Thursday, October 1, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 14.30: In the Burning House

pradiipte jiiva-loke hi
kaH shayiita nir-udvegaH
pradiipta iva veshmani

For while the world of the living burns

With the fires of death, disease and aging,

Who could lie down insensibly,

Any more than in a burning house?

In order to save himself, a person in a burning house needs to wake up to the fact that the house is burning and then take action to get out.

Can such action be taken while lying down?

Yes, I think it can: for example, by saying No to thirsting; by being mindful of breathing, without intervening directly; by directing the torso to lengthen and widen, without trying to do the requisite muscular release, which is an undoing; by investigating the decision to move or not to move a leg; et cetera.

So what is denied in this verse is lying down insensibly. In this verse, as I read it, lying down to work, lying down to wake up, lying down to investigate what action is, is not denied. And what is implicitly affirmed in this verse, as I read it, is not agitation or worry: what is affirmed is the spirit of wake up, get up and go.

At the same time, according to Dogen's teaching as I understand it, everybody should be able to realize, even in a burning house, that I am Sitting-Buddha.

Gudo Nishijima told me that his criterion for transmitting the Dharma to another was the other person's sincere desire to receive his Dharma. That's how people like me and James Cohen came to become Zen Masters.

A truer criterion, I fear, might be the genuine confidence that I am Buddha. In the Thai tradition of the forest monk, the American-born Ajahn Sumedho seems to have overseen the growth of a real Samgha in the west, based on making the Four Noble Truths into his own possession, and based on real understanding of the confidence that lay behind the Buddha's first turning of the Dharma-wheel: the confidence that I am Buddha.

Though I have not met either James Cohen or Ajahn Sumedho in person, they both continue to serve as useful mirrors to me. So, inhibiting my unconscious emotional reaction towards a person who I fear I am like, I think that I should be grateful to both men and not disparage either. May those who lack confidence now gain confidence along the way.

EH Johnston:
For since the world of the living is blazing with the fires of death, disease and old age, who would lie down in it without agitation any more than in a burning house?

Linda Covill:
Who could sleep without worry in the world of humankind, ablaze with the fires of death, sickness and aging, any more than in a burning house?

pradiipte = loc. pradiipta: mfn. kindled , inflamed , burning
jiiva-loke = loc. jiiva-loka: m. the world of living beings (opposed to that of the deceased) , living beings , mankind
hi: for

mRtyu: m. death
vyaadhi: m. disorder , disease , ailment , sickness
jara: f. the act of becoming old , old age
agnibhiH = inst. pl. of agni: m. fire

kaH (nom. sg. m.): who?
shayiita = past. part. of shii: to lie , lie down , recline , rest , repose ;
to lie down to sleep , fall asleep , sleep
nir-: without, free from
udvega: m. trembling , waving , shaking ; m. agitation , anxiety; m. regret , fear , distress (occasioned by separation from a beloved object)
nirudvega = nirudvigna: mfn. unexcited , sedate , calm

pradiipta: burning
iva: like
veshmani = locative of veshman: n. a house , dwelling


Jordan said...

Mike, I wonder if sympathetic joy is subject to faulty sensory appreciation. My chest sinks but I'm experiancing gladness after reading today's post.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan.

My conclusion might be a kind of shutting the stable door after the horse has already bolted!

In that case, shame rather than joy might be the appropriate feeling on this side -- shame at so often sensing the better course but failing to follow it, at knowing the mirror principle but at the critical moment forgetting all about it. After all, shame marked a kind of new beginning for Nanda, as described at the start of Canto 12.

Jordan said...

Hey Mike,
I remember a horse story where a farmer's horse runs off, only to come back with two more.

Thanks for your efforts.

Al said...


I Google'd Ajahn Sumedho and have been listening to some of his audio talks for the last hour. What a gem! Thank you for this.



Mike Cross said...

Thanks, Al.