Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.28: Increments of Wisdom, Integrity, Stillness... The Eightfold Path, Step by Step

sa darshanaad aarya-catuShTayasya
klesh'aika-deshasya ca viprayogaat
pratyaatmikaac c'aapi visheSha-laabhaat
pratyakShato jNaani-sukhasya c'aiva

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

He, by glimpsing the noble foursome,

And by being released from one portion of the afflictions;

By realising for himself what was specific to him

As well as by witnessing the ease of the sages;

This and the next verse, and line 2 of this verse in particular, as I hear them, are echoing the encouragement that the Buddha gave to Nanda in 16.71:

Because of the instinct-led accumulation,
from time without beginning,

Of the powerful mass of afflictions,

And because true practice is so difficult to do,

The faults cannot be cut off all at once.

Ashvaghosha is charting Nanda's methodical progress (and methodical regress), step by step, along the gradual eightfold path, with its three categories of prajNaa, shiila and shama.

The glimpsing of the four noble truths expressed in line 1 may be primarily a matter of intuitive knowing (prajNaa).

The partial release from the many-tentacled monster of misuse expressed in line 2 may be primarily a matter of practising integrity (shiila).

And that practice/experience of the ancestors which it is for every practitioner to realise for himself or herself, might necessarily centre, in every case, on the stillness of sitting in stillness (shama).

One reason it is useful for the eight elements to be summarized around three elements is that three elements are much easier for the human brain to retain than eight. I can picture the three corners of a triangle in one image, for example, but not an octagon. More to the point, I can picture a wheel with three of its spokes labelled wisdom, integrity, stillness; but I cannot picture, altogether and one after another, the eight spokes of the Dharma-wheel.

So when after just a couple of hours sleep my aching shoulder wakes me up and I drag my karma-burdened body to the zafu, neither the four lines of today's verse which I memorized yesterday, nor the eight elements of the noble eightfold path are immediately available to my beleagured brain. But in coming back to the trinity of prajNaa, shiila, samaadhi, I am immediately reminded of three elements of these four lines -- glimpsing truths, letting go of afflictions, and witnessing ease. I can also remember, without resorting to the dictionary but off the top of my own head, that prajNaa is the basis of right insight, right thinking, and right initiative; shiila is the basis of right use of voice and body; and shama/samaadhi is the basis of right mindfulness and right balance.

I am thus caused to remember, as I sit, feeling all wrong, that in my pursuit of eightfold rightness, it is not up to me to try to be right, or to do the right thing. Rather, the fundamental principle in pursuing rightness is to allow the right thing to do itself.

Even as a translator, it is not up to me to do the right thing. If I try to do the right thing, all that is liable to express itself is my own "take" on practice. So instead of that, simply come back to prajNaa, shiila, samaadhi... and the right thing, if it happens at all, happens by it doing itself.

As Ashvaghosha's descendants in China said,
by way of commentary on the Lotus Sutra:
The Flower of the Lotus-Universe turns itself.

EH Johnston:
He [rid himself of hesitation in the practice of the Law] by means of his understanding of the noble Tetrad, by disconnection from one section of the vices, by his individual acquisition of excellence, by perception of the ecstasy felt by possession of true knowledge,

Linda Covill:
From his insight into the fourfold doctrine, from disconnecting from part of the defilements, from his personal attainment of distinction, from his perception of the bliss experienced by those who know,

saH (nom. sg. m.) he
darshanaat = abl. darshana: n. seeing , observing , looking , noticing; n. inspection , examination ; n. experiencing
aarya: mfn. noble
catuShTayasya = gen. catuShTaya: n. set of four

klesha: affliction
eka: one
deshasya = gen. sg. desha: m. point , region , spot , place , part , portion
ca: and
viprayogaat = abl. viprayoga: m. disjunction , dissociation , separation from (instr. gen. , or comp.)
vi-pra- √ yuj: to separate from , deprive of (instr.)

pratyaatmikaat = abl. pratyaatmika: mfn. 1. = pratyaatmaka; 2
peculiar , original (related to aatmii- √ kR ??)
pratyaatmaka: mfn. belonging to one's self
aatmii- √ kR: to make one's own , take possession of
ca: and
api: also
visheSha: m. distinction; characteristic difference , peculiar mark , special property , speciality , peculiarity; a kind , species , individual (in comp. often also = special , peculiar , particular , different , e.g. visheSha-maNDana , " a peculiar ornament "); distinction , peculiar merit , excellence , superiority (in comp. often = excellent , superior , choice , distinguished e.g. aakRti-visheSha , " an excellent form " ; cf. visheSha-pratipatti "a special mark of honour or respect")
laabhaat = abl. laabha: m. meeting with , finding ; obtaining , getting , attaining , acquisition , gain , profit ; apprehension , perception , knowledge

pratyakShataH: on the grounds of ocular evidence
pratyakSha n. ocular evidence , direct perception , apprehension by the senses
prati: ind. (as prefix) towards, upon, etc.
akSha: n. an organ of sense , sensual perception ; m. knowledge , religious knowledge
-taH: (ablative suffix)
jNaanin: mfn. knowing, endowed with knowledge or intelligence , wise ; m. " possessing religious wisdom " , a sage
sukhasya = gen. sg. sukha: n. ease, pleasure, happiness
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

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