Friday, May 8, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 16.85: Making It Your Own

tad aarya-saty'-aadhigamaaya puurvaM
vishodhay' aanena nayena maargaM
yaatraa-gataH shatru-vinigrah-aarthaM
raaj-eva lakShmiim ajitaaM jjigiiShan

So, in order to make the noble truths your own,

First clear a path by these means,

Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes,

Wishing to conquer unconquered riches.

I am writing this on a six-hour ferry journey on the way back to England following a month in France, watching the forest turn from brown to many shades of green. So I have plenty of time to pontificate. Here goes:

In view of the metaphor of the king who wishes to make unconquered territory his own, adhigam in the first line seems to indicate more than just discovering or realising; it suggests obtaining or possessing the noble truths, making them one's own.

Over the years several people have asked my permission to translate Shobogenzo into their own language directly from my English. This to me is always a kind of short-cut, a kind of end-gaining. So my response in every case has been: No, I don't give permission. I recommend you to go back to Master Dogen's original words and do your own translation -- like Gabriele Linnebach has done for the German translation. Make it your own, as Gabriele has made it her own.

When people ask my permission, usually having received Nishijima Roshi's blessing already, I think they are aware of their own good intentions, so such a refusal from somebody they expected to be a more compassionate Buddhist, tends to come as a shock to them. Actually it is not an easy decision for me to make, and I do not even know if it has been the right decision. In a sense it has penalized those who have been sincere enough to ask my permission, as opposed to those who have gone ahead and done translations, into Spanish for example, without bothering to ask the one who they saw as the junior partner in the translation effort. Still, I stand by my decision. Nishijima Roshi himself told me that he thought we should not be "stingy" in giving permission. But my intention is that those who want to translate Shobogenzo into their own language should make full use of the English translation as a reference and guide for their own translation. As I see my own mind, it is not stinginess; it is clarity in regard to how a translator should make a translation his own -- following Gabriele's example.

Master Kodo Sawaki, standing out like a beacon against Japanese group delusion, was very strong on this point of making the teaching your own.

The point of sitting is to allow your own original features to appear. That is the only place where real confidence comes from, not from end-gaining translation work. When, out of sitting practice, the wish arises to serve Master Dogen as a translator, the only proper way for that wish to be realised is to go back to Master Dogen's original words. Any other way is end-gaining. And end-gaining, even done with good intentions, invariably brings into play the end-gainer's faults, as opposed to his original features.

What spreads as a result of group end-gaining is only the shadow, devoid of the true substance of the four truths which is the freedom of a true individual.

The word puurvam in the first line means first, previously, beforehand. I think it relates very much to this question of What is foremost? What is primary, and what is secondary? What is horse, and what is cart? Do we put the means before the end? Do we go for the end and trust the means to take care of itself? Is there a middle way between putting means before end and putting end before means?

This verse seems to say: In order to gain the end, first pay attention to the means.

As the previous verses of this Canto have made abundantly clear, the means that the Buddha regarded as primary was neither connected with intellectual understanding nor connected with group activity, but connected rather with how an individual person reacts to a particular stimulus -- in a way that involves faults, or in a manner that is free of faults.

Once again, a military metaphor is used, and the faults are cast in the role of the enemy to be subdued.

The means referred to in the 2nd line, the means that have been described in many preceding verses, are a means to eliminate faults.

It is by following the proper method for the elimination of those faults that stem from end-gaining that we make the four noble truths our own.

And only after we have truly made the four noble truths our own should we even think about establishing a group and giving talks to that group on Master Dogen's teachings. Otherwise we would be putting the cart before the horse.

It looks to me like the group delusion that Master Kodo warned against is re-emerging strongly even among those who consider Master Kodo to be their forefather. What is true of Dogen Sangha is also true, from what I hear from informed sources, of the Association Zen Internationale in France. People's eye is not on the ball of the means to make the noble truths their own. At best, people's eye is on the goal of trying, out of naive optimism, to do good for others; more likely, their eye might be on the goal of gaining status and engaging in group folly. And no good can come of it.

The teaching of Master Kodo Sawaki, like the teaching of Buddha and Ashvaghosha that we are studying now, it seems to me, stands in direct and total opposition to the group folly that is going on under banners like "Dogen Sangha", "AZI", "Soto Sect," et cetera, et cetera.

In this situation what can one individual do, other than endeavour to make the noble truths his own, by attending to the proper means?

Master Dogen said:


Learn the backward step of turning light and shining;
Body and mind spontaneously drop off,
And one's original features emerge.

EH Johnston:
Therefore to obtain seisin of the Noble Truths, first purify the Path by this method as you set out to subdue your enemies, just as a king, starting on a campaign to subdue his enemies and desiring to conquer hitherto unconquered sovereignty, has his road first cleared.

Linda Covill:
Therefore to obtain the Noble Truths, first cleanse the path by this method, as a king desiring to conquer unconquered riches first clears the road when he goes on an expedition to subdue his enemy.

tad: so, therefore
aarya-satya: noble truths
adhigamaaya = dative of adhi-√gam: to go up to , approach; to meet , find , discover , obtain ; to accomplish
puurvam: first, beforehand

vishodhaya (2nd pers. sg. causitive, imperative vishud): purify, cleanse
anena = instrumental of ayam: this
nayena = instrumental of naya: m conduct, plan, leading thought , maxim , principle , system , method
maargam (accusative): path, way

yaatraa: f. going , setting off , journey , march , expedition
gataH (nominative, singular): gone, going [used at end of compound to mean being in or on]
shatru: " overthrower " , an enemy , foe , rival , a hostile king (esp. a neighbouring king as a natural enemy)
vi-ni-√grah: to lay hold of , seize , keep back , restrain , impede
aartham: aim, purpose

raajaa (nom. sg. m. rajaan): king
iva: like
lakShmiim = acc. sg. lakShmii: f. wealth, riches; royal power , dominion , majesty
ajitaan (acc. sg. f.): not conquered, unsurpassed
jigiiShan = nom. sg. m. desiderative present participle ji: to win or acquire (by conquest or in gambling), conquer (in battle)


Mike Hinsley said...

One thing that you have at least demonstrated by this public and free translation work is that translation from anything other than the 'original' text is not really a translation and risks losing so much.

Perhaps sometimes there are no short-cuts.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Mike.

I don't appreciate being referred to on your blog as "ex-monk." "Non-monk" is more like it, or "Zen bastard", if you prefer.