Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 17.56: A Worthy Ambition?

dhyaanam sa nishritya tatash caturtham
arhattva-laabhaaya matim cakaara
saMdhaaya maitram balavantam aaryaM
raaj” eva deshaan a-jitaaN jigiiShuH

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

Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation,

He made up his mind to win the worthy state,

Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally

And then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.

The first thing that emerges from this verse is the distinction between the fourth dhyana (dhyaanam caturtham in line 1) and the fourth fruit of the Dharma, which is arhathood (arhattva, the worthy state in line 2).

The ultimate clarity and simplicity of the fourth stage of sitting-meditation is a very worthy state, but it is not yet the worthy state, which is the state of the arhat, the fourth fruit of the Dharma, in short, full enlightenment.

The mistake, born of conceit, of thinking and feeling the fourth dhyana to be synonymous with the fourth fruit of the Dharma is the essential mistake that has been made over the ages by beggars of the fourth dhyana. It is a mistake that ancestors in India like the 4th, 12th and 14th ancestors (Upagupta, Ashvaghosha, and Nagarjuna) recognized and cautioned against. And it is a mistake that the Japanese Zen Master Dogen cautions against in Shobogenzo, chap. 90 Shi-zen-biku, The Beggar of the Fourth Dhyana. It is a mistake this translator has made, more times than once.

What should we make, then, of Nanda's decision not to be content with the fourth dhyana but rather to go ahead and gain the ultimate end of the worthy state?

Is the aspiration expressed by the desiderative adjective jigiiShu (which expresses the desire to win, ambition) an aspiration that facilitates realisation of the worthy state? Or is it an aspiration that hinders realisation of the worthy state?

As a follower of the Buddha's teaching, is one required to be ambitious to conquer what is yet unconquered? Or is one required simply not to be ambitious?

The next verse, 17.57, as I read it, seems to hint at an illogical answer to these questions -- like totally giving up the idea of moving a leg, and yet moving a leg; or like totally inhibiting one's desire to punch an opponent, and yet whacking him with a reverse punch even before he knows he has had the idea of attacking you.

If the worthy state of the arhat is the final square in a game of snakes and ladders, and if the fourth dhyana corresponds to the final row on the board, might the decision to win the worthy state be a very long snake that takes a player right back to square one?

I remember writing at the end of a post on a previous blog...

Back to square one.
Back to square one.
When all's said and done,
It's back to square one.

Those sentiments still hold true -- they have not been falsified so far by Ashvaghosha's teaching.

Conceit like that of the beggar of the fourth dhyana is just a big mistake, like a very long snake leading back to square one. Equally, negation of the possibility of arriving at the worthy state, might also be a big mistake. And worrying about such mistakes might also be a mistake.

So back at square one, what is there? There is recognition of a mistake -- Ah yes, I went wrong again. I failed to inhibit some desire to gain an end, and so was misled by faulty sensory appreciation. But that wasn't it. That wasn't going up, like up a ladder. That was going down, like down a snake.

There is confidence that, in spite of my mistaken attempts to grasp it, there is in this world a higher good of non-doing and a truly worthy state of being, as taught and as lived by the Buddha.

There are these words, these thought-directions, which, whatever lowly state I am in are always the same: "I wish to allow the neck to release, to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, while sending the knees forwards and away..."

There is this traditional way of cross-legged sitting, along with the traditions of wearing the robe and shaving the head.

Thus, containing ideas and containing thoughts, but free of end-gaining desires and tainted things, is, as I experience it from time to time, the great gladness of the first dhyana.

For somebody with a dodgy vestibular system, it doesn't do to aim too high!

EH Johnston:
Then relying on the fourth trance, he set his mind on attaining Arhatship, like a king, wishing to conquer hitherto unconquered provinces, who unites himself with a strong and noble ally.

Linda Covill:
With the support of the fourth level of meditation, he made up his mind to win the worthy state, as a king joins with a mighty and noble ally when he wishes to conquer unconquered territories.

dhyaanam (acc. sg.): n. (stage of) realisation, meditation
saH (nom. sg. m.): he
nishritya = abs. ni- √ shri: to lean on or against
tataH: ind. from that place, thence
caturtham (acc. sg. n.): the fourth

arhat: deserving, worthy
-tva (suffix for abstract nouns): the state of; -ship, -ness, -hood
arhattva: n. the dignity of an arhat; arhatship, arhathood; the worthy state, the state of one who has realised the fourth fruit of the Dharma = buddhahood
laabhaaya = dat. laabha: m. meeting with , finding ; obtaining , getting , attaining , acquisition , gain
matiM kR: to set the heart on , make up one's mind , resolve , determine
matim (acc. sg.): f. mind, direction
cakaara = 3rd pers. perfect kR: to make

saMdhaaya = abs. saM-√dhaa: to put together, combine, join with
maitram (acc. sg.): m. ally, friend
balavantam = acc. sg. m. balavat: possessing power, powerful, mighty, strong
aaryam (acc. sg. m.): noble

raajaa (nom. sg.): m. king
iva: like
deshaan (acc. pl.): m. regions, places; provinces, countries, kingdoms, realms
a-jitaan (acc. pl. m.): unconquered
jigiShuH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. wishing to obtain or gain; striving to conquer, ambitious

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