Sunday, January 24, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.12: Really Desiring Release

vimokSha-kaamasya hi yogino 'pi
manaH puraM jNaana-vidhish ca daNDaH
guNaash ca mitraaNy arayash ca doShaa
bhuumir vimuktir yatate yad-arthaM

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

Because, for a practitioner whose desire is release,

The mind is his fortress,
the protocol for higher knowledge his rod,

The virtues his friends, the faults his foes;

And liberation is the territory for which he strives.

Before delivering a lecture to my own stupid self on the subject of desire (kaama in line 1), a word on the elements of lines 2 and 3:

How can the mind (manas) be a fortress (puram)? I don't seem to have any feeling that my mind is a fortress..... except, on reflection, when things are not going well, in which case there is a sense of walls crumbling down, prisoners escaping from dungeons, and the battlements being in general danger of being breached.

"The protocol on knowing" (vijNaa-vidhi) is a phrase that appears in 16.32, where it expresses collectively the three branches of the eightfold path -- philosophical insight, straight thinking, and initiative -- which relate to knowing or wisdom. Alternatively, I thought about translating vijNaa-vidhi as "the exercise of conscience." But did I lose sleep, like an inveterate worrier, wimpishly trying to decide which translation is better? (Yes, I did.)

The virtues (guNaaH) are as listed for example in 16.38, or as listed in Shobogenzo chapter 95, beginning with wanting little and being content. The faults (doShaaH), starting with thirsting, are discussed at great length from 16.17.

In general, my sense is that the Buddha and Ashvaghosha allocate much more energy to discussion of the faults than they do to discussion of the virtues -- many of which, when investigated closely, are not anything at all, but just a bit of nothing. "Wanting little" (alpecchataa), for example, which features in 16.38 and is listed first in the description of a buddha's eightfold awakening, does not tend to announce itself loudly as a virtue. If it announced itself as a virtue, that self-announcement might be an instance of something other than wanting little.

But enough discussion of wanting little. What I want to lecture myself on now, what I wish to remind myself of, is the importance of desire (kaama), which, it seems to me, it is not always necessary to split in two, as if the desire to reproduce and the desire to obtain the nectar of immortality were two different kinds of desire. If they were two different kinds of desire, the Buddha and Ashvaghosha might use two different words for desire. But they don't use two different words. Whether discussing the desire for sex, or the desire for liberation, the Buddha and Ashvaghosha use the same word: kaama. And that is because, as I see it, desire is desire.

What brings you to my blog? What are you after? What is it that you desire?

Sometimes I ask myself in my sitting practice: What do you want? What is is that you want, you silly bugger, as you sit there worrying about this and that? What do you want: to get something, or to let go of something?

The answer, on a good day, is that I really do want to let go; I want release. If I desire other things, on a good day, I desire them less than I desire release.

In desiring release, on a good day, I want the neck to be free to allow the head to go forward and up, to allow the back to lengthen and widen, to allow the limbs out. I want that, and I am not fucking well going to take No for an answer!

MumukshoH in the previous verse is a desiderative form -- it expresses the practitioner's DESIRE for release. In the next verse the desiderative form is used at the end of each of the first three lines. And lest there be any doubt that he is talking about desire, Ashvaghosha in the first line of this verse uses not the desiderative form but the very word that is used to express sexual desire -- kaama.

For a practitioner who is striving for the territory of liberation, there has to be a real desire for release. When the practitioner walks, his desire to get from A to B has to be not so great that it outweighs his desire for release. When the practitioner writes, his desire to make his point has to be not so great that it outweighs his desire for release.

Without real desire for release, we just go through the motions of practice. Whereas if we are actually going to obtain what Ashvaghosha describes in this canto as the nectar of immortality, there has to be, Ashvaghosha seems to be saying in this section of verses, a real desire for release, a desire for letting go, a desire for liberation.

EH Johnston:
For the mind of the Yogin also who aspires to Salvation is his strong city, the way of knowledge his administration of justice, the virtues his allies, the vices his enemies and Salvation the land for whose conquest he strives.

Linda Covill:
For the mind of the liberation-seeking practitioner is his citadel, and the rules for gaining knowledge are his system of justice; his virtues are his allies, his faults his enemies, and liberation the new land for which he labours.

vimokSha-kaamasya (gen. sg. m.): desiring undoing
vimokSha: m. the being loosened or undone, release, liberation
kaama: m. desire
hi: for
yoginaH = gen. sg. yogin: m. a follower of the yoga system ; a devotee of practice, practitioner
api: also

manaH (nom. sg.): n. mind
puram (nom. sg.): n. fortress, city
jNaana-vidhiH (nom. sg.): the protocol on knowing [see 16.32]; the exercise of conscience
jNaana: n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge ; conscience
vidhi: m. a rule , formula, precept, law, direction ; method, means, expedient ; any act or action , performance , accomplishment , contrivance , work , business (ifc. often pleonastically e.g. mathana-vidhi , the [act of] disturbing)
ca: and
daNDaH (nom. sg.): m. a stick, the rod as a symbol of judicial authority and punishment; application of power ; power over (gen. or in comp.) , control , restraint ; embodied power , army

guNaaH (nom. pl.): m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
ca: and
mitraaNi (nom. pl.): n. friend, ally (a prince whose territory adjoins that of an immediate neighbour who is called ari , enemy)
arayaH (nom. pl.): m. enemy
ca: and
doShaaH (nom. pl.): m. fault

bhuumiH (nom. sg.): f. the earth, territory
vimuktiH (nom. sg.): f. disjunction; release , deliverance , liberation
yatate = 3rd pers. sg. yat: to endeavour to reach , strive after , be eager or anxious for (with loc. dat. acc. with or without prati ; also with artham)
yad-artham: for which purpose

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