Sunday, March 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.45: Dropping Off a Duality

tayosh ca nandii-rajasoH kShayeNa
samyag vimuktam pravadaami cetaH
samyag vimuktir manasash ca taabhyaaM
na c' aasya bhuuyaH karaNiiyam asti

By the ending of the duality
which is optimism and pessimism,

I submit, his mind is fully set free.

And when his mind is fully liberated from that duality,

There is nothing further for him to do.

I am fairly confident that previous translations, much as I appreciate them, missed the opposition which is at the centre of this verse.

The duality in question, as I see it, is the opposition between bright red optimism and black pessimism, between over-exuberance and gloom.

From the standpoint of mind, or psychology, the ending of this duality is the ultimate. But without being underpinned by matter, i.e. the flow of energy, the ultimate aim of psychology is only so much hot air.

FM Alexander understood this point clearly, as Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer), together with his pack of dogs, also clearly understands it, as also a child with vestibular dysfunction clearly understands it, and a nervous swimmer who can't put her face in the water also understands it. It is no use showing an aggressive bulldog or an autistic child or an aqua-phobic your Ph. D. in psychology. But those guys are all interested in how your energy is and what direction it is flowing in.

So the mental understanding, awakening, insight, and freedom from duality that Buddha/Ashvaghosha have been describing in the last four verses are but one side of the story. When the mind is fully liberated from duality, we are told, there is nothing further for us to do. But no mind has ever been fully liberated from optimism, pessimism, and every other -ism, only through the means of reading psychology or any other -ology.

The great thing, the thing that we want to build, or re-build, is real confidence -- the kind of confidence that a very experienced Alexander teacher has in her teaching room, the kind of confidence that the Dog Whisperer has when introducing a troubled dog into his own balanced pack, the kind of confidence that my wife and brother have in the swimming pool when liberating a nervous swimmer from her fear of the water.

Real confidence in no way impedes humility, as humility in no way impedes real confidence. People who are really confident, when we observe their behaviour, are both humble and open-minded.

What seemed to be confidence, on the contrary, when examined closely over a long period of time in the mirrors of self and others, sometimes turns out to have been a kind of insecure optimism, leading inevitably to its opposite.

So it seems to me, on the basis of many failures, that dropping off optimism and pessimism is never such an easy thing.

Beware people of of scant experience and unreal understanding who write Buddhist books, blogs, et cetera expressing optimism. Beware especially those who market their peculiar brand of optimism as "realism."

tayoH (genitive, dual of saH): of those two, of that duality
ca: and, moreover
nandii = joy, delight, happiness
rajasoH = genitive, dual of rajas: vapour , mist , clouds , gloom , dimness , darkness; the " darkening " quality , passion , emotion , affection
kShayeNa = instrumental of kShaya: ending

samyak: fully, truly
vimuktam (acc. sg. n.): unloosed , unharnessed; set free , liberated
pravadaami = 1st person singular of pra-√ vac: to proclaim , announce , praise , commend , mention , teach , impart , explain
cetaH = acc. sg. cetas: n. consciousness , intelligence , thinking soul , heart , mind

samyak: fully
vimuktiH = nominative, singular of vimukti: f. disjunction; release , deliverance , liberation
manasaH = gen. sg. manas: mind
ca: and
taabhyaam (ablative, dual of saH): from them, from those two, from that duality

na: not
ca: and
asya = genitive, singular of ayam: this, this one (sometimes used enclitically in place of the third personal pronoun)
bhuuyas: further, more, again
karaNiiyam = acc. sg. karaNi: doing, making
asti: there is

EH Johnston:
I lay down that by the destruction of complaisance and passion his mind is rightly liberated, and, if his mind is rightly liberated from these, he has nothing further to accomplish.

Linda Covill:
I declare that the mind is completely liberated by the ending of these two things -- passion, and pleasure in worldly objects. When the mind is perfectly free of these two things, there is nothing further that one must do.


Andrew said...

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your translation. It is fascinating.

Do you believe that through Zazen and the study of Buddhism, one's confidence can improve? Can one can be 'cured' of under-confidence? Have you seen this happen in your experience, either for yourself or for those around you?

Many thanks

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Andrew -- thanks for the encouragement.

Yes, I have no doubt that a person can be cured of under-confidence, and I have indeed seen this happen for self and others in several spheres, e.g. martial arts, Alexander work, the teaching of swimming without stress, the work of The Dog Whisperer (on TV), the foreign language teaching of Michel Thomas, and last but not least developmental work to bring about the inhibition of immature vestibular reflexes... those are the inspiring examples that spring immediately to mind.

When you ask me about Zazen and Buddhism, however, my sense is that those very words are problematic. Zazen is a Japanese word. Buddhism is an -ism.

In the worlds of Zazen and Buddhism, I fear, there really is no grounds for optimism. That is why, with my confidence badly shaken, as you have witnessed, I came back to The Eight Great Human Truths, and found myself being pointed upstream, to Ashvaghosha and the original source.

Thanks again,


Mike Cross said...


As an afterthought about having my confidence shaken, it seems to me in retrospect that for many years I unconsciously practised a kind of belief in redemption, which was optimism of a very deep-rooted sort -- maybe rooted in Christianity.

The kind of redemption that I expected might happen, in fact, most definitely did not happen.

On the constructive side, I think this disappointment has made me more more open to Ashvaghosha's teaching on how pregnant with suffering is the expectant mind; and also to his teaching, as I understand it, on the process whereby disenchantment can lead to the dropping off of optimism and pessimsism.

Andrew said...

Redemption... yes, that makes sense to me. I have practiced 'Zazen' daily for some years, with the belief that it must be doing me some good, that I can get to be the man I want to be, even whilst having a shallow 'understanding' that this is delusional, impossible. That has been my optimism. And how disappointing that is, how stupid that is. Sitting practice though is the most important discovery of my life, and I sit, whether optimistic or pessimistic. So I appreciate your saying that there are no grounds for optimism in Zen, if I have understood correctly. Thanks again for your encouraging words and for connecting us to Ashvaghosha. I feel more optimistic now...damn!