Monday, December 20, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.16: Going Round & Round in Spirals

jNaanaM na me tac ca shamaaya yat syaan
na c' aasti raukShyaM karuN'-aatmako 'smi
kaam'-aatmakash c' aasmi gurush ca buddhaH
sthito 'ntare cakra-gater iv' aasmi

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

That wisdom which might make for peace
I do not have,

And being of a kindly nature I also lack toughness.

I am sensual by nature and yet the Buddha is my guru:

I am stuck as if inside a moving wheel.

Nanda expresses much more truth in this verse, as I read it, than he does in the previous verse. In the previous verse he is speculating in general terms about the dubious concept of a fetter made of love. In this verse, as highlighted by the three occurrences of asmi ("I am"), Nanda is bearing witness out of his own experience as an individual human being.

In English we might naturally say that Nanda is stuck between a rock and a hard place. But the metaphor Nanda uses here, if I understand it correctly, is more dynamic -- and more expressive of the fact that, when we reach an impasse, everything does not stop.

A fellow Zen practitioner who has known me for many years observed to me in a private communication a few years ago that from where he sat I was always going around in circles.

My own sense has been rather a sense of going round and round in spirals. Whether the fundamental direction of those spirals has been downwards or upwards, is not always easy for a person with a dodgy vestibular system to judge. For oneself, in the state of not knowing, one can only keep thinking up and hoping for the best. I know from my own experience that what I feel to be up is liable in fact to be down.

For Nanda, however, when we survey Saundarananda as a whole, using as milestones verses such as 4.42 and 4.44, and then 17.41 and 17.72, it is clear that Nanda, under the wise guiding eye of the Buddha, was always going forward and that his prevailing direction was an upward one.

Reverence for the Buddha drew him on; / Love for his wife drew him back again: / Undecided, he neither stepped ahead nor stood still, / Like a king-goose waddling against the waves. (4.42) Held back by his love of love,/ Drawn forward by his love for dharma, / He struggled on, being turned about / Like a boat on a river going against the stream. (4.44)

In order to go entirely beyond the sphere of desire, / He overpowered those enemies that grab the heel, / So that he attained, because of practice, the fruit of not returning, / And stood as if at the gateway to the citadel of Nirvana.
(17.41) And from that extreme predicament, from that worthless mire, / Up he dragged me, like a feeble-footed elephant from the mud, / To be released into this quieted, untainted, feverless, sorrowless, / Ultimate true reality, which is free from darkness. (17.72)

EH Johnston:
I have neither the knowledge that leads to peace nor, being kindly by nature, can I be hardhearted. On the one hand I am passionate by nature and on the other the Buddha is my Guru. I am placed as it were between the two wheels of a cart.

Linda Covill:
That knowledge which might make for peace I do not have, nor, being compassionate by nature, can I be cruel. I am naturally passionate, yet the Buddha is my guru; I am as if fixed to a turning wheel!

jNaanam (nom. sg.): n. knowing , becoming acquainted with , knowledge , (esp.) the higher knowledge
na: not
me (gen. sg.): of/in me
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
ca: and
shamaaya (dat. sg.): m. tranquillity , calmness , rest , equanimity , quietude ; peace
yat (nom. sg. n.): which
syaat = 3rd pers. sg. optative as: to be

na: not
ca: and
asti: there is
raukShyam (nom. sg.): n. roughness, toughness
karuN'-aatmakaH (nom. sg. m.): being of a kindly nature;
karuNa: mfn. compassionate
ca: and
aatmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be

kaam'-aatmakaH (nom. sg. m.): having a sensual nature
kaama: m. desire ; pleasure , enjoyment ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
ca: and
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
guruH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. heavy , weighty ; important , serious , momentous ; venerable ; m. a guru
ca: and
buddhaH (nom. sg.): m. the awakened one, the buddha

sthitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. standing , staying , situated , resting or abiding or remaining in (loc.); being or remaining or keeping in any state or condition ; adhering to or keeping with (loc.) ; firm , constant , invariable ; turned or directed to , fixed upon (loc. or comp.) ; resting or depending on (loc.)
antare (loc. sg.): mfn. being in the interior , interior ; near, lying adjacent to
cakra-gateH (gen. sg.): f. rotation , revolution
cakra: n. the wheel (of a carriage)
gati: f. going , moving
iva: like
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be

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