Friday, December 17, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.13: Difficult Practice & Understanding

ady' aavagacchaami su-duShkaraM te
cakruH kariShyanti ca kurvate ca
tyaktvaa priyaam ashru-mukhiM tapo ye
cerush carisyanti caranti c' aiva

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"Now I understand what a very difficult thing

Those men have done, will do, and are doing

Who have practised, will practise and are practising
painful austerities,

Leaving behind their tearful-faced lovers.

This verse firstly brings to mind the words of Bodhidharma quoted by the Japanese Zen Master Dogen in Shobogenzo chap. 30, GYOJI: "The buddhas' supreme and wondrous state of truth is to persevere for vast kalpas to become able to practise what is hard to practise, and to endure what is beyond endurance. How can one hope to seek the true vehicle with small virtue and small wisdom, and with a trivial and conceited mind? It would be futile toil and hardship."

Today's verse also brings to mind the following words of English Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald: "Those who keep on repeating 'Yes, yes. I see' , hardly ever do."

The point might be, then, that what the Buddha is requiring Nanda to do is indeed something inordinately difficult. But what that difficult task is, even though he says ady' aavagacchaami "Now I understand!", Nanda does not yet necessarily understand.

Rather, Nanda is still at the stage where he thinks the difficult thing he is required to do is to practice painful austerities (tapas). And so the central point of the next four chapters will be to highlight the fault in this view, which might be the original and grossest fault that people bring to sitting practice: namely, that by suffering pain and denying myself now I am going to get a pay-off in future.

It is only after he has got beyond such a view, at the beginning of Canto 12, that the Buddha recognizes in Nanda the first signs of higher good -- which might not necessarily have anything to do with doing what is painful, but might, on the contrary, have to do with non-doing. Only then, it seems, does the Buddha even begin to recognize that Nanda has gained a foothold in his teaching: "Aha! This gaining of a foothold / Is the harbinger of higher good in you, / As, when a firestick is rubbed, / Rising smoke is the harbinger of fire." (12.19)

Why did the Buddha begin his teaching career with the negative "not doing of wrong," rather than by a call to positive action?

Now, do I understand? On some level, I am confident that I do. But very probably, like Nanda, at a deeper level I do not.

EH Johnston:
'Now I realise how hard the task those have accomplished, are accomplishing and will accomplish who, deserting their weeping mistresses, have practised, are practising and will practise austerities.

Linda Covill:
Today I comprehend that men who leave behind their weeping sweethearts to practise asceticism -- and those who have done so in the past, and those who will do so in the future -- they are doing something very difficult indeed, and so it was in the past and will be in the future.

adya: ind. today, now
avagacchaami = 1st pers. sg. pres. ava- √ gam: to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand ,
su-duShkaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. very difficult to be done , most arduous
te (nom. pl. m.): they, those men

cakruH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect kR: to do
kariShyanti = 3rd pers. pl. future kR: to do
ca: and
kurvate = 3rd pers. pl. present (middle voice) kR: to do
ca: and

tyaktvaa = abs. tyaj: to leave , abandon , quit
priyaam (acc. pl.): f. wife, beloved
ashru-mukhiim (acc. pl. f.): mfn. having tears on the face
tapaH (acc. sg.): n. warmth , heat ; pain , suffering; religious austerity , bodily mortification , penance
ye (nom. pl. m.): [those] who

ceruH = 3rd pers. pl. perfect car: to move oneself; to undertake , set about , under go , observe , practise , do or act in general , effect , make
carisyanti = 3rd pers. pl. future car: to practise
caranti = 3rd pers. pl. present car: to practise
ca: and
eva: (emphatic)

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