⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−−¦¦⏑−⏑−¦−⏑⏑¦−⏑−− Upajāti (Mālā)
yataḥ śarīraṁ manaso vaśena pravartate vāpi nivartate vā |
yukto damaś-cetasa eva tasmāc-cittād-te kāṣṭha-samaṁ śarīram || 7.27
Since the body, by the mind's command,
Either carries on or stops its doing,
Therefore what is appropriate is taming of the mind.
Without the thinking mind, the body is like a wooden log.
Experts in the workings of the human mind include great writers, like William Shakespeare, and great psychologists, like Sigmund Freud.
Experts in the workings of the human body include great physiologists like Charles Sherrington.
But to know the Buddha's teaching, in my book, is to know sitting, from the inside of it.
To know sitting means to know not only the ease in sitting referred to yesterday in the famous Zen phrase 安樂法門 (ANRAKU [no] HOMON), the Dharma-gate of ease/happiness, but to know also the difficulty of sitting; it means to know good sitting, to know bad sitting, and to know sitting beyond good and bad. It means to know sitting with the body, to know sitting with the mind, and to know sitting as dropping off body and mind.
Read in this light, today's verse might be an expression of that naïve idealism on the prince's part in which mind and body are seen as originally separate from each other; or it might be a precursor to that practical teaching of the enlightened Buddha which recognized the role that the thinking mind has to play in allowing the right thing to do itself. I think Aśvaghoṣa exactly intended today's verse to be both.
This morning while I was sitting I remembered something that, during a lesson with Marjory Barlow, made me laugh at the time, and made me smile inwardly to remember it. In a previous lesson Marjory had emphasized the importance of humility on the teacher's part in giving an Alexander lesson. I had related what I thought Marjory had said to my brother, in Chinese whispers style, and he had related it to one of his Alexander teachers, who was nearly as experienced as Marjory was. This veteran teacher had replied that for her it was not so much about humility as it was all about confidence. So the new Chinese whisper was duly relayed back from my brother to me and from big-mouthed me to Marjory herself. Marjory who was working with me on the table at the time paused for a good while. What kind of clarification might follow, I wondered to myself, expectantly. “Oh well,” Marjory said finally, “I know what I mean!”
This, in retrospect, was one of Marjory's all-time best clarifications – in the same spirit as what I referred to yesterday about happiness spreading out in waves, a la Ricky Nelson.
I have described on this blog many times, in such a way that I am afraid that few readers, or none, has truly been able to understand what I have been going on about, that in his eagerness to negate naïve idealism, my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima threw the baby out with the bathwater when it came to being prepared to recognize any role for the thinking mind in sitting-zen. For Gudo, Dogen's “sitting with the mind” meant sitting in a somewhat imbalanced condition, with the sympathetic nervous system in the ascendancy.
And so now here I am writing again about my teacher's big mistake. And every time I write about it I do so with less and less of an expectation that anybody out there will really understand what I am writing about, and more and more of a sense, a la Ricky Nelson and a la Marjory Barlow, that it is all right now, as long as I know what I mean!
FM Alexander described his work as the most mental thing there is, because Alexander work is all about the conscious sending of mental messages to muscles either to get on and do something (“direction), or to stop doing (“inhibition”).
In that sense, the thoughts around mind and body of FM Alexander and the thoughts around mind and body expressed by the Buddha-to-be in today's verse would seem to have a lot in common with each other, but not so much in common with the Buddha's teaching as I have just discussed it, in which he primary thing is neither mind nor body, but the act of sitting.
And yet, the first paragraph of Alexander's third book, The Use of the Self, contains the following admission.
I must admit that when I began my investigation, I, in common with most people, conceived of 'body' and 'mind' as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties, and shortcomings could be classified as either 'mental' or 'physical' and dealt with on specifically 'mental' or specifically 'physical' lines. My practical experiences, however, led me to abandon this point of view and readers of my books will be aware that the technique described in them is based on the opposite conception, namely, that it is impossible to separate 'mental' and 'physical' processes in any form of human activity.
And at the same time, as quoted in Shobogenzo, Sakyamuni Buddha told a great gathering:
"This is why we practise full lotus sitting."
Then the Thus-Come, the World-Honored One, taught his disciples that they should, like this, sit. Among those who stray from the way some seek enlightenment by constantly remaining on tiptoes, some seek enlightenment by constantly standing up, and some seek enlightenment by constantly carrying their legs on their shoulders. Mad and stubborn mind like this is sunk in the sea of falsity, and the physical form is not quiet. Therefore the Buddha taught his disciples full lotus sitting -- sitting that rights hearts and minds. How so? Because, when we allow the body to be upright, the heart tends to mend. When the body itself rights sitting, then the heart is not faint and, with open heart and true mind, we tether our attention to what exists before us. If the mind races or becomes distracted, if the body leans or becomes agitated, [sitting] inhibits this and brings us back. When we want to experience samadhi and want to enter samadhi, and yet all kinds of thought-chasing and and all kinds of dissipation is going on, [sitting] totally puts a stop to all this. Training and learning like this, we experience and enter the samadhi that is king of samadhis.
I have devoted nearly 20 years now to an effort to clarify for self and others the significance of Alexander's discovery, or re-discovery, of the secret of Zen for our time. But in recent months, and particularly this summer while alone in France, I have felt myself tangibly losing the will to continue any effort that is primarily directed towards others.
A few months ago I received an email from an evidently highly intelligent Zen academic / mathematician – not the one referred to yesterday but another one – who expressed his desire to meet me for some one-on-one Zen doku-san. This Ph.D-to-be expressed his interest in what I had written about “sitting with the mind.” He seemed to understand that by “sitting with the mind” I meant some kind of purely mental meditation which saved one the bother of actually placing one's sitting bones on a cushion and crossing one's legs on the floor.
Oh well.... I know what I mean.
Sometimes, it is true, without the thinking mind the body is like a wooden log. And sometimes, it is also true, the body without any thinking mind spontaneously rises up from the earth like a geyser.
That being so "without the thinking mind the body is like a wooden log" is all too true, and all too false.
yataḥ: ind. since
śarīram (nom. sg.): n. the body
manasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. the mind
vaśena (inst. sg.): m. authority , power , control , dominion (vaśena " by command of , by force of , on account of , by means of , according to ")
pravartate = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ vṛt: , to roll or go onwards (as a carriage) , be set in motion or going
nivartate = 3rd pers. sg. ni- √ vṛt: to turn back , stop (trans. and intrans.); to turn away , retreat , flee , escape , abstain or desist; to leave off, cease , end , disappear , vanish ; to be ineffective or useless ; not to exist (yato vāco nivartante , for which there are no words)
yuktaḥ (nom. sg. m.): mfn. fit , suitable , appropriate , proper , right , established , proved , just , due , becoming to or suitable for (gen. loc. or comp); auspicious , favourable
damaḥ (nom. sg.): m. self-command , self-restraint , self-control; m. taming
cetasaḥ (gen. sg.): n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind
tasmāt: ind. from that, therefore
cittāt (abl. sg.): n. thinking , reflecting , imagining , thought; n. the heart, mind
ṛte: ind. under pain of , with the exclusion of , excepting , besides , without , unless (with abl. or acc. or a sentence beginning with yatas)
kāṣṭha-samam (nom. sg. n.): like a lump of wood
kāṣṭha: n. a piece of wood or timber , stick
sama: mfn. same , equal , similar , like , equivalent
śarīram (nom. sg.): n. the body