Sunday, November 15, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.22: Not That Negative Conception!

manaH-karmasv a-vikShepam
api c'aabhyastum arhasi
na tv ev' aa-kushalaM saumya
vitarkayitum arhasi

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

Non-bewilderment in activities of the mind,

Also, you should practise.

But above all, my friend, nothing inauspicious

Should you conceive:

Somebody asked me yesterday for my opinion on a book called "The Posture of Meditation." My answer was that I am not interested in reading the book. Judging the book by its cover, I don't have any interest in reading it.

The essence of "just sitting," I used to think, was good posture. But that was just an inauspicious conception, leading ever deeper into end-gaining.

The essence of "just sitting," as I am coming to see it, is not doing wrong. And when I investigate in detail how my wrong doing starts, the root of the wrong doing is generally in some inauspicious conception.

The Buddha seems to begin this verse with his sights set on the third of the three fundamental symptoms of wrong doing. Those three, known as the three fundamental afflictions (muula klesha), are (1) undue positive emotion (passion), (2) undue negative emotion (hatred), and (3) confusion/delusion/ignorance.

So the Buddha is telling Nanda in this verse, as I read it, that in addition to eradicating (1) end-gaining desires, and (2) ill-will and cruelty, by practising their respective opposites, he should practise non-bewilderment (a-vikShepa) as the opposite of (3) confusion/delusion/ignorance.

But more than that, the Buddha, as I hear him in the 3rd and 4th line, is exhorting Nanda to steer clear of the most difficult things of all to get rid of -- i.e., the things that don't exist.

What mainly concerns the Buddha might be not so much the observable manifestations of wrong doing, but more the inauspicious conception, the unconstructive idea, the negative thought-habit that invisibly underlies the manifest wrong doing.

Why would the Buddha be concerned more about a mental conception than about the three poisons themselves? Because our transitory wrong-doing as unenlightened beings is just the inevitable symptom of a work in progress progressing. But a wrong conception fetters a person for a lifetime. A wrong conception of the Buddha's teaching, indeed, might be an obstacle that fetters entire nations for many lifetimes -- as had been happening for centuries in China already until the time that Master Bodhidharma arrived to cut the roots of the confusion, and as had been happening for centuries in Japan already until Master Dogen arrived to cut the roots of the confusion.

The next two verses offer a clue to what the Buddha has in mind by conceptions that he calls inauspicious (akushalam). The Buddha's intention might be that end-gaining ideas (15.23) and malevolent prejudices (15.24) are inauspicious conceptions.

So, again, I think the main clue to understanding this verse is contained in the canto title, vitarka-prahaaNa, Giving Up an Idea.

EH Johnston:
Moreover you should practise concentration in the workings of your mind, but in no circumstances should you think evil thoughts, my friend.

Linda Covill:
Practice being collected in your mental activities, my friend; and especially do not think unwholesome thoughts.

manas: mind
karmasu = loc. pl. karman: n. act, action; work, activity
a-: negative prefix
vikShepam (acc. sg.): m. (from vi-√kSip) the act of throwing asunder or away or about , scattering , dispersion ; letting loose , indulging ;letting slip , neglecting (time) ; inattention , distraction , confusion , perplexity
vi-√kSip: to throw asunder or away or about , cast hither and thither , scatter , disperse
vi: apart
√kSip: to throw , cast ; to move hastily (the arms or legs); to throw a glance (as the eye) ; to strike or hit (with a weapon) ; to put or place anything on or in (loc.) , pour on , scatter , fix or attach to (loc.); to direct (the thoughts) upon (loc.)

api: ind. and , also , moreover , besides , assuredly , surely
ca: and
api-ca: as well as
abhyastum = infinitive abhy-√as: to add; to concentrate one's attention upon (acc.) , practise , exercise , study &c ; to repeat , double ; to multiply
arhasi: you should

na: not
tu: but etc.
eva: (emphatic)
a-kushalam (acc. sg.): n. evil
saumya (voc.): my friend

vitarkayitum = inf. vi-√ tark: to reflect , ponder , think , believe , suppose , conjecture , consider
arhasi: you should

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