Thursday, December 3, 2009

SAUNDARANANDA 15.40: What's the Use?

yo 'bhavad baandhava-janaH
para-loke priyas tava
sa te kam arthaM kurute
tvaam vaa tasmai karoshi kaM

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

The relation who was,

In another life, so dear to you:

What use to you is he?

What use to him are you?

Every verse is full of pitfalls, and so here is one I nearly fell into earlier:

Two key words in this verse are priya, dear, loved, and artha, purpose, meaning, usefulness, use.

Implicit in this verse, then, seems to be the Buddha's idea that what really matters is not so much being loved and appreciated, but more being useful. The Buddha's viewpoint in this verse, in short, is that of utilitarianism....

A clear signal that this line of thinking has strayed onto a wrong track is the -ism of utilitarianism.

A big desire to be useful, like any big desire, is a dangerous thing, as I know very well from my own experience. People with big desires to be useful led America and Britain into ill-conceived invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. What use were they to anybody? What use to anybody is the blind end-gaining of people whose sensory appreciation (i.e. their mirror of reality) is distorted?

More real than a big desire to be useful might be a modest desire to maintain the integrity of one's own use -- see Canto 13, Thwarting the Power of the Senses through Practice of Integrity.

The Sanskrit artha and the English "use" are interesting words. They are not big philosophical concepts with -ism on the end, just unobtrusive everyday words. FM Alexander wrote a book I recommend everybody to read, called "The Use of the Self."

When attention is diligently paid to the use of the self, the truth emerges of how troublesome an idea can be -- of how, at the root of suffering, there is invariably an idea. FM Alexander's niece, Marjory Barlow, as I knew her, had an extra-ordinarily clear idea about how troublesome an idea can be.

The Buddha's relentless attack on sentimental ideas about dear relations seems to be based, similarly, on a very clear idea about how harmful an idea can be.

It might be that what gets most in the way of just sitting, is a troublesome idea. The idea of me being right might be top of the list of such ideas, with sentimental ideas about one's nearest and dearest not far behind.

The fact that I am highlighting in this commentary the importance of giving up an idea, does not mean that in my own sitting practice I have succeeded once and for all (or ever at all) in giving up the idea I should give up.

A wonderful Alexander teacher once said to me, "For you, up is a poisoned word!" What she observed is that as soon as the idea "up" came into my head, I would start to do something, to subtly arrange myself. And in that subtle self-arrangement I would stiffen up.

Giving up a poisionous idea might be one of those things that a child can talk about but an old man of eighty or even ninety cannot practise.

So the giving up of an idea, for some of us, is a work in progress. We keep on keeping on with it because...

Not to do what is harmful,
To allow what is good,
To detoxify one's own mind,
Is the teaching of buddhas.

EH Johnston:
As for him who was your dear kinsman in the last existence, what is he to you now or you to him?

Linda Covill:
The kinsman whom you loved in another life -- what does he do for you now, or you for him?

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
abhavat (3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu): he was
baandhava-janaH = nom. sg. baandhava-jana: m. relatives , kinsmen (collectively)
baandhava: m. (fr. bandhu) a kinsman , relation (esp. maternal relation) , friend; a brother
bandhu: m. connection , relation , association
jana: person, people

para-loke = loc. para-loka: m. the other or future world
para: far , distant , remote (in space) , opposite , ulterior , farther than , beyond , on the other or farther side of , extreme ; previous (in time) , former ; ancient , past ; later , future , next
priyaH (nom. sg. m.): beloved, dear, liked , favourite , wanted , own ; fond of attached or devoted to (loc.); m. a friend
tava (gen): of/to you

saH (nom. sg.): [correlative of yaH] he
te (dative): to you
kam (acc. sg. m.): what?
artham ( purpose, use, meaning etc.
kurute (3rd pers. sg. kR): he does, makes
artha-kara: mfn. producing advantage , useful
artha-kRt: mfn. causing profit , useful
artha-kriyaa: f. an action performed with a special purpose ; the being useful (to others)

tvaam (nom. sg.): you
vaa: or ; just , even , indeed , very (= eva , laying stress on the preceding word)
tasmai (dative): to him
karoshi (2nd pers. sg. kR): you do, make
kam (acc. sg. m.): what?


gniz said...

Hi Mike,

Dropped by and read through a bunch of your recent posts in order to be inspired by your dilligence and discipline.

It worked.


Your Jew friend,


Mike Cross said...