Friday, February 6, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 17.53: Giving Up, Letting Go, Dropping Off

yatr’ eNjitaM spanditam asti tatra
yatr’ aasti ca spanditam asti duHkham
yasmaad atas tat sukham iNjakatvaat
prashaanti-kaamaa yatayas tyajanti

17.53
Wherever there is a flicker of emotion,
mental activity is going on in there,

And wherever mental activity is going on
there is suffering,

Which is why, insofar as ease is emotive,

Strivers who wish for quiet give up that ease.


COMMENT:
The second word in Line 1, if I have understood its literal meaning correctly, suggests to me a momentary furrowing of the brow, or almost imperceptible tightening of the neck, or reddening of the hands -- a hint of a movement, however subtle, that betrays a person’s SUFFERING. Professor Paul Ekman, who has latterly collaborated with the Dalai Lama, has been a pioneer in the field of observing in people's faces this kind of flicker of emotion.

The point of Line 2 is that the root CAUSE of the suffering is not in the red traffic light, or crashing computer, or tumbling market, or barking dog, or other noxious stimulus that confronts the suffering person. The real root CAUSE is rather in the mental activity that constitutes the person’s own emotional reaction to the stimulus.

The translation of Line 3 is very provisional, as I am not sure about the exact literal meaning of iNjakatvaat. Is Ashvaghosha saying here that what, in EH Johnston’s words, “brings about alteration,” is our attachment to the idea of ease? If so, then the line makes perfect sense to me, because it has been demonstrated to me, as I describe here, how troublesome an idea can be. In order to INHIBIT the mental activity associated with suffering, the secret often lies in the giving up of an idea.

Line 4 reminds us that the Way of Buddha, or a path of a non-buddha, is A PATH of giving up, letting go, dropping off -- a path of backward steps of turning light and shining. When the backward step is studied in detail, it generally seems, again, to depend on giving up an idea, that is, on letting go of attachment to an idea. We make ourselves unhappy in pursuit of the idea of happiness, like insomniacs worrying about getting enough sleep. Whereas the truest happiness, in the final analysis, may lie in completely giving up the idea of being happy, and just sitting. The truest ease, in the final analysis, may lie in totally letting go of the idea of ease, and just sitting. Only when the insomniac gives up the idea of sleep, does he finally drop off. Only when the striver gives up the idea of ease, can body and mind drop off.

We have arrived here, I believe (on the basis of studying the ancestors' own words for myself), at the ultimate teaching of Ashvaghosha and the ultimate teaching of Dogen concerning how to sit. But, please, do not call it the Zazen teaching of Soto Zen!

VOCABULARY:
[If I have got any words wrong, I would very much welcome negative feedback from any pandits out there.]

yatra: in which, where, wherever
inJita = (?) iNgita: palpitation; change of the voice, internal motion, motion of various parts of the body as indicating the intentions; hint, sign, gesture; aim, intention, real but covert purpose
spandita (from spand = to quiver): quivering, trembling; pulsation, throb; movement or activity (of the mind)
asti: there is
tatra: there

yatra: where
asti: there is
ca: and
spandita: commotion
asti: there is
duHkha: suffering

yasmaat (ablative of ya): because of which
ataH: for this reason, from this, which is why
tat: that
sukham: happiness
iNjakatvaat = (?) inGa + ka + tvaat: ‘because it brings about alteration’ (EHJ); ‘insofar as it is emotive’ [provisional translation here, based on EHJ]
inGa: moveable, locomotive
ka: (?)
tvaat (ablative of abstract noun suffix -tvam) because of X-ness, because of X-tion, because of being X

prashaanti: sinking to rest, rest, tranquillity (esp. of mind), calm, quiet, pacification, abatement, extinction, destruction
kaama: wish, desire, longing
yatayaH = nominative, plural of yati: "a striver ," an ascetic, devotee, one who has restrained his passions and abandoned the world
yati = from the root yam: stretch out, give oneself up to, exert oneself
tyajanti: they give up, abandon, quit, leave be, let go; free oneself from


EH Johnston:
Seeing that where there is alteration there is motion and where there is motion there is suffering, ascetics who long for tranquillity give up that bliss because it brings about alteration.

Linda Covill:
Where there is fluctuation, there is motion, and where there is motion, there is suffering. Because of this fluctuation, ascetics who strive for peace give up that bliss.

4 comments:

Raymond said...

Mike,

I think this is the first time I understand what you are getting at in referring to yourself as one who "reveres non-buddha". I understand this phrase to embody the idea of giving up the notion that we can ever be right. I think your teacher Marjory Barlow taught this to you, right? I have often seen in myself that as soon as I think I am onto something, I become rigid, and in doing so, distance myself from the rest of the world. For instance, I calm down through sitting, drive slowly to work, and think of all the other "fast fools" who fly by me, unaware of the gem of knowledge I possess to drive so slow. It is a much more liberating feeling to appreciate that I am a slow fool, who is allowed to be a slow fool, who the rest of the world is patiently enduring. It reinforces my own humility and kinship with them.

Anyway, this is the first time this idea of non-buddha dawned on me and I have seen in myself how thinking I am right causes turmoil, and, I think, separates me from the Noble Path I sincerely try to follow.

Sorry if this was long-winded. Take care and thank you for the post.

Raymond

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Raymond.

Marjory taught me that trying is only emphasizing what we already know -- what we already feel, in our bones, to be right.

So maybe it is also the sincerely trying to follow it that is separating us from it -- whereas non-buddha is going on up beyond sincere trying.

All the best,

Mike

Harry said...

"We make ourselves unhappy in pursuit of the idea of happiness, like insomniacs worrying about getting enough sleep. Whereas the truest happiness, in the final analysis, may lie in completely giving up the idea of being happy, and just sitting. The truest ease, in the final analysis, may lie in totally letting go of the idea of ease, and just sitting. Only when the insomniac gives up the idea of sleep, does he finally drop off. Only when the striver gives up the idea of ease, can body and mind drop off."

This is wonderful and very relevant to me at the moment as I (yet again) realise that I have not been sitting upright but rather have been stretching myself the wrong way (into a knot) on the rack of my own little ideas, theories and gross assumptions.

Thanks again for your efforts.

Regards,

Harry.

Mike Cross said...

You are welcome, Harry.

I think Ashvaghosha was a very clever and patient man, who buried his bitter pill in words that lovers of beautiful words might, nearly two thousand years later, willingly gulp down.