Thursday, June 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.26: Full-Grown Sovereignty

mandaara-vRkShaaMsh ca kushe-shayaaMsh ca
puShp'-aanataan koka-nadaaMsh ca vRkShaan
aakramya maahaatmya-guNair viraajan
raajaayate yatra sa paarijaataH

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

Over mandara coral trees,

And over trees weighed down
by water-lily and ruddy lotus blossoms,

The 'Full Grown' Coral,
shining there with majestic qualities,

Steps up and reigns supreme.

This is a difficult verse, with which I grappled last night until bed-time and beyond. It is doubtless full of meaning that I haven't been able to dig out. But here goes:

The mandaara tree and the paari-jaata ("fully developed") tree, according to the Monier Williams dictionary, are one and the same species of tree -- Erythrina Indica.

So is Ashvaghosha suggesting the fact that Gautama Buddha was different (anye; see 10.19; 10.21) from other human beings just in the completeness of his being a human being?

Is buddha different from, more noble than, other states of human being precisely because in the state of buddha human being is most completely itself? Recognition along these lines would seem to be behind Ashvaghosha's description of Nanda's attainment in Canto 17:

Having attained to the seat of arhathood, he was worthy of being served: without ambition, without partiality, without expectation; / Without fear, sorrow, pride, or passion; being nothing but himself, he seemed in his constancy to be different.// (17.61)

If this is also the main gist of today's verse, then trees bowed down by lilies, which grow from bulbs and do not originally belong on trees, might be read as representing people who are labouring under the effort to be something other than what they really are.

The supreme practice which Dogen called the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine, on the contrary, is to come back to one's self.

Lest there be any doubt that a buddha-ancestor regards this sitting practice, in the overall scheme of things, as reigning supreme, Zen Master Dogen spelled it out in the clearest possible terms in Shobogenzo chap. 72, Zanmai-o-zanmai, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis.

Nevertheless, to know because of having read Shobogenzo that buddhas see sitting in lotus as supreme, and to sit in lotus on that basis, does not necessarily constitute a backward step to true sovereignty over oneself.

According to the teaching of FM Alexander, what really has overarching sovereignty in human affairs is the use of the head, neck and back in relation to each other and in relation to the limbs. Alexander called this "the primary control." If it is used badly -- for example, by hyper-extending the back and pulling the chin down, through trying to maintain what one deludedly conceives to be "the right posture" -- even sitting in the full lotus posture is liable to become the kind of journey described in the Lotus Sutra as wandering in distant lands.

So there is nothing incompatible between the teaching of buddha-ancestors like Ashvaghosha and Dogen, as I understand it, and the teaching of FM Alexander, as I understand it. One does not negate the other. For me there is in essence only one teaching, pointing me in the direction of sitting in full lotus and enjoying the samadhi of accepting and using the self.

Sitting in full lotus reigns supreme, as I see it, because it is the thing which, with the right kind of practice, allows us to be most completely who we originally are. But with the wrong kind of practice (i.e. the kind of unconscious behaviour which Alexander work aims to prevent) a bit of a gap is liable to open up. And a bit of a gap rapidly becomes greater than the distance between heaven and earth.

Ruddy red lotuses!

Bloody Buddhism.

EH Johnston:
There the Parijata tree rises shining with all the qualities of majesty, and plays the king over the mandara trees and other trees which are laden with the bloom of day-waterlillies and red lotuses.

Linda Covill:
The coral tree is ruler there, radiant with the qualities of majesty and lording it over the mandaras and water-lilies and trees of crimson lotuses that bow under their flowery weight.

mandaara-vRkShaan (acc. pl.): m. coral trees, mandara trees
mandaara: m. the coral tree , Erythrina Indica (also regarded as one of the 5 trees of paradise or svarga); heaven ; the thorn-apple
ca: and
kushe-shayaan (acc. pl. m.): water-lilied
kushe-shaya: m. a kind of tree (Pterospermum Acerifolium) ; m. the Indian crane; n. " lying in water " , a water-lily
kushe = loc. sg. kusha: n. water
shaya: mfn. lying
ca: and

puShp'-aanataan (acc. pl. m.): being bent down by flowers
puShpa: flower
aanata: mfn. bending , stooping , bowed ; humbled , submissive , obedient ; flat , sunk (not elevated)
koka-nadaan (acc. pl. m.): red water-lilied
koka-nada: n. the flower of the red water-lily
koka: m. the ruddy goose ; frog
nada: m. crying; a river ; = naDa: m. a species of reed
ca: and
vRkShaan (acc. pl.): m. trees

aakramya = abs. aa- √ kram: to step or go near to , come towards , approach , visit ; to step or tread upon (acc.); to hold fast with the hands , seize ; to attack , invade
maahaatmya-guNaiH (inst. pl.): with qualities of majesty
maahaatmya: n. (fr. mah"-aatman) magnanimity , highmindedness ; exalted state or position , majesty , dignity
guNa: m. a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property
viraajan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ raaj: to reign , rule , govern , master (gen. or acc.) , excel (abl.) ; to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth

raajaayate = 3rd pers. sg. causative raaj: to reign , rule ; to illuminate , make radiant
yatra: ind. wherein
sa (nom. sg. m.): it, the [Pari-jata tree]
paari-jaataH (nom. sg.): m. the coral tree , Erythrina Indica (losing its leaves in June and then covered with large crimson flowers) ; N. of one of the 5 trees of paradise (produced at the churning of the ocean and taken possession of by indra from whom it was afterwards taken by kRiShNa)
paari: vṛddhi form of pari in comp.
pari-jaata: mfn. begotten by , descended from (abl.) ; fully developed
a-pari-jaata: mfn. not fully born, born prematurely

1 comment:

an3drew said...

"bloody buddhism"

well you are right there but you don't really see it.

"The supreme practice which Dogen called the backward step of turning one's light and letting it shine, on the contrary, is to come back to one's self"

there's no self to return to, it's just the mandara flower !