Monday, June 6, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.16: Focused Wishing

kaa nanda ruupeNa ca ceShTayaa ca
saMpashyatash caarutaraa mataa te
eShaa mRgii v" aika-vipanna-dRShTiH
sa vaa jano yatra gataa tav' eShTiH

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

"Which, Nanda, in beauty and in manner,

Is the lovelier in your eyes:

This one-eyed monkey,

Or the person who is the focus of your wishing?"

First of all, if any one-eyed female monkeys are reading this, I would ask you not to be offended or discouraged. For one thing, there may be one-eyed male monkeys out there in whose eye you are unspeakably lovely and who, looking into the mirror or your eye, would chose you over Sundari any day. For another thing, for Zen practice as I understand it problems in the visual channel are not nearly as serious as problems in the vestibular-auditory channel -- the cranial nerve that joins the ears and the brain-stem being precocious in human development. Even if you are one-eyed and lagging wearily behind the rest of the troop, if you are equipped with a sound vestibular system you might be a better monkey than me.

The vestibular system (responsible for one's sense of self moving or not moving in the gravitational field, and centred particularly on the ear, the cerebellum, and the brainstem) is the unconscious path-finder. If it is congenitally faulty, it is all too easy for a person to go wrong -- as I, my father, and his father have all demonstrated at various times by our anger and other vices. My paternal great-grandfather died at an early age due, so they say, to an accident at work -- except that for one with absolute confidence in cause and effect there are no such things as accidents.

With clever use of his top two inches, a person may be able to solve problems like how to read quickly in spite of faults in the vestibular-ocular motor reflex arc (the primitive circuit of neurons controlling tracking and other eye movements). But this kind of compensation, which I was able to do as a young child who was good at problem solving and precocious at reading, comes at a price that is liable to be paid later on. The real and great problem for an adult to solve might be how to make his unconscious faults conscious, and thereby consciously not to do that wrong which his faulty unconscious mechanism is always guiding him to do.

A difficult point to remain clear about, the point that is clarified several times over in Saundara-nanda, is that a noxious stimulus -- whether it is facial disfigurement, or, for another example, roosters crowing in the middle of the bloody night -- is not the cause of suffering. The cause of suffering is faults in one's own system. The trigger for these faults, the Buddha explains at length in Canto 16, is thirsting (tRShNaa), or end-gaining desires (kaamaH). The solution to the real and great problem, then, can only begin with the giving up of the desires, or the end-gaining ideas, that trigger faults.

With this in mind, in my first attempts to translate line 4 of today's verse, I translated iShTiH as desire:

Or the person at whom your desire is directed?
Or the person in whom your desire is invested?
Or the person who is the repository of your desire?

Then, having got up before dawn and walked through the rainy night to go and sit almost out of ear-shot of the bastard roosters, I looked for the desire that might be triggering my own suffering: was it, for example, a desire for sleep? A desire to know? A desire for silence?

Eventually I came back to what the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow taught me, as outlined in this article.

For a person with a dodgy vestibular system it is no use simply desiring an end and going for it. That is just a recipe for wrong doing. But neither is it the whole story just to say no to one's deisre to gain an end. What is also needed, what Marjory endeavoured to demonstrate to me, is skill in wishing as a part of a means that leads indirectly to the gaining of an end.

Thus, in the present Canto, the Buddha, unlike the striver in the previous Canto, does not encourage Nanda to stop wishing for Sundari. He encourages Nanda to wish like anything for union with the celestial nymphs.

With this in mind, having thought long and hard about how to translate line 4 of today's verse, I have opted to translate iShTiH not as "desire" but as "wishing."

A distinction I would like to make is between clear understanding and practice itself. The clear understanding is understanding of the Buddha's teaching that desires (albeit virtuous desires like the desire for beauty or truth or silence, or modest desires like the desire for sleep) trigger the faults that cause suffering, and so to stop suffering it is necessary to give up those desires. Practice itself requires something more dynamic and total than just clear understanding.

In Alexander work this dynamic something whose purpose is the prevention of faults includes what Alexander called "wishing" or "thinking" or "thinking in activity."

EH Johnston:
'Which, Nanda, in your eyes is the more entrancing in beauty and gesture, this one-eyed monkey or the person on whom you have set your affections? '

Linda Covill:
"As you look right round, Nanda, which is in your opinion the more delectable in beauty and mannerisms -- this monkey with her damaged eye, or the person who is the object of your desire?"

kaa (nom. sg. f.): who? which? what?
nanda (voc.): Nanda!
ruupeNa (inst. sg.): n. any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour (often pl.) , form , shape , figure; handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty , splendour
ca: and
ceShTayaa (inst. sg.): f. moving any limb , gesture ; f. behaving , manner of life
ca: and

saMpashyataH = gen. sg. pres. part. sam- √ pash: , to see at the same time , survey ; to see , behold , perceive , recognize;
caarutaraa (nom. sg. f.): more lovely
caaru: mfn. agreeable , approved , esteemed , beloved ; pleasing , lovely , beautiful , pretty
-tara: (affix forming the compar. degree of adjectives)
mataa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. thought , believed , imagined , supposed , understood ; regarded or considered as
te (gen. sg.): of you

eShaa (nom. sg. f.): this
mRgii (nom. sg.): f. female beast, monkey
vaa: either, or
eka-vipanna-dRShTiH (nom. sg. f.): her sight in one eye lost

sa (nom. sg. m.): that [person]
vaa: or
janaH (nom. sg.): m. person
yatra: ind. wherein, in whom, at whom
gataa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. come to , approached , arrived at , being in
tava (gen. sg.): your
iShTiH (nom. sg.): f. seeking , going after ; endeavouring to obtain ; wish , request , desire ; any desired object

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