Sunday, August 7, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.12: Towards All-round Steadfastness

dur-haro maanaso vyaadhir
balavaaMsh ca tav' aabhavat
vinivRtto yadi sa te
sarvathaa dhRtimaan asi

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An illness of the mind is hard to remove,

And yours was a powerful one.

If you are rid of it,

You are in every way steadfast.

In today's verse as I read it Ananda points ironically to the ultimate aim of sitting-meditation, knowing that end-gaining Nanda is totally distant from that goal, the gap being akin to the separation between heaven and earth.

dur-haraH, "hard to remove," might mean totally impossible to remove by direct means.

Even by indirect means mental ills might be hard to remove, because as FM Alexander truly observed "the most difficult things to get rid of are the ones that don't exist."

A powerful mental ill is cured by a powerful means, a powerful indirect means.

Or else it is not.

An indirect means, for example, might centre on a task or a job or a career or a way into which one can direct one's head forward and up, without shortening and narrowing one's back in the process.

What it is to follow an indirect means was crystallized for me by an Alexander teacher named Marjory Barlow who taught me how, while lying back with my knees bent, to say "no" to various ideas, including the idea of moving a leg, and then, keeping the whole body informed with thought, moving that leg, with minimal disturbance to head, neck, and back.

"When you feel you are wrong," advised Marjory, "Say No. Give your directions. And go into movement without a care in the world. Let it come out in the wash."

With this indirect procedure as a gold standard, I see in retrospect that translating Shobogenzo into English was a big task into which I misdirected a lot of energy. Following the modus operandi of the end-gainer, or the fearful warrior battling unskillfully to overcome his fear, I led not with my head but with my chest, pushing chest forward and pulling head back.

With the present task I have set myself of translating Ashvaghosha's writings into English, in contrast, I am conscious that every step of the way I only wish to gain my end in the process of directing the head to go forward up without shortening and narrowing the back. To shorten and narrow the back is to lose one's original features. That is what I did in translating Dogen's words, in spades.

In the effort to clarify the supreme and subtle method of the buddha-ancestors, the traditional means whereby a follower of the Buddha allows his original features to manifest themselves, I lost my own original features, straining to lengthen the spine and thereby shortening and narrowing the back. Not helped by truly awful instruction around "right posture," I tried to become steadfast in only one direction, which is no kind of steadfastness at all. Rather than all-round steadfastness, I tended increasingly towards fixity. My head, heart and hara got out of harmony with each other; my top, middle, and bottom became fragmented.

sarvathaa dhRtimaan, "in every way steadfast," might describe acceptance and use of the self in which body and mind are not in any way fragmented but have become all of a piece.

So Nanda's standpoint in this verse can be contrasted with the viewpoint expressed by the striver at the beginning of Canto 8:

"Pain invariably arises in two ways: in the mind and in the body. / And for those two kinds of pain, there are healers skilled in education and in medicine.// [8.3] So if this pain is physical be quick to tell a doctor all about it, / For when a sick man hides his illness it turns before long into something serious. // [8.4] But if this suffering is mental tell me, and I will tell you the cure for it; / Because, for a mind shrouded in gloom and darkness, the healer is a seeker who knows himself. //[8.5] Tell me the whole truth, my friend, if you think it fit to be told; / For minds have many ways of working and many secrets, whose concealment is complicated by conceit." // [8.6]

Ananda, unlike the striver, is not blind to the indivisible unity of an individual human self.

Because an individual human self is an indivisible unity, the ultimate aim of sitting-zen, I dare say, is all-round steadfastness.

This is the teaching of all the buddha-ancestors of India, China, and Japan, from the Buddha, through Ananda, through Ashvaghosha, through Dogen and down to the present day.

Or else it is not.

Or else, somewhere between Dogen and the present -- maybe because of a certain Japanese tendency towards mindless formal repetition, or maybe because of a certain Japanese tendency to put superficial form before true function -- something essential got lost.

EH Johnston:
Your disease was grave and difficult to master in that it was of the mind; if it has really left you, you have thoroughly acquired steadfastness.

Linda Covill:
Your illness was mental; it was intense and difficult to remove. If it is in remission, you are in every way resolute!

dur-haraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. difficult to take away
hR: to take away; to remove ; to master , overpower , subdue , conquer
maanasaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. belonging to the mind or spirit , mental
vyaadhiH (nom. sg.): m. illness, disease

balavaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. possessing power , powerful , mighty , strong , intense ; vehement (as love, desire etc.)
ca: and
tava (gen. sg.): your
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu: to be

vinivRttaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. turned back , returned , retired , withdrawn ; disappeared , ended , ceased to be
yadi: if
sa (nom. sg. m.): it
te (gen. sg. m.): of you

sarvathaa: ind. in every way , in every respect , altogether, entirely
dhRti-maan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. steadfast , calm , resolute ; satisfied, content
dhRti: f. holding; firmness, constancy, resolution; satisfaction, content, joy
-mat: (possessive suffix)
asi = 2nd pers. sg. as: to be

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