Thursday, July 14, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.54: Playfully Facing Oblivion

prasiida siidaami vimuNca maa mune
vasundharaa-dhairya na dhairyam asti me
asuun vimokShyaami vimukta-maanasa
prayaccha vaa vaag-amRtaM mumuurShave

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Please, O Sage firm as the earth, I am sinking,

Free me who am without firmness.

I shall give up my life, O man of liberated mind,

Unless you extend to a dying man
the deathless nectar of your words.

This verse brings to mind the first words I ever heard the Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow speak in public, at a talk in Birmingham in the summer of 1995. "This work is the most important thing in the world," Marjory said. "It is the most serious thing you can do. But you mustn't take it seriously."

Nanda, in similar vein, describing himself as so burned up with passion that he is practically at death's door, still somehow finds the latitude in this verse to make plays on the words
(a) √sad in line 1 (pra-siida "please"; siidaami "I am sinking);
(b) √dhR in line 2 (dhara "bearer"; dhairya "firm");
(c) vi + √muc in lines 1 and 3 (vimuNca "free!"; vimokShyaami "I shall give up"; vimukta "liberated");
(4) √mR in line 4 (a-mRta "deathless nectar"; mumuurShave "to him who is going to die").

Also in the same vein as Marjory's admonition are the words of Patrick Macdonald that "any emotional involvement in trying to learn what to do, or in what is going on, should be avoided. The best results are gained when a pupil can disassociate himself from what is happening, as if he were standing on one side watching someone else being taught."

Reflecting the desirability of no emotional involvement, Alexander's directions begin with a wish to let the neck be free: "I wish to allow my neck to release, to allow the head to be unlocked forward, and up, to allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen, while sending the knees forwards and away."

From around 1994, I began to see this as a vitally important teaching for followers of Dogen to understand. But can it be so important that it is worth stiffening one's neck over? Self-evidently not. And yet often I have stiffened my neck over it -- probably because of some narcissistic impulse I seem to have to be loved, recognized, honoured by many people.

As Chuck Berry reportedly said about Elvis Presley in his declining years, "He got what he wanted, but he lost what he had." Mindful of Elvis's mistake, I come back to the Buddha's teaching of small desire. Wanting to be adored by zillions of people as the guy who made the first really meaningful connection between the teachings of the Buddha and FM Alexander, is a big ambition and a potential seed of much emotional suffering. Sitting in lotus in some solitary spot, quietly allowing the neck to be free, is the expression of a much more modest wish, a wish that is much more conducive to not losing what every person originally has -- their own original features.

EH Johnston:
Be merciful to me, I am sinking, rescue me, there is no firmness left in me, O Sage, Who art as firm as the earth. I shall yield up my life, O Thou Whose mind is freed, if Thou dost not grant me, who am dying, the elixir of Thy speech.

Linda Covill:
Please, O sage firm as the earth, I am sinking, save me who am without firmness. I will give up my life, O man of liberated mind, unless you grant me in my dying moment the ambrosia of your words.

prasiida = 2nd pers. sg. imperative pra- √ sad: to settle down , grow clear and bright , become placid or tranquil; to become satisfied or pleased or glad , be gracious or kind (Impv. often " be so gracious , please")
siidaami = 1st pers. sg. pres. sad: to sit down, to sink down
vimuNca = 2nd pers. sg. imperative vi- √ muc: to unloose , unharness ; to release , set free , liberate ; to pardon , forgive
maa (acc. sg.): me
mune (voc. sg. m.): O sage!

vasundharaa-dhairya (voc. sg. m.): O one who is firm as the earth!
vasu--M-dharaa: f. ("bearer of the good") the earth
dhairya: n. (fr. dhR, to bear) firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude
na: not
dhairyam (nom. sg.): n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude
asti: there is
me (gen. sg.): in/of me

asuun = acc. pl. asu: m. breath, life
vimokShyaami = 1st pers. sg. future vi- √ muc: to unloose , unharness ; to release , set free , liberate ; to leave , abandon , quit , desert , give up , relinquish
vimukta-maanasa (voc. sg. m.): O man of liberated mind

prayaccha = 2nd pers. sg. imperative pra- √ yam: to hold out towards , stretch forth , extend ; to offer , present , give , grant , bestow ,
vaa: ind. or else
vaag-amRtam (acc. sg.): the nectar of your speech
vaac: f. speech, voice; word
amRta: n. immortality ; the nectar (conferring immortality , produced at the churning of the ocean) , ambrosia
mumuurShave = dat. sg. m. mumuurShu: mfn. wishing or being about to die , moribund

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