Monday, July 19, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.40: Non-Buddhist Virtues (ctd.) -- Giving & Giving Up

aa-nRshaMsyaan na yashase
ten' aadaayi sad" aarthine
dravyaM mahad api tyaktvaa
na c' aiv' aakiirti kiM cana

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He gave out of non-cruelty,
not for his glorification,

And always to meet a need;

Giving up even a thing of great substance,

He mentioned nothing of it.

This seems to be about the charity of a non-Buddhist king towards needy subjects in his kingdom, but it might really be about the extreme difficulty of living well a true Zazen life.

In that case, aa-nRshaMsya "non-cruelty," might be exercised in the first instance towards oneself.

Gudo Nishijima used to say, "What we desire, we should have." In light of that truth, perhaps understanding of arthine, "to the desirous; to those who are [ / that which is] in need," should be extended to include, again, that in ourselves which is desirous. When we investigate giving to the desirous in detail, to carve out a chunk of relatively empty space and time in order to enjoy just sitting, might be a kind of giving to the desirous. Having a nap while listening on BBC Radtio 2 to the oldies' half-hour of Steve Wright in the afternoon, might be a kind of giving to the desirous.

To realize that kind of giving to oneself does not require one particularly to love oneself or feel enormous compassion for oneself. It is more a question of recognizing the truth of "What we desire, we should have," and inhibiting any tendency to be hard on oneself or cruel to oneself. Hence, if Ashvaghosha did indeed have giving to oneself in mind, he may have chosen advisedly the negative expression aan-RshaMsyaat "out of non-cruelty."

The first half of today's verse, then, as I read it, relates profoundly with the ultimate teaching that the Buddha bequeathed to the beggars that followed him: "Want little and know contentment." It is not a teaching that leads in the direction of great personal gain and glory, but neither is it advocacy of self-denial.

The practice of just sitting, by its very nature necessitates not only letting go or giving up, but also not mentioning anything. So the second half of the verse, as I read it, is a more explicit evocation of the practice of just sitting. At the same time, it can be read as presaging the content of Canto 15, whose theme is letting go of, or giving up, an idea.

So dravyaM mahad api tyaktvaa, "giving up even a thing of great substance," might mean giving up a car and a career, a home and a homeland... and it might mean giving up the idea that those things ever belonged to me in the first place. If I feel that I have got something momentous to give to the world, dravyaM mahad api tyaktvaa might include the meaning of giving up even that.

EH Johnston:
That he was ever charitable to the needy was due to generosity, not to a desire for renown, and, however great the substance of his gifts, he did not blazon them abroad.

Linda Covill:
He always gave to those in need, not for the sake of his reputation but from benevolence, and even when he had distributed great largesse he did not boast of it.

aanRshaMsyaat (abl. sg.): n. absence of cruelty or harm , kindness , mercy , compassion , benevolence
nRshaMsya: mfn. malicious , mischievous , vile
yashase (dat. sg.): n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown

tena (inst. [indicating agent of passive construction]): by him
adaayi = 3rd pers. sg. aorist passive daa: to give
sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually
arthine (dat. sg.): mfn. active , industrious ; one who wants or desires anything (instr. or in comp.); longing for , libidinous; m. a beggar , petitioner , suitor ; m. one who supplicates with prayers ; a servant ; a follower

dravyam (acc. sg.): n. a substance , thing , object ; object of possession , wealth , goods , money ; gold
mahat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. great
api: even
tyaktvaa = abs. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit ; to leave a place , go away from; to let go , dismiss , discharge; to give up , surrender , resign , part from , renounce

na: not
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)
akiirti = 3rd pers. sg. aorist passive kiirt: to mention , make mention of , tell , name , call , recite , repeat , relate , declare , communicate , commemorate , celebrate , praise , glorify
kiM cana: in any way, at all


Happi said...

I'm stopping by to return an overdue gesture, though I'm pretty sure it is not the form you would choose. I might be starting to understand your methods. Any understanding is, of course, provisional...



Mike Cross said...

Hi Gisela,

Yes, if we really understood that we were works in progress we wouldn't be going around the whole time trying to be right, as if paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake ...

Master Kodo's teaching, I think, was very much an antidote to all that... a breath of fresh air breathed into the stuffy old temple of professional gassho-posturing Japanese Zen...

All the best,