Saturday, March 28, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.44: Accurate Insight As a Passion-Killer

yad" aiva yaH pashyati naama-ruupaM
kShay' iiti tad darshanam asya samyak
samyak ca nirvedam upaiti pashyan
nandii-kShayaac ca kShayam eti raagaH

When a man sees a separate bodily form

As decrepit, that insight of his is accurate;

In seeing accurately he is disenchanted

And his optimism ends,
as a result of which redness fades away.

The last word of the first line, ruupam, carries a connotation of beauty of form or loveliness of figure. I think that Ashvaghosha may have in mind the kind of beauty and loveliness that young women's make-up and mannerisms are designed to accentuate, and that young men's brains are biologically programmed to be enchanted by.

Maybe the biological programming is stronger still that causes a baby to be enchanted by his mother, and the first great disenchantment that we all experience -- though some more devastatingly than others -- is the impermanence of our original relationship with our mother. Eihei Dogen and Kodo Sawaki are two Zen masters who experienced this disenchantment particularly acutely, history records, as young orphans.

In the last year or two before I left Japan at the end of 1994, several times I visited a dojo in Ohito, in the Izu peninsular, where some personal effects of Master Kodo Sawaki were stored. The dojo belonged to a Zen Master by the name of Tsunemasa Abe, whose father was a great friend of Master Kodo. Among Master Kodo's personal effects I found a book of cartoons that began with a depiction of a gorgeous young Japanese woman dressed in traditional finery; the cartoons progressed to showing her in old age, death, and beyond death -- rotting skin falling from her old bones. How much attention Master Kodo paid to these pictures, and whether he found it useful to look at them, I don't know. I only know that the book was still there, 30 years after the Master's death, among his personal effects.

What is also known is that Master Kodo expressed his frank disenchantment in his old age in many ways, for example, by his description of the ways of Japanese society as "gurupo boke," group idiocy; and by his calling himself Masu-O, the King of Masturbation.

When the old man called himself Masu-O, was he expressing the continuation of something that should not exist? Or was he expressing the fact that something that should not exist had completely faded away?

As the bastard grandson of Kodo, I do not have any more grounds for optimism than he did.

At the core of my being is an aberrant Moro reflex that made me burn in the past, is making me burn in the present, and will make me burn in the future. Being like this is nothing to celebrate. It is no matter for joy, delight, or happiness. There are no grounds for optimism.

yadaa: when
eva: [emphatic]
yaH: [he] who
pashyati = 3rd person singular of dRSh: to see
naaman: a characteristic mark or sign; name
ruupa: n. any outward appearance; handsome form , loveliness
naama-ruupam (acc. sg. n.): "name and form" = an individual being;
a distinguishable form, a separate bodily form

kShayi = acc. sg. m. kShayin: mfn. wasting , decaying , waning ; perishable
iti: thus, that, as
tad: that, in that [regard]
darshanam (nom. sg.): n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing , observation , perception; n. apprehension , judgement; discernment , understanding; n. view
asya (gen. sg.): of him
samyak: true, correct, accurate

samyak: truly, correctly, accurately
ca: and
nir: being without
veda: knowledge , true or sacred knowledge or lore , knowledge of ritual; name of certain celebrated works which constitute the basis of the first period of the Hindu religion; feeling , perception; property , goods
nirvedam = acc. sg. nirveda: not having the vedas , infidel , unscriptural; complete indifference, disregard of worldly objects
upaiti = 3rd person singular upa-√i: to go or come or step near , approach , arrive at , meet with; enter into any state , fall into
pashyan: nom. sg. m. pashyat: seeing , beholding , rightly understanding

nandii = f. of nanda: joy, delight, happiness ,
kShayaat = abl. sg. kShaya: m. ending
ca: and
kShayam (acc. sg.): m. ending; loss , waste , wane , diminution , destruction , decay , wasting or wearing away
eti = 3rd person singular aa-√i: to reach, attain, enter
raagaH (nom. sg.): m. colour , hue , tint , dye , (esp.) red colour , redness; any feeling or passion , (esp.) love , affection or sympathy for , vehement desire of , interest or joy or delight in

EH Johnston:
For when anyone sees that corporeality is impermanent, his views are correct, and seeing correctly he attains complete detachment and by the abolition of complaisance (in the things of this world) his passion is abolished.

Linda Covill:
When someone sees that pyscho-physical existence is imbued with decay, his insight is correct; with this correct vision he becomes disinterested in wordly objects and from the ending of pleasure in worldly objects his passion comes to an end.


Raymond said...


Good morning (or good afternoon in England). I used to read your posts about the moro reflex and you described it as as child kicking out their arms and legs in a temper tantrum. I could not identify with the experience.

But the more disciplined my practice has become, the more sensitive it has become, the more I can feel this overwhelming urge to escape in panic creep in during my everyday life.

For instance I hate my job. I have to interact with a lot of people, and this conjures up a lot of feelings of fear in me. I am constantly dreaming about escaping from this job, imagining a job free from dealing with people. And perhaps they exist, but I have a feeling that so long as I am walking around with my own mind, I will always have this problem. I think the mara reflex constantly encourages us to imagine that life should be easy...because genuine awareness, and consequently intimacy, is downright frightening. The moro reflex is constantly startling the body to retract, for the turtle to pop its head into the body and protect...even in the smallest interactions like a half-second silence between words with a stranger.

So, what do we do? How do we work with this? Do we keep inhibiting the urge to escape and so our ability to endure the vast uncertainty and anxiety of everyday life becomes stronger and stronger?

Your last line of "no optimism" resonates with me. On a very basic level, I want to disown you for it right away. I want to say Mike Cross is a nihilist and I cannot believe in such a negative outlook. But I know that after the weekend is over and I am back at work, I will look over the weekend when I imagined that life was good and know that it was a cruel trick...that difficulty was lurking on the other side of my own happiness. How can we be stable enough to meet both week and weekend appropriately, with balance? So, perhaps no optimism is itself ceaseless practice....going beyond what is, the fleeting, and having faith in our awareness of our own psychic patterns that bind us to the wheel of birth, the patterns that we ourselves, as practictioners, have seen, felt, and are working to master, to finally see a fault before it occurs and inhibit it.

What do you think?

Thank you for your time.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Raymond,

No, not a nihilist, nor a pessimist, nor a realist!

But I do think there is value in the effort really to clarify what Ashvaghosha was really saying.

And I think there is value in making this effort at the constant rate of one verse per day, attentively and relentlessly, like a trickle of water that will drill through rock.

Apart from that, I hope tomorrow's post might help answer your question. As always...
The gold is in the bold.

Thank you for your effort,