Sunday, April 12, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.59: Again, What Not to Do

raag'-oddhava vyaakulite 'pi citte
maitr'-opasaMhaara-vidhir na kaaryaH
raag-aatmaako muhyati maitrayaa hi
snehaM kapha-kShobha iv' opayuja

Again, when the mind is muddled by lust,

The practice of inviting in love
is not to be undertaken;

For a passionate type is stupefied by love,

Like a sufferer from phlegm taking oil.

Calming, garnering, and letting be (discussed in verses 16.53 - 16.58) are, as I see them, the three basic options for regulating the flow of one's energy.

Buddha/Ashvaghosha now turn our attention to dealing with the three root faults that are understood to corrupt, taint or muddle up a person's energy; namely, lust, ill-will, and ignorance/delusion. To this end, the metaphor used in this and the next five verses (16.59 - 16.65) relates to Aryuvedic medicine, in which disease is understood to be a function of three humours: phlegm, wind and bile. The metaphor is particularly apt since the word dosha, fault, is not only used to express the three root afflictions that cloud our sensory appreciation, but is also used to express a disease of the three humours.

In the metaphor which is about to unfold, phlegm corresponds to lust/passion, bile to ill-will/hate, and wind to ignorance/delusion.

A phlegm condition is said to be aggravated by oil and remedied by astringents. So this verse, yet again, first sounds an inhibitory or precautionary note, warning us when in lust not to do anything, for a start, to make things worse. It is the preventive principle again: think first what NOT to do.

This verse seems to be saying, then, in other words, when in lust do not render yourself susceptible, for example, to the influence of Hollywood romances or pop classics or Christian hymns that celebrate the power of love.

For me maitra means not so much loving-kindness, which sounds like a technical word used in Buddhist meditation, but simply love -- as in "Love thy neighbour" or as in "All you need is love." Shortly before she died my grandmother told me, as I was leaving, "Remember you were loved." She didn't say, "Remember you were treated with loving-kindness."

Love is one of those words, like inhibition, or mindfulness, that has got very many barnacles attached to it, so that it elicits deluded reactions in people. But the fault in that case is not in the word; it is in people's reactions to the word.

Just because love is central to the Christian message, and has so many Christian barnacles attached to it, should I veer away from translating maitra as love? I don't think so. Just because love and sex can be closely related and are very often confused with each other, should we seek some special word, other than love, for maitra? I don't think so.

We don't talk of filling the kettle with H20; we say that we fill it with water. Similarly, we don't talk of loving-kindness making fools of men; we say that love makes fools of men.

Speaking of the Christian message, this being Easter weekend my beloved BBC Radio 4 seems to have been hi-jacked by Christian preachers, and I have never felt so clear about the difference between the teaching of Buddha and the extreme pessimism and optimism of the Christian church. The Christian message, it seems to me, is one of the centrality of love and the ultimate triumph of optimism. Whereas Ashvaghosha's message is that love has its place, as an antidote to hate, but that place is never central. And the ultimate triumph might be not the triumph of optimism but rather the triumph over optimism, along with pessimism.

Some say that Buddhism offers a middle way between religion and science. To those who say so, I say you can keep your Buddhism, along with optimism, pessimism, pacificism, and every other kind of -ism. The teaching of Buddha/Ashvaghosha, as I read it, is the giving up of all -isms.

Thus, on this Easter Sunday, from my seat by an upstairs window, I have pontificated for the benefit of a great audience of twittering spring birds and miscellaneous insects and spiders. As I sign off, a wood pigeon is coo-ing and in the distance a cuckoo is intermittently calling.

EH Johnston:
When the mind is disturbed by the excitement of passion, the method of cultivating the idea of benevolence should be avoided; for the man of passionate nature goes wrong through benevolence, like a man disturbed by phlegm through unctuous treatment.

Linda Covill:
When the mind is disordered due to the excitement of passion, the prescription for cultivating loving-kindness should not be followed; for a man of passionate nature is debilitated by loving-kindness, like a patient with a phlegm imbalance using oil treatments.

raaga: redness, passion, love
uddhava: sacrificial fire; festival, holiday; joy, pleasure
vyaakulite (loc.): perplexed , bewildered , distracted , alarmed; confused , disarranged , disturbed , corrupted
api: also, again
citte = locative of citta: mind, the thinking mind

maitra: coming from or given by or belonging to a friend , friendly , amicable , benevolent , affectionate , kind; a friend (= mitra); friendship
upasaMhaara: m. the act of withdrawing , withholding , taking away; drawing towards one's self , bringing near; summarizing , summing up
vidhiH = nominative, singular of vidhi: m. formula; method; prescription
na: not
kaaryaH (nom. sg. m.): to be done, to be practised

raag-aatmaakaH (nom. sg. m.): a passionate type
aatmaka: having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
muhyati = 3rd person singular of muh: to become stupefied or unconscious , be bewildered or perplexed , err , be mistaken , go astray ; to become confused ,
maitrayaa = instrumental of maitra: friendship, loving-kindness, love
hi: for

sneham (acc. sg.): m. oil
kapha: phlegm (as one of the three humors of the body » also vaayu and pitta)
kShobhaH (nom. sg.): m. shaking , agitation , disturbance
iva: like
upayujya = absolutive of upa- √yuj: to harness to; to use , employ , apply; to have the use of , enjoy (e.g. food or a woman or dominion); to come into contact


Raymond said...


Good morning and well wishes to you on this Easter Sunday. Verses and commentary 16.57 - 16.59 have been instructive and meaningful to me.

For the past few weeks I have not been able to sit because of an injury that I caused by forcing myself to sit half lotus - i.e. the authentic position. I think I harmed my sacroiliac joint. Concurrently I have experimented with not regulating the mind at all to see if the "leaving oneself alone, natural state" brought me any closer to an authentic experience of my life. It surely has not. Not practicing is not the way, and your verse 16.57 alludes to that.

Also, between you and I, even though I try to be "good", the word loving-kindness and seeing Sharon Salzberg et. al smile on the cover of Shambala Sun magazine makes me want to throw up. "Remember you were loved" means something very different...


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Raymond. Your secret is safe with me!
About half lotus, and full lotus, they are indeed the authentic positions. The point I think you are making, and I agree, is that trying to force ourselves into those positions before our body is ready is not the authentic principle -- it is what Alexander called "end-gaining."
I hesitate to give people practical advice without having met them but the general point is that it is important not to give up. If you do what you can in the way of sitting, every day, following the principle of non-end-gaining, even if it is only a minute or two, you will gradually progress towards half lotus. It is the same with this translation -- at the present rate of one verse per day, I may never get to the end of the translation, but that is OK. One verse per day is manageable for me. If one minute per day of sitting is manageable for you, go with that. If you never get into half lotus, it doesn't matter. To point yourself in the right direction is all. That's part of what Alexander meant when he said, "There is no such thing as a right position, but there is a right direction."

All the best (no smiley "gassho")