Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.10: The Devil that Is Concentration (Ctd.)

gandhaM vasanto 'pi ca gandhaparNaa
gandharva-veshyaa iva gandhapuurNaaH
tasy' aanya-cittasya shug-aatmakasya
ghraaNaM na jahrur hRdayaM pratepuH

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

The gandha-parna trees
gave off their fragrance constantly,

As if they were a gandharva's good-time girls,
brimming with perfume,

But for one whose mind was elsewhere,
and who was sorrowful to the core,

They did not win the nose: they pained the heart.

Wafting from this verse, as I read it, is the fragrance of the kind of perfume that used to win my nose at the Bournville Saturday night disco in Birmingham -- not the expensive perfume that my wife sadly prefers, which gives off the occasional hint of subtle fragrance, but the cheaper variety that you could still smell on your collar on the top deck of the bus all the way home, in spite of the thick fug of cigarette smoke. Ah, those were the days.

In this verse Nanda is is no state to stop and smell the roses. His mind is not in the present, but is focused elsewhere. Is his mind not concentrated enough? Or is it too concentrated on Sundari?

Having written yesterday about the kind of concentration which bedevils Alexander work, I went for a short run, thinking of power being concentrated in the vital centre not as a result of me doing something specific, but as a function of general good co-ordination (for which read, in essence, co-ordination that is not bedevilled by the aberrant action of primitive tonic neck reflexes).

When running like this in my local recreation ground, I often run up and down the football pitch, pausing by each goal line to catch my breath, feel the beating of my heart, and renew my directions -- this latter activity being, as described yesterday, a kind of un-concentration.

While I was thus un-concentrating and going into movement, un-concentrating and going into movement, Marjory Barlow's words came back to me:

"If you think you are wrong, say no, give your directions, and go into movement without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash."

On some level, from running in the playground at primary school, from playing rugby at secondary school, and from karate training at university and in Japan, I had understood something of the truth of those words before I had met Marjory Barlow or even heard of her uncle FM Alexander. Activities that necessitate movement of the whole body seem to be inherently conducive to giving up fixity.

In a static or sedentary activity, however, especially one like sitting-dhyana which is prone to have to the un-enlightened mind (in which category I include my own) certain religious connotations, it is all too easy to become fixed and concentrated in deluded trying to be right.

And so therein lies the challenge -- to raise a truth that we all sort of know already, from experience of freedom in movement, up to the level of consciousness, so that we might find more freedom even in sitting still in a posture fixed by more than two thousand years of tradition.

While still on the subject of concentration, a final word on Charles Sherrington who, like FM Alexander, understood the vital and central importance of tonic head-neck reflexes. To quote Sherrington again:

“Mr Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man. To take a step is an affair not of this or that limb solely but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment – not least of the head and neck."

Though Sherrington thus affirmed Alexander, there is no record of Alexander affirming Sherrington. And there may be good reason for this.

One difference was that Sherrington's knowledge of the external world was arrived at a result of dissections of rabbits, frogs, et cetera, whereas Alexander's understanding of integral reality was arrived at primarily from work in the laboratory of himself, and secondly in the process of constructively re-educating whole human beings.

In 1998, when I last went back to Japan and reported to my Zen teacher about what I saw as the importance of the "anti-gravity" reflexes, Gudo was much interested in the existence of anti-gravity reflexes and commented that he would like to prostrate himself to Charles Sherrington (but not in any way to FM Alexander). Go figure.

If one understands the vital importance of the use of the head relative to the neck, as a starting point in re-educating a person's use of himself, it is all too easy to concentrate on the head and neck -- by trying to keep the neck bones straight and pulling the chin in a little, for example.

But this is just to be defeated by the devil that is concentration.

To modify Sherrington again:

Mr Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psychophysical man. To wear the head well on the neck is not an affair of the head and neck solely but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment – not least of the head and neck.

EH Johnston:
Though the gandhaparna trees were wafting odours and were full of fragrance like the mistresses of the Gandharvas, they failed to delight his sense of smell, but rather made his heart burn ; for he was compact of grief and ever thinking of another.

Linda Covill:
The gandha-parna trees, though scented and fragrant like a gandharva's geisha, failed to win his sense of smell but made his heart burn, for his mind was elsewhere and his entire being grieved.

gandham (acc. sg.): m. smell , odour ; a fragrant substance , fragrance , scent , perfume
vasantaH = nom. pl. pres. part. vas: to dwell , live , stop (at a place) ;
to remain , abide with or in ; to remain or keep on or continue in any condition (with a past part. , e.g. with canna , " to continue to be covered " ; or with an acc. , with brahmacharyam , " to practise chastity " ; or with an adv. e.g. with sukham , " to live pleasantly or at ease " )
api: though
ca: and
gandha-parNaaH (nom. pl.): m. " fragrant-leaved " , Alstonia scholaris

gandharva-veshyaaH (nom. pl. f.): courtesans of the gandharvas
gandharva: m. a gandharva [though in later times the gandharvas are regarded as a class , yet in RV. rarely more than one is mentioned ; he is designated as the heavenly gandharva ; his habitation is the sky , or the region of the air and the heavenly waters ; his especial duty is to guard the heavenly soma , which the gods obtain through his intervention ; it is obtained for the human race by indra , who conquers the gandharva and takes it by force ; the heavenly gandharva is supposed to be a good physician , because the soma is considered as the best medicine ; possibly , however , the word soma originally denoted not the beverage so called , but the moon , and the heavenly gandharva may have been the genius or tutelary deity of the moon ; in one passage the heavenly gandharva and the soma are identified ; he is also regarded as one of the genii who regulate the course of the Sun's horses; he knows and makes known the secrets of heaven and divine truths generally ; he is the parent of the first pair of human beings , yama and yamii, and has a peculiar mystical power over women and a right to possess them ; for this reason he is invoked in marriage ceremonies ; ecstatic states of mind and possession by evil spirits are supposed to be derived from the heavenly gandharva ; the gandharvas as a class have the same characteristic features as the one gandharva ; they live in the sky , guard the soma , are governed by varuNa (just as the aapsarasas are governed by soma), know the best medicines , regulate the course of the asterisms ; hence twenty-seven are mentioned ; they follow after women and are desirous of intercourse with them ; as soon as a girl becomes marriageable , she belongs to soma , the gandharvas , and agni ; the wives of the gandharvas are the aapsarasas , and like them the gandharvas are invoked in gambling with dice ; they are also feared as evil beings together with the raakShasas , kimiidins , pishaachas , &c , amulets being worn as a protection against them ; they are said to have revealed the vedas to vaac and are called the preceptors of the RShis ; puruuravas is called among them (ib.) ; in epic poetry the gandharvas are the celestial musicians or heavenly singers who form the orchestra at the banquets of the gods , and they belong together with the aapsarasas to indra's heaven , sharing also in his battles.
veshyaa: f. " intranda " , a harlot , courtezan , prostitute (in comp. also veshya)
iva: like
gandha-puurNaaH (nom. pl. m.): full of fragrance
gandha: fragrance
puurNa: mfn. filled , full , filled with or full of (instr. or gen. or comp.)

tasya (gen. sg. m.): his
anya-cittasya (gen. sg.): mfn. mind being fixed on some one or something else
shug-aatmakasya (gen. sg. m.): being composed of grief
shuc: f. pain , sorrow , grief
aatmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.); composed of

ghraaNam (acc. sg.): m. n. smelling , perception of odour; n. the nose
na: not
jahrur = 3rd pers pl. perfect hR: to take, seize, carry off ; to master , overpower , subdue , conquer , win , win over; to enrapture , charm , fascinate
hRdayam (acc. sg.): n. the heart
pratepur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect pra- √ tap: to give forth heat , burn , glow , shine (lit. and fig.); to pain with heat , torment , harass

1 comment:

Mike Cross said...

UoW has vamanto instead of vasanto.

from vam: to vomit , spit out , eject (lit. and fig.) , emit , send forth , give out

Makes sense.