Wednesday, December 8, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.4: Nanda Still Mindful of Wife; Ashvaghosha Still Mindful of Thinking

sa piitaka-kShodam iva pratiicchaMsh
cuuta-drumebhyas tanu-puShpa-varShaM
diirghaM nishashvaasa vicintya bhaaryaam
nava-graho naaga iv' aavaruddhaH

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Receiving from the mango trees

A rain of tiny flowers like saffron powder,

He thought of his wife and heaved long sighs,

Like a newly-caught elephant in confinement.

The first half of this verse is a reference back to the description in Canto 4 of Nanda's mock battle with Sundari in which she bombed him with her scented make-up: With a left hand left languid by love, / She threw at his shoulder the flower behind her ear, / And sprinkled over his face, as he kept his eyes half-shut, / The scented make-up she had been using to powder herself. (4.16)

In line 3 of today's verse, diirghaM nishashvaasa mirrors the expression used in Canto 6 to describe a change in Sundari's breathing, again in response to what she was thinking: As she thought and she thought of her husband's good points, / She heaved long sighs and she gasped; / The forearms that bore her gleaming jewellery, / And her hands with their reddened fingertips, she flung outward. (6.27)

What I would like to draw people's attention to, in today's verse (7.4), in yesterday's verse (7.3), and in 6.27, is Ashvaghosha's use of the absolutive of a verb that means "think of" (sam-√cint, 6.27; √dhyaa, 7.3; vi √cint, 7.4), in conjunction with a change in breathing (6.27, 7.4) and/or a marked change in extensor muscle tone, particularly in the arms (6.27; 7.3).

"The sense of the absolutive" (according to Coulson's Teach Yourself Sanskrit) "is generally that of action preceding the action of the main verb."

The conclusion to draw might be that before we get to mindfulness of breathing or postural tone (the main verb), we would be wise to practise mindfulness of thinking (the action preceding the action of the main verb).

The difficulty is that we have evolved to be mindful of goals or ends, and not to be mindful of processes like thinking (which, in a perfectly co-ordinated human being would tend to take care of themselves automatically below the level of consciousness).

Here is an experiment that any scientist can perform in the laboratory of the self while sitting in lotus on a round cushion:

Think of the neck releasing so that the head emerges out of the body, like a tortoise's head from its shell; at the same time, think of the spine lengthening and the whole back widening; and at the same time, think of the limbs being released out of the body, again like a tortoise's limbs out of its shell.

Think these directions not only one by one but all together, like one big umbrella opening out... and notice what, if anything, happens (1) to the breathing and (2) to muscle tone.

In this experiment the main verb is (1) to breathe, or (2) the action of the vestibular system which controls muscle tone, and the action preceding the action of the main verb is the action of thinking.

Alexander's hypothesis is that thinking the above directions "all together, one after the other," tends to cause respiratory difficulties to evaporate and muscle tone to improve in the direction of a more integrated use of head, neck, and back.

Sadly, without the help of an experienced teacher, or without a hell of a lot of persistence, this experiment turns out to be extremely difficult to replicate. What we think of as thinking is very liable to be a variation on the theme of our habitual doing. And the reason for this extreme difficulty, again, is that we human beings have evolved not consciously to think but unconsciously to do.

EH Johnston:
Receiving from the mango-trees a rain of tiny flowers like saffron powder, he was reminded of his wife and sighed deeply, like a newly caught elephant in confinement.

Linda Covill:
Receiving from the mango trees a rain of tiny flowers like saffron powder, he thought of his wife and gave a heavy sigh, like a newly-caught elephant in confinement.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
piitaka-kShodam (acc. sg.): saffron powder
piitaka: mfn. yellow; n. saffron
kShoda: m. pounding , grinding ; any pounded or ground or pulverized substance , flour , meal , powder , dust
iva: like
pratiicchan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. prati- √iSh: to receive, accept from

cuuta-drumebhyaH (abl. pl.): from the mango trees
cuuta: m. the mango tree
druma: m. a tree
tanu-puShpa-varSham (acc. sg.): a rain of tiny flowers
tanu: small, tiny
puShpa: flower
varSha: rain

diirgham: ind. long , for a long time
nishashvaasa = 3rd pers. sg. perfect ni- √ shvas : to draw in the breath , inspire ; to hiss, snort, etc.
vicintya = abs. vi- √ cint: to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for ; to fancy, imagine
bhaaryaam (acc. sg.): f. wife

nava-grahaH (nom. sg. m.): recently caught
naagaH (nom. sg.): m. a naaga or serpent-demon ; an elephant
iva: like
avaruddhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. hindered , checked , stopped , kept back ; shut in , enclosed ; imprisoned
ava- √ rudh: to obstruct , enclose , contain ; to shut in

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