Saturday, June 4, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.14: Monkey-Mindedness

nagaan nagasy' opari devadaaruun
aayaasayantaH kapayo viceruH
tebhyaH phalaM n' aapur ato' pajagmur
modha-prasadebhya iv' eshvarebhyaH

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Pestering the godly deodars,

Monkeys roved from peak to peak;

Obtaining from those trees no fruit, they went away,

As if from powerful masters whose favour is futile.

As in 10.5, the sacred deodar (deva-daaru = lit. "divine tree") seems to belong to what Gudo Nishijima would call "the first phase," which has to do with ideas, value, religion, the sacred, the immaterial et cetera. Monkeys who are the embodiment of mischief-making, being opposed to the godly deodars, represent the other side -- what the Heart Sutra calls SHIKI (form, the material) as opposed to KU (emptiness, the immaterial). Obtaining no fruit, or getting no result, has to do with negation of greedy end-gaining -- what the Heart Sutra calls MU-SHOTOKU. And finally the metaphor in line 4 takes the negation of end-gaining further away from the realm of abstract theory and into the realm of reality. It brings to mind a metaphor favoured by Dogen's master, Tendo Nyojo, quoted in Shobogenzo chap. 74, Temborin: A beggar boy breaks his begging bowl.

This and the following verse can be seen as forming a pair, today's verse describing the universal character of the monkey mind, and tomorrow's verse describing the particular characteristics of the one-eyed she-monkey who is central to the overall plot of Saundara-nanda.

What Ashvagosha is saying here about the monkey mind, as I hear him, is that the end-gaining mind is like a monkey in that the monkey creates a disturbance in the hope of getting something, but when the hope of getting something is not realized, the monkey scurries away disappointed, to continue its game of trial and error elsewhere.

Master Tendo Nyojo said: A beggar boy breaks his begging bowl.

Master Kodo Sawaki said: A thief goes into an empty house.

Such striking statements, which include negation of the end-gaining monkey mind, struck me when I encountered them in Japan. And yet something at that time was lacking in my understanding of the intention behind those statements. Something is still lacking in my understanding. That's for damn sure. But even more was lacking then.

What I lacked then but Alexander work has given me, at least to some extent, since then, is a sense of what freedom from the end-gaining monkey mind is NOT. I have a better sense than I used to have of what it is to stiffen the neck and pull the head back and down because of eagerness to gain some end, to get some result, to obtain some fruit.

For whatever awareness I have of what freedom from the monkey-mind is NOT, I feel particularly indebted to FM Alexander, who so clearly understood (1) how end-gaining triggers a fixing response that manifests itself in interference with that head-neck-back relationship which Alexander saw as primary in all human activity, and (2) how, conversely, a fixed body conduces to the end-gainer's mental rigidity.

Speaking of monkeys and mental rigidity, Alexander said that he didn't want a bunch of monkeys following him around imitating him. He wanted his student teachers to go back to first principles and work the whole thing out for themselves. "Any of you can do what I do, if you do what I did," Alexander said, and then added, "But none of you wants anything mental."

Line 4 of today's verse, as I read it, might also, below the surface, be saying something along the same lines as what Alexander was saying. Ostensibly line 4 describes a situation in which a supplicant fails to get some material favour from some rich and powerful authority -- as when in the old days a peasant might petition a feudal lord for extra heating fuel in a cold winter; or as in the present day a Saudi citizen might petition a Saudi chief for the gift of a new gas-guzzling car. But Ashvaghosha's real intention, if we dig for it, might be to suggest the fact that in the relationship between master/teacher and disciple/student, a master's favour is ultimately bugger all use to a student. Why? Because not even the greatest master in the world can work it out on the student's behalf; in the end the student has to go back to the beginning and work the whole thing out for himself or herself.

Again, as FM Alexander said, "I can't get inside your head and do the thinking for you."

The Buddha's teaching is not to have no desire. The Buddha's teaching is to find contentment through small desire. That being so, a reasonable human being who has heard the Buddha's teaching, finding the sacred deodar to be fruitless, might be satisfied with a plum, or a cherry, or a grape, or even a piece of an apple -- a segment of a golden delicious, say, to put in his daily porridge.

Traditionally a follower of the buddha who has left home and gone into the wandering life does not have no assets; he has very few assets -- bowl, robes, et cetera. But more importantly he does not have any liabilities -- at least not financial ones. Even if we choose not to imitate the old form of the wandering mendicant, I think that for the non-monkey-minded the golden rule still applies of not being greedy on the assets side and keeping liabilities as close as possible to zero. Sometimes borrowing money might make sense -- for example, to pay up front for higher education or a house purchase -- but borrowing money to make purchases based on greed is absolutely a mug's game for the monkey-minded, it seems to me, and never a path to contentment.

EH Johnston:
Monkeys wandered along the mountains, keeping the deodars in perpetual commotion, and finding they bore no fruit departed from them, as from rich men whose favour is empty of gifts.

Linda Covill:
Monkeys roamed across the mountain disturbing the deodar trees, but finding no fruit on them went away again, as from powerful men whose favour is fruitless.

na-gaat (abl. sg.): m. " not moving ", a mountain
nagasya (gen. sg.): m. " not moving ", a mountain
upari: ind. above , upon , on , upwards , towards the upper side of ; repeatedly , continuously (As a separable preposition , with acc. loc. , or gen.) over , above , upon , on , at the head of , on the upper side of , beyond (e.g. upari shailaM- √gam , to go over the mountain)
devadaaruun (acc. pl.): mn. Pinus devadaaru or Deodar

aayaasayantaH = nom. pl. m. causative pres. part. aa- √yas: to weary , worry ; to give pain , torment
√yas: to froth up; to heat or exert one's self
kapayaH = nom. pl. kapi: m. ( √kamp, to tremble, shake) an ape , monkey
viceruH = 3rd pers. pl. vi- √ car: to move in different directions , spread , expand , be diffused ; to rove , ramble about or through , traverse , pervade ; to sally forth , march against , make an attack or assault ; to wander from the right path , go astray , be dissolute

tebhyaH (abl. pl. m.): from those [trees]
phalam (acc. sg.): n. fruit, result
na: not
aapur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect aap: to obtain, gain
ataH: ind. from this, hence ; from this or that cause or reason
apajagmur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect apa- √ gam: to go away, depart

modha-prasaadebhyaH (abl. pl. m.): their favour being fruitless
modha = (?) mogha: mfn. vain , fruitless , useless , unsuccessful
prasaada: m. clearness; graciousness , kindness , kind behaviour , favour , aid , mediation
iva: like
iishvarebhyaH (abl. pl.): m. master , lord , prince , king ; m. God ; m. the Supreme Being

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