Sunday, September 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 4.39: Looking Into the Vacuum of Her Eyes

saa taM prayaantaM ramaNaM pradadhyau
sthit" occa-karNaa vyapaviddha-shaShpaa
bhraantaM mRgaM bhraanta-mukhii mRg" iiva

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

She contemplated her lover leaving

With brooding, empty, unmoving eyes,

Like a doe standing with ears pricked up,
as she lets grass drop down,

And, with a perplexed expression,
contemplates the stag wandering off.

Sundari did not intend to keep her eyes still, any more than she intended in 4.33 to take a deep breath. Rather, the unmoving eyes and the deep breath were the indirect result of processes going on deep within Sundari.

The root of pra-dadhyau in line 1 and of pra-dhyaana in line 2 is √dhyai (to contemplate, meditate, think deeply), as in the four dhyaanas, i.e. the four stages in the practice of sitting-meditation outlined in Canto 17.

Line 2 can be read not only as a description of Sundari's eyes but also as a description of a buddha's eyes in sitting-meditation:


eyes which,
in the emptiness of [sitting-]meditation,
are unmoving.

How, in fact, the eyes should be in sitting-meditation I do not know. Maybe it is not for me to know. What I would wish gradually to be more clear about is how the eyes should not be. Above all, I think, the eyes should not be fixed; they should not be the eyes of a humourless zombie whose fixed stare is a manifestation of trying to be right. It might be better to go back to bed for half an hour and listen to Radio 4, than to sit like this, fretting about the sound of next-door's cockerels.

The writer Aldous Huxley, who was a pupil of FM Alexander, had very poor eye-sight and he became enthused by the teaching of H.E. Bates, founder of "the Bates Method," for re-educating the eyes. FM is reported to have commented that Aldous was devoting himself to "beastly end-gaining exercises." The use of the eyes, as FM saw it, was subordinate to the use of the whole self. FM clearly saw the dangers of pursuing specific improvements without due attention to general co-ordination of the whole self, starting from first principles.

According to the Buddha's teaching, the first principles for a seeker of the truth to which the Buddha awoke are (1) to have confidence in the teaching, (2) to practise integrity -- i.e. stop doing the wrong thing, so that the right thing might have a chance to do itself.

Sitting-meditation, it seems to me, can be a standard for not doing the wrong thing. Alternatively, it can be just the very practice of doing the wrong thing, namely, fixing. This being so, a lot hinges on whether one is prepared to think deeply about one's practice, questioning it in an irreligious way, and seeking out the falseness in it like an honest scientist at work in a laboratory.

In the verse now under discussion, the non-movement of eyes is expressed as nish-cala. In 3.7 the related word a-cala is used to describe the Buddha at the time of his enlightenment: Sitting there, mind made up, / As unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Mara / And awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible.

Now if we think deeply about what these words mean on the basis of our own brooding, we have to recognize that even in the non-movement of the Buddha himself, his heart did not stop beating, and his floating ribs did not stop floating in and out. At the same time, even though his heart was pumping and his diaphragm was moving, something was very still, and that stillness extended to the Buddha's use of his eyes, based on the underlying healthy state of his vestibular-ocular motor reflex arc.

Alexander understood that directly to pursue a specific condition of the eyes, is to end-gain, to fix. And I think it is because of such fixing, at a very deep level, that a person who sits continues to be bothered by noises like the drone of aircraft repeatedly flying overhead, or incessant loud crowing of cockerels.

The noises, sound vibrations, from the aircraft engine or the bird's voice-box, which are themselves a kind of very rapid movement, are translated into another kind of movement by the ear-drums and other mechanisms in the ear, stimulating the transmission of electrical signals from ear to brainstem via the eighth (vestibular-cochlear) cranial nerve.

Insofar as I don't want that kind of activity to go on, I am prone to become angry when such movement does in fact occur. But anger that arises like that can never be more than the kind of anger that is experienced by a monk of the fourth dhyaana, i.e., one who is still at some level fixed by the upper fetters of self-importance and the like -- not the state of the one who truly overcame the grim army of Mara.

In conclusion then, perhaps in our pursuit of stillness without fixity, we need not ask what stillness is, but little by little, assisted by Ashvaghosha's excellent record of the Buddha's golden words, we may be able to become more aware of what fixing is...

And yet the power of the senses, though operative,

Need not become glued to an object,

So long as in the mind, with regard to that object,

No fixing goes on.

Where fuel and air co-exist,

Just as there a fire burns,

With an object and through fixing,

So a fire of affliction arises.

For by the unreal means of fixing

One is bound to an object;

Seeing that very same object

As it really is, one is set free.

On seeing one and the same form

This man is enamoured, that man disgusted;

Somebody else remains indifferent;

While yet another feels thereto a human warmth.

Thus, an object is not the cause

Of bondage or of liberation;

It is through a particular kind of fixing

That sticking occurs or does not.

Five fucking cockerels, Mme Pickard has acquired. Five! For what purpose I do not know.


EH Johnston:
With eyes which were stony and bleak from brooding she watched her lover going away, just as a hind with ears pricked and wild look and the grass dropping from her mouth watches the stag wandering away.

Linda Covill:
She contemplated her departing lover, her face troubled and her eyes empty and unmoving in her preoccupation, like a doe standing with ears pricked up and chewed grass falling from her mouth as she watches the stag wander off.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
prayaantamv = acc. sg. m. pres. part. pra- √ yaa: to go forth , set out ; to walk ; to part
ramaNam (acc. sg. m.): m. a lover , husband
pradadhyau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect pra- √ dhyai: to meditate upon , think of (acc. with or without prati) ; to reflect , consider

pradhyaana-shuunya-sthita-nishcal'-aakShii (nom. sg. f.) with unmoving eyes in an empty state of deep thought
pradhyaana (verbal action noun from pra- √ dhyai): n. meditating upon , reflection , thinking , deep thought , subtle speculation
shuunya: mfn. empty ; n. emptiness
sthita: being in a state of
nishcala: mfn. motionless, unmoving
akSha n. [only ifc. (f(ii). ) for akShi] the eye

sthitaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. standing
ucca-karNaa (nom. sg. f.): with ears pricked
ucca: mfn. high , lofty , elevated
karNa: m. the ear
vyapaviddha-shaShpaa (nom. sg. f.): strewing grass about
vyapaviddha: mfn. ( √ vyadh) thrown about , broken to pieces ; cast away
vi: (intensifier)
apa: down (opposed to ud)
√ vyadh: to pierce , transfix , hit , strike , wound
shaShpa: n. young or sprouting grass , any grass

bhraantam (acc. sg. m): mfn. wandering or roaming about ; perplexed , confused , being in doubt or error
mRgam (acc. sg. m.): m. (prob. " ranger " , " rover ") a forest animal or wild beast , game of any kind , (esp.) a deer
bhraanta-mukhii (nom. sg. f.): with perplexed face
bhraanta: mfn. wandering or roaming about ; perplexed , confused , being in doubt or error
mukha: n. (ifc. f(aa , or ii) the mouth , face , countenance ; the beak of a bird , snout or muzzle of an animal
mRgii: (nom. sg. f.): f. a female deer or antelope , doe
iva: like

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