Thursday, March 12, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.28: A Spent Lamp Reaches Nothing But Extinction (3)

diipo yathaa nirvRtim abhyupeto
n' aaiv' aavaniM gacchati n' aantarikSham
dishaM na kaaM cid vidishaM na kaaM cit
sneha-kShayaat kevalam eti shaantim

A lamp that has gone out

Reaches neither to the earth nor to the sky,

Nor to any cardinal nor to any intermediate point:

Because its oil is spent it reaches nothing but extinction.

This verse, and the verses which follow it, reverberate deeply with Master Dogen's teaching of the backward step.

Picture a baby, its eyes wide, its face flushed, and its arms splayed out in distress, reaching out, as if to plead, "Pick me up, mummy!"

In very many of us, a trace of that infantile redness remains, like emotional fuel. Many is the moment during a day when I would like to throw my toys out of the pram.

But a lamp that has gone out is not like that. A lamp that has gone out emits no trace of that.

diipaH (nominative, singular): m. light, lamp, lantern
yathaa: (correlative of evam in the next verse) just as
nirVrtim = accusative, nirVrti: f. complete satisfaction or happiness , bliss , pleasure , delight; emancipation , final beatitude; attainment of rest; extinction (of a lamp)
abhyupetaH = nom. sg. m. past participle of abhyupe: to go near , approach , arrive at , enter; to enter a state or condition , obtain , share

na: not
eva: at all
avanim (accusative): to the earth
gacchati (3rd person singular, gam): goes, reaches
na: not
antarikSham (accusative): to the sky

disham = accusative, plural of dish: f. quarter or region pointed at, direction, cardinal point (E,W, S, N)
na kaaM cit: not any of them
vidisham = accusative, plural of vidish: f. an intermediate point of the compass (as south east)
na kaaM cit: not any of them

sneha: oil
kShayaat = ablative of kShaya: loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away (often ifc.)
kevalam: ind. only, merely, solely
eti = 3rd person singular (aa- √i): to come near or towards , go near , approach; to reach , attain , enter , come into (a state or position)
shaantim (accusative): peace; extinction (of fire &c )

EH Johnston:
Just as a lamp, which has reached the stage of extinction, does not depart to the earth or the sky or any of the quarters or intermediate quarters but from exhaustion of the oil merely goes out.

Linda Covill:
Just as a light which is extinguished does not travel to the earth or the sky, nor to the directions or any intermediate directions but, because its oil is used up, merely ceases,


Mike H said...

I've always understood the oil-lamp analogy to be one where the flame is snuffed out; but the lamp running out of fuel puts it in a different light entirely.

You can relight a lamp that has been put out but one without fuel is more difficult to relight.


Mike Cross said...

Over the years, Mike H, you have left some comments that, to put it mildly, were lightweight.

But on this occasion I think you hit the target.

What you have written here is very simple and totally true.

So thanks to you -- and thanks to Ashvaghosha.

Plato said...

Hi Mike

What I really like in Ashvagosha's work is its simplicity but at the same time depth. He puts me in contact with my deepest insufficiencies really quickly. No time to ponder on what hishirio is or not any more! Or as you put it he asks me to "piss or get off the pot".
I suffer a lot from the "someone please pick me-up" attitude all my life. One of the main reasons for me is that nobody picked me up as a kid. But thanks to your work I am at least aware of it.
Thank you for your effort!

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Plato.

I was too tired to respond to your comment when I read it last night. So I slept on it and when I sat just now the main reflection i had was that Saundarananda is a success story.

The attitude we are talking about has got a dark or negative aspect, which is fear paralysis, panic, anger, associated with aversion/denial; and a positive aspect which is grasping or clinging associated with greedy expectation. That is one way of seeing how, the root of emotional imbalance, an aberrant Moro reflex operates.

It has taken me 35 years from the time when I used to suffer from going red on the bus to get at least a bit of clarity about what is deeply at the root of affliction. As you say, at least we are aware of what is at the root of our afflictions. And this awareness doesn't give us any room for naive optimism. The truth is that our afflictions are very deep rooted.

Still, the fact remains that Saundarananda is a success story, and day by day we are endeavoring to become part of it.

Ashvaghosha also leaves no room for naive optimism -- his vivid descriptions of Nanda's struggles in earlier Cantos and his exposition of the truth of suffering in this Canto, amply take care of that.

And yet he relates how Nanda, with the guidance of the Buddha and the support of a true Sangha, is guided out of the grip of a very real emotional dependence and towards the greatest of all happiness in the end.

So thanks for your encouragement, Plato, and lets keep encouraging each other's endeavor in pursuit of the ultimate aim.