Wednesday, July 6, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.46: By the Power of Sages

muneH prabhaavaac ca shashaaka nandas
tad darshanaM soDhum a-sahyam anyaiH
a-viita-raagasya hi dur-balasya
mano dahed apsarasaaM vapuH-shriiH

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

And Nanda was able, relying on the power of the Sage,

To endure that sight unendurable to others.

For the mind of a man lacking dispassion,
when he was weak,

Would be burned up by the apsarases' shining splendour.

A couple of days ago I got an email which finished with the words "Let me know." Since the email was an invitation, "Let me know" ostensibly meant "Tell me if you're coming or not." But I found myself reflecting that "Let me know" is an interesting phrase.

Let me know.

In the end, who lets who know what?

What kind of power did the Sage Gautama have to let his brother Nanda know?

In a sense the whole of Saundara-nanda is an answer to that question. And the stark answer might be that the Buddha, on his own, didn't have any power to let his brother know. It was necessary for Nanda himself to say, and really to mean "Let me know."

"Let me know" includes the recognition that I don't know yet -- or if I ever did know, I seem to have forgotten again.

When I came back to England hungry, or greedy, for knowledge of FM Alexander's discoveries, I was very much imbued with the spirit of "Let me know." And I was fortunate to meet some excellent Alexander teachers who did let me know -- though it was not necessarily what I wanted to know, and not what I was expecting to know.

Ray Evans, for example, let me know how vestibular faults are liable to corrupt at the deepest level the sensory appreciation of a person like me, so that what I feel about everything, starting with who and where and how I am, is liable to be wrong. Ron Colyer and Marjory Barlow let me know that it is OK to be an oddball individual, and OK to be wrong. Nelly Ben-Or let me know that my desire to know, my desire to grasp the truth with dirty paws (or "get to heaven with your boots on"), is always an obstacle in the way of seeking to know.

It is primarily on this basis that I understand the words muneH prabhaavaat, "through the power of a sage." As FM Alexander used to say, "I cannot get inside your brain and do the work for you." At the same time, Alexander by all accounts had unbelievable power, through the inhibited and directed use of his own voice and hands, to give people a new experience of a more dispassionate state of being. A more dispassionate state of being means a state in which -- in actions like sitting, standing, and lying down -- less superfluous activity is going on in the brain and nervous system.

The past few weeks since I fell off my bike and injured my left knee have been an interesting time for finding out about myself. In some sense, I am back on the nursery slopes of sitting; after ten or fifteen minutes, sitting in lotus becomes too painful and I have to take a rest and have a stretch. So in some sense I'm back where I was about 30 years ago. But in the process of stretching, I am thinking the words, and sometimes saying them slowly out loud: "Let the neck be free. To let the head go forward and up. To let the spine lengthen and the back widen. Sending the knees forwards and away. Pulling to the elbows and widening across the upper part of the arms, as you widen the back."

So I sit for 15 minutes, then stretch and give directions for 5, and sit for 15 and stretch for 5, and sit for 15 and stretch for 5, and sit again for 15 minutes. And at the end, despite all the shifting about, despite the fact that I can no longer sit for more than an hour without budging, I still have a very good sense of going in the right direction.

By the power of a sage named Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's niece, in spite of my own deeply faulty sensory appreciation, those words evidently keep me going in the right direction -- whatever decrepit state my body is in.

It is just exactly as Marjory told me. "Keep coming back to those words. They will take you where you want to go."

As I head towards old age, it is a comforting realization... that at least something here is ageless. I would like to say to Marjory in particular: thanks for letting me know!

EH Johnston:
And by the power of the Sage Nanda was able to bear that sight which others could not have borne ; for the glory of the Apsarases' beauty is such that it would burn up the mind of one who was weak from not having conquered passion.

Linda Covill:
And by the power of the sage Nanda was able to endure that sight unendurable for others, for the bodily splendor of the apsarases would have burned the mind of a feeble man not free of passion.

muneH (gen. sg.): m. the Sage
prabhaavaat (abl. sg.): m. might , power , majesty , dignity , strength , efficacy ; supernatural power ; splendour, beauty
ca: and
shashaaka = 3rd pers. sg. perfect shak: to be able to or capable of
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

tad (acc. sg. n.): that
darshanam (acc. sg.): n. seeing; n. a vision , dream
soDhum = inf. sah: to bear , put up with , endure , suffer , tolerate
a-sahyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. unbearable , insufferable
anyaiH (inst. pl.): by others

a-viita-raagasya (gen. sg. m.): devoid of dispassion
a: - a prefix corresponding to Eng. in or un , and having a negative or privative or contrary sense
viita-raaga: mfn. free from passions or affections , dispassionate , desireless , calm , tranquil ; colourless , bleached ; m. a sage with subdued passions
hi: for
durbalasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. weak ; m. an impotent man , weakling

manaH (acc. sg.): n. mind
dahet = 3rd pers. sg. optative dah: to burn, consume by fire
apsarasaam (gen. pl.): f. apsaras, celestial nympth
vapuH-shriiH (nom. sg. f.): figure-light
vapus: mfn. having form or a beautiful form , embodied , handsome , wonderful; n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty; n. the body
shrii: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory , beauty , grace , loveliness


dorella said...

"I have to take a rest and have a stretch"
When I begin to sit, just a year ago, most of the time I was stretching: I supposed to be fit but my body wasn't of the same opinion.
Since I didn't know what I was doing I just had nothing better to do than follow its direction. You made me discover, a year later, what happened those first few weeks.

I like my nursery slopes of sitting, I call it my sitting-moving meditation :)

Mike Cross said...

Hi dorella,

A year is not long to discover whether Deshimaru's teaching is correct or not. I wonder whether what you are describing is real discovery, or just religious belief.

Religious belief can be characterized as deciding that some teaching or teacher is true, and endeavoring to cling to that belief regardless of evidence or testimony to the contrary.

If we are talking about that particular mountain, you might be on the nursery slopes, but I have already been to the top, where the air is nauseatingly thin.

My testimony to you is that the teaching around posture in Zazen of Kodo Sawaki, at least before he got old, was false; it was the Zazen of the parade ground, replete with false notions of pulling the chin, pushing the knees, and all the rest of it. Sawaki's fundamental teaching about posture was false; so was Deshimaru's; and so was Nishijima's. I don't believe it to be so. I know it. I don't know much, but I know this... and it took me a lot longer than a year of doing what I felt like before I knew it.

dorella said...

I just looked for an other video to oppose hoping it do not talk about "straightening the back".
For me pushing the knee made the same effect of "sending the knees forwards and away" and "the head piercing the ceiling" sounds like "let the neck be free. To let the head go forward and up", to separate the head from the rest of the body. I like the pictures of Kodo Sawaki sitting.

What happened wasn't a discovery: it was a surprise at the end of my personal path (I'm not religious!). I was sure I could find someone else that experienced that. There are many facet of the same thing, and you made me discover the one closer to my experience (Alexander and Marjorie). The sitting posture is an other facet in itself.

If I do not bother you I would like to ask you some question about Marjorie and her way of teaching, like this one: