Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.52: The Fire of Passion

yathaa pratapto mRdun" aatapena
dahyeta kash cin mahat" aanalena
raageNa puurvaM mRdun" aabhitapto
raag'-aagnin" aanena tath" aabhidahye

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

Just as someone who had been pained by mild sunshine

Might be consumed by a great fire,

So I who was previously toasted by a mild passion

Am now roasted by this blaze of passion.

There is a fundamental difference between unconsciously trying to be right and consciously allowing the right thing to do itself.

The basic beef I had with my Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, before the old bastard became senile, was that he didn't clearly understand this difference. On some level he understood the difference. Hence he took pains to draw the distinction between his own "true Buddhism" and the idealism of non-Buddhists, i.e. all those who held an opinion different from his. But when it came to the most fundamental matter in the Buddha's teaching, as described by Dogen in his Fukan-zazengi, Gudo could never clearly understand what he should have understood. When I made my effort, in my own unskillful way, to cause him to understand, the stupid old man saw me as a potential enemy of his "true Buddhism" and closed ranks. Very annoying.

Regardless of my own anger and frustration at not being listened to, and at being misunderstood, the fact remains that consciously allowing the right thing to do itself is a dispassionate practice. If it becomes passionate, it has already turned into some variation on the theme of unconscious trying to be right, or end-gaining. Conversely, unconscious trying to be right is generally associated with highly emotional states -- like religious wars between tribes with fire in their belly.

Fire, as in today's verse, is the usual metaphor for passion, possibly because both fire and passion involve release of heat in a chain reaction. The end in view might be sex with celestial nymphs or it might be glorious religious martyrdom. The underlying chemistry of end-gaining is the same.

The absence of burning passion, nirvaaNa, many people think, is a state without desire. And the fundamental means of realizing this state, Soto Zen Buddhists like Gudo Nishijima opine, is just to sit, not thinking anything.

But in the Buddha's teaching as I have been excavating it these past 30 years, nirvana is not a state of no desire. It is rather a kind of indirect reward for liking to practise small desire. And included in this fundamental, modest means of passing into nirvana is the practise of dispassionate thinking -- what Dogen called "thinking into the zone of not-thinking" or "non-thinking," and what FM Alexander called "thinking in activity."

Alexander spoke, for example, of "widening across the upper part of the arms as you widen the back." Dispassionately thinking these words this morning, I reflected that "widening across the upper part of the arms" in this direction has a lot to do with the big outer muscles, mainly the trapezius, pectorals, and latissimus dorsi, while "widening the back" has a lot to do with the deeper spiral musculature that the anatomist and anthropologist Professor Raymond Dart wrote about.

"The right thing does itself" FM Alexander observed, over many decades, with dispassion, and with true scientific precision. That's what Dogen's Fukan-zazengi is all about, as I understand it -- allowing the right thing to do itself. Very many so-called Zen masters of today, I dare say, even though they consider themselves to be Dogen's descendants, haven't understood it yet. As a rule, we are all going around passionately trying to be right, like ascetic strivers, end-gaining. We tend to be too religious in our inquiry into what the Buddha discovered, too quick to arrive at conclusions, and too lazy in activities like thinking and observing. We tend to be not dispassionate enough, not scientific enough. I for one have tended to be like that.

EH Johnston:
Just as a man who is warmed by a little heat would be burnt by great conflagration, so I who was but warmed previously by a feeble passion am now burnt up by this blaze of passion.

Linda Covill:
Just as somebody warmed by a gentle heat would be burned by a huge fire, so previously I was warmed by a mild passion but am now scorched by this fiery passion.

yathaa: ind. just as
prataptaH (nom. sg. n.): mfn. hot , glowing, shining ; subjected to great heat , annealed ; pained (esp. by heat) , tortured , harassed
mRdunaa (inst. sg. n.): mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant , mild , gentle
tapena (inst. sg.): n. warmth, heat
aatapena (inst. sg.): m. heat (especially of the sun) , sunshine

dahyeta = 3rd pers. sg. optative passive dah: to be burned ; to be consumed by fire or destroyed
kash cid (nom. sg. m.): someone
mahat'-aanalena (inst. sg.): by a great fire
mahataa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. great, big
analena (inst. sg.): m. fire

raageNa (inst. sg.): m. redness, passion, love
puurvam: ind. previously
mRdunaa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant , mild , gentle
abhitaptaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. scorched , burnt

raag'-aagninaa (inst. sg.): fire of passion
raaga: m. redness, passion, love
agni: m. fire
anena (inst. sg.): this
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
abhidahye = 1st pers. sg. passive abhi- √ dah: to singe , burn


Happi said...

Thank you for your efforts, Mike.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for listening, Gisela.

dorebelle said...

"widening across the upper part of the arms as you widen the back."

my impression is that in the "widening across the upper part of the arms" there is the need of some kind of "passion": love/compassion
(a passion without desire/end-gaining, i.e. without fear)

Recently I found myself noticing two opposed directions that I call fear and love. Fear is closure/contraction/distinction/control/doing, love is opening/expansion/loss of control/no distinction/allowing. And we vibrate in between...

Then I read "widening the back" as "reversing the direction of fear" and "widening across the upper part of the arms" as "going in the direction of love" (when your "heart" "opens up" and "expand")

Please, take always what I say as "fickle", I have only an intuition of this not a real understanding, I put it out to see it changing...

Mike Cross said...

Fear itself, as I see it, has a dual aspect -- a white aspect and a red aspect both of which may be experienced via an unconscious change of muscle tone in the neck.

So in Alexander work we say, thinking these directions not only one after another but also altogether:

"Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen."

There is no pushing in these directions, nor any end to them. No ceiling. No floor. We have all the time and space in the world to explore them.

Bon courage!