Wednesday, August 19, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 13.44: Reality With Nothing Added or Taken Away

n' aapaneyaM tataH kiM cit
prakShepyaM n' aapi kiMcana
draShTavyaM bhuutato bhuutaM
yaadRshaM ca yathaa ca yat

= - = = - = = =
= = = = - = - -
= = = = - = = =
= - = - - = - -

Nothing, then, is to be taken away

And nothing is to be added:

One must investigate the reality, really,

Both what and how it is.

As I predicted, I am finding the present series of verses hard going.

Where to begin grappling with this one, wherein negative gives way to a positive imperative? The main difficulty is what kind of reality is expressed in the 3rd line by bhuutam.

Is the Buddha saying that “Reality [with a capital R] is to be seen/realised as it really is”?

That might be asking a lot.

If he is saying that the whole of Reality is to be seen/realised as it really is, does he mean for Nanda to realise it all right now, in one gigantic gulp of Zen ‘satori’? Or is it that in a few cantos time, at the end of his present campaign of many battles, the Buddha expects Nanda to Realise Reality?

Or is the Buddha saying, more modestly and manageably, that “one real fact is to be investigated in accordance with what actually happened,” in the manner of a scientist or historian or detective or judge & jury; or maybe in the manner of a mindful Theravada monk? If so, is there any particular fact that the Buddha has in mind?

Is the Buddha saying, following on more explicitly from the previous verses, that the real human being with hair, teeth, and the rest is not to be gawped at as a beauteous object of sensual desire, but is to be observed, in the detached manner of a clinician or plastic surgeon, as the smelly bag of aging human skin she really is?

Having given serious consideration to each of the above, I think the clue to exactly what the Buddha is intending with this verse may lie in the remaining verses of the canto. These verses seem to be leading Nanda gradually in the direction of liberation from “suffering and becoming“ (13.54). The closing verses of this canto might therefore be seen as precursors of the following verses from Canto 16:

From then on, through investigation of what is,

He applies his mind to stopping off energy leaks,

For on this basis, fully, suffering and the rest --

The four truths -- are understood as fundamental steps:

This is suffering, which is constant and akin to trouble;

This is the cause of suffering, akin to starting it;

This is cessation of suffering, akin to walking away.

And this, akin to a refuge, is a peaceable path.

Understanding these noble truths, by a process of reasoning

While getting to know the four as one,

He contains all leaks, through the means of directed thought,

And, on finding peace, is no longer subject to becoming.

For by failing to wake up and come round

To this four, whose substance is what is,

Mankind goes from existence to existence without finding peace:

The world is hoisted in the swing of mass unconscious reaction.

The reality in question, then, can be understood as the whole painful situation -- not yet a bright pearl -- that has been under discussion since 13.31. It is the reality of the suffering of one who, in his hankering after objects, is besieged by the enemy-like senses. The description of this suffering touches on aspects of unconsciousness (13.39); insatiability (13.40); the slavery of being manacled to feelings (13.41); the state of grace implied in being not originally separate from forms seen with one’s eyes (13.42), and the fall from grace implied in becoming subject to the intrusion of notions of separation, based on male vs female sexuality (13.43).

A friend of mine studied with a Gurdjieff teacher who used to quote the phrase, “You all want to get to heaven with your boots on.” I think there is a lot of that in the world of Zen, too -- people wanting to get to heaven wearing their muddy boots. Zen practitioners browse the chapter of Shobogenzo called “One Bright Pearl,” and they fancy themselves to be already sailing in the vast ocean of enlightenment. I have surely been in that boat, although on some level I somehow always knew that I was lying to myself and wished to bail out (while also wishing, neurotically, to take the helm). Digging deeply on dry land as I am endeavoring to do now, in the muddy boots of end-gaining and faulty sensory appreciation, might be the best possible antidote to all that. But it is not easy. It sometimes feels like it is killing me.

My old Zen teacher, Gudo Nishijima, spent years and years preaching for my benefit on the subject of Reality with a capital R. When I endeavoured to report back to him on the more mundane reality FM Alexander had discovered, however, relating to suffering arising from end-gaining and faulty sensory appreciation, my teacher’s response was this: “If AT is the same as Buddhism, it is needless for me to study it. If AT is different from Buddhism, I do not have any interest at all in studying it.” That was not Reality with a capital R. That was Ignorance with a capital I. Some enlightened witness he turned out to be! In certain respects, as I see it now, Gudo Nishijima was even more ignorant, even less willing to recognize his own faulty sensory appreciation, than my biological father, and that is saying something. Out of the suffering of his own end-gaining mind and faulty sensory appreciation, Gudo built his little self a little empire, which he called Dogen Sangha, and I in my own stupidity and arrogance devoted my youth to helping him build it. But the foundation of the empire is ignorance, not truth, not true integrity. What true integrity is, I do not know. But, having waited and waited and waited until I was truly sure, I know it is not that. So this post, in a manner of speaking, is a counterpunch that I am allowing to do itself.

In conclusion, then, I understand bhuuta, the reality referred to in this verse, as the reality of the suffering whose main components are (1) faulty sensory appreciation, and (2) end-gaining. The point of this verse as I understand it is to investigate the reality of this suffering, nothing more and nothing less -- pure wholesome muddy boot, with nothing added on (e.g. by exaggerating the problem of one’s vestibular dysfunction), and nothing taken away (e.g. by denying it). To investigate what kind (yaadRsha) this suffering is, we study the words of buddhas like Gautama and Alexander. To investigate how (yathaa) it is, mainly, as followers of Gautama, we sit. And conversely, when we truly sit as followers of Gautama we sit, not as an expression of formalized Japanese ignorance, but to investigate how this suffering is.

Sitting in lotus, I think the words: Let the neck release to let the head be released out of the grip of the fear reflexes, forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while releasing the legs and arms out. And while thinking like this, generally I know or at least suspect that I am pulling my head back and down in some vestige of fear. For, deeply implicated in both faulty sensory appreciation and end-gaining is the baby panic reflex, whose direction is head back and down. But that is no good. Forward and up has to really mean forward and up, not back and down in fearful trying to be right. The breath of life depends on it. The lifeblood depends on it. This, mostly, is how I investigate it.

And so, as I finally sign off this post, and read back through another great layer of dust and fluff that has accumulated too thickly, I remind myself of a character from the Fast Show, about to go back into his shed.

EH Johnston:
Nothing should be subtracted from the object, nothing added to it ; it is to be seen as it really is according to its nature and kind.

Linda Covill:
Nothing should be taken away, nothing should be added: whatever the kind of object, it should be seen as it really is.

na.... kim cit: not anything
apaneya = gerundive of apa-√nii: to lead away or off ; to rob , steal , take or drag away ; to remove , frighten away ; to put off or away (as garments , ornaments , or fetters) ; to extract , take from ; to deny
tatas: from that place, from there, from that [object]; from that [reason; therefore

prakShepya (gerundive from pra-√kShip): mfn. to be thrown or put on (as an ornament)
na kiMcana: not anything
api: also

draShTavya: mfn. (fr. √ dRsh) to be seen , visible , apparent ; to be examined or investigated
bhuuta: mfn. become , been , gone , past; actually happened , true , real (n. an actual occurrence , fact , matter of fact , reality); n. that which is or exists; any living being (divine , human , animal , and even vegetable)
-taH: ablative/adverbial suffix
bhuutataH: in accordance with what actually happened, on a factual basis, as it really is, on the basis of reality, really
bhuutam (acc..): n. actual occurrence, fact, reality; that which exists; a living being

yaadRsham = accusative, singular of yaadRsha: rel. adj. of which kind
ca: and
yathaa: ind. in which manner
ca: and
yat = accusative, singular of ya: rel. pron. which, what; it being [of which kind and in which manner]

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