Sunday, July 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.64: Nanda Believes, and Is Brought Back Down to Earth

ataH paraM paramam iti vyavasthitaH
paraaM dhRtiM parama-munau cakaara saH
tato muniH pavana iv' aambaraat patan
pragRhya taM punar agaman mahii-talaM

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

saundaranande mahaa-kaavye
svarga-nidarshano naama dashamaH sargaH

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

"From now on, I will!" he agreed.

Believing intently in the supreme Sage,
he had become extremely determined.

Then the Sage,
gliding down from the sky like the wind,

Brought him back down again to earth.

The 10th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "A Vision of Heaven."

In first half of today's verse param means after/from, paramam expresses assent, paraam means the firmest or most extreme [determination], and parama means the best, supreme [Sage]. Besides being a kind of wordplay, I think Ashvaghosha is drawing the reader's attention to something in Nanda's attitude that was param, extreme, off the middle way.

Whereas the striver in cantos 8 and 9 verbally showed Nanda the stick, which failed to have the desired effect, the Buddha in this canto has shown Nanda a massive carrot, in order to get the donkey moving forward.

Sometimes donkeys get stuck with their heads pulling stubbornly back into the past. In such cases, a couple of golden rules to remember are firstly that donkeys like carrots, and secondly that where the head leads the body follows.

So one way to get a donkey moving forward is to dangle a carrot in front of its nose.

Sitting in lotus does not generally involve forward movement (though it may involve a tiny delicate unlocking of the head, which is a kind of forward movement of the head relative to the spine). But sitting in lotus all too easily involves pulling the head back. And so "let the head go forward" can be understood as a preventive direction, a direction to prevent the head being pulled back.

FM Alexander, in encouraging people to let the head go forward, would sometimes advise, "Make sure you always have something to look forward to."

Or as my grandma used to say, "A little bit of what you fancy does you good."

Nanda's extremely determined pursuit of a big carrot, however, as will be revealed in Canto 11, apart from getting him moving forward, does not do him any good. It causes him to become extremely ugly (vairuupyam agamat param; 11.6), partly because the resolve that he forms is paraam; the nature of his resolve is not moderate, but extreme. At the same time, Nanda goes wrong because, believing intently in the supreme Sage, he accepts what he thinks the supreme Sage has been telling him, without having understood in his own experience where the supreme Sage is coming from.

Recent events in Norway might be a case in point of somebody becoming extremely determined as a result of believing in somebody or something. The fundamentalist Christian mass murderer is said to have quoted on his Facebook page John Stuart Mill's statement that "One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests."

A better way than extreme determination believing in others might be, as indicated in the previous verse, to persist quietly by oneself in solitary observance of restraint. And confidence -- not belief -- in a better way, is the theme of Canto 12.

Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

"Never let a day go by," FM Alexander used to say to his niece Marjory Barlow, without any sense of extreme urgency, "without coming back to those words." What Marjory Barlow exuded to me was never extreme determination, but always a quiet unshakeable confidence in those directions, those words.

Around the end of 1999, my wife and I sewed Marjory a seven- or nine-stripe robe, I can't remember which, and thereafter, after she had given me a lesson, Marjory and I would sometimes sit for a while wearing our respective robes. When she was younger, Marjory had attended vipassana retreats. So I asked Marjory what was her starting point when she sat. "I begin with those words," Marjory had replied. "Because I know they work."

Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away.

"Keep coming back to those words," Marjory encouraged me, "They will take where you want to go."

Finally, on the subject of coming down to earth, since falling off my bike, a few verses into this canto, onto hard concrete, and hurting my left knee, I have been doing a lot of yoga stretching. In Japan I used to stretch a lot, but since returning to England to investigate Alexander's discoveries I found that I didn't feel the need to stretch so much -- just sitting in lotus and being mindful of Alexander's directions to let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away, seemed to be enough. In recent weeks, however, unable to sit in full lotus for an hour as usual, I have been sitting in half lotus for a few minutes, then stretching, then sitting in full lotus for 10, 15 or sometimes 20 minutes, then stretching, then sitting in full lotus again. And one thing I see clearly from this practice relates to -- guess what -- end-gaining. I see how easy it is to end-gain for the result I have in mind, i.e. a stretched or lengthened muscle. And the antidote to such end-gaining? You guessed. Mindfulness of Alexander's directions. Especially I remember Marjory Barlow's words that "We all go mad on the lengthening and forget about the widening."

The stretch we are all familiar with, "touching the toes," for example, easily invites a straining for length. But having feet and hands on the ground (bending the knees rather than straining to get the hands down) is an excellent condition for thinking "back to widen." Try it, and see whether I am talking out of my hat.

"See whether I am talking out of my hat," was another one of Marjory's phrases. She would tell her pupils in lesson one: "I don't want you to believe a single word I say. You be the judge of whether I am talking out of my hat."

EH Johnston:
On this he agreed, and with determination he placed the firmest reliance on the Supreme Sage. Then the Sage, holding him and flying down like the wind from the sky, returned to the earth.

Linda Covill:
"Henceforth I will," he said, and fixed his resolve on the supreme sage. Then the sage took hold of him and flying down from the sky like the wind, returned once more to earth.

End of Canto 10: A Lesson in Heaven

ataH: ind. (abl.) from this, henceforth
param: ind. (with abl.) beyond , after ; ind. in a high degree , excessively , greatly , completely ; ind. rather , most willingly , by all means ; ind. I will , so be it
paramam: ind. yes , very well
iti: "....," thus; so saying
vy-avasthitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. standing or being in or on or at (loc.); contained in (loc.); based or dependent on (loc.) , resolved upon (loc.); persevering in , sticking or adhering to (loc.); intent upon (loc.); settled , established , fixed , exactly determined , quite peculiar or restricted to (loc.)
avasthita: mfn. standing near ; placed , having its place or abode ; engaged in , prosecuting , following , practising (with loc.): obeying or following (the words or commands of ; loc.)

paraam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. better or worse than , superior or inferior to , best or worst , highest , supreme
dhRtim (acc. sg.): f. holding; , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
dhRtiM- √kR to keep ground or stand still ; to find pleasure or satisfaction
parama-munau (loc. sg. m.): in the supreme sage
parama: mfn. most excellent, best
cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kR: to do, make
saH (nom. sg. m.): he

tataH: ind. from that, then, thence
muniH (nom. sg.): m. the sage
pavanaH (nom. sg.): m. the wind
iva: like
ambaraat (abl. sg.): n. circumference; sky , atmosphere , ether
patan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. pat: to fly, soar ; to fall down or off , alight

pragRhya = abs. pra- √ grah: to hold; to seize , grasp , take hold of , take
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
punar: ind. ind. back , home , again
agamat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist gam: to go
mahii-talam (acc. sg.): n. the surface of the earth , ground , soil
mahii: f. " the great world " , the earth
tala: n. surface

saundara-nande mahaa-kaavye (loc.): in the epic poem Handsome Nanda
svarga-nidarshanaH (nom. sg. m.): a vision of heaven
svarga: m. heaven
ni-darshana: n. seeing , view , appearance , sight , vision (cf. svapna-nidarshana; dream-vision, a vision in a dream) ; n. pointing to , showing , indicating ; n. instance , example , illustration ;
naama: ind. by name
dashamaH sargaH (nom. sg. m.): 10th canto


dorebelle said...

"The stretch we are all familiar with, "touching the toes," for example, easily invites a straining for length."
Yes, I know.. :)

We can find so subtle ways in our need of "doing" something to get out from something else difficult to accept.

Even if I experienced how I can stretch beautifully if I really give up even that little "doing" of "giving directions" and allow "directions" occur by themselves.

Today was again that little tension on the left shoulder which I thought had been eliminated for good. :(

Mike Cross said...

To practise yoga just for the sake of practising yoga is not an unduly big ambition... and yet all kind of other desires are liable to creep in.

Desire to be recognized as brilliant, or as beautiful. Desire for fame and profit. Desire for power. Desires we know about and more dangerous desires -- one we don't know about. Desire to be free of pain. Desire to be free of disturbing tension.

Sadly, we can't avoid pain. But we can, at least some of the time, say no to the end-gaining desires that are at the root of some pain.

dorebelle said...

I had a very important lesson last year. I was able to lay still all the night trying not interfering in any way with what was going on (in myself). When dawn came I was exhausted, I was waiting "the end" of the thing, but it was going on more and more slowly. I cried out in frustration: "why things have always to be so difficult for me?!".
I get up feeling so stupid:"how can I fool myself with my imagination, trying so hard of not interfering with something that seem totally unreal".
Then, suddenly, I began to laugh. In that moment I wasn't able to understand why. The insight, and the smile, came only later, in the afternoon. :)

Mike Cross said...

Trying not to interfere?

dorebelle said...

yes, "trying not to interfere"
(it is the simple direct translation from Italian "cercavo di non interferire", I'm a little puzzled about my mistake 8/ )

It was really difficult to do that "not doing". :D :D
And I had to drop my last strategy too.