Sunday, December 5, 2010


liNgaM tataH shaastR-vidhi-pradiShTaM
gaatreNa bibhran na tu cetasaaa tat
bhaaryaa-gatair eva mano-vitarkair
jehriiyamaaNo na nananda nandaH

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

Wearing that emblem, then,
whose form was fixed by his teacher

-- Bearing it bodily but not mentally --

And being constantly carried off by thoughts of his wife,

Nanda whose name was joy was not joyful.

The emblem referred to in this verse, as I read it, is the ochre robe (kaaShaaya) of 6.48. That being so, a certain irony may be intended by the phrase shaastR-vidhi-pradiShTam, "its form being fixed by the teacher"; since a traditionally-sewn robe, as a shapeless flat sheet, is unrivalled amongs garments for its lack of fixed form.

Line 2 touches on another, greater irony, which has to do with the fact that, in Dogen's words, "there is bodily sitting which is not the same as mental sitting, and there is mental sitting which is not the same as bodily sitting." Furthermore, Dogen adds, "there is sitting as body and mind dropping off, which is not the same as sitting as body and mind dropping off."

Thus, in Japan my Zen teacher taught me that if I just sit physically, mental balance (= "balance of the autonomic nervous system") will follow. And there was some truth in that conception.

The great irony that I am still investigating every day, however, is that there is also truth in the opposite conception, as taught to me by FM Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow, along with Nelly Ben-Or, and others, that if one truly practises the most mental thing there is, thinking, then the thinking re-educates the feeling, and the feeling re-educates the body.

As an aid to practise thinking, we come back in Alexander work to some variation of the words, "I wish to allow the neck to be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and back widen, while sending the knees forwards and away." And the difficulty in practising thinking like this is to keep thinking these directions not only one after another but also "all together"... i.e. to keep thinking these directions (but not necessarily in words, because the words cannot be thought all together) without doing anything in the way of trying to implement these directions, or help them along. This is much more difficult than it sounds, because human beings have evolved to do stuff, not to think directions.

Just to sit, without trying to be right, without doing these directions, and without any extraneous movement is, as I understand it, the essential means that leads a person to the experience of just sitting as body and mind dropping off.

And the ultimate irony is that it is quite possible to talk a good talk, like this, about physical feeling/doing, about mental thinking, and about body and mind dropping off -- without ever truly addressing the problem of how to think. That is how Zen masters emerge who talk such a good talk of body and mind dropping off that they are able to convince others, and sometimes even themselves, that they know what they are talking about. And I my very self am just one of those phoneys.

Really to think is bloody hard work of the kind that even Alexander teachers like me, or like my brother, or Alexander students like George, are prone to avoid doing. It is much easier for me to build a terrace in France, or to re-do the kitchen here in Aylesbury, or to learn Sanskrit day by day, than it is to set aside time for learning how to think.

This morning, however, prompted by the above verse, and by Dogen's words quoted above, I did have some sense of filling out my kesa by purely mental means -- a renewed glimpse of what thinking can be. It is not something that was taught to me in Japan. It is rather a use of thinking towards which, in recent times, FM Alexander pointed, and which, in ancient times, Ashvaghosha and Dogen, as I read them, also pointed.

EH Johnston:
Bearing with his body, but not of his will, the insignia prescribed by the Master's ordinance, Nanda was dejected through the embarrassment of the thoughts of his mind which kept turning on his wife.

Linda Covill:
Nanda knew no gladness ; he bore the signs ordained by the teacher on his body, but not in his heart, and was discomfited by conjectures about his wife.

liNgam (acc. sg.): n. a mark , spot , sign , token , badge , emblem , characteristic ; any assumed or false badge or mark , guise , disguise
tataH: ind. from that, thence
shaastR-vidhi-pradiShTam (acc. sg. n.): fixed by the teacher's decree
shaastR: m. a chastiser , punisher ; a teacher, instructor
vidhi: m. a rule , formula , injunction , ordinance , statute , precept , law , direction (esp. for the performance of a vedic rite);
pradiShTa: mfn. pointed out , indicated , fixed , ordained ;
pra- √ dish: to point out , show , indicate , declare , appoint , fix , ordain ; to assign , apportion , grant

gaatreNa ( n. " instrument of moving " , a limb or member of the body ; the body
bibhran = nom. sg. m. pres. part. bhR: to bear, carry ; to wear ; to bear i.e. contain , possess , have , keep (also " keep in mind ") ; to support , maintain , cherish , foster
na: not
tu: but
cetasaaa (inst. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind
tat: that (sometimes for emphasis)

bhaaryaa-gataiH (inst. pl.): going to his wife
eva: (emphatic):
mano-vitarkaiH (inst. pl.): ideas in his mind
manas: mind
vitarka: m. conjecture , supposition , guess , fancy , imagination , opinion; doubt , uncertainty

jehriiyamaaNaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part. intensive passive hR: to take , bear , carry ; to take away , carry off ; to master , overpower , subdue , conquer
na: not
nananda = 3rd pers. sg. perfect nand: to rejoice , delight , to be pleased or satisfied with , be glad
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

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