Saturday, October 2, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.29: Grief Causes Even Princes to Crumble

avashya-bhaavii priya-viprayogas
tasmaac ca shoko niyatam niShevyaH
shokena c' onmaadam upeyivaaMso
raaja'-rShayo 'nye 'py a-vashaa viceluH

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Separation from loved ones is inevitable

On which account grief is bound to be experienced.

And it is through grief that other seers who were princes

Have gone mad and fallen helplessly apart.

The Buddha's statement that separation from loved ones is inevitable on which account grief is bound to be experienced, is not the putting forward of an idea. Rather, as is clarified at length in Canto 15, the Buddha's statement is for the purpose of giving up an idea which is demonstrably untrue -- the idea as espoused in fairy stories, for example, that a prince and his princess can live happily ever after.

The Buddha refers to royal seers (raaja'-rShayaH) here and again in 5.38. In 5.38 the context is positive: the Buddha refers to royal seers who did not get stuck in base desires but rather spat out desires. In 7.25 - 7.45 Nanda himself, in the depths of despondency, lists various royal and non-royal seers, along with gods, who were brought down through their love of women. King Shantanu (7.41) and King Bhimaka (7.43) are among the royals cited as being crushed by grief following separation from their beloved.

These historical references, as I read them, demonstrate an attitude that I would characterize as irreligious.

The essence of religion, it seems to me, is to continue believing in an idea, irrespective of evidence to the contrary. The essence of irreligion is readiness to give up any idea, for example, if the idea proves to be unhelpful, or if the idea is tested as a hypothesis and demonstrated not to fit the facts.

My Zen teacher, Reverend Gudo Nishijima, in the nearly 30 years since I first met him, has proved himself, in this sense, to be a very religious man. Perhaps the clue was always there in the name.

The attitude of the Buddha as portrayed in Saundarananda is very different -- nay, totally opposed -- to such a religious outlook. I would call the Buddha's attitude irreligious.

When I first came to this translation I think that I unknowingly brought to the task a prejudice that the further one went back in time, the less scientific the outlook might be, even of buddha-ancestors like Ashvaghosha.

But this prejudice is turning out to have been just a false idea on my part.

When I met my Zen teacher at the age of 22, I endeavoured to throw away the education I had received before that time, and go to him with "an empty cup." Believing in the truth of his teaching, I gambled all my eggs in his basket, and listened endlessly to him droning on about idealism, materialism, realism, and balance of the autonomic nervous system.

Even after I could clearly see that certain aspects of his teaching were demonstrably false -- in particular I saw that my teacher's understanding in the matter of "correct posture" was demonstrably false -- I clung to the idea that he might be a true person, that he might come good in the end. It was as if I believed in the Christian idea of redemption. For years and years I struggled with the idea that my teacher might prove himself to be true even though his teaching was false. I struggled to cling to an idea, against the evidence, in just the manner of a religious zealot.

This translation work is helping me to see and to say that the fundamental teaching of the Buddha has to do not with maintaining but with giving up such religious ideas; that the fundamental teaching of the Buddha has got, in the Dalai Lama's words, "nothing to do with religion."

If this were a fairy story, it would end with Nanda the handsome prince and Sundari his beautiful princess -- after Nanda has redeemed himself by traversing moats, escaping from dungeons and slaying dragons -- living happily ever after. And if my life were a fairy story, I would in the end be able to manifest for my Zen teacher the kind of love and reverence that Dogen always manifested for his teacher Tendo Nyojo, whom Dogen always called KOBUTSU, "Old Buddha."

But this is not a fairy story.

And even though this has turned out not to be a fairy story, I have not gone mad with grief and have not fallen apart -- largely thanks to two teachers, Marjory Barlow and Ashvaghosha, who each in his or her own way transmitted to me so excellently the principle of giving up an idea.

EH Johnston:
It is certain that separation from one's dear ones must take place ; therefore grief is an inevitable experience, and the frenzy of grief made even other royal seers helplessly lose their self-control.

Linda Covill:
Separation from our loved ones is a certainty, therefore grief must inevitably be incurred; even certain king-seers lost control and faltered when they went mad with grief.

avashya-bhaavii (nom. sg. m.): necessarily wont to be ; inevitable
avashya = in. comp. avashyam: ind. necessarily , inevitably , certainly
bhaavin: mfn. becoming , being , existing , wont to be (often ifc.)
priya-viprayogaH (nom. sg. m.): separation from loved ones
priya: mfn. beloved
viprayoga: m. disjunction , dissociation , separation from

tasmaat: ind. from that, therefore
ca: and
shokaH (nom. sg. m.): m. sorrow , affliction , anguish , pain , trouble , grief
niyatam ind. always , constantly , decidedly , inevitably , surely
niShevyaH (nom. sg. m. from gerundive niShev): mfn. to be incurred
niShev: to stay in, abide with; to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur

shokena (inst. sg.): because of grief
ca: and
unmaadam (acc. sg.): m. insanity , madness
upeyivaaMsaH = nom. pl. m. upeyivant: mfn. (past active participle from upa- √i): having arrived at [madness]; gone [mad]
upa- √i: to arrive at, enter into any state

raaja'-rShayaH (nom. pl. m.): royal seers
raajan: m. a king , sovereign , prince
RShi: m. a singer of sacred hymns , an inspired poet or sage ; the RiShis were regarded by later generations as patriarchal sages or saints , occupying the same position in India history as the heroes and patriarchs of other countries , and constitute a peculiar class of beings in the early mythical system , as distinct from gods , men , asuras , &c ; they are the authors or rather seers of the Vedic hymns ; a saint or sanctified sage in general , an ascetic

anye (nom. pl. m.): other
api: also, even
a-vashaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. unsubmissive to another's will , independent , unrestrained , free ; not having one's own free will , doing something against one's desire or unwillingly
vicelur = 3rd pers. pl. perfect vi- √ cal: to move about , shake , waver ; to fall off or down ; to go astray , fail , be agitated or disturbed or destroyed

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