Wednesday, August 7, 2013

BUDDHACARITA 6.56: Decisiveness, Doubt & Upwardly Directed Energy

¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−   Upajāti (Premā)
maṇi-tsaruṁ chandaka-hasta-saṁsthaṁ tataḥ kumāro niśitaṁ ghītvā |
kośād-asiṁ kāñcana-bhakti-citraṁ bilād-ivāśī-viṣam-udbabarha || 6.56

The jewelled hilt in Chandaka's hand

The prince then sharply grasped,

And from its sheath the gold-streaked sword,

Like a viper from its hole, he drew up and out.

Today's verse abandons the 8-syllable per pāda śloka metre in favour of the 11-syllable per pāda upajāti metre – signalling that the end of the Canto is not far away. To be exact, the next ten verses will also be in the upajāti metre, and the last two verses of the Canto (BC6.67, BC6.68) will be in the 12-syllable Vaṁśastha metre.

With the change in metre comes a sense of pressing on with relating vital elements in the traditional narrative – centring on the prince's cutting off of his hair and acceptance of the ochre robe. In today's verse the relating is done in a characteristically vivid manner, with the metaphor of the snake. As EHJ noted (in the 1930s): “The practice of letting down a bait on a line into a snake's hole and drawing the snake out by it is said still to persist in India.”

On a textual note, in the 2nd pāda EHJ changed the old Nepalese manuscript's kumāro (“the prince”) to sa dhīro (“he resolutely”), based on the Tibetan translation. The mystery, which EHJ himself refers to in a footnote, is how EBC, working from later copies of the old Nepalese manuscript, also came to have sa dhīro in his text. The Chinese translation has 太子 "the prince,” as EHJ notes, but the Chinese translation, as EHJ adds, with justification, “cannot be relied on in such matters.”

Presumably when drawing out a venomous snake from its hole, it does not do to dither about, and so the metaphor does indicate a certain resoluteness or decisiveness. Rather than change the text, however, I have understood niśitam which ostensibly describes the sword as sharp, also to be a description of the manner of the prince's grasping the hilt – sharply, eagerly, or decisively.

As far as golden streaks are concerned, a quick google search for “viper” suggests that viper fits the bill:

Today's verse then seems to me to be all about decisiveness. I say “seems to me to be” because I am not one hundred per-cent certain.

Looking, on the basis of uncertainty, for other meanings that may be hidden below the surface, the most likely place to start digging might be kāñcana-bhakti-citram which ostensibly describes the sword as streaked (bhakti-citram) with gold (kāñcana) but which could be read as describing sitting upright with an enlightened mind (symbolized by a sharp sword) as conspicuous (citram) through devotion (bhakti) to what is golden (kāñcana). In that case the ud (up) of udbabarha (drew up / drew out) might have meaning that should not be overlooked.

As I sat this morning reflecting on the meaning of “up and out,” I could see afresh, from what was happening in terms of my own direction (or mis-direction) of energy, the wisdom of Alexander's “head forward and up” which means, in other words, “head out, and up.” In that order. Going directly for the up, without the inhibitory forward / out, tends to stimulate, in a person with faulty sensory appreciation, rooted in an immature tonic labyrinthine reflex in extension, a stiffening response in which the head pulls back and down, or in and down – like the head of tortoise retreating into its shell. “For you,” as one very wise and perceptive Alexander teacher once said to me, “up is a poisoned word!” Very true. And the antidote to that poison lies in directions like head and knees forward, back back; or like left side to go left, right side to go right – letting the up be a secondary consideration.

None of this will make much sense to readers who don't have experience of Alexander work under an Alexander teacher who knows the score. But I am not writing this for you. If I cared more about you the reader, I wouldn't write such long comments. No, I am writing all this for myself. You are very welcome to eavesdrop, though.

As I sat this morning reflecting on why “out and up” is for me a safer and wiser direction than “up and out,” it struck me that the jewelled hilt (maṇi-tsarum), can be understood as representing the head, which leads the whole up – providing that the serpent's coiled tail is not somehow wedged or stuck at the bottom of the hole.

Too much attention to the jewelled hilt without due attention to the bottom of the hole is, like thinking up without first thinking forward/out, a path fraught with danger. By “due attention to the bottom of the hole” I mean allowing the area around the pelvis and the top of the legs (where the spiral musculature of the back meets the muscles which connect the back and the legs) to come undone.

The Sanskrit word kuṇḍalinī, if I understand it correctly, is the feminine of kuṇḍalin, which means “decorated with ear-rings” or “circular” or “coiled.” And the feminine substantive with which kuṇḍalinī agrees is śakti, which means power or energy. Now to google kuṇḍalinī is liable to lead one to all sorts of esoteric descriptions of a serpent which I dare say does not exist, in me or in any other human being. Most descriptions of kuṇḍalinī, especially ones by superstitious Indian worshippers of many gods, are a load of old rubbish, to be treated with extreme skepticism. I also wouldn't recommend believing a single word I write on the subject.

But what I would submit from experience is that it is not so difficult to train oneself, especially if one starts early enough in life, physically to sit in full lotus for several hours a day – just as it is not all that difficult for most young people to train to run a marathon -- because the human body is so adaptable.

But to learn consciously to direct one's energy in an upward direction – and to keep this practice going on a daily basis, even while, for example, your Zen teacher is forgetting who you are but is continuing to act in his habitual controlling manner as if he were still in possession of all his faculties; or while your family's life savings are heading south due to the effect of central bank intervention in the gold market that you did not see coming – is not at all easy.

Doing stuff is relatively easy. Human beings have evolved to do stuff. Allowing, which requires conscious thought, or mindfulness, is a much tougher proposition. 

A year or so ago, I was doing some Alexander work with my hands on a follower of this blog who turned to me and said, “It is curved, isn't it?” My answer was an unequivocal, decisive yes – even though I am not entirely certain what “it is curved” means.

A few weeks ago I was doing some Alexander work with an Alexander head of training who had his hands on a trainee teacher who had her hands on me. After we had finished working, the head of training turned to me and said, “It is curved, isn't it?” Again, I am not really certain what he meant. And yet, on some level, on a good day, I know.

So I do not affirm these images. In reality, there is no snake as depicted below. But in upwardly directed human energy, there might be something spirallic. Or at least there is something that is curved.

maṇi-tsarum (acc. sg. m.): mfn. jewel-handled ; the jewelled hilt
tsaru: m. a crawling animal ; the stalk of a leaf , handle of a vessel ; the hilt of a sword
chandaka-hasta-saṁstham (acc. sg. m.): in / by Chandaka's hand
saṁstha: mfn. standing together , standing or staying or resting or being in or on , contained in (loc. or comp.); being in or with , belonging to (loc. or comp.)

tataḥ: ind. then
kumāraḥ (nom. sg. m.): the prince
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
dhīraḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. steady , constant , firm , resolute , brave , energetic , courageous , self-possessed , composed , calm , grave
niśitam (acc. sg. m./n.) mfn. sharpened , sharp (lit. and fig.) ; stimulated , excited , eager for (loc.) ; n. iron , steel
gṛhītvā = abs. grah: to take, grasp, seize

kośāt (abl. sg.): m. a cask ; a sheath , scabbard , &c
asim (acc. sg.): m. ( √2. as) , a sword , scimitar , knife (used for killing animals)
kāñcana-bhakti-citram (acc. sg. m.): streaked with gold ; conspicuous through devotion to the golden
kāñcana: n. gold; mfn. golden
bhakti: f. a streak , line , variegated decoration; a row , series , succession , order ; attachment , devotion , fondness for , devotion to (with loc. , gen. or ifc.)
citra: mfn. conspicuous , excellent , distinguished ; bright , clear , bright-coloured ; variegated , spotted , speckled (with instr. or in comp.)

bilāt (abl. sg.): n. a cave , hole , pit , opening ,
iva: like
āśī-viṣam (acc. sg.): m. a kind of venomous snake
āśis: f. a serpent's fang
viṣa: n. " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious

udbabarha = 3rd pers. sg. perf. ud- √ bṛh (= ud- √ vṛh): to draw up , pull out by the roots , eradicate ; to draw out (e.g. a sword from the scabbard)

衆寶莊嚴劍 車匿常執隨
太子拔利劍 如龍曜光明

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