Friday, May 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.6: As If in Zero Gravity, the Two Stand

tasmin girau caaraNa-siddha-juShTe
shive havir-dhuuma-kRt'-ottariiye
agamya-paarasya nir-aashrayasya
tau tasthatur dviipa iv' aambarasya

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

On that auspicious mountain --
which was frequented by celestial singers and saints

And blanketed in smoke from burnt offerings --

As if on an island in an unsupported sky,
where no far shore is reached,

The two stood.

If this verse is really about what I think it is about, which ultimately is non-negation of dualism in sitting, it is by no means easy to understand

EHJ's original Sanskrit text has aagamya paarasya in line 3; LC has agamya-paarasya, as does the transliteration provided by the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project of Nagarjuna Institute, Nepal. I have gone with the latter version; hence "where no far shore is reached," which seems to me to be an expression of the non-end-gaining aspect of practice that I discussed at undue length in connection with line 3 of yesterday's verse.

Today as yesterday, then, a progression through four phases can be observed in four lines, in expressions of (1) the spiritual presence of celestial beings; (2) the material presence of smoke from fires; (3) negation of end-gaining and affirmation of individual autonomy in action; (4) remaining upright in empty space, in what feels like a condition of zero gravity, wherein even the negation of dualism is negated.

So in this verse as I read it Ashvaghosha as in the previous verse is intending to say something with the word tau about duality. And whatever the intention is, it might be more profound than simplistic Zen negation of dualism.

In line 4 of today's verse, as in line 1 of yesterday's verse, tau ostensibly means the two men, Gautama and Nanda. But it can also be understood as indicating the two factors alluded to in the first two lines of both verses, that is to say, the spiritual and the material, or the mental and the physical.

The Heart Sutra famously says that form is emptiness, emptiness is form. As every holistic hairdresser knows, form and emptiness, the material and the immaterial, body and mind, are one. But Dogen in his commentary on the Heart Sutra expresses his sense that form is just form, emptiness is just emptiness; the material is the material, the immaterial is the immaterial. For Dogen, it seems, the two stood.

Dogen said that there is sitting with body which is not the same as sitting with mind, and sitting with mind which is not the same as sitting with body. These words are by no means easy to understand. Just sitting, so they say, is body and mind dropping off. At the same time, as Dogen saw it, body was body, and mind was mind. The two stood.

EH Johnston:
Arriving there they stood, as on an island of the unsupported sky, on that holy mountain of the dwellingless end of the world, which was frequented by Caranas and Siddhas and was clad with the smoke of oblations.

Linda Covill:
They found themselves standing on a pure mountain, as though on an island in the shoreless and unsupported sky. It was inhabited by celestial singers and perfected beings, and was blanketed in smoke from their sacrificial offerings.

tasmin (loc. sg. m.): that
girau (loc. sg.): m. mountain
caaraNa: m. a wandering actor or singer; m. a celestial singer
siddha: m. a siddha or semidivine being of great purity and perfection and said to possess the eight supernatural faculties (accord. to some , the siddhas inhabit , together with the munis &c , the bhuvar-loka or atmosphere between the earth and heaven ; accord. to VP. eighty-eight thousand of them occupy the regions of the sky north of the sun and south of the seven RiShis ; they are regarded as immortal , but only as living to the end of a kalpa ; in the later mythology the are some times confused with the saadhyas [q.v.] or take their place) ; m. any inspired sage or prophet or seer (e.g. vyaasa , kapila &c ) ; m. any holy personage or great saint (esp. one who has attained to one of the states of beatitude); m. any great adept in magic or one who has acquired supernatural powers
juShTa: mfn. frequented , visited , inhabited

shive (loc. sg. m.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly , dear
havis: n. an oblation or burnt offering , anything offered as an oblation with fire (as clarified butter)
dhuuma: m. smoke
kRta: mfn. done, prepared
uttariiya: n. an upper or outer garment ; a blanket

aagamya = abs. aa- √ gam: to come , make one's appearance ; arrive at , attain , reach
paarashya (gen. sg. n.): n. (rarely m.) the further bank or shore or boundary , any bank or shore , the opposite side , the end or limit of anything , the utmost reach or fullest extent
agamya-paarasya (gen. sg. n.): with its unattainable far shore
agamya: mfn. unfit to be walked in , or to be approached ; inaccessible ; unattainable
nir-aashrayasya (gen. sg. n.): mfn. supportless , having or offering no prop or stay , destitute , alone

tau (nom. dual. m.): those two
tasthatuH = 3rd pers. dual sthaa: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self , stand upon , get upon , take up a position on ; to stay, remain ; to remain occupied or engaged in , be intent upon , make a practice of , keep on , persevere in any act
dviipe (loc. sg.): m. an island , peninsula , sandbank
iva: like, as if
ambarasya (gen. sg.): n. circumference , compass , neighbourhood; sky , atmosphere , ether


Andrew said...

Hi Mike,

"Dogen said that there is sitting with body which is not the same as sitting with mind, and sitting with mind which is not the same as sitting with body. These words are by no means easy to understand. Just sitting, so they say, is body and mind dropping off. At the same time, as Dogen saw it, body was body, and mind was mind. The two stood."

Is "sitting with the body" the state when we are more inclined towards noticing or experiencing our physical existence, and "sitting with the mind" when we are more inwardly directed or noticing thinking? Can it be that simple?

"These words are by no means easy to understand".

So I guess it can't be... right?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Andrew,

What you seem to be describing is two kinds of mental activity, both of which are different from sitting. But Dogen in the chapter titled "The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis" is discussing sitting itself.

The original words are 心の打坐 (sitting of mind, sitting with the mind, mental sitting) and 身の打坐 (sitting of body, sitting with the body, physical sitting).

People who practise what they call "sitting meditation" or "seated meditation" (two words) generally see their practise as mental meditation in the context of physical sitting.

Others who practise what they call "just sitting" are liable to see their practice, one-sidedly, as physical sitting -- thus Gudo Nishijima's description of Zazen as "a kind of physical gymnastics."

The difficulty, I think, is in understanding sitting (not meditating) as a mental activity -- thinking, but not as people generally understand the word thinking. Thinking as the mental side of sitting. Thinking as that which causes sitting to be not only a manifestation of unconscious reaction to the stimulus of the idea of sitting upright, but a more enlightened response.

Back in 1998, when I tried to explain this aspect of sitting practice to Michael Luetchford, MJL shook his head and said, "Oh I see. The situation is even worse than I thought." But actually MJL hadn't seen anything. He didn't understand what I was going on about. He was hearing me through the one-sided filter of Gudo Nishijima's Buddhist view, in which thinking has no role in Zazen, except as a target for negation.

Mike Cross said...

Sitting with the mind
is deciding to sit
not like that
-- for example:
not like a grimly determined ascetic,
not like a preacher of propriety,
not like a fuss-pot,
not like a know-it-all ...

Being fortunate enough to have all these tendencies, and more, I have got plenty of raw material to work on ...