Wednesday, August 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 11.30: Not Abstaining from Stiffening & Shortening

hRdi kaam'-aagninaa diipte
kaayena vahato vrataM
kim idaM brahma-caryam te
manas" aa-brahma-caariNaH

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

Blazing with a fire of desire in your heart,

You carry out observances with your body:

What is this devout abstinence of yours,

Who does not practise abstinence with his mind?

By the time of the Buddha, Nanda and Ananda, the word brahma-caryam already had barnacles attached to it acquired from centuries of religious activity. The dictionary defines brahma-caryam as study of the veda, the state of an unmarried religious student, a state of continence and chastity. What Ananda understood by brahma-caryam, I don't know. Equally I don't understand what Dogen meant by GYO-JI or "conduct and observance," the title of Shobogenzo chap. 30, in which GYO, conduct, is thought to stand for BON-GYO, "devout/pure conduct," from brahma-caryam.

I have more experience of what Ananda meant by manas" aa-brahma-caariNaH, "mentally not practising abstinence." I have ample opportunity to investigate it in sitting practice and in daily life.

What Ananda is describing in today's verse as "mentally not practising abstinence" is primarily Nanda's expectation of sexual union with celestial nymphs as a reward for self-denial.

Whereas actual sexual relations (as defined by Bill Clinton) have a physical side, involving penetration of this by that, and so on and so forth, expectation of sex, or of anything, is more difficult to reduce to physical processes. If any phenomenon can justly be described as "primarily mental," expectation might be it. And the work of liberating one's actions from the taint of expectation of future gaining of an end might be just about "the most mental thing there is."

FM Alexander called his technique for improving the standard of one's manner of use of the self "the most mental thing there is." As a manifestation of a universal human tendency to turn a teaching into its opposite, however, I noticed recently that on a tick-list of criteria for assessing prospective teachers, a list issued by the Society for the Teachers of the Alexander Technique, one criterion was "expectation of change." So some dunderhead or group of dunderheads at STAT think that for a student teacher to have an expectation of change is a good thing. I would have thought that the truth was the exact opposite: that if the mind of a student teacher of Alexander's technique was not tainted by any expectation of anything, that might be a very good -- if very rare -- thing.

Alexander himself was quoted as saying "Change is the ultimate reality." So acceptance of the inevitability of change might be more to the point -- but is that really an appropriate criterion by which to assess a prospective Alexander teacher? Confidence in the principle of conscious direction of the use of the self, as a better way than blind end-gaining, might be more to the point. But "expectation of change"? I think that "expectation of change" might be something not to aspire to but rather to abstain from, and to drop off.

In the matter of serving buddhas, failure to practise abstinence with the mind generally means failing to abstain from some variation on the theme of expecting What's in it for me?

When Alexander said that "We only want to gain our end in the process of ordering our heads forward and up, our backs to lengthen and widen, and so on," what he meant by "ordering," Alexander's niece Marjory Barlow took pains to teach others, does not involve any kind of doing, any kind of postural self-arrangement, or any kind of expectation.

What Alexander was talking about, as I see it, is just what the Buddha called shreyas, "a better way." Realization of this way, even for a moment, is something very rare, because we human beings have evolved only to want to gain our end, relying on unconscious guidance.

What Alexander meant by "head forward and up" I don't know. But it seems that when a person does practise like Nanda is doing it now, with expectation of reward, that expectation tends to be associated with a holding of the breath which in turn is associated with stiffening and shortening -- the very opposite of head forward and up.

So ordering the head forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen, and so on, it seems to me is at the heart of sitting practice as the ancient buddha-ancestors taught it.

Head forward and up to breathe out ...
Head forward and up to breath in ...
Head forward and up to breathe out ...

EH Johnston:
Though you carry out your vow with your body, your heart is blazing with the fire of love. What kind of chastity is this of yours, when your mind is given to its opposite?

Linda Covill:
What is this celibacy of yours? While your heart is ablaze with the fire of lust, you carry out your observances with your body only, and are not celibate in your mind.

hRdi (loc. abs.): n. heart
kaam'-aagninaa (inst. sg.): with the fire of love
kaama: m. desire; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
agni: m. fire
diipte (loc. abs.): mfn. blazing , flaming

kaayena (inst. sg.): m. the body
vahataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. vah: to carry, uphold
vratam (acc. sg.): n. a religious vow or practice , any pious observance

kim: (interrogative particle) what?
idam (nom. sg. n.): this
brahma-caryam (nom. sg. n.): n. study of the veda , the state of an unmarried religious student , a state of continence and chastity; celibacy, pure conduct
te (gen. sg.): of yours

manasaa (inst. sg.): n. mind
a-brahma-caariNaH (gen. sg. m.): failing to practise celibacy, not practising devout abstinence
a-: (negative prefix)
brahma-caarin: mfn. practising sacred study as an unmarried student , observing chastity
caarin: mfn. acting , proceeding , doing , practising

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