Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SAUNDARANANDA 7.17: Bearing Witness

ahaM gRhiitv" aapi hi bhikShu-liNgaM
bhraat'-RRShinaa dvir guruN" aanushiShTaH
sarvaasv avasthaasu labhe na shaantiM
priyaa-viyogaad iva cakravaakaH

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

For though I have accepted a beggar's guise,

And am taught by one who is twice my guru,
as elder brother and enlightened sage,

In every circumstance I find no peace --

Like a ruddy sheldrake separated from its mate.

In this verse, as in the previous verse, and as in the next two verses, Nanda tells us honestly what he thinks and feels he is going through.

A beggar's guise or uniform (bhikShu-liNgam), which in several verses after this one is referred to simply as liNgam, has as its three essential elements shaving of the head, wearing of a robe, and carrying of a bowl.

Nanda's testimony in this verse might be helpful in prompting a Zen practitioner who shaves his head and sits wearing a robe but who is not a Buddhist monk, to reflect that even at the time of the Buddha, and even for Nanda who was the Buddha's brother and pupil, finding peace was not a piece of cake.

What Nanda is saying in line 4 in comparing himself with a lonesome cakra-vaaka, is that he feels like he is something in a Sanskrit romantic poem. And as a statement of what he is thinking and feeling, it might be true; but as a statement of fact it is not. A truer statement of fact might be as expressed by the Buddha 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) In other words, we are not living in a Sanskrit romantic poem, or in a Hollywood chick flick, or in a Bollywood melodrama, or even in a "realistic" British soap opera. What world it is that we are living in, I don't know, but I know it is not one of those, and it is clear that the Buddha is telling us that it is held together by cause and effect (kāryakāraṇasambaddham).

Mindful, at least partially, of cause and effect, I generally come back from France at the end of summer looking forward to a winter of do-gooding, thinking I might help people in a practical, hands-on way using what I know of Alexander's discoveries and the role of the vestibular system in faulty sensory appreciation. This optimistic outlook often seems to lead to a degree of disillusionment and frustration -- not infrequently because I make a hash of things by dog-with-bone-like striving. By the time the weather starts to warm up I am generally ready to def out humankind and get back to solitude in France. This is one aspect of my going round and round in circles, or spirals.

Inside this turning wheel, I gradually see more clearly, I think, why the Buddha began his teaching career with a negative. Before he exhorted his followers to do good (SHU-ZEN-BUGYO), he exhorted us in this human world which is held together by cause and effect like sand in a clenched fist, not to do any wrong (SHO-AKU-MAKU-SA).

My thoughts and feelings are ever unreliable, but it seems to me that the worst wrongs I have suffered in my 50 years have been inflicted by a Buddhist monk who wanted to save all human beings in the world and by his similarly well-intentioned disciples. And particularly since that Buddhist monk was my teacher who I imitated for many years, it is all too easy for me to be like that too. In any case, since wrong inner patterns of doing seem to be universal, not to be like that might be a constant struggle for any of us.

EH Johnston:
For, though I have accepted the mendicant's badge and am taught by One Who as my brother and spiritual guide is my Guru in two senses, in no circumstance, like a sheldrake separated from its mate, can I obtain peace.

Linda Covill:
I have accepted the guise of a monk, and I am taught twice over by a guru, my brother the seer; even so, I cannot find peace under any circumstances, like a chakra-vaka bird separated from its mate.

aham (nom. sg.): m. I
gRhiitvaa = abs. grah: to grasp; to lay the hand on , claim; to gain , win , obtain , receive , accept
api: though
hi: for
bhikShu-liNgam (acc. sg.): the guise of a monk
bhikShu: m. a beggar , mendicant ; a monk
liNga: n. a mark , spot , sign , token , badge , emblem , characteristic; guise, disguise

bhraat'-RRShinaa (inst. sg.): by my brother, the seer
bhraatR: m. brother
RShi: m. an inspired poet or sage, a seer
dvis: ind. twice
guruNaa (inst. sg.): m. guru ; venerable teacher ; m. any venerable or respectable person (father , mother , or any relative older than one's self)
anushiShTaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. taught

sarvaasu (loc. pl. f.): all
avasthaasu (loc. pl.): f. state , condition , situation
labhe = 1st pers. sg. present (middle voice) labh: to take , seize , catch ; meet with, find ; to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get ,
na: not
shaantim (acc. sg.): f. tranquillity , peace

priyaa-viyogaat (abl. sg.):
priyaa: f. a mistress , wife; f. the female of an animal
viyoga: m. disjunction , separation (esp. of lovers)
iva: like
cakravaakaH (nom. sg.): m. the chakra bird

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