, God of Love) having a body."

When we dig for more concrete and real meaning, however, the 3rd line might be read as a description of just what happens when one of us embodies the timeless truth of just sitting, by truly devoting ourselves to sitting upright with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, and thereby abandoning all pesky views.

In 2.56, Ashvaghosha writes of the baby Gautama:

He shone with tranquil splendour/ Like dharma in a separate bodily form.

In today's verse Ashvaghosha writes of Nanda:

Like the non-physical taking a physical form, / He radiated sheer loveliness.

Is Ashvaghosha writing of two boys with contrasting natures, one of whom was born in a spiritual state of grace, the other with the physical attributes of a love-god? Or is he talking about two boys both of whom were born as perfect manifestations of the buddha-nature?

I think that Ashvaghosha's intention is that both of the king's sons were born in a state of grace, and this state of grace is not the embodiment of the truth of just sitting, aka "the Buddha-Dharma," but this state of grace is like the embodiment of the truth of just sitting, aka "the Buddha-Dharma."

If Ashvaghosha's intention is indeed like that, this verse prompts questions like these:

Can a youthful state of grace be like the truth of just sitting?

Can the truth of just sitting be some old guy's old view?

How can the real truth of just sitting not be like a spring month having arrived, or like a new moon having risen?

In conclusion, then, the meaning in today's verse of "the non-physical" (an-aMgaH) might be not only disembodied or Platonic Love but also the undecaying Buddha-Dharma that is realised when one of us truly just sits, or devoutly sews a robe, or freely gives even the smallest of gifts.

Apropos of that, here is a verse written in honour of a long-time follower of this blog named Harry Bradley:

This translation
Is my gift to you;
You needn't thank me
With a view.

EH Johnston:
He was resplendent with gracious beauty like the month of Madhu at its setting in, like the new moon rising or like the disembodied god reincarnate.

Linda Covill:
He was like the onset of springtime in his pleasing loveliness, like the rising of the new moon, or like the god of love in human form.

madhu-maasaH (nom. sg.): m. a spring month
madhu: mfn. sweet , delicious , pleasant , charming , delightful; m. N. of the first month of the year (= chaitra , March-April)
maasa: m. the moon, a month
iva: like
praaptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived ; present

candraH (nom. sg.): m. the moon
navaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. new
iva: like
uditaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. risen

aMgavaan (nom. sg. m.): having a body, embodied
aMga: n. a limb of the body, the body
vat: (possessive suffix) having, with
iva: like
ca: and
an-aMgaH (nom. sg.): m. "bodiless"; N. of kaama (god of love , so called because he was made bodiless by a flash from the eye of shiva , for having attempted to disturb his life of austerity by filling him with love for paarvatii)

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
babhau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaa: to shine , be bright or luminous ; to shine forth , appear , show one's self ; to be splendid or beautiful or eminent ; to appear as , seem , look like , pass for (nom. with or without iva)
kaantayaa = inst. sg. f. kaanta: mfn. (fr. √kam) , desired , loved , dear , pleasing , agreeable , lovely , beautiful
shriyaa = inst. sg. shrii: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity


Ray said...


What is the significance of the word "true" in the phrase "the Master's true successor"? (Why not simply "the Master's successor"?)

I find your blog to be a fascinating body of writing for the inclusion of AT theory and your personal history in a traditional sutta commentary form.


Mike Cross said...

Thanks, Ray.

Yes, not for the first time, I neglected to obey the precept "omit needless words."

If we think about the succession from Sakyamuni Buddha through the buddha-ancestors of India and China, all successors were true successors, and none were truer than others.

At the same time, the example of Master Daikan Eno somehow stands out, because of his total lack of a political position in the order of Master Daiman Konin. Daikan was nominated as Daiman's successor simply because Daikan's realization was true and Daiman's realization was true; it was conspicuously evident that there was no other reason.

Thank you for lending your sharp ear!


Ray said...


Thanks for the clarification. Since you put it that way, the word does communicate something to me. I get the sense that a Master might have a successor who picks up his mundane responsibility to the community, but more essentially a successor who has received and carries 'the life blood' of the teaching, as you put it.

Cloudy and windy today in Berkeley, CA. Hope all's well in your world.

Take Care,

Mike Cross said...

Hi Ray,

All of a master's successors have received and carry the lifeblood.

At the same time, Shobogenzo records several examples of buddha-ancestors who nominated one successor -- for example, Shakyamuni Buddha nominated Maha-kasyapa, Bodhidharma nominated Taiso Eka, Daiman Konin nominated Daikan Eno. Dogen himself is said to have nominated Ko-un Ejo.

In your original comment you used the phrase "AT theory" which for me is a somewhat loaded phrase. Gudo Nishijima accused me of wishing to identify his "true Buddhism" and my "AT theory."

But my attitude from the beginning has always been more practical. My first question, as a martial artist, was: how do I practice? Where do I start? The answer I received was to attend to the matter of upright posture. That's what led me to Alexander work. And Alexander work caused me to understand that Gudo Nishijima's approach to posture and postural correction was rooted in a wrong view, an end-gaining conception.

So I received the lifeblood from Gudo Nishijima but I could not affirm his view, and he could not affirm mine. In that situation, I could not be the one true successor of Gudo Nishijima. Such is the severity, Ray, of the true Dharma.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Wow. You're giving me a new perspective here. I'm not very familiar with Zen history and practice. Thank you.

I use the word 'theory' with complete respect to express that I experience my awareness of AT from your writings but have not implemented the instructions as you have. So I don't have AT knowledge, just a beginning appreciation for the theory based on your comments. Definitely didn't intend to allude to your teacher's views!

By the way, I feel you're really onto something with your approach and if you ever decide to put forth an exposition of Alexander Theory for beginners, from a Buddhist perspective (the other way round), you'll have one faithful reader for sure!

Mike Cross said...

You're very welcome.

In Alexander work all kinds of ideas and theories about the work emerge out of the work itself....

The important thing is not "Alexander theory" but just to do the work.

So I would advise you to save up your pennies and check it out for yourself, under the guidance of a teacher who knows the score.