Thursday, January 1, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 3.18: Belonging to What?

a-parigrahaH sa hi babhuuva
niyata-matir aatman'iishvaraH
n'aaika-vidha-bhaya-kareshu kim u

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?

Line 1 expresses the Buddha's attainment of the end, or the goal, which is freedom.

The dialectic opposite of the end or the goal is a means, a way of practice here and now. Distant though the end may be, we are very fortunate if we have to hand a reliable means.

The abstract noun mati in Line 2, comes from the verb man, to think. Mati means mind, or tendency of the mind, desire, purpose, wish, mental direction, and so on. But the root of the word is thinking. So I have translated niyata-matir as "sure in his thinking." Here is the background:

In the past 15 years my understanding of the role of thinking in pursuit of self-mastery has undergone a complete reversal -- from "Don't think, just do it!" to "Don't do, just think it!", and back again, and again, and again. Without having gone through this reversal, again and again, with my skin, flesh, bones and marrow, I would not have the understanding that I have now of Master Dogen's words in THIS CHAPTER, that there is mental sitting as opposed to physical sitting, and physical sitting as opposed to mental sitting. So, I believe that training as a teacher of the FM Alexander technique, from 1995 to 1998, and working as an Alexander teacher since then, has been a means that has enabled me to become clearer in understanding the centre of Master Dogen's teaching.

Alexander work helps a person to think straight; for example, like this: “When I sit, I wish to allow my spine to lengthen, in such a way that breathing is not restricted. What can I do to get my spine to lengthen in such a way? Nothing. I am helpless to bring about, by direct means, the lengthening of the spine that I want. What I want is release -- an undoing. And I cannot do an undoing, at least not directly. Of that I can be sure.”

Having got the above off my chest, the meaning of lines 3 and 4 should not present much of a problem. The question is clearly a simple rhetorical question praising the state of detachment of Gautama Buddha, is it not?

Lines 3 and 4 are about Gautama, aren't they? They are not about me, or you, or Nelson Mandela who struggled for years and years not to hate his jailers and abusers, or else he knew he would continue to belong to them. No, Ashvaghosha's question is simply part of a beautiful, inspiring, philosophical, poetic, sunshine-filled depiction of Gautama Buddha's life.

[The sound of gulping.]

Because Ashvaghosha is so cunningly non-preachy, because his question looks so sweet and innocuous, we readily swallow the bitter pill. The medicine starts working, and we wake up feeling awful, as the excretion is stimulated out of our system of lots of horrible toxins.

a: not, without
parigrahaH: possession, wrapping around, property, dependents, trammels, appurtenances
sa: he
hi: for
babhuuva: was

niyata: controlled, restrained, definite, sure
mati: (from the root man: to think) thinking, mind, wishing
aatmana: himself
iishvaraH: master

na: not
eka: one
n'aaika: not one, i.e. many, numerous, manifold
vidha: various, manifold
bhaya: fear, danger, peril, distress, anxiety
kareshu = locative, plural of kara: causing
kim u: how much more/less?

sva-jana: one's own people, family
sva-desha-jana: people of one's own country
mitra: friends
vastuSHu = locative, plural of vastu: possessions, property

EH Johnston:
For he had become free of all trammels by being controlled in mind and master of Himself [ ]nd that too, though kinsfolk, fellow-countrymen, friends and possessions are full of dangers of many kinds (for the religious life).

Linda Covill:
For restrained in his thoughts and master of himself, he was without appurtenances, not even of family, countrymen, friends or property, which engender all sorts of anxieties.


Uku said...

So inspiring, truly inspiring... great post, thank you!

Thank you for your efforts and practice. Happy new year!

With palms together,

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Uku.

Something about your unremitting optimism reminds me of myself -- many years ago.

Happy new year!


Uku said...

Thank you, Mike. I only have this present moment so I try to act as good as I can in this present moment. I don't have any other option than to remain optimistic in this odd world; when it's time to cry, I'll cry; when it's time to laugh, I'll laugh. I'm happy to be a naive idiot. :)I think Buddhism is very positive and optimistic theory like Nishijima Roshi also pointed in his and Jeff Bailey's book. There's so much suffering and violence in this world so I think that as Buddhists we should try do our best to ease that pain - from our and others life.

Thank you for your teachings and efforts.

With palms together,

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Uku.

Yes, there is room for optimistic theories -- in Line 1.

But in Line 2, there are objective facts. For example, when your fingers are on the keyboard writing "With palms together," your fingers are on the keyboard --and so the palms cannot be together. In other words, there is a slight mismatch, not a very serious one of course, between what is going on in your head and what is actually going on in your action.

It is only a very small gap. But you know what Master Dogen wrote about gaps -- "If the slightest gap arises... et cetera."

"I think Buddhism is very positive and optimistic theory" are indeed the words of Nishijima Roshi. For many years I loved to hear those words. But gradually I got more and more sick of hearing those words and more and more disillusioned with Nishijima Roshi's own habitual attitude.

I used to think that pulling in the chin was the root cause of the problem. But nowadays I see that pulling in the chin was always symptomatic of a deeper end-gaining.

So, sorry Uku, but, standing where I stand, I cannot share your naive optimism at all. Naive optimism is a cause of suffering, and it belongs to the truth of suffering.

In the third and fourth lines, naively optimistic ideas are just what should be inhibited.

By what means? For example, you and I might ask ourselves what possibility there is that our beautiful offspring are going to get sick, grow old, and die.

With fingers on the keyboard,


Uku said...

Yes, of course words and speech can't never touch the reality. They're only like a finger pointing at the moon. That's why we're practicing zazen; to get a grip from reality, to be in reality. And of course optimism can cause more suffering but I believe that if we are keeping our state in zazen and in practicing Buddhism, we can find out what is natural optimism in our lifes; when it's time to cry, it's time to cry; when it's time to laugh, it's time to laugh.

I respect your opinions and point of views although I can't agree with all of them. Naturally, I don't have to. That's freedom and that's why I respect your opinions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Mike.

Mike Cross said...

The aim of the game, in sitting and in translating at least, is to drop off my own points of view, opinions, and so on. So what I am endeavoring to share here, like a musician just playing the score, is never my own thoughts. But anyway, Uku, you are welcome.

Uku said...

The aim of the game, in sitting and in translating at least, is to drop off my own points of view, opinions, and so on.

I agree. ;)

Mike Cross said...

In that case, congratulations!

Not because you agreed with me, but because you got the message in spite of me.

With palms together (a few seconds ago),


Jordan said...

Thank you both for inspiring a bit of joy this morning as I read your comments.

Mike Cross said...

Nobody told an untruth,

Nor gossiped about what was true but unpleasant,

Nor spoke words that were urbane but hurtful.

There was no cause for bad-mouthing, even in the giving of good advice.

lxg said...

I think the medicine might be working for me too Mike. I feel really really shit every morning when I wake up these days. It's as if there is a real cleansing taking place around my solar plexus. I have been thinking that the pain was the result of my having displayed a lack of integrity in my personal life recently but this post makes me think differently.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Alex,

If past mistakes in our personal life prevented the medicine from working, I promise you, I would have absolutely no chance of recovery.

Let's keep on taking the medicine -- four lines to be ingested slowly once daily.