Under the rose-apple tree

Under the rose-apple tree

Sunday, 7 February 2016

True Mindfulness in the Middle Way: Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṁ

In the opening verse of Saundarananda Canto 15, Aśvaghoṣa describes the Buddha telling Nanda:

yatra tatra vivikte tu
In whatever place of solitude you are,
baddhvā paryaṅkam uttamam 

cross the legs in the supreme manner,
ṛjuṁ kāyaṁ samādhāya 

And align the body so that it tends straight upward;
smṛtyābhimukhayānvitaḥ
thus attended by awareness/mindfulness that is directed...

In giving Nanda these instructions in this order, the Buddha is following a formula that appears again and again in the Pali Suttas --> finding a place of solitude, sitting with legs crossed, directing the body up, and thereby bringing mindfulness to the fore. Maybe the best known example is at the beginning of the section on in-and-out breathing in the Great Sutra on Ways of Attending to Mindfulness, Mahāsatipaṭṭhānasuttaṁ:


And how, monks, does a monk dwell in the body contemplating the body? 

Here, monks, a monk who has gone to the wilderness, or has gone to the root of a tree, or has gone to an empty place, sits. Folding his legs into the lotus posture, directing the body up, and thus establishing mindfulness to the fore, he, just being mindful breathes in, and just being mindful breathes out.
While breathing in long, he knows “I am breathing in long”,
or, while breathing out long, knows “I am breathing out long”;
or, while breathing in short, knows “I am breathing in short”,
or, while breathing out short, knows “I am breathing out short”.
“Being thoroughly aware of [or with] the whole body, I will breathe in”: like this he trains;
“being thoroughly aware of [or with] the whole body, I will breathe out”: like this he trains.
“Causing bodily doing to cease, I will breathe in”: like this he trains;
“causing bodily doing to cease, I will breathe out”: like this he trains.

Just as, monks, a skilled turner or turner's apprentice
while making a long turn knows “I am making a long turn”,
or, while making a short turn knows “I am making a short turn”,
just so, monks, a monk while breathing in long, knows “I am breathing in long”,
or, while breathing out long, knows “I am breathing out long”;
or, while breathing in short, knows “I am breathing in short”,
or, while breathing out short, knows “I am breathing out short”.
“Being thoroughly aware of [or with] the whole body, I will breathe in”: like this he trains;
“being thoroughly aware of [or with] the whole body, I will breathe out”: like this he trains.
“Causing bodily doing to cease, I will breathe in”: like this he trains;
“causing bodily doing to cease, I will breathe out”: like this he trains.

Thus he dwells in the body contemplating the body inwardly,
[he dwells in the body reflecting inwardly with the body]
or he dwells in the body contemplating the body outwardly,
[he dwells in the body reflecting outwardly with the body]
or he dwells in the body contemplating the body inwardly and outwardly,
[he dwells in the body reflecting inwardly and outwardly with the body]
or he dwells in the body contemplating the nature of arising,
or he dwells in the body contemplating the nature of passing away,
or he dwells in the body contemplating the nature of arising and passing away,
or else mindfulness that “there is a body” is established in him
just as far as (is necessary for) a full measure of knowing and a full measure of mindfulness,
and he dwells independent, and does not cling to anything in the world.
In this way, monks, a monk dwells in the body contemplating the body.
[In this way, monks, a monk dwells in the body reflecting with the body.]

Kathañ-ca, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati? Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhu araññagato vā, rukkhamūlagato vā, suññāgāragato vā, nisīdati. Pallaṅkaṁ ābhujitvā, ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya, parimukhaṁ satiṁ upaṭṭhapetvā, so sato va assasati, sato va passasati.

Dīghaṁ vā assasanto “dīghaṁ assasāmī” ti pajānāti,
dīghaṁ vā passasanto “dīghaṁ passasāmī” ti pajānāti;
rassaṁ vā assasanto “rassaṁ assasāmī” ti pajānāti,
rassaṁ vā passasanto “rassaṁ passasāmī” ti pajānāti.
Sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī ti sikkhati,
sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī passasissāmī ti sikkhati;
passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ assasissāmī ti sikkhati,
passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ passasissāmī ti sikkhati.

Seyyathā pi, bhikkhave, dakkho bhamakāro vā bhamakārantevāsī vā dīghaṁ vā añchanto “dīghaṁ añchāmī” ti pajānāti, rassaṁ vā añchanto “rassaṁ añchāmī” ti pajānāti,
evam-eva kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu dīghaṁ vā assasanto “dīghaṁ assasāmī” ti pajānāti,
dīghaṁ vā passasanto “dīghaṁ passasāmī” ti pajānāti;
rassaṁ vā assasanto “rassaṁ assasāmī” ti pajānāti,
rassaṁ vā passasanto “rassaṁ passasāmī” ti pajānāti.
Sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī ti sikkhati,
sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī passasissāmī ti sikkhati;
passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ assasissāmī ti sikkhati,
passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ passasissāmī ti sikkhati.

Iti ajjhattaṁ vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, bahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, ajjhattabahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati, samudayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati, vayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati, samudayavayadhammānupassī vā kāyasmiṁ viharati, “atthi kāyo” ti vā panassa sati paccupaṭṭhitā hoti yāvad-eva ñāṇamattāya patissatimattāya, anissito ca viharati, na ca kiñci loke upādiyati.
Evam-pi kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu kāye kāyānupassī viharati.



NOTES:

1. Nowhere does the Buddha speak of breathing as an object to be mindful of, or to concentrate on. The Buddha himself never speaks, at least not explicitly, of "mindfulness of breathing." Even the traditional (Skt.) phrase ānāpāna-smṛti (see e.g Saundarananda 15.64), lit. "in-out-breathing-mindfulness," which is usually translated "mindfulness of breathing," can equally literally be translated "mindfulness while breathing," or "mindfulness with breathing."

2. Pajānāti , "he knows," is present tense. So what is going on in the present, in the body/mind of the monk who is sitting, is simply a knowing -- akin to allowing, as opposed to intervening and trying to make things better already. So this knowing, as the example of the master wood turner demonstrates, is not the same as trying to concentrate on what one is doing right now, or on what one is feeling right now. The skilled wood turner does not need to concentrate on, or think about, whether he is turning long or short. Whether he is turning long or short is not his central focus but rather belongs to his peripheral awareness. In the case of the turner's apprentice who is still learning the job, however, more concentration may be in evidence. The apprentice, in other words, in a somewhat pejorative sense, is likely to be more mindful of, or to be more concentrated on, the length of the turn. But this kind of mindfulness or concentration -- i.e. the kind of trying to get it right that usually tends to accompany the learning of a new skill -- is likely to be associated with less smooth and efficient turning. It is likely to be associated with throwing a metaphorical spanner, the spanner of unduly sincere mindfulness, into the works.

3. Assasāmī, "I will breathe in," and passasāmī, "I will breathe out," are the future tense. Thus, whereas mindfulness tends to be taught as an effort to be present to (i.e. to feel out) what has in fact already passed, leaving its residue in sensory experience, in the Buddha's original teaching the focus is much more forward-looking or future-oriented -- like wishing for, or strongly looking forward to, something that cannot be got directly. This orientation might be compared to a fireman or a deck-hand leaning strongly forward when using a high-powered hose. (Very different from some depressed person more or less slumping back in a chair, trying to be mindful of sense impressions emanating from his or her flabby bottom. Different also from a monk who sits upright in lotus all day feeling his diaphragm go up and down.)

4. Sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī = sabba (all, whole) + kāya (body) + paṭi (prefix with a connotation of going back on itself, and hence in context reflectiveness) + saṁ (prefix denoting togetherness or thoroughness) + vedī (knowing -- nominative of vedin, knowing, being the knower). 


The compound sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī can thus be translated literally “Being thoroughly reflectively aware of the whole body... [I will breathe in/out]” and equally literally “Being thoroughly reflectively aware with the whole body... [I will breathe in/out]." 

In other words, the whole body (sabbakāya) can be understood not only as the object of being thoroughly reflectively aware (paṭisaṁvedī) but also as the instrument of reflection or indeed as the subject of reflection -- "The whole body being thoroughly reflective aware, I will breathe in. The whole body being thoroughly reflective aware, I will breathe out." 

In my own sitting practice, the Buddha's words sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī ti have come to translate themselves along the lines of "The whole body being informed with thought, I will breathe in." This phrasing reflects the effort of an Alexander teacher named Marjory  Barlow to teach me in practice what it might mean to inform the whole body with thought. 

5. Many translators and teachers seem to have understood the Buddha's words passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ assasissāmī ti to mean something along the lines of "calming the breathing, I will breathe in." This is a fundamental misunderstanding. Truly to understand what the Buddha meant by "causing bodily doing to cease" (passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ), it is necessary to understand what the Buddha meant by "doings" or "habitual doings" (saṅkhārān; [Skt.] saṁskārāḥ) as the 2nd in the 12-fold link in the dependent arising of suffering. It is primarily in this direction that I am planning, in due course, to do the best translation I can of Nāgārjuna's MMK.

It is a nice irony that when mindfulness meditators try to calm their breathing by direct means, what they are doing is just habitual doing born of ignorance. So instead of causing bodily doing to cease, as per the Buddha's instruction, they are doing the opposite and causing bodily doing to carry on.

6. On first listening/reading the progression in this section on breathing in and out is linear, but in practice it becomes more circular, and with interwoven strands. 
Thus the starting point is to go to some empty place, and the end point is also an empty place -- i.e. looking forward to breathing in and out in a condition which is empty of bodily doing. Again, causing bodily doing to cease (passambhayaṁ kāyasaṅkhāraṁ) turns out in practice to bring us back to the initial instruction:  directing the body up... (ujuṁ kāyaṁ paṇidhāya...). And the whole body being informed by reflective awareness (sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī) turns out to be pretty much synonymous with both directing the body up and causing bodily doing to cease. Cf. the Alexander aphorism "direction is the truest form of inhibition." 




No comments:

Post a Comment