Monday, January 19, 2009

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.

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