Monday, February 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.26: Sex vs Knowledge

ramate tRShito dhana-shriyaa
ramate kaama-sukhena baalishaH
ramate prashamena saj-janaH
paribhogaan paribhuuya vidyayaa

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

A covetous man delights in opulence;

A fool delights in sensual pleasure;

A true person delights in tranquillity

Having transcended sensual enjoyments
by virtue of his knowledge.

To have sex or not to have sex: is that the question?

Ascetic strivers it seems, whether of the ashen-skinned dreadlock-wearing variety or of the shaven-headed ochre-robe wearing variety, are prone to think that it is the main question.

Thus the striver seems to opine that knowledge is a means of overcoming sensual enjoyment (i.e. either transcending sexual desire or suppressing it, depending on how one understands the striver's use of the word pari-√bhuu).

It may be significant that Ashvaghosha here puts in the striver's mouth the word vidyaa (knowledge), as opposed to prajNaa (real wisdom). These two conceptions have been contrasted in the Buddha's speech to Nanda in Canto 5:

Most excellent among gifts is the gift of confidence; / Most satisfying of tastes is the taste of real wisdom (prajNaa); / Foremost among comforts is being comfortable in oneself -- / And delight in knowledge(vidyaa-ratiH) is the sorriest of delights. [5.24]

In the striver's words, knowledge is a means for overcoming enjoyment, and especially the joy of sex. Whereas, in the Buddha's words, wisdom is primarily a means for dissolving afflictions and eradicating faults:

Noble insight into the truths, beginning with the truth of suffering, / Along with thinking straight, and initiative: // These three, forming the protocol on knowing (jNaana), / Are for dissolution, based on wisdom (prajNaa), of afflictions.//

And wisdom (prajNaa) destroys the faults without trace,/ As a mountain stream in the monsoon destroys the trees on its banks.// Faults consumed by it stand no chance, / Like trees struck and burnt by a thunderbolt. //

What we should value, Ashvaghosha as I read him is telling us -- indirectly, with plentiful ironic humour -- is not the knowledge which trumps enjoyment, but rather the wisdom which destroys faults.

My intuition is that the shaven-headed striver in his ochre robe, no less than the ascetic practitioners of the earlier cantos, is being held up as an example of how not to think and how not to strive. And here in Saundara-nanda, as in many chapters of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, there may be a fundamental principle behind showing up in this way the faults in a fellow practitioner's thinking. The principle is that the right thing doing itself (KOAN-GENJO in Dogen's words) is totally beyond our ability to understand it. But faults in people's thinking we can understand and we should understand, clearly and exactly. If you notice that my thinking is wrong, it is your duty to let me know -- and if I can't handle that, that is nobody's fault but my own.

As the late Tsunemasa Abe (who I suppose was Kodo Sawaki's youngest disciple) used to say, the universal human tendency is to strain, to strive, to try hard -- "NINGEN WA KIBARU." To recognize as unreasonable the blazing asceticism that is practised in expectation of future reward, is one thing. Another thing is to see the subtler forms of end-gaining/striving that are liable to inform our every move, unless we attend to the process of inhibiting them. The character of the striver in Saundara-nanda, as I see him, is presented so as to give us the opportunity of sharpening our powers of recognition and discrimination. Ashvaghosha, I think, wishes us to discern the differences between the inaccurate thinking and ineffectual actions of the striver and the clear thinking and transformational actions of the Buddha.

In conclusion, then, is this verse the Buddha's real wisdom? Or is it three clichés and a proposition that is wide of the mark? I think Ashvaghosha's intention might be the latter, or it might be ambiguity itself.

EH Johnston:
The covetous man delights in the splendour of wealth and the simpleton delights in the joys of the senses, but the virtuous man delights in peace of mind and contemns material enjoyments, knowing them for what they are.

Linda Covill:
A greedy man delights in the luxuries of wealth, a childish man delights in sensual pleasures, but a good man delights in tranquillity and overcomes physical enjoyments through his wisdom.

ramate = 3rd pers. sg. ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.)
tRShitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn thirsty , thirsting , desirous
dhana-shriyaa (inst. sg.): riches
dhana: n. booty, prey ; any valued object , (esp.) wealth , riches , (movable) property , money , treasure , gift
shrii: f. light , lustre , radiance , splendour , glory ; prosperity , welfare , good fortune , success , auspiciousness , wealth , treasure , riches , high rank , power , might , majesty

ramate = 3rd pers. sg. ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.)
kaama-sukhena (inst. sg.): sensual pleasure
kaama: m. desire; pleasure , enjoyment ; love , especially sexual love or sensuality
sukha: n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
baalishaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. young , childish , puerile , ignorant , simple , foolish; m. m. a fool , simpleton , blockhead

ramate = 3rd pers. sg. ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc. instr. or inf.)
prashamena (inst. sg.): m. calmness , tranquillity (esp. of mind) , quiet , rest , cessation , extinction , abatement
saj-janaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. well-born , respectable , virtuous ; m. a good or virtuous or wise man

paribhogaan (acc. pl.): m. enjoyment , (esp.) sexual intercourse
paribhuuya = abs. pari- √ bhuu: to be round anything , surround , enclose , contain ; to go or fly round , accompany , attend to , take care of , guide , govern ; to be superior , excel , surpass , subdue , conquer ; to pass round or over , not heed , slight , despise , insult
vidyayaa = inst. sg. vidyaa: f. knowledge (cf. kaala-jaata-v°) , science , learning , scholarship , philosophy

No comments: