Sunday, March 22, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.38: Ten Attendant Virtues

asy' opacaare dhRtir aarjavaM ca
hriir apramaadaH praviviktataa ca
alp'ecchataa tuShTir asaMgataa ca
loka-pravRttaav aratiH kShamaa ca

Attendant on it are constancy and straightness;

Modesty, caution, and reclusiveness;

Wanting little, contentment,
and freedom from forming attachments;

No fondness for worldly activity, and forbearance.

Looking backwards for the broader context of the progression of this Canto, after the climax of reaching the Ultimate Step on the Noble Eightfold Path, this verse can be taken as a reminder that the ultimate step is not necessarily attended by a fanfare of trumpets, and much less by an imitation of a lion's roar. It is maybe more conducive to enjoyment of the ultimate step to be less like a scary lion in a big circus, and more like a shy wren -- perching incognito in a quiet place, where nobody is around. That is how I read this enumeration of ten very unassuming virtues -- in the spirit of Tendo Nyojo's admonition not to get carried away by the twirling of a flower.

Looking forwards, it may be significant that the word upacaara which appears in the first line also appears in forthcoming verses of this Canto (e.g. 16.40d), where it describes the medical use of remedies in Aryuvedic treatments. So here also asy'opacaare, "attendant on it," seems to point to a medical connotation, as if Ashvaghosha wished gently to introduce the medical theme.

The sense I get is of these ten unassuming virtues, personified, waiting attentively on a patient who is being nursed towards the ultimate well-being described in 16.37.

For that reason, I think Linda Covill's translation "ancillary to it" is a nice one. "Ancillary" derives from the Latin ancilla, which means a female servant, and brings to mind the relatively humble work of a nurse or midwife -- as opposed, say, to a pompous alpha-male of a consultant obstetrician.

Not all consultants are pompous, I suppose, nor all nurses humble. In the end it might be down to the individual, more than down to the job. But there again, some jobs are more conducive to humility than others.

Translation work is inherently humbling, if one is conscientious about it -- it is a constant process of finding that, no, that wasn't it. I missed the point there. I didn't understand what the Master really meant.

Writing a commentary, in contrast, is not always conducive to humility! Quite the opposite is true.

Marjory Barlow used to emphasize that teaching the FM Alexander Technique is very modest work. "You have got to be very humble about it." That doesn't mean that a good Alexander teacher lacks confidence; she has the confidence that comes from knowing what really works -- the kind of confidence that Cesar Millan (aka The Dog Whisperer) shows in rehabilitating dogs and training their owners, or the kind of confidence that my wife and brother have in being able to help nervous swimmers overcome their fear of the water.

This verse raises the question for me of what it means to work in a modest way.

I think it means constantly going back and attending to the integrity (or lack of it) in the use of one's ear/voice/body. Before balance and before wisdom, there is that simple, practical, most basic matter to be attended to of how one is using oneself. So I think modesty has to do with attending first to this most basic matter.

Above all, I think modesty means remaining open, not committing the sin of certainty -- which I, for one, still too often tend to do.

asya = genitive of ayam: this
upacaare = locative of upacaara: service , attendance; treatment; attendance on a patient , medical practice , physicking
dhRtiH (nom. sg.): f. firmness, constancy
aarjava (nom. sg.): n. straightness , straight direction; rectitude , propriety of act or observance; n. honesty , frankness , sincerity

hriiH (nom. sg.): f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity
apramaadaH (nom. sg.): m. care, vigilance
pramaada: m. intoxication ; madness , insanity; negligence , carelessness
pra: (as a prefix to substantive) forth , away; (as a prefix to adjective) excessively , very , much
vivikta (past participle of vi-√vic, to sift): separated , kept apart , distinguished , discriminated ; isolated , alone , solitary; clear, distinct; discriminative, judicious; n. separation , solitude , a lonely place
pravivikta [Apte dictionary]: 1.very solitary; 2.separated;
- taa: (suffix used to create a substantive) - ness, -tion, etc.
viviktataa [MW]: f. separation , isolation ; clearness , purity; an empty or free place , loneliness; distinction, discrimination
ca: and

alpa: small, little
icchaa: wish, desire
alpeccha: having little or moderate wishes
-taa: (abstract noun suffix)
alpecchataa: f. wanting little [first of the eight great human truths]
tuShTiH (nominative, singular): f. satisfaction , contentment
asaMgataa (nom. sg.): f. not being attached
a: (negative prefix) not
saMga: m. sticking , clinging to , touch , contact with (loc. or comp.) ; relation to , association or intercourse with ; addiction or devotion to , propensity for , (esp.) worldly or selfish attachment or affection
-taa: f.(abstract noun suffix)
ca: and

loka: world, human society
pravRttau = locative pravRtti: rolling on, progressive activity, continual doing
aratiH (nominative, singular): dissatisfaction, discontent
a: (negative prefix) no
rati: pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (locative)
kShamaa (nom. sg.): f. patience, forbearance
ca: and

EH Johnston:
In following it are required steadfastness, simple-mindedness, self-respect, heedfulness and discrimination, desire for little, contentment and lack of attachment, patience and dislike of mundane activity.

Linda Covill:
Ancillary to it are firmness, sincerity, modesty, heedfulness and solitude, minimal wishfulness, contentment, freedom from forming attachments, patience, and no fondness for active life in the world.


Jordan said...

Hi Mike,
I enjoy the way you get down into the weeds about how certain words evoke a certain image.

Grateful for those efforts,

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan,
I appreciate your comments too -- never pretentious, just constant and straight, with nothing in them but the lifeblood (along with the odd spelling mistake).
All the best,

Raymond said...


These virtues sound quite similar to the eight realizations of great beings. That has always been my favorite chapter of the Shobogenzo because it is the only one I understand.

I own all four volumes of the Nishijima/Cross translations and I can't for the life of me make any sense out of most of it. Do you have any recommendations for understanding the text?

Thank you for your continuing work.


Mike Cross said...

Thank you Raymond,

Yes, wanting little and being content (SHO-YOKU CHI-SOKU)is originally the alp'ecchataa tuShTiH of Saundarananda 16.38c.

I think that Dogen's intention in every word of Shobogenzo is to point us back to the origin, and Ashvaghosha's teaching is just the origin.

At the same time, I recommend you to investigate what in Alexander work is called "a bit of nothing."