Saturday, June 5, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 1.59: In Praise of Modest Ardour

aapuH puraM tat puruhuuta-kalpaas
te tejas" aaryeNa na vismayena
aapur yasho-gandham atash ca shashvat
sutaa yayaater iva kiirtimantaH

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

Those equals of Indra took charge of that city

With noble ardour but without arrogance;

And they thus took on the fragrance of honour, forever,

Like the celebrated sons of Yayati.

In line 2 na vismayena ("without arrogance") comes from the root smi, which means to smile , blush , become red or radiant. And tejasaa in line 2 also has connotations of glowing with fiery energy. So line 2 is expressing something in balance, wherein a prince shows noble ardour or aspiration, without getting unduly full of himself or otherwise carried away.

The link with and the legend of Yayati, may be that out of Yayati's five sons, four had sufficient modesty, or self-restraint, NOT to make the kind of bargain with Yayati that Yayati expected them to make -- Yayati expected all his sons to be pompous enough, and sufficiently ardent in their political ambitions, to be willing to trade in their youth for political power, but four of the five sons said No.

In this verse again, as for example in verse 1.52, though there is no explicit mention of "the Middle Way," a song of the middle way is singing itself through Ashvaghosha. And the body from which such a song spontaneously emerges, I venture to suggest, in invariably the body of sitting-buddha, in which the back is lengthening without arching and narrowing.

It strikes me this morning that it doesn't matter that nobody has listened to what yours truly has been trying to say, from the standpoint and sit-point of Alexander work, about "true Buddhism." Because what I would like to say has already been said, much better than I can say it, by the likes of Ashvaghosha and Nagarjuna.

Translation work when done sincerely is very modest work, like polishing a tile. Straying into the area of commentary, pulled along by some unconscious desire to make a kind of excellent mirror, tends all too easily to become all about me and my views and opinions.

So this verse also, as I read it, relates to the one great matter of how truly to polish a tile -- knowing it to be a noble act, and being enthusiastic about it, without getting over-excited about it and straying into pomposity.

When a person wants to make a mirror so much that their desire causes them to think that their own important end justifies dodgy means, that kind of overbearing behaviour, which FM Alexander called 'end-gaining,' carries with it a certain shameful stink.

The FM Alexander Technique, practised under the guidance of a teacher who knows the score, can be a good tool for groping for the origins of the shameful stink.

On the contrary, polishing a tile as a Means-Whereby in the Middle Way carries with it the fragrance of honour (yasho-gandha). That, as I read it, is the main point of this verse, and it is also the central teaching of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo.

Did I stray into pomposity? Yes, and not for the first time, I did. The gold, as always, is in the bold.

EH Johnston:
These Indra-like heroes protected this city with noble courage not with arrogance, and thus they acquired glory of everlasting fragrance like the famed sons of Yayati.

Linda Covill:
The princes protected the city in a manner befitting much-invoked Indra, with vigor and nobility, but without arrogance, and won for themselves the perpetual scent of glory like the renowned sons of Yayati.

aapur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect aap: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon; to obtain , gain , take possession of'; to arrive at ; to enter , pervade , occupy
puram (acc. sg.): the city
tat (acc. sg.): that
puruhuuta-kalpaaH (nom. sg. m.): equals of much-invoked Indra
puruhuuta: mfn. much invoked or invoked by many; m. N. of indra
puru: much
huuta: called , summoned , invited
kalpa: mfn. proper , fit , able , competent , equal to (with gen. loc. , inf. , or ifc)

te (nom. pl.): they
tejasaa = inst. sg. tejas: n. the sharp edge (of a knife &c ) , point or top of a flame or ray , glow , glare , splendour , brilliance , light , fire ; clearness of the eyes ; fiery energy , ardour , vital power , spirit , efficacy , essence
aryeNa = inst. sg. arya: mfn. behaving like an Aryan , worthy of one , honourable , respectable , noble
na: not
vismayena = inst. sg. vismaya: m. (from vi - vsmi) pride , arrogance
vsmi: to smile , blush , become red or radiant , shine ; to smile , laugh ; to expand , bloom (as a flower) ; to be proud or arrogant

aapur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect aap: to reach , overtake , meet with , fall upon; to arrive at
yasho-gandham (acc. sg.): the fragrance of glory ; the smell of fame
yashas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
gandha: m. smell , odour ; fragrance , scent ; (ifc.) the mere smell of anything , small quantity , little
ataH: ind. from this, hence
ca: and
shashvat: ind. perpetually , continually , repeatedly , always , ever

sutaaH (nom. pl.): mfn. begotten , brought forth ; m. a son, offspring
yayaateH = gen. sg. yayaati; m. (prob. fr. v yat) N. of a celebrated monarch of the lunar race (son of king nahuSha whom he succeeded ; from his two wives came the two lines of the lunar race , yadu being the son of devayaanii , daughter of ushanas or shukra , and puru of sharmiShThaa , daughter of vRiSha-parvan)
iva: like
kiirtimantaH = nom. pl. m. kiirtimat: mfn. praised , famous
kiirti: f. (from vkR, to make mention of , praise , speak highly of) mention , making mention of , speech , report ; good report , fame , renown , glory ; Fame (personified as daughter of dakSha and wife of dharma)
-mat: (possessive suffix)


Harry said...

"It strikes me this morning that it doesn't matter that nobody has listened to what yours truly has been trying to say, from the standpoint and sit-point of Alexander work, about "true Buddhism." Because what I would like to say has already been said, much better than I can say it, by the likes of Ashvaghosha and Nagarjuna."

Hi Mike,

If I'm honest, the Alexander thing has still to ding my bell. It just doesn't make sense to me, so maybe I do 'switch off' a bit when you go at that. Also, I'd be lying if I said that I've been following the commentary of the text as well as I could.

Might the "true Buddhism" thing be more a projection of your very own experiences? I'm not sure that most people are as unreasonable as you and me in the way that they adopt and defend their cherished assumptions and beliefs.

While the content of what you say about the specific topic(s) often doesn't 'ding me', what keeps me checking back in here is your account of the process of what you are doing, your recognition of your human tendencies, your boldness (in at least two senses of the word!) and how these relate with the task at hand. In that respect, it doesn't really matter to me what you're writing about if you keep doing it as this process.

In other words, I often don't agree with you or believe you, but you cause me not to believe you in a very convincing way.



Happi said...

Mike -

In answer to your questions of the 31st:

Muho-san relays that the word sesshin is a combination of 'mind' & either 'to touch' or 'to empty'. That sounds like a combination worth keeping around to me.

"Why do we do what we do? And why do we say what we say?" 

I'd say that our actions and speech are guided by past conditioning, genetics, and sense perceptions — or some mathematical combination thereof. Our perceptions are weighted by our trust in them. If a barnacle, which only can distinguish between light and dark due to a greatly decreased visual resolution were given a hundred times more visual information, that creature might be 'thrilled' until it, with experience, it realized the extra info is having minimal positive impact on its survival. It might then re-consider, if barnacles consider, re-weighting the worth of the new information.

As far as Japanese affectations or embellishments, if there is a true form to Zen its roots have got to be here in Japan. As with any form, I think you've got to master it practicing arduously before you discard something you might consider unnecessary. I'm sure that's true for katas too!

Apologies for any typos here. The 'boys' are watching the movie Zen on my laptop now that sesshin is over, so this has been typed using my thumbs on my iPhone.. Now I'd better get back to working on my pronounciation of tea meeting phrases!

Everyday another step, keeping on,


Mike Cross said...

Thanks Harry,

Your comment reminds me afresh of what my old Alexander teacher Marjory Barlow used to tell pupils in their first lesson: "I don't want you to believe a single word, I say... Find out for yourself if I am talking through my hat."

I hope that what you describe as boldness is real confidence. And real confidence comes not from believing oneself to be right, but from really knowing that I got it wrong.

Alexander said, "To know that we were wrong is all we shall ever know in this world."

Why did I get it wrong? My own faulty sensory appreciation was one factor. But at the same time I was encouraged by a high-handed teacher "to keep my spine straight vertically" in an end-gaining manner.

Long may you keep on not believing me, Harry.

All the best,


Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

Speaking for myself, I would like to cut out whatever has its roots in Japan, including so-called sesshin.

If you read Shobogenzo you won't find anything about so-called sesshin, but you might find Dogen strongly emphasizing that the period for a traditional retreat is 90 days.

You wrote:

"if there is a true form to Zen its roots have got to be here in Japan."

Thank you for expressing so innocently and sincerely that utterly stupid and unexamined view. It is because of that view that people like to use Japanese words like sesshin, and mondo, and kyosaku, and all the rest of it...

Keeping on with that view doesn't have any value. With that view, your every step will be misplaced.

All the best,


Happi said...

Well that maybe the truth, but if I recall correctly, in Bendowa, Dogen suggests that when climbing the mountain you should stick to the path you're on.. if you try too many different paths you just end up going in circles..

Still enjoy reading your translations so keep on with the good work.

All the best to you,


Happi said...

and ps .. The retreat I'm on is for 90 days.

Mike Cross said...

What Dogen warns against in Bendowa is trying to get to the North country by heading south.

If Muho's teaching is true, he won't ask you to give up the path, but he will most certainly invite you to give up your utterly stupid and wrong view about Zen being rooted in Japan...

But maybe he will do it in a more indirect manner than me!

How would you know if my work was good or not? You haven't got a clue.

All the best,


Mike Cross said...

and PS...

if it is a 90-day retreat, why the fuck do you like to call it a "sesshin" instead of calling it a retreat?

Happi said...

Hmm, kind words Mike, remember? I'm usually the first to admit I have a lot to learn, especially about Zen in which I am just beginning.. I am sure I try Muho-san's patience too though. Peace to you and take care, Gisela

Mike Cross said...

The Buddha's teaching is not to learn anything -- least of all the exotic ways of Japanese Zen -- but to unlearn everything.

What do you know of truly kind words? Absolutely fuck all, I would venture to guess.

These are the kindest possible words that I can say to you -- though they may not sound like it to your opinionated ears.

yaH saddharmam adeshayat
anukampaam upaadaaya
taM namasyaami gautamaM

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

Towards the dropping of all views
He taught the true Dharma
By the means of his sympathy.
I bow to him, Gautama.

Happi said...

Those are kind words. Peace to you.

Mike Cross said...

Thank you, Gisela.

Maybe we all have compassion, but some of us are better at utilizing it than others.

On the upper storeys are the likes of the Buddha, Ashvaghosha, Dogen. My place may be down here in the basement.

Anyway, I changed the 3rd line, having reflected upon it, to "Utilizing compassion."

All the best,