Saturday, December 25, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.21: Concentration -- An Innocent's View of the Devil

puMs-kokilaanaam a-vicintya ghoShaM
vasanta-lakShmyaam a-vicaarya cakShuH
shaastraM yath" aabhyasyati c' aiSha yuktaH
shaNke priy" aakarShati n' aasya cetaH

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

Since, deaf to the cuckoos' chorus,

His eye never grazing upon the riches of spring,

This man concentrates intently upon the teaching

I suspect that no lover is tugging at his heart.

The true teaching, contrary to the naive view Nanda betrays in this verse, might be just not to concentrate upon any teaching -- still less upon what EHJ calls (as a translation of shaastram in line 3) "the doctrine."

What does EHJ call "the doctrine"?

What is "doctrine"? According to the dictionary: a body of ideas, particularly in religion, taught to people as truthful or correct.

Scholars write as if the Buddha taught a doctrine, called "Buddhism," which it is their job to study.

Bud did he hell teach a doctrine called Buddhism. He taught a dharma which is the abandonment of all -isms.

And the acid test for real abandonment, as the Buddha taught it, is sitting in the full lotus posture -- first of all, do you sit; and if so, how do you sit?

As long as your sitting is held in the prison of an -ism, you are still failing the test. Even if the prison you are held in is the prison of "true Buddhism," as long as you are held in the prison of that -ism, I am sorry but in my book you failed the acid test.

The ultimate teaching of the Buddha is just to sit upright in the full lotus posture. And how well or badly, how freely or fixedly, just this task is accomplished is, at least as I see it, the supreme test.

When you sit, how well integrated is your body-mind?

Subjecting myself to this test and watching myself, in general, fail it, four times a day, for many years has allowed me to get to know fairly well the devil that is concentration. So since this morning is my birthday and I am up before the rest of my family, I will indulge myself by going on about it at length.

When a baby is born, a reflex called the Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex, as shown here, exerts a strong unconscious influence on muscle tone in the baby's arms and legs and through the spiral musculature of its torso. It is an influence which fades as the baby develops its array of normal motor responses, particularly those involving cross-pattern movement (notably crawling on hands and knees) and movements in which hands and feet cross over to the opposite side ("crossing the mid-line"). But in many more children than is generally recognized (not only those relatively few who are diagnosed as "dyslexic" or "dyspraxic") this reflex is retained in an immature form. That being so, when the child comes to learn to hold a pen and write, the task of handwriting will cause the child to have to try hard to overcome the influence of the immature reflex. The child, in other words, will have to concentrate on the physical task of handwriting. While he is concentrating on the task of handwriting, which is unduly difficult for him, he will have less energy left for thinking about what he is writing, and he will tire relatively quickly. Parents and teachers who do not understand the underlying cause of the child's problem are liable to think that he has a problem with concentration. They might tell the child to try harder, to concentrate more. They might observe that the child can spend hours on end playing video games, so he obviously can concentrate if he wants to. But when they encourage the child to concentrate more on schoolwork, his concentration only seems to get worse. If the parents have got enough money, they may send their child to see an educational psychologist who will probably diagnose "Attention Deficit Disorder" (ADD) or some such misnomer.

Now, if anybody in Saundarananda is suffering from ADD it might be the beggar in today's verse. He appears to be tryinig to concentrate on the Buddha's teaching as if it were a doctrine, an -ism -- whereas if he suceeded in abandoning all -isms, even for one moment, he might in that moment wake up to the cuckoos' chorus and all the other glories of spring.

Problems of concentration, as I see them, in children suffering from developmental delay, are not problems of concentrating too little. They are originally problems of concentrating too much, rooted in immature vestibular reflexes.

Therefore, when I find my hands releasing away from each other in sitting, I don't always worry about it. It might be a good sign that the Moro reflex is giving up its grip on my system and the ATNR is taking over. So let the hands be for a while. The feet are already crossing the mid-line since I am sitting in full lotus. Gradually, if I will it, the ATNR also will release its grip, and then the tips of the fingers will cross the mid-line as the thumbs re-connect with each other.

The Buddha taught that all dharmas -- the cuckoo's chorus et cetera -- are real form. And the means to realize it just sitting.

Q: What does it mean just to sit?
A: I don't know.

Q: Does it mean to concentrate?
A: No! It is not that.

So beware the devil that is concentration.

Incidentally, the ghoSha of the cuckoo's chorus in line 1 is the ghoSha of Ashva-ghoSha, which literally means the chorus of whinnying horses.

EH Johnston:
I suspect no mistress attracts his feelings, since he studies the doctrine absorbedly, regardless of the cuckoo's calls and not letting his gaze wander over the beauty of spring.

Linda Covill:
As he is concentrating so attentively on the teachings, ignoring the call of the cuckoos and without his eye straying over the glories of spring, it is unlikely that a loved one is tugging at his heart.

puMs-kokilaanaam (gen. pl. m.): of the cuckoos
puMs: m. a man , a male being
kokila: m. the Kokila or Koil (black or Indian cuckoo ; frequently alluded to in Hindu poetry , its musical cry being supposed to inspire tender emotions)
a-vicintya (abs.): oblivious
a: negative prefix
vi- √ cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for
ghoSham (acc. sg.): m. indistinct noise , tumult , confused cries of a multitude , battle-cry , cries of victory , cries of woe or distress , any cry or sound , roar of animals ; the sound of words spoken at a distance ; rumour, report

vasanta-lakShmyaam (loc. sg. f.): the riches of spring
vasanta: m spring
lakShmii: f. wealth , riches ; beauty , loveliness , grace , charm , splendour , lustre
a-vicaarya (abs.): not roving
a: negative prefix
vi- √ car: to rove , ramble about or through , traverse , pervade ; to wander from the right path , go astray , be dissolute ; to graze upon , feed upon (a pasture)
cakShuH (nom. sg.): n. faculty of seeing , sight ; the eye

shaastram (acc. sg.): n. an order , command , precept , rule; teaching , instruction , direction , advice , good counsel ; any instrument of teaching , any manual or compendium of rules , any bock or treatise , (esp.) any religious or scientific treatise ; a body of teaching (in general) , scripture , science
yathaa: ind. as, since
abhyasyati = 3rd pers. sg. pres. abhy- √ as: to concentrate one's attention upon (acc.) , practise , exercise , study
ca: and
eSha (nom. sg. m.): this one, this man here
yuktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. yoked or joined or fastened or attached or harnessed to ; occupied with , engaged in , intent upon ; absorbed in abstract meditation , concentrated , attentive

shaNke = 1st pers. sg. pres. shaNk: to be anxious or apprehensive , be afraid ; to suspect ; to think probable , assume
priyaa (nom. sg.): f. wife, lover
aakarShati = 3rd pers. sg. pres. aa- √ kRSh: to attract, tug at
na: not
asya (gen. sg.): of this one, his
cetaH (acc. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind


Ian Cross said...

Happy Birthday and thanks for all your work on the translation and comments this year. I am proud of you.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Ian, proud of you too.

Being wrong is the best friend we've got!