Thursday, April 23, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.70: Keep On Keeping On

ekena kalpena sacen na hanyaat
sv-abhyasta-bhaavaad a-shubhaan vitarkaan
tato dvitiiyaM kramam aarabheta
na tv eva heyo guNavaan prayogaH

“It may not be possible,
following a single method, to destroy

Inauspicious ideas that habit has so deeply entrenched;

In that case, one might commit to a second course

But should never give up the practice and its merits.

The final word of this verse, prayoga, seems to mean the practice (as opposed to theory) of working on the self to eliminate faults which (tackled in order of grossness, as per 16.80) may be reptilian, mammalian, or human -- having to do with energy, emotion, and thought. In the section that begins with this verse, particular intention is given to faulty thought.

In the 2nd line, as I read it, unlovely thoughts, a-shubhaan vitarkaan, means in other words negative thoughts -- negative in the sense of unhelpful, not constructive. For the practice now under discussion, any thought might be considered unhelpful that can be described by an adjective ending in -istic. So a pessimistic thought is an unlovely, negative thought, and so is an optimistic thought. And so is a realistic thought.

“I wish to allow the neck to be free, to allow the head to go forward and up, in such a way that the back lengthens and widens, while the limbs are released out of the body,” is a thought, or a series of thoughts, which is not necessarily optimistic, or pessimistic, or realistic. It is a thought that can be thought for the sake of thinking itself. But this kind of thinking is not what people usually understand by thinking. So it is maybe better to express this kind of thinking with a word other than thinking -- “non-thinking” for example.

Non-thinking like this it seems to me, can act as either a calming stimulus or a garnering stimulus, and also a starting point of not interfering: When the system is tense or over-excited, the wish for freedom in the joints facilitates freer breathing, and calming mindfulness thereof. When the system is too relaxed or under-excited, the wish to go up can be a garnering stimulus. The wish to allow, meanwhile, is synonymous with the decision not to interfere.

The 4th line as I read it is a confident statement intended to inspire confidence. This practice (as opposed to theory) of working to eliminate the faults, the Buddha seems confidently to be telling us, is what is truly good; it is where merit resides.

What kind of confidence is the Buddha expressing?

FM Alexander used to say, “To know we are wrong is all we shall ever know in this world.” This, I think, is where true certainty and true confidence lie, and this is where the merit of practice primarily lies: in seeing, and in endeavouring to eliminate, one’s own faults -- reptilian, mammalian, and human.

This, it seems to me, is where Buddha/Ashvaghosha found the confidence to encourage us never to give up, but to keep on keeping on with this practice. Theirs was not the confidence of fatuous optimism. Theirs was the confidence of truly knowing what trouble is, how it starts, and how to walk away from it -- in backward steps.

In a past life I learned that traditional interpretations of the four noble truths are rather pessimistic, whereas the true Buddhism of Master Dogen, as expressed for example in the opening paragraph of Fukan-zazengi is both optimistic and realistic. That, it seems to me now, was just faulty thinking. It is already clear from these first few months of translating Saundarananda that Dogen’s ancestor Ashvaghosha championed nothing but the traditional understanding of the four noble truths, in which optimism, pessimism, and realism are all just unlovely thoughts that cultural habits tend deeply to entrench.

EH Johnston:
'If by one means impure thoughts cannot be rooted out because the habit has become too strong, then another course should be tried, but in no circumstances is the meritorious practice to be abandoned.

Linda Covill:
"If one cannot destroy impure thoughts by this first method, because they have become so habitual, then one should try a second way; but the good practice should certainly not be given up.

ekena = instrumental of eka: one, solitary , single , happening only once , that one only
kalpena = instrumental of kalpa: sacred precept , law , rule , ordinance (= vidhi , nyaaya) , manner of acting , proceeding , practice (esp. that prescribed by the vedas); one of two cases , one side of an argument , an alternative
sacet (3rd person singular, optative of sac: to have to do with, to belong to , be attached or devoted to , serve , follow) = if (?)
na: not
hanyaat = 3rd person singular, optative of han: to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy

su: (laudatory prefix) much, greatly
abhyasta: accumulated by repeated practice; practised , exercise; learnt by heart , repeated
bhaavaad = ablative of bhaava: being
a-shubhaan (acc. pl. m.): not beautiful, disagreeable, inauspicious ; bad , vicious (as thought or speech)
vitarkaan (acc. pl.): m. ideas, fancies, thoughts

tatas: in that place , there; in that case
dvitiiyam (acc. sg. m.): second
kramam (acc. sg.): m. a step, course, procedure, method
aarabheta = 3rd pers. sg. optative aa-√rabh: to lay or take hold of , keep fast , cling to ; to gain a footing ; to enter , reach , attain; to undertake , commence , begin

na: not
tu: but
eva: (emphatic) by any means, at all
heya: : to be left or quitted or abandoned or rejected or avoided
guNavaan = nominative, singular, masculine of guNavat: endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
prayogaH = nominative, singular of prayoga: practice , experiment (opp. to , "theory")

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