Friday, November 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.28: To Be or Not to Be a Big Strong Bloke

na bhuuShaN' -aartho mama samprat' iiti
saa dikShu cikShepa vibhuuShaNaani
nir-bhuuShaNaa saa patitaa cakaashe
vishiirNa-puShpa-stabakaa lat" eva

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

"I have no need of ornaments now!"

So saying, she hurled her jewels in all directions.

Unadorned and drooping, she resembled

A creeper shorn of its clusters of flowers.

Big blokes in rugby scrums laugh at a fellow rugby player "throwing his toys out of the pram," or "spitting the dummy," when the bloke in question has had a bit of a temper tantrum.

That is what Sundari is doing now -- having a tantrum. On the positive side, she is not pretending to be "not bovverred;" she is not trying to be right. On the negative side, she is having a girly tantrum; she is behaving like a big girl's blouse.

At the beginning of Shobogenzo chap. 8, RAIHAI-TOKUZUI (Prostrating to What Has Got the Marrow), Dogen says that the most difficult thing is to find a guiding teacher, who, though beyond appearances such as those of a man or a woman, should be a big strong bloke (DAI-JO-BU).

Reading FM Alexander's book "The Use of the Self," when I was in Japan, I felt optimistic that the Alexander Technique was going to be the missing link by which I might finally succeed in turning myself truly into a big strong bloke -- not only on the outside, but also on the inside. Optimistic feelings, however, are ever liable to be falsified by reality.

Reading me like a book, FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow took pains to teach me "Being wrong is the best friend you have got in this work." In other words, what Marjory meant, was: instead of trying to be a big strong bloke for the sake of others, rather stop and really examine without fear or favour what is going on, warts and all, within your habitually worried self.

It's on that basis that I have been praising Sundari in this Canto. In showing her emotions so freely, she is providing us with a kind of laboratory for the kind of infantile fear patterns that we wish to be free from. Sundari is by no means being a big strong bloke. But neither is she compounding her sin by the common religious error of trying or pretending or aspiring to be something that she is not.

Marjory Barlow made a point of saying that she wasn't responsible for her students. "It's bad enough being responsible for myself!" she joked. In a similar way Kodo Sawaki (1880 - 1965) compared his efforts to the priming of a pump. After the pump had been primed, it was up each person to draw his or her own water by himself for himself.

While I was in Japan I visited two Zen teachers, both strong individuals, who both knew well the very strong individual who was Kodo Sawaki. The teacher I visited first and, by a long way, most often was Gudo Nishijima. I became deeply entangled with him as a Buddhist patriarch -- in many ways all too deeply entangled. The other teacher I visited, towards the end of my years in Japan, was Tsunemasa Abe, to whom I prostrated myself in a much more light-hearted manner (sometimes involving the odd drink of something stronger than water). The latter's father was an unorthodox character who apparently Kodo liked a lot. In his old age Kodo would spend the New Year, the traditional time for family gatherings, with the Abes -- so Kodo was like a beloved grandfather to the young Tsunemasa. Tsunemasa Abe told me, as I remember it, that in his old age Kodo used after sitting retreats to suffer terribly with neck pains. Young Tsunemasa would hold hot towels (O-SHIBORI) onto the old master's neck. Eventually, I was told, Master Kodo in his old age softened his attitude and modified his manner of sitting, taking account of Chinese understanding of the flow of vital energy (chi). This was just around the time I was starting to read Alexander's teaching and to have Alexander lessons in Tokyo, so this was all starting to make sense to me, after my own years of gross over-doing. Still, Tsunemasa Abe seemed to me at that time to be holding onto the idea of pulling in the chin, at least a bit, because otherwise, he said, KUBI WA NOBINAI, "the neck doesn't extend." Since our conversations were in Japanese, I might have misunderstood, but still I think he might have been wrong on that point; but he was certainly not wrong when he observed NINGEN WA KIBARU, "human beings strain themselves."

And because of Abe Sensei's great intimacy with Master Kodo, I was able to understand from him that Kodo's approach to sitting posture was not set in stone, but was characterized by a certain openness that allowed him to have a re-think about how to sit, in the final years of his life. One evening I sat watching Tsunemasa Abe giving a patient a session of what he called CHO-SHIN-HO a kind of very deep SHIATSU ("finger pressure") for which he mainly used not his fingers but his toes. I ventured as I watched him work on his patient that the point of his work and of his sitting, seemed to be to open up (HIRAKU). Yes, he enthusiastically replied, that was it.

But I was doubtless like the blind man who felt the elephant's leg and said it was like a tree -- so that the description was true as far as it went but was very far from describing the whole truth of the elephant.

Whatever criticisms I have of what I see as a Japanese cultural tendency to over-do in sitting, and to think too light of the role of thinking, both Gudo Nishijima and Tsunemasa Abe had obviously received something from Kodo Sawaki that was not in evidence among other Japanese. What exactly was it? If I try to put it into words, nothing is more sure than that I will miss the target. But below is a photo of Tsunemasa Abe that may give to you more of a hint than my words can.

Abe Sensei avoided being what he called "BUKKYO KUSAI" BUKKYO means "Buddhist" and "KUSAI" means smelly, stinking. So he avoided things that had the stink of Buddhism about them. For the centrepiece of his dojo, he preferred a well-shaped natural rock to a sculpted image of Buddha. At the same time, at his own shrine he had a hand-painted portrait of Kodo Sawaki sitting. Though he could be irreligious in outlook, his genuine reverence for and love of Kodo Sawaki obviously ran deep. For him, he told me, there was no other master at all.

The above reflections have been prompted by a letter received today, Thursday, from Reiko Abe, Tsunemasa Abe's wife, saying that Abe Sensei passed away, at the age of 68, on 19th September 2010.

Zen masters come and go. Now Abe Sensei has gone the way of Kodo, Dogen, Ashvaghosha and the Buddha, but to commemorate his passing in a religious ceremony might be to miss the point. The point might be that when we are open, not fixed, then something keeps flowing.

What is fixed cannot flow. But what is not fixed, once the pump has been primed, after just a little bit of effort, tends to flow spontaneously by itself ... gurgle, gloop, gloop, gloop gurgle ...

Tsunemasa Abe
(1942 - 2010)

EH Johnston:
'I have no need now for ornaments', so saying she threw them about in all directions. As she lay without ornaments, she looked like a creeper with its clusters of flowers torn off.

Linda Covill:
"I have no need of ornaments now," she cried, and threw them about in all directions. Unadorned, slumping, she seemed like a creeper whose clusters of blossoms are rent.

na: not
bhuuShaN'-aarthaH (nom. sg. f.): a need of ornaments
bhuuShaNa: n. embellishment , ornament , decoration
artha: n. reason, use
mama (gen. sg.): of/for me
samprati: ind. now
iti: "..., " thus

saa (nom. sg. f.): she
dikShu (loc. pl. f.): in the directions, in all directions
cikShepa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kSip: to throw , cast , send , despatch ; to throw away , cast away , get rid of
vibhuuShaNaani (acc. pl.): n. decoration , ornament

nir-bhuuShaNaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. unadorned
saa (nom. sg. f.): she
patitaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. fallen , dropped , descended , alighted
cakaashe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kaash: to be visible , appear

vishiirNa-puShpa-stabakaa (nom. sg. f.): shorn of its flower-clusters
vishiirNa: mfn. broken , shattered &c ; scattered, fallen out
vi- √ shri : to set or put asunder , separate
puShpa: n. flower
stabaka: m. a cluster of blossoms
lataa (nom. sg.): f. creeper, climbing plant ; a slender woman , any woman
iva: like

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