Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 7.38: Another One Gone

naptaa shash-aaNkasya yasho-guN'-aaNko
budhasya suunur vibudha-prabhaavaH
tath" orvashiim apsarasaM vicintya
raaja'-rShir unmaadam agacchad aiDaH

= = - = = - - = - = =
= = - = = - - = - = =
- = - = = - - = - = -
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As a grandson of the hare-marked moon,
and as one marked by his own honour and virtue,

The son of 'The Learned' Budha and goddess Ida
had the special powers of the lunar and the very learned;

But thinking of the apsaras Urvashi,

This royal seer, similarly, went mad.

The son of Budha and Ida was Puru-ravas, a royal seer of the lunar race.

Here is a picture of the royal seer himself, clinging to the celestial nymph Urvashi, who is looking as celestial as a celestial nymph should look.

This verse as I read it contains another wry dig at 'the Brahmanical tradition,' in which celebrated royal seers like Puru-ravas were supposed to have special powers -- though they lacked the power to continue enjoying the everyday yoga of sitting practice, in the balanced state of accepting and using the self.

In a practical way such as the Buddha's way is, the primary test is a simple one: carry on every day, or not. That is how I have ended up doing this translation like this, publishing it on a blog day by day, every day. I have wanted not only to gain the end of producing a good translation, but also to demonstrate something in the manner of translating it.

When I met Gudo Nishijima 30 years ago, he impressed on me, following Dogen, that the Buddha's teaching is never like other teachings, such as Brahmanism, or Taoism, or Confucianism. Gudo taught me that the most important matter in the Buddha's teaching is simply, while sitting in lotus every day, "to keep the spine straight vertically." The question I then began to ask myself was: how does one go about this primary task of keeping the spine straight vertically? And this question led me to the teaching of FM Alexander. Alexander's teaching, in turn, caused me to rephrase the question along the lines of: how does one direct oneself up?

As I sat this morning, I reflected on how happy I am never to have got bored with asking this question. At the age of 51 I am certainly less interested in celestial nymphs than I used to be, and I fear that the relation between me and celestial nymphs might be mutual. But when it comes to sitting in lotus and asking: "Where is up? Where is the true up that is not manufactured?" I haven't got a bit bored. All my answers may be rubbish but I don't find any difficulty keeping on asking the question -- because, unlike ascetic practice (and unlike if it comes to that sex with celestial nymphs), this kind of yoga never ceases to be interesting.

Not only does it continue to be interesting, but continuing to sit in the balanced state of accepting and using the self continues to be the very essence of sanity.

(I hope this last statement does not turn out to be the famous last words of a person who is about to go completely bonkers.)

EH Johnston:
So the royal seer, the son of Budha and Ida, who possessed the power of a god and bore the marks of his fame and virtue as his grandfather the mark of the hare, became frantic as he thought of the Apsaras Urvashi.

Linda Covill:
The son of Budha and Ida was a royal seer, and the grandson of the Moon. He was marked by fame and virtue and had the power of the wise, but thoughts of the apsaras Urvashi drove him into a frenzy.

naptaa = nom. sg. naptR: m. descendant ; grandson (in later lang. restricted to this sense)
shash-aaNkasya (gen. sg.): m. " hare-marked " , the moon
shasha: m. a hare , rabbit
aNka: m. a hook ; any mark , line , stroke , ornament , stigma
yasho-guN'-aaNkaH (nom. sg. m.): marked by fame and virtue
yashas: n. beautiful appearance , beauty , splendour , worth ; honour , glory , fame , renown
guNa: m. good quality , virtue , merit , excellence
aNka: m. a hook ; any mark , line , stroke , ornament , stigma

budhasya = gen. sg. budha: mfn. awaking, wise; m. a wise or learned man , sage ; m. N. of a descendant of soma ( the moon or moon-god) and hence also called saumya , saumaayana , author of RV. x , 1 , and father of puruu-ravas ; identified with the planet Mercury
puruu-ravas: mfn. crying much or loudly; m. N. of an ancient king of the lunar race (the lover of urvashii [cf. RV. x , 95 S3Br. xi , 5 , 1 and kaalidaasa's drama vikramorvashii])
suunuH (nom. sg.): m. a son
vibudha-prabhaavaH (nom. sg. m.): having the power of a wise man / a god / the moon
vi-budha: mfn. very wise or learned; m. a wise or learned man , teacher , Pandit ; m. a god ; m. the moon
prabhaava: m. might , power , majesty , dignity , strength , efficacy ; splendour , beauty ; supernatural power

tathaa: ind. so also , in like manner
urvashiim (acc. sg.): f. " widely extending " , N. of the dawn (personified as an apsaras or heavenly nymph who became the wife of puruu-ravas)
apsarasam (acc. sg.): f. apsaras, celestial nymph
vicintya = abs. vi- √cint: to perceive , discern , observe ; to think of , reflect upon , ponder , consider , regard , mind , care for

raaja'-rShiH (nom. sg. m.): king-seer, royal seer
unmaadam (acc. sg. m.): m. insanity , madness; mania ; intoxication
un- √ mad: (ud- √mad) to become disordered in intellect or distracted , be or become mad or furious
agacchat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect gam: to go to, to enter a state
aiDaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. iDaa) , containing anything that refreshes or strengthens ; descended from iDaa; m. N. of puruuravas
iDaa: f. the goddess iDaa or iLaa (daughter of manu or of man thinking on and worshipping the gods ; she is the wife of budha and mother of puruu-ravas)


Happi said...

Hey Mike -

I have a friend who lately seems to have gotten stuck in the old familiar "trying to be right" thought loop, which bears similarity to ascetic practice. I don't know what to do for this person and while I thought I walked out of a sesshin/retreat (they call it a sesshin) this weekend with the answer, I am getting the increasing sense that "No, that's not it."

I have to say I still don't know what not doing wrong is (which is funny as all heck since I seem to have predicted it). If there's a principle to Nanda's story it seems to to be to just sit.


Mike Cross said...


The teaching Dogen brought back from China which had been transmitted 20-odd times in China, and 28-times in India, via Ashvaghosha as buddha-ancestor number 12, was sure as hell not 'the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition.' It wasn't any kind of ascetic practice. And it sure as hell wasn't a short burst of trying to be right in a so-called sesshin.

If you say the conclusion is just to sit, I don't disagree with the conclusion, but wonder by what method you arrived at it.

You might be like a maths student who knows that pi is about 3.142. Yes, but how did you work it out?

Just sitting is not a question of knowing what not doing wrong is. It is a question of knowing what wrong is and not doing it.

It seems that (1) you have got an ivy league education, and (2) you are struggling with this very simple point. I wonder if you, as an educated scientist, can see any cause and effect relation between (1) and (2)?

Happi said...

"If you say the conclusion is just to sit, I don't disagree with the conclusion, but wonder by what method you arrived at it."

I'll give you a pragmatic reason: I don’t have time for anything else today.

My view on sesshins (so-called): I actually much prefer yaza -- free form, without the net of a timer. (For morning sittings, as the daylight hours increase I will need to use a timer to set a maximum so I stop and get to work though.) Sesshins are a challenge – if sitting is to study the self, then in sesshin you are confronted with a different self. Is sesshin necessary? Only if you want to get to know your self better. Some folks attending sesshins undoubtly do so ’trying to be right’, but I can honestly say, not me!

My insight concerned how I might best help someone(s). It was an ‘ah-ha’ experience, not the focus of my sitting. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I since reminded myself there are very few circumstances in which ‘helping’ isn’t contaminated by a view. My views of self and others seem to be changing so rapidly these days, I don’t seem to be able to hold onto a particular one – I don’t know whether this is because I’m approaching a state of equanimity or because my internal compass is spinning. If you want to go with a more analytical analogy, one that involves thought processes, you could say that my internal GPS system is stuck in simulation mode. Until confronted with an actual situation to respond to it will likely stay in that state. Without an actual situation just sitting is a great place to be.

Are (1) and (2) related? Sure!

Happi said...

One of my favorite Sufi quotes is "Fear is the cheapest room in the house.." (Hafiz, Ladinsky trans.) Our fear and insecurities come from our conditioning which increases as a function of our age and experience. If we let go of those we approach the state of a child of three and begin to have a sense of what not doing wrong is.

Mike Cross said...

Dear Gisela,

Human fear and insecurities are originally rooted in the fear paralysis response and the Moro, or infantile panic reflex; and in the imperfect functioning of the vestibular system.

In general, we need some understanding of what wrong doing is. Then not doing wrong is simply a matter of not doing it.

This is the original teaching of the Buddha and it is the essence of the practice of just sitting as Ashvaghosha outlines it.

It is not a question of understanding what "not doing wrong" is. It is a mattter of understanding what wrong is, and simply not doing it.

Happi said...

Mike -

The point I am trying to make here is that understanding what wrong is is not that simple.

There are the precepts and there is the eight-fold path. I think the average person generally has an easier time with the precepts, but the precepts can be used to reinforce asceticism. Isn't this exactly what Nanda's Lament so far has been about? Therefore, I have always preferred the eight fold path. It is a healing perspective rather than an obstructive one.

In samadhi we experience oneness, trust, and letting go of views. If we can take that into life with us we can begin to repair how we interact with all the ten thousand things.
In his lectures on Genjokoan, Okumura never mentioned the precepts. The priority Buddha and Dogen seem to put on them may be misleading. Beyond the obvious, not doing wrong may be more circumstantial than good doing.


Happi said...

The last sentence is confusing. My point there is that once we have progressed far enough along the path the circumstances in which we have to invoke the not doing wrong are actually fewer. That the end we are all working towards is a world in which there is only good doing.