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.


Jordan said...


I think Blogger ate my nice comments.

Here goes again...

I remember reading your writings about the mirror principal years ago now. That had a really profound effect on my practice.

Thanks for your efforts,

Harry said...

Your mining is producing very rich results, Mike. Thank-you very much for it.

Certainly in the past I wished, hoped, and tried with much friction to the contrary of what we often effectively are.

That practice of seeing others as our own children seems okay, once it's held realistically and isn't the object of further loathing when our 'children' do the inevitable... and sometimes, as any parent knows, the law has to be laid down in no uncertain terms, possibly with some emphasis.

How many kids does the Dalai Lama have again?



Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan.

After I started blogging, I was forced to ask myself why comments from people I didn't know at all had such power to annoy me!

But the mirror principle I noticed then was from watching the reactions of a deluded mind, whereas the mirror principle Ashvaghasha is expressing here seems to describe a kind of skill cultivated by a mind that is not deluded.

So I think the two mirror principles are similar but not the same -- like chalk and cheese.

Thanks again,


Mike Cross said...

Many thanks for that encouragement, Harry.

Yes, the mining metaphor is one that I feel really happy with. The Cross ancestors were Irish Catholics who came to the South Wales coalfied to do the most menial jobs going -- the lowest of the low. That's where the 'Cross temper' became infamous, because the Crosses were renowned for getting into fights at the slightest provocation (an echo of 3.31).

My great grandfather John Cross was killed in a coal-mining accent just about 100 years ago.

So, yes, I am really encouraged that, despite all the crap I am shovelling up in the process, people such as yourself can seem some rich results.

Thanks again,


Mike Cross said...

As an afterthought to the imagery of shovelling up a lot of my own crap together with Ashvaghosha's riches, the slogan that entered my mind was:

The gold is in the bold!

Harry said...


Re 'our children'/family (sorry if I'm going off on one here, but I'm interested in what might be that idealised Buddhist attitude towards what constitutes 'loving our children/others').

Interestingly enough (to me anyways) I'm just looking at sociological theories of family in a course I'm doing.

Two major ones are the classic functionalist theory (which sees the family as transmitting/ upholding stability in society; 'the backbone of society') and classic conflict theories such as Marxism which can see the family as perpetuating unequal capitalist power structures. Feminists would see the family as the arena of/ transmitter of inequality and patriarchy also of course.

I think a reasonable dialectic might be that, if 'family' performs positive functions in society, it is partly due to their inherent inequalities, their unequal power structures, their defining conflicts... Maybe its a matter of managing this as well, as fairly, as possible?

BTW, we moved up to mining country here in Ireland. We're in Roscommon just a couple of miles away from the Arigna mines in Leitrim (its where we go to get our coal). Do you know where your clan came from here?



Mike Cross said...

Hi Harry,

I suppose that a Line 1 romanticized assumption (thesis) would be that family members are dear to each other, standing in opposition to which would be a Line 2 objective fact (anti-thesis) of the kind that Marxist, feminists, etc. point to.

It may have been a realistic awareness of both sides that led Ashvaghosha to include "friend" at the end of his list in Line 3.

Having just checked some old records, I found that my great-grandfather's name was Eugene (not John) and he was killed in an accident at Ebbw Vale Bessemer, 9th October 1918. The clan had roots in County Cork -- and also in Waterford, if memory serves.

Your question brings to mind what Ashvaghosha says about family in Canto 15.30 onwards:

Now, you might feel worried about whether you family is flourishing or not. You should put a stop to this by examining the true nature of the world of humankind. Among the beings whose own acts drag them through samsara, who is a stranger? Who is family? It is through delusion that people cling to each other. For on the road already travelled, someone who is now family was then a stranger, and on the road to come a stranger will be family.

Translation LC. Once again, the gold is in the bold.