Sunday, March 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 8.53: The Striver Rabbits On about Bags of Skin and Bone

tvaca-veShTitaM asthi-paNjaraM
yadi kaayaM samavaiShi yoShitaaM
madanena ca kRShyase balaad
aghRNaH khalv a-dhRtish ca manmathaH

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

If you see women's bodies to be bony skeletons

Wrapped around with skin

And yet you are forcibly drawn by passion,

Then, truly,
Love is immune to disgust and lacking in restraint.

Thirty years ago when, in preparation for going to Japan, I was doing an RSA Tefl course (on how to teach English as a foreign language), we were taught not to engage in a practice known as "rabbitting." The origin of the term was an incident when a trainee teacher had asked a young Japanese bloke to repeat the word "rabbit."

"Labbit," said the Japanese youngster.

"Rrrabbit" intoned the trainee teacher, rolling the R.

"Labbit" repeated the student, undaunted.

"Rrrrrabbit!!" the teacher persevered.

"Labbit" repeated the unfortunate young man.

"Rrrrrrabbit!!!" the exasperated teacher continued... and so on.

The teacher was following the time-honoured method of one who, on seeing that his efforts are not bearing fruit, simply tries harder. What the teacher needed to understand was the principle that the voice can only reproduce what the ear can hear, and since there is no distinction between L and R in Japanese, the pupil could not hear what he was being asked to repeat. A more enlightened teacher would not therefore have persevered with the direct method, but would have considered a more skillful means -- for example, playing a game to help the pupil discriminate between grass and glass, loving and rubbing, crown and clown, and so on...

"Give me all your loving, all your hugs and kisses too"?
"Give me all your rubbing, all your hugs and kisses too"?

To a Japanese ear, there isn't any difference... But I am in danger of digressing frivolously.

The serious point is that what the striver is doing in this verse, as I hear him, is rabbitting. Nanda has no ears to hear what the striver is saying, but the striver is carrying on regardless.

This kind of unenlightened striving is not the kind of mistake I myself would ever make -- at least not for more than ten or twenty years.

The Buddha's teaching requires us to learn to re-direct our energy -- in Dogen's words "to learn the backward step of turning our light and letting it shine." This is not a task for a faint-hearted or (note to self) silly person. It requires a lot of effort, persistent effort.

But the kind of effort required is not the relentless grim determination of the striver.

This morning, as every morning, I sit in lotus on a round cushion for an hour, and it is an excellent space to come back to the question of what it means to allow the breath to pass through the nostrils.

What does it mean to allow?

It is impossible to say what it means to allow.

But counting the breaths, or abdominal breathing, or any kind of effort to control the breathing directly, or any other kind of striving for a result, is not it.

So let it not be said that this Canto is irrelevant to the one great matter. If we truly understand the character of Ashvaghosha's striver, we understand exactly how not to sit. And that might be understanding worth having. That might be understanding worth making into one's own possession.

EH Johnston:
If you understand the body of a woman to be a framework of bones enveloped in skin and yet you are forcibly attracted by love, then indeed love is incapable of disgust and lacking in steadfastness.

Linda Covill:
If you know in theory that women's bodies are cages of bone wrapped round with skin, but are still strongly moved by lust, then Passion must indeed lack delicacy and constancy.

tvaca-veShTitam (acc. sg. m.): wrapped round with skin
tvaca: n. skin
veShTita: mfn. enveloped , bound round , wrapped up , enclosed; covered with
asthi-paNjaram (acc. sg. n.): a bony skeleton
asthi: n. a bone
paNjara: n. a cage , aviary , dove-cot , net ; a skeleton , the ribs

yadi: if
kaayam (acc. sg.): m. the body
samavaiShi = 2nd pers. sg. sam-ava-√i: to regard, see
yoShitaam (gen. pl.): f. woman

madanena (inst. sg.): m. passion , love or the god of love
ca: and
kRShyase = 2nd pers. sg. passive kRSh: to draw , draw to one's self , drag
balaat (= abl. baala, strength): forcibly , against one's will , without being able to help it

aghRNaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. lacking in compassion or disgust
ghRNaa: f. a warm feeling towards others , compassion , tenderness ; horror, disgust
khalu: ind. (as a particle of asseveration) indeed , verily , certainly , truly
a-dhRtiH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. unsteady, irregular
dhRti: f. holding , seizing , keeping , supporting , firmness , constancy , resolution ;
a-dhRti: f. want of firmness or fortitude ; laxity , absence of control or restraint ; incontinence
ca: and
manmathaH (nom. sg.): m. love or the god of love , amorous passion or desire

No comments: