Saturday, June 11, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.21: Red and Blue Lotuses

raktaani phullaaH kamalaani yatra
pradiipa-vRkShaa iva bhaanti vRkShaaH
praphulla-niil'-otpala-rohiNo' nye
s'-onmiilit-aakShaa iva bhaanti vRkShaaH

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

Trees there that abound in red lotuses

Look like trees ablaze.

Different trees, growing full-blown blue lotuses,

Seem to have their eyes open.

It has been said since ancient times that blue lotuses open in fire. And today's verse, as I read it, relates to that timeless principle.

The principle is present, for example, in Ashvaghosha's description in Canto 3 of the Buddha giving up an extreme form of ascetism and thereby waking up to that step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible (bubudhe padaṃ śivam ahāryam avyayam; 3.7).

Speaking from personal experience on the subject of redness and fire, when I was a teenager I used to suffer terribly from going red. I used to go red at those very moments when I most wanted not to go red -- especially when I wished to seem cool around girls. Forty years on, I still haven't solved the problem of labile emotions, except that I am pretty damn sure that the problem is rooted in an imperfectly integrated baby panic reflex, or Moro reflex as it is termed in medical circles.

Because of this personal background, I am generally alert to references to redness in the Buddha's teaching, for example:

Again, you must understand how, due to this cause, because of men's faults, the cycle of doing goes on, / So that those imbued with redness and darkness succumb to death. He is not reborn who is without redness and darkness. [16.18]

When a man sees a separate bodily form as decrepit, that insight of his is accurate; / In seeing accurately he is disenchanted and his exuberance ends, as a result of which redness fades away. // By the ending of the duality which is exuberance and gloom, I submit, his mind is fully set free. / And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality, There is nothing further for him to do. // [16.44 - 16.45]

In these verses from Canto 16 redness is opposed to darkness, just as the Moro reflex is opposed to fear paralysis, or just as the sympathetic nervous system is opposed to the parasympathetic nervous system.

But in today's verse a different opposition is described -- not redness vs darkness but fiery red vs cool blue.

So the opposition intended in this verse, as I read it, is that between ordinary living beings who in their blind end-gaining desires are suffering, and those odd, other, different (anye) ones who have opened their eyes to that step which is happy, irremovable, and irreducible (padaṃ śivam ahāryam avyayam; 3.7), and who thus may truly be called cool.

If I come back to personal experience, as I sit at this computer too close for comfort to crowing roosters who seem hell bent on stimulating my auditory Moro reflex, perhaps I should not presume to say anything about what the blue lotus symbolizes. But many times in the context of Alexander work I have experienced a teacher telling me, "No. No, you're doing. No, your wrists have tightened. No, go back to your own directions. No, you are pulling down in your hips. No. No. No. No. No." And so it continues until one feels one is coming to the end of one's tether and there emerges a thought of utter exasperation along the lines of "I don't know! I give up! This is flaming useless!" And the teacher quietly says, "Yes, that's it."

At such times, one does not feel like punching the air because one has understood something. The feeling is more one of deflation, in the realization that the kind of understanding one was grasping for... well, it was just an illusion. Still, when the grasping was given up, then something was allowed.

When I was a teenager I had a burning desire to be cool, which led me to karate and thence to Zen. And the blue lotus can be taken as a symbol of the coolness I aspired to. But in the end is there any such thing as coolness? Or is the blue lotus simply a description of a bit of nothing, burning desire -- even if only for a moment -- having burnt itself out?

The ultimate teaching of the Buddha was to have small desire (alpecchu). This teaching is never the negation of all desire, but it includes acknowledgement of the fact that burning, end-gaining desire is the original spark that lights the fires of suffering. Hence the Buddha said, in so many words, that a person of small desire already has the blue lotus in his hands.

EH Johnston:
There are trees there which look like candelabra by flowering with red lotuses and others appear to have wide-open eyes, as they put forth full-blown blue lotuses.

Linda Covill:
There are trees there that blossom with red lotuses and shine like lanterns, while others, as though open-eyed, grow blue, full-blown lotuses.

raktaani (nom. pl. n.): mfn. reddened , red , crimson
phullaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. split or cleft open , expanded , blown (as a flower) ; abounding in flowers , flowery ; opened wide , dilated (as eyes)
kamalaani (nom. pl.): n. a lotus , lotus-flower , Nelumbium ; mfn. pale-red , rose-coloured ;
yatra: ind. wherein

pradiipa-vRkShaaH (nom. pl. m.): lantern-trees, candelabra; blazing trees
pradiipa: m. a light , lamp , lantern
vRkSha: a tree , (esp.) any tree bearing visible flowers and fruit (but also applied to any tree and other plants , often = wood » comp.)
pra- √ diip: to flame forth , blaze , burst into flames
iva: like
bhaanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhaa: to shine , be bright or luminous ; to shine forth , appear , show one's self ; to be splendid or beautiful or eminent ; to appear as , seem , look like , pass for (nom. with or without iva) ; to show , exhibit , manifest
vRkShaaH (nom. pl.): m. tree

praphulla-niil'-otpala-rohiNaH (nom. pl. m.): with full-blown blue lotus flowers growing
praphulla: mfn. blooming forth , blooming , blown; covered with blossoms or flowers
niil'-otpala: n. a blue lotus , Nymphaea Cyanea
niila: mfn. of a dark colour , (esp.) dark-blue or dark-green or black
utpala: n. the blossom of the blue lotus (Nymphaea Caerulea)
rohin: mfn. rising; (ifc.) mounting , ascending towards ; (ifc.) grown on or in; growing
anye (nom. pl. m.): others, different ones

s'-onmiilit-aakShaaH (nom. pl. m.): with opened eyes
sa: (possessive suffix) with
unmiilita: mfn. opened (as an eye or a flower) , caused to come forth , made visible; n. (in rhet.) unconcealed or open reference or allusion to
ud- √miil: to open the eyes
akSha: n. [only ifc. for akShi] the eye.
iva: like
bhaanti: to appear
vRkShaaH (nom. pl.): m. tree

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