Saturday, March 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.52: Like a Scantily Clad Old Bucket

sravatiim ashuciM spRshec ca kaH
saghRNo jarjara-bhaaNDavat striyaM
yadi kevalayaa tvac" aavRtaa
na bhaven makShika-pattra-maatrayaa

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

What man capable of disgust would touch a woman,

Leaking and unclean like an old bucket,

If she were not scantily clad

In skin as thin as a flying insect's wing?

There's something about the striver's way with words -- something of the gruff old Yorkshireman -- that one can't help smiling at. One can imagine a story-teller reciting Ashvaghosha's epic tale to families gathered around a fire in an ancient Indian village, as menfolk suppress sniggers and guffaws and some among the assembled women roll their eyes.

Good though the striver's words may sound, however, his logic when it is examined does not stand up to scrutiny. Who would touch a beautiful woman if she had no skin? One might as well ask, about any old master painting, who would want to look at it if its paint were scratched off. Or, about a piece of music by Mozart, who would want to listen to it if it were played by a drunk blowing an out of tune mouth organ. Or, about a delicious meal, who would want to eat it if it were served on a filthy plate.

The striver is striving to kill Nanda's passion by direct means. But these unskillful means of the striver do not have the desired effect on Nanda's mind.

The Buddha, in contrast, as Ashvaghosha describes in Canto 10, actively foments passion in Nanda's mind -- just as, in washing our laundry we add to our dirty clothes an impure substance like Daz, not in order to make the clothes dirtier but in order to encourage any dirt on clothes to come out in the wash. These are the indirect, skillful means of the Buddha, which pass the pragmatic test of truth: they work.

When Buddha thus intuits what is to be done, and does it, the essence of Buddha is the absence of something which is present in striving.

Striving is tainted by some agenda which prevents action from having an easy, effortless quality. Thus, on the physical level, striving hampers good coordination. On the emotional level, because it is tied up with a desire to feel right, or a desire to get things right, striving tends to manifest itself in emotional criticism of others or indeed blaming of oneself.

The very excellent mirror of the striver is one of the jewels in the crowning glory which is Saundara-nanda. Considering how truly excellent Ashvaghosha's teaching is, I wonder why this blog doesn't attract more visitors. Is it perhaps because, I can't help wondering, I am making a pig's ear of translating it and commenting on it -- like an unmusical person striving to play Mozart on a mouth organ?

In order fully to enjoy the samadhi of accepting and using the self it might not always be necessary to feel disgusted by women's bodies. But it might be necessary, for some of us, to make friends with the striver.

EH Johnston:
What man capable of feeling disgust would touch a woman, oozing and foul like a broken pot, if it were not for the mere covering of skin no thicker than a fly's wing?

Linda Covill:
What sensitive man would touch a woman, leaking and unclean like an old box, if she were not covered in skin, thin as a fly's wing though it is?

sravatiim = acc. sg. f. pres. part. sru: to flow , stream , gush forth , issue ; to leak , trickle
ashucim (acc. sg. f.): mfn. impure, foul
spRshet = 3rd pers. sg. optative spRsh: to touch , feel with the hand , lay the hand on
ca: and
kaH (nom. sg. m.): who? what man?

sa-ghRNaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. full of pity , compassionate ; tender of feeling , delicate , scrupulous ; disliking , abhorring
ghRNaa: f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; aversion ; disgust
jarjara-bhaaNDa-vat: ind. like an old box
jarjara: mfn. infirm , decrepit , decayed , torn or broken in pieces , perforated
bhaaNDa: n. any vessel , pot , dish , pail , vat , box , case
vat: (affix expressing resemblance) like
striyam (acc. sg. f.): a woman

yadi: if
kevalayaa (inst. sg. f.): mfn. alone , only , mere , sole , one , excluding others; simple , pure , uncompounded , unmingled ; entire, whole
tvacaa (inst. sg.): f. skin
aavRtaa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. covered , concealed , hid ; screened ; enclosed ; overspread

na: not
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. optative bhuu: to be
makShika-pattra-maatrayaa (inst. sg. f.): as thin as a fly's wing
makShika: a fly , bee
pattra: n. wing
maatra: mfn. (ifc.) having the measure of i.e. as large or high or long or broad or deep


Jordan said...

The number of people interested in giving wholehearted effort to the Buddha-dharma might be very small.
As I see it there is a huge gap between calling oneself a Buddhist, and committing oneself to Buddhist practice.

Aboard the Essex, there are a good number of Sailors and a few Marines who have “Buddhist” marked as their religious preference. I do not see them at the Sunday sittings or evening sittings. I see a few curious folks and they show up once or twice and then go on their way.
Their chief reason given for not showing up is that practice is too hard. I think maybe Shinran and Nichiren capitalized on this attitude.

However, if you are interested in attracting followers to this blog, you might try visiting other blogs and dropping comments, or even joining some of the “Zen Community” forums that populate the web, get involved in the conversations and be sure to link this blog in the signature field.

But I warn you in advance that those kinds of efforts may bring a different kind of follower than you would like. And you may end up taking efforts to drive them away.
It might be that just continuing on as you are will bring you those that are most likely to try and listen to what you are saying.

But then again casting a net like that may bring in some person with only a little dust in their eyes. And that might just make those efforts worthwhile.

I doubt I have said anything you have not already considered…

Yours in practice,

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan. As always, I really appreciate your feedback, and your listening ear.

One role model is Marjory Barlow who used to say in an Alexander context that advertizing attracts all the kind of pupils you don't want, whereas if you just devote yourself quietly to doing good work, people will tell their friends and a practice will build via word of mouth.

On the other hand, another positive role model who has made me think, and question my usual modus operandi, is Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher books. He has clearly gone past the stage where he needs to worry about becoming more famous or getting more profit out of his writing. He says his motivation for carrying on writing a book a year is now basically a sense of wanting to serve his audience.

I would have to be sure about my motivation to go trawling the internet in the way you suggest.

It is all too easy for a purported, or self-professed, Zen master to decieve himself about what his motivation really is.

That's for damn sure!