Friday, July 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.4: Doing Practice

kaama-caryaasu kushalo
bhikShu-caryaasu viklavaH
brahma-caryaM cacaara saH

= - = = - - - =
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Adept in the practices of love,

Confused about the practices of a beggar,

Set firm by the best of practice guides,

He did devout practice.

The refrain in today's verse is provided by five words from the root √car, to move oneself, to practise, or to do.

brahma-carya could be translated as "practice of celibacy" or "a celibate's practice." It could be translated as "devoted practice" or as "devout practice." I thought of translating it as "religious practice." But for many of us, religion is a poisoned word.

Marjory Barlow said that in her book her uncle FM Alexander was the most religious person she ever met, in the true sense of the word, not in the sense of going through the motions of religious practise. By the true sense of the word, Marjory said she meant a kind of reverence for everything. "Everything" included lobster and fine red wine (though drunk in moderation), and regular days out at the races.

These indulgences, evidently, in no way prevented FM Alexander from being, like Gautama Buddha, the very best of practice guides.

Let the head go forward and up, FM advocated, always having something to look forward to. And what he preached he actually practised. Not so much doing as allowing.

In 10.60 the Buddha tells Nanda "If aroused, practise dharma diligently."

Do these words suggest that truly devout practice is better than doing perfunctory practice? And if so, is doing perfunctory practice better than not doing any practice at all?

Dogen advocated sitting as body and mind dropping off. But before that he advocated sitting with the body, thus:

Sit in full lotus with body.

Sit in full lotus with mind.

Sit in full lotus as body and mind dropping off.

In Shobogenzo chap. 5, Ju-un-do-shiki, Dogen writes that sincerity is the body-and-mind of the buddha-ancestors.

But there is sincerity, and there is sincerity. There is the sincerity of my sincere attempts to do it. And there is the sincerity of it doing itself.

Today's verse, as I read it, is another description, like 11.2, of Nanda going through the motions, without true sincerity. If brahma-caryam is pure conduct in a state of grace, then even with the Buddha's backing nobody can do or perform it. Trying to do it might be the essence of insincerity.

In the end I do not know what brahma-caryam is and don't know how best to translate it. But I know one thing brahma-caryam is not. It is not a state of trying to be right.

brahma-caryaM cacaara saH
He did devout practice. He went through the motions of a celibate's practice. He tried to perform pure conduct. More fool him. That's just the kind of trying to do that caused naturally handsome Nanda to become extremely ugly.

I write these negations of trying to be right not because trying to be right is some folly that I remember from my deep and distant past. The truth is that I am going around the whole bloody time trying to be right. Trying to be right, which makes me more wrong, seems so far to be an ever-present tendency. And the wronger I feel in myself, the stronger the tendency is.

Where is the way out of this vicious circle? What is the antidote to this self-administered poison?

Marjory Barlow, I can see more clearly in retrospect than I could see at the time, gave me an antidote. She taught me that when I felt I was wrong I should first say No to doing anything, then come back to mindfulness of these directions: "Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the spine lengthen and the back widen, while sending the knees forwards and away," and then go into movement without a care in the world, letting it come out in the wash.

The feeling that I am wrong in myself -- notwithstanding Mahayana Buddhist doctrine that everybody has got the Buddha-nature -- is not mistaken. The mistake I make is to respond to this feeling of wrongness by wanting to do something to put the wrongness right. The end-gainer is blocked, FM Alexander observed, by his desire to feel right in the gaining of his end.

"Let it be," sang Paul McCartney.

Incidentally, guess who gave Paul and Linda McCartney lessons in the Alexander Technique? None other than one M. Barlow.

EH Johnston:
Skilled in the practice of love but bewildered in mendicant's practices, he devoted himself with the support of the supreme Master to the practice of the religious life.

Linda Covill:
Skilled in love-making, disturbed by monkish ways, he practiced celibacy propped up by the supreme teacher.

kaama-caryaasu (loc. pl. f.): practises of love
kaama: m. love , especially sexual love or sensuality
carya: n. practising , performing , occupation with , engaging in (instr. or generally in comp.)
kushalaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. good, well; fit for , competent , able , skilful , clever , conversant with (loc.)

bhikShu-caryaasu (loc. pl. f): practises of a beggar
bhikShu: m. a beggar , mendicant , religious mendicant
viklavaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. overcome with fear or agitation , confused , perplexed , bewildered , alarmed , distressed; timid, shy; faltering (as speech) ; unsteady (as gait)

param'-aacaarya-viShTabdhaH (nom. sg. m.): stiffened by the best of practice guides, set firm by a master-practitioner
parama: mfn. best, most excellent ; chief , highest , primary , most prominent or conspicuous
aacaarya: m. " knowing or teaching the aacaara or rules " , a spiritual guide or teacher (especially one who invests the student with the sacrificial thread , and instructs him in the vedas , in the law of sacrifice and religious mysteries)
aacaara: m. conduct , manner of action , behaviour , good behaviour , good conduct ; custom , practice , usage , traditional or immemorial usage (as the foundation of law); an established rule of conduct , ordinance , institute , precept ; (with Buddhists) agreeing with what is taught by the teacher
vi-ShTabdha: mfn. firmly set or bound ; rigid , stiff ; checked , stopped , restrained , arrested , obstructed , paralysed ; propped, supported
√ stambh: to fix firmly , support , sustain , prop (esp. the heavens) ; to support or hold up by contact with ; to make stiff or immovable , paralyze

brahma-caryam (acc. sg.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity
brahman: n. (lit. " growth " , " expansion " , " evolution " , " development " " swelling of the spirit or soul " , fr. √bRh) pious effusion or utterance , outpouring of the heart in worshipping the gods , prayer ; religious or spiritual knowledge ; holy life (esp. continence , chastity )
cacaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander ; to undertake , set about , under go , observe , practise , do or act in general
saH (nom. sg. m.): he

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