Saturday, January 31, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.46: Thoughts vs Unity of Awareness

khinnasya suptasya ca nirvRtasya
baadhaaM yathaa saMjanayanti shabdaaH
adhyaatmam aik'-aagryam upaagatasya
bhavanti baadhaaya tathaa vitarkaaH

When a weary man, lain down to sleep,
has gone out like a light,

Just as noises cause bother to him,

To one who has recovered original unity of awareness,

Thoughts, similarly, are bothersome.

Line 1, as I read it, is in itself a kind of statement about SUFFERING . Its three elements are (1) a kind of exhaustion, weariness, depression, or distress, doubtless caused by end-gaining (2) a kind of submission, or temporary giving up of end-gaining, and (3) a kind of peace or Nirvana -- albeit a very temporary kind.

Line 2 cites what specifically to the broken man of the first line are a further CAUSE OF SUFFERING.

In Line 3, as in the previous verse, awareness is INHIBITION, and INHIBITION is awareness. This verse adds the description of unity of awareness as being a natural state (as natural as sleep is a natural state), and a state which is inherent or original -- a birthright. The description brings to mind Master Dogen’s famous sentence in his own instructions for sitting-realisation:
eko-hensho no taiho o gaku subeshi:
shinjin jinnen ni datsuraku shite,
honrai no menmoku genzen sen.

“Learn the backward step of turning light and shining:
body and mind will naturally drop off
and your original face will appear.”

Unity of awareness, then, is not something that we have to strive to manufacture, arrange, or manipulate. It is rather something like the stillness of deep water, so that when we stop trying and submit to it, it is already there -- at least in principle.

Line 4 expresses, as opposed to a principle, a real phenomenon that is observed without fail by everybody who actually endeavours in practice to tread A PATH OF INHIBITION. That phenomenon is bothersome thoughts and in particular, to use Jordan’s phrase, “negative chatter.”

England football legend Gary Lineker once said that a striker's life is 99% frustration. A striker means a goal scorer. Goal scoring is a striker's job. But when we listen to an actual striker talking from his real experience, he reports that almost all of a stiker's life is the frustration of not being able to score a goal. Maybe the same is true in a sitter’s pursuit of peace, as is true in a footballer’s pursuit of the back of the net -- complete quietness is always liable to be a frustrated ambition. This human world is a noisy place, and the negative chatter in me is all part of it.

This kind of recognition belongs to the fourth line, because -- though it may sound too cynical to the ears of the naive optimist -- it actually arises from the struggle, a largely unsuccessful struggle, to walk a PATH OF INHIBITION OF SUFFERING.

khinnasya (genitive): to him who is depressed, distressed, wearied, exhausted
suptasya (genitive): [and] asleep
ca: and (connecting suptasya with khinnasya)
nirvRtasya (genitive): to him who is extinguished, out like a light, fast asleep

baadhaam = accusative of baadhaa: pain, disturbance, harm, annoyance
saMjanayanti (causative of saMjan): cause to be born, generate, create, cause
shabdaaH (nominative, plural): noises

adhyaatma: own, belonging to self
eka: one
agrya: foremost, topmost; proficient, well versed in (with locative); intent, closely attentive
ekaagryam = accusative of ekaagrya: close attention
upaagatasya (genitive): to him who has reached, come towards, entered a state

bhavanti: they are, they become
baadhaaya (dative): for disturbance, for annoyance, annoying, bothersome
tathaa: likewise, so too....
vitarkaaH (nominative, plural): thoughts

EH Johnston:
As noises harass a man who is tired and soundly asleep, so thoughts harass the man who has attained internal concentration.

Linda Covill:
And just as noises disturb an exhausted person who is sleeping peacefully, so do thoughts become an irritant for someone who has reached inner one-pointedness.

Friday, January 30, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.45: Thoughts vs Thinking

kSHobhaM prakurvanti yath" ormayo hi
dhiira-prasann'-aambu-vahasya sindhoH
ek'-aagra-bhuutasya tath" ormi-bhuutaash
citt'-aambhasaH kSHobha-karaa vitarkaaH

For, just as waves induce rippling

Upon a river bearing calm, clear water,

So too do thought waves, upon unitary awareness.

It is thoughts that cause ripples
upon the water of the thinking mind.

Line 1 offers as a metaphor for SUFFERING the disturbance induced by waves.

In Line 2 a river of water is an ACCUMULATION OF MATTER/ENERGY, flowing in inexorable agreement with the prediction of the 2nd law of thermodynamics: that energy will spread out, unless prevented from doing so.

In Line 3 unitary awareness is INHIBITION and INHIBITION is awareness. It is a virtuous circle of stopping and becoming aware. In my final year of Alexander teacher-training, in 1997-98, I felt as if I was living inside this virtuous circle. That was the year in my Zazen life that bitter gourds became sweet melons. (And conversely, sweet melons turned into bitter gourds.) Alexander teachers like Ray Evans, Ron Colyer, Marjory Barlow and Nelly Ben-Or caused me to see for myself what had been demonstrated to them: that the flood of conscious awareness can only rise when we stop off at source our unconscious patterns of doing. And the more deeply and widely the flood of conscious awareness spreads, the deeper lies our own stillness and the less perturbed we are prone to be, by those habitual or reflex patterns. So it can be a viruous circle of stopping and becoming aware of what is to be stopped.

Line 4 highlights a vital distinction that I have been struggling for 15 years to clarify, for self and others. The distinction is between thoughts and what FM Alexander called 'thinking.' In discussing this distinction between thoughts and thinking, we run into a couple of serious problems. The first is that words express thoughts, but words cannot express thinking itself. The second problem is Alexander’s observation that “When you think you are thinking, you are actually feeling. And when you think you are feeling, you are doing." So I do not know what thinking is, cannot feel what thinking is, and cannot say what thinking is. But here, to give us at least a hint at what thinking is, Ashvaghosha uses the metaphor of water. Deeply ingrained in the brain and nervous system are patterns which are triggered by the tiniest thought and which generate suffering. As a MEANS for inhibiting those unconscious patterns, Ashvaghosha is telling us, thinking is like water.

kSHobham (accusative, singular): undulation, disturbance, trembling, rippling
prakurvanti (from pra + kRi): make, produce, effect; induce, move
yathaa: just as...
uurmayaH (nominative, plural): waves, billows
hi: for

dhiira: steady, constant, calm
prasanna: clear, tranquil, placid
ambu: water
vahasya = genitive of vaha: carrying, flowing, bearing along (said of rivers)
sindhaH = genitive of sindhu: river (esp. Indus), stream, flood, sea

eka: one
agra: foremost point or part, tip:
ekaagra: one-pointed, having one point, fixing one's attention upon one point or object, closely attentive, intent, absorbed in; undisturbed, unperplexed
bhuutsaya = genitive of bhuuta: (at the end of a compound) being or being like anything
ekaagra-bhuutsaya: lit. “towards/upon being one-pointed/undivided”
tathaa: so too...
uurmi: wave
uurmi-bhuutaaH (nominative, plural): [thoughts] that are like waves

citta: ‘noticed’; thinking, reflecting; mind; intention; the thinking mind
ambhasaH = genitive of ambhas: water
kSHobha: rippling
kara: making, doing, causing
vitarkaaH (nominative, plural): thoughts

EH Johnston:
For as waves disturb a stream running with calm clear water, so thoughts are the waves of the water of the mind and disturb it when it is in a state of concentration.

Linda Covill:
For just as waves make ripples in a river bearing calm, limpid water, waves of thought make ripples in the waters of the one-pointed mind.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.44: Thoughts vs Decision-making

tatr' aapi tad-dharma-gataan vitarkaan
guN-aaguNe ca prasRtaan vicaaraan
buddhvaa manaH-kSHobha-karaan a-shaantaaMs
tad-viprayogaaya matiM cakaara

At that level, though, thoughts about one’s practice

And investigations into what is or is not good,

Are causes of mental agitation;
they are not inhibitory, on seeing which,

He decided to go on without them.

Line 1 expresses an aspect of SUFFERING that is familiar to every blushing teenager; namely, self-conscious thoughts about one's own conduct. To think about one's own practice is a kind of suffering. At the same time, as we have been told in 17.42, at the level even before the first realisation, while we are still caught in the grip of end-gaining, the most important thing may be to remain in touch with our reason -- rather than to spit the dummy, or throw the toys out of the pram, in an infantile, end-gaining manner. It may be a question of choosing the lesser evil, the less harmful form of suffering -- e.g. lack of spontaneity vs out & out uninhibited end-gaining. The first words of the line tatra api, "At this level, though," are important: it is a question of what level one is at. If one's wife, for example, decides to put the washing machine on first thing in the morning, and one fails to inhibit the arising of anger, even then, as long as one stays in touch with one's reason, two reasonable (if not ideal) courses of action are available: to get up off the round cushion and ask her nicely to switch the washing machine off, or to decide to stay on the round cushion and endure the noise -- notwithstanding one's deep-seated auditory processing problem.

Line 2 represents the viewpoint which is opposed to the discomfort of self-consciousness; that is, OBJECTIVE consideration of the ins and the outs of this and that -- for example, what approach to upright sitting meets the criterion of purity (=good), and what approach is tainted by end-gaining (=not good). On a more mundane level, to return to the example of the noisy washing machine and the person with the auditory processing problem, as long as he stays in communication with his reason, he is more or less able not to express any anger that arises but instead to observe anger objectively, investigating it as a big black block of something not good, a kind of ENERGY that, having arisen, inevitably will pass. The point of this verse is to negate such reasoning investigation. What I am trying to say, in response is: OK, but not yet! Maybe later on today. Maybe by the forest in France in the spring. Maybe when I am in "the other monastery."

Line 3 relates, as usual, to the practice of INHIBITION, and highlights a paradox inherent in this practice: the very faculty which we use to get started on the path of inhibition, that is, reason, is itself an obstacle to further progress on the inhibitory path. Beyond the first realisation, intellectual processes are not, to borrow Linda Covill’s phrase, conducive to peace. In a hunt for buried gold, there comes a time to throw away the map -- or switch off the sat-nav -- and take up a spade. But, I would like to add again in protest, that time is when one has arrived at the spot marked X, not before. Our main obstacle to peace, the pattern of wrong doing that we are seeking to inhibit, centres on the infantile panic reflex, called the Moro reflex, or, on this blog, the Mara reflex. Every uninhibited thought we have of doing something, however tiny the idea may be, is liable to stimulate this pattern of wrong doing, centred on the panic reflex. The panic reflex is at the centre of a mechanism whereby the tiniest thought can produce ripples of agitation throughout the nervous system. That is what Ashvaghosha is saying here. My protest this morning is that to practise this level of inhibition is a luxury afforded to those who are already in possession of the first realisation. Big stimuli need to be dealt with before small ones. In other words, in pursuing the the treasure of nirvana, one should search first with the map, then with the spade. One shouldn't think that one can dig one's way to the beach starting from the hard shoulder of the M40, with trucks roaring by -- possibly with washing machines in them.

What I would like to express in Line 4 as a translation of viprayoga, lit. "disjunction," is the practice of giving up the thought of doing something and yet going ahead and doing it. During my morning sitting, before swaying left and right, I consciously practice giving up the idea of doing one long exhalation, in order that such a breath might sort of do itself, freely. This is a MEANS of practising inhibition that was taught to me, very explicitly, by FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow. As I explain in this article, Marjory taught me (1) to give up thoughts about being right, and thereby stay on the PATH OF INHIBITION, which will take us in the right direction; (2) to give up any thought of lengthening the spine by direct means, and thereby allow the spine to release itself into length; and (3) to give up any thought of doing a movement (e.g. moving a leg, or a whisphered 'ah'), and thereby allow the freedom for the movement to happen in a new way. In the end, what we are working towards like this is allowing a decision to take itself. It is using thought in order to experience a decision/movement which is most definitely not a thought. Line 4, as I read it, is describing this kind of decision.

tatra: there, at that stage, in that state
api: even, also, very, though
tad: that, his, its, one’s
dharma: practice
gata: going to, about
vitarkaan (accusative, plural): thoughts

guNa: merit
aguNa: demerit
guN-aaguNe (locative): [extending] to merit and demerit
ca: and
prasRta: extending to (with locative)
vicaaraan (accusative, plural): investigations, deliberations

buddhvaa = absolutive of budh: to wake up to, realise, perceive, notice, see
manaH: mind
kSHobha: shaking, agitation, disturbance, trembling, emotion
karaan = accusative, plural of kara: doer, causer
a-shaantaan = accusative, plural of a-shaanta: unappeased, indomitable, wild; uninhibited, not inhibitory

tad: that, them
viprayogaaya = dative of viprayoga: disjunction, separation from
matim = accusative mati: thought, intention, mind
cakaara: made, made up

EH Johnston:
At that point too, understanding the initial reflections on those elements and the sustained reflections on their merit and demerit to be disturbing to the mind and not to lead to tranquillity, he determined to rid himself of them.

Linda Covill:
He realized that even at this stage the initial application of concentration to the constituents of reality, as well as the sustained application of concentration to a consideration of their virtues and flaws, are not conducive to peace but make undulations in the mind. He decided to break away from them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.43: Release, Ease, Refreshment, Pleasure

kaam'-agni-daahena sa vipramukto
hlaadaM paraM dhyaana-sukhaad avaapa
sukhaM vigaahy' aapsv iva gharma-khinnaH
praapy' eva c'aarthaM vipulaM daridraH

The burning fire of longing released him.

The ease that came with the realisation
caused him to feel sublime refreshment,

Like the pleasure of a heat-exhausted man
diving into water.

Again, he was like a lost and needy soul
finding something of great value.

The construction of this verse, again, can be seen as having followed a fourfold plan.

The burning fire of longing in Line 1 is an expression of SUFFERING.

Line 2 expresses a CAUSAL relation: the ease which accompanies the giving up of an end-gaining idea leads to muscular release and increased flow of endorphins.

Line 3 offers a vivid example of CESSATION OF SUFFERING.

Line 4 adds the sense of coming into possession of A MEANS THAT IS USEFUL FOR STOPPING SUFFERING.

The deeper one digs into the fourth line, the more scenarios it yields -- partly because of the wide range of possible meanings of the word artha, which vary from (1) purpose, meaning of life, (2) substance, money, or even male sexual organ, (3) use, utility, usefulness, and (4) real thing, real object, matter of substance, work.

When Ashvaghosha used the metaphor of gold, my sense is that his intention embraced the whole range of these meanings.

kaama: desire, longing, love
agni: fire
daahena = instrumental of daaha: burning, heat
saH (nominative, singular): he
vipramuktaH (nominative, singular): loosened, released, set free

hlaadam (accusative): refreshment, pleasure
para: ascendant, excellent, supreme
dhyaana-sukhaad (ablative): from/because of realisation-ease
avaapa = perfect of aap: reach, meet with, gain

sukham (accusative): pleasure, ease
vigaahya = gerundive of vi + gaah: to plunge or dive into
aapsu (locative of ap): into water
iva: like
gharma: heat
khinnaH (nominative, singular): depressed, distressed, exhausted; the/an exhausted man

praapya = gerunding of praap: to attain to, obtain, come into
iva: like
ca: and, again
artham (accusative): purpose, use, utility; substance, wealth, property, opulence, money; thing, object (said of the membrum virile)
vipula: large, great, thick, long, abundant
daridraH (nominal, singular): poor, needy, deprived (from the root draa: to run hither and thither; to be in need or poor)

EH Johnston:
Released from the burning fire of love, he experienced supreme joy from the bliss of the trance, entering into bliss, like one oppressed by heat on entering the water or like a poor man on obtaining great wealth.

Linda Covill:
Saved from the burns of passion's fire, he experienced great rapture through the bliss of meditation, like the pleasure of a heat-exhausted man when he dives into water, or like the delight of a pauper finding fabulous wealth.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.42: Sitting/Realisation Practice - The First Realisation

kaamair viviktaM malinaish ca dharmair
vitarkavac c' aapi vicaaravac ca
viveka-jaM priiti-sukh'-opapannaM
dhyaanaM tataH sa prathamaM prapede

Having nothing to do with emotional longings
or with practices that are tainted,

But having to do with reason
and methodical investigation,

Born of discernment and possessed of joy and ease,

Is the first realisation, to which he then came.

The context is that in Canto 16 the Buddha for Nanda's benefit has elucidated the four noble truths: the truth of suffering; the truth of the cause, in tangled circuits of neurones, of suffering; the truth of inhibition of suffering; and the truth of a path, or a means-whereby, for the inhibition of suffering. After jumping forward now to verses 17.42 to 17.56, which offer up a rich seam of gold to any devotee of sitting practice, we will return in two or three weeks time to Canto 16 and dig out that chapter's abundant gold too, all being well.

So now we are joining Nanda in the middle of Canto 17: with the Buddha's help, he has reaped the third of the four fruits of the Dharma, which is the fruit of not being pulled down any more by old attachments. He is no longer dragged down, in particular, by emotional longing for Sundari, his old partner in sex. The Buddha has spelled out, for Nanda's benefit, the four noble truths. Now Nanda sits on his own round cushion, facing a choice between two different, nay opposite, approaches to sitting practice.

One way is just to sit in the way that feels right to him. If Nanda goes down this route, then in response to an idea like 'sit upright,' his body will respond unconsciously, instinctively, mindlessly. This way is called end-gaining. Practice like this, sitting with the body, has the merits that accompany the doing of any physical exercise. But practice like this has the demerit of being tainted by instinctive and ignoble end-gaining.

Alternatively, relying as a first step on the faculty of reason, Nanda can begin to apply the principle of inhibition which is the heart of the four noble truths. In this way, sitting can be a means-whereby for Nanda to embody, with his own skin, flesh, bones and marrow, the Buddha's teaching of inhibition.

This is Nanda's choice: end-gaining vs means-whereby. Either go directly for the end of upright sitting posture, relying on feeling/instinct; or inhibit the desire to go directly for the end, relying instead on thinking/reason.

Nanda's discernment of the two opposing paths, and his decision to take the inhibitory one, lead him to the first of the four dhyanas, or four realisations, in his practice of sitting/dhyana, or sitting/realisation.

A criterion for the authenticity of this first realisation is joy and ease. The inhibitory decision, as Marjory Barlow used to say, "has to be real." If the decision is real, muscles release and endorphins flow: joy and ease follow "as surely as day follows night." But if the inhibitory decision is not real, if the practitioner is fooling himself, if he secretly has fish to fry, if he is paying lip service to the principle of inhibition while still secretly hankering after some end, then he will continue to be prey to the grim determination of the end-gainer.

In this article I attempted to relate as best I could in words how FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, taught me a way of making the inhibitory decision real, and of investigating methodically what it means "to let the head release out to let the spine lengthen and the back widen," so that muscular release really did take place, before, during, and after I took a decision to move.

What I thus experienced in Marjory Barlow's teaching room was, I think, closely related to what the Buddha experienced under the rose-apple tree: not what he experienced in earth-shaking fullness as a realised man sitting under the bodhi tree, but what he began to experience as a boy sitting under the rose-apple tree -- the first realisation, a freedom of sorts from energetic leaks.

kaamaiH (instrumental, plural): desires, longings, loves, passions; objects of desire
viviktam (accusative, agreeing with dhyaanam in line 4): separated, kept apart, dissociated; (with instrumental) free from
malinaiH: (agreeing with dharmaiH): dirty, impure, tarnished
ca: and
dharmaiH (instrumental, plural): dharmas, practices, ways of practice, elements

vitarka: 'containing a conjecture or supposition'; thought, doubt, uncertainty, reason
-vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.
ca: and
api: also, even, but
vicaara: mode of acting or proceeding, consideration, pondering, deliberation, investigation
-vat: suffix indicating presence, possession etc.

viveka: (from vi + vic, to sift, divide, analyse, distinguish) discernment, discrimination, right judgement; the faculty of distinguishing and classifying things according to their real properties
-jan: born of
priiti: joy
sukha: ease, happiness, going well
upapannam (accusative): obtained or reached, gained, endowed with, possessed of

dhyaanam (accusative, from the verb dhyai): realisation, trance; stage of meditation; level of "Zen"
dhyai: to think of, imagine, contemplate, meditate on, call to mind, recollect; (alone) to be thoughtful or meditative; to let the head hang down (said of an animal)
tataH: then
saH: he
prathamaM (accusative): the first
prapede (perfect of pra + pad): entered, reached, came to a particular state or condition

EH Johnston:
Then he reached the first trance which is dissociated from (the various forms of) love and the impure elements of existence, has initial and sustained reflection, is born of discrimination and is endowed with ecstasy and bliss.

Linda Covill:
Then he entered the first level of meditation, in which passion and the tainted constituents of reality are absent. It consists of an initial and a sustained application of the mind to its object, is born of discernment, and is imbued with happiness and bliss.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canto 3: A Depiction of the Realised One

For ascetic practice, then, [he left] Kapilavastu --

A teeming mass of horses, elephants and chariots,

Majestic, safe, loved by its citizens.

He left it behind, starting resolutely for the forest.

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.

Then he served under Arada,
champion of freedom,

And likewise under Udraka,
who inclined towards quietness --

He served them, his heart set on truth,
and he left them.

He who intuited the path intuited:
"This also is not it."

When he mentally scoured the world, however,

For the most solid
among this and that tradition,

Certainty was not to be found out there.

He entered, after all, into ascetic practice
that was most severe.

Then, having ascertained that this was not the path,

He abandoned that extreme asceticism too.

He knew from past experience
that the realm of realisation was ascendant,

And so he ate most wholesome rice,
in readiness to realise the deathless.

He of arms golden and full,
fit for a yoke,

Of bull-like gait
and far-seeing eyes,

Came to a fig tree,
growing up from the earth,

With the will to awakening
that befits an ascendant method of inquiry.

Sitting there, mind made up,

As unmovingly stable as the king of mountains,

He overcame the grim army of Mara

And awoke to that step
which is happiness,
which nobody can take away,
and which can never be destroyed.

Sensing the completion of his task,

Beings in the sky minded towards the undying

Buzzed and fluttered about with unbridled joy,

While Mara and his crew departed, downcast and trembling.

The earth with its mountains shook,

That which feeds the fire blew auspiciously,

The drums of the gods sounded,

And rain fell from the cloudless sky.

Truly understanding the one great purpose,

Which never ages; and universal in his compassion,

In order to cause others to realise
that which is constant and undying,

He made his way to the city
that the River Varanasi encircled.

Then the wheel of Dharma,
whose hub is truthfulness,

Whose rim is a constant veering
towards physical harmony,

And whose spokes are the guiding rules of practice:
[that wheel] there the seer [turned].

In that assembly, for the welfare of the world,
he rolled the wheel:

"This is suffering; and this, belonging to it,

Is the tangled mass of tendrils producing it;

This is inhibition; and this is a means."

He thus spelled out, one by one,
the ascendant set of four.

He further enumerated the three divisions

Of the imponderable, most transcendent
one-way path,

And made the twelvefold statement of the inevitable;
after which the seer

Led away, to begin with,
him of the Kaundinas' cow-shed.

For he [had crossed] the fathomless sea of faults

Where cares are fish and falsity is the water --

Moved by waves of anger, over-exuberance, and fear.

He had crossed and he took the world across too.

Having at Kasi and at Gaya led away

Many people; as also at the cow-pens of Giri-vraja,

He felt deepest compassion too
for his ancestral hometown.

Wishing to scent how it actually was,
he made his way to the city.

To people possessed by their ends,

In thrall to a jumble of many pathways,

Splendour that seemed like the sun had arisen.

Gautama was like the sun, dispelling darkness.

Surrounded, then, in Kapilavastu

By the loveliest of houses,
for which the city was famed;

By purity both material and mental;
and by welcoming gardens;

He looked without longing, as though at a forest.

For he had become free of belonging:

He was sure in his thinking, the master of himself.

How much less did he belong
to those causes of manifold worry --

Family, countrymen, friends and property?

Being revered gave him no thrill;

Disrespect caused him no grief.

His own direction was decided,
come sword or sandalwood.

Whether the going was tough or easy,
he was not diminished.

And so the king, ear to the ground, learned

That his son had arrived, a realised man,

And out he galloped,
a horse or two straggling behind him.

In his eagerness to see his son he charged ahead.

The One Who Went Well saw [the king] arrive like that

-- The leader of men, his composure lost in hope --

And the rest of the people too, with tearful faces.

Wishing to direct them, he took himself up,
truly, into the sky.

He went up into the sky
as freely as if roaming the earth:

Even while sitting, perfectly still;

Even while lying down,
an unmoving flow of direction.

He showed many changing forms
while thus remaining
all of a piece.

He walked over water as if on dry land,

Dug through soil as though it were water,

Rained as a cloud in the sky,

And radiated light and warmth like the newly-risen sun.

All in harness, he glowed like a fire,

Passed water like a cloud,

And radiated light like molten gold.

He shone like a cloud set aglow,
by the breaking of day, or dusk.

Looking up at him in the network of gold and pearls

That seemed to wrap around him like an upraised flag,

The king became incredibly joyful,

And everybody, head bowed down,
felt deep appreciation.

So, perceiving that he had made a vessel

Of the ruler of men,
through the wealth of his accomplishments,

And that the townsfolk also
would be favourably inclined,

The guide laid out the dharma and the discipline.

Then the royal hero reaped the first

Fruit for the fulfillment of the deathless Dharma.

Having met the unthinkable dharma of the sage,

He bowed to the sage accordingly, as to a guru.

Many then who were clear in mind

-- Alert to the agony of birth and death --

Among mighty Shakya-born men of action

Went forth into the wandering life,
like bulls startled by fire.

But even those who did not leave home

Out of regard for children or father or mother:

They also kept the precepts until death.

They took them and kept them, with ready minds.

No person inflicted suffering on any creature,
no matter how small

-- Not even a person who killed for a living.

How full of good was the man of good family!

And of a compassion still greater, always,
was a servant of the sage.

Even the man of scarce means,
despite abundant hard graft,

Who could not stand
the high-handed ways of superiors,

Did not, like them, rip others off:

For he shrank from others' riches
as from a snake.

Even the man of money and youth,

Virile power set twitching by its object,

Even he never went near the wives of another.

For they, more than a fire, were full of unknown dangers.

Nobody told an untruth,

Nor made true but nasty gossip,

Nor spoke slick but hurtful words.

The speaking of beneficial words, again,
was free of slanderous intent.

No mind was ever confounded

By unconscious grasping for the treasures of others.

Perceiving the happiness of sensual pleasures
to be no happiness,

The wise went freely on their way,
as if satisfied in that area already.

Nobody showed any hostility towards the other,

In fact they looked on others with positive warmth,

As mother, father, child or friend:

For each person saw in the other himself.

That the future will be, inevitably,

That the present is, and that the past indeed was

The result of actions;
and that how one fares in the world also

Is so determined
-- this is a realisation that they truly earned.

Thus, by means of action, by means of ten precepts,

By most skillful means, by powerful means,

Although virtue was lax in a declining age,

The people there fared well,
through devotion to the sage.

But nobody who was there [craved] accomplishment,

Expecting a happy payoff for these good works.

Having learned that all becoming is pernicious,

People worked to eradicate becoming,
not to become something.

Even householders were free from endless doubting,

Their views washed spotlessly away:

For many had entered the stream.

Farther on, their passion would be reduced to a trickle.

Even the man hitherto caught in pursuit of absurd ends

-- Money, power and suchlike --

Was content with free giving
and the discipline of the precepts.

He also fared well, not straying from the true path.

What is more, [arising] from self and from the other,

No terror occured; nor from fate.

At that time and place,
by dint of their true happiness
and material plenty and practical merits,

The citizens rejoiced as in the golden age of Manu.

Thus, glad to be free from disease and calamity,

That city stood as safe as the cities
of Kuru, Raghu and Puru,

With the great seer serving as its guide to peace --

Roaming free,
in the moment,
for the welfare of others,
without passion.

End of the 3rd Canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'A Depiction of the Realised One.'

Sunday, January 25, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.42: All Trace of Redness Gone

iti muditam an-aamayaM nir-aapat
Kuru-Raghu-Puuru-pur'-opamaM puraM tat
abhavad a-bhaya-daishike maha"-rSau
viharati tatra shivaaya viita-raage

iti Saundaranande mahaa-kaavye Tathaagata-varNano naama tRtiiyaH sargaH

Thus, glad to be free from disease and calamity,

That city stood as safe as the cities
of Kuru, Raghu and Puru,

With the great seer serving as its guide to peace --

Roaming free,
in the moment,
for the welfare of others,
without passion.

End of the 3rd Canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda, titled 'A Depiction of the Realised One.'

Line 1:
I think this line is an expression of Nirvana. In that case, what kind of Nirvana does Ashvaghosha have in mind? When I first went to Japan, my friend in karate-do, Nigel, who worked in Tokyo as a male model, used to get me in free at a nightclub called Nirvana. I had to pose, somewhat unbelievably, as the latest arrival at his modelling agency. Food and drinks were free in Nirvana and beautiful young women were in abundance -- picture the Carlsberg advertisement portraying ‘the best nightclub in the world.’ To tell the truth, however, despite Nigel’s best efforts, I did not really enjoy my time in Nirvana. I don’t know whether my love-sickness was stronger than Nanda’s; or maybe Nigel’s model friends were on a lower level of beauty than the apsarases who caught Nanda’s eye (“a group of ravishingly beautiful celestial nymphs” to borrow LC’s phrase). Still, what the nightclub purported to be, with the name Nirvana, was a kind of luxurious paradise for the senses. But this is probably not how Ashvaghosha saw Nirvana. I think Ashvaghosha here might be pointing to a much more modest and stoic conception of Nirvana, a conception of Nirvana rooted not in fantasy but in the reality of SUFFERING. In that case, the meaning of muditam is not so much ecstatic joy but more a state of quiet gladness in which, despite the ever-presence in the world of SUFFERING, a person can at least be grateful for small mercies -- such as temporary reprieve from pestilence and foreign invasions.

Line 2:
Kuru, Raghu and Puru do not necessarily have to be understood as ideal cities like the legendary lost city of Atlantis. On the contrary, it might be that Ashvaghosha wished to refer to historical examples of actual civilizations that had thrived in ancient India, guided by Aryan principles and protected within fortified city walls. According to this entry in Wikipedia, Kuru was indeed the name of an Indo-Aryan tribe and of their kingdom. In the first line, Ashvaghosha has pointed to a not overly ambitious civic aim -- the aim of a relatively clean living and safe civilization, with a good system for water supply and sewage disposal, and an effective strategy for self-defence. This line, I think, represents his intention, in the manner of a good scientist, to test out the validity of his idea, with reference to HISTORICAL EVIDENCE.

Line 3:
A-bhaya, translated for short as “peace,” literally means absence or removal of fear. A-bhaya means, in other words, a state, or a process, of INHIBITION of the fear reflexes.

Line 4:
This line, as I read it, is the skin, flesh, bones, and marrow of Gautama Buddha, who demonstrated A MEANS-WHEREBY for inhibiting the root of suffering. The line brings together four strands already covered in this Canto, namely:

(1) The sense of Gautama roaming freely (expressed again by the verb vihR), liberated from the grim determination and rigidity of the man who is enslaved by his own idea of gaining some end.

(2) The sense of him really being there (expressed again by tatra), not worrying about past failures or ends to be gained in future, but rather attending skillfully in the here and now to a process, such as his own walking or his own breathing or his own sitting.

(3) The sense of him teaching inhibition -- as codified in the precepts -- of those end-gaining impulses that cause one person to inflict suffering on another and to feel hostility towards the other.

(4) The sense of his complete suppression of the infantile panic reflex, which, when the idea of gaining an end comes into an immature person’s consciousness, is liable to set in motion the wheels of grasping, anger, and sensory delusion.

As a blushing teenager I was often held in Mara’s ruddy grip. And still, at nearly 50, I am very liable to have rushes of blood. So the significance is not lost on me of Ashvaghosha’s decision to close this Canto with a word from the root raj, which means to colour up or redden.

iti: thus
mudita: delighted, joyful, glad
aamaya: sickness, disease
an-aamaya: free from disease, healthy
aapad: misfortune, calamity, distress
nir-aapat: without calamity, free from disaster

Kuru: name of city
Raghu: name of city
Puuru: name of city
pura: fortress, castle, city, town
upama: uppermost; (in compounds) resembling, like, equal
puram = nominative, singular of pura: city, town
tat = nominative, singular, neuter of sa: that

abhavat = imperfect, bhuu: to be, serve as
a-bhaya: absence or removal of fear, peace, safety, security
daishike = locative, daishika: knowing a place, a guide; showing, directing
mahaa (in compounds for mahat): great
RSHau (locative of RSHi): with the sage.... -ing (locative absolute construction)

viharati (3rd person singular, present of vi + hRi): abides, roams freely, fares well
tatra: there
shivaaya (dative of shiva): for the happiness, for the welfare
viita: gone away, departed, disappeared, vanished, lost (in the beginning of compounds = free or exempt from , without , -less)
raaga: colour, dye, taint, (esp.) red colour, redness; any feeling or passion
viita-raage = locative (part of the locative absolute construction of the previous line?), viita-raga: free of passion

iti: thus
Saundaranande (locative): Handsome Nanda
mahaa-kaavye (locative): among the great poem
Tathaagata: ‘thus come’; the realised one
varNanaH (nominative, singular): depiction, description
naama: by name, named
tRtiiya: the third
sargaH (nominative, singular): draught of air, gust of wind, stream, dart, shot, effort, section, chapter, canto (especially in an epic poem)

EH Johnston:
Thus the city was joyful and free from epidemic or disaster, like the city of Kuru, of Raghu or of Puru, with the great passion-free Seer dwelling there for their happiness as their guide to safety.

Linda Covill:
So with the great dispassionate sage living there, pointing it to safety for its own good, the city rejoiced, free from disease or calamity, like the cities of Kuru, Raghu or Puru.

End of Canto 3: A Description of the Realized One

Saturday, January 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.41: Rejoicing in a Castle of Fearlessness

api ca svato 'pi parato 'pi
na bhayam abhavan na daivataH
tatra ca susukha-subhikSHu-guNair
jahRSHuH prajaaH kRta-yuge Manor iva

What is more, [arising] from self and from the other,

No terror occured; nor from fate.

At that time and place,
by dint of their true happiness
and material plenty and practical merits,

The citizens rejoiced as in the golden age of Manu.


Line 1:
They say that when a person is enlightened, his experience of the world is whole. We who are not yet there, in contrast, in our SUFFERING, continue to experience all things and phenomena as arising either from within or without. When a bright idea arises, it seems to arise from within me. When the sun comes up in the morning, it seems to arise from outside. "From self and from the other," then, can be understood as an expression of the divided view of self and others, which is synonymous with SUFFERING.

Line 2:
A terror arising from self might mean, for example, a pogrom, or similar episode of ethnic cleansing. An terror arising from the other might mean, for example, a terrorist movement, whose grievances I do not understand, bombing the city where I live. That no such atrocity blighted the kingdom of Kaplilavastu was not a fluke. I think Ashvaghosha here may be suggesting the working of karma, that is, CAUSATION, not only at the level of individual observance of the precepts but also at the level of collective responsibility. A terror committed by my community, or against my community, is the work of Mara, and how Mara fares is totally up to me. If I were able, well and truly, to inhibit my own Mara reflex, then people around me might be inspired and guided by my example to inhibit theirs. The point of this line, in other words, is negation of fatalism, and affirmation of the law of CAUSE AND EFFECT: if we believe in cause and effect and attend to our own not doing of wrong, here and now, then there is nothing for any of us to worry about.

Line 3:
In this verse too, therefore, I think the use of the word tatra is not incidental. Tatra indicates the here and now, the stage upon which wrong is INHIBITED. The list of three elements that Asvhaghosha uses to describe the Kapilavastu community is very reminiscent of lists of three or four elements that Master Dogen compiles in Shobogenzo, comprising: (1) something mental, religious, or spiritual, (2) something material, and (3) something to do with INHIBITION, or mundane action. An example might be, in discussing buddha, to list a golden buddha, a wood buddha, and a mud buddha. Or on a bovine theme he might have listed a golden calf, a load of bull, and a ring through the nose. If this all sounds too philosophical, not grounded weightily enough in zafu-squashing, then remember what the ultimate teaching of Zen Master Dogen is: that there is mental sitting as opposed to physical sitting; that there is physical sitting as opposed to mental sitting, and that there is sitting, truly, as body and mind dropping off.

Line 4:
The key word is rejoiced. As we shall investigate shortly, the fourth realisation in sitting practice is realised through non-attachment to joy. But the first steps in sitting practice, as Ashvaghosha is about to describe them, are most definitely joyful steps. And those first joyful realisations, if I understand correctly, depend on the use of reason to discriminate between a pair of mutually exclusive and opposite approaches; namely, end-gaining vs A MEANS-WHEREBY.

api ca: as well, moreover, also
sva: self
-taH (ablative suffix): from, in accordance with, in respect of
svataH: from the self, from within
api: also
parataH: from the other, from without
api: also

na: not
bhayam (accusative): fear, danger, distress
abhavat: (imperfect of bhuu) became, brought into existence, was
na: not
daiva: divine will, destiny, fate, chance
daivataH: from fate, from chance

tatra: there, at that time and place
ca: and
su- (prefix): good, true, harmonious, great
susukha: great ease, true happiness
subhikSHu: plenty, having abundant supply of provisions
guNaiH (instrumental, plural): with/through/ because of merits or virtues

jahRSHuH(perfect of hRish): rejoiced
prajaaH (nominative, plural): subjects of the king, citizens
kRta: done, perfected
yuga: an age of the world, epoch
kRta-yuge (locative): in the golden age, the first of the four ages of the world
Manor (genitive): of Manu
iva: like

EH Johnston:
No one too experienced any danger from himself, from others, or from fate: the people rejoiced there as in the golden age of Manu, in happiness, plenty and virtue.

Linda Covill:
Nor did anyone fear harm from himself, from others or from fate; the people there rejoiced in great ease, abundant in provisions and virtue, as in the golden age of Manu.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.40: Faring Well

vavRte 'tra yo 'pi viSHameSHu
vibhava-sadRsheSHu kash cana
vijahaara so 'pi na cacaala sat-pathaat

Even one hitherto caught in pursuit of absurd ends

-- Money, power and suchlike --

Was content with free giving
and the discipline of the precepts.

He also fared well, not straying from the true path.

This verse has to do with money -- a subject on which, amid the bursting of Britain's debt bubble, I have got my own views and opinions. But what is Ashvaghosha saying?

Thirty years ago I was doing a degree in Accounting & Financial Management. I chose that subject because, although my head was full of altruistic notions, I was also keenly aware that money makes the world go round. So I would very much like to pontificate, right now, upon the absurdity of people borrowing money in order to pursue happiness. To get oneself deeper in debt, for the sake of going on a Zen retreat, for example, in my book is very incongruous. But what is Ashvaghosha saying?

When, setting aside our own views and opinions and grasping pick and shovel, we examine the four lines that Ashvaghosha wrote, each word representing a decision on his part, we cannot escape the conclusion that, here again, Ashvaghosha was expressing a desire to clarify the four noble truths.

In Line 1, what is the criterion for truth or absurdity, if not SUFFERING? If I, by my end-gaining, pursue happiness in such a way that I bring SUFFERING in my wake, isn't that the essence of absurdity? But that, when I examine my own behaviour in detail, is precisely what I tend to do.

Line 2 brings the discussion down to the level of meaningless ACCUMULATION OF MATTER, i.e. money, real estate, political clout, military might, et cetera. How many thousands do I have in the bank? How many sheep do I have in my flock? How many head of cattle? How many acres? How many men, elephants, horses and chariots under my command? And how many brake horsepower does my chariot deliver? One to sixty in how many seconds?

Line 3 expresses INHIBITION of end-gaining ideas, synonymous with openness of hand and heart, self-restraint, and true job satisfaction.

Line 4 features again the verb vihR, which Ashvaghosha seems to like, especially in fourth lines. The word evokes the free, wandering life of one who is following in the Buddha’s footsteps, going along A PATH. Faring well, in the context of this verse, might mean going without the heavy baggage of too many assets. Even more to the point, it might mean going without the burden of any liabilities.

vavRte (from vRt, turn): been busy, occupied with, caught up in
atra: here, to here, in this regard, in/to this time,
yaH (nominative, singular): [anybody....] who
api: even
viSHameSHu = locative, plural of viSHama: unevenness, oddness, pit, difficulty, distress, misfortune, incongruity

vibhava: power, might, exalted position; wealth, money; luxury; destruction (of the world)
sadRsheSHu = locative, plural of sadRsha: like, resembling, similar to
kash cana (instrumental, denoting the agent of a passive construction): anybody .... [who]

tyaaga: letting go, giving up, free giving
vinaya: leading, guidance, training, discipline; the rules of discipline for monks
niyama: restraining, restriction, rule, precept
abhirataH (nominative, singular): pleased or contented with; engaged in

vijahaara = past of vi + hR: to disport oneself, wander, roam freely
saH (nominative, singular): he
api: also
na: not
cacaala = past of cal: to turn away from, swerve, deviate from
sat: true, good, right
pathaat (ablative of patha): from the path

EH Johnston:
Whoever even had been occupied there solely with the objects of the senses, which are equivalent to destruction, now lived taking a delight in almsgiving, the Rule and abstinence, and never swerved from the right path.

Linda Covill:
Even those who had been preoccupied with harmful things, such as luxury, now spent their time content with charitable giving and the rules of the Vinaya, and never swerved from the right path.

SAUNDARANANDA 3.39: Directed Flow, On Towards Arhathood

a-kathaMkathaa gRhiNa eva
srotasi hi vavRtire bahavo
rajasas tanutvam api cakrire pare

Even householders were free from endless doubting,

Their views washed spotlessly away:

For many had entered the stream.

Farther on, they would reduce passion to a trickle.

Line 1: Endless intellectual doubt is a variety of SUFFERING.

Line 2: The CAUSE of that suffering is attachment to my own views and opinions.

Line 3: When we want to inhibit negative mental chatter, the truest form of INHIBITION may be found in a strong flow of direction. If I am resolutely paddling for destination B, on a river that leads unerringly to destination B, then the dragons and moats that lie on tributaries A and C do not worry me. “Direction is the truest form of inhibition.”

Line 4: Ashvaghosha does not loudly advertise his bitter pill; he hides it in a box of sweeties. Again, he does not trumpet his message but transmits it with subtle euphoney (Freudian slip alert!)...

OK, I'll get on with it. The point is that Ashvaghosha is always indirect, not preachy. He leaves the gold buried so that we have to dig deep. What then might be the deeper meaning of this fourth line -- what kind of profound pointer does it offer to A WAY?

For me, it has to do with this difficult concept of asrava, or energetic leakages.

Imperfect integration of vestibular reflexes, along with false conceptions, bad habits, and a cluster of other causes, all make for unintended leakages of energy -- manifested in phenomena such as stiff necks, frozen shoulders, aching stomach, explosions of anger, and surges of desire.

The Lotus Sutra begins by describing the Buddha living at Rajagrha, on Vulture Peak, with twelve thousand great beggars, all of whom were Arhats, having ended all energetic leakages.

The suggestion is that a beggar, i.e. a monk, in the worthy state of an Arhat, is one who has ended all energetic leakages. This state, called the fourth effect, or the fourth fruit of the Dharma, is above the state of a householder who has entered the stream, which is the first fruit of the Dharma. Arhathood is even above the state of a householder who has reduced energetic leakages to only a feeble trickle. The way of an Arhat is not a way of a householder but a way of Buddha.

Next week we will be going through Ashvaghosha's description of the process in sitting/realisation leading to the lucid condition of "just sitting," endowed with equanimity and mindfulness, which is called the fourth dhyaana, or the fourth level of Zen, or the fourth realisation. In so doing, I for one will be mindful of the teaching that this fourth realisation in sitting practice is not the same as Arhathood; it is not the ultimate fruit of the Dharma, not the fourth effect. The fourth realisation is not the end of the campaign; rather Ashavhagosha compares it to a mighty ally.

In Shobogenzo chap. 90, Shizen-biku -- "The Bhikshu in the Fourth Dhyaana," i.e., "The Beggar of the Fourth Realisation," Master Dogen drives home the point that the fourth dhyaana, or fourth realisation in sitting practice, is not to be confused with the fourth effect of Arhathood. The latter is above the former.

Not everybody who has given up sex is an Arhat who deserves to be served. But a true Arhat, who has given up sex, is, by definition, a person who deserves to be served.

The fourth line, as I see it, then, is an oblique, non-preachy pointer to A WAY, which is not a way of a householder, but is a way of celibacy. In that case, the fourth line is very far from any kind of heavy spiritual commandment to give up sex -- as if sex were an original sin. It is more in the way of a gentle reminder to householders who feel joy at having entered the stream, not to get carried away, and never to feel too proud of a householder's way, which is not a true Arhat's way.

a: without
kathaMkathaaH (nominative, plural): always asking questions, being inquisitive, endless doubting
gRhinaH (nominative, plural of gRhin): householders
eva: (emphatic)

parama: eminently, in the highest degree
parishuddha: washed off, become clean, purified
dRSHTayaH = nominative, plural of dRSHTi: view, notion, theory

srotasi (locative): into the current of a river or stream
hi: for
vavRtire = past of vRt: turn, proceed
bahavaH (nominative, plural of bahu): many

rajasaH = genitive, singular of rajas: 'colored or dim space'; darkening quality, passion, emotion, affection, gloom, dimness, darkness
tanu: thin, emaciated
-tva: suffix for abstract nouns
tanutvam (accusative): thinness, littleness
api: indeed, also, even, moreover
cakrire: did, made, caused, carried out, saw to it that
pare: (1) farther on, in future; (2) = locative of para, other

EH Johnston:
The householders even were free from questionings and held the highest and purest views; for many entered the Stream and some reduced passion to a minimum.

Linda Covill:
Even the householders were free from doubt, and their views were lofty and pure; for many were stream-entrants, while others had minimized their passions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.38: Not Becoming Something

na ca tatra kash cid upapatti-
sukham abhilalaaSHa tair guNaiH
sarvam a-shivam avagamya bhavaM
bhava-saMkSHayaaya vavRte na janmane

But nobody who was there [craved] accomplishment,

Expecting a happy payoff for these good works.

Having learned that all becoming is pernicious,

People worked to eradicate becoming,
not to become something.

This verse is a denial of end-gaining, if ever there was one.

Line 1 is a denial of end-gaining. At the same time it pin-points what the SUFFERING of end-gaining is. The suffering of end-gaining is not being there, being somewhere else. Ashvaghosha goes on in the following cantos to describe, in graphic detail, how Nanda experienced this suffering, whose essence is conflict between a sensual attachment and attachment to an idea of accomplishing something in future. For future accomplishment is only ever an idea.

Line 2 is a bit tricky to separate from Line 1. The compound upapatti-sukham, lit. "payoff-happiness," straddles both lines, with the payoff having come already in Line 1. "Payoff-happiness" means, for example, the happiness of enlightenment, or the happiness of a favourable birth -- the happiness that exists not here but out there somewhere, "in the other monastery" as Dosho Port puts it, as an idea, as an end to be gained.

So Line 2 is also a denial of end-gaining. At the same time, it objectively describes the CAUSE OF SUFFERING, in terms of impurity of motivation. The impurity of motivation has a psychological side, involving a kind of expectancy in a person's thought processes-- "What is going to be in it for me?" But equally I would say that impurity of motivation has a basis in survival reflexes, especially the infantile panic/grasp reflex. In saying this, I am only following the direction in which I was pointed by Gudo Nishijima, who emphasized to me (ad nauseam) the primary importance of the autonomic nervous system.

Line 3, again, is a denial of end-gaining. At the same time, its standpoint is not at all theoretical: this is the standpoint of one who has learned in his own real experience how pernicious the end-gaining habit can be. Using torture in an effort to get somebody to tell you the truth is an extreme example of pernicious end-gaining. Pushing one's head up to the ceiling and pulling one's chin back in an effort to devote oneself to the Buddha's teaching, might be another example. What is much easier for a person to see at 50 than at 20 or 30, looking back over a lifetime of mistakes, is that failure to INHIBIT one's end-gaining ideas brings misery upon self and upon others.

Line 4 is just the denial of end-gaining.
What does it mean to work to eradicate becoming? How does one actually go about doing such work? Is there, anywhere in the world, a reliable MEANS that can work for me and for others? That really has been my koan for 30 years, and I have not cracked it yet. Otherwise, why would I still be prone to anger?

To eradicate becoming is at the heart of the work of FM Alexander. But if you visit an Alexander training school what you are likely to find is students intent on becoming teachers -- until they learn to release themselves from that bind, applying in practice what Alexander called the MEANS-WHEREBY principle.

To eradicate becoming, similarly, is the whole point of learning what Master Dogen called the backward step of turning light and shining. It is Nanda's taking of just this backward step that Ashvaghosha describes in Canto 17. This blog is heading there next week. We will follow Ashvaghosha's description of the four realisations, by which he charts A MEANS of working our way back to the clarity and simplicity of just sitting, endowed with equanimity and mindfulness.

So again this morning I have written all this stuff in the way of commentary, like so many heaps of slag. Whether there is any value at all in my comments, I honestly do not know. But what I do really know, with all my heart, is this: the gold is in the bold.

Now... where’s my spade?

na: not
ca: and
tatra: there
kash cid: any (body), any (thing)
upapatti: happening, occurring, becoming visible, appearing, production, accomplishing; proving right; ascertained or demonstrated conclusion, proof, evidence

sukham (accusative): happiness, pleasure, comfort, ease, prosperity
upapatti-sukha: happiness as accomplishing, happiness as achievement; the happiness of enlightenment
abhilalaaSha = perfect of abhi + lash: desire, wish for, covet, crave, hanker after
taiH = instrumental, plural (agreeing with guNaiH) of sa: that, his, those
guNaiH: (instrumental, plural): by/through/because of virtues

sarva: all
a-shiva: unkind, pernicious, dangerous, ill-luck
avagamya = absolutive of avagam: hit upon, understand, know
bhavam (accusative): coming into existence, birth, becoming

bhava: becoming
saMkSHayaaya = dative of saMkSHaya: complete destruction, disappearance, dissolution
vavRte = past of vRt: turn, advance, proceed, act, follow a course, tend or turn to (dative), be intent on, attend to (dative);
na: not
janmane = dative of janman: birth, production, re-birth, becoming something

EH Johnston:
And no one there desired to obtain by these virtues a return to existence in however happy a state; for, understanding all existence to be evil, they acted so as to bring about the cessation of existence, not rebirth.

Linda Covill:
No one there wanted a happy rebirth as a reward for his virtues. People understood that all existence was harmful, therefore they were intent on the cessation of existence, not on its continuation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.37: A Means-Whereby that Works

iti karmanaa dasha-vidhena
parama-kushalena bhuuriNaa
bhraMshini shithila-guNo 'pi yuge
vijahaara tatra muni-saMshrayaaj janaH

Thus, by means of action, by means of ten precepts,

By most skillful means, by powerful means,

Although virtue was lax in a declining age,

The people there fared well,
through devotion to the sage.

This is a verse in praise of the power of the independent action of individuals. It has taken me another sleepless night to get (I hope) to the bottom of it.

When I went to bed last night, the first two lines stood as: "By means of these ten guiding rules of action,/By this most skillful and effectual means," Then, sometime during the wee small hours I realised that, in the first two lines, the four elements with instrumental endings should each stand separately, so that the four elements form their own fourfold progression:

(1) Kaarman introduces action as an inclusive concept, a generic term, a mental construct; in short, as an idea -- the seed of a possible new direction in life, based on "the philosophy of action," and at the same time the very cause of suffering in samsara. If you want to know in detail how fervent, naive belief in "the philosphy of action" (aka "the viewpoint of true Buddhism" shared by "we, true Buddhists") can lead straight to suffering in samsara, I have left the evidence on the internet in my nest of old blogs. But I wouldn't necessarily recommend reading them.

(2)Dasha-vidhi are the ten individual precepts which have just been listed; namely, not inflicting suffering, not stealing, and not engaging in illicit sex; not lying, not gossiping, not using harsh words, and not bad-mouthing; plus not coveting, not being hostile to the other, and not adhering to a wrong view about karma. If "action" as a generic is the abstract thesis, these ten are the concrete anti-thesis. Similarly, if my deluded reaction to the idea of becoming a world champion of Gudo's philosophy of action actually caused me to become a puffed-up and pitiless bad-mouther of others, then the true anti-thesis to this thesis might exist in the form of a shaven-headed monk that nobody has heard of, quietly living his simple life and not bad-mouthing anybody.

(3) Parama-kushala , "most skillful," means not robotic, unconscious reaction, and not blind adherence to rules. Thus, the meaning of "skillful means," as I understand it, has a lot to do with the conscious practice of inhibition.

(4)Bhuuri, "powerful" means having real effect. Ashvaghosha is talking about a true means-whereby, a means that really works. If I relate it to my experience in tournament karate, what really works is not only inhibiting one's own reaction to the opponent's feints but also, when a real opening emerges, unleashing the counterattack. If I relate it to experience in Alexander work, as described here, what is really effective is not only mental practising of inhibition and direction but also, at some point, giving consent for a bodily movement to happen.

Line 3:
Because the Buddha demonstrated a means-whereby that really worked, it had real power to effect change in a particular society at a particular time -- even in a degenerate age. It seems that the Buddha's own era was also regarded as an age of decline, relative to the golden age of Manu. In general, when policy-makers notice that something in a society is rotten and ought to be changed, they press ahead with some new initiative, which does not work. It does not work because sufficient attention has not been paid to stopping the old thing, on an individual basis, before trying to enforce the desired change on a societal basis. Unenlightened policy-makers are not so different from those Zen teachers who advocate pushing up with the head, pushing down with the knees, et cetera, et cetera. The thing that is missing, in both cases, is inhibition of the desire to go directly for an end, relying on unskillful, inefficient means. The unintended consequence, in both cases, is inefficient allocation of resources -- called in Sanskrit aasrava, "energy leakage."

Line 4:
As translations of muni-saMshrayaat, EH Johnston's “from reliance on the sage” and Linda Covill's "with the help of the sage” both seem perfectly reasonable. But my sense is that Ashvaghosha maybe requires us to dig a bit deeper, through active devotion to the sage.

No, if truth be told, Ashvaghosha is requiring us, with each verse, to dig deeper and deeper and deeper -- maybe deeper than I am able to dig. That must be why, as I now prepare to press the orange "PUBLISH POST" button, I feel absolutely knackered.

Now... where did I leave my spade?

iti: the aforementioned, these
karmanaa (instrumental case of karman): by means of action
dasha-vidhena (instrumental, dasha-vidhi): by means of ten precepts

parama: most excellent, most
kushalena = instrumental of kushala: right, proper, suitable, good; well, healthy, wholesome; skillful
bhuuriNaa = instrumental of bhuuri: much, great, important, mighty

bhraMshini = locative (agreeing with yuge) of bhraMshin: falling, dropping, decaying, decadent
shithila: loose, slack, lax
guNaH (nominative, singular): virtue, good
api: even, though
yuge (locative): in a generation, in an age

vijahaara = perfect of vi + hRi: spend time, roam, disport oneself
tatra: therein, then, therefore, by those means
muni: sage
saMshrayaat = ablative of saMshraya: joining together with, resorting or betaking one's self to any person or place, going for refuge or protection; (in compounds ) devoted or attached to
janaH (nominative, singular): the people

EH Johnston
Thus from reliance on the Sage they followed the tenfold conduct which is powerful and good in the highest degree, though from the decadence of the age the people were little inclined to virtue.

Linda Covill:
Though virtue was lax in that declining age, with the help of the sage the people lived according to the ten great rules of conduct which are so highly meritorious.

SAUNDARANANDA 3.36: Precept Ten -- Not a View on Karma & Rebirth

niyatam bhaviSHyati paratra
bhavad api ca bhuuta apy' tho
karma-phalam api ca loka-gatir
niyataa iti darshanam avaapa saadhu ca.

That the future will be, inevitably,

That the present is, and that the past indeed was

The result of actions;
and that how one fares in the world also

Is so determined
-- this is a realisation that they truly earned.

The past is history;
The future is a mystery;
Now is a gift
That's why it is called the present.

(Acknowledgements to Kung-fu Panda)

Line 1: The direction of time's arrow is not to be doubted. But because nobody has ever physically experienced the future, that the future will be is a purely mental conviction, properly belonging to Line 1.

Line 2: Our sense of the present and the past, in contrast, is based on physical experience of objective reality. We have witnessed time's arrow moving through the past and we can see where it is pointing in the present. A person teetering on the brink of a diving board is going to dive into the water. A person in the water is not going to spring out of the water like a dolphin, but feet first, and land on his feet on the diving board. If a film of diving ran backwards, we would know it was running backwards. The material evidence of time's past and present arrow is before our eyes, on film, and in our memories.

Line 3: Previous translations, much indebted to them though I am, seem here to have elaborated Ashvaghosha's gold, based on a view of karma and rebirth which I do not subscribe to. It is not a gold-miner's job to subscribe to whacky views about re-incarnation! For me, this line is not so much about rebirth in another world but more about the terrible day I had on Friday in this one, due to various failures of inhibition. FM Alexander said that when something goes wrong it is invariably due to a failure of inhibition, and FM Alexander was right. When I fail to inhibit my end-gaining tendency, Mara springs out of his coffin and has a field day. That is what happened on Friday. Several things went badly wrong, all traceable back to failures of inhibition. Inhibition, or not doing the wrong thing, really is the key -- which is why these ten precepts are all about NOT doing wrong. We can divide the ten precepts into three groups and say that they are about not doing wrong with body, mouth, and mind, but truly the real source of the wrongness is all in the brain and nervous system -- in the many-tentacled monster of misuse, in the tangled mass of tendrils described in verse 3.12.

Line 4: That everything depends on our action is not only a doctrine to be gained from a book, and not only an insight to be gained from insight meditation; it might be a realisation to be earned by truly following a way.

Apologies for hammering the point home, but my understanding of the four lines is thus based, again, on the fourfold truth of:
1. Suffering of mind
2. Objective world of cause and effect
3. Inhibition of wrong doing
4. A way

niyatam: inevitably
bhaviSHyati: it will be, it will become
paratra: in a future state or world, hereafter

bhavat: being, what is, present existence
api: also
ca: and
bhuuta: become, been, gone, past; the past
api: also
atha: (connecting particle) now, then, indeed

karman: action, act
phalam: fruit, result
api: also
ca: and
loka: free or open space, the wide space or world
gati: going
loka-gati: way of the world, actions of men

niyataa (feminine, agreeing with gati): determined, restrained, fixed, sure
iti: thus
darshana: seeing, looking at, knowing, view, insight, visiting, experiencing; realisation
avaapa = from aap: to reach, attain, get, obtain
saadhu: straight, right; leading straight to a goal, hitting the mark, unerring; well, rightly, skilfully, properly
ca: and

EH Johnston:
And they grasped the sound doctrine that the Act will bear the predestined fruit in the future, that it does so in the present and that it has done so in the past and that the place of rebirth in the world is determined thereby.

Linda Covill:
They also attained the proper insight that actions will inevitably bear fruit in a future state, that they do so in the present, and that they have done so in the past, and that passage to another world is certain.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.35: Precept Nine - The Positive Mirror Principle

na parasya kash cid apaghaatam
api ca sa-ghRNo vyacintayat
sa dadarsha tatra hi parasparaM janaH

Nobody showed any hostility towards the other,

In fact they looked on others with positive warmth,

As mother, father, child or friend:

For each person saw in the other himself.


Line 1: As in the previous verse, the first line suggests to me that what Ashvagohsa wants to discuss here goes deeper than physical conduct: it is about a mental tendency, synonymous with suffering; namely, hostility.

Line 2: Freedom from hostility is not only a bit of nothing, but it also manifests itself as a bit of something -- a kind of physical energy, a human warmth. The stereotypical example in the world today of this kind of human warmth is the poor old 14th Dalai Lama, who is required, with the weight of expectations of a nation in exile on his shoulders, to abandon his wish for the life of a solitary monk in order to trundle around from capital city to capital city manifesting his human warmth to all and sundry.

Line 3: The back cover of "Emotional Awareness," Paul Ekman's record of his conversation with the Dalai Lama, contains the following quote regarding the practice of compassion:

"One of the elements suggested is to cultivate a view, a perception, of all beings as someone very dear to you. One model that is used is to view all of them as your teachers, or as your mother... The point is that you can condition yourself to view other people in a different light -- in a positive, constructive light."

According to this teaching, I might endeavour to picture the pilots of the light aircraft and helicopters flying so noisily over my head, when I sit, when I write, when I go for a walk, as if they were my own sons. If I saw those pilots as my own sons, I certainly would not think, "I hope you crash, you noisy bastard." But could I actually feel human warmth for those selfish creators of needless pollution?

Whether that kind of shift is possible, in my own case, I don't know. If it is possible, it might require brain retraining on a level much deeper than I have managed so far. It might be like asking a miner to retrain as a nurse. In view of the genetic heritance of the legendary "Cross temper," it might be like asking a leopard to change its spots.

For the time being, to focus on this translation, verse by verse, in the spirit of a grumpy miner digging for gold, may be the best that I, as an angry man, can do in a positive, constructive vein.

It is not the role that I wanted in life. I wanted a grander role. I wanted to be recognized as great, important, heroic. But, as I guess the Dalai Lama might advise me if I ever met him: "Be careful what you wish for."

Line 4: When I went to bed last night, the translation of Line 4 was "For people there had regard for each other." How I arrived at the new translation is something of a mystery to me. I went for a walk yesterday knowing that in the fourth line Ashvaghosha would be wanting to express not only polite and civilized behaviour among people but also something more profound, something more deeply entangled in the solitary practice of sitting. I sort of sensed in my sleep what it might be. Then, when I checked the Sanskrit again just now, it seemed to fit. Tatra means not only 'there, in that place,' but also 'in himself.'

Literally, then: "For each saw in himself mutually the people."

So I think Line 4 is an expression of a kind of positive mirror principle.

Because of this principle, I take encouragement from the contributions to this blog of the likes of Jordan and Alex, because their struggle is my struggle. They are me. I also felt that very keenly with the dying Michael Thaler, as we struggled to take the backward step together.

All the armchair Zen masters out there, tapping away at their computer keyboard to express what they realised already, the ones to whom I express irritation, because of their naive optimism, or phoney pretensions, or absurd sense of self-importance: they too, needless to say, are also nobody other than me. To practise goodwill towards myself is to practise goodwill to them, and vice versa.

na: not
parasya (genitive): towards another, towards an outsider, towards a stranger
kash cit: anybody, anything
apaghaata: striking off, warding off

api ca: as well, but indeed
sa- (prefix): with
ghRnaH: sunshine, warmth, warmth towards others
vyacintayat: thought, considered, regarded

maatR: mother
pitR: father
suta: son, child
suhRt: friend
sadRssha: similar to

sa: he
dadarsha (perfect of dRs): saw, saw with the mind, regarded, understood,
noticed, cared for, looked into
tatra (locative of tad): in him, in that, in the other; in them, among them; there
hi: for
paraspara: mutual, each other's, like each other
janaH (nominative, singular): person, the people (the singular being used collectively)

EH Johnston:
Everyone too was compassionate and never even thought of hurting others. For they regarded each other mutually as they would their parents or children or friends.

Linda Covill:
The people in their fellow-feeling never even dreamed of harming others, for they saw each other as mother, father, child, friend.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.34: Precept Eight - Don't Even Think About It

manasaa lulobha na ca jaatu
para-vasuSHu gRddha-maanasaH
kaama-sukham a-sukhato vimRshan
vijahaara tRpta iva tatra saj-janaH

No mind was ever confounded

By unconscious grasping for the treasures of others.

Perceiving the happiness of sensual pleasures
to be no happiness,

The wise went freely on their way,
as if satisfied in that area already.

Line 1 tells us this verse is about mind, beginning with the problem of mental suffering. Precepts two and three in verses 3.31 and 3.32 have something of the air of the concerned parent, alerting us to dangers, from other men's wealth and from other men's wives, as if they were objects to fear, like a snake or like a fire. When a parent sees a child in imminent danger, the parent's only concern is to save the child from danger, not minding if shouting at the top of his voice upsets the child, or if grabbing the child forcefully by the arm and pulling the child out of the way of uncoming traffic results in a bruised arm. Similarly, precepts two and three seem to say, forcefully if indirectly: Just don't go there! This one seems to ask us to dig deeper, saying: Don't even think about it!

Line 2 expresses the concrete cause of the mental confusion referred to in the previous line: coveting what belongs to somebody else, whether the valuable object be the material treasures owned by somebody else, or a desirable woman married to somebody else, or money, which represents a claim on the tradable resources of everybody else. Maanasa, which has a connotation of what is in the mind tacitly or secretly, suggests to me unconscious mental processes, all of which, it can be argued, rest on four vestibular cornerstones. Just at the moment, my own infantile panic/grasp reflex seems to be very much in the ascendancy, in which state I feel insecure about everything. That includes worrying about financial security.

Line 3 suggests liberation from suffering through seeing the truth as it is. And seeing the truth as it is, in the sense we are interested in here, results not so much from intellectual inquiry and scientific investigation but rather from an effort leading in the direction of peace. It is an effort, in my experience, which has to do with inhibiting the activity of the Mara reflex and his entourage of hangers on.

Line 4 points towards a way of living life freely, which was the way the Buddha himself exemplified, being satisfied with little.

So here again, Ashvaghosha seems to be following an ancient fourfold plan, a plan by which the Buddha before him had set out the noble fourfold truth of
1. Suffering,
2. The cause of suffering,
3. Stopping suffering,
4. A way.

It seems to me that the more effort we put into each verse, the deeper we dig into each verse with the noble fourfold truth in mind, the more of its gold each verse yields up. One verse per day and (sleepless!) night may be more than enough.

A few days ago, all puffed up, I wrote that the past 30 years had prepared me well to translate into English Ashvaghosha's description of the four dhyanas. That was an utterly stupid and unreal thought. And as I wrote it, Mara was rubbing his hands together with glee and grinning.

More to the point is that, day by day, each of these verses is forcing me, if I want to do a true translation that will benefit others and stand the test of time, to drop off the views and other attachments that cloud my mind, and to change my thinking. And that, truly, is the only good reason for carrying on.

manasaa (instrumental, denoting the agent in a passive construction, of manas): mind
lulobha = perfect of lubh: be perplexed of disturbed, become disordered; desire greatly, long for
na: not
ca: and
jaatu: at all, ever

para: others
vasuSHu (locative, plural of vasu): goods, riches, valuable objects
gRddha (from gridh, to strive after greedily): desirous of, eagerly longing for
maanasaH (nominative, singular): belonging to the mind; inner, tacit, expressed only in the mind; (noun, in compounds) the mental powers, mind, spirit, heart, soul ( = manas).

kaama: pleasure, enjoyment; love, especially sexual love or sensuality
sukham (accusative): pleasure, happiness
a-sukha: unhappy, not a pleasure
-taH: ablative suffix
a-sukhataH: not from happiness
vimRshan = present participle, vi + mRis: to touch mentally, be aware of, perceive

vijahaara = perfect of vi + hRi: spend time, roam, disport oneself
tRpta: satisfied
iva: like
tatra: there, in that matter
sat: good, wise, true
janaH: people

EH Johnston:
And no one at all was covetous in mind or let his thoughts lust after others' goods. The good man, deeming the pleasures of the world to be but sorrow, behaved there as if already fully satisfied (without resorting to them).

Linda Covill:
No man ever suffered mental yearnings, with greedy thoughts about other people's riches. Good folk took sensual pleasures to be a source of discomfort, and lived as though they were satisfied without them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.33: Precepts Four to Seven - No Lying, Gossip, Hurtful Words, or Slander

an-Rtam jagaada na ca kash cid
Rtam api jajalpa n'aa-priyam
shlakSHNam api ca na jagaav a-hitam
hitam apy uvaaca na ca paishunaaya yat.

Nobody told an untruth,

Nor made true but nasty gossip,

Nor spoke slick but hurtful words.

The speaking of beneficial words, again,
was free of slanderous intent.

This verse seems to contain nos. 4 to 7 of the ten precepts referred to in 3.37, viz:
No. 4: Not to lie
No. 5: Not to gossip
No. 6: Not to speak hurtful words, and especially not to speak or write in a slick, urbane manner words whose real effect is hurtful.
No. 7: Not to disparage A even in the attempt to clarify something for the benefit of B.

an-Rta: untrue
jagaada = perfect of gad: speak articulately, say, tell
na: not
ca: and
kash cid: anything

Rtam: true
api: even
jajalpa = perfect of jalp: speak inarticulately, chatter, prattle, gossip
na: not
a-priya: unpleasant, nasty, disagreeable

shlakSHNa: slippery, smooth, polished, gentle, tender, slick
api: even
ca: and
na: not
jagau = perfect of gai: sing, speak or recite in a singing manner
a-hitam: unfit, improper; unfriendly; not beneficial; hostile, noxious, hurtful

hitam: beneficial, advantageous, good advice
api: even
uvaaca = perfect of vac: speak
na: not
ca: and
paishunaaya (dative): for the purpose of malignity, slander; out of spite
yat: that

EH Johnston:
No one said what was untrue or, if true, was unpleasant. No one spoke smooth things which were to the disadvantage of others. They spoke only to the advantage of others, avoiding backbiting.

Linda Covill:
No one told an untruth, and even if something was true, no one made it nasty gossip. No one, even slyly, said anything hurtful to others, and even when speaking to others' benefit, no one told tales.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.32: Precept Three - Steering Clear of Illicit Sex

vibhav’-anvito ‘pi taruNo ‘pi
viSHaya-capal’-endriyo ‘pi san
n’aiva ca para-yuvatiir agamat
paramaM hi taa dahanato ‘pi amanyata

Even the man of money and youth,

Virile power set twitching by its object,

Even he never went near the wives of another.

For they, more than a fire, were full of unknown dangers.

Among many second lines with colourful overlays and a sense of wicked iconoclasm, this one may take the biscuit. It could be translated more drily as "Even he, a sense organ reacting to sense objects." Or, less drily, as a more direct suggestion of a throbbing phalus: "Even he, an organ of virility set twitching by its object." So I have gone for somewhere in the middle, but maybe biased towards the latter. This being a work in progress, if anybody is too scandalized, I can always change it later.

Master Dogen in his instructions for sitting/realisation only mentions putting the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh -- the reverse is understood. Maybe the same is true of the fourth line of this verse. Or maybe Ashvaghosha, as a man, was confining himself to what he knew from experience: that an attractive woman truly is more dangerous to a man than a house on fire.

In Ashvaghosha's own description of (i.e. indirect instructions for) the practice of sitting/realisation, in Canto 17, to which we are coming soon, he describes the joy which Nanda felt in this sitting practice as deeper than any joy he had ever felt -- i.e. deeper even than the joy of sex he had experienced with Sundari. Ashvaghosha goes on to describe the ease that Nanda experiences from non-attachment even to this deepest of all joys. Beyond that, beyond hardship and ease, Nanda goes on to realise the ultimate simplicity and clarity of just sitting, endowed with equanimity and mindfulness. This, the fourth realisation, is described not as achievement of the end itself, but rather as a powerful ally in the quest to conquer unknown lands.

So, even if Ashvaghosha is steering us clear of the sweet taste of forbidden fruit, which here he clearly is, his teaching is never all sack-cloth and ashes. Rather, he is leading us all on a bloody great adventure!

vibhava: wealth, money, riches
anvita (from anv + i, to go alongside): gone along with, accompanied by
api: even, however
taruNa: youth, young
api: even, however

viSHaya: object, sense-object, end
capala: moving to and fro, wavering, wanton
indriyaH (nominative, singular): agreeable to Indrah; show of power; virile power; semen; sense, organ of sense
api: even, however
san (nominative singular masculine of sant) = present participle of as: to be

na: not
eva: ever, indeed
ca: and
para: others, strangers
yuvatiIIH (accusative, plural): girls, young women, wives
agamat: went to, approached

paramaM: more, greater
hi: for
taa (nominative, feminine, plural of sa): they, those women
dahana: burning, fire
-taH (ablative suffix): [more] than [fire]
api: even
man: to think, to be aware
a-manya-ta: being unawareness

EH Johnston:
And however rich a man might be, however young, however stirred in his senses by passion, he never touched the wives of others; for he deemed them more dangerous than fire.

Linda Covill:
Even the man of money and youth, with his senses itching for action, even he did not approach the wives of others, for he considered them more dangerous than fire.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.31: Precept Two - Not Ripping Others Off

a-kRsh'odyamaH kRsha-dhano 'pi
para-paribhav'-aa-saho 'pi san
n' aanya dhanam apajahaara tathaa
bhujagaad iv' aanya-vibhavaadd hi vivyathe

Even a man of scarce means,
despite abundant hard graft,

Who could not stand
the high-handed ways of superiors,

Did not, like them, rip others off:

For he shrank from others' riches
as from a snake.

Line 1 sets the scene: a hard grafter who was (in the memorable phrase of Linda Covill, which I was sorely tempted to pinch) "of unremitting labor poorly remitted."
Line 2 fills in some concrete detail -- the working class hero of this verse is not a god or a saint but a human being who, just like Nanda himeslf, was faced with trials and tribulations. Maybe it was because he could not tolerate high-handedness that the cosmic sense of humour furnished him with all the arrogant, exploitative superiors he needed to practise his intolerance on.
Line 3 is an indirect expression of the moral principle: Do not be tempted to steal, even if others have ripped you off. Two wrongs don't make a right.
Line 4 hints at the transcendent attitude, born of sitting-Zen, of a grizzled old drill who has followed the Buddha's final teaching of being content with not much.

Even in setting forth the precepts, Ashvaghosha is indirectness itself -- not preaching "This is THE way," but rather hinting at, and demonstrating by his own style, the existence of a way.

In Saundarananda 3.12, the Buddha says ayam upaaya, "This is a means."

Not, as I read it "THIS IS THE PATH!", shouting it out in the shrill tones of a religious fundamentalist, or a small-minded sectarian who is trying to convince himself; but rather, with the greater resonance of inner conviction, "this is a means."

This is really something that is taking me a lifetime to understand, observing the mistakes of self and others.

With a thing like mindfulness, example, I see people going for it directly, concentrating like fury on their breathing or some other thing. That is how I was, before I bumped into Alexander's teaching, with regard to "keeping the spine straight vertically." I went about it in a manner that Alexander called "end-gaining." To be frank, I was taught by my Japanese Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, to go about keeping the spine straight vertically in an end-gaining manner, just as he was taught by his Japanese Zen teacher Kodo Sawaki -- pulling in the chin and so on. But what I get from Saundarananda is Ashvaghosha hinting at the existence of a more indirect way to the equanimity and mindfulness of just sitting.

It is not that he preaches "indirectness" (which is probably just what I am doing right now, mainly for my own benefit). It is rather that every verse exudes a certain indirectness of approach.

a-KRsha: not emaciated, in no short supply, not scarce
udyamaH: exerting oneself; strenuous and continued effort; hard graft
kRsha: lean, emaciated, spare, poor
dhanaH: goods, means, wealth, resources
api: even

para: others, superiors
paribhava: being superior to, high-handedness, passing over, disrespect, slight, humiliation, contempt,
a-sahaH: not bearing, not enduring, intolerant, impatient
san (nominative singular masculine of sant) = present participle of as: to be

na: not
anya: other, somebody else
dhanam: goods, wealth, money
apajahaara (past apa + hRi) snatch away, carry off, plunder
tathaa: in like manner, tit for tat

bhujagaad (ablative): from a snake
iva: like, as
anya: other
vibhavaad (ablative): from wealth, money, riches
hi: for
vivyathe (perfect of vyath): trembled, wavered, went astray; (with ablative) swerved away from, shrank from.

EH Johnston:
The hardworking man, however poor, however impatient of the contempt of others, similarly did not steal the goods of others; for he shrank from others' wealth as from a snake.

Linda Covill:
Even the man of unremitting labor poorly remitted, not lightly tolerating humiliations from others, even he did not carry off the goods of others, for he shrank from others' wealth as from a snake.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.30: Precept One - Not Inflicting Suffering

na jihiMsa suukSHmam api jantum
api para-vadh'-opajiivanaH
kiM bata vipula-gunaH kula-jaH
sadayaH sadaa kim u muner upaasakaH

No person inflicted suffering on any creature,
no matter how small --

Not even a person who killed for a living.

How full of good was the man of good family!

And of a compassion still greater, always,
was a servant of the sage.

Line 1 introduces precept one of ten -- never needlessly to inflict suffering.
Line 2, as I read it, is a typical Line 2. It represents Ashvaghosha's objective, non-simplistic consideration of his prospective audience, which might include not only the crusading vegan but also the butcher or soldier (or US marine). I don't think Ashvaghosha was saying that every butcher or soldier in Kapilavastu gave up his job -- if that had suddenly happened, Kapilavastu might no longer have been such a safe city to live in. No, I think Ashvaghosha was emphasizing the point that, even in slaughtering an animal for food, or even in one-on-one combat with a member of an enemy army, the precept should be observed not to inflict suffering on other living beings.
Line 3 describes the altruism that actually exists in this world -- for example, in teaching rooms and in swimming pools, in (some) dentists' surgeries, in offices, on ships and in shops, in coal mines and in gold mines.
Line 4 describes altruism that is in but not of the world -- the altruism not only of doing, nine to five, but also of being, twenty-four seven. Once we have gulped down the bitter pill, even by accident, this life has already become a life sentence, without parole, in servitude. It is not that a person who has kick-started the bodhi-mind is necessarily more compassionate than others (am I more compassionate than others? -- I don't think so); but as long as his or her will to the Buddha's enlightenment is sincere, then he or she belongs, without parole, to a benevolence which is truly great.

na: not
jihiMsa (past of han): injured, harmed
suuKSHmam: tiny, insignificant, minute
api: even
jantum (accusative): creature

api: also, even
para: others
vadha: one who kills; act of slaughter, act of killing
upajiivanaH: livelihood

kiM bata: interjection of astonishment
vipula: abundant, enormous, great
gunaH: good, good quality, merit, good work
kula-jaH (nominative, singular): born to a good family, well-bred person

saadayaH (agreeing with kula-jaH? or with upaasakaH? I decided the latter): merciful, compassionate, kind, gentle
sadaa: always, ever
kim u: still more, even more so
muneH (genitive): of the sage, the sage's
upaasakaH (nominative, singular): servant, worshipper, follower, Buddhist lay worshipper

EH Johnston:
Even those who were accustomed to live by killing others, desisted from hurting any living creature at all, even the most insignificant one; how much more then did the man of good family, great virtue and pity ever do so? Still more so he who served the Sage.

Linda Covill:
Those who had made their living through butchery no longer injured any living creature, even tiny ones. And oh, how gentle always was the man of noble family, with his abundant good qualities, and even more so the lay disciples of the sage!