Saturday, July 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.38: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Not Sanctioning Unrighteousness or Incompetence

vyaktam apy artha-kRcchreShu
n'aadharmiShTam atiShThipat
priya ity eva c'aashaktaM
na saMraagaad aviivRdhat

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

Even the obvious course, in dire straits,

He did not institute if it went against dharma;

Nor, out of nothing more than fondness,

Did he dotingly promote incompetence.

On first reading, this verse seems to discuss the king's attitude to hiring and firing. So my first attempt to translate this verse went like this: Even an obvious candidate in difficult times / He did not appoint if he lacked a sense of dharma; / Nor, just because he liked him, / Did he dotingly advance one who lacked ability.

This translation, however, does not lend itself easily to interpretation on the basis of the one great matter. So I tried again, interpreting n'aadharmiShTam ("un-dharma-ly" ; "going against dharma" ; "lacking a sense of dharma") and ashaktam ("unable" ; "incompetent") as descriptions of courses of action or tendencies, rather than necessarily as descriptions of people. In that case, the verse seems to emerge as yet another admonition against unconscious end-gaining based only on what habitually feels good, right, or pleasurable.

In either event, the first half of this verse, as I read it, presages the Buddha's teaching in Canto 12 that If a man had no need of fire, / Nor confidence that fire was in a firestick, / He would never twirl the stick; / Those conditions being met, he twirls the stick. / Without the confidence that corn will grow / In the soil he tills, / Or without the need for corn; / The farmer would not sow seeds in the earth. / And so I call it the Hand, / Because it is this confidence, specifically, / That grasps the true Dharma / As a hand takes a gift, naturally. [12.34 - 36]

And the second half of today's verse presages 16.51:

Again, one who wants fire from damp wood,/ Try as he might, will not get fire. / And even if he lays down dry wood, / He won't get fire from that, with bad bushcraft.

In terms of the one great matter, then, Ashvaghosha seems to me to be making the rather dry observation that confidence in, or enthusiasm for, the Buddha-Dharma is a necessary but not sufficient condition for progress (or regress) in the practice of just sitting; it is also necessary to have a certain consciously acquired competence or skill.

As a general rule, when we are enthusiatic about just sitting but are not skilled in sitting, our tendency is to over-do. In that case, the kind of conscious not doing that can lead to the re-establishment of natural and spontaneous non-doing, has to be learned.

Relevant here, I think, is that in revising his original version of his rules of sitting-zen for everyone, Fukan-zazengi, Dogen changed his wording from "take the backward step" to "learn the backward step."

Thus, in his revised version of Fukan-zazengi, Dogen wrote:

"Learn the backward step of turning your light and letting it shine. Body and mind will spontaneously drop off, and your original face will appear."

EH Johnston:
He did not give appointments to any unrighteous man, however skilful he might be in emergencies, nor did partiality cause him to advance an incapable man just because he was a friend.

Linda Covill:
He would not employ an unrighteous man in difficult times, even one who seemed the obvious person; nor, out of affection, would he promote an incompetent friend.

vyaktam (acc. sg.): mfn. adorned , embellished , beautiful ; caused to appear , manifested , apparent , visible , evident (vyaktam: ind. apparently , evidently , certainly) ; m. a learned man ; m. " the manifested One " , N. of viShNu
api: even
artha-kRcchreShu (loc. pl.): in difficulties
artha: m. aim, purpose; matter, affair, concern
kRcchra: mn. difficulty , trouble , labour , hardship , calamity , pain , danger (often ifc. e.g. artha-kRcchreShu , in difficulties , in a miserable situation)

na: not
adharmiShTam (acc. sg. m. ): mfn. most wicked , impious
dharmiShTam: mfn. (superl.) very virtuous or righteous , completely lawful or legal
atiShThipat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist sthaa: to cause to stand , place , locate , set , lay , fix , station , establish , found , institute ; to set up , erect , raise , build ; to cause to continue , make durable , strengthen , confirm ; to prop up , support , maintain ; to affirm , assent ; to appoint (to any office loc.) ;

priyaH (nom. sg. m.): beloved , dear to (gen. loc. dat. or comp.) , liked , favourite , wanted , own ; fond of attached or devoted to (loc.)
iti: thus, because
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
ashaktam (acc. sg.): mfn. unable , incompetent

na: not
saMraagaad (abl. sg.): m. redness ; passion , vehemence ; attachment to (loc.)
aviivRdhat = 3rd pers. sg. causitive aorist vRdh: to cause to increase or grow , augment , increase , make larger or longer , heighten , strengthen , further , promote ; to rear , cherish , foster , bring up ; to elevate , raise to power , cause to prosper or thrive

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