Tuesday, December 16, 2008

SAUNDARANANDA 3.2; Observing the Miseries of End-gaining

vividha aagamaaMs tapasi taaMsh ca
vividha niyama aashrayaan muniin
prekSHya sa viSHaya-tRSHaa-kRpaNaan
an-avasthitam tapa iti nyavartata

In the approach to ascetic practice
of various sacred traditions,

And in the attachment of sages
to various restrictive rules,

He observed the miseries of thirsting for an object.

Seeing ascetic practice to be unreliable,
he turned away from it.

If you would like to know the Sanskrit for "end-gaining," here it is:
viSHaya-tRSHaa, object-thirsting.

If you would like to read a description of a definite method of working in the direction which is opposite to object-thirsting, I recommend you to read THIS. If you have read it already, I recommend you to read it again. I recommend you to print it out and read it through in detail, and see if you can work out for yourself what the legacy was, that a very old, experienced and compassionate Alexander teacher was endeavouring -- and not for her own glory -- to bequeath to future generations.

vividha: varying, of various kinds
aagamaan = accusative, plural of aagama: arrival, learning, sacred tradition, received wisdom
tapasi: (locative) ascetic practice
taan: (accusative, plural) them, those
ca: and

vividha: varying
niyama: restriction, restrictive rule
aashraya: attachment to, devotion to, refuge in, recourse to
muniin: (accusative, plural) sages

prekSHya: look on (without interfering), observe
sa: he
viSHaya: object of sense-perception, object
tRSHaa: thirst, great eagerness to get something, craving to gain something
kRpaaNaan: (accusative, plural) miseries, instances of wretchedness

an-avasthitam: not certain, not reliable
apa: ascetic practice
iti: thus [he thought, and...]; [because it was] thus, [he...]
nyavartata: turned away

EH Johnston:
But finding that the sages were practising austerities according to varying scriptures and under varying rules and were still made wretched by desire for sensory objects, He concluded that there was no certainty in asceticism and turned away.

Linda Covill:
He noticed that the sages held varying doctrines concerning asceticism and that they followed a variety of practices, yet were still miserable for want of sensual experience. So he turned away, concluding that asceticism was unreliable.


oxeye said...

Thanks Mike, but not sure that the opposite of object thirsting is where I want to be. Object thirsting sounds a little like my conception of materialism..

Anonymous said...

You might enjoy the writing of Bhikku Bodhi.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Oxeye,

When a person wishes to attain on object -- whether the object be a material object like a shiny new motorcycle, or whether the object be a holistic experience like psycho-physical release -- there are generally two opposing approaches: a direct one and in indirect one. Object-thirsting is direct -- e.g. steal the bike, or buy it on credit even though you can't afford it; or go crawling around the forest imitating the freedom of a deer. The indirect approach is to think out the proper means-whereby -- e.g. earn some money by doing a useful job; or visit a good teacher.

Negation of object-thirsting does not mean negation of gaining the objective. We want to gain our objectives, and in order to do so reliably we have to inhibit our craving to grab for the object directly, relying on means which have not been properly thought out.

The young Gautama noticed that, in their thirst for the attainment of their spiritual goals, the ascetics were not following reliable means. They were going directly for their spiritual objectives, without thinking out the means. They were thereby bringing misery on themselves.

This attitude is what FM Alexander called "end-gaining" as opposed to the means-whereby approach.

If, in sitting-zen, you try to get your spine to straighten in an object-thirsting way, you may gain your objective, but in doing so you will become not more free but more rigid.

So, intelligence is required to think out how the spine can be allowed to lengthen in a way that is associated not with muscular rigidity but rather with muscular release.

Our ultimate object, as drinkers of Ashvaghosha's medicine, has to do with muscular release.

It is not a question of denying ourselves material things. It is a question of thinking out the means-whereby we can bring about and enjoy real, muscular release.

Raymond said...


I am beginning to appreciate the fundamental point you are making. How many times have I consciously tried to inhibit my own inclination to grasp the end only to, in time, begin to use the means as a way to gain that very end, thus losing the meaning of the striving.

It is a tension...how to pursue an end and yet not carry ourselves forward toward that end and thus out of the present wherein we are engaged in the means-whereby as a process that is valuable in itself.

Can we simultaneously seek a goal and mindfully inhibit our reaction to hastily attain it, thereby losing ourselves in our own greed for that attainment.

It seems like a necessarily lifelong effort to control our own habit of end-gaining. Maybe that is the discipline that this path calls for. I don't know.


Mike Cross said...

Thank you very much, Raymond. You have expressed the nub of the problem more clearly than I have expressed it myself. Your comment gives me great encouragement. You see, the point I have been struggling to make -- which is also Ashvaghosha's AARYAH NYAYA -- is not a principle that can be mass marketed, or forced upon others through political machinations. It is up to individuals such as you and me to think it out, and make it real by testing it out in our own experience -- because we want to --in the manner you describe.