Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.52 ... and Slumps

atho nataM tasya mukhaM sa-baaShpaM
pravaashyamaaneShu shiro-ruheShu
vakr'-aagra-naalaM nalinaM taDaage
varSh'-odaka-klinnam iv' aababhaase

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

And so, as his hair was being banished,

His tearful downcast face

Resembled a rain-sodden lotus in a pond

With its stalk sagging at the top.

The agitation described in the previous verse and the postural collapse described in this verse are the two basic conditions that one would wish to avoid if one was interested in sitting with good posture.

But Nanda at this moment, deep in his slump, could not give a ... hoot ... about good posture.

And, speaking from experience, I would say that there are much worse conditions to be in than this kind of overt slump -- for example, being in the unduly fixed condition, much beloved of religious devotees, that my late Alexander head of teacher-training described as "tight and right."

FM Alexander truly taught:

"There is no such thing as a right position.
But there is a right direction."

There is a right direction.

This for me, as a work in progress, is what this translation, as a work in progress, is all about: a right direction.

If you think the one great matter is sitting in lotus in the correct posture, then you haven't really understood -- even if you are revered as the Rev. So & So, clarifier of the One True Buddhism, and founder of a new kind of religious organisation.

If you wish to decide whether Ashvaghosha was a man of literature or religion, a poet or a monk, equally, you haven't really understood -- even if you are a doctor of Buddhist studies.

There is no such thing as a right position.
There is a right direction.

But you don't seem to understand.

And if I get fixated on your ignorance, if your evident lack of understanding causes me to get stuck, then by the infallible mirror principle nothing is more sure than the fact that I also have not yet really understood.

Who was Ashvaghosha? To me Ashvaghosha is neither a poet nor a monk: he is just my true teacher, who is always pointing me whose feeling is wrong in the direction which is right.

Furthermore, I would add, there can be devotion like this to the teaching of a teacher, which has got nothing to do with religion.

So this is my thesis:

There is no such thing as a right position.
But there is a right direction.
And it has got nothing to do with religion.

EH Johnston:
So his face, covered with tears and bowed down while his hair was being banished, resembled a lotus in a pond with the top of its stalk bent when it is being soaked with rainwater.

Linda Covill:
As his hair was being removed, his tearful turned-down face looked like a rain-soaked lotus in a pond with the tip of its stalk curling away.

atho: ind. and so
natam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. bent , bowed ; depressed , sunk , flat
tasya (gen. sg. m.): his
mukham (nom. sg.): n. face
sa-baaShpam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. tearful , weeping

pravaashyamaaneShu = loc. pl. m. passive pres. part.: pra- √ vas: to go abroad ; to leave home ; to banish
shiro-ruheShu = loc. pl. shiro-ruha: m. " head-growing " , hair of the head

vakr'-aagra-naalam (nom. sg. n.): with stalk drooping at the end
vakra: mfn. crooked , curved , bent ; curled
agra: n. foremost point or part, tip ; n. uppermost part , top
naala: m. and n. a hollow stalk , (esp.) of the lotus
nalinam (nom. sg.): n. (fr. nala because of its hollow stalk?) a lotus flower or water-lily
taDaage (loc. sg.): mn. a tank, pool

varSh'-odaka-klinnam (nom. sg. n.): wetted by rain water
varSha: m. rain
udaka: n. water
klinna: mfn. moistened , wet
iva: like
ababhaase = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaas: to appear (" as " or " like " nom.)


Jordan said...

Hello form the U.S.S. Essex.

How do you define religion?

Harry said...

Yeah, good question, J.

If 'the mirror principle' isn't just a means of excusing ourselves for our worst excesses (and I'm as responsible as the next person in this regard), then maybe we can use it to acknowledge a bigger reflection.



Mike Cross said...

Hi there, Jordan. Good to hear from you.

For example, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Jainism, Islaam, Shikhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Scientology, etc. etc.

In the end, there is no -ism by which we can go beyond all -isms.

It comes down to individual work on the self.

(But insofar as such individual work is not protected by the US constitution, even if you agree with me about this, it may be convenient for you to keep quiet about it and call yourself a Zen Buddhist?)

Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry,

If the mirror principle were a means of excusing sin, then it would be a religious tool, like confession -- a means of causing oneself to feel right again.

But the mirror principle, as I stumbled on it, in my own groping efforts to go in the right direction, was as an educational, not a religious tool. It is part of becoming aware of views, attitudes and tendencies in oneself that one tends to project onto others -- and thereby having more of a chance of abandoning those views, attitudes and tendencies.

If you believe in the existence of "a bigger reflection" which might give the life of yourself and others greater and deeper meaning, then you can easily join with others, or gather your own followers, as a worshipper of or at least a believer in "a bigger reflection." You could call yourself "Big Reflectionists." Or how about "The Bigger Reflection School"? Maybe you could merge with other religious groups like The Big Mind group, or the Ordinary Mind Zen School.

But if you come to see your idea of "a bigger reflection" as the very idea that you would wish to be free of, then you are on your own. Because nobody else can abandon that idea for you.

Jordan said...

Thanks Mike, your responce triggered a needed smile and a funny feeling in the area of my sternum.

Happi said...


At the risk of clouding a clear view, given that I'm not practiced in Zen speak yet, when one has reached the top of the mountain (using Muho-san's metaphor) what need is there for direction... I mean other than that we are human and life keeps on?

The view encompasses the entirety of one's life and pervades the ten directions and the ten thousand things with a sense of peace. Its not a view then anymore is it? After that, "holding life precious is just living with all intensity holding life precious."

Uchiyama's definition of religion is a practice of spiritual peace by the way. It doesn't seem necessary to add any kind of -ism to that...


Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

"Spiritual peace" sounds to me like a typical religious conception.

The direction Ashvaghosha is pointing, as I hear him, especially in Canto 15, is towards the real peace that lies beyond such conceptions -- when deluded reactions are inhibited by the giving up of the ideas that trigger those reactions.

I tasted that peace, real peace, for example on Marjory Barlow's teaching table, but it was not like reaching the top of a mountain and having a clear view.

My preferred metaphor is mining for gold, keeping on digging deeper.

Happi said...

Just as there is not really a mountain, there is not really any gold to dig. There is only the peace of letting go, whatever adjective one puts in front to describe it. Though it certainly is not world peace, unfortunately, but maybe peace with the world...


Mike Cross said...

In this world, there is gold to be mined. And in recent times the price of it denominated in dollar, yen, euro and even in yen terms has risen very substantially.

You really have a head, Gisela, and a backside. And metaphorically speaking, it seems to me, your head is up your backside, lost in religious thoughts of how things might be, one day, maybe... if only...

Ashvaghosha is strong on metaphors from the real world. His tone strikes me as being, unlike your own wishy-washy tone, remarkably irreligious.

Happi said...

"how things might be, one day, maybe... if only..."

In Now, there is no "might be," "maybe," or "if only." There is only now and what is now.

Please keep translating. Even when one accepts the present moment as it is, one has got to have something to do, whether it be translation, study, or sitting.


Mike Cross said...

The idea of doing something triggers the habitual reaction which obstructs the way to peace.

So the true art of sitting has to do with giving up the idea of sitting upright, and yet sitting upright.

That is why I understand Nanda's condition in this verse, an overt slump, as not such a bad condition.

A much worse condition is to have a religious idea about sitting upright, and to be reacting unconsciously to this idea in such a way that one's posture becomes fixed, rigid, held, and natural functioning is impeded.

Now is the moment to see what is going on, to observe how an end-gaining idea triggers habitual reaction, and by saying "No" to the desire to gain the end, or by saying "No" to the idea of gaining the end, to stop suffering off at source.

This is a real means-whereby for pursuing peace, as Marjory Barlow taught it to me. When I can be bothered to apply it, it actually works.

It is utterly different from Zen Buddhist philosophical platitudes about living in the present moment.

As Marjory also used to say, "We are all going around trying to be right." People trying to be right didn't annoy Marjory, via the mirror principle, because she was awake to the tendency in herself.

We have the illusory idea that by doing something, we can make ourselves right. That is the essence of trying to be right -- the trying rests on the misconception that there is such a thing as rightness.

I am only saying now what I have said on this blog a hundred times, but it bears repeating for the sake of self and others.

There is no such thing as a right position. But there is a right direction.

Happi said...

There is no right or wrong in what already is. Isn't it the resistance to what is that prompts a person to try to be right, thereby causing more suffering? When one accepts what is one minimizes polarization which is what forces a person to take a position or limit one's view.

I'm not really sure where that fits into your scheme of things, whether that's a position or a direction.

I do think I would have liked Marjory though.

Mike Cross said...

What you are expressing, as I hear it, Gisela, is a Zen Buddhist idea, a kind of religious view. In my scheme of things, that is something to be examined, tested out, given up -- even if only temporarily -- and see what happens.

What Marjory taught me was how to work on myself as an individual, so as to keep going in the right direction. And what the Buddha teaches Nanda is also how to work on himself as an individual.

Fundamental to the teaching of both teachers is the abandonment of ideas wherein trouble starts.

That ideas, especiallly religious ideas, trigger unconscious reactions... is itself an idea. But it is very far from a religious idea. It is an idea that every person can test out for himself or herself -- it meets the scientist's criterion of falsifiability.

Happi said...


No, it is not a religious view, at least not the way you view religion.

I have to say I find it disheartening that you keep ascribing to me things that aren’t there. It indicates that you do not really have a sense about who I am.

Until recently, I would not have touched religion or Buddhism or Zen with a ten foot pole, because of all the negative things I associate with –isms. But there are some good things associated with those practices. Good things like letting go of views at least long enough to show some compassion, like my coming here to comment in spite of the rudeness you typically treat me to. Good things like letting go of views at least long enough to see the good that is present as well, instead of reacting to what irritates. Good things like letting go of reactive tendencies so that ‘self’ can heal instead of being stuck in those tendencies for the rest of one’s life. Good things like wearing a robe (though I don’t have a kesa yet) or chanting which, while I recognize it may not be true for everybody, for me, are an affirmation of peace, if not peace itself.

Moreover, if I separate myself entirely from religion or Buddhism or Zen because of the –isms, isn’t what I leave behind even worse off for my absence?

It’s interesting that in forcing me to take, or at least voice, a position you cause me to understand for myself what ‘direction’ is and answer my own question. And that direction is firmly grounded in my sense of what is now.

Whether you meant to do that or not, thanks.

Mike Cross said...

Well spoken, Gisela.

Despite Dogen's admonition in sitting-meditation not to think good and bad, I couldn't help thinking in my sitting, after writing my comment to you last night, that my gratuitous rudeness was bad.

So I am sorry for disheartening you -- thought it seems that the loss of heart was only very temporary.

Happi said...

I accept your apology, thanks.

As far as the compliment, it belongs to someone else. Because, although there is some unfortunate overlap in terminology, what I’ve learned I’ve mostly learned elsewhere. Our exchanges have tested that learning though.

I’ll grant you that you come from primarily a traditional Japanese Zen background. Perhaps you’ve unintentionally incorporated more of that method than you realize. It’s generally not a method I respond well to, it tends to leave me tired more than anything to be honest. Possibly others respond to it more favorably.

One of the other things I’ve learned though, in this case as much through following this blog as anywhere else, is that the way one treats others reflects on how one treats oneself. Sort of a reverse on how you typically refer to the mirror principle. Once that lesson truly gets incorporated, it seems to me that the vow to save all sentient beings is realized, but naturally, rather than being forced or preachy.

This is all kindly meant. And that being the case, since you might view my typical little gassho as in your face, I’ll chose to leave it out.

I’m feeling kind of tiny these days anyway.


Mike Cross said...

It's difficult for me to respond to a comment like this, Gisela, without being impolite.

You are free to go on expressing your views and feelings on this blog if you want, but I will never affirm them.

Happi said...

For all that I said, your appreciation for the Buddha-Dharma seems pretty clear to me, Mike.

So... never?

May your efforts at kindness reflect back well on your good self.

Mike Cross said...

Absolutely never -- at least not intentionally.

The religious tendency is for people who believe the same rubbishm, whether it be Judaism or Zen Buddhism, to group together and affirm each other's view.

In my heart I bow to the Buddha who taught the true Dharma as the giving up of all views.

But in practice I look forward to being in France in spring and summer, totally on my tod. Even if the Buddha wanted to visit me there and tell me his Buddhist view, I might prefer it if, all the same, he didn't bother.

Happi said...

I’d be surprised if, after all this time, he hasn’t been there, at least occasionally, and you just haven’t seen him.