Tuesday, August 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.22: Seeing the Psychophysical Signs

tatas tasy' eNgitaM jNatvaa
babhaase vaakyam aanando
madhur'-odarkam a-priyaM

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

So knowing the signs

That betrayed the set of Nanda's mind,

Ananda spoke words

Which were disagreeable but sweet in consequence.

Whereas the striver in cantos 8 & 9 exhibits a divided view of body and mind, in this verse as I read it, as also in the previous verse, Ananda is portrayed as one who has long since abandoned that view.

What is the difference between a true smile and a stage smile? What are the signs?

Both Ananda and Ashvaghosha were outstandingly good with words. But a person doesn't have to be good with words to know the signs.

In my 20s and early 30s people who didn't know the signs would sometimes remark how good my posture was -- because I was practised in holding myself upright, like a bad actor forcing a smile. But allowing the back to lengthen and widen -- regardless of whether one's posture looks good or bad to others -- is a totally different kettle of fish.

The instruction "keep the spine straight vertically" is prone to lead people astray, causing them to become increasingly rigid and to lose their original features. Q.E.D. The instruction "allow the spine to lengthen and the back to widen" or "allow the back to lengthen and widen," is perhaps less liable to lead people astray; or perhaps it is equally liable, given the seemingly universal problem of faulty sensory appreciation.

I have criticized my Zen teacher, the teacher who transmitted the Dharma to me, not only because I went wrong following his instruction to "keep the spine straight vertically," but because I suffered the disagreeable experience of being manipulated by his unskilfull hands while I was sitting. So I really do know what was behind his verbal instruction, which was sheer ignorance. His instruction was disagreeable and my criticism of him is disagreeable. I have persisted with my criticism because, probably unwisely, I have expected there to be sweet consequences -- if not for him and me directly then at least for others.

Tich Naht Hahn wrote something to the effect that truly mindful walking is walking that looks like it already arrived. Those are words of one who knows the signs.

In Alexander work we say Allow the neck to be free to allow the head to go forward and up to allow the back to lengthen and widen while sending the knees forwards and away.

So somebody who is using themselves well with a back that is tending to lengthen and widen, even while they are engaged in a difficult activity like sitting still, is exhibiting the signs of a free neck, and equally is exhibiting the signs of the mindfulness of one who has already arrived.

What we call "a free neck" is free of what? Free of muscular tension, yes. But what is undue muscular tension if not the sign of some mind-set or other -- such as eagerness to arrive someplace else, or eagerness to achieve something?

As an antidote to such fixity, some Alexander teachers, including some very senior ones like Elisabeth Walker, and including my wife, sometimes talk of "the head balancing at the top of the spine."

Speaking for myself, I see more wisdom in Alexander's original direction for the head to go forward and up. People who attach to the direction "head to balance on top of the spine," in my experience, tend to try to arrange their head this way and that on the basis of anatomical understanding, which can be a subtle (or not-so-subtle) form of doing.

So speaking for myself I am not keen on the direction "head to balance at the top of the spine." It somehow lacks the psychophysical dynamism and depth of understanding in "head forward and up."

But since somebody yesterday reminded me that no lesser teacher than Elisabeth Walker sometimes uses the former direction in her teaching, I would like to cite the head truly being balanced, or poised, rather than fixed, at the top of the spine, as a sign that betrays the absence of mental fixity.

Some years ago I discussed with Elisabeth Walker how Alexander work had liberated me, at least partially, from the fixity I used to practise in sitting. Ever the practical teacher, Elisabeth asked me to demonstrate what I meant. So I pulled in my chin so as feel that old familiar tension at the back of my straightened neck. "Oh no!" Elisabeth immediately called out. "Stop it! That is too horrible."

This kind of experience in Alexander work is what gives me the confidence to persist with my disagreeable criticism of what a Zen Master taught me. It is not the confidence of one who knows what the right thing is. It is the confidence of one who knows, for damn sure, what is truly horrible.

EH Johnston:
On this Ananda, taking note of his change of countenance which betrayed the motions of his mind, spoke to him words which were disagreeable but would have a pleasant conclusion for him :--

Linda Covill:
Noticing his changed expression which betrayed the willfulness of his mind, Ananda addressed him in words that were unwelcome but which would have a sweet consequence:

tataH: ind. thence, from that
tasya (gen. sg.): his
iNgitam (acc. sg.): n. palpitation ; change of the voice , internal motion , motion of various parts of the body as indicating the intentions; hint, gesture ; aim , intention , real but covert purpose
jNatvaa = abs. jNaa: to know, perceive, understand

manaH-saMkalpa-suucakam (acc. sg. n.): betraying what his mind was fixed on
manas: n. mind
saMkalpa: m. conception or idea or notion formed in the mind or heart , (esp.) will , volition , desire , purpose , definite intention or determination or decision or wish for (with loc. dat. , or ifc.) , sentiment , conviction , persuasion
saM- √ klRp: to produce, create ; to determine , fix , settle ; to will , purpose , resolve , intend , aim at , strive after ; to imagine, fancy
suucaka: mfn. pointing out , indicating , showing , designating; informing , betraying , treacherous

babhaase = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaaSh: to speak , talk , say , tell
vaakyam (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
aanandaH (nom. sg. m.): Ananda

madhur'-odarkam (acc. sg. n.): sweet in consequence
madhura: mfn. sweet , pleasant , charming , delightful
ud-arka: m. arising (as a sound) , resounding; the future result of actions , consequence , futurity , future time
a-priyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. unpleasant, disagreeable

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