Wednesday, March 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.49: Impurity in a Striver's View

atha vaa samavaiShi tat-tanuum
ashubhaaM tvaM na tu saMvid asti te
surabhiM vidadhaasi hi kriyaam
ashuces tat-prabhavasya shaantaye

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

Or else you see that their bodies are foul

But intelligence is lacking in you:

For the fragrant task you are engaged in

Is extinction of the impurity that originates in them.

In what sense does impurity originate specifically in women's bodies? Well, for one thing, it could be argued, it is women who bleed, during their menstrual cycle, and nothing is more impure than menstrual discharge. For another thing, it again could be argued, women are the cause when impure desire -- i.e. sexual desire -- arises in men. Thus could it be argued, by a deeply stupid and deluded person. Sometimes (not quite in all seriousness) calling my wife FUJO NA ONNA, "an impure/unclean woman" I myself argue thus. But never in a million years was it argued thus by the Buddha.

In the Buddha's teaching, the fragrant task a practitioner is engaged in is extinction of the impurity that originates just in his own mind.

Not to do anything bad;
To allow what is good;
To purify one's own mind:
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

One of the functions of Saundara-nanda, written in light of the original and universal precept of the buddhas, is to help us clarify the real meaning of impurity in the Buddha's teaching.

For example, a very gross impurity -- so gross as to be comical -- is the expectation that if I practice ascetic practices long and hard, I will enjoy sex with gorgeous nymphs as my reward.

An impurity which is maybe somewhat less gross -- but still quite comical -- is the thought that because I am an upper class sort of bloke, a cut above the hoi poloi, it would be inappropriate for me to swallow my pride and go back home to my woman.

A subtler impurity -- and one which therefore may require more skill to shake off -- is the deeply buried sense that because of my efforts to serve the buddha-ancestors, the buddha-ancestors should somehow look favourably upon me.

Zen sitting practice itself is liable to be full of all sorts of impurities, from the grosser kind of impurity like counting the breaths in an effort to calm the mind, or like pulling in the chin in order to keep the neck bones straight vertically, to the subtler kind of impurity like thinking "if I tinker with my posture just a tiny bit, I can help body and mind to drop off." Such impurities are many and various but it may be possible to trace them all back to the original Zen disease of trying to be right, of striving.

Investigating impurity like this, in its grosser and subtler forms, we gradually become clearer as to the real meaning of the original instruction of Gautama Buddha:

Not to do anything bad;
To allow what is good;
To purify one's own mind:
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

EH Johnston:
Or if you realise their bodies to be impure, then you are lacking in intelligence ; for you are undertaking a sweet-smelling task for the abolition of the filth arising from them.

Linda Covill:
Or perhaps you know in theory that their bodies are impure, but lack full comprehension, for you are engaged in a fragrant task to allay the foulness they produce.

athavaa: ind. or , rather
samavaiShi = 2nd pers. sg. sam -ava- √i: to regard , consider
tat-tanuum (acc. sg.): that body, their bodies
tat: that, their
tanuu: f. the body , person , self

ashubhaam (acc. sg. f.): mfn. not beautiful, disagreeable, bad
tvam (nom. sg.): you
na: not
tu: but
saMvit (nom. sg.): f. consciousness , intellect , knowledge , understanding
asti: there is
te (gen. sg.): in/of you

surabhim (acc. sg. f.): mfn. (prob. fr. 5. su + √ rabh , = " affecting pleasantly ") sweet-smelling , fragrant ; charming , pleasing , lovely
vidadhaasi = 2nd pers. sg. vi- √ dhaa: to furnish , supply ; to ordain , direct , enjoin , settle , appoint ; to perform , effect , produce , cause , occasion , make , do (like √ kR to be translated variously in connection with various nouns)
hi: for
kriyaam (acc. sg.): f. doing , performing , performance , occupation with (in comp.) , business , act , action , undertaking , activity , work , labour

ashuceH (gen. sg.): mfn. impure , foul
tat-prabhavasya (gen. sg.): originating in them
tat: them
prabhava: m. production , source , origin , cause of existence , birthplace (often ifc. , springing or rising or derived from , belonging to)
shaantaye (dat. sg.): f. tranquillity , peace , quiet , peace or calmness of mind , absence of passion , averting of pain; alleviation (of evil or pain) , cessation , abatement , extinction (of fire &c ) ; any expiatory or propitiatory rite for averting evil or calamity

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