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


jiblet said...

Hi Mike,

A Sanskrit nit-pick -

You have "prekshya = abs. dRsh: to see."

I think pra-iikshya must be an absolutive from the root √[pra-] iikS, with a very similar meaning to dRsh. For iiksh MW gives "to see, look, view, behold, look at, gaze at" etc. He has no entry for pra-iiksh, but does include prekshya as a gerundive/future passive participle ("to be seen, visible"). However, it's clear that in this verse the -ya ending is due to the pra- prefix, and so an absolutive, not a gerundive. I think.

I'm guessing you know all this and slipped up. But just in case...

Mike Cross said...

Many thanks, jiblet -- I have corrected the mistake... but I won't apologize for making it.

Gudo Nishijima when he was my teacher was a master at making the fullsome apology for a mistake of this nature. But he could never bring himself to apologize for the things he really should have apologized for.

So I am sincerely grateful to you for your eagle-eyed spotting of my mistake, but I am not sorry for making it. I am sorry for all the hurt I continue to cause people by being such a sub-consciously controlled, end-gaining bastard!

Thanks again,