Sunday, October 31, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.16: Thinking Like a Deluded Man

ruupeNa bhaavena ca mad-vishiShTaa
priyeNa dRShTaa niyataM tato 'nyaa
tathaa hi kRtvaa mayi mogha-saantvaM
lagnaaM satiiM maam agamad vihaaya

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

Another woman, then,
better than me in beauty and in temperament,

My beloved has surely beheld;

For, having soothed me as he did with his empty words,

He has gone off and left me, attached to him as I am.

Is Sundari thinking now in accordance with the original nature of a woman? Or is she thinking like a deluded man who cannot discriminate between reality and his own view?

A woman who truly was a master of thinking in accordance with the original nature of a woman, named Marjory Barlow, often used to quote the words of her uncle FM Alexander who described his work as "an exercise in finding out what thinking is."

What Marjory and what FM meant by thinking is very different from the kind of thinking that Sundari is doing now -- what Marjory meant by thinking is much closer to the kind of reasoning Sundari was exhibiting in 6.13 and 6.14.

In my own Alexander teaching I very often tell the story of an early lesson I had with Marjory -- going into my final year of Alexander teacher training -- in which it was very clearly demonstrated to me that I had misunderstood what Alexander meant by thinking.

Despite the efforts of Marjory and another veteran of thinking in accordance with the original nature of a woman, named Nelly Ben-Or, I still haven't understood with any finality what Alexander meant by thinking. I remain, I hope, a work in progress. I hope I have gradually become clearer over the years in regard to what Alexander did not mean by thinking. If I have learnt anything, I have learnt what thinking is not.

In Alexander work we say, "Think up!" I say that to self and others: "Think up!" I have been saying it to my sons for nearly 20 years now. What it really means to think one's whole body and mind in that direction which is opposite to the pull of gravity, however, I don't know. For me, thinking up is largely a matter of somehow inhibiting my habitual reaction to the idea of going up. If I know anything, I know that my habitual reaction to the idea of going up, is not it.

I know that the way I witnessed sitting-meditation being taught in Japan, with the chin being pulled in and all the rest of it, is not it. I also know that the kind of thinking Sundari is demonstrating now, is not it. But knowing that a path is false, in itself, is not always enough -- as is demonstrated by the relatively high proporiton of people in the medical profession who smoke cigarettes. Besides the knowing, some kind of preventive effort is required -- an effort of inhibition, or of thinking, or of energetic awakening.

Dogen wrote in his earlier edition of his universal rules for sitting-meditation (Fukan-zazengi):
"If a thought arises, just wake up!
Just in the waking up to it, it evaporates."

Are Alexander's thinking up, and Dogen's waking up, the same? For me, as in lotus I endeavour to sit truly up, there is no difference. For others, I don't know. I do know that the way Sundari is thinking in this verse is, whether one is working on the self according to Alexander's teaching, or endeavouring to wake up according to Dogen's teaching, not it.

In his revised edition of Fukan-zazengi Dogen quoted Yakusan's
"Think the state of not thinking."

What this instruction means, as I understand it, is use thinking to think yourself out of the area of thinking.

My teacher, Gudo Nishijima, however, never affirmed this understanding of mine at all. He stuck in his old age to his old view, but that view seems to me to be a prejudice against thinking. Or, to put it another way, that prejudice against thinking seems to me to be just an old view.

Seeing one fault after another, as described in Canto 17, and progressively dropping off those faults as one continues to direct oneself up -- this is not something that one can accomplish as a purely physical act of doing. It is a process that involves thinking. So while it is true that Ashvaghosha describes thinking as a fault in the first stage of sitting-meditation, it seems to me that seeing thinking as a fault, and then seeing as faults attachment to joy and indulgence in ease, and saying at each stage "No, I don't want that. I want to be free of that thought/attachment/enjoyment" ... this also is inevitably a kind of thinking process.

Is this really so difficult to understand? Is it so controversial? I spent ten years writing reams and reams of emails trying to clarify this point to Gudo Nishijima. I expected that if only I could make the argument clearly enough in words, he would be able to recognize the truth of it. But my expectation was utterly wrong.

Last time I looked on Amazon, Master Dogen's Shobogenzo was listed with Gudo Nishijima as the author, and Chodo Cross as "contributor." But that information is not true. It does not really matter, except that it strikes me as a conspicuous and concrete example of untruth. What was once so true has become so conspicuously untrue. Thinking like a woman, I should simply ask: How did such a transformation come about? From what cause? By what mechanism?

Thinking like a deluded man I have come up with enough answers -- speculative views and opinions -- to fill several books, and engaged in drama-queen behaviour that might make Sundari seem in comparison to have the nervous constitution of an iron ox.

That is the kind of thinking, deluded thinking, that in wiser moments I wish to be free of. How? By many means -- by making and eating breakfast, by vigorous use of spade, by round cushion, by physical sitting ... and yes, by mental sitting, using thinking.

If I endeavour on that basis to answer my own questions, the answer might have to do with faulty sensory appreciation in combination with religious end-gaining. And to study those mechanisms and causes of wrongness, I do not need to look outside. They reside right here, pulling me -- insofar as I allow them to pull me -- down.

EH Johnston:
My lover must then certainly have seen someone else superior to me in beauty and feeling ; for, having soothed me thus uselessly, he has gone away, deserting me, who am so attached to him.

Linda Covill:
My lover must have seen another woman, more beautiful than me and with finer feelings, for he has placated me falsely, and has gone away and deserted me, attached to him as I am.

ruupeNa (inst. sg.): n. form , shape , figure ; handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty
bhaavena (inst. sg.): m. manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; manner of acting , conduct , behaviour ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling ; the seat of the feelings or affections , heart , soul , mind
ca: and
mad-vishiShTaa (nom. sg. f.): better than me
mad: me
vishiShTa: mfn. pre-eminent , excellent ; better or worse than (abl. or comp.)
vi- √ shiS: to distinguish , make distinct or different

priyeNa (inst. sg.): m. lover, husband
dRShTaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. seen, looked at, beheld
niyatam: ind. decidedly , inevitably , surely
tataH: ind. then, thence, from that
anyaa (nom. sg. f.): another [woman]

tathaa: thus, in such a manner
hi: for
kRtvaa = abs. kR: to do, make
mayi (loc. sg.): to me
mogha-saantvam (acc. sg.): empty consolation
mogha: mfn. vain , fruitless , useless , unsuccessful , unprofitable (ibc. in vain , uselessly , without cause)
saantva: n. (sg. and pl.) consolation , conciliation , mild or gentle language or words
saantv: to console , comfort , soothe , conciliate , address kindly or gently

lagnaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. adhered , adhering or clinging to , attached to , sticking or remaining in , fixed on , intent on , clasping , touching , following closely
satiim = acc. sg. f. pres. part. as: to be
maam (acc. sg.): me
agamat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist gam: to go
vihaaya = abs. vi- √ haa : to leave behind , relinquish , quit , abandon

Saturday, October 30, 2010


rati-priyasya priya-vartino me
priyasya nuunaM hRdayaM viraktaM
tath" aapi raago yadi tasya hi syaan
mac-citta-rakShii na sa n' aagataH syaat

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

The heart of my lover
-- lover of sexual pleasure and of me --

Has obviously waned in its passion for me,

For if he still loved me

He would, having regard for my heart,
not have failed to return.

Whether one is, like the Buddha at the end of Canto 3, tatra (there in the moment, in the here and now); or whether one is, as Sundari is described in this Canto, anyatra (somewhere else, not with it), the fact remains that 2 + 2 = 4. Two plus two still equals four.

It is on this basis that in 16.64 the Buddha, as I hear him, teaches: When working of the mind is deluded in nature, / One should appreciate the causality herein; / For here in the midst of mental delusion lies a path to peace, / Like treating a wind condition with oil.

Hitherto in Canto 16, though her fear reflexes have been excited by anxiety and suspicion, and though anxiety and suspicion have excited her fear reflexes, so that Sundari has not been her former happy self, she has nevertheless remained in touch with her reason, as demonstrated by her consideration of why? and how? in the previous two verses. From here, however, her thoughts begin to run away with her. A gap begins to open.

Dogen wrote in his rules of sitting-meditation for everybody:
"If there is even the slightest gap, heaven and earth are far apart."

This is a sentence that speaks to us on more than one level. For example, it sometimes serves to remind: To thine own self be true. But the sentence also describes what happens when a person gets even slightly out of touch with their reason. If we think that two plus two might equal five, we might as well think two and two equals a trillion -- a miss is as good as a mile.

Having asked questions that deserve to be asked, questions asked on the grounds of causality, here Sundari begins to come up with speculative answers to those questions.

In a sense, Sundari is prescient, because soon enough Nanda will become besotted with the apsarases, the celestial nymphs, and his passion for Sundari will indeed fade away. But at the time Sundari is issuing this lament, Nanda, we are told in 6.12, is still demonstrably in love with her.

In conclusion, then, I read this verse as signalling the opening of the kind of gap in which thinking becomes increasingly divorced from reality.

I was taught in Japan that because of the gulf that exists between the reality of action and the world of thinking, no kind of thinking is appropriate in Zazen practice. Zazen is just the reality action, which is different from thinking, was my teacher's motto. So one, two, three... go. Just do it.

I was just the empty cup, for a while, into which my teacher poured this teaching.

But it gradually became clear to me that this teaching was itself just prejudiced, one-sided thinking. It was thinking, like Sundari's thinking here, divorced from reality.

This morning, waking to the sound of my neighbours'' five cockerels crowing, I took the precaution of taking with my to my cabin/dojo a set of noise-reduction headphones. After 15 minutes of sitting, feeling a certain ill-will towards my neighbour and her cockerels, I considered whether or not to put the headphones on. I remembered the Buddha's teaaching in 16.62: When the mind is agitated by the fault of malice, / Loving-kindness should be practised, towards oneself; / For kindness is calming to a hate-afflicted soul, / As cooling treatment is to the man of bilious nature. So, as a kindness to myself, I put the headphones on and enjoyed the rest of my sitting in relative peace. Though my decision to prepare the headphones and then to put the headphones on was informed by thinking, it was not thinking that was divorced from reality. It was more akin to what FM Alexander called "thinking in activity" or akin to what England's Rugby World Cup-winning squad called T-CUP, "thinking calmly under pressure."

Sitting with noise-reduction headphones on is not traditional, because the technology is recent. But the constructive thinking, even while sitting, which led me to put the headphones on was just traditional.

I come here to be alone by the forest in France because I have gradually understood, from experience, that living this solitary and simple life in nature is the most suitable way for me to experience for myself what Dogen called SHUSSHIN NO KATSU-RO, "the vigorous road of getting the body out." So I come here to work on myself, as an individual, utilizing thinking and spade and the blueprints of Dogen and Ashvaghosha and any other suitable means, and to enjoy myself, as an individual, utilizing noise-reduction headphones, electric blanket, coffee, BBC Radio 4 or any other suitable means. This irreligious individual way is what I preach and practice -- as far as is possible, without any gap.

EH Johnston:
My lover is so fond of love and so affectionate to me that surely his heart has become estranged ; for apart from that, if his passion for me still continued he would certainly have returned in fulfillment of my wishes.

Linda Covill:
My lover loves love and loves me; surely his heart has hardened, since if he still loved me, he would have cared about my request and been sure to return.

rati-priyasya (gen. sg. m.): being fond of the pleasure of love, loving love, delighting in the joy of sex
rati: f. pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness ; the pleasure of love , sexual passion or union , amorous enjoyment (often personified as one of the two wives of kaama-deva , together with priiti q.v.)
priya: fond of attached or devoted to (in comp. either ibc or ifc.)
priya-vartinaH (gen. sg. m.): being in love
priya: fond of attached or devoted to (in comp. either ibc or ifc.)
vartin: mfn. abiding , staying , resting , living or situated in (mostly comp.) ; (ifc.) being in any position or condition , engaged in , practising , performing ; conducting one's self , behaving , acting; (ifc.) behaving properly towards ; turning , moving , going
me (gen./dat. sg.): of/with/to me

priyasya (gen. sg): m. lover, beloved, husband
nuunam: ind. now, (esp. in later lang.) certainly , assuredly , indeed
hRdayam (nom. sg.) : n. the heart
viraktam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. discoloured , changed in colour ; changed in disposition , disaffected , estranged , averse , indifferent
rakta: mfn. reddened ; excited , affected with passion or love

tathaa: ind. in that manner , so , thus
api: even
raagaH (nom. sg.): m. redness; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
yadi: if
tasya (gen. sg.): his
hi: for
syaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

mac-citta-rakShii (nom. sg. m.): having regard to my heart/mind
mad: me
citta: n. thinking , reflecting , imagining , thought ; n. intention , aim , wish ; thinking mind, heart
rakShin: mfn. one who guards or protects , a guard , protector , watch , sentinel; (ifc.) guarding against , avoiding , keeping off , preventing
rakSh: to guard , watch , take care of ; to spare , have regard to (another's feelings)
na: not
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
na: not
aagataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. come, arrived
syaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

Friday, October 29, 2010


aaryasya saadhoH karuN'-aatmakasya
man-nitya-bhiiror atidakShiNasya
kuto vikaaro 'yam abhuuta-puurvaH
sven' aaparaageNa mam' aapacaaraat

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

In him who was noble, good, compassionate,

Always in awe of me, and too honest,

How has such an unprecedented transformation
come about?

Through a loss of passion on his part?
From a mistake of mine?

Sundari in this verse, as I read it, is still very much in touch with her reason. She is here bringing reason to bear on the how of change.

Sundari's questions, my wife tells me, are those that any woman would ordinarily ask in her circumstances. At least on the surface they are.

But my question is how this verse relates to the one great matter. Maybe it is a kind of arrogance -- a desire not to be ordinary -- that causes me to seek another 'special' meaning above, or below, the overt ordinary meaning. If so, so be it. Because I can't help seeking.

The last line, if it were being translated for Coronation Street-style realism, would be better translated:
"Has he gone off me? Did I do something wrong?"

But retaining the instrumental sense of -ena ("through"), and the ablative sense of -aat ("from"), highlights what I see as the real essence of this verse, which is that Sundari is posing a question about the how of change, about the mechanism of total transformation.

Read in that light, Sundari's questions might have a profound bearing on the one great matter. She might be asking whether disgust with and giving up of red-faced end-gaining can be instrumental in transforming the self. She might be asking whether the process of transformation is inevitably rooted in mistakes.

Having read the verse like this, I spent a sleepless few hours with the words apa-raageNa (through loss of passion, through fading out of the redness of the end-gaining tendency) and apa-caaraat (from a mistake, from a slip-up, from a false move), churning through my consciousness.

What is it in a person that keeps feeding the fire of end-gaining? And what is it about mistakes?

Last night I was doing some Alexander work with my wife, with my hands on her head, while I pontificated to our son on some subject. She observed that when I spoke my thumbs became "heavy." My wife thus flagged up a pattern of reaction that has been highlighted for me many times before in Alexander work -- as soon as I open my mouth to speak as "the one who knows" on any subject (speaking on the Buddha's teaching is the strongest stimulus), my whole being tends to stiffen up. And it is this pattern of reaction, which might not be visible from the outside, that a person steeped in Alexander's work senses as an unpleasant heaviness coming into the thumbs. The episode seems to me to have to do with a desire (raaga) on my part, a kind of thirst or passion (raaga) to be recognized as one who knows, which has not yet faded out. At the same time the pattern of reaction might be a kind of constantly recurring mistake (apa-caara),of which I am only very rarely aware.

To practice sitting-dhyana as the dropping off of body and mind might have to do with a loss of that kind of passion, and a freedom from that kind of recurrent mistake.

But then there might still be the ultimate mistake, of arrogance or pride. This is the mistake of a beggar who reaches the fourth dhyana but fails to realize the truly worthwhile state, the state of the arhat, because of his failure to cut the upper fetters, which are very much bound up with selfishness and arrogance, with seeing oneself as special, far above (or far below) the ordinary.

Progress to the level of the fourth stage of sitting-dhyana, as described in detail in Canto 17, is essentially dependent on a beggar's ability successively to recognize his own mistakes, or faults. But even getting as far as the fourth dhyana, evidently, is no guarantee against making the mistake of pride.

So here concludes my investigation of this verse. I couldn't be satisfied with the suggestion that the verse is just a kind of exercise in social realism, like a well-written soap opera. So I have understood it as raising questions about the fundamental mechanism of transformation.

As a postscript, having written the above comment but before posting it, I listened to Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4 Long Wave. Then, before I had time to switch the radio off, I heard the beginning of the act of (Christian) worship. The leader of the service, who is not only a religious preacher but also the presenter of a programme on Radio 4 called "Beyond Belief" began by stating that Christ fills the skies, as the true and only light.

Oh yes?

Is that what I pay my license fee for, at the beginning of the 21st century, to hear that?

From what cause does the alleged emanation of light by "Christ" proceed? And how does "Christ" manage this feat? What is his means-whereby? What is his mechanism?

These are the kind of questions that Sundari is posing in this and the previous verse, as I read them. Why? How? From what cause? By what means?

EH Johnston:
He is noble, virtuous, compassionate, ever fearful of me, very courteous. Whence comes this change of feeling, hitherto unknown? From aversion on his part? From some offence of mine?

Linda Covill:
What has caused this unprecedented change in him, who was noble, good, compassionate, always deferential to me, and open? Does he hate me? Have I behaved badly?

aaryasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. noble
saadhoH (gen. sg. m.): mfn. straight , right ; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring ; good , virtuous , honourable , righteous
karuN'-aatmakasya (gen. sg. m.): compassionate-natured
karuNa: mfn. compassionate
aatmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)

man-nitya-bhiiroH (gen. sg. m.): ever in awe of me
mad: to me
nitya: constantly, ever, always
bhiiru: mfn. fearful , timid , cowardly , afraid of (abl. or comp.)
atidakShiNasya (gen. sg. m.): inordinately honest
ati: ind. beyond, over (often prefixed to nouns and adjectives in the sense excessive , extraordinary)
dakShiNa: mfn. able , clever , dexterous ; right (not left) ; straightforward , candid , sincere , pleasing , compliant

kutaH: ind. from where? whence? wherefore? why? from what cause or motive? how?
vikaaraH (nom. sg.): m. change of form or nature , alteration or deviation from any natural state , transformation , modification , change (esp. for the worse) of bodily or mental condition
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
abhuuta-puurvaH (nom. sg. m.): unprecedented
a-bhuuta: mfn. whatever has not been or happened.
puurva: previous

svena (inst. sg.): mfn. his own
apa-raageNa (inst. sg.): m. aversion , antipathy
apa: ind. (as a prefix to nouns and verbs , expresses) away , off , back; when prefixed to nouns , it may sometimes = the neg. particle a e.g. apa-bhii , fearless ; or may express deterioration , inferiority , &c
raaga: m. passion, esp. love
mama (gen. sg.): of mine
apa-caaraat (abl. sg.): m. want , absence ; defect ; fault , improper conduct , offence
caara: m. going, practising

Thursday, October 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.13: From What Cause?

eShyaamy an-aashyaana-visheShakaayaaM
tvay" iiti kRtvaa mayi taaM pratijNaam
kasmaan nu hetor dayita-pratijNaH
so' dya priyo me vitatha-pratijNaH

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

"He promised me: 'I'll be back

Before the paint on your face is dry';

From what cause would such a cherisher of promises

As my beloved is, be now a breaker of promises?

The questions Sundari asks herself in 6.13 - 6.19 thus begin reasonably enough, for in 4.37 Nanda did indeed promise Sundari evaM kariShyami, "I will" -- "I will do [as you have asked]."

Notice that Sundari does not respond to Nanda's breaking of his promise by instantly jumping to the wrong conclusion and reaching for the nearest weapon. Her first resort, on being wronged, is not to action but to reason. She asks herself kasmaan nu hetoH, "from what cause?"

Is this reasoned consideration of causality part of what Asvhaghosha means by saa strii-svabhaavena vicintya tat tad "considering various possibilities according to a woman's nature"?

From a feminist perspective it might be objectionable to discuss "a woman's nature." But dropping off feminism, what is it that Ashvaghosha calls strii sva-bhaava, "a woman's nature"?

In answer to this question, after 50 years of investigation, observing at close quarters mother, grandmothers, younger sister, girlfriends, wives, female teachers, female students, female colleagues, mothers of children with immature vestibular reflexes, women neighbours in Japan, England, and France and various other women, a woman's nature remains a mystery to me. A woman's nature belongs deep within the cloud I referred to yesterday, the cloud of a-vindamaana, "unknowing."

When I discussed this problem this morning with the mysterious being who I call my wife, who is both a woman and a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, she said that she hoped that in Ashvaghosha's view every woman was an individual. My response was that of course every woman is an individual, irrespective of anybody's view, but Asvhaghosha's teaching, as I understand it, is just about giving up views -- including feminism and including individualism.

My tentative conclusion is that in Asvhaghosha's world there is such a thing as a woman's nature, but whatever view I might have on what it is, truly it is not that.

So here Asvhaghosha describes Sundari, having considered this and that in accordance with a woman's nature, asking herself why, from what cause, has Nanda broken his promise to her.

The answers Sundari comes up with, in her inability to know the truth (tattvam; 6.12) of what really happened to Nanda, seem to show a woman increasingly (in a phrase of FM Alexander's) "out of touch with her reason."

That being so, in verses 6.13 - 6.19, does Sundari's tendency to think just like a woman increase?

Or does Sundari's ability to think in accordance with a woman's nature diminish?

When I was working together with my teacher Gudo Nishijima on the translation of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, his view was that there was one true interpretation of Dogen's words, and our aim was to hit that target.

An alternative view I have recently heard expressed with regard to Shakespeare's Hamlet is that there are as many Hamlets as there are actors who play the role.

I don't know, but it seems to me that many if not most verses of Saundarananda have a manifest surface meaning and a deeper hidden meaning buried below the surface, not to mentionn probable deeper layers of meaning that I don't yet know about -- the unknown unknowns in the cloud of unknowing.

On the surface then, Sundari's first question might be dismissed as just the emotional little lady beginning to turn things over in her mind, "in her feminine way."

But if we dig deeper, Sundari might here be asking a profound and pertinent question which is firmly rooted in causality: What in fact does cause a man who one thought to be a man of integrity to break a promise? Was it, for example, an end so important that it justified dubious means? Is the breaking of promises justified by the truth that you cannot make an omelette without cracking a few eggs?

My religious instinct 20 years ago would have been to grab the nearest Dharma-cakra and issue a war cry: "Yes, the Buddha's end justified any means!"

But when today I inhibit my instinctive response and thereby allow a space to accommodate a bit of thinking -- just like a woman -- then other answers are also possible.

EH Johnston:
'My lover promised that he would return before the paint was dry on me ; why then is he, usually so faithful in his word, so faithless to it to-day?

Linda Covill:
"He made me a promise that he would be back before my visheshaka dries. What reason could there possibly be for my dear husband to break his promise now, when his promises are so important to him?

eShyaami = 1st pers. sg. future i: to go; to return (in this sense only fut.)
an-aashyaana-visheShakaayaam (loc. sg. f.): before the face-paint is dry
an: not
aashyaana: mfn. dried up
visheShaka: painted mark; face-paint

tvayi (loc. sg.): on you
iti: "....," thus
kRtvaa = abs. kR: to make
mayi (loc. sg.): to me
taam (acc. sg. f): that [promise]
pratijNaam (acc. sg.): f. promise

kasmaat: ind. where from? whence? why? wherefore?
nu: ind. now, then
hetoH (gen. abl. sg.): m. cause, reason
dayita-pratijNaH (nom. sg. m.): being one for whom a promise is cherished
dayita: mfn. cherished , beloved , dear ; m. a husband , lover
pratijNaa: f. promise

saH (nom. sg. m.): he
adya: ind. today, now
priyaH (nom. sg.): mfn. beloved; m. lover, husband
me (gen. sg.): my, to me
vitatha-pratijNaH (nom. sg. m.): being one for whom a promise is untrue
vitatha: mfn. (fr. vi + tathaa , not so) untrue , false , incorrect , unreal , vain , futile
pratijNaa: f. promise

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.12: Thinking -- Just Like a Woman

saa strii-svabhaavena vicintya tat tad
dRShT'-aanuraage 'bhimukhe 'pi patyau
dharm'-aashrite tattvam a-vindamaanaa
saMkalpya tat tad vilalaapa tat tat

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

She considered various possibilities,
in accordance with a woman's nature;

Then, failing to see the truth
that her husband had taken refuge in the Dharma,

While obviously still in love with
and oriented towards her,

She constructed various scenarios
and uttered various laments:

Ah, you take just like a woman.
You make love just like a woman.
You fake just like a woman...

If those lyrics were translated from English into Sanskrit, strii svabhaavena, maybe with the addition of an emphatic eva, might be just the phrase to express "just like a woman."

"just like a woman"
strii sva-bhaaven' aiva

Yes, I like that. That sounds good -- to stupid male ears.

Sadly, though, having consulted my wife on the matter, and reflected further, I have to accept that "just like a woman" wouldn't quite be a true translation of Ashvaghosha's Sanskrit. If the first line were translated, "She imagined this and that, just like a woman," it would sound as if Ashvaghohsa were expressing the kind of exasperation towards womankind which Bob Dylan was clearly feeling, and which the monk in Canto 8 strii-vighaataH ("Striking a Blow against Women" or "Women as an Impediment") evidently felt. But it might be wrong to ascribe such exasperation to Ashvaghosha here. Ashvaghosha, on the contrary, may well be pointing to the tendency to be circumspect, to consider various options, as a virtue that women are more likely than testosterone-driven men to exhibit.

EHJ's "in her feminine way," sounds as patronising as men of EHJ's day were wont to be towards 'the weaker sex.' LC's "from a woman's perspective" almost seems designed not to offend, but the Sanskrit ending -ena is indicative more of how than of from.

Should I be afraid of blundering with my size 11 boots into the minefield of sexual politics? Not likely. If any feminist, be they predonominantly male or female, is offended by what I write, then it is his or her own fault for attaching to an -ism.

So, neither because I wish to offend feminists, nor because I wish not to offend feminists, but as a result of struggling to dig out what Ashvaghosha's original intention really was, I have provisionally settled for "in accordance with a woman's nature."

vicintya (considering, imagining) in line 1 is from the root √cint (to think) as is cintaa (anxious thought, worry; 6.10).

The next seven verses, then, are verbal representations of the kind of anxious thoughts that Sundari in her suspicious state was thinking, and the kind of scenarios that she was imagining.

This verse with which Ashvaghosha introduces Sundari's thoughts is easily understood as presenting Sundari, and women's thinking in general, in an unflattering light. But as usual on digging deeper, another possibility emerges.

The less one end-gains and the more one stops and thinks, the more possibilities emerge. This might be just Ashvaghosha's point. It is a point that was taught to me with unrivalled clarity, I might add, by an old woman.

Thinking like a woman, who created various scenarios and expressed in various ways the sorrow of suffering? Only Sundari? Or the poet himself? Or the poet herself?

When I prepared this comment yesterday, I wrote in a jokey way about fearing to trade in the minefield of sexual politics. But, truly speaking, who gives a fuck about sexual politics? The very real problem is that there seem to be in every verse deeper layers of meaning about which I am ignornant -- the unknown unknowns in a cloud of unknowing.

In this situation, what is there that I really know? What knowing can I come back to? I know that trying to become more conscious on the basis of unconscious habits, is folly. I know that stereotypical male habits of thought are not it. And neither are stereotypical female habits of thought. But as a man, it seems to me that practice has called upon me, at least at times, to think more like a woman.

Extremely difficult practice, what Ashvaghosha and the Buddha called yoga, has to do with yoking or integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of our being. Those who are conscious of being women sometimes fail to acknowledge their unconscious male side. Those who are conscious of being men sometimes struggle to integrate their unconscious female side -- look at poor old Gavin Henson, former Welsh rugby international and British Lion, struggling to show some emotion on Strictly Come Dancing.

When hurt, such a bloke tends to hide the fact that he has been hurt -- a habit nurtured in battle -- and bottle up his sorrow. For a bloke like that, to sit in full lotus for five, six, seven or eight hours a day might be relatively easy, if he has a mind to do so. But to find a voice with which freely to utter the moaning sounds (vi- √ lap) of suffering, might be extremely difficult.

Ashvaghosha obviously overcame that difficulty, constructing various scenarios by which to express the sorrow of suffering.

This ramble is going on too long, but a final possibility to consider, like a woman, relates to the fact that though Sundari is understood to be the object of attachment and orientation in line 3, no object is actually specified. And pati in line 2 (from the root √pat, to be the master) means not only husband but also master, possessor. So a question that arises out of the cloud of unknowing is: if Sundari is understood to be the feminine aspect of Ashvaghosha, or of everyman, who is pati, the master who takes refuge in the Dharma even in spite of continuing attachment? And why does the real truth of this fact go unseen?

EH Johnston:
Turning everything over in her feminine way, the real state of affairs never occurred to her that, although her husband's affection for her was well proved and although he was still devoted to her, he had turned to the Law ; and imagining all sorts of things she uttered many lamentations :--

Linda Covill:
She considered the matter from a woman's perspective, and failed to perceive the truth, that her husband, though demonstrably passionate and attuned to her, had taken refuge in the dharma. Imagining all sorts of things, she lamented in various ways:

saa (nom. sg. f. ): she
strii-svabhaavena (inst. sg.): according to a woman's nature / way of thinking/feeling
strii: f. woman
sva-bhaava: m. native place; own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
bhaava: state , condition , rank ; manner of being , nature , temperament ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition ;
vicintya = abs. vi- √ cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for ; to fancy, imagine
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things

dRShT'-aanuraage (loc. abs.): obviously attached
dRShTa: mfn. visible , apparent
anuraaga: m. attachment , affection , love , passion ; red colour
abhimukhe (loc. abs.): mfn. with the face directed towards , turned towards , facing
api: though
patyau (loc. abs.): husband
√pat: to be master , reign , rule , govern , control , own , possess

dharm'-aashrite (loc. abs.): taken refuge in the dharma
dharma: m. dharma, the truth, the law, the teaching
aashrita: mfn. attaching one's self to , joining ; having recourse to , resorting to as a retreat or asylum , seeking refuge or shelter from
tattvam (acc. sg.): n. true or real state , truth , reality
a (negative prefix): not
vindamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part vid: to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion of (with acc.); to mind , notice

saMkalpya = abs. saM- √klRp: to be brought about , come into existence ; to be in order or ready ; to wish for ; to produce , create ; to determine , fix , settle ; (with or without manasaa) , to will , purpose , resolve , intend , aim at , strive after , to imagine , fancy , take for , consider as (acc. with iva)
√klRp: to be well ordered or regulated , be well managed , succeed ; to produce , cause , effect , create (with acc.) ; to fix, settle
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things
vilalaapa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail
tat tat (acc. sg. n.): this and that, various things

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.11: Beauty in Being Down

tasyaa mukhaM padma-sapatna-bhuutaM
paaNau sthitaM pallava-raaga-taamre
chaayaamayasy' aambhasi paNkajasya
babhau nataM padmam iv' opariShTaat

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

Her lotus-rivalling face,

Resting on the hennaed stem of her hand,

Was like a lotus above the reflection in the water

Of its mud-born self, drooping down.

Aside from its poetic qualities, this verse as I read it is again saying something about the natural beauty that there can be in naturally being down.

It is not that because drooping down like a lotus is beautiful, we should want to droop down in our sitting. On the contrary, the point is to sit upright, to go up. Still less, in our quest to be more conscious, is Sundari's unconsciousness a condition that we should imitate. But her beauty in not trying to be anything else besides what she now is, down, might be something to steep ourselves in, and study to the end.

This natural beauty may be contrasted with the ugliness of Nanda's end-gaining, as described in Canto 11. We are told in 11.6 that Nanda "became extremely ugly" (vairuupyam agamat param) "because of his anxious thoughts about the apsarases" (cintay" aapsarasaam), and also "because of long-drawn-out restraint" (niyamena' aayatena).

The situation Nanda was clumsily striving for, and the condition we also are working towards, whether standing on the ground to teach others or sitting on a cushion to work on the self, is the ability -- without strain, without the kind of stress that looks ugly -- to consciously take the self up. Hence:

The One Gone Well saw the king coming thus, / Composure lost in expectation, / And saw the rest of the people too, with tearful faces; Wishing to direct them, he took himself up, into the sky. (3.21)
By first directing the whole body up, /And thus keeping mindfulness turned towards the body, / And thus integrating in his person all the senses, / There he threw himself all-out into practice. (17.4)
For when a man finds intense joy in anything, / Paradoxically, suffering for him is right there./ Hence, seeing the faults there in joy, / He kept going up, into practice that goes beyond joy. (17.49)

A distinction needs to be clearly drawn then, between ugly end-gaining and two kinds of beauty.

The first thing to be clear about is that end-gaining is not necessarily ugly. When birds fly and fish swim directly towards their respective targets, their movements are beautiful because their sensory appreciation is not faulty, or corrupted, or (to use FM Alexander's word) "debauched." But when human beings go directly for a goal, such as "upright posture," relying on faulty unconscious means, the result tends to be ugly -- think of an officer of the Japanese imperial army in WWII standing bolt upright with a pained expression on his face as if he has got a poker up his arse, busting his gut.

So the first kind of beauty is natural beauty -- the natural beauty in the unconscious movements of a fish or a bird, or in the downward tendency, as it is, of a weeping willow or a drooping lotus.

And there may be a higher beauty still in a human being who is able, as the Buddha was able, consciously to hold the mirror up to nature in directing himself up. This is a totally different thing from holding oneself up, in an end-gaining manner, while at the core of one's drooping mud-born self, one is down. This latter area is one in which, thanks to years of bone-headed end-gaining practice, I consider myself to be something of an expert. It is the area, as described in 11.6 of protracted self-suppression. Up and out of this mire I was pulled by one thing, and by one thing only: the discoveries of FM Alexander.

For people who aspire to have good sitting posture, there may be something valuable in this verse to reflect on -- something that Soto Zen masters of recent times have failed to see clearly, if they have seen it at all.

EH Johnston:
That rival of the lotus, her face, appeared, as it rested on her hand coloured red as a bud, like a lotus bent over the reflection of a lotus in the water.

Linda Covill:
Her lotus-rivalling face rested on the hennaed stem of her hand, like a lotus bent over its reflection in the water.

tasyaaH (gen. sg. f.): her
mukham (nom. sg.): n. face
padma-sapatna-bhuutam (nom. sg. n.): being a rival of the lotus
padma: lotus
sa-patna: m. (fr. sa-patnii) a rival , adversary , enemy
sa-patnii: f. a woman who has the same husband with another woman or whose husband has other wives , a fellow-wife or mistress , female rival
bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like anything

paaNau = loc. sg. paaNi: m. the hand
sthitam (nom. sg. n.): standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining in (loc. or comp.)
pallava-raaga-taamre (loc. sg. m.): with coppery red coloured stem
pallava: mn. a sprout , shoot , twig , spray , bud , blossom (met. used for the fingers , toes , lips &c )
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing ; colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness
taamra: mfn. ( √ tam) of a coppery red colour ; made of copper
√ tam: to gasp for breath (as one suffocating) , choke , be suffocated , faint away , be exhausted , perish , be distressed or disturbed or perplexed

chaayaamayasya (gen. sg): mfn. shadow-like ; casting a shadow ; reflected
chaayaa: f. shade , shadow
maya: made of
ambhasi (loc. sg.): n. water
paNkajasya = gen. sg. paNka-ja: n. " mud-born " , a species of lotus , Nelumbium Speciosum (whose flower closes in the evening)

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 ; to be, exist
natam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. bent , bowed , curved , inclined , inclining
padmam (nom. sg. n.): mn. a lotus (esp. the flower of the lotus-plant Nelumbium Speciosum which closes towards evening ; often confounded with the water-lily or Nymphaea Alba)
iva: like
upariShTaat: ind. (as an adverb) above, from above ; (as a preposition) over , upon , down upon (with acc. and gen.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.10: Burning Up and Being Down

saa duHkhitaa bhartur a-darshanena
kaamena kopena ca dahyamaanaa
kRtvaa kare vaktram upopaviShTaa
cintaa-nadiiM shoka-jalaaM tataara

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

Pained at not seeing her husband,

Burning with desire and fury,

She sat down with face in hand

And steeped herself in the river of anxious thoughts,
whose water is sorrow.

Shortly Sundari will begin her descent into full-blown grief. But she is not there yet. Rather, in this verse as I read it, she is still at the stage of feeling sorry for herself. Hence I have translated shoka in line 4 as sorrow rather than grief. Sorrow (shoka) is the substance of the stream of Sundari's anxious thoughts (cintaa), some of which Ashvoghasha is going to quote between 6.13 and 6.19.

The thinking tendency that Ashvaghosha describes in this verse, then, is exactly the opposite of that which we wish to encourage in sitting practice. In feeling sorry for herself, Sundari is thinking anxious thoughts which are stirring up emotions that are burning her up. The physical manifestation of this seems to be something of a postural slump -- she is using her hand to do a job that, in a happier, more peaceful state might be guided by a vestibular system whose functioning was free from emotional noise. Sundari seems down. Whereas if we are wise, we wish to go up.

FM Alexander understood with unrivalled clarity that trying to force oneself up does not work. Going up is rather a question of getting to the bottom of and inhibiting those tendencies that bring one down, and learning to think in new ways which are conducive to going up.

In Alexander work, anxious thoughts which stir up psycho-physical responses that are not conducive to non-doing, are recognized as being unhelpful, as not being constructive. And as it is in Alexander work, so it is in sitting-dhyana -- anxious thoughts don't care if they are being thought in a Buddhist or an Alexandrian context; they stir up unhelpful responses just the same.

So when I notice I am thinking an anxious thought, the thing to think is "No, not that."

And behind the "No, not that," is the understanding and the desire that I want to go up. I wish to let the neck be free from anxious thoughts and other downward tendencies, to let the head go forward and up, out of a lengthening and widening back.

I don't want to be a drama queen like Sundari. I wish to be me, as I originally am, going on up.

All that said, when we dig deep for the real meaning of this verse, there may be something for us to steep ourselves in, and study to the end (tRR), in Sundari's placing her face in her hands and being down.

As fellow-Brummie Joan Armatrading sang it:
Show some emotion.
Put expression in your eye.
Light up, light up, if you're feeling happy.
And if you're sad, just let those tears roll down.

Stirring up emotions with anxious thoughts is not it. But, speaking from many years experience, neither is suppressing one's grief and trying to force oneself up when inside one is down. For that reason, I look to Sundari not only as a bad example, but also as a good one.

EH Johnston:
Sorrowing at not seeing her lord and inflamed with love and wrath, she sat down with her face resting on one hand and descended into the river of care whose water is grief.

Linda Covill:
She sat right there with her face in her hands, suffering because she couldn't see her husband, and burning with desire and anger; she sank into the river of worry with its waters of grief.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
duHkhitaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. pained , distressed, afflicted, unhappy
bhartur (gen. sg. m.): of her husband
a-darshanena (inst. sg. f.): by the not seeing

kaamena (inst. sg.): m. desire
kopena (inst. sg.): m. ( √kup) morbid irritation or disorder of the humors of the body ; fury (of fire , arms , war , &c ) ; passion , wrath , anger , rage
ca: and
dahyamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. passive dah: to burn , consume by fire

kRtvaa = abs. kR: to do, make ; to place , put , lay
kare (loc. sg. m.): on her hand
vaktram (acc. sg.): n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face
upopaviShTaa (archaic form) nom. sg. f. past passive participle upa- √ vish: to sit down, to settle oneself

cintaa-nadiim (acc. sg.): m. the river of anxious thoughts
cintaa: f. thought , care , anxiety , anxious thought
nadii: f. a river
shoka-jaalaam (acc. sg. m.): whose water is sorrow
shoka: grief, sorrow
jaala: water
tataara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect tRR: to pass across or over , cross over (a river) , sail across ; to float, swim ; to get through , attain an end or aim , live through (a definite period) , study to the end

Sunday, October 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.9: ... and Gloom

taam anganaaM prekshya ca vipralabdhaa
nishvasya bhuuyaH shayanaM prapede
vivarNa-vaktraa na raraaja c' aashu
vivarNa-candr" eva him'-aagame dyauH

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

On seeing the woman she was crestfallen;

She sighed, threw herself again onto the couch,

And no longer shone:
with her face suddenly pallid

She was as grey as a pale-mooned sky in early winter.

As a verse of poetry, and still less as a fragment of a religious text, I find myself wanting to say, I could not care less about this verse. Does is relate to the individual struggle of me, an irreligious non-poet, to get where I wish to go? Yes, I find myself wishing to emphasize, it fucking well does.

Now on reflection the impulse to express myself in this manner says something about my habitual way of going about things. It is the way of the end-gainer, the person who has in FM Alexander's words "difficulty with the means-whereby." The end-gainer is hell bent on progression towards his goal, regardless of side-effects. Even if the end-gainer's goal ultimately has to do with being of use to others, his modus operandi is liable to be conspicuously lacking in compassion.

In Saundarananda, Nanda demonstrates plenty of end-gaining -- most obviously in his attitude towards the apsarases, the celestial nymphs.

Sundari, in contrast, though yes she is a drama queen, comes across as less tainted, more pure in her emotional responses. Nanda's suffering in Canto 5 is more neurotic: suffering from conflicting impulses, and lacking the ability to say "No," he struggles to make up his mind what he wants. Sundari, in contrast, as a woman is wont to be, is more in tune with herself. She knows exactly what she wants. She wants Nanda to come back. And it is this kind of purity which makes Sundari a good laboratory in which to examine suffering, not as an abstraction, but in the round.

So when the Buddha in Canto 16 discusses suffering, duHkha, this in a very pure form is the kind of reaction he is talking about -- exuberance as an instant unconscious reaction triggered by an optimistic idea (6.8), or equally, gloom as an instant unconscious reaction triggered by a disappointed expectation, an idea that did not hit the target (6.9).

Because body and mind are never body and mind, Sundari's mental gloom is portrayed in this verse as a colour, or rather as a lack of colour -- as the pallor of a grey winter sky.

We are told in line 2 that Sundari sighed. At some point I will get round to counting the references in this chapter to breathing. That there are so many such references might be an indication of Ashvaghosha's own mindfulness of breathing, and his understanding of the connection between emotional feelings (ranging from the brightest red to the most pallid grey) and irregular breathing.

But speaking of colour, and coming back to why I see this verse about a drama queen as relevant to my own struggle, as I have mentioned on this blog before I suffered when I was a teenager from chronic blushing. Besides simply wishing to be rid of the embarassing problem of embarassment (a typically British wish?), I also formed at that early age a strong desire to understand the problem, to get to the bottom of it. What was this strange, overwhelming unconscious force that began with a self-fulfilling sense, a fear, that I was going to go red... and then proceeded to grip my brain and nervous system, so that blushing and sweating seemed to form a vicious circle until I finally stepped off the bus reduced to a pallid dribble of sweat?

That was 35 years ago and as I look back on it now the truth of Marjory's words comes back to me that "Being wrong is the best friend we have got" -- because, whatever stupidity and end-gaining I have been guilty of, and I have been guilty of a lot, that basic curiosity has kept me going in a certain direction, albeit very slowly and falteringly. It is the direction towards being more conscious, or at least less unconscious.

In 35 years I have not got very far, if truth be told, in making the leap from the unconscious to the conscious plane of living. I remain prone to emotional gusts, especially of anger, especially when immersed in end-gaining activity. I haven't solved the problem of unconscious reaction. I continue to have difficulty with the means-whereby. But I see more clearly than ever the direction I want to work in -- I want to explore as an individual what consciousness it. This, as Marjory Barlow caused me to understand, is mainly a matter of inhibiting unconscious behaviour -- inhibiting the kind of unconscious behaviour demonstrated, with a certain untainted beauty, by Sundari's instantaneous swinging from exuberance to gloom.

So what I am engaged in here is not a literary effort, and still less an effort that has got anything to do with religion. This effort I am making now has to do with struggling towards what FM Alexander called "the plane of constructive conscious control of the individual." It has to do with awakening and growth of consciousness -- whatever consciousness is.

What is consciousness?

After a deeper-than-intended nap on Saturday afternoon and an early evening bath, during sitting on a quiet Saturday night, somewhere in between Strictly Come Dancing and Match of the Day, that stupid question asked itself -- What is consciousness?

Still, after all these years, I haven't got a fucking clue. Except I know it is not unconscious behaviour. It is not chronic blushing. It is not the emotional rollercoaster of exuberance and gloom. It is not the effort I made all those years in Japan "to keep the spine straight vertically," hoping to get on the good side of buddha-ancestors, while suppressing myself. It is not the tightening in the wrists and fingers that is liable to happen when I think of directing an Alexander pupil up from a chair. It is not tainted by the ugly side-effects of end-gaining. So I don't know what consciousness is. In my better moments, I see in myself the end-gaining habit, the trying to be right, the attachment to my own views and opinions, and I know it is not that.

EH Johnston:
Disappointed at seeing only the woman, she sighed and returned to her couch and with her face turned pale she grew all haggard like the sky at the approach of winter when the moon turns pale.

Linda Covill:
Seeing the woman she sighed, feeling cheated, and again slumped on the sofa. Her face was all of a sudden lusterless, like the sky at the onset of winter when the moon turns pale.

taam (acc. sg. f.): her, that woman
anganaam (acc. sg.): f. woman
prekshya = abs. pra- √iikSh: to look at , view , behold , observe
ca: and
vipralabdhaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. disappointed, cheated; f. a female disappointed by her lover's breaking his appointment (one of the incidental characters in a drama)
vi-pra- √ labh: to insult , violate , to mock at , take in , cheat , deceive

nishvasya = abs. ni- √ shvas: to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss , snort &c
bhuuyaH: ind. again, bacak
shayanam (acc. sg.): n. a bed , couch , sleeping-place
prapede = 3rd pers. sg. perfect pra- √ pad: to fall or drop down , throw one's self down (at a person's feet)

vivarNa-vaktraa (nom. sg. f.): wan faced
vivarNa: mfn. colourless , bad-coloured , pale , wan
vaktra: n. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face
na: not
raraaja = 3rd pers. sg. perfect raaj: to reign ; to be illustrious or resplendent , shine , glitter
ca: and
aashu: ind. quickly , quick , immediately , directly

vivarNa-candraa (nom. sg. f.): with a pale moon
vivarNa: mfn. colourless , bad-coloured , pale , wan
candra: m. the moon
iva: like
him'-aagame (loc. sg.): m. approach of cold , beginning of winter
dyauH (nom. sg.): f. in later Skr. heaven , the sky

Saturday, October 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.8: Unconscious Exuberance...

saa traasayantii valabhii-puTa-sthaan
paaraavataan nuupura-nisvanena
sopaana-kukShiM prasasaara harShaad
bhraShTaM dukuul'-aantam a-cintayantii

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

Scaring the pigeons in their rooftop roosts

With the jangling of her ankle bracelets,

She dashed to the stairwell

Without thinking, in her excitement,
about the end of her finery that had fallen off.

What Ashvaghosha is doing in this Canto, as I read it, is giving us the kind of data, the raw material, on which the Buddha's analysis of suffering in Canto 16 will be based. Hence:

Though your head and clothes be on fire / Direct your mind so as to be awake to the truths. / For in failing to see the purport of the truths, the world has burned, / It is burning now, and it will burn. / When a man sees a separate bodily form / As decrepit, that insight of his is accurate; / In seeing accurately he is disenchanted / And his exuberance ends, as a result of which redness fades away. / By the ending of the duality which is exuberance and gloom, / I submit, his mind is fully set free. / And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality, / There is nothing further for him to do.
(16.43 - 16.45)

In this verse, then, for our future reference, Ashvaghosha is painting a picture of how exuberance looks and how it sounds.

Sundari is exuberant because she does not see things accurately; she thinks and thinks (saM-cintya saM-cintya) of the absent Nanda, we are told in 6.27, in terms of his good qualities. She does not think of him as decrepit. In regard to what is going on right then and there (tatra) Sundari is unthinking (a-cintayantii).

In Sundari's exuberance there is a certain unbridled joy, a certain carelessness, a certain freedom, but it is an unthinking, unconscious, unstable state -- very different from Nanda's direction in Canto 17 when he goes beyond joy on his way to the conscious awareness and indifference of the fourth dhyana, and beyond that the freedom of arhathood, the truly worthwhile state.

EH Johnston:
She rushed to the head of the stairway, regardless in her joy of the end of her mantle which had fallen down, and scaring the pigeons on the tiles of the roof with the sound of her anklets.

Linda Covill:
She ran joyfully to the stairwell, frightening the pigeons in the eaves with the tinkling of her anklets, and without thought for the edge of her scarf which trailed on the ground.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
traasayantii = nom. sg. f. pres. part. causative tras: to cause to tremble , frighten , scare
valabhii-puTa-sthaan (acc. pl. m.): in hollow spaces on the rooftops
valabhi: f. (perhaps abbreviated fr. vala-bhid , " cloud-splitting ") the ridge of a roof, top or pinnacle of a house ; a turret or temporary building on the roof of a house , upper room
puTa: mn. a fold , pocket , hollow space
stha: mfn. being in

paaraavataan (acc. sg.): m. a turtle-dove , pigeon
paaraavata: mf(ii)n. (fr. paraa-vat) remote , distant , coming from a distance , foreign
paraa-vat: f. distance
nuupura-nisvanena (inst. sg.): with the sound of her ankle bracelets
nuupura: mn. an ornament for the toes or ankles or feet , an anklet
nisvana: m. sound, noise

sopaana-kukShim (acc. sg. m.): the stairwell
sopaana: n. stairs
kukShi: m. the belly, interior, cavity, valley
prasasaara =- 3rd pers. sg. perfect pra- √ sR: , to move forwards , advance , spring up , come forth , issue from (abl.) , appear
harShaat (abl. sg.): m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness ; ardent desire

bhraShTam (acc. sg. m.) mfn. fallen , dropped , fallen down or from or off (abl.); strayed or separated
dukuul'-aantam (acc. sg. m.): the end of her raiment made of very fine cloth
dukuula: m. a kind of plant; n. a very fine cloth or raiment made of the inner bark of this plant
anta: m. end
a: not
cintayantii = nom. sg. f. pres. part. cint: to think , have a thought or idea , reflect , consider ; to think about , reflect upon , direct the thoughts towards , care for (acc. ); to take into consideration

Friday, October 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.7: Sundari's Optimism & Belief

tasyaash ca sopaana-tala-praNaadaM
shrutv" aiva tuurNaM punar utpapaata
priityaa prasakt" aiva ca saMjaharSha
priy'-opayaanaM parishaNkamaanaa

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

Hearing the sound on the stairs of that woman's feet

Sundari quickly jumped back up again;

Transfixed with joy, she bristled with excitement,

Believing it to be the approach of her beloved.

Held in the grip of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions, Sundari swings from the sluggishness of pessimistic anxiety to the hyper-activity of optimistic belief.

It is a process that has been exhibited throughout history not only by individuals but also by societies. Think of Japan, with Tokyo in ruins at the end of WWII, fearing the worst from American occupation. But soon after General MacArthur, American Ceasar, eventually stepped off the plane with pipe in mouth, Japanese fears of a vengeful American army bent on rape and pillage, proved unfounded. Pessimism gave way to the Japanese post-war economic miracle which culminated in the huge investment bubble that burst in 1991. The bubble was an exercise in undue socio-economic optimism (aka nationalistic arrogance) which I witnessed first hand.

Or conversely, think of British attitudes towards the Japanese before and during WWII. The starting point was unduly optimistic British arrogance -- how could Britain's empire be threatened by a nation of practically sub-human apes? But when this optimistic belief in God-given British supremacy was crushed by Japanese military successes in Asia, it gave way to the deeply pessimistic notion of "the yellow peril." Optimistic belief that the Japanese foe was more or less sub-human gave way to the pessimistic anxiety that he was super-human.

These historical developments among nations were presaged by what FM Alexander was teaching and writing, based on his observations of the unconscious reactions of individuals, beginning with himself, many years before the outbreak of WWII:

"It is owing to this habit of rushing from one extreme to another -- a habit which, as I have pointed out, seems to go hand in hand with subconscious guidance and direction -- to this tendency, that is, to take the narrow and treacherous sidetracks instead of the great, broad midway path, that our plan of civilization has proved a comparative failure."
(Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, pp. 43).

Sadly, the tendency that FM describes is much easier to see in retrospect than it is to observe right here right now (tatra).

Does the present price of gold (at this precise moment $1,320 per oz) indicate that investment in gold is itself a bubble that is about to burst? Or is gold a prudent insurance against the bursting of other bubbles? I honestly don't know.

I have been fortunate to work for 25 years, in a small way, for a Japanese economist who was way ahead of the game at the end of the 1980s in understanding the problem of Japanese over-optimism. Rule number one, in my boss's rule book, has been this: Human beings make mistakes.

We take a view -- our brains seem to be genetically pre-disposed to take a view -- and insofar as reality does not crush our view, we feel optimistic. We optimistically believe that our view must be true... until such time as reality falsifies our view, and then we tend to feel pessimistic despair.

For too many years I struggled to hold onto the optimistic belief that a certified buddha-ancestor could not fail to act with integrity, and so even if he made a bad mistake, he would redeem himself in the end. But this view of mine was never true. It was pure optimism. It was religious belief. In recent years, my religious view in the infallibile integrity of certified buddha-ancestors has been falsified not only by one certified buddha-ancestor but by several of them.

Very fortunately for me, since reality has forced me gradually to abandon such hopeful belief (parishaNkaa), my former optimism has given way not only to pessimistic despair but also to something which is similar to but different from belief (like chalk and cheese) and that is what the Buddha praises at length in Canto 12, namely confidence (shraaddhaa).

It is primarily the confidence of knowing a method of working on myself, as taught to me with unrivalled clarity by Marjory Barlow, and the method begins with saying "No." When I say "No," and really mean it, the method always works. It never fails. And because the method really works, it breeds not the belief (parishaNkaa ) that Sundari manifests in today's verse but rather the confidence (shraaddhaa) of which the Buddha speaks in Canto 12.

I went into the translation of Canto 5 not knowing, but feeling slightly anxious about, how I might react to the Buddha's exhortation to Nanda to leave his home and his family. I was afraid that the content of the chapter might cause me to lose confidence in myself -- as happened nearly 30 years ago when I struggled with Dogen's strong exhortation to "transcend family life" in Shobogenzo chap. 73, The Thirty-Seven Elements of Awakening. What happened as I came out of translating Canto 5, however, took me by surprise. I found myself decisively and strongly saying "No," and finding a good deal of freedom in that decision.

I was not saying "No," to the Buddha's teaching. I was saying "No," just as Marjory Barlow taught me, to my own reaction to the stimulus of an idea.

So this is the point I have real confidence in. When one really says "No" to the idea that mobilizes the army of one's habitual reaction, and especially when this decision is embodied by a back lengthening and widening on top of a round black cushion, then Mara, along with his grim army of habitual reactions, begins to quake and tremble, knowing that the writing for him is on the wall.

As for the price of gold, I do not know which way it will go. What I do know is that I am almost totally powerless to influence the market. Contrary to the belief I have had since childhood that I was destined to become some kind of VIP, the influence on the market of my views and opinions is utterly negligible.

EH Johnston:
As soon as she heard the noise the woman made on the stairs, Sundari quickly jumped up again and thrilled, once more transported with ecstasy ; for she thought her lover had returned.

Linda Covill:
Hearing her noise from the stairs, Sundari quickly jumped up again, transfixed with joy and thrilling with delight in the belief that her husband had come back.

tasyaaH (gen. sg. f.): of her, of the woman
ca: and
sopaana-tala-praNaadam (acc. sg. m.): the sound of feet on the stairs
sopaana: n. stairs , steps , a staircase ,
tala: mn. surface, level ; the sole (of the foot)
praNaada: m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight)

shrutvaa = abs. shru: to hear
eva: (emphatic)
tuurNam: ind. quickly , speedily
punar: ind. again, back up
utpapaata = 3rd pers. sg. perfect ut- √ pat: to fly or jump up

priityaa (inst. sg. f.): f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy , gladness
prasaktaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. attached , cleaving or adhering or devoted to , fixed or intent upon
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
saMjaharSha = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect saM- √ hRSh: to bristle , stand erect (as the hair of the body from joy or fright) ; to thrill with delight , be glad , rejoice

priy'-opayaanam (acc. sg.): the approach of her beloved
priya: m. her lover, husband
upayaana: n. coming near , approach , arrival
parishaNkamaanaa = nom. sg. f, pres. part. pari- √ shaNk: to suspect , doubt , distrust (acc.) ; to believe , fancy to be (2 acc.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.6: The Sound of Barging About

ath' aatra kaa cit pramadaa sa-baaShpaaM
taaM duHkhitaaM draShTum an-iipsamaanaa
cakaara padbhyaaM sahasaa rudantii

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

At this one of the women,

Not wishing to see Sundari in her tearful distress,

Stepped too loudly on the stairs from the penthouse

As she suddenly found herself weeping.

The woman in this verse is doing what the famously stern Alexander teacher Margaret Goldie called "barging about." "Barging about" in Margaret Goldie's lexicon of working on the self was opposed to "coming to quiet."

"Stop barging about!" Goldie taught, "and come to quiet."

Barging about basically goes on in the brain and nervous system. It does not necessarily manifest itself in sound -- it may manifest itself, for example, in the ignoble silence of fear paralysis. But when barging about does manifest itself in sound, the sound could be a jarringly tense voice, or it could be a banging door, or the sound of clumsy footsteps. These are the sounds of a person who is not yet operating on the plane that FM Alexander called "constructive conscious control of the individual."

In this verse as in the previous verse, Ashvaghosha describes a person's physical conduct and -- because body and mind are never body and mind -- leaves us to make our own inferences about the inner workings of the person's mind. Hence, as LC observes in an explanatory footnote to this verse: "unable to bear the sight of Sundari's sorrow, the maid intends to slip away quietly, but her own distress makes her inadvertently knock noisily against the stairs."

So the inference is that the maid's intention was to hide her own distress, but the emotion that the maid was trying to suppress spontaneously burst out, as suppressed emotion is ever wont to do, like air from an over-inflated tyre, in accordance with the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Suppression of emotion -- speaking again as something of a veteran in this practice -- does not belong to "coming to quiet." On the contrary, even if it practised in silence while sitting on a round black cushion, it always belongs squarely in the opposite camp of "barging about."

Below the plane of conscious control, we suppress our emotion and barge about because we believe something to be so important that the urgent end justifies any noisy old means. Whereas when we allow ourselves time and space to come back to quiet work on the self, on the contrary, the important thing is just not to barge about.

Because barging about and coming to quiet are opposite conceptions, just in the moment of working on the self (tatra), one has a choice. It can be an enormously difficult choice, like the choice that the Buddha forced Nanda to make, but it is a choice. Whereas if people do not know how as indivduals to work on themselves, then they have no choice but to go on barging about.

So I think the true importance of Saundarananda is not as a work of the literary imagination and still less a work of the religious imagination. It is truly important because it is an ancient blueprint for individual work on the self. So translating it well is an important undertaking -- but not such an urgent one that it warrants barging about.

EH Johnston:
On this one of the women, unable to bear the sight of her grief and tears, suddenly burst into weeping and drummed with her feet on the palace stairs.

Linda Covill:
One of her women, hating to see her so tearful and distressed, suddenly began to sob and banged her feet against the palace stairs.

atha: ind. now, and so, etc.
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect, in this place, there, then
kaa cit (nom. sg. f.): someone, a certain woman
pramadaa (nom. sg.): f. a young and wanton woman , any woman
sa-baaShpaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. tearful , weeping

taam (acc. sg. f.): her
duHkhitaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. pained , distressed ; afflicted , unhappy
draShTum = inf. dRsh: to see , behold , look at , regard
an-iipsamaanaa (nom. sg. f. pres. part. desiderative an-√aap): not wishing to suffer
√aap: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon ; to undergo, suffer

praasaada-sopaana-tala-praNaadam (acc. sg. m.): a loud noise of feet on the stairs to the upper storey
praasaada: m. the top-story of a lofty building
sopaana: n. stairs , steps , a staircase ,
tala: mn. surface, level ; the sole (of the foot)
praNaada: m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight)

cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kR: to do, make
padbhyaam (inst. dual): n. step, stride, the foot itself
sahasaa (inst. sg.): forcibly , vehemently , suddenly , quickly , precipitately , immediately , at once , unexpectedly , at random , fortuitously , in an unpremeditated manner , inconsiderately
sahas: n. strength , power , force
rudantii = nom. sg. f. pres. part. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.5: Sundari's Standards Slip

tatash cira-sthaana-parishrameNa
sthit" aiva paryaNka-tale papaata
tiryak ca shisye pravikiirNa-haaraa

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

Tired out by a long time standing in that state,

She dropped, just where she stood, onto a couch,

And lay across it with her necklaces scattered

And a slipper half hanging off one foot.

Japan has been justifiably proud for the past fifty years of its bullet train, the shinkansen, which roars through the Japanese countryside at 150 miles per hour. But as a tourist visiting Japan you see much more and better from inside a kaku-eki-tei-sha, an "every-station-stopping-train."

The slower you go, the more there is to notice.

What I wrote yesterday in regard to ta-tra, which is akin to the locative of "it" or "that," (in that, being there) might also apply in today's verse to ta-taH, which is akin to the ablative of "it" or "that" (from it, from that, because of that, on the basis of that state): The word ta-taH is so ubiquitous in Ashvagosha's writing that it is easy to overlook it -- to ignore it in translation, or just lightly to acknowledge it with an inconspicuous "then."

There may be a danger of reading too much into it, but tataH can be read as a gentle reminder of how effect follows cause in time. One might argue that the constant refrain of ta-taH works as a constant reminder that effect follows cause which was effect following cause which was effect following cause...

Sometimes, as notably in 13.13 - 13.15, Ashvaghosha's use of the ablative case seems best translated as "on the grounds of..."

The word tataH, then, even when simply translated as "then," may be hinting at a cause and effect relation, and, more than that, it may be intended to mean "on the basis of that state of being."

The point I am winding my way to, like a slow train pulling itself uphill, is that standing for a long time is not the cause of becoming tired. On the contrary, as demonstrated by those "stand still be fit" guys, the chi workers, standing still for a long time can be incredibly energizing when it is accomplished with true mindfulness.

Conversely, having to stand for five minutes in the queue at the till of a supermarket, where one would rather not be, can be totally knackering.

And so, because her heart is not in what she is doing, because she is anyatra, elsewhere -- because she is looking like she's going somewhere, and acting as if she just don't care -- Sundari seems to feel that keeping her pearls and slippers on straight would be too much effort.

Incidentally, the word used in this verse for couch, paryaNka, is the same word later used in the opposite context of tatra, being there, to describe the practice of sitting with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh (see for example 17.3).

EH Johnston:
Then from fatigue with standing so long she fell, as she stood, on the couch and lay across it with her necklaces scattered about and her feet half hanging out of her slippers.

Linda Covill:
She merely stood, then exhausted from standing so long, she collapsed on a sofa and lay across it with her strings of pearls scattered about and with one slipper half hanging off her foot.

tataH: ind. then
cira-sthaana-parishrameNa (inst. sg.): m. fatigue , exertion , labour , fatiguing occupation , trouble , pain
cira: long, a long time
sthaana: standing
parishrama: m. fatigue

sthitaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. standing
eva: (emphatic)
paryaNka-tale (loc. sg.): on the surface of a couch
paryaNka: a bed , couch , sofa ; a partic. mode of sitting on the ground (a squatting position assumed by ascetics and Buddhists in meditation)
tala: n. surface, level ; mfn. the part underneath , lower part , base , bottom
papaata = 3rd pers. sg. perfect pat: to fly; to fall, sink

tiryak: ind. going or lying crosswise or transversely
ca: and
shisye = 3rd pers. sg. perfect: to lie , lie down , recline
pravikiirNa-haaraa (nom. sg. f.): with her necklaces scattered
pravikiirNa: mfn. scattered , dispersed , diffused
haara: m. a garland of pearls , necklace

sa-paaduka: mfn. wearing shoes or sandals
paadukaa: f. a shoe or slipper
eka: one
ardha: mfn. half ; n. " one part of two "
vilamba: mfn. hanging down
paada: m. foot

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.4: Unduly Excited Fear Reflexes & Not Being There

saa kheda-saMsvinna-lalaaTakena
cintaa-cal'-aakSheNa mukhena tasthau
bhartaaram anyatra vishaNkamaanaa

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

With a cold sweat on her beautiful brow,

Her face-paint drying in her sighs,

And her eyes restless with anxious thoughts,

There she stood, suspecting her husband,
somewhere else.

Mara, in Ashvaghosha's writings, is the personification of fear. Having defeated him and his grim army the Buddha is described at the end of Canto 3 as serving in Kapilavastu as a guide to peace -- roaming free (viharati), there in the moment (tatra), for the good of all (shivaaya), without passion (viita-raage).

As I have commented before, Ashvaghosha's use of ta-tra (being there in the moment) is like the use in Chinese and Japanese writings of the character SOKU, sunawa[chi], which points directly to the here and now -- as in the famous phrase SOKU-SHIN-ZE-BUTSU, "the mind here and now is Buddha," which is the title of Shobogenzo chap. 6.

Again when the Heart Sutra says SHIKI ZOKU ZE KU, (form/the material is just space/the immaterial), KU ZOKU ZE SHIKI (and vice versa) and when Dogen adds SHIKI ZOKU ZE SHIKI (form is just form), KU ZOKU ZE KU (space is just space), the "just" is this character SOKU or ZOKU, pointing directly to the here and now.

So in Ashvagosha's writings as I read them tatra may look like an inconspicuous word (there, then) but whenever it appears it might truly be a turning word, pointing, as in 3.42, to a state of fearless engagement with reality in the here and now.

Here in this verse we meet the opposite conception, anya-tra, which means elsewhere or otherwise.

The dictionary tells us that vi- √ shaNk (to distrust) combined with anyathaa (otherwise, errantly; see 6.21) means to judge wrongly, to misjudge. So anyatra in this verse could be taken as equivalent to anyathaa -- as in EHJ's translation "wrongly suspecting her lord." EHJ notes that the alternative translation, taking anyatra literally, is "suspecting her lord of being somewhere else," i.e. "with some other woman." LC follows this latter interpretation and so goes with "she fretted over her husband's absence."

But still another option, and the one that makes most sense to me, is to understand that what is anyatra (elsewhere, not truly present) is the mind of Sundari herself, as she stands there at the mercy of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.

In that case a parallel might be drawn with the meaning of anyatra (elsewhere, being somewhere else) in this verse and "going somewhere" in the familiar lyrics of So Lonely by the Police:

Someone told me yesterday,
'bout when you throw your love away,
You act as if you just don't care
You look as if you're going somewhere...

I sat on a round black cushion for more years than I care to count studying that state -- and this study I now see clearly, and repeat, ultimately has had fuck all to do with religion. And neither did those years of hard slog result in me getting any kind of qualification in Buddhist studies. But years of sitting in misery, with a broken heart, with a pelvis and head that were sadly disconnected from each other, did qualify me well to understand what Ashvaghosha is describing in this canto. Ashvaghosha is describing a state that is totally bound up with what FM Alexander called "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions."

The FM Alexander Technique, in my experience, is a marvellous tool for working on oneself in the direction of restoring integrity. But don't take my word for it. Ask Sting!

EH Johnston:
She stood, wrongly suspecting her lord, with her forehead dripping with anxiety, the paint on her face sucked in by her sobs and her eyes restless with brooding.

Linda Covill:
Her forehead broke into a sweat of anxiety, her visheshaka shriveled as she panted for breath and her eyes moved around worriedly while she fretted over her husband's absence.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
kheda-saMsvinna-lalaaTakena (inst. sg. n.) forehead sweating with distress
kheda: m. lassitude , depression ; exhaustion , pain , affliction , distress
saMsvinna = from saM- √ svid: to sweat
lalaaTaka: n. the forehead , brow ; a beautiful forehead

nishvaasa-niShpiita-visheShakeNa (inst. sg. m.) painted face-marks dried out with her sighing
nishvaasa: m. breath, expiration or inspiration ; a sigh
niShpiita: mfn. drunk out or up ; emptied by drinking , dried or sucked up , exhausted
visheShaka: mn. a mark on the forehead (made with sandal &c )

cintaa-cal'-aakSheNa (inst. sg. n.): eyes restless with anxious thoughts
cintaa: f. thought , care , anxiety , anxious thought
cala: moving , trembling , restless
akSha: n. [only for akShi] , the eye
mukhena (inst. sg.): n. face
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sthaa: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self

bhartaaram (acc. sg.): m. husband
anyatra: ind. elsewhere , in another place ; otherwise , in another manner
vishaNkamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. vi- √ shaNk : to be apprehensive or distrustful or uneasy ; to mistrust (acc.) ; to doubt , suspect ; (with anyathaa) to judge wrongly , misjudge

Monday, October 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.3: Apsarases & End-gaining

vilamba-haaraa cala-yoktrakaa saa
tasmaad vimaanaad vinataa cakaashe
tapaH-kShayaad apsarasaaM var" eva
cyutaM vimaanaat priyam iikShamaaNaa

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

With her pearl necklaces dangling and straps dishevelled

As she bent down from the palace,

She looked like the most gorgeous of the apsarases
gazing from her celestial abode

At her lover, his ascetic credit exhausted, falling down.

At the same time as Ashvaghosha puts into the Buddha's mouth metaphors from the real world, such as refining gold and making fire and crossing oceans and deserts, he does not shrink from using metaphors from the unreal world in order to get his message across.

And so in this verse we meet the apsarases, the celestial nymphs, sometimes described as pink-footed, who will feature prominently in Canto 10, A Lesson in Heaven.

A pink-footed celestial nymph, as I see her, is an object of sexual desire so strong that one wishes it to be fulfilled whatever the price to be paid and regardless of side-effects. She is, in other words, a strong stimulus for end-gaining behaviour, of which ascetic practice is a typical form.

So in this verse as I read it, Sundari's dishevelled straps are reminiscent of a nymph's clothing in the aftermath of blind passion -- the dishevelment being a kind of side-effect of amorous end-gaining.

EH Johnston:
With her necklaces of pearls hanging down and their strings swaying, as she bent down from the pavilion, she resembled some fair Apsaras watching her lover fall from the heavenly mansion on the exhaustion of the merit he had acquired by austerities.

Linda Covill:
As she bent down from the palace with her necklaces of pearls dangling and her ear-drops swinging, she seemed like one of the beautiful apsarases watching her lover fall from her celestial abode when he had used up his ascetically-derived credit.

vilamba-haaraa (nom. sg. f.): with pearl necklaces hanging down
vilamba: mfn. hanging down , pendulous (as arms)
haara: m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings);
cala-yoktrakaa (nom. sg. f.): with straps (?) moving
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking ; unsteady , fluctuating , perishable ; disturbed , confused
yoktraka = yoktra: n. any instrument for tying or fastening , a rope , thong , halter
saa (nom. sg. f.): she

tasmaat (abl. sg. m.): from that [palace]
vimaanaat = abl. sg. vimaana: (1) m. (from vi- √maa) disrespect , dishonour; (2) (from vi- √man) m. n. a car or chariot of the gods , any mythical self-moving aerial car (sometimes serving as a seat or throne , sometimes self-moving and carrying its occupant through the air ; other descriptions make the vimaana more like a house or palace , and one kind is said to be 7 stories high )
vinataa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. bent , curved , bent down , bowed , stooping , inclined , sunk down , depressed ; dejected, dispirited
cakaashe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kaash: to be visible , appear ; to shine , be brilliant , have an agreeable appearance

tapaH-kShayaat (abl. sg.): because of ascetic practice running out
tapas: n. ascetic practice
kShaya: m. loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.)
apsarasaam = gen. pl. apsaras: : f. (fr. ap + √ sRi) , " going in the waters or between the waters of the clouds " , a class of female divinities (sometimes called " nymphs " ; they inhabit the sky , but often visit the earth ; they are the wives of the gandharvas and have the faculty of changing their shapes at will)
varaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. " select " , choicest , valuable , precious , best , most excellent or eminent among (gen.)
iva: like

cyutam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. come forth from , dropped from, fallen from
vimaanaat = abl. sg. vimaana: (see above)
priyam (acc. sg.): m. a lover , husband
iikShamaaNaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. iikSh: to see , look , view , behold , look at , gaze at

Sunday, October 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.2: Sundari's Breasts Revisited, Again

saa bhaartur abhyaagamana-pratiikShaa
gavaakSham aakramya payodharaabhyaaM
dvaar'-onmukhii harmya-talaal lalambe
mukhena tiryaN-nata-kuNDalena

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

Anticipating her husband's approach,

She leant forward,
her breasts invading the bulls-eye window,

As she looked out expectantly
from the palace roof towards the gateway,

With her earrings dangling down across her face.

Forgive me if I sound like a record has got stuck, as I keep on refuting the view that Saundarananda is a religious text, but why does Ashvaghosha return again to the topic of Sundari's bursting breasts, which despite her slim waist, Ashvaghosha seems to be describing as both firm and big -- an overall combination which must have been remarkable indeed in the days before plastic surgery?

Does the preoccupation with Sundari's magnificent boobs support LC's thesis that Ashvaghosha was "a convincing evangelist of Buddhism"?

I don't think so. I think that, like the famous cave-paintings of Ajanta, Ashvagosha's description of Sundari's magnficent "milk-givers" (payodhara -- the original source of sensory satisfaction not only for the stomach and gut but also for tactile and taste receptors in the mouth and tongue) might be intended pointedly and precisely to be irreligious.

This whole Canto can be understood as a study -- and not only a psychological study but also a physiological study, a psycho-physical study -- of what FM Alexander called "unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions." That being so, this Canto, along with the other seventeen, might have absolutely fuck all to do with religion. But it might have a lot to do with understanding the human condition.

Because the mirror principle never fails, I find LC's description of Ashvaghosha as an "evangelist of Buddhism" thoroughly objectionable.

The Buddha's teaching is not primarily about converting others to the Buddha's teaching; still less is it about being "a convincing evangelist" of some -ism -- though for too many years I behaved as though it was. The Buddha's teaching, as delivered to Nanda, is primarily a method for working, as an individual, on oneself.

On that basis, the 4th line, as I read it, is saying something about a universal constant in sitting practice on the surface of mother earth, namely, 1g. In the space of two cantos, Sundari has gone from bliss to despair. She is no longer her same old self. And yet her ear-rings do not seem to have noticed. Sundari's earrings continue to dangle now just as they did during love-play with Nanda, because, when it comes to human feelings, gravity could not care less.

LC speculates: "That he was both a kavi (poet) and a bhikShu (monk) must have been an enduring source of tension for Ashvaghosha, balancing the creative impulse with the Buddhist principles of restraint and disengagement."

But I say to Linda that unless you practise every day balancing yourself on the same round cushion as Ashvaghosha, with your legs crossed and your back lengthening and widening so that you can breathe fully and freely, you have no idea what your own words mean. Unless you understand what it means totally to give up the idea of restraint, and engage totally with gravity, you have no idea where Ashvaghosha is coming from.

The Buddha-Dharma, I say, is not a religion. But it is embodied in a method that has been transmitted. Unless you are part of that living transmission, to which Ashvaghosha himself totally belongs, you do not have any real basis to speculate on the dynamics of the buddha-ancestor's mind. And to be part of that living transmission, no ceremony of religious "initiation" is necessary, nor any "ordainment." What is totally necessary is to park your arse every day on a round black cushion.

EH Johnston:
Resting her breasts against the window in expectation of her lord's return, she leant out from the palace roof looking at the gateway, while her earrings dangled across her face.

Linda Covill:
In the expectation of her husband's return, she leant from the top of the palace to watch the gateway, her breasts touching the window and her earrings hanging across her face.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
bhaartur (gen. sg.): m. husband
abhyaagamana-pratiikShaa (nom. sg. f.): anticipating his approach
abhyaagamana: approach, return
abhy-aa- √ gam: to come near, approach, visit
pratiikSha: mfn. looking forward to , waiting for , expectant of (ifc.)

gavaakSham (acc. sg.): m. " a bull's eye " , an air-hole , loop-hole , round window
aakramya = abs. aa- √ kram: to step or go near to ; to step or tread upon (acc.) ; to hold fast with the hands , seize ; to attack or invade
payodharaabhyaam = inst. dual. payo-dhara: m. " containing water or milk " , a cloud , a woman's breast

dvaar'-onmukhii (nom. sg. f.): looking expectantly towards the gateway
dvaara: n. door , gate , passage , entrance
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at ; waiting for, expecting
harmya-talaat (abl. sg.): from the palace's flat roof
harmya: palace
tala: n. surface , level , flat roof (of a house)
lalambe = 3rd pers. sg. perf. lamb: to hang down , depend , dangle

mukhena (inst. sg.): n. face, mouth
tiryaN-nata-kuNDalena (inst. sg.): with ear-rings hanging down obliquely
tiryaNc: mfn. going or lying crosswise or transversely or obliquely , oblique , transverse ; moving tortuously ; meandering
nata: mfn. bent , bowed , curved , inclined , inclining ; deep, hanging down
kuNDala: n. ear-ring