Thursday, January 22, 2009

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.


Jordan said...

Hi Mike,
I listened to something this morning that I think is related to this, it is from a book called the razors edge.

After spending some time in a monastery the character Larry says to his teacher "It is easy to be a holy man siting on top of this mountain"

Keeping on

Anonymous said...

lxg said...

Recently when I have been out and about walking, as a way of inhibiting this 'mental chatter', I have started pointing myself in the direction of something in the distance, say a lamp post or a fence at the end of the street that I am on, sending (throwing) my head up and towards the target and my lower back and heels back in the opposite direction. I've found that quite useful. Direct repressing of thoughts doesn't work for me.

Cheers Mike.

lxg said...

Hey, if the truth be told, the gold isn't just in the bold. Cheers Mike!

Chris said...

Just discovering your Ashvaghosha blog. Thank you so much for sharing your work in this way.

Am I any different from my dog intensely sniffing another dog's shit?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Jordan,

I saw the film of the book, starring Bill Murray, 20-odd years ago. The serene appearance of some of monks in the film stayed with me.... I remember one who said, "I am losing my cook." One never knows when such little seeds, planted long ago, might suddenly sprout!

Keeping on,


Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Anonymous. The Theravadin connection is sincerely welcome.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Alex. That US marine, follower of the Theravada tradition, and Zen Alexander student are united on one comments page, is very encouraging.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your encouragement.

I think understanding the behaviour of dogs can help give us insight into the behaviour of people. The dog that slept at the foot of my bed while I was growing up, taught me a lot. Conversely, dog owners who understand people are not always any good at understanding dogs. Sometimes I hear dog owners berating their dogs as if they were small children, and I feel sorry for the dog to have fallen into the hands of such a dimwit.