Thursday, August 23, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.23: Growth through Age-Appropriate Stimulation

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−  Upajāti (Vāṇī)
evaṁ sa tais-tair-viṣayopacārair-vayo 'nurūpair-upacaryamāṇaḥ
bālo 'py-abāla-pratimo babhūva dhṛtyā ca śaucena dhiyā śriyā ca || 2.23

While thus indulged by various sense-stimulating gifts, 

Of a sort appropriate for his age, 

Child though he was, he was not like a child

In constancy, and in simplicity, sagacity and dignity. 

I have read somewhere, I think in a book written by a student or follower of A Jean Ayres, that the human brain is in essence a sensory processing machine. In her book Sensory Integration and the Child (1970), Ayres  described a condition that she called Sensory Integration  Dysfunction, centred on  what she termed “gravitational insecurity.”  Ayres was a pioneer in recognizing the importance of the vestibular system in integrating all other sensory inputs.

Whether or not one accepts the statement  that the human brain is in essence a sensory processing machine, the basic point is not in doubt, at least not in my mind, that many problems that were once thought to be cognitive problems, or problems of the top two inches, in fact have a basis in what FM Alexander called “faulty sensory appreciation,” and this faulty sensory appreciation is very largely a function of the gravity-sensing vestibular system. I have understood this problem from the inside as a bloke with a fairly dodgy vestibular system (for which I learned to compensate at an early age and hence showed no dyslexic symptoms, other than an inability to read in a moving car without getting travel sick).

I know therefore, from personal and work experience, that for young children sensory stimulation is not a sin. On the contrary, sensory stimulation, of a sort appropriate to a child's age, is absolutely vital. Hence the wisdom of “music & movement” sessions of the sort I took part in at primary school in England in the 1960s. And hence the stupidity of more recent educational emphasis on academic targets for children aged 5 to 10, at the expense of sense-stimulating activities in the playground, in the assembly hall, and on the sports field.

For an old git like me, however, stimulation via rattles, squeaky toys, hop-scotch and British bulldogs is no longer what my brain needs in order for me to grow.

A forest changing colour, from various shades and depths of green, to various shades of gold and red, might be more like it. At the same time, four years ago I was suffering from a constant nagging ache in the stomache, and this pain, which seemed to be saying to me that something was blocking me from growing, was not in fact cured by my effort just to sit it away, even with the help of the forest. The ache was cured rather by daily sitting in combination with studying Aśvaghoṣa's poetry and writing endless long-winded comments like this one. So memorizing a verse of Sanskrit poetry every day and writing endlessly about it, is not something that I would ever recommend in theory as a cure for stomach ache. But it worked for me in practice.

To paraphrase Aśvaghoṣa's intention in today's verse, as I read it: When the moon is waxing in the bright fortnight, it is appropriate for a young person's brain to be stimulated by a wide variety of sensory stimuli; but for an old git under a waning moon in the dark fortnight, it may be more appropriate to keep directing his depleting energy constantly into some task he knows to be worthwhile.

In the order of dhṛtyā ca śaucena dhiyā śriyā ca, I think there is meaning. That is to say, I think Aśvaghoṣa saw constancy (dhṛti) as the primary age-appropriate thing for an old git to cultivate – whereas growth in the direction of simplicity, sagacity, and dignity might be left to take care of itself, or not, as the case may be.

If that is what Aśvaghoṣa is suggesting, then I agree with him. Constancy is the thing. In general I am not here to put on a good show, but if there is one thing I intended from the beginning to demonstrate with this blog, it is constancy. And the constancy, like a trickle of water slowly drilling through rock, comes from regular sitting in lotus.

evam: ind. thus
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
tais taiḥ (inst. pl. m.): this and that, various
viṣayopacāraiḥ (inst. pl. m.):  by gifts that served him in the sphere of sensory activity
viṣaya: m. (prob. either fr √1. viṣ , " to act " , or fr. vi + √ si , " to extend ") sphere (of influence or activity) ; reach (of eyes , ears , mind  &c ) ; an object of sense; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
upacāra: m. approach , service , attendance  ; act of civility , obliging or polite behaviour , reverence; present , offering , bribe ; ornament , decoration
upa- √ car: to go towards , come near , approach ; to come near , wait upon , serve , attend , assist , bear a hand ; treat , tend , nurse

vayo-'nurūpaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): appropriate for his age
upacaryamāṇaḥ =  nom. sg. m. pres. part. passive upa- √ car: to be served, waited upon, indulged

bālaḥ  (nom. sg. m.): mfn. young , childish , infantine , not full-grown or developed; m. a child , boy (esp. one under 5 years)
api: even, though
abāla-pratimaḥ (nom. sg. m.): not child-like
pratimā: f. image, likeness;   (ifc. like , similar , resembling , equal to  ; having the measure of , as long or wide  &c  )
babhūva = 3rd pers. sg. perf. bhū: to be ; to thrive or prosper in (instr.) , turn out well , succeed

dhṛtyā  (inst. sg.): f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting  , firmness , constancy , resolution , will , command
ca: and
śaucena (inst. sg.): n. cleanness , purity , purification ; n. purity of mind , integrity , honesty (esp. in money-matters)
dhiyā (inst. sg.): f. thought , (esp.) religious thought , reflection , meditation , devotion , prayer ; understanding , intelligence , wisdom, knowledge , science , art
śriyā (inst. sg.): f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (śriyā , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity
ca: and

太子性安重 形少而心宿
心栖高勝境 不染於榮華 

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