Monday, July 11, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.51: Fickle Nanda

aasthaa yathaa puurvam abhuun na kaa cid
anyaasu me striiShu nishaamya bhaaryaaM
tasyaaM tataH samprati kaa cid aasthaa
na me nishaamy' aiva hi ruupam aasaaM

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- = - = = - - = - = =

10.51
For just as previously, when I beheld my wife,

I had no interest in other women,

So now when I behold their beauty

I have no interest in her.


COMMENT:
The fickleness of Nanda's mind is somehow shocking and yet one senses that it did not come as any surprise to the Buddha, who knew that as a general rule the human mind is fickle.

At least insofar as we would like the human mind to remain steadfast, loyal, constant, the mind shows itself to be shockingly fickle.

Conversely, when we would like to orient the human mind in a particular direction of our choosing -- as for example the striver in cantos 8 and 9 wants to change Nanda's mind -- the mind shows itself to be incredibly resilient and resistant to change.

Hence the Buddha's resort to an indirect approach, a skillful means whereby Nanda is being guided towards discovery of the deathless nectar by the most circuitous of routes, including Nanda's present excursion to the very edges of fickleness.

In order to help Nanda clarify for himself where the deathless nectar might reside, the Buddha has guided him to the antithesis of the deathless nectar, which is the fickleness Nanda is exhibiting in today's verse.

So the deathless nectar can be understood as the antithesis of, or the antidote to, fickle-mindedness. And what that deathless nectar is, if you ask me, is sitting in lotus allowing the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, and the back to lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.


If I may indulge in some personal reminiscing (and who is going to stop me?), at primary school I was ahead of the game when it came to the 3 Rs. I was precocious at reading, and at reciting times tables. Reciting times tables never seemed to me like a big effort of memory; it was more like an act of repeated discovery, accompanied by the declaration of a series of constant truths: seven times seven is forty-nine! eight times seven is fifty-six! nine times seven is sixty-three! and therefore, without any shadow of a doubt, ten times seven is seventy, eleven times seven is seventy-seven, and twelve times seven is eighty-four. When I skipped a year and went to an elitist secondary school, however, with this kind of basic arithmetic I was way behind the game. Classmates there seemed already to be familiar with more advanced mathematical constants, like the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter (π; approx. 3.142), not to mention a way of reading music that was a total mystery to me. Unaccustomed to being confronted with mathematical conceptions that I could not understand and symbols that I could not read, I found myself a few times in my first term at my new school, while struggling with maths homework at home and, much more embarassingly, in music lessons at school, blubbering like a baby. Nobody had explained to me that it was OK not to be able to understand everything, and it took me a while even to begin to figure that out.

The point I am getting round to is that there is evidently a kind of constancy in maths, the constancy of 2 + 2 always = 4, but on its own it a mathematical constant does not qualify as deathless nectar; it is not sufficient as an antidote to the labile emotions of an immature human mind.

Sitting in lotus allowing the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, and the back to lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away, seems to me to fit the bill much better. It is a much more total response to the problem of human fickleness.

When I went to Japan and at the age of 22 met Gudo Nishijima, a purported Zen Master, I was struck by his confident assertion that "all questions can be answered." Whatever question anybody asked Gudo about the Buddha's teaching, he always had an answer. The answer would usually touch upon idealism and materialism, or at least be based on the underlying logic of his theory of four philosophies, and would conclude with the importance of sitting with the spine straight vertically in order to keep the autonomic nervous system balanced. After a number of years, however, I began increasingly to feel that what I was getting from Gudo -- though it had an admirable rational constancy about it -- was not the deathless nectar any more than the reciting of a times table is effusion of the deathless nectar.

What the deathless nectar is, if you ask me, is sitting in lotus allowing the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, and the back to lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

Sitting like this is the realization of a kind of constancy. But it is not a state of rightness along the lines that the religious-minded are wont to expect. It is rather a constant veering in the right direction.

To recap, today's verse is a reminder of the shocking fickleness not only of Nanda's mind but of the human mind. And the best antidote to this fickleness, at least as far as I have been able to figure out so far, is sitting in lotus allowing the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, and the back to lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

Sitting like this is not the keeping of a right position. On the contrary, it is a constant veering in the right direction.

FM Alexander said "There is no such thing as a right position. But there is a right direction."

For those who seek an antidote to the fickleness of the human mind, there might be ageless and deathless real wisdom in Alexander's words.


EH Johnston:
For just as no other woman before moved me when I looked at my wife, so now I have no feeling for her when I look at their beauty.

Linda Covill:
Just as previously I did not care for other women when I beheld my wife, so now I have no regard for her when I behold their beauty.


VOCABULARY:
aasthaa (nom. sg.): f. consideration , regard , care , care for (with loc. e.g. mayy aasthaa , care for me)
yathaa: ind. just as
puurvam: ind. previously
abhuut = 3rd pers. sg. aorist bhuu: to be
na kaa cid (nom. sg. f.): not any [consideration]

anyaasu (loc. pl. f.): other
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
striiShu (loc. pl.): f. woman
nishaamya = abs. ni- √ sham: to observe, perceive
bhaaryaam (acc. sg.): f. wife

tasyaam (loc. sg. f.): towards her
tataH: ind. from that, on that basis
samprati: ind. now
kaa cid (nom. sg. f.): any [consideration]
aasthaa (nom. sg.): f. consideration , regard , care

na: not
me (gen. sg.): in/of me
nishaamya = abs. ni- √ sham: to observe, perceive
eva (emphatic)
hi: for
ruupam (acc. sg.): n. beauty, good looks
aasaam (gen. pl. f.): their, of those [nymphs]

3 comments:

Jordan said...

My wife would like to know about an antidote for hard headed stubbornness; mainly mine… Does Ashvaghosha have any insight there?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

Ashvaghosha is unavailable for comment this morning, but I consulted with my own wife who has plentiful experience of dealing with hard headed stubbornness; mainly mine...

She reminded me of the core principle that we try to come back to of SHOYOKU-CHISOKU -- "small desire; knowing contentment."

Or in other words, not hoping for too much in the way of rapid improvement, either in the self or in the other.

dorebelle said...

"Sitting is not the keeping of a right position. On the contrary, it is a constant veering in the right direction. "

Listening about the two teachers, Barlow and Barstow, I realized that I'm not able to do the same thing (i.e. to follow the same set of direction) for a week, I need to use and create a whole range of different ways to do the same thing.
In this fluttering and vibrating I can find "the middle way" but...even if it is important not to push in any direction my main problem is to reduce the amplitude of the wave instead of increasing it...

And yes, I can see in it a constant veering towards the cessation of all vibrations in the stillness of the sitting in lotus