Tuesday, February 2, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.21: 'Dependent Origination' & No Self

yasmaan niriihaM jagad a-svatantraM
n'aishvaryam ekaH kurute kriyaasu
tat tat pratiitya prabhavanti bhaavaa
nir-aatmakaM tena viveda lokaM

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

Since the throng of humanity is passive,
not autonomous,

And no one exercises direct control
over the workings of the body,

But states of being arise dependent on this and that,

He found, in that sense, that the world is devoid of self.

When one observes an individual human being, listening and talking to him or her in detail, it generally transpires (for example as Valentine's Day approaches) that she or he hopes to be seen as a very special soul, by at least one other person, and maybe by millions more people too, depending on his or her degree of self-delusion.

Line 1, as I read it, expresses in contrast the fact that self and others, observed objectively as a teeming mass, are like sheep. Dominated by the herd instinct as we are, we are easily rounded up and fleeced by the likes of ad-men and politicians.

In line 2 aishvarya is given in the dictionary as "the state of being a mighty lord, supremacy, dominion, superhuman power." So what Ashvaghosha is expressing in line 2 as I hear him is the impossibility of exercising DIRECT CONTROL over one's bodily actions and bodily functions -- because true control of the workings of one's body is not direct, but indirect. If there is such a thing as true control, it might be an indirect control that is exercised via the agency that FM Alexander called the primary control of the use of the self. Alexander defined this so-called 'primary control' not as a thing but rather as a relationship or orientation or alignment of a person's head, neck and back.

If I had direct control of my body, I would command my body to sleep through till dawn, and my body would snoringly obey. But since I don't have direct control over my body, and I wake up wide-eyed at 2.30 am for no apparent reason, the best I can do is to get up in the middle of the night, sit in lotus, and ask myself what it means to allow the neck to be free, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while directing the knees forwards and away.

In line 3 of this verse, as also in line 3 of 17.31, Ashvaghosha expresses using very plain language the teaching that is customarily expressed by the Buddhist buzz-word pratiitya-samutpaada ("dependent origination").

Line 3 of 17.31 sums up realization of this teaching like this:
pratiitya tat tat samavaiti tat tat
"he appreciates everything depending on everything"
"he appreciates this and that depending on this and that"

Somewhere on the internet, Wikipedia I think, I read a dogmatic assertion that this realization of "dependent origination" is just what the Buddha realized under the bodhi tree -- that appreciation of everything depending on everything, in other words, is just the Buddha's full enlightenment.

Here, however, Ashvaghosha is describing Nanda's discovery as merely one of a series of realisations that causes the tree of afflictions to shake, leading Nanda in 17.27 to attain the first fruit of the Dharma. The further realisation expressed in 17.31 that everything depends on everything is part of Nanda's process in attaining the second fruit of the Dharma. So realization of the teaching of pratiitya-samutpaada ("dependent origination"), as Ashvaghosha is describing it, is far from synonymous with obtaining the fourth fruit of the Dharma, that is, the Buddhahood that the Buddha realised under the bodhi tree.

In line 4, the little word tena ("in that sense") might be a word not to overlook. In the sense that everything depends on everything, the world is devoid of self. But in another sense, the whole Universe might be totally dependent on how I accept and use myself.

The point I am getting at is this piece of advice to self and others: Beware the dogmatic assertions of Buddhist philosophers who give themselves the air of knowing. Before we ourselves have not only shaken but also destroyed the tree of afflictions, what do we really know of the what the Buddha realised under the bodhi tree? We know jack shit.

Because I truly know jack shit, because I am not a knower of the Buddha's truth but only a digger out of crap that surrounds the Buddha's truth, I call this a work in progress.

EH Johnston:
Since the world has no motive force of its own and is not self-dependent, and since there is no one being who exercises paramountcy over actions, and since states of being arise from dependence on other states, he understood the world to be without soul.

Linda Covill:
Since the world is not self-dependent and has no power to set things in motion, and no one exercises sovereignty in actions, and since states of existence arise in dependence on all sorts of things, he understood that the world was without self.

yasmaat: ind. from which , from which cause , since , as , because
niriiham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. motionless, inactive, desireless, indifferent, unanxious
iiha: m. attempt
iihaa: f. effort, exertion; desire
jagat (nom. sg.): n. n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals ; n. the world , esp. this world , earth ; n. people , mankind
a-sva-tantram (nom. sg. n.): mfn. not self-willed, dependent, subject
a: not
sva-tantara: mf(A)n. self-dependent , self-willed , independent , free
sva: it's own
tantra: n. loom, framework (ifc. "depending on")

na: not
aishvaryam (acc. sg.): n. the state of being a mighty lord ; supremacy, dominion ; superhuman power
ekaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. one (with na preceding or following , no one , nobody)
kurute = 3rd per. sg. kR: to do, make
kriyaasu = loc. pl. kriyaa: f. doing , performing , performance , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour; bodily action

tat tat (acc.): this and that , everything
pratiitya: ind. dependent ; n. confirmation , experiment
prati- √i : to go towards or against , go to meet (as friend or foe) ; to come back , return ; to resort to, be certain of
pratiiti: f. going towards , approaching ; the following from anything (as a necessary result) , being clear or intelligible by itself ; clear apprehension or insight into anything , complete understanding or ascertainment , conviction
prabhavanti = 3rd pers. plural pra-√bhuu: to come forth , spring up , arise or originate from (abl.) , appear , become visible , happen , occur
bhaavaaH = nom. pl. bhaava: m. state of being

nir-aatmakam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. having no separate soul or no individual existence
tena: ind. on that account , for that reason , therefore (correl. to yena, yasmaat)
viveda = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vid: to find , discover ; to feel, experience
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world ; the inhabitants of the world , mankind , folk , people

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