Thursday, November 19, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.26: An Ignoramus Abroad (1), Aloes vs Firewood

an-abhijNo yathaa jaatyaM
dahed aguru kaaShThavat
a-nyaayena manuShyatvam
upahanyaad idaM tathaa

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

Just as an ignoramus

Might burn as firewood the best aloes,

So would one, wrong-headedly,

Waste this state of being human.

This real state of being human is our original state. We undermine it or spoil it or waste it with inauspicious conceptions. We might return to it by truly learning the backward step of turning our light and letting it shine.

So this verse, as I read it, is nothing other than a description of the inevitable tendency of a sitting-dhyaana life -- in which mountains are originally mountains but then mountains cease to be mountains, until such time as mountains might be realized again as mountains.

EHJ and LC have translated this verse as if the Buddha were referring to some plan, or some method, but the Buddha as I hear him is not referring to any plan or method, other than just sitting as the giving up of one's own wrong-headed conceptions. Trying to sit in conformity with somebody's plan (like "true Buddhism saves the world from the conflict between idealism and materialism") or in accordance with some method (like "keeping the spine straight vertically" or "[fill in the missing word] meditation"), might be the original cause of the wrong-headedness that causes mountains to cease to be mountains.

When we see footage of goings-on in North Korea, who doesn't feel that what is going on there under the world's last surviving Stalinist regime is unjust, improper, indecorous, irregular, disordered (a-nyaya)? What is going on there, in a word, is wrongheaded. And does that disordered wrongheadedness principally derive (a) from not following any plan or method, or (b) from following somebody's plan or method?

EH Johnston:
Just as an ignoramus would burn costly aloe wood like ordinary fuel, so by not following the plan one would destroy one's existence here as a human being.

Linda Covill:
Just as an ignorant man might burn the best aloe-wood as if it were ordinary firewood, just so is one's human state destroyed by not following this method.

an-abhijNaH = nom. sg. m. an-abhijNa: mfn. unacquainted with , ignorant
yathaa (correlative of tathaa): just as
jaatyam (acc. sg. n.) jaatya: mfn of a noble family , noble; pleasing , beautiful ; best , excellent

dahet = 3rd pers. sg. optative dah: to burn
aguru (acc. sg. n.): mn. the fragrant Aloe wood and tree
kaaShTha: n. a piece of wood or timber , stick; n. wood or timber in general
-vat: like
kaaShThavat: ind. like a piece of wood , like a stick (as when petrified with fear , &c )

a-nyaayena = inst. a-nyaaya: m. unjust or unlawful action ; impropriety , indecorum ; irregularity , disorder
a-: negative prefix
nyaaya: that into which a thing goes back i.e. an original type , standard , method , rule , (esp.) a general or universal rule , model , axiom , system , plan , manner , right or fit manner or way , fitness , propriety
nyaayena: ind. in the right manner , regularly , duly
manuShyatvam (acc. sg.): n. manhood , humanity , the state or condition of man

upahanyaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative upa-√han: to hit , hurt , damage , visit , afflict , impede , spoil
idam (nom./acc. sg. n.): this , this here , referring to something near the speaker
tathaa: so, likewise


Ray Guillette said...


I'm an amateur student of Buddhist Philosophy and Perceptual Psychology. I have not read Dogen. A friend gave me a book by Krishnamurti as a high school graduation present, but my first meaningful reads were Tolstoy and Tolkein. Since 2000 or so I have been studying applied Buddhist Philosophy, primarily in the Theravadan community in the Boston, Massachusetts area. I enjoy reading anything by Bhikku Bodhi, and often listen to dharma talks on Here in Berkeley, California I am participating in the Theravadan community that has grown around the Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Just wanted to give a proper hello from a regular reader.

Best Wishes,


Mike Cross said...

Thanks, Ray. The consideration is appreciated.