Friday, May 1, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.78: Bad Stimulus, Adverse Reaction

svaptavyam apy eva vicakShaNena
kaaya-klamo v"api niShevitavyaH
na tv eva saMcintyam a-san nimittaM
yatr' aavasaktasya bhaved an-arthaH

A clear-sighted person should even sleep

Or resort to physical exhaustion,

But never dwell on a bad stimulus

The reaction to which would be adverse.

This verse can be seen as including a kind of definition of what a bad stimulus is. A stimulus is bad if it produces an adverse reaction.

In discussing what is a bad stimulus it might not always be necessary to speak in terms of absolutes, pronouncing "That stimulus is bad, false, untrue. You who use that stimulus are non-Buddhists. We who do not use that stimulus are true Buddhists." That kind of expression might be only an expression of our own deep-rooted ignorance.

No, what makes a stimulus bad is a relative matter. For one who is suffering from flu, to think about the vegetable patch that needs digging might be a very bad stimulus. For one whose mind is crowded with abstract thoughts, I can report from recent experience, to go out and dig the garden might not be a bad idea at all.

For a diabetic, refined sugar is a terribly bad stimulus. But for a child on a beach on a hot day, with salty air blowing in from the sea, eating an ice cream might not produce any kind of adverse reaction at all. It might be more a case of a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

That said, abstract or fanciful thoughts do have a strong generic tendency to fall into the bad stimulus category. So the bad stimulus of this verse and the unhelpful thought of the previous verse might be the same bad stimulus, or the same unhelpful thought. It might be an optimistic expectation or a pessimistic worry; or it might be a denial of cause and effect along the lines of "Why me?" or "It's not fair"; or it might be a sexual fantasy, or a malicious desire for revenge. It might be a misconception about correct posture or breathing. It might be the unreasonable expectation of being able to do an undoing. It might be wishful thinking for enlightenment as an end, by a person who has not bothered himself much with attending to the proper means. It might be the thought, rooted in fear, that "I am right. I am on the side of the righteous. I am one of the good guys. I am a true Buddhist."

An adverse reaction might mean for example fixing or slumping, or getting stuck in greed or anger or ignorance.

EH Johnston:
The prudent man should even sleep or undergo bodily fatigue; but in no case should he meditate on wrong subjects, by attachment to which disaster might ensue.

Linda Covill:
A man of clear vision could even resort to sleep, or to physical exhaustion; but he should absolutely not meditate on a bad subject, dependence on which might bring negative consequences.

svaptavyam = nom. sg. m. of gerundive from svap: to sleep
api: also
eva: (emphatic)
vicakShaNena = inst. vicakShaNa: conspicuous , visible , bright , radiant , splendid; distinct ; clear-sighted (lit. and fig.) , sagacious , clever , wise , experienced or versed in

kaaya: body
klamaH = nom. sg. m. klama: fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
vaa: or
api: also, even
niShevitavyaH (nom. sg. m. gerundive from niShev): to be resorted to, to be practised

na: not
tu: but
eva; (emphatic)
samcintyam (nom. sg. n. gerundive from sam-cint): to be thought over or considered
sam-cint: to think about, think over, consider carefully, reflect about; to design, intend, destine
asat (nom. sg. n.): untrue , wrong; bad; n. untruth , falsehood
nimittam (nom. sg.): n. cause, stimulus

yatra: in/on which
avasaktasya = genitive of avasakta: suspended from , attached to (as to the shoulder or to the branch of a tree &c ) , bound round ; being in contact with ; belonging
bhavet = 3rd person singular, optative of bhuu: to be
anarthaH (nom. sg.): m. disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil


Raymond said...


What happens if one experiences everyday sitting itself to be an adverse stimulus? Certainly I have found that reciting vows are a bad stimulus, bowing is a bad stimulus, chanting the heart sutra is a bad stimulus.

They all produce something extra - something that brings one away from being aware of themselves in a way that binds on the armour of mindfulness towards eliminating faults, and get one all mixed up in questions such as " who am I?" " why am I doing this?" " why do I feel silly, or like an imposter?"

To regulate one's energy makes sense: one can feel it. To be sparing in idle speech makes sense: one can feel it. To not look at pornography makes sense: one can feel it. To be kind to others makes sense: one can feel it. But what does one feel when they have regulated their mental energy and still sit for a prolonged period every morning simply because they "should"? They feel wrong. At least, I am beginning to think I do.

Should we enjoy sitting? How come I enjoy sitting while drinking coffee so much more than sitting without the coffee (traditionally called zazen)?

There might be a situation in which formal zazen practice itself is an adverse stimulus. Suzuki-roshi took this up in both of his books. I think he knew those that espouse a more intense version of sitting do so because sitting may be all they have. In our modern world, most of us are already busy enough with responsibilities.

Do you have any insight...and please don't say I lack discipline. I am very disciplined, but as the Buddha ORIGINALLY TAUGHT, if it doesn't make sense, don't do it.


Mike Cross said...

These various thoughts of yours, Raymond, might all be unhelpful thoughts -- a bad stimulus not to be dwelt on.

Sitting is good. It is only people's faults that make sitting anything other than good.

Sitting is good. If you cannot see that, that is your own problem.

In the beginning, middle and end, sitting is good. That is the teaching of Gautama, Ashvaghosha, and Dogen.