Saturday, April 2, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.3: Desire, Darkness, and Wrongness

na c' aatra citraM yadi raaga-paapmanaa
mano 'bhibhuuyeta tamo-vRt'-aatmanaH
narasya paapmaa hi tadaa nivartate
yadaa bhavaty anta-gataM tamas tanu

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

And it is no wonder, in such a case,
if wrongness born of a tainted desire

Overtakes a mind shrouded in darkness;

For a man's wrongness ceases

Only when darkness peaks and becomes smaller.

This is one of those verses that makes sense to me only because of the discoveries and the teaching of a great modern-day yogi named FM Alexander, who knew a thing or two about tainted desire (raaga), who gave people an experience of the difference between light and darkness (tamas), and who taught his students to make a friend of wrongness (paapman).

With atra, "in such a case," Ashvaghosha as I hear him signals the expression of a general principle about how wrongness arises and vanishes, based on the case of the striver and Nanda which has just been likened to a doctor-patient interaction.

If we begin with that concrete case, then, is the wrongness in the patient (Nanda) or in the doctor (the striver) or in both of them?

Again, is the tainted desire in question Nanda's sexual desire for Sundari? Or is the tainted desire in question the do-gooding striver's desire to influence Nanda?

Darkness is tamas, which the dictionary gives also as mental darkness, ignorance. But this verse becomes more understandable to me if, on the basis of Alexander-based endeavour to inhibit unconscious patterns of reaction, I understand tamas as unconsciousness.

In one of my earlier attempts to draw the attention of fellow Zen practitioners to the discoveries of FM Alexander, I quoted FM from the preface of his last book, The Universal Constant in Living, 1946:

"The fact to be faced is that the human self was robbed of much of its inheritance when the separation implied by the conception of the organism as 'spirit,' 'mind' and 'body' was accepted as a working principle, for it left unbridged the gap between the 'subconscious' and the conscious. I venture to assert that if the gap is to be bridged, it will be by means of a knowledge, gained through practical experience, which will enable us to inhibit our instinctive, 'subconscious' reaction to a given stimulus, and to hold it inhibited while initiating a conscious direction, guidance, and control of the use of the self that was previously unfamiliar."

Darkness becoming smaller, then, as I understand the phrase, describes an action like sitting becoming less unconscious -- in which case a limit of unconsciousness has already been reached.

This being a general principle, if it is true, it should hold true when applied to the individual cases of Nanda and the striver, and also when applied to the individual case of each reader of Saundara-nanda, i.e. you and me.

In the case of Nanda, his infatuation with nymphs in heaven, as described in Canto 10, may be said to represent the height of his unconscious darkness. Nanda's darkness then becomes smaller when he recognizes the fault in his approach -- a recognition which is accompanied, as is often the case, by the negative emotion we call shame.

In the case of the striver, his unconscious darkness may be seen as reaching a peak in 9.5 when, with no little conceit, he tells Nanda "I know what you don't know." By the end of Canto 9, however, such conceit has diminished to the point where the striver realizes he needs to seek the intervention of the one who really knows, the Buddha.

When I seek to understand the above on the basis of my own experience, there is some sense in which my darkness peaked circa 1994, when I began to realize, under the influence of physical and mental symptoms such as a frozen shoulder and greatly increased irritability, that something must be fundamentally wrong in my manner of sitting. There again, there is some sense in which my darkness peaked circa June 1982, before I began the discipline of daily sitting practice. There again, there is some sense in which my darkness peaked circa September 1978 before I first walked into a karate dojo and bowed.

On reflection then, it seems to me that in practice there is not only one great peak after which it is all downhill for darkness and wrongness. In stories it may sound like that. But in reality the journey is more of a spiral. Because the journey is a spiral, others who are in the dark may observe one fluctuating between self-profession of greatness and shame-faced eating of humble pie and say, "You are just going round in circles!"

For oneself it is difficult to judge. But when I observe the progress of one or two other individuals who are on a similar path to myself, with AT and sitting, I think they are not going round in circles but going, in the direction of growth of consciousness, up in spirals.

EH Johnston:
No need is there for wonder if, when the self is wrapped in darkness, the mind is overcome by a sinful disposition to passion ; for man's disposition to sin only ceases to be active when his mental darkness becomes clear and is dissipated.

Linda Covill:
It is hardly surprising that the mind of one cloaked in dark ignorance should be overwhelmed by lustful inclinations, for man's perversity will come to a halt only when his ignorance is attenuated and comes to an end.

na: not
ca: and
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect , in this place , here at this time , there , then
citram (nom. sg. m.): mfn. strange , wonderful
yadi: if
raaga-paapmanaa (inst. sg.): by the evil that arises out of the redness of passion
raaga: m. the act of colouring or dyeing ; tint, dye ; redness ; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love
paapman: m. evil , unhappiness , misfortune , calamity , crime , sin , wickedness

manaH (nom. sg.): n. mind
abhibhuuyeta = 3rd pers. sg. passive optative abhi- √ bhuu: to overcome , overpower
tamo-vRt'-aatmanaH (gen. sg. m.): of one whose essence is enveloped in darkness
tamo-vRta: mfn. obscured ; overcome with any effect of the guNa tamas , as rage , fear , &c
tamas: n. darkness, ignorance (in saaMkhya phil. one of the 3 qualities or constituents of everything in creation [the cause of heaviness , ignorance , illusion , lust , anger , pride , sorrow , dulness , and stolidity ; sin ; sorrow]
vRta: mfn. concealed , screened , hidden , enveloped , surrounded by , covered with
aatman: m. essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc.)

narasya (gen. sg.): m. a man , a male , a person
paapmaa (nom. sg.): m. evil , unhappiness , misfortune , calamity , crime , sin , wickedness
hi: for
tadaa: ind. (correlative of yadaa) at that time, then
nivartate = 3rd pers. sg. (middle voice) ni- √ vRt: to leave off , cease , end , disappear , vanish ; to be omitted , not to occur ; to be ineffective or useless ; to be wanting , not to exist

yadaa: ind. when, at which time
bhavati = 3rd pers. sg. bhuu: to be, become
anta-gatam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. gone to the end ; being at the end of ; thoroughly penetrating
anta: m. end , limit , boundary
tamas (nom. sg.): n. darkness; mental darkness, ignorance
tanu (nom. sg. n.): mfn. thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little , minute , delicate

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