Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.35: Impermanence & Suffering, Seen without Fear or Favour

sa naashakair dRShTi-gatair vimuktaH
paryantam aalokya punar bhavasya
bhaktvaa ghRNaaM klesha-vijRmbhiteShu
mRtyor na tatraasa na dur-gatibhyaH

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

Sprung free from pernicious theories,

Seeing an end to becoming,

And feeling horror for the consequences of affliction,

He trembled not at death or hellish realms.

Verses 17.35 to 17.37 chart the lead-up to Nanda's attainment of the second fruit of the Dharma. This lead-up seems to consist of a swift re-capping of the processes of investigation which were described in detail in verses 17.15 to 17.21 and summed up in 17.17:

For, on those grounds,
on the grounds of impermanence and emptiness,

On the grounds of absence of self, and of suffering,

He, by the most discerning empirical path,

Caused the tree of afflictions to shake.

Read in that light the words death (mRtyu) and hell (dur-gati), in line 4 of today's verse, may be taken as synonymous with impermanence and suffering.

In Canto 14, the Buddha tells Nanda:

In fear, in joy and in anguish,

One does not succumb to sleep;

Therefore against the onslaughts of sleep

Resort to these three:

You should feel the fear that derives from death's approach,

The joy from grasping a teaching of Dharma,

And from the boundless suffering in a birth,

You should feel the anguish.

What the Buddha is urging Nanda to fear in Canto 14 might be not death itself, but rather the wasting of time.

In other words, death and hell, for which read impermanence and suffering, are not things to be feared but are rather realities to be reflected upon, as a means of shaking the tree of afflictions.

To put it another way, fear of death is associated with either too much tone in the neck muscles (stiffening) or too little tone (collapse). Whereas when, faced with the prospect of death, a man does not faff about but resolutely takes the backward step, then the neck is free, to allow the head to go forward and up.

Head forward and up...
Head forward and up...

Come hell or high water, let the head go forward and up....

The tree of affliction is not shaken at all, it strikes me this morning, by faffing about with words -- which writing comments is easily prone to become. In order truly to shake the tree of afflictions, it is necessary to be resolute in taking the backward step.

EH Johnston:
Freed from destructive aberrations of doctrine, seeing the end of rebirth and feeling disgust in the manifestations of the vices, Nanda was not afraid of death or of the realms of misery.

Linda Covill:
Liberated from destructive views, seeing the end of rebirth, feeling compassionate repugnance at the extent of the defilements, he feared neither death nor rebirth in the lower realms.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
naashakaiH = inst. pl. naashaka: mfn. destroying , annihilating
dRShTi-gataiH = inst. pl. dRShTi-gata: n. theory , doctrine
dRShTi: f. view
gata: mfn. come , come forth from (in comp); n. the place where any one has gone
vimuktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unloosed , unharnessed &c ; set free , liberated

paryantam: ind. entirely , altogether ; to the end of , as far as
aalokya = abs. aa √ lok: to look at, behold
punar: ind. again, once more (with √ bhuu , to exist again , be renewed , become a wife again , re-marry; further, repeated
bhavasya = gen. bhava (from √ bhuu, to become, exist): coming into existence , birth; becoming

bhaktvaa = abs. bhaj: to obtain as one's share , receive as (two acc.) , partake of , enjoy (also carnally) , possess , have (acc. ); experience , incur , undergo , feel , go or fall into (with acc. , esp. of abstract noun)
ghRNaam (acc. sg.): f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; f. aversion , contempt (with loc.) ; f. horror , disgust
klesha-vijRmbhiteShu = loc. pl. klesha-vijRmbhita: the consequences of affliction
klesha: affliction
vijRmbhita: n. yawning; coming out , appearance , manifestation , consequences
vi- √ jRmbh: to open the mouth , yawn , gape ; to open (intr.) , expand , become expanded or developed or exhibited , spread out , blossom ; to extend , become erect (said of the membrum virile) ; to arise , appear , awake (fig.)

mRtyoH = gen./abl. sg. mRtyu: m. death
na: not
tatraasa = 3rd pers. perfect tras: to tremble , quiver , be afraid of (abl. gen.)
na: not
dur-gatibhyaH = abl. pl. dur-gati: f. misfortune , distress , poverty ; f. hell
dur = dus: ind. a prefix implying evil , bad , difficult , hard
gati: f. going, passage; path , way , course ; state , condition , situation , proportion , mode of existence

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