Wednesday, February 25, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.13: Kinds of Physical, And of Mental, Suffering

kaaye sati vyaadhi-jar"-aadi duHkham
kShut-tarSha-varSh'-oShNa-himaaadhi c'aiva
ruup-aashrite cetasi s'-aanubandhe
shok-aarati-krodha-bhay'-aadi duHkham

Insofar as there is a body,
there is the suffering of sickness, aging and the like;

And also of hunger and thirst,
and of the rains, and summer heat and winter cold.

Insofar as a mind is bonded, tied to phenomena,

There is the suffering of grief, discontent, anger, fear
and so on.

Physical suffering like the discomfort of being too hot or too cold is a kind of feeling; and mental suffering like grief and anger is also a kind of feeling.

What is the difference? Maybe it has to do with physical suffering deriving more passively from sensory receptors, whereas mental suffering is generated by a reaction to phenomena perceived by the senses. The reaction would seem to rest on a mismatch between how phenomena are perceived, and how the survival-oriented, fear-reflex driven mind would want or expect things to be.

So, for example, physical suffering is pain in the legs, and mental suffering is worrying about it. Or physical suffering is the pain of having a tooth pulled out, and mental suffering is regretting the loss of a valuable molar, due to the incompetent work of a dentist more than 15 years ago in Japan, where the owner of the tooth was devoting himself more heroically than anybody appreciates.... and on and on and on.

The distinction between the physical and the mental is worth making for a sitting practitioner because of the existence of two different -- nay, opposite -- approaches that are available to us to choose in sitting practice.

The physical approach is just to sit upright, based on our feeling (i.e. propioceptive sense) of what it means to be upright. This is a starting point. This is how Nanda begins his ascent to the deathless (as related in verse 17.4: “Straightening all his body, he directed his attention on his body and, collecting all his sense-faculties in himself, he entered earnestly into the practice of Yoga.” [EHJ]).

The opposite approach -- opposed to blind, instinctive sitting that is reliant only on feeling -- is the mental approach. The mental approach is, having recognised one’s feelings to be unreliable, to decide not to try to improve one’s sitting posture by doing something, but rather, to proceed from the basis of reason.

The latter approach is a means-whereby bodily feelings may gradually become a matter of indifference, while reasoned thought initiates a process of release from mental bonds, on the way to pure awareness. This I think is what Master Dogen meant by sitting as body and mind dropping off, and it seems to be what Ashvaghosha is describing in verses 17.42 through to 17.55.

Paradoxically, in the face of physical suffering, like a stiff neck or frozen shoulder, relief sometimes comes when a person gives up trying to fix the problem by doing something physically, and instead resorts to the mental means of not doing.

And an effective response to mental suffering, like anger, can be to release into the physical -- just blindly doing some simple activity like going for a walk or digging a potato patch.

The point, contrary to fashionable wisdom, is that body and mind in the Buddha’s teaching are not always one. Sometimes, as in this verse, the physical and the mental are separated from each other. And sometimes, in practice, the physical and the mental are diametrically opposed to each other.

kaaye = locative of kaaya: the body
sati = locative of sat (pr. p. of √as): being, existing [used in locative absolute expressions -- ‘as long as there is...’]
vyaadhi: disorder , disease , ailment , sickness , plague
jara: growing old
aadi: beginning with, et cetera
duHkham: suffering

kShudh: hunger
tarSha: thirst , wish , desire for
varSa: raining, the rains
oShna: heat , warmth , the hot season (June , July)
himaa: the cold season , winter
aadi: et cetera
ca: and
eva: as well [emphatic]

ruupa: any outward appearance or phenomenon or colour; form, shape, figure; beauty, looks; material form, body
aashrite = locative of aashrita: attaching one's self to, joining, having recourse to; resorting to as a retreat or asylum; seeking refuge or shelter from; subject to; depending on; relating or belonging to; resting on; dwelling in; following; (with Buddhists) an object perceived by the senses and manas or mind.
cetasi = locative of cetas: mind
sa: with (possessive prefix)
anubandhe = locative of anubandha: binding , connection , attachment; encumbrance

shoka: greif, sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain
arati: dissatisfaction , discontent , dulness , languor; anxiety, distress, regret
krodha: anger
bhaya: fear
aadi: beginning with, et cetera
duHkham: suffering

EH Johnston:
The existence of the body involves suffering such as disease, old age, etc. and hunger, thirst, rain, heat and cold etc, and the existence of the mind with its concomitants, when incorporated in matter, involves suffering such as grief, dejection, anger, fear, etc.

Linda Covill:
So long as the body exists, there is suffering such as disease and old age, and also hunger, thirst, rain, heat and cold. And when there is a bonded mind dependent on the body, there is suffering such as grief, despair, anger and fear.

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