Sunday, October 10, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 5.45: Seeing Through Convenient Fictions

tat saumya lolaM parigamya lokaM
maay'-opamaM citram iv' endra-jaalam
priy"-aabhidhaanaM tyaja moha-jaalaM
chettum matis te yadi duHkha-jaalam

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

So, my friend, knowing the human world to be fickle,

A net of Indra, a web of fictions, like a gaudy magic show,

Abandon the net of delusion you call 'my love,'

If you are minded to cut the net of suffering.

In this verse, as I read it, the Buddha is by no means saying that the physical world is "unreal" -- as is supposed by those who espouse dodgy interpretations of shuunya-taa, emptiness. The real meaning of shuunya-taa, as I understand it, is space as we experience it, in our good moments, in the absence of clutter.

The Buddha's point might rather be that human beings, in our relations with each other, as for example teachers and students, or parents and children, or business partners, or man and wife, inevitably rely on a web of convenient fictions.

The grandfather of neuro-physiology, Charles Sherrington, wrote in his book The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1906) of "the convenient fiction of the simple reflex." I often refer on this blog, for example, to an infantile fear reflex called the Moro reflex -- as if some such circuit of neurones existed in isolation from the rest of the nervous system. Sherrington's recognition was that the nervous system of a living being works as a whole and no such reflex circuit exists in isolation. Still, Sherrington continued to rely on the fiction of the simple reflex in his writings, out of convenience; and I continue to prattle on endlessly about the Moro reflex, as if there were such a thing.

The general folly of believing in convenient fictions is exposed in brutal detail in Canto 15 (In this originally shattered world / Nobody is the beloved of anybody. / Held together by cause and effect, / Humankind is like sand in a clenched fist.15.35)

More particuarly, any romantic notion Nanda might have had about Sundari being his one true love, like Chakravaka duck to Chakravaka drake, will be exposed as having been nothing more than a convenient fiction in Canto 10, where Nanda is caused to fall in love with celestial nymphs so gorgeous that they put even Sundari in the shade.

EH Johnston:
So, my friend, understand this world to be unstable, a mere phantasmagoria, a magician's kaleidoscopic show. Abandon the snare of delusion, namely your mistress, if it is your intention to cut through the snare of suffering.

Linda Covill:
So, dear friend, knowing that the world flickers like a mirage, that it is kaleidoscopic like a magic trick, give up the tissue of delusions labeled 'lover,' if you are minded to cut through the snare of sorrow.

tat: ind. then, thus, so
saumya (voc. sg. m.): my friend!
lolam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless ; changeable , transient , inconstant , fickle ; m. lightning ; m. " the fickle or changeable one " name of the goddess of fortune or lakShmii
parigamya = abs. pari- √ gam: to go round or through; to come to any state or condition , get , attain (acc.)
lokam (acc. sg.): m. the world, the world of men, mankind

maay"-opamam (acc. sg. n.): illusion-like, magical, illusory
maayaa: f. illusion , unreality , deception , fraud , trick , sorcery , witchcraft, magic ; an unreal or illusory image , phantom , apparition ib. (esp. ibc. = false , unreal , illusory )
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like
citram (acc. sg.): n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes ;
n. a brilliant ornament , ornament ; n. a bright or extraordinary appearance , wonder ; n. a picture , sketch , delineation ; n. punning in the form of question and answer , facetious conversation , riddle ;
iva: like
indra-jaalam (acc. sg.): n. the net of indra ; a weapon employed by arjuna ; sham , illusion , delusion , magic , sorcery , juggle ; the art of magic etc.
indra: m. the god of the atmosphere and sky
jaala: n. a net , snare, lattice ; a cob-web ; any reticulated or woven texture , wire-net , mail-coat , wire-helmet ; (chiefly ifc.) collection multitude ; deception , illusion, magic

priy"-aabhidhaanam (acc. sg. n.): called "lover"
priyaa: f. a mistress , wife, lover ; mfn. beloved
abhidhaana: n. telling, naming; a name , title , appellation , expression , word
abhi- √ dhaa: to tell, name
tyaja = 2nd pers. sg. imperative tyaj: abandon, give up, quit
moha-jaalam (acc. sg.): n. net of illusion , mundane fascination
moha: m. loss of consciousness , bewilderment , perplexity , distraction , infatuation , delusion , error , folly; (with Buddhists) ignorance (one of the three roots of vice)
jaala: n. a net , snare, lattice ; a cob-web ; any reticulated or woven texture , wire-net , mail-coat , wire-helmet ; (chiefly ifc.) collection multitude ; deception , illusion, magic

chettum = infinitive chid: to cut off , amputate , cut through
matiH (nom. sg.): f. thought , design , intention ,
te (gen. sg.): your
yadi: ind. if
duHkha-jaalam (acc. sg. n.): the net of suffering

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