Wednesday, April 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.14: Being Almost Present

saMdigdhe 'py a-punar-bhaave
viruddheShv aagameShv api
pratyakShiNa iv' aakurvaMs
tapo yatra tapo-dhanaaH

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Even in the face of precarious immunity to rebirth,

And notwithstanding inconsistencies
in their time-honoured texts,

There and then, as if seeing with their own eyes,

The great ascetics practised asceticism.

The key word in this verse might be iva in the 3rd line -- as if.

Again, Ashvaghosha is burying his attack on asceticism, so that on the surface the verse resembles praise for heroic practice, in the face of adversity, of epic ascetic heroes.

That these opening verses of Saundarananda are so heavy with irony causes me to reflect how heavy with irony is life itself. In particular I think of my old teacher Gudo Nishijima who exhausted himself preaching endlessly that Buddhism is realism but who, when I most needed him to be in tune with reality, when it came to the translation of Shobogenzo into English, was most hopelessly out of tune with reality. Jiblet, who conspicuously refused to worship a false idol but told the Zen Master the truth he needed to hear, will know what I mean.

In a similar way, to talk and write about being in the moment of the present, as if seeing with one's own eyes and hearing with one's whole body, is one thing. When the airplanes have stopped flying and the chain-saws have stopped whining so that there and then the eyes and ears can really open to the evening sunlight on the trees and the sound of spring birdsongs against the backdrop of the forest stream... that is a whole other thing. Or is it?

It relates in Alexander terms to the difference between arranging oneself, be the arrangement ever so subtle, and truly allowing. What I feel to have been true allowing often tends to turn out to have been a variation on the theme of self-arrangement.

Not my will be done, but thy will be done. Easy to say. Not easy to really mean.

In biblical terms, it might relate to the commandment not to worship false idols. It might relate to the story of Abraham saying "Here I am, Lord" -- and really meaning it.


Those three words really mean something; or, as in the case of the vinaya , the rules of discipline, as taught by ascetics and the like who are off the middle way, they mean very little, or nothing.

Again, it relates to what Dogen describes at the beginning of Fukan-zazengi as the slightest of gaps, which causes heaven and earth to be far removed.

"As if" (iva) in line 3 points softly but very exactly to the existence of such a gap.

EH Johnston:
Though their release from rebirth was open to doubt and their scriptures were contradictory, yet the ascetics there practised asceticism as if possessed of supernatural perception (of its result).

Linda Covill:
Here the ascetics practised ascetism as if they could see its effectiveness right in front of their eyes, even though their escape from further rebirth was uncertain and their scriptures inconsistent.

saMdigdhe = loc. sg. saMdigdha: mfn. (from saM-√dih) smeared over , besmeared or covered with (instr. or comp.) ; confused , confounded with , mistaken for (instr. or comp.) ; questioned , questionable ; precarious , doubtful , dubious , uncertain , unsettled , doubtful about , despairing of (comp.) ;riskful , dangerous , unsafe (as a ship); n. an ambiguous suggestion or expression
saM-√dih: to smear , besmear , cover ; to heap together ; A1 [atmane-pada] saM-digdhe, to be doubtful or uncertain (said of persons and things)
api: even, though
a-punar-bhaave (loc. sg. absolute): m. not-again-becoming ; m. not occurring again ; exemption from further transmigration , final beatitude
a-punar: ind. not again , only once
bhaava: m. ( √ bhuu) becoming , being , existing , occurring , appearance

viruddheShu = loc. pl. viruddha: mfn. opposed , hindered , restrained , arrested , kept back ; doubtful , uncertain , precarious , dangerous ; hostile , adverse , at variance or at enmity with (instr. gen. , or comp.) ; disagreeing (as food) ; contrary , repugnant , contrasted , reverse , inconsistent or incompatible with , excluded from (gen. instr. , or comp.)
aagameShu = loc. pl. absolute aagama: m. arrival, coming; m. reading , studying ; m. acquisition of knowledge , science ; m. a traditional doctrine or precept , collection of such doctrines , sacred work ; m. anything handed down and fixed by tradition (as the reading of a text or a record , title-deed , &c )
api: also, even, though

pratyakShiNaH = abl./gen. sg. pratyakShin: mfn. seeing with one's own eyes ; m. an eye-witness
praty-akSha: mfn. present before the eyes , visible , perceptible
prati: ind. before , in the presence of
akShi: n. (ifc. akSha is substituted) the eye
iva: like, as if
akurvan = 3rd pers plural imperfect kR: to do, practise

tapaH (acc. sg.): n. ascetic practice
yatra: ind. in or to which place , where; on which occasion , in which case , if , when
tapo-dhanaaH (nom. pl.): mfn. rich in religious austerities ; m. a great ascetic
tapas: austerities, ascetic practice
dhana: n. any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches

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