Friday, June 11, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.2: Neither That Nor That

yaH sasaNje na kaameShu
shrii-praaptau na visismiye
n'aavamene paraan Rddhyaa
parebhyo n'aapi vivyathe

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

Neither stuck in his desires

Nor conceited about gaining sovereignty,

He did not, as he grew, look down on others,

And nor did he shrink from others in fear.

In this canto, as I read it, Ashvaghosha's intention is neither to give an objective historical report of how Shuddhodhana was nor to paint an ideal picture of how every top politician should govern his minions. Ashvaghosha's underlying intention might rather be to encourage every individual reader roughly in the direction (following a middle course) of being king of his own individual universe.

That being so, a first step in gaining dominion over the self necessarily involves not being stuck in one's desires.

There was an excellent thought for the day on BBC Radio 4 this morning in which British rabbi Jonathan Sachs spoke of our tendency to seek technical rather than adaptive solutions to every problem -- i.e. always tending to seek a quick fix in preference to the kind of real change that begins within -- in connection with our addiction to oil. Sachs related this tendency to his reading of the biblical myth of Adam & Eve in the garden of Eden, and in particular to the meaning of forbidden fruit.

When I reflect on the history of my own desires, it has pretty much been a history of being stuck in them. And while sexual desire has sometimes been a sticking point, it has not been the main sticking point -- else I would not have left a woman I hugely fancied in order to go alone to Japan in 1982 seeking Zen enlightenment.

So whereas the word kaameShu in line 1 might on first reading evoke the earthly pleasures, and especially sexual pleasures, at an ancient king's disposal, I prefer to understand kaameShu more generally (as in 15.3 - 15.11) as desires -- i.e. not only the desire to have sex with the object of one's sexual desire, but also the desire to have your say in a philosophical discussion, or the desire to rise from a chair, or the desire to be recognized as number one, or -- at the subtlest level of desiring to get the body out -- the desire to lengthen the spine and breathe more easily in sitting.

In that case, a deeper meaning emerges of shrii-prapti, which can be understood not only as accession to royal sovereignty but also, more generally, as the kind of success, or sovereignty, or dominion over oneself, that is gained by means of inhibition of an end-gaining desire . This latter kind of success might be experienced, for example, in rising out of a chair in a way that seems totally effortless, in which case an Alexander teacher who is guiding the movement might say to you: "That's nothing to be proud of. You shouldn't have been in the way in the first place!"

Again, paraan and parebhyaH in lines 3 and 4 can be understood as referring to a king's political adversaries, or to others in general.

And Rddhi, as for example at the very end of the Buddha's great monologue at the end of Canto 16, is easily understood as economic prosperity or success, i.e., the achievement of a definite material end, whereas Ashvaghosha's true intention might be to suggest growth as a process, on the middle way.

In this verse, then, though it is only apparent after a bit of digging, a pattern can be observed which will recur in many verses of this Canto. The essential pattern is this:

Neither A on that side of the middle way,
Nor B on the other side;
Neither C on that side of the middle way,
Nor its opposite D.

The pattern, as I understand it, is rooted in sitting in lotus and...
Neither pulling the head back,
Nor slumping forward and down;
Neither shortening in stature,
Nor holding oneself up stiffly.

So a verse that on the surface is just listing some attributes of an ancient king, when one digs below the surface, might be holding up a mirror to truths that will be touched on in later cantos -- truths which are all flowers and fruits of sitting, such as inhibition of end-gaining desires, cutting of upper fetters, continuation of growth, and fearless turning of the wheel of Dharma.

EH Johnston:
Who was not attached to worldly passions, who was not made insolent by accession to sovereignty, who did not despise others because of his prosperity, who did not tremble before his foes.

Linda Covill:
He was not preoccupied with sensuality, nor arrogant in winning sovereignty, nor contemptuous of others by reason of his own success, nor did he quail before his enemies.

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
sasaNje = 3rd pers. sg. perfect saNj: to cling or stick or adhere to , be attached to or engaged in or occupied with (loc.)
na: not
kaameShu = loc. pl. kaama: m. wish, desire ; pleasure , enjoyment ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality

shrii-praaptau (loc. sg.): acceding to power, gaining sovereignty, gaining control
shrii: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches (shriyaa , " according to fortune or wealth ") , high rank , power , might , majesty
praapti: f. advent , occurrence ; reach , range , extent ; reaching , arrival at (comp.)
na: not
visismiye = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √smi to wonder , be surprised or astonished at (instr. loc. , or abl.) ; to be proud of (instr.)
√ smi: to smile , blush , become red or radiant , shine; to be proud or arrogant

na: not
avamene = 3rd pers. sg. perfect: ava- √ man: to despise , treat , contemptuously
ava: (as prefix) off, away, down
√ man: to think, regard, consider
paraan (acc. pl.): m. another (different from one's self) , a foreigner , enemy , foe , adversary
Rddhyaa = inst. sg. Rddhi: f. increase , growth , prosperity , success , good fortune , wealth , abundance

parebhyaH (abl. pl.): m. another (different from one's self) , a foreigner , enemy , foe , adversary
na: not
api: also, again, even, at all
vivyathe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vyath: to tremble , waver; be afraid of (gen.)

No comments: