Friday, October 22, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 6.7: Sundari's Optimism & Belief

tasyaash ca sopaana-tala-praNaadaM
shrutv" aiva tuurNaM punar utpapaata
priityaa prasakt" aiva ca saMjaharSha
priy'-opayaanaM parishaNkamaanaa

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

Hearing the sound on the stairs of that woman's feet

Sundari quickly jumped back up again;

Transfixed with joy, she bristled with excitement,

Believing it to be the approach of her beloved.

Held in the grip of unduly excited fear reflexes and emotions, Sundari swings from the sluggishness of pessimistic anxiety to the hyper-activity of optimistic belief.

It is a process that has been exhibited throughout history not only by individuals but also by societies. Think of Japan, with Tokyo in ruins at the end of WWII, fearing the worst from American occupation. But soon after General MacArthur, American Ceasar, eventually stepped off the plane with pipe in mouth, Japanese fears of a vengeful American army bent on rape and pillage, proved unfounded. Pessimism gave way to the Japanese post-war economic miracle which culminated in the huge investment bubble that burst in 1991. The bubble was an exercise in undue socio-economic optimism (aka nationalistic arrogance) which I witnessed first hand.

Or conversely, think of British attitudes towards the Japanese before and during WWII. The starting point was unduly optimistic British arrogance -- how could Britain's empire be threatened by a nation of practically sub-human apes? But when this optimistic belief in God-given British supremacy was crushed by Japanese military successes in Asia, it gave way to the deeply pessimistic notion of "the yellow peril." Optimistic belief that the Japanese foe was more or less sub-human gave way to the pessimistic anxiety that he was super-human.

These historical developments among nations were presaged by what FM Alexander was teaching and writing, based on his observations of the unconscious reactions of individuals, beginning with himself, many years before the outbreak of WWII:

"It is owing to this habit of rushing from one extreme to another -- a habit which, as I have pointed out, seems to go hand in hand with subconscious guidance and direction -- to this tendency, that is, to take the narrow and treacherous sidetracks instead of the great, broad midway path, that our plan of civilization has proved a comparative failure."
(Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, pp. 43).

Sadly, the tendency that FM describes is much easier to see in retrospect than it is to observe right here right now (tatra).

Does the present price of gold (at this precise moment $1,320 per oz) indicate that investment in gold is itself a bubble that is about to burst? Or is gold a prudent insurance against the bursting of other bubbles? I honestly don't know.

I have been fortunate to work for 25 years, in a small way, for a Japanese economist who was way ahead of the game at the end of the 1980s in understanding the problem of Japanese over-optimism. Rule number one, in my boss's rule book, has been this: Human beings make mistakes.

We take a view -- our brains seem to be genetically pre-disposed to take a view -- and insofar as reality does not crush our view, we feel optimistic. We optimistically believe that our view must be true... until such time as reality falsifies our view, and then we tend to feel pessimistic despair.

For too many years I struggled to hold onto the optimistic belief that a certified buddha-ancestor could not fail to act with integrity, and so even if he made a bad mistake, he would redeem himself in the end. But this view of mine was never true. It was pure optimism. It was religious belief. In recent years, my religious view in the infallibile integrity of certified buddha-ancestors has been falsified not only by one certified buddha-ancestor but by several of them.

Very fortunately for me, since reality has forced me gradually to abandon such hopeful belief (parishaNkaa), my former optimism has given way not only to pessimistic despair but also to something which is similar to but different from belief (like chalk and cheese) and that is what the Buddha praises at length in Canto 12, namely confidence (shraaddhaa).

It is primarily the confidence of knowing a method of working on myself, as taught to me with unrivalled clarity by Marjory Barlow, and the method begins with saying "No." When I say "No," and really mean it, the method always works. It never fails. And because the method really works, it breeds not the belief (parishaNkaa ) that Sundari manifests in today's verse but rather the confidence (shraaddhaa) of which the Buddha speaks in Canto 12.

I went into the translation of Canto 5 not knowing, but feeling slightly anxious about, how I might react to the Buddha's exhortation to Nanda to leave his home and his family. I was afraid that the content of the chapter might cause me to lose confidence in myself -- as happened nearly 30 years ago when I struggled with Dogen's strong exhortation to "transcend family life" in Shobogenzo chap. 73, The Thirty-Seven Elements of Awakening. What happened as I came out of translating Canto 5, however, took me by surprise. I found myself decisively and strongly saying "No," and finding a good deal of freedom in that decision.

I was not saying "No," to the Buddha's teaching. I was saying "No," just as Marjory Barlow taught me, to my own reaction to the stimulus of an idea.

So this is the point I have real confidence in. When one really says "No" to the idea that mobilizes the army of one's habitual reaction, and especially when this decision is embodied by a back lengthening and widening on top of a round black cushion, then Mara, along with his grim army of habitual reactions, begins to quake and tremble, knowing that the writing for him is on the wall.

As for the price of gold, I do not know which way it will go. What I do know is that I am almost totally powerless to influence the market. Contrary to the belief I have had since childhood that I was destined to become some kind of VIP, the influence on the market of my views and opinions is utterly negligible.

EH Johnston:
As soon as she heard the noise the woman made on the stairs, Sundari quickly jumped up again and thrilled, once more transported with ecstasy ; for she thought her lover had returned.

Linda Covill:
Hearing her noise from the stairs, Sundari quickly jumped up again, transfixed with joy and thrilling with delight in the belief that her husband had come back.

tasyaaH (gen. sg. f.): of her, of the woman
ca: and
sopaana-tala-praNaadam (acc. sg. m.): the sound of feet on the stairs
sopaana: n. stairs , steps , a staircase ,
tala: mn. surface, level ; the sole (of the foot)
praNaada: m. a loud sound or noise (esp. expressive of approbation or delight)

shrutvaa = abs. shru: to hear
eva: (emphatic)
tuurNam: ind. quickly , speedily
punar: ind. again, back up
utpapaata = 3rd pers. sg. perfect ut- √ pat: to fly or jump up

priityaa (inst. sg. f.): f. any pleasurable sensation , pleasure , joy , gladness
prasaktaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. attached , cleaving or adhering or devoted to , fixed or intent upon
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
saMjaharSha = 3rd. pers. sg. perfect saM- √ hRSh: to bristle , stand erect (as the hair of the body from joy or fright) ; to thrill with delight , be glad , rejoice

priy'-opayaanam (acc. sg.): the approach of her beloved
priya: m. her lover, husband
upayaana: n. coming near , approach , arrival
parishaNkamaanaa = nom. sg. f, pres. part. pari- √ shaNk: to suspect , doubt , distrust (acc.) ; to believe , fancy to be (2 acc.)

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