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

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