Wednesday, April 29, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.76: Sources of Shame

vyapatrapante hi kula-prasuutaa
manaH-pracaarair a-shubhaih pravRttaiH
kaNThe manasv" iva yuvaa vapuShmaan
a-caakShuShair a-prayatair viShaktaiH

For those brought up well are ashamed

Of continued impure workings of the mind,

Like one who is bright, young and good-looking

Hanging ugly, scruffy things around his neck.

This teacher will seemingly stop at nothing to encourage us to endeavour in the direction of giving up our faults. Now he is appealing to any sense of shame we might have -- depending, as I understand the first line, on how well brought up we were.

Kula-prasuuta literally means "born into a family," and the dictionary gives "born in a noble family." But the latter translation carries a connotation of Brahmin snobbery, which I sense is totally inappropriate to the speaker's intention. I see nothing in what I have translated so far to lend support to the utterly false conception of karma and rebirth that has been used for centuries in countries like India and Thailand as a tool of political oppression.

"Born into a family," as I read it in this verse, refers to a person who was brought up well in whatever society, class or caste -- as opposed to the kind of uncivilized, feral children whose absent fathers and hapless mothers never laid down boundaries for them and who are consequently responsible for a lot of anti-social behaviour in Britain today.

Buddha/Ashvaghosha, I believe, would have judged whether or not a man was a true Aryan, not according to the social rank of the family he was born into, but according to whether or not he followed the noble principle. One who is a slave to mass unconscious reaction, even if he is a royal prince, is not noble. A person of whatever society or class who sits, in accordance with the Buddha's noble principle of inhibition, with right and left feet on opposite thighs, has in that very act of sitting already become a great and noble person in the house of Buddha & Ashvaghosha. This is the loud and clear message of Shobogenzo chapter. 72, The Samadhi that is King of Samadhis.

Setting aside the problem of nobility and turning to impurity, a-subha in the 2nd line might mean impure or unlovely in the sense of being tainted by that thirsting for objects, called by FM Alexander 'end-gaining,' which is said to be at the root of all faults.

For a more concrete illustration (literally) of impure workings of a mind, there is still plenty of cement in the shed but I am almost out of sand, whereas my absent neighbour has a big heap of sand in his drive. Would he mind if I took a bucket? Would he even notice....?

EH Johnston:
For men of noble birth are ashamed of the active workings of the mind towards impurity, the invisible, unholy desires, as a spirited and handsome youth is ashamed of unsightly and ill-arranged objects attached to his neck.

Linda Covill:
For nobly-born men are ashamed of the continuing impure movements of their minds, like a handsome and spirited young man is ashamed of unsightly and badly-finished chains round his neck.

vyapatrapante = 3rd person plural of vy-apa-√trap: to turn away through shame , become shy or timid
hi: for
kula-prasuutaaH (nom. pl.): those born in a noble family
kula: a herd; a race, family, community; a noble or eminent family or race; high station
prasuuta: procreated , begotten , born

manas: mind
pracaaraiH (inst. pl.): manifestation; application , employment , use ; conduct , behaviour
a-shubhair (inst. pl.): not beautiful or agreeable , disagreeable ; inauspicious; bad , vicious (as thought or speech)
pravRttaiH = instrumental, plural of pravRtta = past particple of pra-√ - vRt: to roll onwards, to keep on, to achieve, to do

kaNThe = loc. sg. kaNTha: the throat, the neck
manasvii = nom. sg. m. manasvin: full of mind or sense , intelligent , clever , wise ; in high spirits , cheerful , glad ; fixing the mind, attentive
iva: like
yuvaa = nom. sg. yuvan: m. young, youthful; a youth, young man
vapus: form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
-mant: (possessive suffix)
vapusmaan (nom. sg. m.): good-looking, handsome

a: (negative prefix)
caakShuSha: proper or belonging or relating to the sight
acaakShuShaiH (inst., pl.): unsightly
a: (negative prefix)
prayata: outstretched; presented ; well prepared , ritually pure (also applied to a vessel and a place); self-subdued , dutiful , careful , prudent
aprayataiH (inst. pl.): not well prepared, scruffy
viShaktaiH (inst. pl.): hung to or on or upon, hanging on


Harry said...

Thanks for your efforts, Mike.

Slipping in on the tails of your Shobogenzo reference (but aware of the fact that you may have had a bellyful of such things): what's your take on Dogen's relationship to, and use of, koan cases?

Regards to you & yours,


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Harry. You are quite right: that kind of divisive discussion within the world of Dogen Zen is just the kind of trouble I am endeavouring to walk away from.

This kind of translation work is practice, or service, in the sense that in order to do a true translation the translator has to drop off his own views and let the likes of Dogen and Ashvaghosha speak for themselves. In that spirit, I would point you to 16.78, which might be relevant to what you are asking.

People think that Alexander work is all about good posture, and in a sense it is, very indirectly. But what Alexander work is more profoundly concerned with is dropping off views -- not having any take on anything. Rigid adherence to some view and fixity of posture, when one investigates it in detail, are the same stiffening reaction. And that over-excited stiffening reaction, it seems to me, is the first fault that Buddha/Ashvaghosha are exhorting us to abandon.

When we say, "Their take on this issue is not true. They are non-Buddhists. Our take on this issue is true. We are true Buddhists," what are we really expressing? Are we expressing "true Buddhism"? Or are we expressing the deeply-rooted fault of our own ignorance? Are we primarily expressing the stiffness of our own necks?

All the best,


Harry said...

Hi Mike,

I agree with your criticism of the 'True Buddhism' you describe, but I think we can have a reasonable view (and I think here it may be useful to drop notions of 'right' and 'wrong' like a good scientist or historian might) based on a realistic understanding of what such views really are.

'Not having any view on anything' strikes me as a position that may not be so conducive to living in the world.

I'll check out that section, thanks.