Friday, June 18, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.9: Listening, Letting Go & Gratitude

hitaM vipriyam apy ukto
yaH shushraava na cukShubhe
duSh-kRtaM bahv api tyaktvaa
sasmaara kRtam aNv api

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

When given good advice, however disagreeable,

He listened and did not react;

He let go of a wrong done to him, however great,

And remembered a service rendered, however small.

This verse brings to mind the story of how Nelson Mandela let go of the great notorious wrong that was done to him, when he was kept locked up on Robben Island. Bill Clinton, the story goes, asked Nelson Mandela if he didn't still get angry when in the company of his former jailers. Mandela said that when he felt such anger well up inside of him he realized that if he hated his jailers after he got outside the prison gate, then they would still have him. Clinton reported that Mandela smiled and said, "I wanted to be free so I let it go."

Right through to 2.46, Ashvaghosha is going to keep listing virtues of King Shuddhodhana, one after another. Why?

Standing back and looking at the whole of Saundarananda, Cantos 1 through 3 can be seen as idealized portrayals; Cantos 4 through 11 are accounts of the non-ideal behaviour of Nanda, leading him to a point where at the beginning of Canto 12 Nanda feels thoroughly ashamed of himself and, in his shame, finds the real desire to listen to the Buddha's teaching. Cantos 12 through 16 are the Buddha outlining a practical means-whereby Nanda can make 'a safe passage from idealistic theory to actual practice.' And Cantos 17 and 18 are an account of Nanda really making the teaching his own, a realization that the Buddha affirms.

So the 18 cantos of Saundarananda can be seen as falling into four sub-groups under the broad headings of:
(1) idealistic thesis,
(2) materialistic anti-thesis,
(3) practical synthesis, and
(4) actual realization.

If we agree that this four-way grouping makes sense, then we have to acknowledge that Gudo Nishijima did English-speaking students of the Buddha a service by identifying and clarifying the four-phased structure which implicitly underpins the writings of ancestors such as Ashvaghosha, Nagarjuna, and Dogen.

Gudo Nishijima asked me about ten years ago, after he and Michael Luetchford found their incipient translation partnership to be unworkable, to re-write for him his translation of Nagarjuna's Muula-madhyama-kakaarikaa, Fundamental Verses from the Middle. Unable at that time to let go of what I felt was a great wrong that had been done to me, I found I was not able to do what Gudo wanted me to do. I started studying Sanskrit but woke up in the middle of one night in a cold sweat and realised that my heart was no longer in the job of working as Gudo's translation partner. In my head I wanted to keep myself pointed in the direction of serving the ancestors through translation work, but possibly due to the influence of a still-immature Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex, I was not able to take the whole of me with me. In other words, the whole of my heart was not in the job, and I could not carry on with it. So there is no Nishijima-Cross translation of Nagarjuna's MMK. But if there were, the final verse would clearly show the four-phased structure which is implicit in the original Sanskrit.

The translation would go something like this:

yaH saddharmam adeshayat
anukampaam upaadaaya
taM namasyaami gautamaM

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

For the dropping of all views

He taught the true Dharma,

Utilizing compassion.

I bow to him, Gautama.

(NB. Not I bow to he, Gautama; I bow to him, Gautama.

EH Johnston:
When given advice that was useful though unpalatable, he listened and was not disturbed ; he remembered the slightest action done for his benefit, passing over injuries to himself however so many they were.

Linda Covill:
He listened even to disagreeable advice without agitation; he overlooked the greatest wrong-doing and remembered the smallest service.

hitam = acc. sg. hita: n. anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
vipriyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. disagreeable , unpleasant
api: even, though
uktaH (nom. sg. m.): spoken, given [advice]

yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
shushraava = 3rd pers. sg. perfect shru: to hear , listen or attend to anything (acc.) , give ear to any one (acc. or gen.) , hear or learn anything about (acc.)
na: not
cukShubhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect kShubh: to shake , tremble , be agitated or disturbed , be unsteady , stumble (literally and metaphorically)

duSh-kRtam (acc. sg.): n. evil action , sin ; ill-done deed, disservice
bahu : great
api: even
tyaktvaa = abs. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; let go

sasmaara = 3rd pers. sg. perfect smR: to remember
kRtam (acc. sg.): n. deed , work , action ; n. service done , kind action , benefit
aNu: small
api: even


Happi said...

Hey Mike -

Just catching up with my blog roll after a busy few days. Good to see you recognizing some of Nishijima's accomplishments. Walking away and letting go aren't the same thing given the chip that can linger when you walk away. I think all of us find ourselves in that position from time to time.

The way, path, or means whereby is unique to each one of us and depends on the context of our lives. Its good to have friends who help us up when needed or remind us to take a look back at how far we’ve come. Especially in those moments I recognize the beauty of the path and then, well then, the path becomes my goal.

“The path is the goal.” (Chogyam Trungpa) …The means whereby is the endgaining? …Just kidding.

Every day another step,


Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

The path is the path.

The goal is the goal.

We follow the path in order to go in the direction of the goal.

A person who innocently subscribes to the notion that "the path is the goal" is liable to linger on the path instead of walking along the path with a true and real sense of direction.

I don't think you are in a position to not and wink at me. Your ideas are all arse over tit.

All the best,


Happi said...

You're right in that I'm a person of no consequence. Just the same, I was trying to apologize. I'm sorry if the effort got lost in translation and sorry you've chosen to hold onto that view.

Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

If you see yourself as a person of no consequence, that is just a view to drop off -- and I refer you back to 2.8.

A glib view, in general, belongs to what Gudo Nishijima calls "the first phase of Buddhist theory."

Its negation by a phrase like "your ideas are arse over tit" belongs to the second phase.

A sincere apology is a kind of action: it belongs to the third phase.

But the essence of such an apology is something more simple than you have manifested. It is recognition that I did something wrong, and to say sorry that I did something wrong.

Weasly phrases that people learn in the business world to fob off difficult customers without taking responsibility -- phrases like "I'm sorry you feel like that..." -- are not it.

If you want to step into action and apologize for something, you had better step up and say what it is you noticed you did wrong.

All the best,


Happi said...

You certainly don't behave like a dignified-acting Buddhist Ancestor or even the king of Kapilavastu. So why should I expect you to recognize my worth?

If I did something wrong with respect to you it was to place myself in a position that allowed and subjected me to your verbal abuse. My apology was an attempt to recognize my own culpability in our past exchange and was an attempt to “let go”, as well as an attempt to acknowledge the worth inherent in our individual paths. Phrases like “arse over tit” are an inappropriate response to that apology …in MY view. Will I be compelled to walk away? Then how will either of us ever learn to behave differently? Or realize our goal of reaching the top of the mountain? We’ll just end up going in circles. Seems a bit of a waste to me.

Happi said...

Mike -

That was said respectfully and in a quieter voice than it probably seems in print. But then, you did ask me to not pussyfoot around...



Mike Cross said...

Just sitting is the simplest thing in the world.

On that basis, if I did something wrong, I should apologize for it.

But I am not sorry for not meeting expectations like the ones you seem to bring. Poor old Muho-San if you bring such expectations to him.

Our ideas, views, and expectations make things needlessly complicated.

Happi said...

Mike -

Thankfully there are great translations of the words of Buddhist ancestors for us all to go by:

"For the dropping of all views
He taught the true Dharma,
Utilizing compassion.
I bow to him, Gautama."

I think that Muho-san is surviving the experience. You seem to have too.



Mike Cross said...

Well said, Gisela.

A bow to him, Gautama, belongs to what Gudo Nishijima called "the fourth phase of Buddhist theory."

At the end of an exchange like this, there should inevitably be something along the lines of a bow to him, Gautama.