Thursday, August 12, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 2.64: Gautama's First Painful Insights

sa prekShy' aiva hi jiirNam aaturaM ca mRtaM ca
vimRshan jagad an-abhijNam aarta-cittaH
hRdaya-gata-para-ghRNo na viShaya-ratim agamaj
janana-maraNa-bhayam abhito vijighaaMsuH

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For he had seen for himself
an old man, a sick man, and a corpse,

After which,
as he witnessed with a wounded mind
the unwitting world,

He was disgusted to the core
and found no pleasure in objects

But wished totally to terminate
the terror of being born and dying.

In this and the previous verse, Ashvaghosha charts the beginning of a divergence in the paths of Nanda and Gautama, as the latter begins to see and feel things in a way that the former, as a willing slave to the pleasure principle, cannot.

Implicit in sa prekShy' aiva ("he actually saw" or "he saw for himself"), as I read it, is the principle of the individual. Doubtless as part of his "education," the young Gautama had been expected to subscribe to dubious ancient Indian notions about reincarnation. But Gautama observed for himself the reality of what it is to be born with a human body, and saw through the feeble non-truths of an unwitting world.

Recently I was talking with a sitting-zen practitioner, who is also an Alexander teacher, about the meaning of one-pointedness at the level of the second dhyana. She observed that when FM Alexander warned against the devil which is concentration, what he was warning against was not one-pointedness itself but rather the tightening and stiffening reactions that people tend to exhibit when they try to concentrate.

So concentrating the mind, no less than effort to make the body upright, could be seen as a valid stimulus in sitting -- not a stimulus to run from in fear, but a stimulus that tends to elicit a reaction that one can observe for oneself in oneself.

The talk helped me to see that I had been labouring needlessly under a kind of prejudice against concentration.

This kind of process of seeing through misconceptions one had believed to be true, it seems to me, is the essence of what it means to take the terror out of being born and dying. Finding a teaching, like that of Ashvaghosha, that one can have complete confidence in, is an enormous help; but it is not enough. It remains for each of us to see for ourself how the teaching really works -- or, more to the point, to see how we prevent it from working, to see how we get in its way.

In order to terminate the terror of living and dying, each has to make the teaching our own. And the starting point of this, inevitably, might lie in saying, to the false notions and reactions of others and self, "No, not that."

EH Johnston:
For, on seeing an aged man, a sick man and a corpse, He reflected in His distress how ignorant the world is, and with His heart filled with deep distaste He did not find any satisfaction in sensory objects ; for He longed to destroy straightaway the dangers of birth and death.

Linda Covill:
For he had seen an old man, a sick man and a corpse, and heart-sore he pondered how the world took no cognizance of these things. With his heart moved to compassion, he took no pleasure in sensuality, but instead wished to destroy the perils of birth and death that lay all around him.

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
prekShya = abs. prekSh: to look at , view , behold , observe
eva: (emphatic)
hi: for
jiirNam (acc. sg.): mfn. old , worn out , withered , wasted , decayed ; m. an old man ; n. old age , decrepitude
aaturam (acc. sg.): mfn. suffering , sick (in body or mind)
ca: and
mRtam (acc. sg.): mfn. dead , deceased , death-like , torpid , rigid ; n. death
ca: and

vimRshan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vi- √ mRsh: to touch (with the hands) , stroke , feel ; to touch (mentally) , be sensible or aware of , perceive , consider , reflect on , deliberate about ; to investigate , examine , try , test
jagat (acc. sg.): n. the world
an-abhijNam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. unacquainted with , ignorant
aarta-cittaH (nom. sg. m.): with pained heart
aarta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed
citta: n. the heart, mind

hRdaya-gata-para-ghRNaH (nom. sg. m.): being disgusted to the core
hRdaya: n. the heart ; the heart or centre or core or essence or best or dearest or most secret part of anything
gata: mfn. gone to, fallen into
para: mfn. most distant, deepest
ghRNaa: f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; f. aversion , contempt (with loc.) ; f. horror , disgust
na: not
viShaya-ratim (acc. sg.): fondness for objects
viShaya: object ; anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
ratim pleasure , enjoyment , delight in , fondness for (loc. or comp.)
agamat = 3rd pers. sg. aorist gam: to go, to go to any state or condition

janana-maraNa-bhayam (acc.): the peril of being born and dying
janana: n. birth , coming into existence ; n. " birth " i.e. life
maraNa: n. the act of dying , death
bhaya: n. fear of (comp.) ; sg. and pl. terror , dismay , danger , peril , distress; danger from (comp.)
abhitas: ind. near to , towards ; near , in the proximity or presence of (gen.); (with acc.) before and after ; (with acc.) on all sides , everywhere , about , round ; entirely ; quickly
vijighaaMsuH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (Desid. of √ han) wishing to slay or to kill or to remove or to destroy
√ han: to strike , beat (also a drum) , pound , hammer (acc.) , strike &c ; to smite , slay , hit , kill , mar , destroy

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