Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.22: Keeping On Keeping On

tataH sa vaataM vyajanaad iv' oShNe
kaaShTh'-aashritaM nirmathanaad iv' aagniM
antaH-kShiti-sthaM khananaad iv'aambho
lok'-ottaraM vartma dur-aapam aapa

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

Then, like air in the hot season, got from fanning,

Like fire latent in wood, got from rubbing,

Like water under the ground, got from digging,

That world-beating path which is hard to get, he got:

Verses 17.1 to 17.27 follow Nanda through to his attainment of the first of the four fruits of the Dharma.

Verses 17.1 to 17.14 can be seen as the first part of this series, describing how Nanda, sitting in lotus in a quiet place, collected his MIND into himself.

Verses 17.15 to 17.21 can be seen as a second part, in which Nanda causes the tree of affliction to shake by investigating the BODY, and other THINGS, as impure/empty, as suffering, as impermanent, and as devoid of self.

From this verse, as Nanda in his battle against the afflictions goes into ACTION, the mood turns more dynamic; hence the emphasis on action nouns: vyajana, fanning; nirmathana, rubbing; khanana, digging...

And the particular emphasis in this verse is on activities requiring persistence in order to gain an end. So it is keeping on, but not only for the sake of keeping on. It is keeping on not for the sake of mindless repetition (in the manner of those robotic Japanese piano students notorious in London music schools for endless mindless practice of the same musical score), but in order to get what is to be got.

In 1987 when I was aged 27 and busting a gut to serve my Zen teacher Gudo Nishijima while living in the Zen dojo/dormitory that he had just established, he offered to transmit the Dharma to me. Knowing that I was not the finished article, but very much a work in progress, I refused to accept the Dharma. I felt it was too big a deal, that I was not worthy. After that my teacher began transmitting his Dharma to people like Jeremy Pearson, who had met me in England at the end of a decade I had already devoted to studying under and serving Gudo Nishijima. When Jeremy arrived in Japan in 1990, I had taken Jeremy to meet Gudo at his office. So a few years later when Gudo began transmitting the Dharma to Jeremy and others, who I felt were junior to me, I suppose I felt somehow left behind and I wished to follow suit. Maybe receiving the Dharma was not such a big deal after all, I must have reasoned.

But if I had been a better man, I would have stuck to my guns and not received the Dharma, being certain in the knowledge that I was and am still only a work in progress, and being equally certain in the knowledge that Gudo Nishijima never got what, in his self-delusion, he claimed to have got. As a work in progress, as a polisher of a tile, Gudo Nishijima was truly a world-beater, a great teacher-by-example and a great translation partner. But in arrogantly thinking himself to be an enlightened master, and acting as if he were, in closing his ears on that basis to my criticism of his direct ("end-gaining") approach to postural correction, and in breaking our 50:50 translation partnership on that basis, Gudo Nishijima had showed himself to be, in my eyes, the pits of the world -- not an enlightened master at all, but just a mirror of end-gaining self-delusion.

Still, in 1998, even after he had manifested himself to me as such, I went ahead and received the Dharma from Gudo. Why? I don't know why I went ahead and received the Dharma from Gudo Nishijima, even after he had seemed to me to betray a very fundamental lack of integrity. The psychological phenomenon of denial might have had a lot to do with it. But I think my receiving the Dharma from Gudo was a mistake. And even though it may have been a mistake, and even when I made that mistake I made it very indecisively, I did make it.

I made that mistake in the spirit of "See what happens." Well, having seen what has happened, I now judge that it was a mistake.

A work in progress, it seems to me now, such as I am, should keep on keeping on -- not only for the sake of keeping on itself, but until such time as he truly gets what is to be got.

I think that is what Ashvaghosha is saying in this verse, in this canto, and in the whole of this work. Because only after Nanda has truly got what is to be got -- the nectar of immortality -- is he then able to teach what is to be taught, as Buddha.

Before a work in progress gets what is to be got, a work in progress working as a work in progress is happiness itself and integrity itself. But if a work in progress acts as if he has got what he should get before he has got it, it seems to me, that might be a recipe for great unhappiness. If there is even the tiniest bit of such a gap, it seems to me, then top and bottom are liable to be greatly disconnected.

EH Johnston:
Then he reached the inaccessible supermundane Path, as one might obtain a breeze in the hot weather by fanning or the fire which abides in the wood by friction or the water in the ground by digging.

Linda Covill:
Then, like feeling a cool breeze from fanning oneself during the hot season, or like getting fire that is latent in wood by rubbing sticks together, or like finding underground water by digging for it, he reached the hard-to-reach supramundane path.

tataH: ind. thence, from that, then, in consequence of that
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
vaatam (acc. sg.) m. wind , air
vyajanaat = abl. vyajana: n. fanning ; a palm-leaf or other article used for fanning , fan
iva: like
uShNe = loc. uShNa: mn. heat , warmth , the hot season (June , July)

kaaShTh'-aashritam (acc. sg. m): abiding in a piece of wood
kaaShTha: n. a piece of wood or timber , stick
aashrita: mfn. belonging to ; inhabiting , dwelling in
nirmathanaad = abl. nirmathana: n. rubbing , lighting a fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together
iva: like
aagnim (acc. sg.): m. fire

antaH-kShiti-stham (acc. sg. n.): being in the earth's interior
antaH = antar: ind. within, interior, in
kShiti: f. the earth , soil of the earth
stha: mfn. being situated in
khananaad = abl. khanana: n. digging; the act of digging
iva: like
ambhaH = acc. sg. ambhas: n. water

lok'-ottaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. excelling or surpassing the world , beyond what is common or general , unusual , extraordinary
loka: m. world ; ordinary life , worldly affairs , common practice or usage
uttara: mfn. upper , higher , superior; chief , excellent , dominant , predominant , more powerful
vartma = acc. sg. vartman: n. the track or rut of a wheel , path , road , way , course (lit. and fig.)
dur-aapam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. difficult to be attained or approached , inaccessible
aapa (3rd pers. sg. perfect): he reached, obtained, gained, entered


Al said...


Sorry for the obscure comment here. The title of this post reminds me of my favorite band: Joy Division.

In 77' they were asked by RCA records to cover Nolan "N.F." Porter's "Keep On Keepin' On". They were dropped by RCA and later used the music from that song to be the tune for their later song "Interzone".

Sorry for that.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Al,

As I remember, the lead singer of Joy Division, in the matter of keeping on keeping on, didn't practice what he preached. He took the easy way out.

"Love will tear us apart again"?

Not necessarily, so long as constructive work is another option.

All the best,


Al said...


Disturbed Mr.Curtis was indeed. He certainly could have used more direction.