Tuesday, September 28, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.22: Health Warning -- Death Kills

yaavan na hiMsraH samupaiti kaalaH
shamaaya taavat kuru saumya buddhiM
sarvaasv avasthaasv iha vartamaanaH
sarv'-aabhisaareNa nihanti mRtyuH

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"While murderous Time has yet to come calling,

Set your mind, my friend, in the direction of extinction.

Operating in all situations in this world,

Using all manner of attacks, Death kills.

These are the first words that, in this record by Ashvaghosha, the Buddha says to Nanda. They are echoed in Canto 15, whose title is "Giving Up an Idea."

The central idea in question, which sleeps on behind many smouldering desires (15.5), might be the idea that I personally am special and immortal. It is, I think, a peculiarly religious idea.

I think the Pope's recent visit to England stimulated an increased intolerance in me for -- well, certainly for the Pope's self-righteous breed of Catholicism. He comes from Rome to my country telling politicians here that religion should have an increased role in public life. No, get yourself quickly back to Rome, I say, with your superstitious beliefs in resurrection and miracles.

Having been born on Christmas Day and being generally top of my class at primary school (when it came to taking the particular kind of intelligence tests that they gave us -- which took no account of emotional intelligence, or lack of it), the idea of being in some way special or chosen somehow got deeply implanted in my psyche... and now as I look back on my life after 50 years of living it, I have a strong sense that the idea was never true, although I have suffered for that wrong idea, and I seem to continue to suffer for the idea. Even though my power of reason tells me the idea is false, I struggle to give up the idea.

On one side the Alexander teaching of Marjory Barlow showed me with unrivalled clarity how troublesome an idea can be, and how liberating it can be to give up an idea. On the other side, Gudo Nishijima rather encouraged the idea that I was someone special, and his teaching continues to have a strong hold on me, even as I react against it.

"God is Dharma. Dharma is God." Gudo used to say. "This idea is a compromise, but using this idea we can save all people in the world."

But this was just the arrogance, the overblown self-importance, of a small opinionated man who said Buddhism was not a religion but at the same time called himself by the title "Reverend." I curse myself every day for devoting such a large chunk of my life to serving him -- a man who when I met him was wearing a businessman's suit and neatly combed hair, but who in his heart was full of the kind of deluded self-importance that people of strong religious belief are prone to have.

This is my own problem. But how special am I in having suffered from a religious idea? Quite apart from seriously insane people who think they are Jesus, are not all religious people struggling, in the face of no hard evidence whatever, to hold on to a religious belief which makes them feel in some way special, chosen, and on a path towards immortality?

It seems to me that this kind of belief, which boils down to the idea that I personally am chosen, special, immortal, is the very idea that all religious teachers encourage in their flock. But it is the very idea that, in Canto 15, the Buddha seems to set his sights on destroying.

Any idea you might have, then, / That has to do with not dying, / Is, with an effort of will, to be obliterated / As a disorder of your whole being. / Not a moment of trust / Is to be placed in life, / For, like a tiger lying in wait, /Time slays the unsuspecting. /That "I am young," or "I am strong," /Should not occur to you: / Death kills in all situations / Without regard for sprightliness.

(15.52 - 15.54.)

Giving up this idea, the Buddha seems to be saying, is the secret to gaining the liberation that, with an ironic twist, he symbolizes with the word amRta, "the deathless," "the nectar of immortality."

So the supersitious and dogmatic view of the Pope is certainly not it, but if I reacted to the Pope's view with what the Pope calls "aggressive secularism," that would not be it either. In the end, the point might be to tolerate neither one view or the other. The point might be to bow to him who taught the true Buddha-Dharma as the dropping off of all views. Equally, the point might be to keep practising what she taught as the true Alexander-Dharma: giving up all idea of moving a leg... and yet going ahead -- with free neck and lengthened and widened back -- and moving the leg.

EH Johnston:
'My friend, make up your mind to work for tranquillity against the day that fearsome Death arrives ; for Death is present on all occasions and slays with every sort of attack.

Linda Covill:
"Dear friend. Death is present in every situation and strikes in many ways. Before that dread time arrives, make sure your mind is composed.

yaavan na: ind. while not, before
hiMsraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. injurious , mischievous , hurtful , destructive , murderous , cruel , fierce , savage
samupaiti = 3rd pers. sg. present samupe: to come together , meet (as friends or foes) ; to come near , approach
kaalaH: time (as destroying all things) , death , time of death (often personified and represented with the attributes of yama , regent of the dead , or even identified with him)

shamaaya (dat. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity , quietude or quietism , absence of passion ; peace ; tranquillization , pacification , allayment , alleviation , cessation , extinction
taavat: ind. (correlative of yaavat) so long as, in that time
kuru = 2nd pers. sg. imperative kR: to do, make
saumya (voc.): man of soma, my friend
buddhiM- √kR: to make up one's mind , resolve , decide , (with loc. dat. or inf.)

sarvaasu (loc. pl. f.): all
avasthaasu = loc. pl. avasthaa: f. state , condition , situation
iha: ind. in this place , here; in this world
vartamaanaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part. vRt: to turn , turn round , revolve , roll ; to be , live , exist , be found , remain , stay , abide , dwell ; to be or exist or live at a partic. time , be alive or present

sarv'-aabhisaareNa (inst. sg.): with every sort of attack
sarva: mfn. all, every ; of all sorts , manifold , various , different
abhisaara: m. attack , assault
nihanti = 3rd pers. sg. pres. ni- √ han: to strike or fix in , hurl in or upon or against (loc.) ; to make an attempt upon , attack , assail ; to strike or hew down , kill , overwhelm , destroy
mRtyuH (nom. sg.): m. death, dying ; Death personified , the god of disease

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