Saturday, November 28, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.35: Love Will Keep Us Together?

loke prakRti-bhinne 'smin
na kash cit kasya cit priyaH
baalukaa-muShTivaj jagat

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

In this originally shattered world

Nobody is the beloved of anybody.

Held together by cause and effect,

Humankind is like sand in a clenched fist.

This verse makes one think of the Big Bang and the 2nd law of thermodynamics -- intuitive understanding of which the Buddha evidently had.

The verse also makes me think of a conversation I had around this time of the year in 1977, with an old school friend and then fellow worker at Rackham's department store in Birmingham. As we sat in the staff canteen eating cheap sausages and chips and looking out over Birmingham's pigeon-crapped city centre, my friend argued that romantic love was only an idea, a myth sustained by the Hollywood dream factory.

Nowadays my skeptical old mate is a partner in a private equity firm. His judgements over the years have proved to be fairly reliable.

When I met my friend in the 1980s, as his career was in the process of taking off, I bent his ear with a multiplicity of true Buddhist notions, centred on realism. "You seem to be using 'realism' as your latest buzz-word," my skeptical friend observed. I might have succeed in fooling myself, at least partially, but I hadn't succeeded in fooling him.

It may sound like the Buddha is opposing the romantic viewpoint in this verse with a skeptical viewpoint. What the Buddha is really advocating is not skepticism, however, but the abandonment of all -isms -- what Ashvaghosha called vitarka-prahaaNa, literally, "the Giving Up of Ideas."

Vitarka means thought, idea, conception, notion, fancy. And prahaaNa means the act of quitting, abandoning, giving up. So Linda Covill's translation of the canto title, vitarka-prahaaNa, is also a perfectly literal one: "Abandoning Notions." EH Johnston, uncharacteristically for him, seemed to want to tip-toe out of the library and into the ashram, by translating the canto title as "Emptying the Mind."

"Emptying the Mind," truly, is a rubbish translation of vitarka-prahaaNa, but there is something about the translation that I really like -- maybe reflecting the fact that, even as a pedantic Oxford scholar, EHJ was not immune from swallowing the bitter sugar-coated pill of the cunning Ashvaghosha. At the same time, if EHJ were really to give up the idea of being right and allow himself to stray down the interpretive route, he might as well have translated vitarka-prahaaNa as "Squashing a Round Black Cushion."

EH Johnston:
In this world, which is by nature separate, no one is really the beloved of anyone else ; it is cause and effect that hold the world together, like a hand holding a ball of sand together.

Linda Covill:
In this world, by nature separate, nobody is truly dear to anybody. The world is bound together by cause and effect, like sand held together in your fist.

loke (loc.): in the world
prakRti: f. " making or placing before or at first " , the original or natural form or condition of anything , original or primary substance
bhinne = loc. bhinna: mfn. split , broken , shattered , pierced ; divided into parts , anything less than a whole ; opened , expanded , blown ; detached , disjoined ; disunited , set at variance
asmin (loc.): in this

na kash cit (nom. sg.) nobody
kasya cit (gen. sg.): of anybody
priyaH (nom. sg.): mfn. beloved , dear to

kaarya: n. work, conduct ; effect, result
kaaraNa: n. cause , reason
sambaddham: mfn. bound or tied together , joined , connected ; connected in sense , coherent , having meaning ; shut , closed; connected or covered or filled with , belonging or relating to (instr. or comp.)

baalukaa: f. sg. and pl. sand , gravel
muShTi: the clenched hand , fist ; a handful
-vat: -like
jagat (nom. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals ; the world; n. people , mankind


Ray Guillette said...

Forgive me if I'm off topic. While I've not read your transcription work in print, I've found your work translating Ashvaghosha thus far to be a truly rewarding read. Having communicated to you some of my formative reading experiences, I am curious to ask if you would name a book that was significant to you in your youth?
Best Wishes,

Mike Cross said...

Hi Ray,

Early on, I enjoyed Smokey the Bear -- I still remember, "When danger threatens, climb a tree!"

Then I liked the books of Gerald Durrel, beginning with My Family & Other Animals.

While at school at the age of 17, I became a huge fan of Carlos Castaneda -- Tales of Don Juan etc.

When I was 18, in 1978, I met a German in El Gran Casino, a travellers flop-house in Quito, Ecuador, who told me "Oh Castaneda just stole all that stuff from Zen."

Then when I was in Okinawa aged 22, I picked up Gudo Nishijima's book "How to Practise Zazen" and, for my sins, my fate for the next number of years was sealed.

In 1994, while living in Tokyo, I ordered from STAT Books a pamphlet written by Marjory Barlow on the teaching of FM Alexander. With Marjory's permission I reproduced it on my webpage...

Listing off these books in this way makes me aware of a kind of having come round full circle -- when danger threatens, by all means climb a tree, and in so doing, see if you can maintain the wish to allow the neck to be free, the head to go forward and up, the back to lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away....

Thanks for the encouragement, and all the best,


Ray Guillette said...

Thank you, Mike.
All the best to you too.