Saturday, November 21, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.28: An Ignoramus Abroad (3), Herbs vs Weeds

himavantaM yathaa gatvaa
viSha bhuNjiita n'auShadhaM
manuShyatvaM tathaa praapya
paapaM seveta no shubhaM

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

Just as he might go to the Himalayas

And eat not herbs but poison,

So would one arrive at being a human being

And do not good but harm.

This verse, as I read it, is about the tragic ignorance of unconscious end-gaining.

The world is full of people (and I am always liable to be one of them) who, in meaning well, do harm, primarily to themselves.

How does this unconscious and unintended doing of harm come about?

It comes about, in the first place, because of a desire to go directly for an end without due consideration of proper means -- i.e. "end-gaining." It doesn't come about because a little boy (or an old Zen master) wakes up one morning and consciously decides "I am not going to do good; I am going to serve evil." The harm arises, as a rule, not because of intention to serve evil but in spite of the intention to do good.

The teaching of FM Alexander has been described as something true, good, and real. The foundation of the teaching is acceptance and investigation of one's own wrongness which is rooted in trying to be right.

And yet the British community of teachers of the Alexander Technique is presently split over the issue of voluntary self-regulation. Elements in each side, it seems to me, can see that elements on the other side are guilty of trying to be right, but these elements are less able to see their own trying to be right. Marjory Barlow said in her old age, "We are all, and I include myself, going around trying to be right." Marjory was honestly describing the fact. It shouldn't be like this. But it is. It is not that one side is right and the other wrong. The truth is that we are all, in our unenlightened wrongness, going around trying to be right.

Yesterday I was sitting on a chair at an Alexander training school and during a lull in a discussion I reflected on myself. I was totally in the grip of trying to be right.

Again, I am presently suffering from a niggling injury in my right shoulder that I inflicted on myself a few weeks ago while chopping down a conifer with a felling axe. Despite being 50 next month, I went at the job like I was 25, ignoring the fact that the muscles in my right shoulder were telling me to stop. Pure end-gaining.

You might say that, after all these years, I should know better. Well, so should the ignoramus who goes to the Himalayas with a view to eating medicinal herbs. He should know better, but in the vital moment of the present he doesn't. And therein lies the essence of the tragedy which is ignorance.

So in this verse, as I read it, the Buddha is not saying what on the surface he might seem to be saying. He is not saying, "Redouble your unconscious effort to do good, to try to be right."

The Buddha, as I hear him, is saying: "Be aware of what ignorance is. Be aware that the human tragedies we see all around us arise not out of bad intentions but out of our continuing human tendency, when we have an idea, to react to that idea unconsciously, on the basis of our unenlightened instincts."

EH Johnston:
The man who, having obtained the state of a human being, should follow sin and not good is like a man who should go to the Himalayas and eat poison and not health-giving herbs.

Linda Covill:
Just like a man who upon reaching the Himalayas swallows poison instead of medicinal herbs is he who wins a human state but serves evil, not goodness.

hima: m. cold, frost
himavantam = acc. sg. m. himavat: mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himaalaya
yathaa: just as
gatvaa = abs. gam: to go, to go to

viSha: n. " anything active " , poison , venom , bane , anything actively pernicious RV. &c ; n. a partic. vegetable poison
bhuNjiita = 3rd pers. sg. optative bhuj: to enjoy , use , possess , (esp.) enjoy a meal , eat , eat and drink , consume
na: not
auShadhaM: n. herbs collectively , a herb ; n. herbs used in medicine

manuShyatvam (acc. sg.): f. manhood , humanity , the state or condition of man
tathaa: so, likewise
praapya = abs. praap: to attain to ; reach , arrive at , meet with , find ; to obtain

paapam (acc. sg. n): mfn. bad , vicious , wicked , evil , wretched , vile , low ; (in astrol.) boding evil , inauspicious; n. evil , misfortune , ill-luck , trouble , mischief, harm
seveta = 3rd pers. sg. optative sev: to remain or stay at , live in , frequent , haunt , inhabit , resort to (acc.); to serve , wait or attend upon , honour , obey , worship; to devote or apply one's self to , cultivate , study , practise , use , employ , perform , do
no: ind. and not
shubham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. splendid , bright , beautiful; n. anything bright or beautiful ; beauty , charm , good fortune , auspiciousness , happiness , bliss , welfare , prosperity ; benefit , service , good or virtuous action


warby said...

Hi Mike
I have been reviewing this work from the past year and find that today Nov 21 2008 is somewhat of a marker for the translations.
A quote from that day
"The Clay Sanskrit Library translations of Ashvaghosha provide a tremendous resource. Using them as a starting point, I now firmly intend to clarify for myself, by studying for myself Ashvaghosha's words in their original Sanskrit, what Ashvaghosha was really driving at.

Little by little I aim to continue progressing like this, in small degrees, from greater to lesser misunderstanding of Ashvaghosha's words, as if removing grosser then finer impurities from gold.

By manifesting myself groping in the dark like this, as a novice of Sanskrit, I am probably making even more of a fool of myself than I have already done to date. But as Ashvaghosha concluded, "serviceable gold necessarily comes from ore-born dust." "

So There you have it bit by bit
grinding out the gold.
and continue in good cheer

Mike Cross said...

Thanks for that, Warren -- I hadn't realized this was a kind of anniversary.

I am at the computer as your comment arrives, preparing vocabulary for a forthcoming verse, in a bit of a just-going-through-the-motions frame of mind.

The situation reminds me of something I know from Alexander work:

Sometimes when an Alexander pupil (not a teacher) is going well, I get them to put their hands on my shoulders and get an incredibly good direction from their hands. I think it has to do with having no fish to fry -- or, in Zen jargon "beginner's mind."

Thanks again for the encouragement, and for the reminder that this work has its roots in a sense of adventure.

All the best,