Wednesday, October 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 18.23: Towards Sovereignty Over the Self (& True Politics)

adyāsi supravrajito jitātmann
aiśvaryam-apy-ātmani yena labdham /
jitātmanaḥ pravrajanaṃ hi sādhu
calātmano na tv-ajitendriyasya //18.23 //

= = - = / = - - / = - = = // = = - = / = - - / = - = =
- = - = / = - - / = - = = // - = - = / = - - / = - = -

Today, conqueror of yourself, you have truly gone forth,

Since you have thereby gained sovereignty
over yourself.

For in a person who has conquered himself,
going forth has worked;

Whereas in an impulsive person
whose senses remain unconquered, it has not.

The IIUU metric scheme for a verse in Upajāti metre is known as Rāmā.

A bloke with an imperfectly integrated Moro reflex is not fooling anybody, except maybe himself, if he claims to be a conqueror of himself (jitātman), or a conqueror of the senses (jitendriyaḥ).

On the other hand, if I can truly direct my whole self upward, even if only for a moment, in that moment I have got round the problem that FM Alexander identified as faulty sensory appreciation. Or, in the terminology of Saundara-nanda, I have conquered or thwarted the power of the senses -- as in the title of Canto 13, śīlendriya-jayaḥ, Thwarting the Power of the Senses through Practice of Integrity.

"If I can truly direct my whole self up": that is a big if.

So I sit (in a dubious imitation of a half lotus, with my left lower leg dangling off the end of my sitting platform) and, like a not very well coordinated golfer teeing off at a par 3 hole, I know what I am aiming for without harbouring any great expectation of success.

What I am aiming for in aiming myself upward, I venture to assert, is sovereignty over myself as an individual, which is something totally different from totalitarianism, whether of the left or of the right.

Last night I watched a BBC documentary on Spain's stolen children (niños robados). The programme featured a certain ultra-Catholic operator of a maternity clinic. His name was Vela Vela -- or Dr Vela Vela to show him the respect that a person of his social standing is thought to warrant. Dr Vela Vela was in the habit of showing less worthy mothers (in his ultra-Catholic judgement) a frozen still-born baby and telling them their own child had died. The healthy baby would then be sold on to parents who were, from an ultra-Catholic viewpoint, more deserving. The reasons that Vela Vela and others like him were able to perform this kind of intervention for so long, evidently, were all tied up with Franco's attempt to establish a fascist totalitarian state, one of the pillars of which was the Catholic church. And the fact that the likes of Vela Vela have yet to be brought to justice and thrown in prison might be a sad reflection of the fact that many individual Spaniards have yet to get their whole body out of Franco's brand of totalitarianism/Catholicism.

When I lived in Japan through the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, there was something about the way Japanese society worked that was anathema to me -- a kind of cultural arrogance that the powers that be in Japan had seemed to hang onto despite defeat in WWII. In trying to understand exactly what it was that I hated, I found two books in particular helpful. One was "The Informed Heart" by Bruno Bettelheim, a Jewish survivor of Nazi concentration camps, in which he outlined how Nazi totalitarianism worked and argued that "men are not ants." The other book was "The Enigma of Japanese Power" by a Dutch journalist and latterly academic named Karel von Wolferen, which was a brilliant expose of how the Japanese "System" works, and how the System was not undermined but was actually strengthened in the aftermath of defeat in WWII. As a graduate of the Law Department of Tokyo University and scion of the Japanese Ministry of Finance, I might add, my own teacher Gudo Nishijima had quite a privileged place at the heart of the Japanese System. Ironically, this privileged position, along with the teaching of Kodo Sawaki, allowed and encouraged Gudo to exercise a much larger degree of individual autonomy than most Japanese of his generation were able to exercise. Hence his reputation for being ippiki ookami, a lone wolf.

When I became a student of Gudo, at the age of 22, there was no such thing as Dogen Samgha. There was no formal group. The emphasis, in line with Kodo Sawaki's teaching, was on people sitting every day at home -- by themselves, for themselves, on their own -- and coming together to sit from time to time for lectures and retreats. But there was always something about Gudo's own attitude that was culturally arrogant, patriarchal, and interventionist. There was something in there that was anathema to me, and it troubled me that (even after reading the aforementioned two books) I couldn't understand what it was -- until I sought out the teaching of FM Alexander.

Certain aspects of Gudo Nishijima's teaching, I then began to realize, were not compatible with the teaching of FM Alexander. Specifically, what was not compatible was Gudo's wrong interventionist teaching around right posture.

The point I am driving at, stimulated by last night's documentary, is that how a person sits and the politics of that individual are somehow tied up with each other. Totalitarianism, whether of the left or of the right, is top-down hierarchical and interventionist. True practice of non-doing, by individuals who are making the teaching their own, aiming to gain sovereignty over themselves, is always more or less in the middle way.

Aiming for sovereignty over the self, it seems to me, is a bit of a different kettle of fish from patriarchal Buddhism. In Shobogenzo, Dogen lists Aśvaghoṣa as one of the Buddhist Patriarchs whom we are to honour by reciting their names out loud, doing prostrations, and the like. But when we go back to the writings of Aśvaghoṣa himself, Aśvaghoṣa seems to be emphasizing that the way to honour the Buddha is less by prostrations and the like than by making the teaching our own, as an individual.

EH Johnston:
To-day by conquest of yourself your abandonment of home life is successful, since you have obtained mastery over yourself. For it is fruitful for him who has conquered himself to take up the wandering life, but not for him whose senses are unsubdued and self unstable.

Linda Covill:
Self-conqueror, today your departure from home is successful, since you have thereby won sovereignty over yourself. Departure from home is perfected in someone who has conquered himself, but not in a flighty man of unconquered senses.

adya: today
asi: you are
su-pravrajitaH (nom. sg. m.) mfn. wandering well about (as a mendicant) i.e. a good or proper monk
su: well
pravrajita: mfn. gone astray or abroad ; run away (said of horses) ; one who has left home to become a religious mendicant or (with jainas) to become a monk
pra- √ vraj: to go forth
pra: forth, forward, in front, on
vraj: to go , walk , proceed , travel , wander , move
jit'-aatman (voc. sg. m.): o conquered self!
jita: mfn. won , acquired , conquered , subdued
aatman: m. self ; essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc.)

aishvaryam (acc. sg.): n. the state of being a mighty lord , sovereignty , supremacy , power , sway
api: ind. and , also , moreover , besides , assuredly , surely; (for emphasis) even, very
aatmani (loc. sg.): over yourself
yena (inst. sg.): by which means, because of which reason
labdham (acc. sg. n.): got, won, found, obtained etc.

jit'-aatmanaH (gen. sg.): for/of/in/to one of conquered self
pravrajanam (nom. sg.): n. going forth
hi: for
saadhu (nom sg. n.): mfn. straight , right ; leading straight to a goal , hitting the mark , unerring (as an arrow or thunderbolt) ; straightened , not entangled (as threads) ; well-disposed , kind , willing , obedient ; successful , effective ; fit, proper

cal'-aatmanaH (gen. sg.): for/of/to one of impulsive self
cal'-aatman: mfn. fickle-minded
cala: mfn. moving , trembling , shaking , loose, unsteady
na: not
tu: but
a-jit'-endriyasya (gen. sg.): for/of/to one of unconquered sense-power
a-jita: unconquered
indriya: n. bodily power , power of the senses

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