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.


lxg said...

My Alexander teacher Peter Ribeaux was telling us in class the other day about an interesting
observation that he made when walking his daughter's dog. Basically the dog doesn't drop the ball for any member of the Ribeaux family, you have to tussle with it to get it from her. He asked a fellow dogwalker about this, a woman, and she demonstrated to him that when the dog brings the ball back you have to back off, give the dog space to drop the ball and then go in to pick it up and then throw it. So Peter observed in himself the tendency, when the dog came back to him, to slightly protude his neck forward and pull his head back as he went for the ball and the dog wouldn't let go. So there is this insiduous, end-gaining, grasping reaction that the dog picks up on. I know there's a parallel to be drawn here with regards to human relationships aswell.

I see this tendency is in myself too but it is so deeply entrenched. Even though I've spent the last 3 years of my life learning the art of backing off (in Alexander training), when it comes to the crunch I know that I am still a slave to my grasping tendency. But what's 3 years huh?

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for sharing this, Alex.

And thanks for your listening ear.

Yours ever in the backward step,