Friday, December 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.6: Fixed Associations

priyaaM priyaayaaH pratanuM priyaNguM
nishaamya bhiitaam iva niShpatantiiM
sasmaara taam ashru-mukhiiM sa-baaShpaH
priyaaM priyaNgu-prasav'-aavadaataaM

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

A slender priyangu creeper, beloved by his beloved,

He noticed shying away, as if afraid,

And tearfully he remembered her,

His lover with her tearful face,
as pale as a priyangu flower.

In this verse Nanda perceives an object which is present in the present, and consequently remembers the absent Sundari. The main verb is sasmaara, "he remembered," and the absolutive indicating action that preceded the main verb is nishaamya "upon perceiving/noticing...."

The unspoken factor implicitly connecting the noticing and the remembering is what we would call "associations" in Nanda's mind between the present and past objects of his sensory experience -- the present object being a slender priyangu creeper with its white flowers, and the past object being the slender Sundari, her face pale with tearful anxiety.

This verse, then, is the mirror of 6.32; and both verses can be read as empirical corroboration of a principle outlined by the Buddha in Canto 13.

Looking at her husband's ornaments, clothes, / And items of amusement like his guitar, / She entered a state of darkness; she raised a shriek, / And then, as if descending into a mire, sank down. (6.32)

On seeing one and the same form / This man is enamoured, that man disgusted; / Somebody else remains indifferent; / While yet another feels thereto a human warmth. /Thus, an object is not the cause / Of bondage or of liberation; / It is due to particular fixed associations, / That sticking occurs or does not. (13.52 - 13.53)

parikalpa-visheSheNa in 13.53, EHJ translated as "association with a special imagination" and LC translated as "specific imaginings" but neither of these translations hit the target of my own experience -- in which the fundamental obstacle to freedom is something deeper than imagination.

parikalpa is given in the dictionary as a Buddhist term meaning "illusion." But I do not buy that. In general, I do not trust Buddhist jargon, and I do not see it much in evidence in Ashvaghosha's writings. So I prefer to understand parikalpa not as a technical Buddhist term but as equivalent to parikalpana, the verbal action noun from pari-√klRp, to fix. Thus, the translation of parikalpa-visheSheNa that I went for when I originally translated Canto 13 was "through a particular kind of fixing" -- "It is through a particular kind of fixing / That sticking occurs or does not."

In light of today's verse and 6.32, however, I think I see that what Ashvaghosha was describing in Sundari and Nanda, and what the Buddha was outlining as a general principle, has to do not only with fixing but also with what we call "association."

The association the Buddha discusses in Canto 13, however, is not only a psychological phenomenon. Rather it is very much rooted in the power of the senses, and therefore centred on vestibular functioning which, as I have argued at length based on my own experience and the discoveries of FM Alexander, is liable in most of us to be faulty. And deeply implicated in this faulty vestibular functioning there are liable to be aberrant fear/grasping reflexes, which can be seen as the original root of psycho-physical fixing.

As a result of such psycho-physical fixing, my sitting practice over the years has frequently got stuck. When I have endeavoured to enter the zone of not thinking, I have generally done so by turning away from random thoughts in favour of an instruction such as "just sit upright" or "keep the spine straight vertically" or (as I was taught in traditional karate-do) "let power be concentrated in the tanden" or (in the simplest Alexander terms) "think up." The sticking point is that I have habitually associated putting power in the tanden with a tightening of various abdominal muscles, and I have habitually associated "sitting upright" or "keeping the spine straight vertically" with a stiffening and narrowing reaction -- so that the Alexander teacher Nelly Ben-Or once memorably observed to me "For you, up is a poisoned word."

At a certain level, then, sitting-dhyana can be understood as an opportunity to practise saying "No, not that," to such fixed associations.... but not with any great sense of urgency -- because those fixed associations are themselves part of the reality to be investigated, as it is, warts and all....

Nothing, then, is to be taken away / And nothing is to be added: / One must investigate the reality as it really is, / Whatever and however it is.

In conclusion, does the word parikalpa refer to a phenomenon that is primarily physiological, rooted in reflexes such as the panic and grasp reflexes; or does it refer to a phenomenon that is primarily psychological, such as association?

To neglect or deny the physiological, as people who have never sat with their knees on fire are prone to do, is totally to miss the point. But to neglect or deny the psychological is also to miss the point. And in today's verse Ashvaghosha is not doing either.

EH Johnston:
Perceiving a delicate priyanga tree, his mistress' favourite, that emerged from the trees as if in terror, he remembered with sobs his mistress with her tear-strewn face and pale as the flowers of the priyanga.

Linda Covill:
When he noticed a delicate priyangu creeper bashfully shying away, another plant beloved by his beloved, he recalled her tearful face pale as the priyangu blossom, and wept.

priyaam (acc. sg. f.): beloved
priyaayaaH (gen. sg.): f. wife, beloved
pratanum (acc. sg. f.): mfn. very thin or fine , delicate , minute , slender , small , insignificant
priyaNgum (acc. sg.): f. a partic. creeper (said to put forth blossoms at the touch of women)

nishaamya = abs. ni- √ sham: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
bhiitaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. frightened , alarmed , terrified , timid , afraid
√ bhii: to fear , be afraid
iva: like, as if
niShpatantiim = acc. sg. f. pres. part. niSh- √ pat : to fly out of (abl.) , rush out , jump out , fall out , issue , depart , hasten away

sasmaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect smR: to remember
taam (acc. sg. f.): her
ashru-mukhiim (acc. sg. f.): having tears on the face
ashru: tear
mukha: face
sa-baaShpaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. tearful, weeping

priyaam (acc. sg.): f. wife, beloved
priyaNgu-prasav'-aavadaataam (acc. sg. f.): with the white colour of a priyangu flower
priyaNgu: name of a creeper
prasava: m. begetting; offspring ; flower
avadaata: mfn. ( √ das) , cleansed , clean , clear ; blameless , excellent, of white splendour , dazzling white ; m. white colour
√ das: to suffer want , become exhausted

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