Friday, December 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.20: Seated Meditation -- Another Romantic View?

baddv" aasanaM parvata-nirjhara-sthaH
svastho yathaa dhyaayati bhikShur eShaH
saktaH kva cin n' aaham iv' aiSha nuunaM
shaantas tathaa tRpta iv' opaviShTaH

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This beggar by the mountain waterfall,

Since he meditates at ease,
having crossed his legs in the traditional manner,

Surely is not as attached to anybody as I am;

For he sits so calmly, looking satisfied.

As a translation of ZAZEN, I have long objected to "seated meditation" -- preferring the less divided "sitting-meditation" or "sitting-zen." This partly reflects Dogen's preference, when writing ZAZEN, for the Chinese character which represents the verb "to sit" rather than the Chinese character for the adjective "seated." Both characters are pronounced in Japanese ZA, but the former is simpler, lacking a covering on top.

And yet "seated meditation" is just how Nanda seems to describe the practice of the beggar in this verse. Nanda describes the beggar as having adopted the traditional posture, i.e. having crossed his legs (baddhvaa -- absolutive) after which he is meditating (dhyaayati -- present tense).

So either my objection is petty and irrelevant, or else Nanda's understanding and mode of expression at this stage in his journey are still immature -- or maybe a bit of both.

In general in this canto, as I read it, Nanda's perceptions are not reliable. One of the things Ashvaghosha is doing in the present series of cantos is leading us through a kind of investigation of false reasoning and faulty sensory perception, rooted in unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions (this is nowhere more obvious than in the views and opinions of the misogynistic mind-body dualist who will take centre stage in Canto 8), and this verse also may be part of that process.

In this verse as I read it, then, Nanda is yet to shake off a romantic view about what "meditating" is. Looking at the practice from the outside, he supposes that one who sits at ease in full lotus is not susceptible to being disturbed by blasts from the past. But such a notion will later be falsified for Nanda, in his own practice/experience, as described in the opening verses of Canto 17:

Having washed his feet in that water, / He then, by a clean, auspicious, and splendid tree-root, / Girded on the intention to come undone, / And sat with legs fully crossed... (17.3) By holding firm, keeping direction of energy to the fore,/ By cutting out clinging and garnering his energy, / His consciousness calmed and contained, / He came back to himself and was not concerned about ends (17.6) Though his judgement had been tempered and his soul inspired,/ Now a vestige of desire, arising out of habit, / Made his mind turbid -- Like lightning striking water in a monsoon. (17.7)

The point might be that what the practice of sitting-meditation looks like from the outside (calm and peaceful), and the reality of it as experienced from the inside (old desires striking like lightning), are liable to be very different things. This much I do understand -- as a result of sitting four times every day baddv" aasanam, with legs crossed in the traditional manner.

EH Johnston:
Surely that mendicant there by the mountain torrent, meditating at ease in the Yogin's posture, is not attached to anyone as I am ; he sits calm and as if all his desires had been fulfilled.

Linda Covill:
The monk who meditates at ease beside the mountain waterfall, his posture controlled, can hardly be as attached to someone as I am; that's why he sits calmly, as though quite content.

baddvaa = abs. bandh: to bind , tie , fix ; to join , unite , put together or produce anything in this way , e.g. fold (the hands) , clench (the fist) , knit or bend (the eyebrows) , arrange , assume (a posture) , set up (a limit) , construct (a dam or a bridge) , span , bridge over (a river) , conceive or contract (friendship or enmity) , compose , construct (a poem or verse)
aasanam (acc. sg.): n. sitting , sitting down ; sitting in peculiar posture according to the custom of devotees , (five or , in other places , even eighty-four postures are enumerated ; » padm"aasana , bhadr"aasana , vajr"aasana , viir"aasana , svastik"aasana : the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics)
parvata-nirjhara-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): being by the mountain waterfall
parvata: mfn. knotty , rugged (said of mountains); m. a mountain , mountain-range , height , hill , rock
nirjhara: m. a waterfall , cataract , mountain torrent , cascade
stha: mfn. (ifc.) standing , staying , abiding , being situated in , existing or being in or on or among

sva-sthaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. self-abiding , being in one's self (or " in the self " ), being in one's natural state , being one's self uninjured , unmolested , contented , doing well , sound well , healthy (in body and mind) , comfortable , at ease
yathaa: ind. (correlative of tathaa) as, since
dhyaayati = 3rd pers. sg. pres. dhyaa/dhyai: (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative
bhikShuH (nom. sg.): m. a beggar , mendicant , religious mendicant ; monk
eShaH (nom. sg. m.): this, this here

saktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. clinging or adhering to , sticking in ; fixed or intent upon , directed towards , addicted or devoted to , fond of , engaged in , occupied with
kva: ind. loc. of ka = kasmin, to whom
kva cid: anywhere , somewhere , to any place , to anybody
na: not
aham (nom. sg.): I
iva: like
eSha (nom. sg. m.): this, this here (sometimes used to give emphasis to the personal pronoun)
nuunam: ind. now , at present , just , immediately , at once ; (esp. in later lang.) certainly , assuredly , indeed

shaantaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. √ sham) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed
tathaa: ind. (correl. of yathaa) so
tRptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. satiated , satisfied
tRp: to satisfy one's self , become satiated or satisfied , be pleased with; to enjoy
iva: like, as if
upaviShTaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. seated , sitting ; come to , arrived , entered (into any state or condition)

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