Saturday, December 11, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.7: The Psychophysical Root of Attachment

puShp'-aavanaddhe tilaka-drumasya
dRShTv" aanya-puShTaaM shikhare niviShTaaM
saMkalpayaam aasa shikhaaM priyaayaaH
shukl'-aaMshuke 'TTaalam apaashritaayaaH

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

Seeing a cuckoo hen perched

On the flower-covered crest of a tilaka tree,

He imagined his lover leaning against the watchtower,

Her tresses perching on her white blouse.

Sitting-dhyana, as I have come to practise and understand it over the years, is a kind of pursuit of stillness without fixity. And what the stillness is, in the end, I do not know. But what is this fixity?

Is fixity primarily something physical? Or something mental? Is it a tendency of the body, like a reflex? Or is it an illusory tendency of the mind?

In 13.53, as discussed yesterday, the Buddha traces the cause of getting stuck to parikalpa, which Buddhist scholars understand to mean illusion, but which also literally means fixing.

If I want to use today's verse to corroborate my sense that fixing is in fact primarily something physical, rooted in undue excitement of infantile fear reflexes (or as Gudo Nishijima would say in imbalance of the autonomic nervous system), then sadly for me today's verse does not oblige -- because the action being described in today's verse is primarily an act of imagining.

As this photo confirms, tilaka flowers are white; hence, when he looked at the flower-covered crest of the tilaka tree, Nanda could imagine Sundari, or conjure up a picture of her, wearing a white upper garment.

Just as yesterday the main action was a primarily mental act, an act of remembering, prompted by receipt of a sensory stimulus, so also today the main action is a primarily mental act, an act of imagining, prompted again by a sensory stimulus.

The phrase in line 3 of today's verse saMkalpayaam aasa, "he imagined, he concocted an image," then, seems in context to point more in the direction of the mental side. That said, both saM-kalpayaam in today's verse and the pari-kalpa of Canto 13, are from the root √klRp, whose meanings include not only to imagine but also to fix, not only to invent but also to furnish.

In these days of holistic hairdressing it is not controversial to talk of the oneness of body and mind, but in the 1890s when FM Alexander was totally stuck, distraught at losing his voice every time he performed as a reciter, psycho-physical unity had not yet in the English-speaking world become a trendy principle. Thus, as FM reported at the beginning of his book The Use of the Self:

"I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of 'body' and 'mind' as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties, and shortcomings could be classified as either 'mental' or 'physical' and dealt with on specifically 'mental' or specifically 'physical' lines. My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate 'mental' and 'physical' processes in any form of human activity."

Though FM Alexander would not have met the criterion proposed by Prof. Brian Cox of submitting a peer-reviewed paper for publication in a scientific journal, Alexander's great supporter Prof. John Dewey argued that Alexander's efforts were truly scientific: "The vitality of a scientific discovery is revealed and tested in its power to project and direct new further operations which not only harmonize with prior results, but which lead on to new observed materials, suggesting in turn further experimentally controlled acts, and so on in a continued series of new developments. Speaking as a pupil, it was because of this fact as demonstrated in personal experience that I first became convinced of the scientific quality of Mr Alexander's work. Each lesson was a laboratory experimental demonstration."

If Dewey's endorsement was not weighty enough, Alexander's contemporary Sir Charles Sherrington, the grand-daddy of neuro-physiology, weighed in with this:

“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."

(The Endeavour of Jean Fernel, 1946)

For the purposes of today's verse, one might modify Sherrington's sentence to say that, "To conjure an image of one's absent lover from the forms and clours of a cuckoo on a white-flowered tree, is an affair not of this or that area of the brain solely but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment – not least of the head and neck."

EH Johnston:
Seeing a cuckoo sitting on the flower-covered crown of a tilaka tree, he pictured it as the coils of hair of his beloved on her white robe as she leant against the parapet of the palace.

Linda Covill:
Seeing a cuckoo alighting on the flower-decked top of a tilaka tree, he imagined it as a lock of his darling's hair against her white tunic as she leant from the palace.

puShp'-aavanaddhe (loc. sg.): flower-covered
puShpa: flower
avanaddha: mfn. bound on , tied , covered with (instr. or in comp.)
ava- √ nah: to cover with
tilaka-drumasya (gen. sg.): of a tilaka tree
tilaka: m. Clerodendrum phlomoides (Symplocos racemosa)
druma: tree

dRShTvaa = abs. dRsh: to see, behold
anyapuShTaam (acc. sg. f.): mf. " reared by another " , the kokila or Indian cuckoo
shikhare (loc. sg.): m. n. a point , peak (of a mountain) , top or summit (of a tree)
niviShTaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. settled down , come to rest ; seated or sitting upon or in (loc.)

saMkalpayaam aasa (periphrastic perfect): he did an imagining
saM- √klRp: to put together , arrange ; to produce , create ; to determine , fix , settle ; to imagine , fancy , take for , consider as (acc. with iva)
√klRp: to produce, to ; to bring into suitable connection with ; to prepare , arrange ; and to fix, settle; and to frame , form , invent , compose (as a poem &c ) , imagine
saMkalpa: m. conception or idea or notion formed in the mind or heart
shikhaam (acc. sg.): f. a tuft or lock of hair on the crown of the head , a crest , topknot , plume
priyaayaaH (gen. sg.): of his wife

shukl'-aaMshuke (loc. sg.): on her white blouse
shukla: mfn. bright, light; white , whitish ; pure , spotless , unsullied
aMshuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth , muslin ; garment , upper garment
aTTaalam (acc. sg.): m. a watchtower
apaashritaayaaH = gen. sg. f. pres. part. apaa - √ shri : to resort to , to use , practise
√ shri: to cause to lean or rest on

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