Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.31: Us & Them

saMsaare kRSyamaaNaanaaM
sattvaanaaM svena karmaNaa
ko janaH sva-janaH ko vaa
mohaat sakto jane janaH
= = = = - = = =
= = = = - = - =
= - = - - = = =
= = = = - = - =

Among beings dragged by our own doing

Through the cycle of unconscious reaction

Who are our own people, and who are other people?

It is through ignorance
that people attach to their people.

Moha, translated here as "ignorance," is from the root √muh, to become stupefied or unconscious. Moha is the third of the three root afflictions (muula-klesha) -- greed, hatred, and ignorance. In the context of this canto, as I read it, moha is related with the harbouring of an unconscious idea, so I have translated moha as ignorance. But moha also means delusion.

So EHJ's translation of the 4th line, "It is only delusion that causes the attachment of one person to another," and LC's translation, "It's through delusion that people cling to each other," might be perfectly valid as literal translations. But as statements they seem to me to miss the point.

When mother and baby, for example, cling to each other, that is not through ignorance or through delusion; it is through biology. Mother and baby should be attached to each other. If some form of socialism, or fascism, or new-fangled Western Buddhism, or any other wretched -ism, dictates that mother and baby should not cling or be attached to each other, such an -ism might be the essence of ignorance.

What the Buddha is denying, as I hear him, is not human attachment, nor even human delusion, but the human ignorance which is rooted in ideas. This is important to understand in practice, because my human attachments and delusions, rooted as they are in brain chemistry, are not directly susceptible to my efforts as an individual on the round cushion. My ignorance, on the other hand, might be at least a bit susceptible. To give up the unconscious idea by which I am doing myself harm, though by no means easy, is not impossible. I know this giving up of an idea is not impossible because sometimes I succeed in it, at least partially. And when I succeed in it, sitting becomes a bit easier, and a bit more joyful.

Svena karmaNaa translates equally literally as "by our own doing," or "by their own doing." To translate it as "by their own doing," might itself be a kind of ignorance, rooted in an unconscious idea about the Buddha being different from ordinary beings. To translate svena karmaNaa as "by our own doing," could equally be a kind of ignorance, rooted in an iconoclastic unconscious reaction to an idea.

Any way up, the truth, which is not an idea, might be that we are all in the same boat. The truth might be that, when it comes to the profound difficulty of inhibiting one's unconscious reaction to a stimulus, we are all in the same boat.

EH Johnston:
Who is a stranger, who is a kinsman, among beings who are dragged along in the cycle of existence by their own actions? It is only delusion that causes the attachment of one person to another.

Linda Covill:
Among the beings whose own acts drag them through samsara, who is a stranger? Who is family? It's through delusion that people cling to each other.

saMsaare = loc. saMsaara: m. going or wandering through ; course , passage , passing through a succession of states , circuit of mundane existence
kRSyamaaNaanaam = gen. pl. pres. passive participle kRSh: to draw , draw to one's self , drag , pull

sattvaanaam = gen. pl. sattva: m. n. a living or sentient being
svena = inst. sva: one's own
karmaNaa = inst. karman: n. act , action

kaH (nom. sg. m.): who?
jana: m. creature , living being , man , person , race, people , subjects (the sg. used collectively); a common person , one of the people
janaH (nom. sg.): m. a person; a common person , one of the people
sva-janaH (nom. sg.): m. a man of one's own people , kinsman ; one's own people , own kindred
kaH: who?
vaa: or

mohaat = abl. moha: m. ( √muh ) loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion , error , folly ; (with Buddhists) ignorance (one of the three roots of vice)
√muh: to become stupefied or unconscious , be bewildered or perplexed , err , be mistaken , go astray
saktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. clinging or adhering to , sticking in (loc.); belonging to (gen.); fixed or intent upon , directed towards , addicted or devoted to , fond of , engaged in , occupied with (loc. acc. with prati , or comp.)
jane (loc. sg.): to a person
janaH (nom. sg.): a person

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