Wednesday, February 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.29: Through Stillness, Wisdom, Integrity... to Freedom from Doubt in Dharma/Work

daarDhyaat prasaadasya dhRteH sthiratvaat
satyeShv a-saMmuuDhatayaa caturShu
shiilasya c' aa-cchidratay" ottamasya
niH-saMshayo dharma-vidhau babhuuva

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

Through the stability of his stillness
and the constancy of his steadiness,

Through his not being altogether bewildered
about the four truths

And not being full of holes
in the supreme practice of integrity,

He became free of doubt in the work of Dharma.

Ashavaghosha is describing Nanda in this verse, as I read it, as not yet the finished article but as a work still in progress.

In line 1 each of the four words seems to be a synonym for the other three, and what they are all expressing is -- but do not call it fixity -- the practice of stillness (shaama/samaadhi).

Line 2 describes Nanda's emerging wisdom (prajNaa).

Line 3 describes his practice of integrity (shiila) which is becoming less characterized by holes or gaps and more by congruence between practice and theory, walk and talk.

Line 4 describes Nanda's developing attitude, as a work in progress, to the Work itself, which is Dharma.

To sit with legs fully crossed directing the whole body up (as per verses 17.3 and 17.4) is a work of Dharma -- providing that the sitter's up is truly up, as opposed to down.

To continue with this translation into English in the service of Ashvaghosha might also be a work of Dharma -- depending on whether I go about it in an end-gaining way or not.

The work of Dharma (dharma-vidhi) is constructive work. Constructive work is not synonymous with creative work. The work of Dharma is constructive in the sense that it is primarily concerned with not doing harm, with letting go of the faults, beginning with thirsting, which are the cause of suffering in self and others.

If we really want to understand what the Buddha really meant by shiila, samaadhi, prajNaa, integrity, balance, wisdom, the only one way to get that understanding, it seems to me, is to work gradually towards the prevention of, defence against, and elimination of, the faults. What has emerged from work done on this translation so far, is that in his preaching of shiila, samaadhi, prajNaa, integrity, balance, wisdom, the Buddha's intention is entirely focused on prevention of, defence against, and elimination of, the faults. Hence...

Integrity no more propagates the shoots of affliction

Than a bygone spring propagates shoots from seeds.

The faults, as long as a man's integrity is untainted,

Venture only timidly to attack his mind.

But balance casts off afflictions

Like a mountain the mighty torrents of rivers.

As long as one remains in balance, the faults do not attack:

Like charmed snakes, they are spellbound.

And wisdom destroys the faults without trace,

As a mountain stream in the monsoon destroys the trees on its banks.

Faults consumed by it stand no chance,

Like trees struck and burnt by a thunderbolt.

From the next verse, the focus shifts from Dharma the Work to Buddha the Man.

EH Johnston:
He rid himself of hesitation in the practice of the Law .... by the firmness of his faith, by the constancy of his steadfastness, by freedom from confusion about the four Truths and by absence of defect in his own most excellent conduct.

Linda Covill:
from the strength of his tranquillity, from the constancy of his resolve, from his clarity regarding the Four Truths, and from his lack of blemish in his supreme moral self-restraint he freed himself from uncertainty in the prescription of dharma.

daarDhyaat = abl. daarDhya: a. (fr. dRDha) hardness , fixedness , stability , strength
dRDha: mfn. fixed , firm , hard , strong , solid , massive; mfn. firmly fastened , shut fast , tight ; whole , complete ; difficult to be bent (bow); mfn. steady , resolute , persevering; ind. steadily , perseveringly
prasaadasya = gen. prasaada: m. clearness, calmness, tranquillity, absence of excitement, serenity of disposition , good humour
dhRteH = gen. dhRti: f. holding, keeping ; firmness , constancy , resolution , will
sthiratvaat = abl. sthiratva: n. hardness ; immovableness ; stability , constancy
sthira: mfn. firm , hard , solid , compact , strong ; fixed , immovable , motionless , still , calm

satyeShu (loc. pl.): the truths
a-saMmuuDhatayaaH = abl. a-saMmuuDhataa:
a: (negative prefix) freedom from
saM: ind. altogether
muuDhataa: f. bewilderment , perplexity , confusion , simplicity , folly , ignorance
sammuuDhataa: f. stupefaction , infatuation , bewilderment , unconsciousness
caturShu (loc.): four

shiilasya = gen. sg. shiila: n. integrity
ca: and
a-cchidratayaa = abl. a-cchidrataa: f. being without holes/gaps, non-perforatedness, non-leakiness
a-: (negative prefix)
chidra: mfn. containing holes , pierced, leaky
-taa: (abstract noun suffix)
uttamasya = gen. uttama: mfn. uppermost; of the highest order

niH-saMshayaH (nom. sg. m.): not doubtful , not doubting or suspecting
niH: ind. free from, without
saMshaya: uncertainty , irresolution , hesitation , doubt
dharma-vidhau = loc. dharma-vidhi: Dharma-practice
dharma: the law, the teaching
vidhi: m. rule, principle, method, means; any act or action, work (ifc. often pleonastically e.g. mathana-vidhi , the [act of] disturbing)
babhuuva = 3rd pers. perfect. bhuu: he became


Ian Cross said...

In line 1 each of the four words seems to be a synonym for the other three, and what they are all expressing is -- but do not call it fixity -- the practice of stillness (shaama/samaadhi).

Who would call it fixity? People might fix but who is going to call it fixity?

Mike Cross said...

Hi Ian,

"Do not call it fixity" is borrowed from the poem Burnt Norton by TS Eliot...

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity...

Marjory Barlow was a fan of TS Eliot and she referred to the line in her Alexander Memorial Lecture of 1965...

Alexander explained to us that this was the nearest he could get in words to the actuality he wished to bring about. These simple verbal formulations are designed to bring about the reconciliation of two opposing tendencies in each case, and to ensure the balance of forces in the antagonistic muscle pulls in the body. A harmony results, where everything is doing its own work of maintaining stability, and there is a stillness without fixity, or if you like, a lack of disturbance, in the working of the parts of the body in their relationship to each other. Too much forward of the head and you lose the upward tendency -- too much up and the head goes back -- "leave it alone, in fact." Too much effort to lengthen the back and it narrows -- too much widening and you lose length and slump down.The whole process is self-checking. I hope this makes it clear why one cannot do the orders. Their first function is preventive. The wrong inner patterns are the doing which has to be stopped.