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.)

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