Friday, February 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.38: Seeing Off Enemy No. 1

sa lobha-caapaM parikalpa-baaNaM
raagaM mahaa-vairiNam alpa-sheSham
kaaya-svabhaav'-aadhigatair bibheda
yog'-aayudh'-aastrair a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH

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

A small vestige of the great enemy, red passion,

Whose straining bow is impatient desire
and whose arrow is something fixed, a fabrication,

He destroyed using weapons
procured from the body as it naturally is --

Using the darts of the disagreeable,
weapons from the armoury of practice.

I have translated this verse in a somewhat long-winded and explanatory way, on the basis of the mistake-ridden experience of my own life, a continuing catalogue of errors. For what could be more unedifying than the impatience of a man who has pretensions of being a Zen master?

The term parikalpa in line 1 (line 2 in translation) is one whose meaning is important. Its root is pari- √klRp, to fix, and for reasons explained in comments to 13.49 - 53, in those verses I translated parikalpa as fixing. By extension, however, parikalpa also means making, fabricating, contriving, and by further extension something fabricated, contrived, invented, made up -- i.e. an illusion or delusion.

In this verse, as I read it, parikalpa includes both the sense of:
(1) something fixed, related in my experience primarily with the function of the Moro reflex -- the great red enemy of all human beings who live in fear;
(2) something fabricated, made up or imagined, in which sense parikalpa seems to be contrasted with kaaya-svabhava (the body as it naturally is) in line 3.

In the process of trying to locate my own previous comments from this blog on parikalpa, I googled "parikalpa, Ashvaghosha", and stumbled on a paper by Lynken Ghose, who follows convention in translating parikalpa as "delusion." The paper discusses attachment, and the author observes that in Saundarananda "attachment connotes something like a hardened bond that brings about rigid expectations for a certain result..." Ghose notes further that "Another part of the standard Buddhist view on attachment is that it is intricately linked to parikalpa or delusion...."

It seems to me that if Ghose had understood parikalpa not so much as delusion but more according to its primary meaning of fixing, his explanation of what Ashvaghosha means by attachment might have been strengthened.

In line 4 a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH, "the arrows of non-beauty," or "the darts of a disagreeable [stimulus]," describes coming back to a stimulus that one finds to be disagreeable, i.e. resorting to a passion killer, when the mind is disturbed by some impatient desire. Hence...

Steadiness lies, when one's mind is stirred up by passion,

In coming back to a disagreeable stimulus;

For thus a passionate type obtains relief,

Like a phlegmatic type taking an astringent.

When a mind is wound up, however, with the fault of malice,

A disagreeable stimulus is not to be dwelt upon;

For unpleasantness is destructive to a hating type,

As acid treatment is to a man of bilious nature.

The word which I translated as "stimulus" in 16.60-61, and which EHJ and LC translated as "meditation" is nimittam. But in this context of resorting to a disagreeable or non-beautiful stimulus, certainly, I would like to avoid using the word "meditation." If any word deserves to be translated as "meditation" that word would be dhyaana, as in sitting-dhyaana, sitting-zen, sitting-meditation.

From 17.42 to 17.54 Ashvaghosha will chart Nanda's progress (or regress) through four dhyaana, or four stages of sitting-meditation -- or, if I take the cowardly option and leave dhyaana untranslated, four dhyanas.

I can't help regarding the upcoming series of verses from 17.42 as being particularly important, because they are all about the essential practice of sitting-dhyana. At the same time, just as the whole of Shobogenzo is about sitting-dhyana, it may be that every word of Saundarananda is about sitting-dhyana.

That being so, using the darts of the disagreeable might not require us to engage in any kind of meditation other than the same old practice of sitting on a zafu and directing the body to lengthen and widen. Non-beauty might already be abundantly present in the sitting like this of anybody's body, with all its spots and snot, farts and ear-wax, et cetera, et cetera.

EH Johnston:
The small remains of the great foe, passion, whose bow is greed and arrows imaginations, he overwhelmed by the missiles of the weapon of Yoga, the arrows of meditation on impurity, which are acquired by considering the very nature of the body.

Linda Covill:
That small remainder of the great enemy passion, which has longing for its bow and imaginings for its arrows, he shattered with his own arsenal of the weapons of yogic practice, the arrows of impurity meditation obtained through seeing the real nature of the body.

saH (nom. sg. m): he
lobha: perplexity , confusion ; impatience , eager desire for or longing after (gen. loc. or comp.) ; covetousness , cupidity , avarice
caapam (acc. sg.): m. bow
parikalpa: m. illusion; (= parikalpana) n. fixing , settling , contriving , making , inventing
pari- √ klRp: to fix , settle , determine ; to perform , execute , accomplish , contrive , arrange , make
baaNam (acc. sg.): m. reed-shaft, arrow

raagam (acc. sg.): m. redness, passion
mahaa-vairiNam = acc. sg. m. mahaa-vairin: great enemy
alpa-sheSham (acc. sg.): small remainder, vestige
sheSha: mn. remainder , that which remains or is left , leavings , residue

kaaya: body
svabhaava: m. own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
adhigataiH = inst. pl. m. adhigata: found , obtained , acquired ; gone over , studied , learnt
bibheda = 3rd per. perfect. bhid: to split , cleave , break , cut or rend asunder , pierce , destroy

yoga: m. act of yoking, practice
aayudha: n. weapon, implement
astraiH = inst. pl. n. astra: a missile, weapon , bolt , arrow
a-shubhaa-pRShatkaiH= inst. pl. a-shubhaa-pRShatka: arrow of non-beauty
a-shubhaa = nom. sg. f. a-shubha: mfn. not beautiful or agreeable , disagreeable ; inauspicious ; bad , vicious
a-shubhaaH = nom. pl. m. a-shubha: m. misfortune , harm , mischief
pRShatka: m. an arrow


Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

It seems to me that the definitions of parikalpa as 'fixed' and as 'imagined' are by no means incompatible. If we consider that the underlying flux of causes and conditions (pratityasamutpada) is incessant, and if we consider this, as the ultimate referent (paramartha), to be all that is ultimately real, then any cognitive object resulting from an attempt to halt or fixate this constant flux necessarily has no real basis, i.e. it invariably represents a cognitive error and is therefore purely imaginary.

I hope this clumsy attempt at an explanation makes some sense. Thanks for your continuing efforts.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Bansho,

Don't you observe a tendency in some people, rooted I think in the fear reflexes, to grasp for security onto the teaching of pratityasamutpada as if it were something ultimately reliable, dependable, secure -- in short, fixed?

Yes, we can say that the problem is psychological -- that they 'imagine' there is something that they can grip onto for security with their dirty paws.

But more fundamentally, the problem as I see it is fixing with the whole body-mind.

Whereas sitting-dhyana can be understood, and maybe can be practised, as a progressive (or regressive) saying "No, not that!" to this fixing tendency.

I had a glimpse at your blog, and it looks interesting. Our effort to go upstream is a worthwhile one, I think, especially if it causes us to challenge the hallowed conceptions of "Zen."

Also, if we want to make the sign for namaste, I think we should make it as you have made it...

Like that:



(Not like that!)

In other words, not like imitators of right form, but like beggars.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your response.

Perhaps as long as we are beings with dirty paws - or at least as long as we see ourselves that way - the tendency to grasp or appropriate even that which, ironically, is inherently ungraspable, will continue to resurge. Indeed, sitting-dhyana is good medicine against this; however standing-, walking-, and lying down-dhyana seem to be much harder to realize.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Bansho,

The teaching of all the Buddha-ancestors, at least as Dogen endeavored to transmit it to Japan, is that dhyana just means sitting-dhyana.

That is rule number one!

Have you, Bansho, realized the true meaning of sitting-dhyana yet, or not?

Judging from what you just wrote, I think not.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

sigh... I see now that my previous comment was too subtle and requires further explication. Whatever we realize on the cushion (i.e. sitting) can never be anything other than a self-validating experience. There is no means for anyone other than ourselves to directly experience (pratyaksa) our level of understanding. What you and I experience may be strikingly similar, or it may be vastly different. Neither of us will ever know. For that reason, what really interests me in interacting with other Buddhists, is what happens off the cushion (i.e. standing, walking, lying down). Can I infer (anumana) from their behaviour a degree of wisdom and compassion which is qualitatively differentiable from that of non-practitioners? Do they display less of a tendency to fix upon that which is imaginary and easily fall prey to illusions? If so, maybe I can learn something valuable from that person. If not, I would do well not to orient my own practise on theirs.


Mike Cross said...

Hi Bansho,

Speaking for myself, I am not interested in interacting with Buddhists. As far as possible, I would like to avoid interacting with Buddhists!

As far as possible, I would like to get to the bottom of, to mine out for self and others, the teaching of Ashvaghosha, which strikes me as eminently true and far beyond all -isms.

Your previous comment was about as subtle as an opinionated know-all shouting at the top of his voice "I am an opinionated know-all."

The mirror principle at work? Undoubtedly so.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Clearly my presence here is beneficial for neither of us, so I'll take my leave now.

I wish you the best in all your endeavours. Sincerely.


Mike Cross said...

In knowledge without wisdom there is something fixed.

This fixity is tied up with the desire to be right.

Equally, this desire and this fixity, as I understand them, are invariably a vestige of enemy number one, the Moro reflex -- personified in Saundarananda and Buddhacarita as Mara.

I am confident that listening to my translatiaon of Ashvaghosha's words can be beneficial to any seeker of the Buddha's wisdom who is sufficiently free of pride in his own opinion, to listen.