Friday, October 23, 2009


vasaN chuuny'-aagaare yadi satatam eko 'bhiramate
yadi klesh'-otpaadaiH saha na ramate shatrubhir iva
carann aatm'-aaraamo yadi ca pibati priiti-salilaM
tato bhunkte shreShThaM tridasha-pati-raajyaad api sukhaM

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

saundarananda mahaakaavya
aadi-prasthaano naama caturdashaH sargaH
= - - = - - = = -
= = = = = = - - = - = = =

If he constantly delights in living alone
in an empty dwelling,

If he is no fonder of arisings of affliction
than he is of enemies,

And if, going rejoicing in the self,
he drinks the water of joy,

Then greater than dominion over thirty gods
is the happiness he enjoys.

The 14th canto of the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled Stepping Out

This concludes Canto 14. If faulty sensory appreciation is the very essence of affliction, as addressed in Canto 13, unconscious habit and social conditioning might be a veritable nest of affliction, out of which the Buddha in Canto 14 is exhorting Nanda to step.

On first reading, this verse might be read as food for optimism, as if the Canto was finishing on a positive note. On further digging, the verse contains the word “if” (yadi) no less than three times, and they are as I read them big ifs.

When I come to France for solitary retreats in the empty dwelling where I now am, there is something about me of what they call in Japan mikka bozu, a 3-day monk. (The term is used not only in the context of Zen practice but to describe a dabbler in any sphere.)

A practitioner doesn’t understand the meaning of the first line by spending a couple of weeks by a cold and lonely hut by the forest and then going back to the warmth of a loving wife. Constantly (satatam) to delight in living alone in an empty flat or an empty house is not such an easy thing. It was too difficult for me when I tried it in my twenties, and it was possibly too difficult for Master Kodo Sawaki who even into his eighties, so I heard, had not given up hope of meeting a suitable wife. So I think the first “if” is already a very big one.

With regard to the second if, in the 2nd line, what is it that we should see as like an enemy? Reflecting on this, and on the literal meaning of utpad, to rise up, and on the problems that are created in this world when some permanent entity (as if there was such a thing) is identified as the enemy, I decided to go for a translation with a more dynamic connotation than “sources” or “origins” -- hence “arisings” (an inelegant word which my software is underlining in red even as I write it).

“Stop doing the wrong thing and the right thing does itself,”
is a very simple principle to endeavour to live by. But as long as afflictions like greed, anger, and delusion have not been cut off at source, what tends to keep on doing itself is in fact just the wrong thing. Thus greed arises, anger arises, and deluded worries arise, one after another, moment after moment.

So it is not a question of glibly identifying the enemy, then sitting back and expecting to fall into one’s lap the kind of happiness that would make Indra jealous. It is more a question of being able to keep one’s eye on the ball at every moment, so that, for example, when somebody leaves a comment on this blog that irritates me, I don’t see that person as my enemy, and neither am I content with the lazy platitude that anger is the enemy; rather, the challenge is to see this arising of anger at this very moment as like an enemy, and consequently to endeavour to get to the bottom of it and cut it out.

As for the third “if,” rejoicing in the self (atmaarama) might be the realisation that the newly enlightened Gautama expressed as “I am Buddha.” In other words it might not be the air punching, team-mate kissing ecstasy of the Premiership striker who has just found the back of the net, or even the lesser buzz that follows a breakfast of strong coffee and pancakes. It might not either be the joyful condition expressed as “I love you [who loves me back].” Because it is far transcendent to “I love myself,” it might truly be “I love my self” -- in other words, “I am Buddha.”

If we understand like this the three pre-conditions stated in the first three lines, then happiness beyond Indra, the lord of the heaven of the thirty gods, is hardly a shoo-in.

EH Johnston:
If he continually rejoices living alone in a deserted place, if he avoids intercourse with the sources of sin, as if they were enemies, and if living sufficient to himself he drinks the water of ecstasy, then he enjoys a happiness greater than the realm of the Lord of the thirty gods could give him.

Linda Covill:
If he is glad to always live alone in a deserted spot, if he has as little liking for the sources of defilement as for an enemy, if he lives in self-sufficiency and drinks the water of bliss, then he enjoys a greater happiness than that afforded by Indra's kingdom."

vasan: pres. part. of vas: to dwell, live
shuunya: mfn. empty , void , hollow , barren , desolate , deserted
aagaare = loc. aagaara: n. apartment , dwelling , house
yadi: if
satatam: ind. constantly , always , ever
ekaH = nom. sg. m. eka: one ; alone , solitary , single
abhiramate = 3rd pers. sg. abhi- √ram: to dwell, delight in

yadi: if
klesha: affliction
utpaadaiH = inst. pl. utpaada (from ut-√pad): m. coming forth , birth , production
ut-√pad: to arise , rise , originate , be born or produced ; to come forth , become visible , appear ; to take place , begin
saha: with
na: not
ramate = 3rd pers. sg. ram: to delight , make happy , enjoy carnally ; to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.); to play or sport , dally , have sexual intercourse with (instr. with or without saha)
shatrubhiH = inst. pl. shatru: " overthrower " , an enemy ,
iva: like, as if

caran = nom. sg. m. pres. participle car: to move one's self , go , walk , move , stir , roam about , wander; to behave , conduct one's self , act , live
aatmaaramaH = nom. sg. m. of aatmaarama: mfn. rejoicing in one's self or in the supreme spirit
aatma: self
aaraama: m. delight , pleasure ; place of pleasure , a garden , grove
yadi: if
ca: and
pibati = 3rd pers. sg. paa: to drink
priiti: f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy
salilam (acc. sg): n. water

tataH: then
bhunkte = 3rd. pers. sg. bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal
shreShTham (acc. sg.): better than (abl.)
tridasha-pati-raajyaad (abl.): than the realm of the lord of the thirty
tridasha: mfn. 3 x 10; m. pl. the 3 x 10 deities; n. heaven
pati: a master , owner , possessor , lord , ruler , sovereign
raajya: n. royalty , kingship , sovereignty , empire ; n. kingdom , country , realm
api: even
sukham (acc.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness

saundarananda: Handsome Nanda
mahaakaavya: epic poem
aadi: m. beginning , commencement;
prasthaanaH (nom. sg. m. [but given by MW as neuter form]): n. setting out , departure , procession , march (esp. of an army or assailant) ; walking , moving , journey; starting-point , place of origin
pra: forth, away
sthaana: n. the act of standing; staying ; firm bearing (of troops) , sustaining a charge (as opp. to yuddha , " charging ")
naama: ind. by name, named
caturdashaH: 14th
sargaH: canto


gniz said...

Hi Mike,

I just wanted to let you know (probably should have asked before posting it) that I blogged about you on my website:

I don't think I say anything you wouldn't generally agree with, but please do let me know if you have an issue with it. I will remove the posting if you so desire.

Take care,


Mike Cross said...

You are welcome, Aaron, to discuss dust & fluff as much as you want.

My job is to inhibit any emotional reaction -- or, failing that, to accept my failure to inhibit and, to use a phrase of Patrick Macdonald "Look the bugger in the eye."

'The bugger,' in the context of today's verse, is the arising of affliction.

All the best,


Empty The Movie said...

Hi Mike,

I hope my post didn't disturb you--as I basically commend the work you are doing these days...

I can't quite tell if your comment to me was insinuating that maybe my blog post was causing you distress. If so, I'm very happy to pull it down--seriously.


Mike Cross said...

The gold is in the bold.