Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.46: More Soft Soap

aNke 'pi lakShmyaa na sa nirvRtaH syaat
tvaM tasya paarshve yadi tatra na syaaH
aapatsu kRcchraasv api c' aagataasu
tvaaM pashyatas tasya bhaven na duHkhaM

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

Even in the lap of luxury he couldn't be happy

Without you there by his side;

And even in dire straits,

Nothing could trouble him,
as long as he were looking at you.

The thought expressed here turns out, as a prediction, not to be true, since Ashvaghosha describes in Canto 17 how Nanda does in fact become happy without Sundari there by his side. (For through the instruction of the compassionate teacher / Who extracted a dart of passion that was lodged in my heart, / Now such abundant ease is mine -- / Oh! how happy I am in the loss of everything! [17.65])

As a thought that was suited to Sundari's mind and fitting the occasion, however, Ashvaghosha has in 6.44 already praised this thought. In a practical sense, then, this is a true thought. In terms of intellectual honesty it is not true, but karmically, in terms of its intention and its effect, the expression of this thought is a true action.

People, even Zen masters, are prone to opine that in sitting-dhyana no kind of thinking is suitable, that sitting-dhyana rather represents the negation of all kinds of thinking and all kinds of thought. This opinion, however, might not be the whole story.

There might be situations, and there might be stages of sitting-meditation, in which not only thinking but also even thoughts are suited to the sitter's mind and appropriate to the occasion. And in stating this case, I am always teetering on the brink of speaking the opposite of a white lie -- the black truth?

Pulling back from the brink, let us re-examine this word in line 1, nirvRta, happiness.

In 17.65 Nanda is happy (nirvRta) not as a result of getting Sundari by his side, or as a result of getting his way with an apsaras sex-bomb; he is happy as a result of the loss of everything (sarva-kShaya). And that loss of everything came as a result of being clearly instructed by the Buddha in how to work on himself, and as a result of being motivated by the Buddha to start work on himself. In the first instance, Nanda's motivation was far from pure; it was totally tainted by the prospect of sex with celestial nymphs, the expectation of which was rooted in a white lie that the Buddha told Nanda.

So one of the lessons of Saundarananda has to do with the relative importance of intellectual honesty, the lack of which a white lie represents, and finding happiness through working on oneself. And the lesson might be that intellectual honesty is not always important whereas finding happiness through working on oneself is vitally important.

This lesson seems to be presaged in the present series of verses, in which Ashvaghosha praises the use of a lie whose karma is white, because it causes Sundari to begin to come back to herself.

EH Johnston:
He would not be happy even in the lap of luxury if you were not there at his side, and whatever dire calamities fell on him, he would not feel distress so long as he could see you.

Linda Covill:
Even in the lap of luxury he wouldn't be happy without you there at his side; even in awful situations, he wouldn't suffer if you filled his gaze.

aNke (loc. sg.): m. a hook ; the curve in the human , especially the female , figure above the hip (where infants sitting , astride are carried by mothers hence often = " breast " or " lap ")
api: even
lakShmyaa (inst. sg.): f. wealth , riches ; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre
na: not
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
nirvRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satisfied , happy , tranquil , at ease , at rest ; extinguished , terminated , ceased
syaat = 3rd. pers. sg. optative as: to be

tvam (now. sg.): you
tasya (gen. sg. m.): of him
paarshve (loc. sg.): at the side
yadi: if
tatra: ind. there
na: not
syaaH = 2nd. pers. sg. optative as: to be

aapatsu = loc. pl. aapad: f. misfortune , calamity , distress
kRcchraasu (loc. pl. f.): mfn. causing trouble or pain , painful , attended with pain or labour ; being in a difficult or painful situation ; bad , evil , wicked
api: even, also
ca: and
aagataasu (loc.pl. f.): mfn. come , arrived

tvaam (acc. sg.): you
pashyataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part pash: to see
tasya (gen. sg.): in him
bhavet = 3rd. pers. sg. optative bhuu: to be, become
na: not
duHkham (nom. sg.): n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty

Monday, November 29, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.45: A Little White Lie

braviimi satyaM su-vinishcitaM me
praaptaM priyam drakShyasi shiighram eva
tvayaa vinaa sthaasyati tatra n' aasau
sattv'-aashrayash cetanay" eva hiinaH

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

"I am telling you, truly, categorically,

You'll see your husband back soon enough.

That guy won't last any longer out there without you

Than a living thing lasts when it loses consciousness.

This woman is lying. She can't truly guarantee to Sundari that Nanda will soon come back to her, any more than....

... any more than the Buddha can guarantee to Nanda that if Nanda practises long and hard enough he will be rewarded by being able to enjoy the sexual favours of the stunning celestial nymphs, the apsarases.

What makes a white lie white? I suppose that whereas lying in general is tainted by greedy end-gaining, in a white lie there is nothing in it for the liar except the desire, informed by wisdom, to benefit the person being lied to.

Hence, what Charles Sherrington called "the convenient fiction" of the simple reflex is also a kind of white lie -- but it is a lie that I find very useful in endeavouring to clarify, for self and others, what it means to defeat Mara (the personification of evil) and his grim unconscious and semi-conscious entourage. It might be the use of a modern scientific white lie to try to clarify the real meaning of an ancient mythical white lie.

EH Johnston:
' I declare the absolutely certain truth to you when I say that you will see your beloved coming here very soon. He can no more remain there without you than an animate body can exists without consciousness.

Linda Covill:
"You'll soon see your husband come back; he can't stay there without you, any more than a living creature exists without consciousness. I am absolutely convinced of the truth of this.

braviimi = 1st pers. sg. pres. bruu: to speak , say , tell ; proclaim, predict
satyam (acc. sg.): n. truth , reality; ind. truly , indeed , certainly , verily , necessarily , yes , very well
su-vinishcitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. thoroughly convinced
su: well, fully, thoroughly
vi-nishcita: mfn. ascertained , determined , settled , certain
vinishcitam: ind. most certainly , decidedly
nishcita: mfn. ascertained , determined , settled , decided
su-nischita: mfn. well ascertained or determined or fixed or settled; m. a buddha
su-nischitam ind. " most assuredly "
me (gen. sg.): of/for me

praaptam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. attained to , reached , arrived at , met with , found , incurred , got , acquired , gained
priyam (acc. sg.): m. husband, beloved
drakShyasi = 2nd pers. sg. future dRsh: to see
shiighram: ind. quickly , rapidly , fast
eva: emphatic

tvayaa (inst. sg.): you
vinaa: ind. without (preceded or followed by an instr.)
sthaasyati = 3rd pers. sg. future sthaa: to stand, stay , remain
tatra; ind. there
na: not
asau: he (referring to what is not near at hand); that bloke

sattv'-aashrayaH (nom. sg. m.): one endowed with the breath of life
sattva: n. being , existence , entity , reality; spiritual essence , spirit , mind ; vital breath , life , consciousness
aashraya: mfn. ifc. depending on , resting on , endowed or furnished with
cetanayaa (inst. sg.): f. consciousness , understanding , sense , intelligence
iva: like
hiinaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. bereft or deprived of , free from , devoid or destitute of , without (instr.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.44: Making an Intimate Connection (with Wrongness)

ity evam ukt" aapi bahu-prakaaraM
snehaat tayaa n' aiva dhRtiM cakaara
ath' aaparaa taaM manaso 'nukuulaM
kaal'-opapannaM praNayaad uvaaca

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

Though this woman, out of affection,
thus put to her various arguments,

Sundari could find no stillness at all.

Then another woman told her, intimately,

What suited her mind and fitted the occasion.

Not a silly prattler in a world of her own, and not a grandiloquent pontificator on a soapbox, the third woman is able to use her voice to make more of heart-to-heart connection with Sundari.

Understanding these three possibilities, one approach is to aspire to the making of heart-to-heart connections with everybody, in the middle way. With this approach one aims for the middle, unconsciously trusting the reliability of one's feelings in regard to where the middle is. This corresponds to what FM Alexander described as trying to be right, and it is the usual way of Buddhists and other religious types -- not to mention politicians and economists of the left and right who are prone to feel that their own view is slap bang in the middle.

Another approach is consciously to practise the extremes of silly prattling and grandiloquent pontificating, safe in the knowledge that one is less liable to be enslaved by a tendency that one is able to practise consciously. This is the kind of approach that children when allowed to play tend to adopt naturally. As a wise student of child development named Orlanda Schrager once said, "We learn about balance by falling over."

Trying to be right is very limiting, as I know well from many years of practising it so diligently. But making an intimate connection with wrongness is the real, golden key to setting self and others free.

Making an intimate connection with wrongness is what Alexander work, when practised well, is all about; it is what the work my wife and brother do in the water, with nervous swimmers, is all about; it is what the work my wife and I do with dyspraxic children, is all about; and it is what this Canto, as I read it, is all about.

"Being prepared to be wrong," Marjory Barlow once said to me, in the most conspiratorial of voices, as if she were sharing an intimate secret, "is the golden key."

Apopros of this, I would like to relate the story of how FM Alexander responded when a girl arrived for a first lesson with him in a state of extreme wrongness, her fear reflexes and emotions all irrationally excited. I can't remember all the details of the story, but the gist of it was that FM did not do any of the things that one normally associates with an Alexander lesson -- the teacher using his hands to put meaning into the words "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, to send the knees forwards and away," et cetera. Rather, FM found out that the frightened girl loved horses, and spent the whole half hour chatting to her about horses.

EH Johnston:
Though spoken to much in this way lovingly by her, she did not regain self-control ; then another woman spoke to her affectionately what was pleasing to her mind and was suited to the occasion :--

Linda Covill:
Tenderly she said this, and more besides, but Sundari still could not contain herself. Then another woman told her something in confidence which better pleased her mind and which fitted the circumstance.

ity evam uktaa (nom. sg. f.): spoken to thus
api: and, also
bahu-prakaaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. of many kinds , manifold
bahu: mfn. much many
prakaara: m. sort , kind , nature , class , species , way , mode , manner

snehaat (abl. sg.): m. oil ; blandness , tenderness , love , fondness or affection
tayaa (inst. sg.): by her, by that woman
na: not
eva: (emphatic)
dhRtiM cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect dhRtiM- √kR: to keep ground or stand still ; to find pleasure or satisfaction
dhRti: f. firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command ; satisfaction ; Resolution or Satisfaction personified as a daughter of dakSha and wife of dharma

atha: ind. then, and so
aparaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. another [woman]
taam (acc. sg. f.): to her
manasaH (gen. sg.): for her mind
anukuulam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. following the bank (kuula) or slope or declivity ; favourable , agreeable ; conformable to ; friendly , kind , well-disposed ; n. (in poetry) narrative of calamity leading finally to happiness

kaal'opapannam (acc. sg. n.): suited to the occasion
kaala: m. time; occasion , circumstance
upapanna: mfn. fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable
upa- √ pad: to go towards ; to be possible , be fit for or adequate to (with loc.) ; to be regular or according to rules ; to become , be suitable
praNayaat: ind. confidentially , affectionately , openly , frankly
praNaya: m. affection , confidence in (loc.) , love , attachment , friendship , favour
uvaaca = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vac: to say, speak

Saturday, November 27, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.43: A Final Call to Cheer Up

atha tv idaaniiM laDitaH sukhena
sva-sthaH phala-stho vyasanaany a-dRShTvaa
viita-spRho dharmam anuprapannaH
kiM viklave rodiShi harSha-kaale

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

On the contrary, he is now roving happily,

Meeting no disasters,
but enjoying sound health and a fruitful life.

Free from desires, he is following the dharma:

Why at a time for rejoicing do you,
in a state of consternation, weep?"

In EHJ's Sanskrit version vi-klave in line 4 is in the locative, as per the palm-leaf manuscript; in LC's version, as per the paper manuscript, it is vi-klavaa in the nominative singular feminine.

Either way, the root √klav means to fear, and so the choice of the word vi-klaava as I read it suggests recognition that at the root of Sundari's consternation are unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions.

This is the end of woman number two's exhortation to Sundari that she should pull herself together, stop grieving, count herself lucky, and cheer up. In short, woman number two's advice to Sundari is that she should -- to use a phrase apparently favoured by matriarchs of the British royal family -- "buck up."

But how?

Whereas weeping woman number one seemed to err on the side of carelessness, dizzily blurting out her news in an unthinking way, oblivious of the consequences, woman number two seems to err on the opposite side: she has her eyes firmly on the prize, which is that Sundari should cheer up, but she lacks the wisdom of one who knows a way of getting from here to there.

Woman number two has a good way with words -- she is gifted in speech (vacas" opapannaa; 6.38). But her words are ineffective in bringing about the change in Sundari that she, with the best of intentions, wishes to bring about.

Can words ever be an effective agent of change?

Ashvaghosha apparently thinks so, as indicated by the metaphor in which he likens his own writings to bitter medicine mixed with honey.

How can words be an effective agent of change?

I don't know. But I think the point of these last six verses has been to demonstrate to us "Not like that."

EH Johnston:
But now he has betaken himself to the Law, blissfully joyful, master of himself, assured of the reward, with desire quelled and unacquainted with misfortune. Why do you weep in distress ? It is rather the time for merrymaking.'

Linda Covill:
But now he is following the dharma, light-hearted with happiness, easy in himself, well-placed for a good result, with no accident in sight, and free from longing! Why are you distressed and weeping at this joyful time?"

atha: ind. now, and now
tu: but
idaaniim: ind. now , at this moment
laDitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moving hither and thither
laD: to play , sport , dally
sukhena (inst. sg.): running swiftly or easily (applied to cars or chariots); agreeable, comfortable , happy , prosperous

sva-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " Sarvad. ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind) , comfortable , at ease ; relying upon one's self , confident , resolute , composed ; self-sufficient , independent
phala-sthaH: mfn. useful (cf. phala-saMstha, bearing fruit)
phala: fruit, result
stha: mfn. standing, being situated in, occupied with , engaged in , devoted to
vyasanaani (acc. pl.): n. moving to and fro; evil predicament or plight , disaster , accident , evil result , calamity , misfortune
a-dRShTvaa (abs. a-dRsh): not seeing

viita-spRhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. free from wish or desire
spRh: to be eager , desire eagerly , long for ; to envy , be jealous of
dharmam (acc. sg.): m. dharma, duty, practice of the law/teaching
anuprapannaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. following after , conformed to
anu: ind. after , along , alongside , near to
pra- √ pad: to go forwards set out for , resort to , arrive at

kim: ind. why?
viklave (loc. sg.): mfn. overcome with fear or agitation , confused , perplexed , bewildered , alarmed , distressed
vi- √ klav: to become agitated or confused
klav: to fear , be afraid
rodiShi = 2nd pers. sg. present rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail
harSha-kaale (loc. sg): at a time for rejoicing
harSha: m. bristling , erection (esp. of the hair in a thrill of rapture or delight) ; joy , pleasure , happiness
kaala: time

Friday, November 26, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.42: Another Unwise Call to Count Your Blessings

ath' aapi kiM cid vyasanaM prapanno
maa c' aiva tad bhuut sadRsho 'tra baaShpaH
ato vishiShTaM na hi duHkham asti
kul'-odgataayaaH pati-devataayaaH

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

Again, had he met with some disaster

-- And may nothing of that sort ever be! --
then yes, tears;

Because there is no greater sorrow

For a nobly-born woman
who honours her husband like a god.

If I could go back sixty years and put myself in the place of the doctor whose duty it was to tell an Alexander teacher trained by FM Alexander, then a pregnant mother, that her eldest son had died as a result of an operation that went wrong to have his tonsils out, I think I would just like to say in the place of that doctor "I am terribly, terribly sorry." To say something along the lines of "Well it's not so bad for you. You won't need to grieve so much since you have got another one on the way...." would be an extreme example of wisdom deficit disorder.

The insensitivity of the woman speaking now is not of that magnitude, but what she is saying strikes me as being along those lines.

Besides that, her register, with its repeated references to noble birth and the lineage of Ikshvaku, sounds somewhat stiff-upper-lipped or stuck up -- as if she is more conscious of class mores than of the human dimension of Sundari's suffering.

So this woman, as she comes across to me, is an example of one who seems, with the best of intentions, to talk a good talk but in doing so without real wisdom is failing to walk a good walk. This is the gap that Dogen cautions against at the beginning of Fukan-zazengi, his rules of sitting-dhyana for people of all classes and none.

EH Johnston:
Or if he had come by some misfortune -- but may that never happen ! -- tears would be in place ; for there is no sorrow heavier than that to a woman of good family whose husband is her god.

Linda Covill:
Or had he met with some accident (and may that sort of thing never happen) then yes, tears! For no greater tragedy befalls a nobly-born woman whose husband is for her a god.

atha: ind. now, then, moreover, rather
api: even, again
kiM cit: some
vyasanam (acc. sg.): n. moving to and fro , wagging (of a tail) ; evil predicament or plight , disaster , accident , evil result , calamity , misfortune
prapannaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. arrived at , come to

maa: a particle of prohibition or negation, most commonly joined with the Subjunctive i.e. the augmentless form of a past tense (esp. of the aor. e.g. tapovana-vaasinaam uparodho maa bhuut , let there not be any disturbance of the inhabitants of the sacred grove)
ca: and
eva (emphatic)
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
bhuut = subjunctive bhuu: to be
sadRshaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn, like , resembling , similar to
atra: ind. from that, then
baaShpaH (nom. sg.): m. a tear, tears

ataH: ind. from this, hence; from this cause
vishiShTam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. better or worse than (abl. or comp.)
na: not
hi: for
duHkham (nom. sg.): n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty
asti: there is

kul'-odgataayaaH (gen. sg. f.): mfn. sprung from a noble family
kula: n. a noble or eminent family or race
ud-gata: mfn. gone up , risen , ascended ; come forth, appeared
pati-devataayaaH (gen. sg.): f. regarding a husband as a divinity , honouring a husband above all others
pati: m. a husband
devataa: f. godhead , divinity (abstr. & concr.); image of a deity , idol

Thursday, November 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.41: A Call to Count Yourself Lucky

yady anyayaa ruupa-guN'-aadhikatvaad
bhartaa hRtas te kuru baaShpa-mokShaM
manasvinii ruupavatii guN'-aaDhyaa
hRdi kShate k" aatra hi n' aashru muNcet

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

Were your husband to be stolen by another,
due to her better looks and qualities,

Then tears you should let flow;

For where is the beautiful and virtuous wife,
rich in her own qualities,

Who would not shed a tear when her heart was broken?

In headmistress-like manner, and still with the best of intentions, woman number two is saying in this verse in essence "It could be worse" -- which is a true but in the circumstances not necessarily a wise thing to say.

She is continuing along the lines of "Pull yourself together and dry your eyes. You have got nothing to cry about."

If following this tack caused Sundari to come back to herself, we would be led to judge that woman number two had spoken to Sundari on the basis of intuitive wisdom (prajNaa).

But in 16.44 Ashvaghosha tells us that after woman number two had spoken her piece Sundari still could not get a grip on herself / could not be satisfied (n' aiva dhRtim cakaara).

The implication is that the words quoted in this verse might be worthy and reasonable, as befitted the gravitas and eloquence of the woman speaking them, but then and there, in that actual situation (tatra), they were not words of wisdom.

And in this situation of saying 'the right thing,' but ineffectually, one has certainly been -- not least as an Alexander teacher, parroting the Alexander directions "To let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees away from the pelvis..." while all the time failing to realize in oneself or to convey to the pupil the real meaning of those words.

Conversely, in a good moment in a past life, on a windy and rainy late autumn evening I stepped out of a warm office block into a cold Tokyo night and watched a Zen master struggle to open out his portable umbrella while keeping his back to the driving wind and rain. Seeing the spokes keep folding back on themselves I called out, "Open it into the wind!" The Zen master turned to point the tip of his umbrella into the wind and immediately the umbrella sprang into life like a husky dog on the m of "mush!" The master laughed and observed "It is a kind of wisdom."

That is what we really want -- wisdom, the seed of liberation (nirmokSha-biijam; 5.15) and the most satisfying of tastes (tRpti-karo rasebhyaH; 5.24). But wanting it is no guarantee of getting it. And, as the example of woman number two shows, being highly regarded and eloquent is no guarantee, at a particular time and place, of having it.

EH Johnston:
Let your tears flow if your husband is captivated by another because of her greater beauty and qualities ; for who, possessed of spirit and beauty and rich in qualities, would not shed tears, when her heart is broken ?

Linda Covill:
Had your husband been seduced by another woman's better looks and character, then you could let your tears run freely. What spirited and beautiful woman with a wealth of good qualities would not shed tears when her heart was broken?

yadi: if
anyayaa (inst. sg. f.): by another woman
ruupa-guN'-aadhikatvaat (abl. sg.): because of superiority in looks and virtue
ruupa: n. form ; handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty
guNa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
adhikatva: n. superiority
adhika: mfn. surpassing (in number or quantity or quality) , superior , more numerous
-tva: neuter abstract noun suffix

bhartaa (nom. sg.): m. a preserver , protector , maintainer , chief , lord , master ; husband
hRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. taken , taken away , seized; ravished , charmed , fascinated
te (gen. sg.): your
kuru = imperative kR: to do, make
baaShpa-mokSham (acc. sg.): shedding of tears
baaShpa: tears
mokSha: release ; shedding or causing to flow (tears , blood &c )

manasvinii (nom. sg. f.): mfn. full of mind or sense , intelligent , clever , wise ; f. a virtuous wife
ruupavatii (nom. sg. f.): having a beautiful form or colour , handsomely formed , handsome , beautiful ; f. a handsome woman
guN'-aaDhyaa (nom. sg. f.): abounding in good qualities
guNa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
aaDhya: mfn. rich or abounding in , richly endowed or filled or mixed with (instr. or in comp.)

hRdi (loc. abs.): heart
kShate (loc. abs.): mfn. wounded , hurt , injured ; broken
kaa (nom. sg. f.): who?
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect ; in this place , here at this time , there , then.
hi: for
na: not
ashru (acc. sg.): n. a tear
muNcet = 3rd pers. sg. optative muc: to let go, release, shed

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.40: A Call to Chastity

praayeNa mokShaaya viniHsRtaanaaM
shaakya'-rShabhaaNaaM viditaaH striyas te
tapo-vanaan' iiva gRhaaNi yaasaaM
saadhvii-vrataM kaamavad aashritaanaam

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

You are acquainted with wives

Of Shakya bulls gone forth in pursuit of liberation:

As a rule,
they are women whose homes are like ascetic groves

And who observe a vow of chastity
as if it were their pleasure.

The speaker, woman number two, is speaking with good intentions, out of affection for Sundari and a desire to comfort her. At the same time, her approach seems rather headmistress-like and direct; it seems to lack a certain guile, and so what she is saying does not pass the pragmatic test of truth -- it doesn't work. She wishes to console Sundari, but what she says does not have the desired effect.

This woman, then, may be seen as a female equivalent of the monk who mounts his attack on women in Canto 8. Just as the woman speaking now wants to help Sundari, the monk's intention, similarly, is to help Nanda. He tries to put Nanda off Sundari by emphasizing the inherent ugliness of women in general. But the monk's direct strategy doesn't work. What actually works is the cunning ploy of the Buddha who makes Nanda aware of beauty so amazing that it puts even the lovely Sundari in the shade. (This amazing beauty, alas, Nanda then sees to be fleeting.)

We might easily think that all the real gold of Saundarananda is contained in those Cantos where the Buddha demonstrates the use of skillful means, or where Ashvaghosha paints his portrait of the Buddha, or where the Buddha preaches the truth to Nanda, or where Ashvaghosha describes the process of Nanda's own awakening. That I am prey to such thinking is demonstrated by the order in which I have attacked the translation of the cantos of Saundarananda. I have followed my usual way (oft complained about in the bedroom) of going directly for the target.

But true thoughts that run counter to this blinkered, goal-oriented approach are, in the words of FM Alexander, "To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world;" and in the words of Zen Master Dogen, "Ordinary people are deluded about enlightenment; buddhas are enlightened about delusion."

In that spirit, the same interest that we show in the skillful means of the Buddha, we might also show in the unskillful means of the monk in Canto 8, and of the woman speaking now.

In the end, I sit myself in lotus and where do I start? What do I know?

I know that my habitual end-gaining is not skillful. It creates clutter. But by seating myself in solitude I have already begun to be free of that clutter, and dug out for myself a bit of space -- and this feels good. Such is the first dhyana, born of solitude and divorced from the taint of end-gaining.

What I know then is that feeling good is not the point of practice. The point is rather to go in a meaningful direction and this means, in the first instance, going from a state of pleasant indulgence in miscellaneous thoughts and ideas in the direction of "the state of not thinking" or "one-pointedness."

How does one go in that direction? Not by blind unconscious doing. Not by suppressing thought through an effort of physical gymnastics. As George in a recent comment pointed out from his own experience, that is the direct route only to becoming a champion of stiff hips.

If not by doing, then by thinking... but how?

I don't know.

FM Alexander described his work as "an exercise in finding out what thinking is." It seems to me more to the point to describe this work of sitting practice as an exercise in finding out what thinking is not.

And that is why the present series of verses, though their relevance may not be immediately apparent, are of absolutely vital relevance to the one great matter.

EH Johnston:
You know that for the most part the wives of those mighty Sakyas who go off in search of salvation treat their homes as groves of asceticism, taking on themselves the vow of chastity as if it were the same as love.

Linda Covill:
You know about those wives of eminent Shakyas who go forth for liberty's sake -- most of them observe a vow of chastity as though it were a passionate promise, and make their homes like ascetics' groves.

praayeNa: ind. mostly , generally , as a rule ; most probably , likely
praaya: m. (fr. pra + aya √ i) going forth , starting (for a battle) ; departure from life , seeking death by fasting (as a religious or penitentiary act); anything prominent , chief part , largest portion , plenty , majority , general rule
mokShaaya (dat. sg.): m. emancipation , liberation , release
viniHsRtaanaam (gen. pl. m.): mfn. gone forth or out , issued forth
vi-niH- √ sR: to go forth , issue out , spring from (abl.)

shaakya'-rShabhaaNaam (gen. pl.): of Shakya bulls
RShabha: m. (fr. v RSh, to thrust) a bull (as impregnating the flock) ; the best or most excellent of any kind or race
viditaaH (nom. pl. f.): mfn. known , understood , learnt , perceived ; apprised , informed
striyaH (nom. pl.): f. a woman, female, wife
te (gen. sg.): to you

tapo-vanaani (acc. pl.): n. a grove in which religious austerities are performed
iva: like
gRhaaNi (acc.. pl.): m. house, home
yaasaam (gen. pl. f.): who

saadhvii-vratam (acc. sg. n.): vow of chastity
saadhvii: f. a chaste or virtuous woman , faithful wife
vrata: n. a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice (as fasting , continence &c
kaama-vat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. being in love , enamoured , wanton
kaama: m. love, sensual pleasure
vat: ind. like, with
aashritaanaam (gen. pl. f.): mfn. attaching one's self to , joining
having recourse to ; following , practising , observing

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.39: A Call to Suppress Grief

raaja'-rShi-vadhvaas tava n' aanuruupo
dharm'aashrite bhartari jaatu shokaH
ikShvaaku-vaMshe hy abhikaaNkShitaani
daayadya-bhuutaani tapo-vanaani

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

"Grief ill becomes you, the wife of a royal seer,

When your husband has taken refuge in the dharma;

For a desired inheritance, in the lineage of Ikshvaku,

Are woods suited to the practice of austerities.

For those of us who are primarily interested in sitting, this verse is a key one.

What this woman is advocating is that Sundari should do something: that she should pull herself together, in view of her station in life, and suppress her grief.

It is the equivalent of teaching, "When in sitting suppressed grief begins to rise to the surface, make an extra effort to keep the spine straight vertically -- a kind of physical gymnastics."

I have been there, and done that, ad nauseam, and it does not pass the pragmatic test of truth. It does not bloody work.

When, in light of the empirical fact that the approach to sitting one has been following evidently has not worked, one goes back to the source and re-examines the instructions of the ancestors, one finds there, if one looks with fresh eyes, that Dogen describes the secret of sitting-dhyana not in terms of doing but in terms of thinking.

Quoting Yakusan, Dogen exhorts us
"Think this state of not thinking,"

or (in a freer translation)
"Think yourself into the zone of not thinking."

What does it mean to think oneself into the zone of not thinking?

I don't know what it means.

If I know anything, I know what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean thinking in the dizzy manner of woman number one. And neither does it mean thinking in the buttoned-up, stiff-upper-lipped manner of woman number two.

It requires quite a lot of guts to recognize that the doing way one has been taught to sit, and the doing way that one has practised sitting for many years, was totally contrary to the teaching of the teacher, Dogen, whose teaching one thought was following.

You thought it was all about learning what to do? You were dead wrong. The truth is that it is much more about learning how not to think.

To recognize that one had it completely wrong, that one's revered Zen teachers were talking out of their arses, is no easy thing. But if you are a real person, pas de choix.

EH Johnston:
'You are the wife of a royal seer and it is not at all fitting for you to grieve when your lord has taken refuge in the Law. For the groves of asceticism are the hereditary possessions of the Iksvaku race and sought after by them.

Linda Covill:
"Grief ill becomes you, the wife of a royal seer, when your husband has sought refuge in the dharma; for in Ikshvaku's lineage the ascetics' forest is a much-desired inheritance!

raaja'-rShi-vadhvaaH (gen. sg. f.): for the wife of a royal seer
raajan: m. king
rShi: seer
vadhu: f. a young wife or woman
tava (gen. sg.): you
na: not
anu-ruupaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , like , fit , suitable

dharm'aashrite (loc. abs.): taken refuge in the dharma
bhartari (loc. abs.): husband
jaatu: ind. at all , ever
shokaH (nom. sg.): m. grief, sorrow

ikShvaaku-vaMshe (loc. sg.): in the lineage of Ikshvaku
ikShvaaku: name of first king of the solar dynasty
vaMsha: m. bamboo; the line of a pedigree or genealogy (from its resemblance to the succession of joints in a bamboo) , lineage race , family , stock (esp. a noble race , a dynasty of kings , a list of teachers &c)
hi: for
abhikaaNkShitaani (acc. pl. n.): mfn. longed for , wished , desired
abhi- √ kaaNkSh: to long for, desire, strive

daayadya-bhuutaani (acc. pl. n.): the de facto inheritance
daayadya: n. inheritance
bhuuta: (ifc.) being or being like anything , consisting of
tapo-vanaani (acc. pl.): n. a grove in which religious austerities are performed
tapas: n. heat; suffering ; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance
vaana: n. a dense wood

Monday, November 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.38: A Leader Steps Out

yaa tatra taasaaM vacas" opapannaa
maanyaa ca tasyaa vayas" aadhikaa ca
saa pRShThatas taaM tu samaaliliNge
pramRjya c' aashruuNi vacaaMsy uvaaca

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

There was one there among them, however,

The eldest in years,
a highly regarded woman gifted with eloquence,

Who held Sundari from behind in a firm embrace

And, wiping away her tears, spoke these words:

This woman is the second of the three women who speak to Sundari in this Canto. The first woman, the bearer to Sundari of bad news, came across as a dizzy young thing. This second woman comes across as the opposite. She is senior in years, eloquent and well-respected: she has a certain gravitas. She steps forward as the natural leader of Sundari's group of ladies-in-waiting.

But Ashvaghosha seems in the next five verses, subversively, to paint this woman as lacking one important quality, and that is wisdom. Out of the best of intentions, while holding Sundari firmly, she is going to tell Sundari to pull herself together, and as a starting point she wipes away Sundari's tears for her. But this direct approach is going to fail the pragmatic test of truth -- it is not going to work.

So part of the moral of this part might be that just because a person stands out as an obvious leader with outstanding qualities does not necessarily mean that one can switch off and be guided blindly by the policies and direction advocated by that leader. One should rather always maintain a certain skepticism and vigilance.

In short, "Don't follow leaders. Watch your parking meters."

Pragmatism, skepticism, wisdom, the words of Bob Dylan (ne. Zimmerman), recent work with growing babies and children, and trends revealed by the flag counter on this blog... these elements seem to be milling around in my unconscious at present, trying to form themselves into some kind of coherent pattern.

Though set on the eventual annihilation all -isms, I am prepared to grant a temporary stay of execution for pragmatism and skepticism, which have the saving grace of including the subversion of their own -ism. Pragmatism, or the philosophy of what works, is regarded in philosophy as an American invention, and it is partly credited to John Dewey, whose interest in what worked led him to become a staunch supporter of FM Alexander. FM for his part was a great Anglophile; when he went on trips to America -- which in FM's day nearly a hundred years ago was a much younger country than it is today -- he couldn't wait to get back to England. Skepticism and wisdom are generally not associated with youth, and the presence in America of these virtues, as I see it, is very often traceable back to the influence of Americans with a Jewish heritage and associated consciousness of thousands of years of the history of a people. But FM Alexander apparently felt that in his day the habits of "the American people" were governed less by wisdom and more by short-term end-gaining. There is a profound link between short-term end-gaining and lack of proper integration of the infantile fear reflexes, centred on the Moro or baby panic reflex. And one of the best things a mother can do, to help her baby integrate such primitive reflexes, is to give the baby plenty of time on its tummy to explore lifting and turning the head, moving about the arms, shoulders, hips and knees, leading to crawling around like a lizard or a crocodile. But all too often, for safety's sake, inexperienced British mothers leave babies plonked in car seats, or lay them down on their back out of undue fear of cot death (or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome); and all too often mothers encourage babies to come up to standing much too early. Mothers push their babies onto the next stage of development before the baby is ready. It is a kind of impatient end-gaining. And impatient end-gaining is everywhere the enemy of wisdom.

Such are my self-indulgent musings. What is not in doubt is that, having established a big early lead, the tally of unique visitors to this blog from the UK is rapidly being caught up by visitors from the US. So what? I am not sure what it means, but it must signify something.

Seventy-three percent of visitors to this blog have come from the UK and the US. If we include Ireland, the percentage goes up to 76%. So probably about three-quarters of people reading this come from countries whose economies are presently in the mire due to financial industries that grew far too big. What got us into this mess? I dare say it was short-term end-gaining. But surveying the mess created by our impatient end-gaining, we have the possibility of learning from our mistakes and nurturing wisdom.

EH Johnston:
But the oldest of the women there, who was the most respected by her and the most gifted in speech, embraced her from behind and wiping away her tears said :--

Linda Covill:
One woman among them, their senior in age, articulate and well-respected, stood behind Sundari and held her close. She wiped away her tears and said:

yaa (nom. sg. f.): [she] who
tatra: ind. there, in the moment
taasaam (gen. pl. f.): among those women
vacasaa (inst. sg.): n. speech , voice , word
upapannaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. endowed with , possessed of , furnished with ; fit , suited for the occasion , adequate , conformable

maanyaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. to be respected or honoured , worthy of honour , respectable , venerable
ca: and
tasyaaH (gen. sg. f.): of/in her
vayasaa (inst. sg.): age
adhikaa (nom. sg. f.): surpassing (in number or quantity or quality)
ca: and

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
pRShTha-taH: ind. from the back
taam (acc. sg. f.): her [Sundari]
tu: but
samaaliliNge = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sam-aa- √ liNg: to embrace closely , clasp or hold in a firm embrace

pramRjya = abs. pra- √ mRj: to wipe
ca: and
ashruuNi (acc. pl.): n. tear
vacaaMsi (acc. pl.): n. word
uvaaca = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vac: to say, speak

Sunday, November 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.37: Comfort in the Relative Anonymity of Belonging to a Group

taabhir vRtaa harmya-tale 'Nganaabhish
cintaa-tanuH saa su-tanur babhaase
shata-hradaabhiH pariveShTit" eva
shashaaNka-lekhaa sharad-abhra-madhye

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

Enfolded on the palace roof by her women,

The slender Sundari, gaunt with worry,

Seemed like a thin lunar crescent
enshrouded by streaks of lightning

Amid the autumn clouds.

I suspect that I am far from getting to the bottom of this verse, but a couple of facts that strike me as maybe being relevant to it are: (1) that if there is a spot that one mustn't scratch, sometimes scratching the surrounding area provides some indirect relief; and (2) when a dog is sick, sometimes the best medicine for it is to be allowed to run with a pack.

In the metaphor presented here, the gaunt Sundari is like a thin crescent of the moon and the women who have rallied round her are like flashes of lightning which, by their brightness, would tend to render more or less invisible the thinly shining form of a crescent moon amid autumn clouds.

And being relatively invisible might mean being less painfully self-conscious.

So this verse might have to do with the fact that human beings are potentially self-conscious energy; and it might also have to do with the fact that, when our energy is weak, it can be a big help to be around other people whose accumulated energy is much stronger than our own.

Apropos of that, this verse might be contrasted with the portrayal of the Buddha in Canto 3, in which Ashvaghosha twice likens the fully awakened Buddha to the sun:

To people possessed by ends, / Serving many and various paths, / Splendour that seemed like the sun had arisen: / Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness.


He walked over water as if on dry land, / Immersed himself in the soil as though it were water, / Rained as a cloud in the sky, / And shone like the newly-risen sun.


The sun stands out in splendid isolation, putting everything else in the shade. And Nanda's journey in Saundarananda is in that kind of direction -- in the direction of becoming more of a strong individual, going from wimpish dependence on wife and brother to a condition comparable to a mighty war elephant.

In Ashvagosha's account of Nanda's journey, the words "Buddha" and "Dharma" appear frequently, but references to "Sangha" strike me so far as being conspicuous by their absence. Individual fellow-monks like Ananda are cited, along with the monk who mounts his attack on women in Canto 8. And there are references in Canto 16 to going along with friends in the good (16.39) and friends in the know (16.40). But there is no account of Nanda getting together with other monks for religious group practices such as chant-alongs or other so-called "acts of worship." The emphasis is much more on Nanda's one-to-one reception of the Buddha's instruction and his effort to make that teaching his own, as an individual.

When this verse is read in that light, one of its functions might be to acknowledge the indirect benefits (especially for a person whose own energy is weak) of belonging to a group, a Sangha -- Sangha in this case meaning not a religious brotherhood but a human sisterhood.

EH Johnston:
Surrounded by those women on the palace roof that slender beauty, wasted with anxiety, seemed like the crescent moon in an autumn cloud encircled by lightning flashes.

FN. The crescent moon, because it is thin like she was.

Linda Covill:
The slip of a girl, taut with worry and surrounded by her ladies on the palace roof, seemed a sliver of moon shrouded in lightning among the autumn clouds.

taabhiH (inst. pl. f.): by those [women]
vRtaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. concealed , screened , hidden , enveloped , surrounded by ; filled or endowed or provided or affected with (instr.)
harmya-tale (loc. sg.): on the palace roof
aNganaabhiH = inst. pl. aNganaa: f. " a woman with well-rounded limbs " , any woman or female

cintaa-tanuH (nom. sg. f.): gaunt with worry
cintaa: f. thought , care , anxiety , anxious thought
tanu: mfn. thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate; the body , person , self
saa (nom. sg. f.): she
su-tanuH (nom. sg. f.): mfn. very thin or slender ; having a beautiful body
babhaase = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaas: to shine, appear

shata-hradaabhiH (inst. pl.): f. "containing a hundred rays of light", lightning or a partic. kind of light ; f. a thunderbolt
shata: n. a hundred ; any very large number
hrada: m. a ray of light
pariveShTitaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. surrounded , beset , covered , veiled , swathed
pari- √ veShT: to wrap up , cover , clothe , surround , embrace
√ veShT: to wind or twist round ; to adhere ; to dress; Causative: to wrap up , envelop , enclose , surround , cover , invest , beset
iva: like, as if

shashaaNka-lekhaa (nom. sg.): f. " moon-streak " , the lunar crescent
shash'aaNka: m. " hare-marked " , the moon
shasha: m. rabbit, hare
aNka: m. a hook ; any mark , line , stroke
lekha: m. a line , stroke
sharad-abhra-madhye (loc. sg.): in the midst of autumn clouds
sharad: f. (prob. fr. √ shraa, to cook, cause to sweat) autumn (as the " time of ripening ") , the autumnal season (the sultry season of two months succeeding the rains ; in some parts of India comprising the months bhaadra and aashvina , in other places aashvina and kaarttika , fluctuating thus from August to November)
abhra: n. (sometimes spelt abbhra , according to the derivation ab-bhra , " water-bearer ") cloud , thunder-cloud , rainy weather
madhya: mfn. middle

Saturday, November 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.36: Mysteries

baaShpeNa taaH klinna-viShaNNa-vaktraa
varShena padminya iv' aardra-padmaaH
sthaan'-aanuruupeNa yath"-aabhimaanaM
nililyire taam anu dahyamaanaaH

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

Their depressed faces wet with tears,

Like lotus ponds with rain-soaked lotuses,

They settled alongside her,
according to rank and as they wished,

And along with her were consumed by grief.

This verse as I read it is saying something about natural order, harmony, and solidarity establishing itself in a group of women.

Again, this is by no means my specialist subject, but while learning in the field of sound therapy about entrainment and sympathetic resonance, I came across the fact that when women sleep together in a dormitory, after a certain period of time their menstrual cycles naturally start to coincide with each other. Again, it is said that a skillful cowherd can increase his cows' milk yield by keeping the herd together.

A similar mystery of entrainment is that if several grandfather clocks are put together in a room, after some time their pendulae will begin to swing in synch with each other.

How mysterious nature is. How mysterious the Dharma is. And how mysterious women are.

EH Johnston:
Much troubled, and with downcast faces streaming with tears as if they were lotus-ponds when the lotuses are dripping with rain, they sat down beside her according to their position and rank.

FN taam anu also means that they were much troubled in sympathy with her trouble.

Linda Covill:
Distressed, they settled down next to her according to their rank and status, their downcast faces wet with tears, like lotus-pools with rain-soaked lotuses.

baaShpeNa (inst. sg.): m. tears
taaH (nom. pl. f.): they
klinna-viShaNNa-vaktraaH (nom. pl. f.): their sorrowful faces moistened
klinna: mfn. moistened , wet
viShaNNa: mfn. dejected , sad , desponding , sorrowful , downcast
viShad: (vsad) to be exhausted or dejected , despond , despair ; to sink down , be immersed in
vaktra: face

varShena (inst. sg.): m. rain
padminyaH = nom. pl. padminii: f. a multitude of lotuses or a lotus-pond
padmin: mfn. possessing lotuses
iva: like
aardra-padmaaH (nom. pl. f.): wet-lotused
aardra: mfn. wet , moist , damp
padma: m. lotus

sthaan'-aanuruupeNa (inst.): ind. according to station
sthaana: n. act of standing; position ; station , rank , office
anuruupa: mfn. following the form , conformable , corresponding , according to
yath"-aabhimaanam (acc. sg. n.): according to self-esteem / desire
yathaa: ind. according to
abhimaana: m. high opinion of one's self , self-conceit , pride , haughtiness ; conception (especially an erroneous one regarding one's self) ; affection, desire
abhi- √ man: to think of , long for , desire ; to think of self ; to think , suppose , imagine , take for (acc.)

nililyire = 3rd. pers. pl. ni- √ lii : to settle down (esp. applied to the alighting of birds) , alight , descend
taam (acc. sg. f.): her
anu: (As a separable preposition , with accusative) after , along , over , near to , through , to , towards , at , according to , in order , agreeably to , in regard to , inferior to ; (As a separable adverb) after , afterwards , thereupon , again , further , then , next.
dahyamaanaaH = nom. pl. f. pres. part. passive dah: to be burnt, to be consumed by internal heat or grief , suffer pain , be distressed or vexed

Friday, November 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.35: Compassion Among Women

taaM caaru-dantiiM prasabhaM rudantiiM
saMshrutya naaryaH param'-aabhitaptaaH
antar-gRhaad aaruruhur vimaanaM
traasena kiMnarya iv' aadri-pRShTham

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

Hearing her,
the lovely-toothed one,
howling stormily on,

The ladies-in-waiting were pained in the extreme;

They ascended from inside the house to the palace roof,

Like kimnaris climbing nervously
to the top of a mountain.

Please forgive the feeble outbreak of rhyme in line 1, but the reason Ashvaghosha chooses in this verse to refer specifically to the beauty of Sundari's teeth might have to do with the fact that in the phrases taam caaru-dantiim (her, the lovely-toothed one) and prasabhaM rudantiim (stormily howling), dantiim (toothed) rhymes with rudantiim (howling).

This verse can be read as a poetic interlude, signalling that the description of Sundari's grief has reached its climax already, in 6.34.

The focus now changes to the efforts of Sundari's ladies-in-waiting who, in their compassion for their fellow woman, endeavour to console and comfort her.

Compassion among women is not a thing I have much direct experience of, except -- now that I come to think about it -- in my earliest days in the hands of mother, midwife, maternal grandmother, and her mother, plus a gaggle of Lancashire aunts such as Auntie Susie and Auntie Maria. The three elements of mother, midwife and maternal grandmother were also present in the birth of my brother, which I witnessed, from an appropriate distance, at the age of eight, when my mother opted for a home birth -- a birth that was free from the influence of any male doctor who might like to medicalize the event. When my two sons were born, also, my wife decided to stay out of hospital and to give birth instead at the home/clinic of a very experienced midwife. It was a wise decision and gave me a memorable glimpse of sisters doing it for themselves -- notwithstanding me being somewhat in the way.

EH Johnston:
The waiting women, hearing the stormy weeping of that beauteous one, climbed in great distress from inside the house to the pavillion, like frightened Kinnara women climbing the side of a mountain.

Linda Covill:
The violent sobbing of this girl of the beautiful teeth greatly distressed her ladies-in-waiting when they heard it, and in anxiety they climbed from inside the house to the palace roof, like kimnaris on a mountain-side.

taam (acc. sg. f.): her
caaru-dantiim (acc. sg. f.): lovely-toothed
caaru: pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
danti: tusked, toothed
prasabham: ind. forcibly , violently , very much
rudantiim = acc. sg. f. pres. part. rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail

saMshrutya = abs. saM- v shru: to hear
naaryaH = nom. pl. naarii: f. a woman ; a female or any object regarded as feminine
param'-aabhitaptaaH (nom. pl. f.): greatly
parama: ibc. very much , excessively , excellently , in the highest degree
abhitapta: mfn. scorched , burnt , afflicted
abhi- v tap: to irradiate with heat , to heat ; to pain , distress

antar-gRhaat (abl. sg.): from inside the house
antar: interior
gRha: a house , habitation , home
aaruruhur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect ruh: to ascend , mount , climb
vimaanam (acc. sg.): m. chariot of the gods; the palace of an emperor or supreme monarch (esp. one with 7 stories); palace

traasena (inst. sg.): m. fear , terror , anxiety
√ tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid
kiMnaryaH = nom. pl. f. kiMnarii: f. a female kiMnara
kiMnara: m. " what sort of man? " a mythical being with a human figure and the head of a horse ; in later times reckoned among the gandharvas or celestial choristers , and celebrated as musicians.
iva: like
adri-pRShTham (acc. sg. m.): to the top of a mountain
adri: m. a stone , a rock , a mountain
pRShTha: n. (prob. fr. pra-stha , " standing forth prominently ") the back ; the upper side , surface , top , height ; the flat roof of a house

Thursday, November 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.34: Mutually Antagonistic Fear Reflexes

ruroda mamlau viruraava jaglau
babhraama tasthau vilalaapa dadhyau
cakaara roShaM vicakaara maalyaM
cakarta vaktraM vicakarSha vastraM

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

She howled and wilted, screamed and swooned;

She reeled and stood rooted, she wailed and she brooded.

She gave vent to her anger and laid waste to her garlands;

She tore at her face and pulled at her clothes.

Often people equate fear simplistically with the "fight or flight" response. When one observes fear more deeply and in more detail, however, self-mobilization of energy for vigorous muscular activity, whether of punching fists or scarpering feet, is only one side of the story. The other side is fear paralysis. In neuro-physiological terms, the fear paralysis response and Moro reflex are mutually antagonistic.

Thus, FM Alexander, a man who knew a thing or two about unconscious reaction and how to deal with it, pointedly spoke of "fear reflexes and emotions," in the plural.

More vigorous expressive reactions like howling, screaming, and wailing, along with expression of anger and associated destructive behaviour, are what tend to happen when the Moro reflex is in the ascendancy. The deeper and more primitive fear of the fear paralysis response is expressed in this verse, as I read it, by words like mamlau (wilted), jaglau (swooned / felt faint), tasthau (stood rooted), and dadhyau (brooded).

The root of dadhyau, incidentally is also the root of dhyaana: √dhyai means to brood or to meditate. So the use of √dhyai in this context might be taken as support for the understanding that sitting-dhyana is a unity of something more active (sitting) and something more passive (meditation, contemplation, reflection) in a mutually reinforcing relationship.

But coming back to the original point about the fear reflexes, there is something I would like to say from my own experience, which is that when I was in the early years of primary school I was precocious at reading, spelling and mental arithmetic, and was also one of the fastest runners in my class, second only to the legendary David Fairbotham. So no-one would have suspected me of having so-called "specific learning difficulties" such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). But the truth is that certain children are adept at compensating for the underlying weaknesses in their reflex profiles which are the root cause of so-called "specific learning difficulties"... and I was one of those children.

Compensation, however, always comes at a price. So by my early teenage years I was suffering from what is termed "chronic blushing" -- a phenomenon that can be regarded as a secondary psychological symptom of an aberrant Moro reflex. It was as if the unconscious faults which, by learning to compensate, I had kept under wraps (or "swept under the carpet" to use a phrase favoured by my late Alexander head of training Ray Evans), were forcing their way into my consciousness and saying "It is all very well going to a school (King Edwards School, Birmingham) that is famed for academic excellence, but what about us struggling down here in the depths of your unconscious being? Don't forget about us!"

And so, as I sat on the bus, I went red and went white, boiled and shivered, sweated a profuse hot sweat and stepped off the bus feeling cold and clammy, felt explosively over-stimulated and totally drained, all in the space of five or ten minutes. A drama queen like Sundari was the very last thing I wanted to show myself to be. I wished to be, above all, "hard." So I did my best to keep it all under wraps until my next opportunity to let it out on the rugby pitch, or to self-medicate with large quantities of home-brew beer.

As Marjory Barlow often reminded me, both in her words and in her attitude of loving acceptance "Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work." If one follows that logic through, the point is to dare to stop compensating unconsciously for ones deepest unconscious faults and rather to bring consciousness to bear, both upon the faults and upon the compensation.

This is no bed of roses. But insofar as one genuinely desires to liberate oneself from enslavement to unconscious reaction then, in the words of Frederique the French builder, pas de choix.

EH Johnston:
She wept, she became languid, she howled, she grew exhausted, she paced up and down, she stood still, she wailed, she brooded, she grew angry, she scattered her garlands about, she scratched her face, she rent her garments.

Linda Covill:
She wept, grew exhausted, yelled, fell weary, wandered about, stood still, lamented, brooded; she raged, scattered her garlands, tore at her face and pulled at her clothes.

ruroda = 3rd pers. sg. perfect rud: to weep , cry , howl , roar , lament , wail
mamlau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect mlai: to fade , wither , decay , vanish ; to be languid or exhausted or dejected , have a worn appearance
viruraava = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ ru: to roar aloud , cry , buzz , hum , yell , sing , lament
jaglau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect glai: to feel aversion or dislike , be averse or reluctant or unwilling or disinclined to do anything ; to be languid or weary , feel tired , be exhausted , fade away , faint

babhraama = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhram: to wander or roam about ; to move to and fro or unsteadily , flicker , flutter , reel , totter
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect sthaa: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self
vilalaapa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ lap: to utter moaning sounds , wail , lament , bewail
dadhyau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect dhyai: to think of , imagine , contemplate , meditate on , call to mind , recollect ; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative

cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kR: to do, make
roSha (acc. sg.): m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury (roShaM- √kR with prati , " to be angry with ")
vicakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ kR: to make different , transform , change the shape (or the mind) , cause to alter or change (esp. for the worse) , deprave , pervert , spoil , impair ; destroy, annihilate
maalya: mn. a wreath , garland , chaplet ; a flower

cakarta = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kRt: to cut , cut in pieces , cut off , divide , tear asunder , destroy
vaktra (acc. sg.): mn. " organ of speech " , the mouth , face
vicakarSha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ kRsh: to emaciate , distort , deform
√ kRsh: to become lean or thin , become emaciated or feeble
vastram (acc. sg.): n. cloth , clothes , garment , raiment , dress

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.33: Psychology of Breathless Grief

saa sundarii shvaasa-cal'-odarii hi
vajr'-aagni-sambhinna-darii guh" eva
shok-aagnin" aantar-hRdi dahyamaanaa
vibhraanta-citt" eva tadaa babhuuva

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

For as her belly trembled with her breathlessness,

Like a cave being rent inside by a fireball,

And she burned in her innermost heart
with a fire of grief,

Sundari seemed at that moment
to be going out of her mind.

In this verse -- unlike in a Western education system -- the physical, the emotional, and the psychological are not treated as separate subjects.

While I was a student at Sheffield University at the end of the 1970s, there seemed to be more truth in a pint of Tetley bitter than I could glean from the subjects I was supposed to be studying. But most of all, what seemed to hold out the promise of the more holistic kind of truth I was after, was Japanese Zen and/in Japanese martial arts. So in January 1982, a week after my 22nd birthday, I set off for Japan in search of enlightenment, and by the summer of that year I had met Gudo Nishijima and, in the words of the first letter he wrote me "begun your Zazen life."

In the years since then I have witnessed in my own experience -- in three separate episodes of stomach pain -- the kind of physical, emotional and psychological turmoil that Ashvaghosha compares to a cave being rent inside by a thunderball. The first episode was in 1984, when my then girlfriend decided not to follow me to Japan as I hoped she would; she sealed her decision by -- to quote a memorable phrase that a friend and fellow graduate of Sheffield University used at the time -- "squatting on your best mate's dick." The second episode was in 1994, after the stress of preparing Shobogenzo Book One for publication. And the third was in 2007-2008 when I began to grieve in earnest for a dream that had truly been shattered ten years earlier.

"Everything happens for a reason," I am told by my younger son, who wants to study medicine at a medical school, if he can get in, and then work in the healing business.

When I look back in that light on the three above-mentioned episodes, and also in the light of what I was thinking and writing yesterday about why I don't agree with Prof. Gombrich that nimitta should necessarily be understood in Ashvaghosha's writings as "object of meditation," my sense is that the fundamental meaning of those three shocks was in each case to push me away from unconsciousness, and particularly away from unconscious entanglement with the unconsciousness of Japanese habit and Japanese prejudice.

I was attracted to Japan for a good reason, because Dogen returned to Japan from China having received the Buddha-Dharma, whence he set about not only establishing the living Zen tradition in Japan but also leaving a written record of the teaching in Japanese.

And I was repelled from Japan also for a good reason, because there is such a strong tendency in Japan not to think but just to do, unconsciously. Whereas my struggle these past 30 years, as I see it now, has very much been in the direction of becoming more conscious.

So in 1984 I gave up the thankless task of trying to cause Japanese people, who seemed to sit there facing me like so many blank slates, to learn to communicate in English. In 1994 I gave up trying to make a life in Japan and I came back instead to live in England. And in 2007-2008 I gave up arguing with Gudo Nishijima; I quit trying to cause him through the force of reasoned verbal argument to see the light.

In each case, it strikes me now, I was faced with a problem of my own unconscious reaction to a particular Japanese stimulus or set of stimuli. And in each case liberation was not gained by me mastering my reaction to the stimulus. Liberation, or at least a bit more freedom, was gained by a decision to give up subjecting myself to the stimulus. In each case, it was as if the fireball inside was there to wake me up to the fact that the aim of my life is not to study my reaction to those Japanese stimuli.

In the meantime, the one stimulus I have not run away from, but have continued to return to four times a day, is upright sitting.

As a result my sitting has become, bit by bit, less unconscious. The unconscious pattern of upright rigidity that I used to practice so diligently has become the very thing that I wish to be free of. And when my wish to be free of unconsciousness like this is real, so that I say no and really mean it to unconsciousness, it seems to me that what is thus facilitated is the growth of consciousness. One becomes conscious by inhibiting unconsciousness.

So the original essence of sitting-meditation, as I have dug it out for myself, and just as Ashvaghosha describes it in Canto 17, has got nothing to do with so-called "objects of meditation." It has got everything to do with saying "No, not that" to progressively less gross forms of unconsciousness, until nothing remains but full consciousness of, and at the same time disinterest in, upright sitting in stillness.

The unconscious turmoil that Sundari is demonstrating in this verse is very far from the transcendent stillness of the fourth dhyana. That said, the shock she has just received might serve to push her closer, compared to where she was in Canto 4, to the plane of constructive conscious control of the individual.

EH Johnston:
For Sundari, with her bosom straining with sobs like a cave whose opening has been split by the fiery thunderbolt and with her heart burning with the fire of grief, seemed then as if out of her senses.

Linda Covill:
For as her diaphragm heaved with her hard breathing like a cave's interior rent by a fiery thunderbolt, and her innermost heart burned with the fire of grief, Sundari at that moment seemed to have lost her mind.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
sundarii (nom. sg. f.): Sundari
shvaasa-cal'-odarii (nom. sg. f.): her belly trembling with her laboured breathing
shvaasa: m. hissing , snorting , panting ; respiration , breath ; affection of the breath , hard breathing , asthma
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking
udarin: mfn. having a large belly
udara: n. (from √ dRR) the belly , abdomen ; the interior or inside of anything
√ dRR: to burst , break asunder , split open
hi: for

vajr'-aagni-sambhinna-darii (nom. sg. f.): a cave being split apart by a thunderbolt-fire
vajra: mn. " the hard or mighty one " , a thunderbolt (esp. that of indra)
agni: fire
sambhinna: mfn. completely broken or divided &c
sam- √ bhid: to break to pieces , split or break completely asunder , pierce , hurt
dara: mfn. (from √ dRR) ifc. " splitting , opening "; m. = darii: f. a hole in the ground , cave
guhaa: f. a hiding-place , cave , cavern ; (fig.) the heart
iva: like

shok-aagninaa (inst. sg.): by the fire of grief
shoka: grief, sorrow
agni: fire
antar-hRdi (loc. sg. n.): in her innermost heart
antar: ind. in the middle or interior
hRdaya: n. the heart ; the heart or interior of the body ; the heart or centre or core or essence or best or dearest or most secret part of anything
dahyamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. passive: to burn

vibhraanta-cittaa (nom. sg. f.): of disordered mind
vibhraanta: mfn. wandered or wandering about &c; confused , bewildered
vi- √ bhram: to wander ; to fall into disorder or confusion , be disarranged or bewildered
citta: n. mind
iva: like, as if
tadaa: ind. at that time, then
babhuuva = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhuu: to be, become

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.32: Sinking Down

saMdRshya bhartush ca vibhuuShaNaani
vaasaaMsi viiNaa-prabhRtiiMsh ca liilaaH
tamo vivesh' aabhinanaada c' occaiH
paNk'-aavatiirN" eva ca saMsasaada

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

Looking at her husband's ornaments, clothes,

And items of amusement like his guitar,

She entered a state of darkness; she raised a shriek,

And then, as if descending into a mire, sank down.

A contrast between up and down seems to be intended here, as Sundari's voice rises (in volume and/or in pitch?) while she herself sinks into what is termed in 13.47 daurmanasya "n. dejectedness, melancholy, despair."

As the Buddha explains to Nanda in that part of Canto 13, when some foolish thing calls to mind an absent lover, the foolish thing itself -- a cigarette that bears her lipstick's traces? an airline ticket to romantic places? -- is not to blame. The fault is rather in parikalpa-visheSha, "a particular kind of fixing."

So this verse can be understood as providing raw material that the Buddha will later exploit in Canto 13:

Nothing, then, is to be taken away / And nothing is to be added: / One must investigate the reality as it really is, /Whatever and however it is. / In your observing what is, like this, / Always in the territory of the senses, / There will be no foothold / For longing and dejection./ Longing, using cherished forms, / Smites the sensual masses: / A foe who has a friendly face, / She's fair of speech and foul of heart. / What is called dejectedness, conversely, / Is, in connection with an object, a contrary reaction / By going along with which, in one's ignorance, / One is smitten hereafter, and smitten here and now. / When, by getting and not getting his way, / A man is pained as if by cold or heat, / He finds no refuge; nor reaches higher good: / Hence the fluctuating sense-power of the masses. / And yet the power of the senses, though operative, / Need not become glued to an object, / So long as in the mind, with regard to that object, / No fixing goes on. / Where fuel and air co-exist, / Just as there a fire burns, / With an object and through fixing, / So a fire of affliction arises. / For by the unreal means of fixing / One is bound to an object; / Seeing that very same object / As it really is, one is set free. / On seeing one and the same form / This man is enamoured, that man disgusted; / Somebody else remains indifferent; / While yet another feels thereto a human warmth. / Thus, an object is not the cause / Of bondage or of liberation; / It is through a particular kind of fixing / That sticking occurs or does not.

(13.44 - 13.53)

The original meaning of parikalpa is fixing. In Buddhist contexts the word is generally understood as "illusion," or "imaginings." Hence parikalpa-visheSha, which I translated as "a particular kind of fixing," EHJ translated as "special imagination," and as LC translated as "specific imaginings."

Is Sundari's descent into the depths of despair prompted by mental illusions, in the form of the associations her mind forms with Nanda's old stuff? Or is it more to the point to say that she is stuck, as if in a mire, due a psycho-physical condition of fixing?

Whichever causal view is true, or even if both views are true, or more likely if neither are true, what is not in doubt is that Sundari is sinking into the depths of despair. And for the ladies in waiting who now surround her in the palace the immediate task is somehow or other, by hook or by crook, to halt that decline.

Last night, incidentally, I attended a meeting at the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies and was able to ask Prof. Richard Gombrich about the word nimitta, which I translated in Canto 16 as "stimulus" or "starting point," whereas EHJ and LC translated it as "subject of meditation." Prof. Gombrich strongly assured me that nimitta means object of meditation, as given by master to student, and suggested I might check out the uses of the word in canonical texts that pre-date Ashvaghosha. It was a useful suggestion, and I will do that, when I get round to it. But in the sitting-meditation tradition as I have received it, the sitting is the meditation and the meditation is the sitting, so some "object of meditation" like the sound OM or the image of some deity or a mandala, does not fit. Perhaps "target" would be a translation of nimitta that was both literal and not necessarily contrary to the tradition as received via Dogen -- insofar as the target is subordinate to sitting practice itself, and not like the tail that wags the dog. To be continued....

EH Johnston:
And seeing her lord's ornaments, clothes, vina, and other diversions, she entered the dark house of grief and wailed aloud and sank down as if fallen into a bog.

For the vina cf Kaama Sutra, according to which the other diversions would include painting materials and a copy of the latest poem.

Linda Covill:
Beholding her husband's ornaments and clothes, and his items of amusement such as his vina, she entered a state of darkness, howling loudly, and collapsing as though sinking into the mire.

saMdRshya = abs. saM- √ dRsh: , to see together or at the same time; to see well or completely , behold , view , perceive , observe
bhartuH (gen. sg.): of her husband
ca: and
vibhuuShaNaani (acc. pl.): n. decoration , ornament

vaasaaMsi (acc. pl.): n. cloth , clothes , dress , a garment
viiNaa-prabhRtiim (acc. pl. f.): beginning with a lute
viiNaa: f, the viiNaa or Indian lute (an instrument of the guitar kind , supposed to have been invented by naarada q.v. , usually having seven wires or strings raised upon nineteen frets or supports fixed on a long rounded board , towards the ends of which are two large gourds ; its compass is said to be two octaves , but it has many varieties according to the number of strings &c )
prabhRti: f. beginning , commencement (ifc. = " commencing with " or " et caetera ")
ca: and
liilaaH (acc. pl.): f. play , sport , diversion , amusement , pastime

tamaH (acc. sg.): n. darkness , gloom
vivesha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vish: to enter , enter in or settle down on , go into
abhinanaada = 3rd pers. sg. perfect abhi- √ nad: to sound towards ; to sound, raise a noise
ca: and
uccaiH: ind. high, loud, powerfully
ucca: mfn. high , lofty , elevated ; high-sounding , loud

paNk'-aavatiirNaa (nom. sg. f.): descending into the mire
paNka: mn. mud , mire
avatiirNa: mfn. alighted , descended
ava- √ tRR: to descend into (loc. or acc.) , alight
iva: like, as if
ca: and
saMsasaada = 3rd pers. sg. perfect saM- √ sad: to sit down together; to sink down, collapse , be discouraged or distressed

Monday, November 15, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.31: Discontentedness

vicitra-mRdv-aastaraNe 'pi suptaa
vaiDuurya-vajra-pratimaNDite 'pi
rukm'-aaNga-paade shayane mah"-aarhe
na sharma lebhe pariceShTamaanaa

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

Though she lay down to sleep
in gorgeous soft bedclothes,

On a bed bedecked with beryl and diamonds,

She in her costly crib with its golden legs

Tossed and turned but obtained no respite.

During this summer I worked for a time in the role of builder's mate to a very demanding (in French: exigeant) builder. One of his favourite phrases, when faced with the option of doing something properly or cutting a little corner was, pas de choix, "no choice." For this artisan, whose appetite for hard work I found inspirational, cutting a little corner here and there was never an option.

In that spirit, seeing as the second half of Ashvagosha's other epic poem, Buddhacarita, has been lost in Sanskrit but retained in its Tibetan translation, I sense that if and when I get to the end of the translation of the first half of Buddhacarita as preserved in Sanskrit, there will be nothing else for it but to study the second half as preserved in Tibetan -- pas de choix.

The reason today's verse has stimulated the above reflection is that it brings to mind the Buddha's teaching of wanting little and being content, as recorded in the final chapter of the 95-chapter edition of Shobogenzo, The Eightfold Awakening of a Great Human Being. The chapter begins like this:

Every buddha is a great human being. That to which a great human being awakens is therefore called the eightfold awakening of a great human being. To awaken to this teaching is the cause of nirvana.

It was the last instruction of our Original Master, Sakyamuni Buddha, on the night that he entered nirvana.

1. Wanting little
The Buddha said, "You beggars should know that people of big desire and abundant wants abundantly seek gain, and so their cares also are abundant. A person of small desire and few wants, being free of seeking and free of wanting, does not have this trouble. Small desire, wanting little, you should practise just for itself. Still more, wanting little can produce all kinds of benefits: People of small desire and few wants have no tendency to curry favour and bend in order to gain the minds of others. Again, they are not led as if they were enslaved by the senses. Those who practise wanting little are level in mind; they are without worries and fears; when they come into contact with things they have latitude; and they are constantly free from dissatisfaction. Those who have small desire and few wants just have nirvana. This is called 'wanting little.' "

2. Being content
The Buddha said, "If you beggars desire to be rid of all cares, contemplate contentment. The teaching of knowing contentment is the very place of plenty, ease, and peace. A person who is content, who knows satisfaction, even when lying on the ground is still comfortable. Those who are not content, who do not know satisfaction, even when living in a heavenly palace are still not suited. Those who do not know satisfaction, even when rich, are poor. People who know satisfaction, even when poor, are rich. Those who do not know satisfaction are forever being pulled through the five desires, as if they were slaves; they are pitied by those who know satisfaction. This is called 'being content.' "

Today's verse as I read it, is an allusion to this the Buddha's ultimate teaching of wanting little / small desire (Chinese/Japanese: SHO-YOKU; Sanskrit alpecchu) and being content (Chinese/Japanese: CHI-SOKU; Sanskrit saMtuShTa), which Ashvaghosha himself records in Canto 26 of Buddhacarita.

Sadly Canto 26 of Buddhacarita is not extant in the original Sanskrit, but here is EH Johnston's translation from the Tibetan:


53. Since deceitfulness and the practice of the Law are incompatible, do not resort to crooked ways. Deceitfulness and false pretences are for the sake of cheating, but for those who are given to the Law, there is no such thing as cheating.

54. The suffering which comes to him whose desires are great does not come to him whose desires are small. Therefore smallness of desire should be practised, and especially so by those who seek for the perfection of all the virtues.

55. He who does not fear the rich at all is not afraid of the sight of stingy people; for he obtains salvation, whose desires are small and who is not cast down on hearing that there is nothing for him.


56. If you desire salvation, practise contentment; with contentment there is bliss here and it is the Law. The contented sleep peacefully even on the ground, the discontented are burnt up even in Paradise.

57. The discontented man, however rich is always poor, and the contented man, however poor, is always rich. The discontented man, seeking the beloved objects of sense, creates suffering for himself by toiling to obtain satiety.

EH Johnston:
Though lying on a costly couch, which was covered with soft many-coloured rugs and decorated with beryl and diamonds and had golden feet, she tossed about and could obtain no relief.

Linda Covill:
The couch she lay on, though decked in soft colored rugs, though decorated with cat's-eye gems and diamonds, though with feet of gold and extremely valuable, gave her no comfort in her restlessness.

vicitra-mRdv-aastaraNe (loc. sg.): on variegated soft coverings
vicitra: mfn. variegated , many-coloured , motley , brilliant ; manifold , various , diverse ; charming , lovely , beautiful ; painted , coloured
mRdu: mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant
aastaraNa: n. the act of spreading; n. a carpet , rug ; n. a cushion , quilt , bed-clothes ; n. an elephant's housings , a painted cloth or blanket worn on his back.
api: though
suptaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. asleep ; lain down to sleep (but not fallen asleep) ; resting , inactive

vaiDuurya-vajra-pratimaNDite (loc. sg.):
vaiDuurya: n. a cat's-eye gem ; beryl
vajra: mn. a diamond
pratimaNDita: mfn. ( √ maND) decorated , adorned
√ maND: to deck , adorn
api: though

rukm'-aaNga-paade (loc. sg.): with golden legs
rukma: gold
aNga: limb
paada: foot; the foot or leg of an inanimate object , column , pillar
shayane (loc. sg.): n. a bed , couch , sleeping-place
mah"-aarhe (loc. sg.): very costly
mahat: mfn. great
arha: mfn. worth (in money) , costing

na: not
sharma = acc. sg. sharman: n. shelter , protection , refuge , safety ; Joy , bliss , comfort , delight , happiness
lebhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect labh: to take, meet with, find
pariceShTamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. pari-√cheShT
pari: ind. round , around
-√cheShT: to move the limbs , move , stir ; be active

Sunday, November 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.30: Natural Sounds of Grieving

saa cakravaak" iiva bhRshaM cukuuja
vispardhamaan" eva vimaana-saMsthaiH
paaraavataiH kuujana-lola-kaNThaiH

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

Like a cakra-vaka duck,
when a hawk is clawing her mate's wing-tip,

She hooted mightily,

As if in competition
with the pigeons on the palace roof,

Cooing with their throats all atremble.

Sundari is a natural, and I wish my sitting could be as free as her grieving -- only consciously so.

EH Johnston:
She moaned like a shelduck when its mate has had the tip of its wing broken by a hawk, and vied as it were (with her moans) with the pigeons on the palace roof, when their throats heave with cooing.

Linda Covill:
She moaned loudly, like a chakra-vaka bird when a hawk has wounded the tip of her mate's wing, as if to compete with the pigeons gathered on the palace roof, their throats tremulous with cooing.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
cakra-vaakii (nom. sg.): f. a chakra-vaka duck
iva: like
bhRsham: ind. strongly , violently , vehemently , excessively , greatly , very much
cukuuja = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect kuuj: to make any inarticulate or monotonous sound , utter a cry (as a bird) , coo (as a pigeon) , caw (as a crow) , warble , moan , groan , utter any indistinct sound

shyen'-aagra-pakSha-kShata-cakravaakaa (nom. sg. f.): the wing-tip of her chakra-vaka drake having been wounded by a hawk
shyena: m. a hawk , falcon , eagle , any bird of prey
agra: tip
pakSha: wing
kShata: mfn. wounded , hurt , injured ; broken , torn , rent , destroyed , impaired
cakravaaka: m. the chakra bird (Anas Casarca, ruddy sheldrake ; the couples are supposed to be separated and to mourn during night)

vispardhamaanaa = nom. sg. f. pres. part. vi- √ spardh: to vie with
iva: like, as if ; nearly , almost;
vimaana-saMsthaiH (inst. pl.): standing on the palace
vimaana: m. n. a car or chariot of the gods; lofty palace
saMstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on

paaraavataiH (inst. pl.): pigeons
kuujana-lola-kaNThaiH (inst. pl.): their throats cooing inconstantly
kuujana: n. (fr. kuuj) the uttering of any inarticulate sound , cooing , moaning
lola: mfn. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless; inconstant, fickle
kaNTha: the throat , the neck; the voice
√kaN: to become small ; to sound , cry

Saturday, November 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.29: Looking Back in Anger, Like a Big Girl's Blouse

dhRtaH priyeN' aayam abhuun mam' eti
rukma-tsaruM darpaNam aaliliNge
yatnaac ca vinyasta-tamaala-pattrau
ruShT' eva dhRShtaM pramamaarja gaNDau

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

"My husband held this for me," she thought,

As she clasped the golden-handled mirror;

And the tamala paint she had applied so carefully,

She rubbed off her cheeks aggressively,
as if it had angered her.

The two elements of this verse as I read it are: (1) an object in the present acting as a stimulus for a thought that is stuck in the past, and (2) anger being projected onto an innocent inanimate object; or, in short, misdirected anger.

As regards the first element, one might think that whereas an emotional woman might be prone to engage in such brooding, a shaved-headed person who is wearing the Buddha-robe might not. But such an assumption would be unequivocally falsified in Canto 7, titled Nanda's Lament.

As regards the relation between the two elements, one connecting factor might be the direction of a person's head -- the point being that (1) to dwell broodingly on some thought about the past is to pull the head back, and down, into the past; and (2) anger is invariably associated with an unconscious tightening around the chest and neck which again is associated with an unconscious pulling of the head back and down into the body.

This being so, the one great matter of the buddha-ancestors is to sit upright, with right foot on left thigh and left foot on right thigh, as the inhibition of such inimical tendencies.

The snag is that our understanding of inhibition is prone to be too shallow.

Dogen wrote in his first edition of FUKAN-ZAZENGI (Rules of Sitting-Meditation for Everybody): "When a thought arises, just wake up. Just in the waking up to it, it evaporates."

So through the 1980s, through my twenties, when during sitting I noticed a morose thought causing me to look back in anger, I understood that the way to deal with it was to make a big effort to keep my spine straight vertically.

But this was not inhibition of a bad habit of thought, it was mindless practice of a bad habit of posture. It was not part of a grieving process which it would have been healthy for me to go through. It was rather a means by which I suppressed grief. It was a way of running and hiding from grief, taking refuge in the feeling of myself as a champion of upright rigidity.

At that time, if I had been able to read this poem, even in translations done by Buddhist scholars, I think it might have been a big help. Reading this poem might have forced me to ask myself why my buddha-ancestor dwelt so long on the grief of an apparent drama queen. Eschewing such girlie concerns, my mind tended to focus, as it still tends to focus, on how to solve the problem, how to arrive at the right answer, how to hit the target -- the target being, for example, enlightenment.

Thus, when I came across Saundarananda, my first impulse was to try and understand Ashvaghosha's account of the four dhyanas, the four stages of sitting-meditation, and those were the verses, in Canto 17, that I tried to translate first. But the practice of translating the whole poem is forcing me now to pay attention to the opposite of what I aspire to. I aspire to be a big strong bloke. But Ashvaghosha is forcing me to consider things from the alternative standpoint of a big girl's blouse -- which is never what I aspire to be, but which is in very many ways what I tend to be.

In conclusion, then, what does it mean to inhibit? When Dogen instructs "When a thought arises, just wake up!", what does it mean to wake up?

I do not know. I honestly do not know.
(And if you have got a view about what it means, and if you feel obliged as a compassionate Buddhist to share your wisdom with others, do me a favour, and keep your view to yourself. My question was rhetorical.)

If I know anything, I know that the way I used to practice, making a big mindless physical effort to keep my spine straight vertically, was not it. I know it is not that.

This is the background against which I was so encouraged by George's comment of a couple of days ago. As Dogen observed, the deluded are deluded about enlightenment, whereas the enlightened are enlightened about delusion. Dogen was echoed 700 years later by FM Alexander who similarly observed, "To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world."

EH Johnston:
She embraced the gold-handled mirror, saying 'It was held by my lover for me', and, as if angry, she vigorously rubbed her cheeks, on which the tamala leaves had been disposed with such difficul

Linda Covill:
"My darling held this for me," she said, and cradled the golden-handled mirror; and forcefully she rubbed at her cheeks, as though angry with the tamala paste that had been so carefully applied.

dhRtaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. held
priyeNa (inst. sg.): by my beloved
ayam (nom. sg. m.): this
abhuut = 3rd pers. sg. aorist bhuu: to be
mama (gen. sg.): for me
iti: "....," thus

rukma-tsarum (acc. sg. m.): golden-handled
rukma: m. " what is bright or radiant " , an ornament of gold ; n. gold
tsaru: m. the stalk of a leaf , handle of a vessel
darpaNam (acc. sg.): m. " causing vanity " , a mirror
aaliliNge = 3rd pers. sg. perfect aa- √ liNg: to clasp , join the limbs closely ; to encircle, embrace

yatnaat (abl. sg.): m. effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains
ca: and
vinyasta-tamaala-pattrau (acc. dual. m.): on which she had applied tamala paint
vinyasta: mfn. put or placed down &c
vi-ny- √ as: , to put or place down in different places , spread out , distribute , arrange ; to put down , deposit , place or lay on
tamaala-pattra: n. the leaf of Xanthochymus Pictorius ; " a sectarial mark on the forehead "
tamaala: m. " dark-barked (but white-blossomed) " Xanthochymus Pictorius; sectarial mark on the forehead (made with the juice of the tamaala fruit)
pattra: n. feather ; a leaf , petal (regarded as the plumage of a tree or flower)

ruShTaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. injured , offended , irritated , furious , angry
iva: like, as if
dhRShtam: ind. boldly , courageously , fearlessly
dhRSh: to be bold or courageous or confident or proud; to dare to attack , treat with indignity (acc.)
pramamaarja = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ mRj: to wipe , wipe off , wash off , clean , cleanse ; to wipe out , wash out , remove , expel , rid one's self of
gaNDau = acc. dual ganDa: m. the cheek , whole side of the face including the temple