Monday, December 13, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.9: The Devil that Is Concentration

puShpaiH karaalaa api naaga-vRkShaa
daantaiH samudgair iva hema-garbhaiH
kaantaara-vRkShaa iva duHkhitasya
na cakShur aacikShipur asya tatra

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

The yawning naga trees,
with flowerbuds for budding teeth

Erupting there like ivory caskets filled with gold,

Did not draw his anguished eye

Any more than if they had been desert scrub.

Line 1 in EHJ's original Sanskrit text reads
puShp'-otkaraalaa api naaga-vRkShaa

In a footnote to his English translation, however, EHJ writes that he reads puShpaiH karaalaa, as above, because the instrumental puShpaiH is required to correspond to samudgaiH in line 2.

In any event, the point is that in his state of pre-occupation with the absent Sundari, Nanda is aware of existent visual phenomena only insofar as they are somehow associated in his brain with her. Hence Nanda's eye is caught by tilaka and priyangu trees and ati-muktaka creepers, with their pale flowers that remind him of Sundari's face and blouse, but the naga trees though their gold-filled flowers are conspicuously beautiful in themselves do not interest him.

A contrast may be drawn between the working of the mind of Sundari who "considered various possibilities, in accordance with a woman's nature;" (6.12) and the mind of Nanda here, which seems to be narrowly focused or concentrated, so that Nanda is by no means inclined to stop and smell the roses.

A further contrast may be drawn between Nanda's state now and Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda in Canto 17 as "having full awareness" (smRti-mat) at the fourth stage of sitting-dhyana:

Then, because he had let go of ease and suffering, /And of working on the mind, already, /He realised the lucidity in which there is indifference and full awareness: / Thus, beyond suffering and ease, is the fourth stage of meditation. /Since in this there is neither ease nor suffering, / And the act of knowing abides here, being its own object, / Therefore utter lucidity through indifference and awareness / Is specified in the protocol for the fourth stage of meditation. / Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, / He made up his mind to win the worthy state, / Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally / And then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.
(17.54 - 17.56)

In pursuit of full awareness or, to put it another way, "the whole body being informed with thought," FM Alexander advocated learning how to think.

Learning how to think, in Alexander work, means learning to think in a way that does not come naturally either to a woman or a man. Thus since coming back to England 16 years ago to look into Alexander's discoveries, I have been taught by women whose minds were very focused, and by one man in particular who I regard as a genius in the art of un-concentration, and that is Ron Colyer.

Un-concentrating is an antidote to the habitual tendencies that we bring, in our habitual trying to be right, to the effort to concentrate.

At the beginning of learning how to think (and at the end too, judging from being taught by Marjory Barlow in her late eighties) we think verbal directions, words, along the lines of "I wish to allow the neck to release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away."

But, as I have just now been observing in the laboratory of my own sitting practice, as one goes through these directions one by one, one is always liable to concentrate a little bit on the area in question -- and this bit of concentration is a kind of feeling or doing. So learning how to think involves learning, most definitely and clearly, not to do this. But since human beings have evolved not to think in this non-doing way, but rather to get on and do, learning to think involves what Alexander saw as a kind of evolutionary leap, onto the plane of what he called "constructive conscious control of the individual."

As dangerous as the idea of concentrating is, and as desirable a state as un-concentration may be, it remains true that the practice of non-doing, whether in an Alexandrian or Zen context, requires us to inhibit thoughts that stir up responses in the body-mind which are not consistent with non-doing. When we notice ourselves getting lost in extraneous thoughts, it is therefore necessary to wake-up, to bring our attention back, to tend in the direction of one-pointedness, or (in a manner of speaking) to "concentrate."

For more than 30 years I have been exploring, intermittently, what it might mean for one's power to be concentrated in what masters of the martial arts in China and Japan, not to mention Dogen's master in China Tendo Nyjojo, referred to as the cinnabar field (Chinese: dan t'ien; Japanese: tanden).

To express my present understanding on this subject, I will once more refer to the words of Sir Charles Sherrington in his book The Endeavour of Jean Fernel (1946):

“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."

If the subject is concentration of power in one's tanden, Sherrington's words might be re-phrased like 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 concentrate one's power in one's vital centre is an affair not of this or that set of muscles but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment – not least of the head and neck.

EH Johnston:
The naga trees there, though studded with flowers with yellow interiors as if with gold-filled caskets of ivory, no more drew the eyes of Nanda in his sorrow than desert trees would have.

Linda Covill:
Though the orange trees bristled with buds that seemed like gold-filled ivory caskets, they did not draw Nanda's despairing eye, any more than if they had been trees in a wasteland.

puShp'-otkaraalaaH (nom. pl. m.): with an up-scattering/profusion of flowers
puShpa: n. flower, blossom
ut-: upwards
karaala: mfn. opening wide , cleaving asunder , gaping (as a wound) ; having a gaping mouth and projecting teeth; formidable
ut- √ kRR: to scatter upwards ; to pile up , heap up ; to dig up or out , excavate ; to engrave
utkara: m. anything dug out or scattered upwards

puShpaiH (inst. pl.): flowers
karaalaa (nom. pl.m.): mfn. opening wide , cleaving asunder , gaping (as a wound) ; having a gaping mouth and projecting teeth; formidable
api: though
naaga-vRkShaaH (nom. pl. m.): naga trees
naaga: m. a snake; an elephant; N. of sev. plants (Mesua Roxburghii , Rottlera Tinctoria &c );
vRkSha: m. a tree

daantaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. (fr. danta, tooth) made of ivory
sam-ud-gaiH (inst. pl.): mfn. going up or rising together ; m. the point of a bud ; a round box or casket ;
iva: like
hema-garbhaiH (inst. pl.): filled with gold
hema: gold
garbha: m. the womb; the interior, ifc. having in the interior , containing , filled with

kaantaara-vRkShaaH (nom. pl.): trees in a wilderness
kaantaara: mn. a large wood , forest , wilderness , waste; a difficult road through a forest , forest-path
vRkSha: tree
iva: like
duHkhitasya (gen. sg.): mfn. pained , distressed , afflicted , unhappy

na: not
cakShuH = acc. sg. cakShus: n. the act of seeing , sight, look, eye
aacikShipur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect aa- √ kShip : to draw
asya (gen. sg.): of this one, of him
tatra: ind. at that place, at that time, then and there ; in that [unhappy] state

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