Monday, February 23, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.11: A Mindbody Pregnant with Suffering

aakaasha-yoniH pavano yathaa hi
yathaa shamii-garbha-shayo hutaashaH
aapo yath” aantar-vasudhaa-shayaash ca
duHkhaM tathaa citta-shariira-yoni

16.11
Thus, as wind is born from the air,

As fire sleeps in the womb of shami wood,

And as water gestates inside the earth,

So suffering is born from the body
of an expectant mind.


COMMENT:
Any list of terms written by Ashvaghosha or by Dogen offers a chance to look into the mirror of two true ancestors, who were not only poets but also sitting buddhas, and who therefore did not decide the order of their words at random. So when Ashvaghosha enumerates a list of three or four items, it can be worth looking for meaning in the order he chooses.

In this verse, for example, as I read it: wind is fickle; fire is physical energy; and underground water tends to stillness.

In the fourth line citta-shariira could be understood as the conjunction of two elements, “mind and body,” or as a determinative compound in which the former element defines the latter element: “a thinking body” or “a mindbody.”

Either way, Asvhaghosha putting the mental before the physical in this verse is not incidental. The point, I think, following on from the previous verse, is that a mind inherently is an organ of expectation, and mental expectations are ever liable to be disappointed, giving rise to suffering.

So every mindbody, inherently, is “pregnant with suffering” -- a lovely and memorable phrase of Linda Covill’s.

VOCABULARY:
aakaasha: a free or open space, vacuity; the ether, sky or atmosphere
yoniH (nominative, singular): the womb, female organs of generation; place of birth, source, origin
pavanaH (nominative, singular): " purifier", wind or the god of wind, breeze, air
yathaa: as, just as
hi: for; assuredly [indicating logical connection with previous verse, or just emphasis]

yathaa: as
shamii: shami wood [presumably a wood that makes good firewood]
garbha: the womb; the inside, middle, interior of anything
shayaH (nominative, singular): lying, sleeping, resting, abiding
hutaashaH: oblation-eater, fire

aapaH (nominative, singular): water, a quantity of water
yathaa: as
antar: within, between, amongst, in the middle or interior
vasudhaa: f. the earth, ground, soil
shayaaH (nominative, singular, feminine): a place of rest or repose
ca: and

duHkhaM: suffering
tathaa (correlative of yathaa): so too, likewise
citta: ‘noticed’; ‘aimed at’, longed for; thinking, imagining; intention, aim, wish; the heart, mind
shariira: body
yoni: womb

EH Johnston:
For as wind has its birthplace in the air, as fire lies in the womb of the shami wood, as water lies inside the earth, so suffering has its birthplace in the mind and body.

Linda Covill:
As wind is born from the air, as fire lies embryonic in shami wood, as water gestates in the earth’s interior, so are the mind and the body pregnant with suffering.

1 comment:

Mike H said...

Mike Cross:

The four elements or five elements (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, Metal) were often used as a way to express more fully physical existence and consciousness.

Wind and Fire have specific connotations in both India (4-element) and China (5-element).

I'm very rusty on it all but wind was to do with mental energy or intention (Qi/Chi) and Fire was to do with Power.

Fire/Water work in opposition to increase/decrease power.

This stuff was 'common' knowledge at the time the texts were written so Dogen for instance references the elements in the same way.

"The Four Elements" might be useful background reading for you to give context to the texts.