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

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