mukuṭād-dīpa-karmāṇaṁ maṇim-ādāya bhāsvaram |
bruvan vākyam-idaṁ tasthau sāditya iva mandaraḥ || 6.13
The shining pearl, which serves as a source of light,
He took into his possession, from his crown,
And firmly he stood, speaking these words,
Like Mount Mandara in the Aditi-begotten sun.
The conventions of English grammar make it difficult to retain in their original position the four elements of today's verse which are namely:
(1) something starting in the crown which has the function of a light (a metaphor for consciousness?),
(2) a shining jewel (a precious stone; a material thing which has economic value) appropriated for a particular use,
(3) the action of standing firmly, and speaking,
(4) the imposing reality suggested by the simile of a legendary mountain standing in the sun.
Maṇiṁ could could mean a jewel or a pearl. My opting for pearl is probably biased by descriptions in Shobogenzo (probably drawn from the Lotus Sutra as translated by Kumārajīva) of pearls in top-knots, as well as by Master Gensa's famous assertion that the whole Universe in ten directions is one bright pearl.
Mukuṭād-ādāya could means “he took from the crown” or “he received through the crown” – in which case “crown,” as in English, could mean a crown worn on the head, or the head itself. Mukuṭād-ādāya could mean “he felt from the crown” or “he imparted to himself from the crown” or “he separated from the crown” or “he appropriated from the crown.”
The challenge in verses like today's verse is to see not only the fabulous or fantastic scene that Aśvaghoṣa is inviting us to picture on the service, but also a more prosaic and practical hidden meaning.
Such hidden meaning is not liable to be dug out by the means of sitting at a computer screen and woffling about chakras.
Nevertheless, today's verse can be read as an invitation to investigate what the light of consciousness is, and to ask, for example: Is it limited to the top two inches? Or can it be separated from the top two inches? Again, if it is not limited to the top two inches, how far down might it go?
Many of the children my wife and I have worked with over the years who are easily distracted (or in other words are considered to have poor powers of concentration, or to be poor listeners, or to have attention deficit disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are often described by their mothers, paradoxically, as being remarkably good at focusing for long periods on something that grabs their attention – video games being the usual example.
It might be said that these children do not suffer from a deficit of the light of attention; rather, they suffer from a weak ability to appropriate that light. In other words they have not learned how to turn the light around and make it into their own possession.
It might be argued further that the essence of meditative activities – especially activities involving very slow movement and standing or sitting firmly in non-movement – is to appropriate or to take possession of the light of attention.
Today's verse, then, below the surface, can be read as a four-phased description of what sitting-meditation is – in which case Mount Mandara might be said to correspond to the 坐 (ZA; sitting) and the Aditi-begotten sun to the 禅 (ZEN; meditation) of 坐禅 (ZAZEN; sitting-meditation).
Incidentally, in process of preparing today's translation and commentary I googled various phrases like “pearl in the top-knot” and “jewel in the Buddha's crown,” and these searches yielded – as might be expected – links to some fabulous and fantastic passages, mainly from Mahāyana sūtras.
But one of the links was to a website which has a page with a very clear guide to Sanskrit pronunciation. It caused me to reflect again how good it would be to be able to hear Aśvaghoṣa's original words recited by somebody with a voice as clear as that of the woman on these recordings.
Having prepared the above comment yesterday, when I sat for an hour this morning, I tried picturing something like a shining pearl as a source of light in my head. Such use of visual images is not unheard of in Alexander work. Marjory Barlow, for example, sometimes used the image of a ping-pong ball on top of a fountain to convey the sense of the head going forward and up on top of a lengthening spine.
Whether the use of such images is authentic or not comes down, in Alexander work, to one criterion, and the criterion is: going up? or going down?
In the transmission of the Buddha-dharma, similarly, Dogen reports, there is one criterion, and again it is centred on upright balance. The criterion is, namely, the samādhi (or balanced state) of accepting and using the self. My teacher tried to reduce this to balance of the autonomic nervous system, for which stupidity, as you have witnessed on this blog, I have vented my anger towards him, thus spectacularly failing to meet the criterion.
In any event, the wisdom behind the reductionist stupidity was the wisdom of knowing that the criterion is balance. Balance like that realized by the Buddha when he sat under the bodhi-tree acala-dhṛtir-adri-rājavat as unmovably stable as the king of mountains (SN3.7).
Did visualizing a shining pearl help me sit like a mountain this morning, or not?
I don't know.
The experiment did cause me to reflect that I tend to assume that I know what it is to sit like a mountain but am less sure what it means to turn the light around and let it shine – as if I knew what mass was, but was less sure about energy and light.
When I examination this assumption that I know what mass is, however, is it not a most extremely stupid unexamined view?
What do I really know? I don't know what mass is, any more than I know what energy or light is. I know that on several occasions in my adult life, I have fucked up big time, acting on the basis of imbalanced states of greed, fear/anger, and delusion. Consequently, anything that might offer even a remote hope of serving as an antidote to these three, I am prepared to give a try – setting aside, at least temporarily, intellectual judgements of what is authentic and what is not authentic.
When imbalanced people try to be right, that is a recipe for disaster. But that is what Japanese Zen is mainly all about. Seeing my own delusory desire to be proven right, sadly, as very much part of the problem, I hope every day for redemption through service of Aśvaghoṣa.
This might be the truest thing I have said in a long time – in which case, I don't know, but credit may possibly be due to the shining pearl.
mukuṭāt (abl. sg.): mn. a tiara , diadem , crown ; a crest , point , head
mukuṭa-ratna / mukuṭopala: m. a crest-gem , jewel on a diadem
mukuṭin: mfn. crowned , wearing a diadem
dīpa-karmāṇam (acc. sg. m): having the action of a light / lamp
dīpa: m. a light , lamp , lantern
karman: n. act, action (frequently ifc. , the first member of the compound being either the person who performs the action [e.g. vaṇik-k° , a merchant's business] or the person or thing for or towards whom the action is performed [e.g. rāja-k° , the business of a king , paśu-k° , animal sacrifice] or a specification of the action [e.g. śaurya-k°, a heroic deed , prīti-k°, an act of friendship]) ; occupation ; work
dīpa-ṁ-kara: m. " light-causer " , N. of a mythical buddha
maṇim (acc. sg.): m. a jewel , gem , pearl (also fig.) , any ornament or amulet , globule , crystal
ādāya = abs. ā- √ dā: " to give to one's self " , take , accept , receive from ; to take off or out from (abl.) , separate from (abl.) ; to seize , grasp , take or catch hold ; to perceive , notice , feel ; to keep in mind
ā-: (as a prefix to verbs , especially of motion , and their derivatives) near , near to , towards
√ dā: to give , bestow , grant , yield , impart , present , offer to
bhāsvaram (acc. sg. m.): mfn. shining , brilliant , bright , resplendent
bruvan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. brū: to speak
vākyam (acc. sg.): n. speech, words
idam (acc. sg. n.): this
tasthau = 3rd pers. sg. perf. sthā: to stand , stand firmly
sa-: (connected with saha , sam , sama) an inseparable prefix expressing "junction" , "conjunction" , "possession" (as opp. to a priv.) , " similarity " , " equality " (and when compounded with nouns to form adjectives and adverbs it may be translated by " with " , " together or along with " , " accompanied by " , " added to " , " having " , " possessing " , " containing " ,
ādityaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. belonging to or coming from aditi ; m. " son of aditi "; m. pl. N. of seven deities of the heavenly sphere RV. ix , 114 , 3 , &c S3Br. iii , 1 , 3 , 3 (the chief is varuṇa , to whom the N. āditya is especially applicable ) ; m. N. of a god in general , especially of sūrya (the sun) ; mfn. relating to the god of the sun
mandaraḥ (nom. sg. m.): m. N. of a sacred mountain (the residence of various deities ; it served the gods and asuras for a churning-stick at the churning of the ocean for the recovery of the amṛta and thirteen other precious things lost during the deluge)