Tuesday, February 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.13: Like a King Without Sovereignty

vana-vaasa-sukhaat paraaN-mukhaH
prayiyaasaa gRham eva yena me
na hi sharma labhe tayaa vinaa
nR-patir hiina iv' ottama-shriyaa

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

Averse to the happiness of the forest life,

I just want to go home;

For without her I obtain no comfort,

Like a king without sovereignty."

"I am like a king without sovereignty" sounds like it could be the cri de coeur of a rock star with a Maserati that does 185 but no license with which it to drive -- a favourite lyric of mine, which so succinctly expresses the essence of tragedy.

But let us not forget -- in particular, let me not forget -- that Saundara-nanda is ultimately anything but a tragedy: it is rather a tale of redemption, so that if Nanda in his present state of deprivation feels like a king without his kingdom, he will in due course, by dint of his own effort, be like the regal conqueror of hitherto unconquered lands.

Hence in Canto 16 the Buddha tells Nanda:

So, in order to make the noble truths your own, / First clear a path according to this plan of action, // Like a king going on campaign to subdue his foes, /Wishing to conquer unconquered riches.// [16.85]

After ploughing and protecting the soil with great pains, a farmer gains a bounteous crop of corn; /After striving to plumb the ocean's waters, a diver revels in a bounty of coral and pearls; // After seeing off with arrows the endeavour of rival kings, a king enjoys royal dominion. / So direct your energy in pursuit of peace, for in directed energy, undoubtedly, lies all growth. // [16.98]

And in Canto 17 Ashvaghosha describes Nanda's progress in this direction:

For just as, by laying out fortifications and laying down the rod of the law, / By banding with friends and disbanding foes, // A king gains hitherto ungained land, / That is the very policy towards practice of one who desires release.//

Consequently, relying on the fourth stage of meditation, / He made up his mind to win the worthy state, // Like a king joining forces with a strong and noble ally / And then aspiring to conquer unconquered lands.//

Speaking of kingship, Dogen wrote a chapter of Shobogenzo in which sitting in full lotus is praised as the samadhi that is king of samadhis.

The only thing that surpasses the supremacy of the Buddha-Ancestor's supremacy, Dogen writes, is this samadhi, which is the king of samadhis.

So the kind of sovereignty Dogen is pointing to in that chapter, as also in his rules of sitting-zen for everybody, is nothing exclusive. It is to become king of the Universe solely through sovereignty over oneself.

The practice of just sitting then, to answer Lee Child's call to young and old Edwardians, and at the same time to answer my own self-doubt, is a field in which everybody who wishes to be a giant can, through his or her direction of his or her own energy, truly be a giant in his own field... even if only for a few fleeting moments a day.

One of the reasons Lee Child's character Jack Reacher evidently meets some deep unfulfilled need people feel we have is that Jack Reacher stands for justice, whereas we are liable to feel and say that there is no justice in this world.

The Buddha's teaching, as championed by the likes of Ashvaghosha and Dogen, is that there is indeed justice in this world, inherently. There is nothing that is not fair. In thrall to faulty sensory appreciation, however, we feel unfairly treated, because we fail to notice cause and effect working not only in the short and medium term but also over the very long term.

That being so, a primary function of Dogen's rules of sitting-zen for everybody, and of Ashvaghosha's Saundara-nanda, seems to be to inspire, in the mind of every reader, the confidence that he or she can be the one who gains sovereignty over the treasure of him or her self.

The emergence of such confidence will be the main theme of Canto 12. Hence:

So long as the real truth is not seen or heard, / Confidence does not become strong or firm; // But when, through restraint, the power of the senses is circumvented and the real truth is realised,/ The tree of confidence bears fruit and weight. //

EH Johnston:
I am averse from the joys of the forest life and therefore wish to go home ; for I can no more find contentment without her than a king could, when deprived of his sovereign power.'

Linda Covill:
I am averse to the pleasures of living in the forest, since I just want to go home; for without her I can find no joy, like a king without his sovereignty."

vana-vaasa-sukhaat (abl. sg.): from the joys of living in the forest
vana-vaasa: m. dwelling or residence in a forest , wandering habits ; mfn. residing in a forest , wood-dweller
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
paraaN-mukhaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having the face turned away or averted , turning the back upon ; averse from

prayiyaasaa (nom. sg.): f. (fr. desid. pra- √ yaa) desire of going
pra- √ yaa: to go forth , set out , progress , advance towards or against , go or repair to (acc. )
gRham (acc. sg.): mn. home, house
eva: (emphatic)
yena (inst. sg.): whereby, because of which
me (gen. sg.): of me, in me

na: not
hi: for
sharma (acc. sg.): n. shelter , protection , refuge , safety; Joy , bliss , comfort , delight , happiness
labhe = 1st pers. sg. labh: to take, meet with, find, obtain
tayaa (inst. sg.): f. her
vinaa: ind. without

nR-patiH (nom. sg. m.): m. " lord of men " , king
hiinaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. bereft or deprived of , free from , devoid or destitute of , without (instr.)
iva: like
uttama-shriyaa (inst. sg. f.): supreme majesty; sovereign power, sovereignty
uttama: uppermost , highest , chief
shrii: f. prosperity , welfare , high rank , power , might , majesty , royal dignity

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