Tuesday, August 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.15: Ananda's Skillfulness

aarjav'-aabhihitaM vaakyaM
na ca gantavyam anyathaa
ruukSham apy aashaye shuddhe
ruukShato n' aiti saj-janaH

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

Straight talk

Should not be taken amiss:

However harsh it is,
so long as its intention is pure,

A good man will not retain it as harsh.

Todays' verse echoes one or two verses about harsh words in cantos 8 & 9, and is echoed again in Ashvaghosha's description of the Buddha at the beginning of Canto 13.

And, striving to be of benefit, the striver spoke excellent words,
which were unpleasant to hear. [8.22]

The striver chastised Nanda, in the name of tranquillity. [9.4]

Some in soothing tones, some with tough talk, / Some by both these means, he the trainer trained.// [13.3]

The striver, Ananda, Gautama: whose intention was pure, and whose intention was tainted by some personal agenda of his own?

Who am I to judge? What do I know?

When I came back to England at the end of 1994 with the intention of training to be an Alexander teacher, a few Alexander lessons in Japan had led me to experience and understand that Alexander work was good for my posture in Zazen, which I considered to be the most important thing. At that stage I had not even begun to abandon the tethering post of good or right posture. My conception, which turned out to be utterly false, was that Alexander work would cause me to be more right -- so right, I secretly hoped, that I might finally find the confidence to put myself forward as a true Zen Master, thereby fulfilling Gudo's prediction and hope for me.

But instead of any of that, I was made aware that I was wrong. I was made aware, for a start, of congenital faults in my vestibular system which are at the root of what Alexander called "faulty sensory appreciation." I was also made aware that I was, in Marjory Barlow's words "going around the whole time trying to be right." And I was gradually led to work out for myself that the combination of these two factors -- faulty sensory appreciation and end-gaining -- is the very essence of going wrong.

Among the Alexander teachers who I received a lot of work from, there were only two who didn't upset me: those two were Ron Colyer and Marjory Barlow. Two others who upset me a lot, but from whom I also learned a lot, were Ray Evans and Nelly Ben-Or. Ray had unparalleled insight into the vestibular roots of faulty sensory appreciation. And Nelly was a master of digging out a student's hidden layers of end-gaining and exposing them to the light of awareness. Both Ray and Nelly upset me by letting me know what I didn't want to know -- that I was wrong. But they upset me in very different ways. Ray would tend to beat around the bush, forever observing "That's interesting," but being reticent to spell out directly exactly what it was that he found so interesting. Nelly, on the other hand, in the tradition of her teacher Patrick Macdonald, would be more inclined to tell her pupil directly and immediately, again and again, "No. That's down!"

I have probably stated, in my stupidity, that being the big strong bloke that I am, I preferred to be told straight a la Nelly, and that I found Ray's beating around the bush approach annoying. But the truth is that I don't like to be told that I am wrong, either directly or indirectly. More than not liking it, I am inclined positively to hate it, and to be enraged by it.

Anyway, being aware of these two contrasting styles of letting me know that I was wrong, I asked Marjory Barlow about it. Marjory told me in reply that there was a middle way. If an Alexander teacher doesn't cause her pupils to become aware of where they are going wrong, then the teacher is not doing her job. At the same time, too much perceived criticism is liable to excite the pupil's fear reflexes, so that the pupil becomes, in FM's words "like a frightened rabbit."

Ananda's discussion in today's verse of "straight talk" may be taken as somewhat ironic, since Ananda has spent several verses from 11.9 beating around the bush, seeming to praise Nanda when his real intention is to expose Nanda as a fraud. But what Ananda is doing, as I hear him, is skillfully looking for the middle way of which Marjory spoke, i.e., finding a way to let Nanda see the wrongness of his approach, without stimulating unduly his fear reflexes and emotions.

EH Johnston:
Words spoken out honestly should not be taken amiss. The good man does not consider harsh what, though harsh in expression, is uttered with a pure intention.

Linda Covill:
Words spoken sincerely should not be otherwise construed -- a good man does not judge even harsh speech harshly when the intention behind it is pure.

aarjav'-aabhihitam (nom. sg. n.): sincerely spoken , said straight
aarjava: mfn. (fr. Rju) straight ; honest , sincere
Rju: tending in a straight direction , straight (lit. and fig.) , upright , honest , right , sincere
abhihita: mfn. harnessed; held forth , said , declared , spoken
vaakyam (nom. sg.): n. speech, words

na: not
ca: and
gantavyam (non. sg. n.): mfn. (from gerundive gam) to be understood
anyathaa: ind. otherwise, in a different manner ; inaccurately , untruly , falsely , erroneously

ruukSham (acc. sg.): mfn. rough, harsh; unpleasant , disagreeable , not soft (to the sight , smell &c ) ; m. hardness , harshness
api: even
aashaye (loc. abs.) : m. resting place, seat; the seat of feelings and thoughts , the mind , heart , soul ; thought , meaning , intention
shuddhe (loc. abs.): mfn. cleansed , cleared , clean , pure , clear

ruukShataH: harshly, as harsh
- taH: (ablative/adverbial suffix)
na: not
eti = 3rd pers. sg. i: to go ; go on with , continue in any condition or relation
saj-janaH (nom. sg. m.): m. a good or virtuous or wise man

No comments: