Tuesday, June 14, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.24: Synthesis (Red + Blue >>> Gold)

vaiDuurya-naalaani ca kaaNcanaani
padmaani vajr'-aaNkura-kesaraaNi
sparsha-kShamaaNy uttama-gandhavanti
rohanti niShkampa-talaa nalinyaH

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

There rise golden lotuses with beryl stems

And diamond shoots and stamens;

Receptive to touch, they have a scent of the ultimate:

Still pools without ripples allow them to grow.

The organic element of lotuses with stems, shoots and stamens seem to me to refer back to the verses I categorized yesterday as "the first phase," and in particular to the discussion of red and blue lotuses in 10.21. The hard, inorganic mineral element of gold, beryl, and diamond seems to refer back to the maani (jewels) just mentioned in 10.23. So this verse as I read it represents the synthesis of opposites -- the organic and the inorganic, the soft and the hard.

Thinking philosophically, the intention might be to suggest progress in the direction of synthesis of two opposing standpoints, thesis and anti-thesis, idealistic discrimination and material fact.

Coming more from the heart, this verse brings to mind the famous invocation

om maṇi-padme hūṁ

which is thought to be addressed to a female incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, one of whose names is maṇí-padma, Jewel-Lotus (maṇi-padme being the vocative singular feminine of maṇi-padma). Just who this bodhisattva might be, is the subject of Shobogenzo chap. 33, Kannon. Whoever he or she is, we can suppose from her name maṇi-padma that she is neither totally soft nor totally hard. Maybe she is the embodiment of tough love.

The third line seems to hint at a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, and at the same time to have a whiff about it of the ultimate truth of sitting, in which the tactile-proprioceptive sense is so vital.

The fourth line relates to non-movement and to growth in an upward direction. It also speaks to me, therefore, of sitting, and in particular the function of the vestibular system, and of the possibility of transcending the vestibular system -- for which purpose the vestibular system has in the first place to be still, quiet, undisturbed.

In general when a person endeavours to sit upright, his behaviour is directed unconsciously via the vestibular system. In books with titles like "Man's Supreme Inheritance" and "Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual," FM Alexander claimed to have discovered a means-whereby to substitute for this unconscious direction a conscious direction. Hence:

"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."

Easier said than done.

Still, if I manage to find a place without too many disturbing noises and am able to inhibit for a minute or two and come to quiet, the possibility becomes real of an upward direction that my vestibular system does not know anything about.

But in order for me to go in that direction, in order for me to transcend my dodgy vestibular system and experience a new kind of up, it seems to me, the vestibular system has first to come to quietness, or stillness. If conflicting aims in daily life are pulling me in different directions, or if my ear is subject to some disturbing noise -- like infernal cockerels constantly crowing -- I might as well, for the time being, forget about it.

Against the background of this understanding, for what it is worth, when I read the fourth line of today's verse I want to retain the original grammar which is that still pools (subject) grow / give rise to / produce / (transitive verb) [golden lotuses (object)]. It would be natural in English either to move the subject (still pools) to the front of the verse, or to reverse subject and object and say that golden lotuses grow in still pools. But I want to retain in line 4 the sense that when a body of water is totally still, it allows golden lotuses to grow -- which might be read as a metaphor for how sitting, as the stopping of certain unconscious movements, can foster growth of consciousness.

My own sitting in recent days seems to be so shallow and lacking in stillness that I feel I am the last person who should be endeavouring to clarify the meaning of today's verse like this. But ... pas de choix.

EH Johnston:
And the lotus ponds, whose surfaces are ever unruffled, produce golden lotuses with stems of beryl and shoots and stamens of diamond, delightful to the touch and fragrant to the smell.

Linda Covill:
And from the unstirred surfaces of lotus pools grow golden lotuses with stems of cat's-eye gems and diamond shoots and filaments, yet yielding to the touch and intensely fragrant.

vaiDuurya-naalaani (acc. pl. n.): stems of beryl; hollow stalks made of cat's-eye gems
vaiDuurya: n. a cat's-eye gem ; beryl
naala: mn. a hollow stalk , (esp.) of the lotus
ca: and
kaaNcanaani (acc. pl. n.): mfn. golden , made or consisting of gold ; n. gold; money ; the filament of the lotus

padmaani (acc. pl. n.): mn. a lotus
vajr'-aaNkura-kesaraaNi (acc. pl. n.): with diamond shoots and stamens
vajra: diamond
aNkura: m. a sprout , shoot , blade , a swelling , a tumour
kesara: n. the hair ; mn. the filament of a lotus or of any vegetable

sparsha-kShamaaNi (acc. pl. n.): yielding to the touch
sparsha: touch
kShama: mfn. patient; enduring , suffering , bearing , submissive , resisting; fit , appropriate , becoming , suitable , proper for
uttama-gandhavanti (acc. pl. n.): endowed with uppermost fragrance
uttama: uppermost, of the highest order
gandhavat: mfn. endowed with fragrance , scented , odoriferous

rohanti = 3rd pers. pl. ruh: to ascend , mount , climb ; to rise , spring up , grow , develop , increase ; to grow together or over , cicatrize , heal (as a wound)
niShkampa-talaaH (nom. pl. f.): with motionless surfaces
niSh-kampa: mfn. not shaking or tremulous , motionless , immovable
tala: surface
nalinyaH = nom. pl. f. nalina: n. (fr. nala because of its hollow stalk?) a lotus flower or water-lily ; water


Jordan said...

In the past you may have disregarded the Surangama Sutra, but I have got to tell you it was very helpful to me in dealing with distractions, particularly from the ear. Here is another exert,note the translation chosen is not based not on the quality of translation, but on the ability to cut and paste:

Ananda, if a man suddenly closes his ears with two fingers, disturbance will arise in this sense organ and he will hear sounds in his head. (This, closing of the ears) as well as the ears and the disturbance experienced are trouble that comes from Bodhi. Since this hearing arises between the two states of stillness and motion, they are drawn into perception which is called hearing. This hearing has no substance independent of stillness and motion. Ananda, you should know that this hearing comes from neither stillness, nor motion, nor from a sense organ nor the void. Why? Because if it comes from stillness, it should cease to exist when there is motion and would not hear the latter. If it comes from motion, it should cease to exist when there is stillness and would not hear the latter. If it comes from a sense organ, there would be no (objective) stillness nor motion; then this faculty of hearing would have no nature of its own. If it comes from the void, that which can hear is (certainly) not the void. Moreover, the void would hear of itself and will have nothing to do with that entrance through your ears. Therefore, you should know that entrance through the ears is neither causal nor conditional nor self-existent.

Like I said, I found the Surangama Sutra useful for my practice, particularly because I suffered from a similar frustration in my practice as you describe here. But then maybe I am just another annoying do-gooder.

Anyhoo, you can download the PDF here: The Surangama Sutra if you are interested in investigating further.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,

I certainly would be interested in hearing how you learned to deal better with distractions, particularly from the ear...

Jordan said...

I think it may be indirectly related to the heretical practices beginning on page 191 in the link above.

Mike Cross said...

Come on... let's hear it straight from the horse's mouth!

Jordan said...

I'd make a mess of it. I'm kind of trying to nudge you in the direction of exploring it so you can make sense of how it worked out for me. Ha!
Besides, I am working on preretirement homework at the moment.

Mike Cross said...

Well thanks for your effort, Jordan, even if it was a bit half-hearted. But on reflection I find myself reflecting on the practical wisdom of Frederique the builder who advised me last year, when I was moaning about the incessant crowing of roosters, to put a bit of cement in my ears.