Saturday, January 19, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 4.49: Lying Down, Naturally

dīrghikāṁ prāvtāṁ paśya tīra-jaiḥ sinduvārakaiḥ |
pāṇḍurāṁśuka-saṁvītāṁ śayānāṁ pramadām-iva || 4.49

Look at the stretch of still water,

Veiled by the sindu-vāra shrubs growing around its banks,

Like a woman, clad in fine white cloth,

Who is lying down.


The ostensible, erotically-charged comparison seems to be between a lake surrounded by white-flowered shrubs whose Latin name is vitex negundo and a wanton young woman, clad in lingerie of maybe lace or white silk, who is stretched out in a supine position, coolly waiting to be entered.

The other, contrary way of reading today's verse is as a metaphor for how, in practising dispassion, to lie down – letting the spine stretch out to its full extent, not by doing something but rather by letting the waters of the mind be still. In that case, the fine white cloth might again (as in BC4.46) suggest a lay practitioner's robe.

When one sits on a round black cushion endeavouring to clarify what a buddha-ancestor like Dogen meant by “naturally/spontaneously becoming one piece,” the whole point might be for the head, the heart, the hara and the hands not to be disconnected from each other. 

The way that “right posture” tends to be pursued in Japan, however, where form is often prioritized over content, the head, heart, and hara are always liable to become disconnected from each other. I know whereof I speak.

In seeking to allow these energetic centres to come back into a more healthy and natural alignment – which is what I sought by coming back to England to train as an Alexander teacher from 1995 – there is nothing more effective, for the person with faulty sensory appreciation, than lying down on the floor with one's head under a book and one's bent knees pointing up to the ceiling or the sky, and letting oneself stretch out to one's full extent, naturally, like water in a long pond.

I thought it might be helpful to include a picture of a woman (preferably clad in a white robe) lying down with her knees bent and with her hands down by her sides, palms facing down. This is generally how Marjory Barlow had me lie down on her teaching table – though sometimes she would move out both legs so that I was lying flat out (i.e. supine). When I did a google search for an image of somebody lying down with knees bent and arms by their side, what I found was a lot of photos with captions referring to “semi-supine” – a meaningless pseudo-scientific sounding phrase which Marjory held in contempt – and with the “semi-supine” devotee resting his or her hands on his or her belly. This position of the hands, it seems, has become Alexander orthodoxy. I did, however, find one good picture of one human being who evidently had not yet become an Alexanderized expert on the “semi-supine position,” and here that photo is:

If we could learn consciously to sit as naturally as this child is lying down, we might be doing (or allowing) what FM Alexander intended. Equally, if we could learn consciously to lie down as naturally as the Buddha sat, under the bodhi tree, we might be doing (or allowing) what Aśvaghoṣa in today's verse intended. 

It has taken very many generations for a "pulling in of the chin to straighten the neck bones"  albeit a slight pull  to become Zen orthodoxy. But placing the hands on the abdomen while lying "semi-supine" has become Alexander orthodoxy just within two or three generations. Here is one respect, then, in which Zen practitioners could use the world of Alexander practice as a mirror  a mirror in which to see our own fault. 

dīrghikām (acc. sg.): f. an oblong lake or pond
dīrgha: mfn. long
dīrghā: f. an oblong tank
prāvṛtām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. covered , enclosed , screened , hid in (instr. or comp.)
paśya = 2nd pers. sg. imperative paś: to see, look at, behold

tīra-jaiḥ (inst. pl. m.): mfn. 'bank-born,' growing near a shore
sindu-vārakaiḥ (inst. pl.): m. Vitex Negundo

pāṇḍurāṁśuka-saṁvītām (acc. sg. f.): covered over with a fine white cloth
pāṇḍura: mfn. whitish , white , pale , yellow
aṁśuka: n. cloth ; fine or white cloth, muslin ; garment , upper garment
saṁvīta: mfn. covered over , clothed

śayānām (acc. sg. f.): mfn. lying down , resting , sleeping
pramadām (acc. sg.): f. a young and wanton woman , any woman
iva: like

[No corresponding Chinese]

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