Friday, September 14, 2012

BUDDHACARITA 2.45 The Head Leads and the Body Follows

−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦−−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Rāmā)
tasmiṁs-tathā bhūmi-patau pravtte bhtyāś-ca paurāś-ca tathaiva ceruḥ
śamātmake cetasi viprasanne prayukta-yogasya yathendriyāṇi || 2.45

While that earth-lord was acting thus,

The mandarins and the townsfolk behaved likewise,

Like the senses of a person who is harnessed to practice,

When the thinking mind is peaceful and clear.

There have been many verses in Saundarananda and Buddhacarita where I translated prajā as “people” or “subjects,” because it sounded more natural in English, but where at the same time I  wanted to translate prajā as “offshoots” -- as discussed in the comment to BC2.35 – because the concept of prajā appears to be rooted in a vision of society in which a good king is like a clear head and strong spine and the people are like healthy organs at the periphery, like fingers and toes and peripheral nerves. In today's verse that underlying conception is made more explicit.

In the first pāda,  pravṛtte  (acting) seems to mirror the a-pravṛttam in the first pāda of yesterday's verse, and seems therefore to support the suspicion that Aśvaghoṣa's was playing with irony, so that on the surface a-pravṛttam described taxes as not accrued, but below the surface a-pravṛttam did indeed suggest an undeserving person, a fake arhat, who received offerings or tributes without being in the state of action.

In the teaching of my teacher, Gudo Nishijima, the state of action expressed by pravṛtte trumps all. Thinking and feeling, in Gudo's teaching, were always subordinate to action. Philosophically this is an interesting proposition and it appealed greatly to me when I heard it. It seemed to tally with my experience at university, when, in endeavouring to seek out something that was true, real and worthwhile, I was drawn increasingly away from desks in the library and towards training areas within the university sports centre.

But what in my sitting practice under Gudo did I subordinate to what?

I will tell you exactly what I subordinated to what. I subordinated, or at least I mainly tried to subordinate, thinking to doing. And doing is just feeling.

Dogen's teaching, which Gudo purported to be upholding, is (to paraphrase) that there is sitting with the mind which is different from sitting with the body, there is sitting with the body which is different from sitting with the mind, and there is sitting as body and mind dropping off which is different from what fake elephants discuss as “body and mind dropping off.”

Gudo's interpretation of these words was that sitting with the mind means sitting with the sympathetic nervous system in the ascendancy, sitting with the body means sitting with the parasympathetic nervous system in the ascendancy, and body and mind dropping off means sitting with the autonomic nervous system in balance.

My understanding of those words of Dogen, informed by Alexander work, is that sitting with the mind means sitting with feeling subordinated to thinking, sitting with the body means sitting with thinking subordinated to feeling (i.e. just doing), and body and mind dropping off means my thinking and feeling being subordinated to the right thing doing itself. 

Because Gudo perceived that Alexander work subordinated action to [Western intellectual] thinking, or [white man's intellectual] thinking – the very attitude against which he was told he was fighting in WWII -- Gudo suspected that when I left Japan and returned to England to train as an Alexander teacher, I had not only departed from Japan but had departed from his “true Buddhism,” in which all things are subordinate to action. He expressed that sentiment when he wrote me a letter expressing his hope that I would “come back to Buddhism.” When I read the letter, I didn't take that sentence seriously. At the time, circa 1996, I was still busting a gut to dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t”s of the Nishijima/Cross Shobogenzo translation, not to mention religiously sitting four times every day, as usual. What the fuck was he on about “come back to Buddhism”?

Dogen said (3) we should sit with body, (2) we should sit with mind, and (1) we should sit as body and mind dropping off. But what today's verse expresses, as I read it, is definitely NOT (3) sitting with the body, in which thinking is subordinated to doing/feeling.

It might also be a mistake to read today's verse as expressing only (2) sitting with the mind, in which the senses are subordinated to the thinking mind. The true meaning may rather be to express (1) the right thing doing itself, in which the thinking mind is not thinking anything, but is peaceful and clear like water in which sediment has settled on the bottom.

Either way, in the order of the elements of (1) acting earth-lord, (2) mandarins, and (3) townsfolk a certain hierarchy is being expressed. And the second half of the verse asserts that, just as all participants in a political economy are not equal, so to in a human organism some parts are more important than others. 

Thus FM Alexander observed,  in the workings of a well-coordinated human body in action, a hierarchy which is sometimes expressed "The head leads and the body follows."  This hierarchy is reflected in the order of Alexander's directions (or “orders”): to let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while releasing the limbs out of the lengthening and widening back.

“Give your orders,” FM was overheard telling a pupil, “head forward and up, down with the shoulders, widen the back, and make no trouble about it: one thing does the other.”

“One harnessed/yoked to practice/yoking/yoga” (prayukta-yogasya) means, as I read the term, a practitioner whose energies are harnessed by awareness (smṛti) and balance & coordination (samādhi), the dual pillars of the practice of sitting-meditation. The hierarchy that is operating in such practice, according to today's vese, is (1) peaceful and clear thinking/consciousness, followed by (2) the senses. Unfortunately, English does not easily allow the elements to be retained in translation in their original order, which is (1) thinking/consciousness, before (2) senses.

“We can't control what we feel,” Marjory Barlow used to say, “but we can control what we think, at least to some extent. The thinking educates the feeling, and the feeling educates the body. It is that way round.”

Cetas is given in the dictionary as “consciousness” and at the same time as “thinking soul.” I have translated it as "thinking mind," but it could equally well be translated as "consciousness" or simply as "mind." 

Viprasanna (“clear”) is vi + the past participle of pra-√sad, “to settle down,” from the original root √sad, “to sit." So as a translation of  viprasanna,  “clear” does not do justice to the connotations viprasanna has around (a) sitting, and (b) settling down -- and, by extension, "growing clear and bright, becoming placid or tranquil (as the sea or sky)."

In conclusion, today's verse can be seen as the fourth in a series of four verses all of which point us back, albeit indirectly, to the most fundamental teaching of Gautama Buddha --

Not doing wrong,
Allowing the right thing to do itself,
Letting one's own mind become peaceful and clear,
Is the teaching of the buddhas.

And the 4th pāda of today's verse can be seen as a punchline among punchlines, in that in the three previous verses I have been commenting “This verse is ostensibly about how King Śuddhodana governed his kingdom, but Aśvaghoṣa's real intention is obliquely to suggest how an individual buddha regulates himself.” With the words prayukta-yogasya, “a man harnessed to practice,” Aśvaghoṣa knocks all such speculation firmly on the head, by making the comparison explicit.

tasmin (loc. sg. m.): him
tathā: ind. thus, like that
bhūmi-patau (loc. sg.): m. " earth-lord " , a king , prince
pravṛtte (loc. sg.): mfn. purposing, engaged, acting, proceeding

bhṛtyāḥ (nom. pl.): m. one who is to be maintained , a dependent , servant (also the servant of a king , a minister)
ca: and
paurāḥ (nom. pl.): m. a townsman , citizen
ca: and
tathā: ind. thus, like that
eva: (emphatic)
ceruḥ = 3rd pers. pl. perf. car: to move one's self , go ; to move or travel through , pervade , go along , follow ; to behave , conduct one's self , act

śamātmake (loc. sg. n.): being composed of tranquillity
śama: m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity ; peace
ātmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.); consisting or composed of
cetasi (loc. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind
viprasanne (loc. sg. n.): mfn. tranquil, calm
prasanna: mfn. clear , bright , pure (lit. and fig.); placid, tranquil
pra- √ sad: to settle down , grow clear and bright , become placid or tranquil (as the sea or sky , met. applied to the mind)
√ sad: to sit down

prayukta-yogasya (gen. sg. m.): of one practising yoga, of one harnessed to practice, of one yoked to yoga [EBC: of one absorbed in contemplation; EHJ: of a man in mystic trance; PO: a man engaged in Yoga]
prayukta: mfn. yoked , harnessed ; used , employed , practised
yoga: m. the act of yoking, practice
yathā: ind. just as
indriyāṇi (nom. pl.): n. sense, organ of sense

如人心安靜 四體諸根從

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