Monday, November 16, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.23: Not That End-gaining Idea!

yaa tri-kaam'-opabhogaaya
cintaa manasi vartate
na ca taM guNam aapnoti
bandhanaaya ca kalpate

= - = = - = = -
= = - - - = - =
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That anxiousness to enjoy the three desires

Which churns in the mind

Does not meet with merit,

But produces bondage.

EHJ notes: "I am not at all certain about the correct explanation of tri-kaama ('threefold passion'). Kaama is ordinarily fivefold, corresponding to the five senses..."

I think EHJ ran into this difficulty because he was stuck on the idea that kaama refers to sensual desire. I think EHJ maybe didn't appreciate the ambiguity and irony of the Buddha's words; he didn't appreciate that the Buddha is not only negating passion but is also investigating volition more broadly and deeply.

As I read it, tri-kaama ("the three desires") means the desire to get something, the desire to become something, and the desire to be rid of something.

And what the Buddha is negating in this verse is not those three desires, but rather the anxiety around those desires which is rooted in that most inauspicious and unhelpful of conceptions: the end-gaining idea.

It is anxious ideas of getting something, becoming something, or being rid of something, that tie a person to his or her wrong inner patterns of doing.

Hence the wisdom of truly just sitting.

On a technical point of translation, the word taM in the 3rd line is problematic. EHJ notes that saa would seem to be required as the correlative of yaa in the 1st line. I wondered if the Buddha might be pointing to the fact that that eagerness to enjoy a desire generally meets with disappointment, in which case the 3rd line might mean "It does not reap that [anticipated] reward." Since guNa is not given in the dictionary as "reward," however, I backed off from this interpretation.

What is not in doubt in this verse, as I read it, is the central message that anxiety produces bondage. Hence the wisdom of truly just sitting, based on the idea of body, based on the idea of mind, and as the giving up of all anxiety-producing ideas.

EH Johnston:
For the thought that works in the mind towards enjoyment of threefold passion both fails to attain excellence and also conduces to bondage.

Linda Covill:
When a thought in one's mind revolves around enjoyment of the three passions, it does not acquire virtue but produces bondage.

yaa (nom. sg. f.): [relative pronoun] which [thought]
tri: three
kaama: m. wish , desire , longing
upabhogaaya = dat. upabhoga: m. enjoyment , eating , consuming

cintaa: f. thought , care , anxiety
manasi = loc. sg. manas: mind
vartate = 3rd pers. sg. vRt: to turn , turn round ; take place ; dwell ; continue in force

na: not
ca: and
tam (acc. sg. m.): that, that [expected object]
guNam (acc. sg.): m. a single thread or strand of a cord or twine; a garland ; a secondary element , subordinate or unessential part of any action; an auxiliary act ; a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
aapnoti = 3rd pers. sg. aap: to reach, meet with, fall upon; to obtain , gain , take possession of

bandhanaaya = dative bandhana: n. the act of binding , tying , fastening , fettering
ca: and
kalpate = 3rd pers. sg. klRp: to be favourable to , subserve , effect (with dat.)

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