Tuesday, November 9, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.25: A Picture of Gaunt Distress

saa rodan'-aaroShita-rakta-dRShTiH
papaata shiirN'-aakula-haara-yaShTiH
phal'-aatibhaaraad iva cuuta-yaShTiH

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

Her eyes puffy and reddened by tears,

The slender trunk of her body shaking with anguish,

She fell, breaking and scattering strings of pearls,

Like a mango branch overburdened by fruit.

In this verse Ashvaghosha paints a vivid picture of grief and at the same time seems to emphasize fragility by his triple play on the word yaaShTiH. yaaShTiH means a twig or branch, and by extension anything thin or slender, like a string for pearls, or Sundari's body.

A few years ago I spent a sleepless night in a caravan next to a field into which my neighbour farmer Louvelle had driven a herd of cows each of which was suckling a calf -- except for one cow who walked up and down constantly bellowing. When I went to investigate in the morning, I was struck above all by the calfless cow's eyes. How should I describe those eyes? They were bloodshot and in the cow's drawn face they seemed swollen -- like ripe mangoes.

Since that night being kept awake by the grieving cow, one thing I have made a point of not buying, even if it is on special offer, is veal. That said, I was struck at that time not only by the power of the cow's expression of its distress, but also by the rapidity with which it was all over. After a day or two of relentless bellowing, the bereaved mother cow looked the same as any other cow in the herd that was doing a cow's dharma-duty of chewing the cud.

The counter image to the memory of the distressed cow keeping me awake, or to the present image of the gaunt Sundari keeling over and causing clutter, might be the Buddha sitting upright like a mountain: Sitting there, mind made up, / As unmovingly stable as the king of mountains, / He overcame the grim army of Mara / And awoke to the step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible. (3.7)

But it is no use trying to sit like a mountain in imitation of the Buddha. To go for that form directly is end-gaining... and end-gaining produces clutter, not stillness.

In the place of unconscious end-gaining what is required -- what I constantly require and have spent 30 years looking for -- is a conscious modus operandi, a systematic plan, a means-whereby.

In simple or general terms, we have Dogen's great guiding thought "learn the backward step of turning one's light and shining," (EKO HENSHO NO TAIHO); or Alexander's mantra, "stop doing the wrong thing and the right thing does itself."

Again, as a submariner friend of mine once reported "the deeper you go, the stiller it gets."

But for a more detailed blueprint for methodical pursuit of stillness, nothing I have encountered surpasses Ashvoghosha's description of the four sitting dhyanas in Canto 17.

Space has many dimensions, but at the level to which sitting-meditation constantly brings one back, the level of the first dhyana, space is absence of the clutter created by end-gaining.

In the news this morning we hear George W. Bush defending the use of "water-boarding" to extract information. Bush claims that such methods have saved lives. But this claim might not be true. Wiser men than George W. Bush say that the brutal methods of the Gestapo in WWII, quite aside from moral arguments, were much less effective than British methods of eliciting useful information. The biography of Michel Thomas ("The Test of Courage"), again, relates astonishing successes in gathering information from German war criminals, based on the subtlest and least violent of interrogation techniques. After the war, Michel Thomas went on to become a master of effective non-end-gaining in the sphere of language teaching.

The closer one gets to the heart of the Japanese system, it seems to me, the more form tends to be emphasized over function. But imitation of form without due consideration of inner processes, again, is just end-gaining. Recently I watched a you-tube video of a Japanese national competition between karate practitioners performing kata, or forms. Both finalists, at the beginning of their performance, yelled the name of their kata very aggressively at the top of their voices. In so doing, they both pulled their heads down into their body like frightened turtles. What was the point of that? Was that Bodhidharma's intention in coming from India? I don't think so.

Grief of the kind that Sundari is now experiencing, and the clutter produced from the power of such unconscious grief, might be inevitable in a human life. But to deliberately practice producing such clutter by violent end-gaining: that is insanity.

When those so-called Japanese karate experts scowl and pull their heads down into their bodies, they are expressing a kind of insanity. When swimmers tried to emulate Mark Spitz by imitating the movements of his hands through the water (instead of imitating his inner thought processes) they also were expressing a kind of insanity. And when George W. Bush defends the use of torture to force the victims of torture to tell the torturer what the torturer wishes to hear (e.g. "Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction"), Bush is conspicuously expressing insanity.

May all living beings, beginning with this living being here, be free of such insanity.

EH Johnston:
With eyes reddened with the salve of tears and slender body shaken with anguish she fell down, breaking and scattering her rope of pearls, like the bough of a mango-tree breaking from the excessive weight of its fruit.

Linda Covill:
Her eyes reddened and smeared with tears, and her thin limbs wracked with burning pain, she fell down with her strings of pearls broken and in disarray, like the branch of a mango-tree breaking due to its burden of fruit.

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
rodan'-aaroShita-rakta-dRShTiH (nom. sg. f.): her eyes irritated and reddened with tears
rodana: n. a tear , tears
aaroShita: mfn. made furious
roShita: mfn. (fr. Caus. √ rush ) enraged , exasperated , irritated
√ rush : to hurt , injure , annoy
[LC notes that aroShita probably corresponds to the Pali rosita, "smeared, anointed."]
rakta: mfn. coloured , dyed , painted ; reddened
dRShTi: f. seeing, sight, view ; (with Buddhists) a wrong view ; eye , look , glance ; the pupil of the eye

saMtaapa-saMkShobhita-gaatra-yaShTiH (nom. sg. f.): the slender twig of her body shaken by anguish
saMtaapa: m. becoming very hot , great or burning heat , glow , fire ; affliction , pain , sorrow , anguish , distress
saMkShobhita: mfn. (fr. Caus. saM- √ kShubh ) shaken or tossed about
saM- √ kShubh : to shake about violently , agitate , toss , excite
gaatra: n. " instrument of moving " , a limb or member of the body; the body
yaShTi: a stalk , stem , branch , twig; (ifc.) anything thin or slender ; a thread , string (esp. of pearls)

papaata = 3rd pers. sg. perfect pat: to fall down
shiirN'-aakula-haara-yaShTiH (nom. sg. f.): her strings of pearls broken and disordered
shiirNa: mfn. broken or rent asunder , shivered , crushed , shattered , injured ; broken away , burst or overflowed (as river-water that has burst its banks)
aakula: mfn. confounded , confused , agitated , flurried ; confused (in order) , disordered
haara: m. a garland of pearls , necklace (accord. to some , one of 108 or 64 strings)
yaShTi: a stalk , stem , branch , twig; (ifc.) anything thin or slender ; a thread , string (esp. of pearls)

phal'-aatibhaaraad (abl. sg.): from an excessive burden of fruit
phala: fruit
atibhaaraat (abl. sg.): m. an excessive burden ,
iva: like
cuuta-yaShTiH (nom. sg. f.): the twig of a mango tree
cuuta: m. the mango tree
yaShTi: a stalk , stem , branch , twig; (ifc.) anything thin or slender ; a thread , string (esp. of pearls)


George said...

Hi Mike!
I have a big problem in understanding the meaning of "moving from the hara" or "concentrate on the hara" too!For 20 years all I managed is to become a champion of stiff hips. Alexander work helps me to realise the extend of my stiffness and hopefully to discover a bit more freedom!
I ordered Walter Carrington's book, Thinking Aloud, and received it 2 days ago. Yesterday after having read your comment I found in the book a talk he gave with the title "Knees going forward and away". Here is a part from it:

"This was really the significance of Alexander's discovery, that he found out where you have to begin,because if you don't knoe the sequence, this is where the muddle develops. It is like jundo, Kendo, Karate, they all stress that is the freedom in the middle, it is the balance of what goes on there that is so critical. Everything they say about it is perfectly right, absolutely true, this is the vital area. It just happens that, vital as it all is, it just won't work, can't stop to work, unless you have hot the neck free, and the head going forward and up first. To understand these things in sequence is very important. the knees going forward and away is the last direction, but it is not less important for being so"

Thank you very much for your continuous efforts of mining!

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, George, for bearing witness from your own real experience.

Your words make me think that your struggles for 20 years were certainly not in vain, and so maybe mine have not been completely useless either!

Stiff hips or no, George, you have got guts, and I thank you for your real effort to turn my dust-born ore into your own true gold.