Saturday, April 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.31: Excellent Words on Aging

yath" ekShur atyanta-rasa-prapiiDito
bhuvi praviddho dahanaaya shuShyate
tathaa jaraa-yantra-nipiiDitaa tanur
nipiita-saaraa maraNaaya tiShThati

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

Just as sugar-cane,
when all its juice has been squeezed out

Is thrown on the ground to dry, ready for burning,

So, pressed in the vice of aging and drained of energy,

Does the body wait to die.

What the striver says about aging resonates with what the Buddha's says about the terror and tragedy of growing old, viz:

Nothing takes away people's beauty like aging, there is no misfortune in the world like sickness, / And no terror on earth like death. Yet these three, inevitably, shall be obeyed. // [5.27]

One who in a house burning on all sides, instead of getting out of there, would lie down in his folly to sleep, / Only he, in a world burning in the fire of Time, with its flames of sickness and aging, Might be found frolicking heedlessly about.// [5.41]

For while the world of the living burns with the fires of death, disease and aging, / Who could lie down insensibly, any more than in a burning house? // [14.30]

Upon mortal beings who are pained by sickness, dying, aging, and the rest, / What noble person would, with human warmth, lay the utmost pain? // [15.15 ]

Aging, sickness and death are the great terror of this world. / There is no place where that terror does not arise. // [15.46]

Therefore, at the root of a tragedy like growing old see, in short, that birth is suffering. / For, as the earth supports the life of all plants, this birth is the field of all troubles. // [16.7]

If, as I have argued, the striver's state is not the state of buddha, why has Ashvaghosha put such excellent words into the striver's mouth?

Ashvaghosha's intention could be to alert us to the fact that a Buddhist who speaks excellent words is not necessarily in the state of buddha, and not necessarily in the state of non-buddha.

For example, these are truly excellent words:

Stop doing the wrong thing.
Let the right thing do itself.
Purify your own mind.
All who are awake to this teaching teach it.

But just because I parrot this teaching does not make me one of the ones who are truly awake to it.

The right thing does itself! Really to get this point, Dogen wrote, is to be like a dragon that found water, or like a tiger before its mountain stronghold, relying on which power practitioners in the past died while sitting or standing up.

In conclusion, then, the striver's metaphor is a striking one. But a poet's way with words and metaphors, unless there is realization to back it up, in the end, doesn't mean anything. Moreover, something about the striver's metaphor, striking though it is, when we compare it with the words of Gautama Buddha and Zen Master Dogen, is too pessimistic. Too lacking in a sense of the right direction.

This sense of a right direction runs through Dogen's instructions for sitting-zen, and it might also be observable running through the Buddha's references in Saundarananda to old age, which continue as follows:

The many and various disappointments of men, like old age, occur as long as their doing goes on. / (For even when violent winds blow, trees do not shake that never sprouted.) // [16.10]

Insofar as there is a body, there is the suffering of sickness, aging and the like; and also of hunger and thirst, and of the rains, and summer heat and winter cold. / Insofar as a mind is bonded, tied to phenomena, there is the suffering of grief, discontent, anger, fear and so on. // [16.13]

In which there is no becoming, no aging, no dying, no illnesses, no being touched by unpleasantness, / No disappointment, or separation from what is pleasant: it is a step of restfulness, ultimate and indestructible. // [16.27]

A few years ago my wife and I were privileged to visit my Alexander head of training Ray Evans a couple of weeks before he died, at his house. We were struck by the extent to which Ray, though close to the end, was still consciously directing -- with characteristic good humour -- what little energy he had left.

If I make old bones I hope that, contrary to the striver's view of old age, I might die sitting in lotus, like a candle continuing to shine its light until there is no more wax.

EH Johnston:
As a sugar-cane stalk is thrown on the ground to be dried for burning after all the juice has been extracted by pressing, so the body, pressed in the mill of old age and with its vital force drained away, awaits the funeral pyre.

Linda Covill:
Just as sugar-cane, once all its juice is completely squeezed out, is thrown on the ground to dry it ready for the fire, so does the body, once it has been crushed in the mill of old age and drained of its natural juices, wait to die.

yathaa: ind. just as
ikShuH (nom. sg.): m. the sugar-cane ; the stem of the sugar-cane
atyanta-rasa-prapiiDitaH (nom. sg. m.): its juice having been squeezed out perfectly
atyanta: mfn. beyond the proper end or limit; absolute, perfect
rasa: m. the sap or juice of plants
prapiiDitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. pressed
pra- √ piiD: to press, squeeze

bhuvi (loc. sg.): f. the earth, ground
praviddhaH mfn. hurled , cast ; abandoned
pra- √ vyadh: to hurl , cast , throw away or down
dahanaaya (dat. sg.): mfn. burning , consuming by fire
shuShyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive shuSh: to dry , become dry or withered

tathaa: ind. so, likewise
jaraa-yantra-nipiiDitaa (nom. sg. f.): pressed in the vice of aging
jaraa: f. aging, old age
yantra: n. any instrument for holding or restraining; a fetter , band , tie , thong ; restraint ; a surgical instrument (esp. a blunt one , such as tweezers , a vice &c; any instrument or apparatus , mechanical contrivance , engine , machine , implement , appliance (as a bolt or lock on a door , oars or sails in a boat , &c )
nipiiDitaa: mfn. squeezed , pressed ; pained
ni- √ piiD: to press close to or against , press together , impress; to oppress
tanuH (nom. sg.): f. the body

nipiita-saaraa (nom. sg. f.): its vital energy dried up
nipiita: mfn. drunk in , absorbed , imbibed , drunk up
ni- √ paa: to drink or suck in , kiss ; to absorb , dry up
saara: mn. the core or pith or solid interior of anything ; power, energy ; the substance or essence or marrow or cream or heart or essential part of anything
maraNaaya (dat. sg.): n. n. the act of dying , death
tiShThati = 3rd pers. sg. sthaa: to stand; stay , remain , continue in any condition; wait

Friday, April 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.30: Pessimism? Realism? Realization?

niShevya paanaM madaniiyam uttamaM
nishaa-vivaaseShu ciraad vimaadyati
naras tu matto bala-ruupa-yauvanair
na kash cid apraapya jaraaM vimaadyati

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

After nights and daybreaks drinking
the most intoxicating liquor,

One finally comes round,

But drunk on strength, looks and youth,

No man ever comes round -- until he reaches old age.

This verse I have found to be a challenging one. A settled view on this verse seems difficult to arrive at -- and maybe this is Ashvagosha's intention, to steer us away from the sin of certainty.

The striver has shown himself in my eyes to be an unreliable character... and yet he seems to say some good things. And in the real world too, there are Buddhist teachers like that. But if I sit here in solitude, with unshakeable confidence that there is a better way than my old way -- coarse end-gaining on the basis of faulty sensory appreciation -- then what have other people got to do with me? What conclusion do I need to reach about them?

One way of reading today's verse is to understand that the first line is optimistic and the second line is pessimistic -- to understand that the striver is saying the right thing does itself after a man has become temporarily intoxicated by alcohol, but the right thing is more permanently blocked from doing itself by vanity. Is this true, or not?

Ultimately optimism and pessimism are both views to drop off. And yet there might be something real in what the striver is saying about the impediment of vanity and the tragedy of old age.

In that case, is he parroting the Buddha's teaching, as a champion of realism? Or has he realized something for himself?

I don't know, but in regard to the character of the striver, I remain skeptical.

As befits a preacher of propriety, a man who is primarily concerned with what is right and proper, the striver gives me the impression of being too static, being tight and right. Asvaghosha's striver could do with studying -- as this striver has benefitted from studying -- the truth of FM Alexander that "There is no such thing as a right position. But there is a right direction."

According to this principle, being drunk on strength, looks and youth is nothing to worry about, as long as one is continuing to work on oneself, as a work in progress. So we keep on keeping on, not letting ourselves get stuck for too long in worries about right and wrong. What else is there for it? Just to wait for old age to provide a cure for our vanity?

Too many of us -- and I absolutely include myself -- are going around all the time like the striver trying to be right, trying to do the right thing, trying to say the right thing, trying to reach the right conclusion.

Trying to be right, it might be true to conclude, is the ultimate vanity of every striver.

EH Johnston:
A man may give himself up for many nights and dawns to the finest of intoxicating liquors yet at long last he returns to sobriety, but no man who is intoxicated with his strength, youth and beauty becomes disillusioned till he reaches old age.

Linda Covill:
A man who drinks hard for days and nights eventually sobers up, but a man besotted with his own strength, looks and youth never comes to his senses until he reaches old age.

niShevya = abs. ni - √sev: (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur , pursue , practise , perform , cultivate , use , employ
paanam (acc. sg.): n. drinking (esp. drinking spirituous liquors); a drink , beverage
madaniiyam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. intoxicating
uttamam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. uppermost, best; ind. most, in the highest degree;

nishaa-vivaaseShu (loc. pl.): for nights and dawns
nishaa: f. night
vi-vaasa: m. shining forth , dawning
ciraat: ind. (abl.) after a long time , late , at last
vimaadyati = 3rd pers. sg. vi- √ mad: to become perplexed or discomposed
vi-: (sometimes used as private/negative prefix)
√ mad : to rejoice, exult ; be drunk ; intoxicate
vi-mada: mfn. free from intoxication , grown sober ; free from rut ; free from pride or arrogance

naraH (nom. sg.): m. a man
tu: but
mattaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. excited with joy , overjoyed , delighted , drunk , intoxicated (lit. and fig.)
bala-ruupa-yauvanaiH (inst. pl.): with strength, looks and youth
bala: strength
ruupa: good looks
yauvana: youth

na kash cid: not anyone
apraapya (abs.): not having obtained; not reaching
pra- √aap: to attain to; reach , arrive at
jaraam (acc. sg.): f. old age
vimaadyati = 3rd pers. sg. vi- √ mad (see above)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.29: Old Age as a Cure for Vanity? Or for Intoxication?

vivarNita-shmashru valii-vikuNcitaM
vishiirNa-dantaM shithila-bhru niSh-prabhaM
yadaa mukhaM drakShyasi jarjaraM tadaa
jar"-aabhibhuuto vimado bhaviShyasi

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

White whiskered and wrinkled,

With broken teeth and sagging brows, lacking lustre:

When, humbled by age, you see your face grown old,

Then you will sober up.

The dictionary defines vimada as (1) free from intoxication, grown sober; (2) free from rut; (3) free from pride or arrogance

A case could be made for each of these three translations of vimadaH in line 4 of today's verse, viz:

(1) The next verse, 9.30, compares being intoxicated by one's own strength, looks and youth with being intoxicated by alcohol. In that context, "free from intoxication" or "grown sober" fits.

(2) "Free from rut" is consistent with the other usage of the word vimada, four verses from the end of the poem, in line 4 of 18.61:
paarshvaan muneH pratiyayau vi-madaH kar" iiva
He left the sage's side like an elephant free of rut.

(3) Since the striver is specifically discussing in this verse the lack of youthful good looks on an aged face, "free of vanity" also fits.

I argued before that we haven't seen any evidence of vanity on the part of Nanda, even though his good looks were praised by others; we have only seen evidence of vanity on the part of the striver himself, who thinks he understands how to heal human minds even though he doesn't seem to know any skillful means by which to help Nanda. On reflection, there are a couple of verses which falsify this view of mine regarding Nanda's vanity or lack thereof.

First the description of Nanda's attire in Canto 4 points to a certain vanity:

Hearing that the great seer had entered his house and departed again without receiving a welcome, / He in his brightly-coloured gems and garments and garlands, flinched like a tree in Indra's paradise shaken by a gust of wind. //

Second, at the beginning of this canto Ashvaghosha himself describes Nanda as being caught up in his good looks:

And so seeing him caught up as he was by strength and by looks and by youth, /Seeing him all set to go home, the striver chastised Nanda, in the name of tranquillity.// [9.4]

In view of the amount of money spent by old people on face creams, hair dye, cosmetic dentistry, cosmetic surgery and the rest, is old age is a cure for vanity? Hardly. A sobering experience, however, and a sobering thought, old age undoubtedly is.

I had thought to translate vimado bhaviShyasi as "you will be free from vanity," and then to argue that the striver's prediction was not necessarily true -- that old age does not necessarily lead to freedom from vanity.

But on further reflection, with apologies to the striver, I have veered in the direction of sobering up.

EH Johnston:
When you see your face faded with white moustache, covered with wrinkles, with its brilliance gone, teeth broken and eyebrows with their curve lost, then you will find yourself overcome by old age and your intoxication will vanish.

Linda Covill:
When you behold your face grown old -- lusterless, lined with wrinkles, with a white moustache, broken teeth and sagging eyebrows -- then, beaten by age, you will be free of vanity.

vivarNita-shmashru (acc. sg. n.): with discoloured whiskers
vivarNita: mfn. dispraised
vi- √ varN: to discolour
shmashru: n. the beard , (esp.) moustache , the hairs of the beard (pl.)
valii-vikuNcitam (acc. sg. n.): creased with wrinkles; wrinkled
valii: f. a fold of the skin , wrinkle
vikuNcita: mfn. contracted , crisped , curled , knitted (as the brow);
vi- √ kuNch: to contract , draw back (the ears)
vishiirNa-dantam (acc. sg. n.): with broken/missing/decaying teeth
vishiirNa: mfn. broken , shattered &c; fallen out (as teeth)
vi- √shR: to be broken or shattered or dissolved , crumble or fall to pieces , waste away , decay
danta: m. tooth

shithila-bhru (acc. sg. n.): with sagging brows
shithila: loose , slack , lax , relaxed , untied , flaccid , not rigid or compact
bhruu: f. an eyebrow , the brow
niSh-prabham (acc. sg. n.): mfn. deprived of light or radiance , lustreless , gloomy , dark

yadaa: ind. when
mukham (acc. sg.): n. face
drakShyasi = 2nd pers. sg. future dRsh: to see, behold
jarjaram (acc. sg. n.): mfn. infirm , decrepit , decayed , torn or broken in pieces , perforated , hurt
tadaa: ind. then, at that time

jar"-aabhibhuutaH (nom. sg. m.): beaten by age
jaraa: f. aging, old age
abhibhuuta: mfn. surpassed , defeated , subdued , humbled
abhi- √ bhuu: to overcome , overpower , predominate , conquer , surpass , overspread ; to attack , defeat , humiliate
vimadaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. free from intoxication , grown sober; free from rut ; free from pride or arrogance
bhaviShyasi = 2nd pers. sg. future bhuu: to be, become

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.28: Nice Words, Shame about the State

Rtur vyatiitaH parivartate punaH
kShayaM prayaataH punar eti candramaaH
gataM gataM n' aiva tu saMnivartate
jalaM nadiinaaM ca nRNaaM ca yauvanaM

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

A season that has passed comes round again,

The moon wanes and waxes again,

But gone, gone, never to return

Is the water of rivers, and the youth of men.

Some strivers have a way with words; some strivers are inarticulate. Some buddhas, like Ashvaghosha and Dogen, have a way with words; some buddhas let their actions do the talking, like Taiso Eka who got Bodhidharma's marrow, like numerous nameless old fists.

Keeping silent is not necessarily evidence of having made the nectar of deathlessness one's own; nor is the speaking or writing of nice words.

This ascetic striver has an excellent way with words. I think Ashvaghosha's intention is that each reader should not be impressed by the excellent words but should instead be clear that the state of ascetic striving is not the state of buddha.

This might be the central irony of Saundara-nanda. It is an epic tale of the power of viirya, manly effort, valour, heroic direction of energy; and at the same time running through the whole of the poem, for those who seek to understand the teaching in their own sometimes painful daily striving, is negation of ascetic effort.

EH Johnston:
The seasons pass and come round again; the moon wanes and waxes again ; but, once they have passed away, neither the water of a river nor the youth of a man returns.

Linda Covill:
The seasons pass and come back again, the moon wanes and waxes again, but gone, gone, never to return are the waters of a river and the youth of a man.

RtuH (nom. sg.): m. an epoch , period (esp. a division or part of the year) , season (the number of the divisions of the year is in ancient times , three , five , six , seven , twelve , thirteen , and twenty-four ; in later time six seasons are enumerated , viz. vasanta , " spring " ; griiShma , " the hot season " ; varShaas (f. pl. nom. ) , " the rainy season " sharad , " autumn " ; hemanta , " winter " ; and shishira , " the cool season " ; the seasons are not unfrequently personified , addressed in mantras , and worshipped by libations)
vyatiitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. passed away, gone ; departed
parivartate = 3rd pers. sg. pari- √ vRt: to turn round , revolve , move in a circle; to return, come back
punar: ind. again

kShayam (acc. sg.): m. end (kShayaM √ gam , √yaa , √i , or upa √i , to become less , be diminished , go to destruction , come to an end , perish)
prayaataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. set out, gone ; gone or passed away
punar: ind. again
eti = 3rd pers. sg. i: to go ; (with punar) to come back again , return
candramaaH = nom. sg. candramas: m. the moon

gatam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. gone
gatam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. gone
na: not
tu: but
saMnivartate = 3rd pers. sg. saM-ni- √ vRt: to turn back , return

jalam (nom. sg.): n. water
nadiinaam (gen. pl.): f. rivers
ca: and
nRNaam (gen. pl.): m. men
ca: and
yauvanam (nom. sg.): n. youth

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.27: Exhortation to Suppress the Aspiring Mind

navaM vayash c' aatma-gataM nishaamya yad
gRh'-onmukham te viShay'-aaptaye manaH
niyaccha tac chaila-nad"-iiray'-opamaM
drutaM hi gacchaty a-nivarti yauvanaM

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

Again, your mind,
seeing the prime of life as a personal belonging,

Looks forward to going home
and gaining its sensual end:

Curb that mind!
for, like a river coursing down a rocky mountain,

Youth passes swiftly and does not return.

With the imperative niyaccha tat, "Curb that [mind]," or in LC's translation "Stop it," is the striver expressing the 3rd noble truth, or not?

I think we know the striver well enough by now to know that his way is not truly a way of cessation of suffering, but is a variation on the theme of self-denying asceticism.

Still, to translate niyaccha tat as "suppress your mind!" might be going too far -- even though, according to the dictionary, ni- √yam does include the meaning of suppress.

Ashvaghosha, as I hear him, is manifesting less and less obviously the faults in the striver's thinking -- from the blatant misogyny of Canto 8 to words that sound increasingly like the Buddha's teaching,.

Thus, as in the practice of sitting-dhyana outlined by Ashvaghosha in Canto 17, the reader is encouraged to be awake first to gross faults (e.g. the tainted expectation that "if I practice hard I will be rewarded by the sexual favours of heavenly nymphs") and then subtler faults (e.g. attachment to ease in sitting).

The central fault expressed in this verse, as I read it, is a directness of approach that contrasts with the indirect approach employed by the Buddha in the next canto. Thus, the striver exhorts Nanda to curb, restrain, or suppress his aspiring mind. Whereas, by causing him to focus on the goal of union with nymphs in heaven, the Buddha gives Nanda something to which greatly to aspire.

EH Johnston:
Dam up your mind like the torrent of a mountain stream, since it turns to your home, in your perception of the fresh youth that is yours, to obtain the objects of the senses ; for youth goes swiftly never to return.

Linda Covill:
Imagining that green youth is integral to you, your mind turns homeward in the expectation of finding pleasurable sensations. Stop it, for youth, like a coursing mountain stream, flows swiftly and does not return.

navam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. new, fresh
vayaH (acc. sg.): n. energy ; vigorous age , youth , prime of life
ca: and
aatma-gatam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. being on itself
aatman: m. self ; the person or whole body considered as one
gata: mfn. come to, arrived at, being in
nishaamya = abs. ni- √ sham: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
yad (acc. sg. n.): that, [the mind] which

gRh'-onmukham (acc. sg. n.): looking forward to going home
gRha: home
unmukha: mfn. raising the face , looking up or at ; expecting
te (gen. sg.): your
viShay'-aaptaye (dat. sg.): for the gaining of sensual enjoyments
viShaya: m. anything perceptible by the senses , any object of affection or concern or attention , any special worldly object or aim or matter or business , (pl.) sensual enjoyments , sensuality
aapti: f. reaching , meeting with ; obtaining , gain , acquisition
manaH (acc. sg.): n. mind

niyaccha = 2nd pers. sg. imperative ni- √ yam : to stop (trans.) , hold back ; to hold in , keep down , restrain , control , govern , regulate (as breath , the voice , the organs of sense &c ); to suppress or conceal (one's nature)
tat (acc. sg. n.): it, that [mind]
shaila-nad"-iiray'-opamam (acc. sg. n.): like a river coursing down a mountain
shaila: m. a rock , crag , hill , mountain
nadii: f. flowing water , a river
iiraya = causative root √iir: to go, move, go away
upama: mfn. (ifc.) equal , similar , resembling , like

drutam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. quick , speedy , swift
hi: for
gacchati = 3rd pers. sg. gam: to go , move , go away ; to go or pass (as time)
a-nivarti = nom. sg. n. a-nivartin: mfn. not turning back , brave , not returning
yauvanam (nom. sg.): n. (fr. yuvan) youth , youthfulness

Monday, April 25, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.26: Pessimism Revisited

yadi pratiipaM vRNuyaan na vaasasaa
na shauca-kaale yadi saMspRshed apaH
mRjaa-visheShaM yadi n' aadadiita vaa
vapur vapuShman vada kiidRshaM bhavet

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

If its unpleasantness were not covered with clothes,

If it never touched water after excretion,

Or if it never received a good washing,

Tell me, handsome one! what might a body be like?

A human body is primarily a head, neck and back, with arms and legs growing out on each side with hands and feet, fingers and toes on the end.

kiidRshaM bhavet
What might it be like?

The tips of the fingers, as well as the feet, ankles and a bit of each lower leg, when a person sits as the Buddha taught, might be crossed over to the other side of the midline. The neck might be free to let the head go forward and up, to let the back lengthen and widen, so as to facilitate breathing in, and breathing out as well.

People have optimistic views and people have pessimistic views. The view of an ascetic striver is invariably pessimistic. But the dharma of a buddha is just to sit.

That is the essential teaching of Master Dogen's Shobogenzo, and there is nothing in the teaching of Asvhaghosha that contradicts this essential teaching. The view of the ascetic striver is not the dharma of a buddha. That, as I read it, is just the point that Ashvaghosha is making. People's views, even if they wear a Buddhist uniform and speak eloquently words that sound like the Buddha's teaching, are not the buddha-dharma. The dharma of a buddha is to sit.

EH Johnston:
Tell me, O beautiful one, what the body would look like if what is revolting in it were not covered with a garment, if it were not regularly washed, or if it did not receive enhancement from decoration.

Linda Covill:
O handsome man, describe what your body would be like if its unpleasant parts were not covered with clothes, if it had no contact with water after excretion, or if it were unbathed.

yadi: if
pratiipam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. " against the stream " , " against the grain " ; displeasing , disagreeable
vRNuyaat = 3rd pers. sg. opt. vR: to cover
na: not
vaasasaa (inst. sg.): n. clothes, garment

na: not
shauca-kaale (loc. sg.): at the time of evacuation of excrement
shauca: n. cleanness , purity , purification (esp. from defilement caused by the death of a relation); n. evacuation of excrement
kaala: m. time, hour
yadi: if
saMspRshet = 3rd pers. sg. optative saM- √ spRsh: to touch; (with or without salilam , apas &c ) to touch water , sprinkle , wash
apaH (acc. pl.): f. (in Ved. used in sing. and pl. , but in the classical language only in pl. aapas) water

mRjaa-visheSham (acc. sg.): particular cleansing ; a good wash
mRjaa: f. wiping , cleansing , washing , purification , ablution ;
visheSha: m. a kind , species , individual (e.g. vRkSha-v° , a species of tree , in comp. often also = special , peculiar , particular , different) ; distinction , peculiar merit , excellence , superiority (in comp. often = excellent , superior , choice , distinguished)
yadi: if
na: not
aadadiita = 3rd pes. sg. optative aa- √ daa: " to give to one's self " , take , accept
vaa: or

vapur (nom. sg.): n. the body
vapuShman (voc. sg. m.) : O handsome man!
vada = 2nd pers. sg. imperative vad: to say, tell
kiidRsham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. of what kind? what like?
bhavet = 3rd pers. sg. bhuu: to be, become

Sunday, April 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.25: Flogging a Tired Old View

yathaa mayuurash cala-citra-candrako
bibharti ruupaM guNavat sva-bhaavataH
shariira-saMskaara-guNaad Rte tathaa
bibharShi ruupaM yadi ruupavaan asi

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

Just as a peacock with the eye in its tail flashing

Carries its excellent looks naturally,

That is how,
without any distinction got from grooming the body,

You must carry your looks
-- if after all you are good-looking.

The striver in this and the next verse is harking back to his pessimistic view expressed in Canto 8 that a human body in its natural state -- which for the striver means a dirty and unkempt state -- is not beautiful.

When we read the words that Dogen wrote in the years after he came back from China to Japan, in say Fukan-zazengi or Shobogenzo Bendowa, there is in them a great enthusiasm, the excitement of fresh discovery. Dogen was bristling like a new brush, ready to sweep away the dust and cobwebs of the sectarian Buddhism that had been festering in Japan for centuries.

In comparison the words of the striver, as I hear them, sound tired and uninspired.

Shortly after I first came back to England to train as a teacher of the FM Alexander Technique, I attended a running workshop led by a Canadian Alexander teacher named Malcolm Balk. I always remember how Malcolm emphasized, in his opening remarks, that his first principle in running was... I was all ears, half-suspecting Malcolm to say that the key was "inhibition," i.e., the 3rd noble truth, the truth of cessation. But no, Malcolm said that for him priority number one was... looking good. Malcolm was less interested in demonstrating how to run than in demonstrating how NOT to run. And the way a good runner does NOT not run might be the way a buddha does not sit -- not with the humourless heavy footsteps or the tired, grey, grim determination of the ascetic striver.

EH Johnston:
Just as it is through nature alone that the peacock displays the most excellent beauty of its glorious outspread tail, so if you are beautiful at all, you only possess that beauty apart from the excellence due to the toilet of the body.

Linda Covill:
If you are beautiful, then the beauty you exhibit must exclude any attractive feature resulting from personal care, just as the peacock with its fluttering, glittering tail carries its beauty naturally.

yathaa: just as
mayuuraH (nom. sg.): m. a peacock
cala-citra-candrakaH (nom. sg. m.): with the eye in its tail trembling brightly
cala: mfn. moving , trembling
citra: mfn. conspicuous, bright, speckled
candraka: m. the moon ; a circle or ring shaped like the moon; the eye in a peacock's tail

bibharti = 3rd pers. sg. bhR: to bear, carry
ruupam (acc. sg.): n. handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty , splendour
guNavat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. endowed with good qualities or virtues or merits or excellences , excellent , perfect
sva-bhaava-taH: from natural disposition , by nature , naturally , by one's self , spontaneously
sva-bhaava: m. native place ; own condition or state of being , natural state or constitution , innate or inherent disposition , nature , impulse , spontaneity
-taH: (ablative/adverbial suffix)

shariira-saMskaara-guNaat (abl. sg.): excellence from embellishing the body
shariira: n. the body ; one's body i.e. one's own person
saMskaara: m. putting together , forming well , making perfect , accomplishment , embellishment, adornment , purification , cleansing , making ready , preparation; cleansing the body , toilet , attire
guNa: m. a quality , peculiarity , attribute or property ; good quality , virtue , merit , excellence ; a secondary element , subordinate or unessential part of any action
Rte: ind. with the exclusion of , excepting , besides , without (with ablative)
tathaa: ind. (correlative of yathaa) so, likewise

bibharShi = 2nd pers. sg. present bhR: to bear, carry
ruupam (acc. sg.): n. handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty , splendour
yadi: if
ruupa-vaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a beautiful form or colour , handsomely formed , handsome , beautiful
asi = 2nd pers. sg. as: to be

Saturday, April 23, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.24: To Be or Not to Be

ahaM vapuShmaan iti yac ca manyase
vicakShaNaM n' aitad idaM ca gRhyataaM
kva tad vapuH saa ca vapuShmatii tanur
gadasya saamyasya ca saaraNasya ca

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

Again, that you think "I am good looking"

Is not astute. Let this be grasped:

Where are the good looks, where the beautiful bodies,

Of Gada, Samba, and Sarana?

Through all of the 13 years I lived in Japan I would listen almost every day to the Far Eastern Network of American Armed Forces Radio. A programme called All Things Considered was a favourite listen, but I used to listen indiscriminately to pretty much anything, especially in those years before building up the good karma that enabled me to meet and start a family with my wife. Listening to FEN radio is how I became familiar with a humorous country song that has been playing in my head for the past day or so, while thinking about the translation of today's verse.

O Lord, it is hard to be humble
When you're perfect in every way
I can't wait to look in the mirror
'Cos I get better looking each day...

This song, tongue-in-cheek though it is, is not really an appropriate song to be quoted in a scholarly discussion of a religious text -- and that is probably why, out of my sitting practice, the memory of the song bubbled up. That is certainly why I quote the song now. Because my sitting practice is not religious. And because these comments are never intended to be scholarly discussion of a religious text.

The striver, preacher of propriety, doubtless would not approve.

Who were Gada, Samya and Sarana mentioned in line 4?

In his notes to the Sanskrit text, EHJ states:
Of the three names in d Gada and SaaraNa are vRShNis often mentioned together, e.g. MBh. I. 7992... For Saamya, whom I cannot trace, perhaps should be substituted Shaamba or Saamba who is mentioned in these passages and whose masquerade as a woman... caused the downfall of the vRShNis
. [The Vrishnis were the tribe or family from which Krishna was thought to be descended].

In his notes to his English translation, referring to Maha-bharata xvi, EHJ concludes that he thinks there is no doubt we should read shaambasya for saamyasya in line 4.

Where are the good looks of Gada, Samba, and Sarana? Presumably the good looks of those ancient Vrishnis are no more.

A more pertinent question might be: Where is the evidence that Nanda thinks himself to be good looking?

We are told in 2.58 that Nanda was extremely good looking, and in 2.63 that he frittered all his time on idle pleasures, but the vanity which the striver denounces is not mentioned. Was this an oversight on Ashvaghosha's part? I somehow doubt it. Much more likely, I reckon, is that the striver was up to his old trick of projecting his own fault onto others. For in 9.5 we have concrete evidence not only of the striver's vanity but also of his consciousness of beauty (even if it is not his own beauty): Your strength and looks and fresh youth I recognize as you do; / But that these three are impermanent you do not realise as I do. [9.5]

Coming back to the one great matter, that is the dharma of a buddha, which is just to sit, I think the most important word to consider in today's verse is the first word in the verse: aham.

ahaM vapuShmaan means "I, being good looking [masculine]."
"I, being good looking [feminine]" would be aham vapuShmatii.

My old Zen teacher used to earn his income, a portion of which he channeled to me in the form of a monthly "scholarship," working as a consultant for a cosmetics company. It is not a very religious sounding job -- which again is why I am talking about it here, lest we go down the striver's path of thinking that true yoga is all about sack-cloth and ashes. "Women tend to be happy," Gudo told me, affirming the value of make-up, "when they have consciousness that they are beautiful."

What the striver is doing in today's verse, as I hear him, is imitating the sound of the Buddha's teaching, viz: That "I am young," or "I am strong," should not occur to you: / Death kills in all situations without regard for sprightliness. [15.54]

The striver, it seems to me, in common with religious strivers everywhere, only knows that "I am" is to be negated.

Strivers tend not to understand that in the Buddha's teaching "I am" is also very much part of the primary thing to be affirmed. Hence:

Therefore walking like this: "Walking, I am"; and standing like this: "Standing, I am" -- / At opportune moments such as these -- you should cover yourself in mindfulness. // 14.45

caro 'smi: walking, I am; in action, I exist.
caraH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. moving, living, practising, acting
asmi = 1st pers. sg. √as: to be

In action, I exist. Acting, I am. The Gudo Nishijima that I knew was an incredibly stupid, annoying and unskillful teacher, with his yanking back of people's chins and all the rest of it. But this one point, he got. Acting, I am.

EH Johnston:
And similarly your idea that you have beauty is not wise, and you should take this to heart ; where is now the beauty , where the beautiful bodies of Gada, Shamba and Sarana?

Linda Covill:
And it's not clever to believe 'I am handsome!' Ponder this: where are the fine looks, where are the fine bodies of Gada, Shamba or Sarana?

aham (nom. sg. m.): I
vapuShmaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. having a beautiful form , handsome
iti: "....," thus
yat (nom. sg. n.): that
ca: and
manyase = 2nd pers. sg. man: to think, believe , imagine , suppose

vicakShaNam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. conspicuous; clear-sighted (lit. and fig.) , sagacious , clever , wise
na: not
etad (acc./nom. sg. n.): mfn. this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker) ; etad generally refers to what precedes , esp. when connected with idam
idam (acc./nom. sg. n.): this (idam often refers to something immediately following , whereas etad points to what precedes)
ca: and
gRhyataam = 3rd pers. sg. passive imperative grah: to grasp, to take on one's self ; to perceive (with the organs of sense or with manas) , observe , recognise ; to receive into the mind , apprehend , understand , learn ; to accept , admit , approve

kva: where
tad (nom. sg. n.): that
vapuH (nom. sg.): n. form , figure , (esp.) a beautiful form or figure , wonderful appearance , beauty
saa (nom. sg. f.): that, the [body]
ca: and
vapuShmatii (nom. sg. f.): mfn. having a beautiful form
tanuH (nom. sg.): f. the body , person , self

gadasya (gen. sg.): m. Gada ; N. of a son of vasu-deva and younger brother of kRShNa
saamyasya (gen. sg.): m. Samya = (?) Samba
saamba: m. (also written shaamba) N. of a son of kRShNa and jaambavatii
saamya: n: equality , evenness , equilibrium , equipoise , equal or normal state
ca: and
saaraNasya (gen. sg.): m. Sarana; N. of a brother of kRShNa
ca: and

Friday, April 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.23: Exhortation to Beat the Six Senses

tathaa hi viiraaH puruShaa na te mataa
jayanti ye s'-aashva-ratha-dvipaan ariin
yathaa mataa viirataraa maniiShiNo
jayanti lolaani ShaD-indriyaaNi ye

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

Less heroic are those men thought

Who conquer enemies
armed with horses, chariots and elephants,

Than those heroic thinkers are thought

Who conquer the restless six senses.

As an avid listener of BBC Radio 4 Long Wave, especially when in France, I cannot help be aware that today is a big day in the Christian calendar. As easy as falling off a log would it be for me to complain about being subjected to a lot of ludicrous stories about resurrection and other so-called Christian miracles that fly in the face of reason. It does irritate me greatly that Radio 4, which is generally a bastion of reason, gives itself up for so many minutes in the day to religious bullshit.

Equally, it is not too difficult for me to see the fault in what the striver is saying in today's verse. Just as Christian preachers, when they ask others to believe in a heap of bullshit called "the resurrection," ask too much, so also the striver, when he asks us to believe that it is possible to conquer the six senses, is asking too much. The truth might be that nobody can control the six senses; the best we can hope for, bringing reason to bear, is to contain the power or influence of faulty sensory appreciation.

In Canto 13 there are several verses in which the senses are portrayed as besieging or oppressing enemies. But nowhere in Canto 13 does the Buddha speak of conquering the senses. The verb the striver uses is √ji, to conquer. The verbs the Buddha uses are ni-√vR, to ward off, restrain, hold back [13.30], and saM-√vR, to ward off, keep back, restrain, check.

Standing grounded in mindfulness, the naturally impetuous senses / From the objects of those senses you should hold back (nivaarayitum arhasi). [13.30]

Through effort of the highest order, therefore, contain (kaaryaH saMvaraH) the power of the senses; / For unguarded senses make for suffering and for becoming. [13.54]

Whereas the Buddha uses verbs from the root √vR, which expresses the more modest and indirect principle of prevention, the striver speaks in terms of jit-endriya "conquering the senses," which is an end-gaining idea, an ascetic concept. Indeed, as a masculine noun, jit-endriya means an ascetic.

So far, so good. I feel like I am winning the argument, putting the striver firmly in the deluded camp, alongside irrational religious believers. A couple of objections, however, arise.

First, the title of Canto 13 in our source text is shiil'-endriya-jayaH, which I have translated as "Thwarting the Power of the Senses through the Practice of Integrity." If this was Ashvaghosha's original title, then I would argue in its defence that in this title indriya is not necessarily plural. The compound indriya-jayaH is literally translated as "conquering the senses" (plural) or equally as "thwarting the power of the senses" (singular). The latter translation, I have reckoned, is less direct, and more in line with what I have understood from Alexander work: namely, "We cannot control our feelings; our feelings control us. But we can have some control over what we think. The thinking educates the feeling, and the feeling educates the body. It is that way round."

Interestingly, in the version of Saundara-nanda published by Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project of Nagarjuna Institute, Nepal, Canto 13 has a different title: śīla evaṃ indriya-saṃyama. The word saṃyama, which the dictionary gives as holding together, restraint, is more in line with the content of the Canto.

The second objection that arises to the above analysis, on reflection, is that it is always too easy to see religious believers, strivers, and the like, as different from myself. What is more challenging is to see that of the religious believer, and that of the ascetic striver, in myself.

A couple of days ago I was sweeping in the kitchen when I nudged a plastic bin, which nudged an empty glass bottle, which fell over with a sharp clink. Because I couldn't see the bottle which was hiding behind the bin, the sound took me by surprise and seemed to penetrate to the core of my being. For a few seconds I was gripped by intense anger and an intense desire in some way to retaliate, for example, by smashing something. After a few seconds, reason was able to intervene and I was able to think to myself, largely thanks to the teaching of an Alexander teacher named Ray Evans, "This is what an auditory Moro reflex feels like."

Thirty-five years ago, when I resolved to try to get to the bottom of whatever it was inside me that caused me to over-react in certain situations, my attitude was very much like the striver's attitude. I wanted to conquer my problem. But that kind of desire for resolution is just a manifestation of the problem itself, which might originally be rooted in the Moro reflex, whose agenda is always the urgent gaining of an end.

Nowadays -- it would be easy for me to say -- I am no longer like that. I have seen the error of end-gaining ways, and so I don't expect to be perfect. But the truth might be that deep down I am still very much like that. The ascetic desire to have direct control over the senses is still there in me. So that when I over-react to a bottle falling over, it is not only the loud clink that surprises me. My immature reaction also comes as a surprise, giving rise to a sense of disappointed expectation. And when that disappointed expectation is examined, it might be nothing other than the unreal expectation of the ascetic striver that the six senses might some day be conquered.

I understand the ascetic, end-gaining striver so well and yet he still annoys me so much, because there is still so much of him in me.

And why, finally, have I written "still"? What am I expecting to change? How different am I from all those deluded Christians who are irrationally expecting something that is never going to happen?

EH Johnston:
For men may overcome foes, who are well provided with horses, chariots and elephants, yet they are not counted such heroes as the wise men who overcome the six restless senses.

Linda Covill:
for men who conquer enemies well-equipped with horses, chariots and elephants are not considered as heroic as those thoughtful men who conquer the six roving senses.

tathaa: ind. so, to the same extent
hi: for
viiraaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. heroic , powerful , strong , excellent , eminent
puruShaaH (nom. pl.): m. men
na: not
te (nom. pl. m.): they, those men
mataaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. thought; regarded or considered as , taken or passing for (nom.)

jayanti = 3rd pers. pl. ji: to win, conquer (in battle) , vanquish (in a game or lawsuit) , defeat
ye (nom. pl. m.): [those] who
s'-aashva-ratha-dvipaan (acc. pl. m.): with their horses, chariots, and elephants
sa: (possessive prefix) with
ashva: m. horse
ratha: m. "goer", a chariot , car , esp. a two-wheeled war-chariot
dvi-pa: m. elephant (lit. drinking twice , sc. with his trunk and with his mouth)
ariin (acc. pl.): m. enemies

yathaa: ind. (correlative of tathaa) as
mataaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. thought; regarded or considered as , taken or passing for (nom.)
viira-taraaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. stronger , bolder; more heroic , powerful , strong , excellent
maniiShiNaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. thoughtful , intelligent , wise , sage , prudent; m. a learned Brahman , teacher , Pandit

jayanti = 3rd pers. pl. ji: to win, conquer , defeat
lolaani (acc. pl. n.): mfn. moving hither and thither , shaking , rolling , tossing , dangling , swinging , agitated , unsteady , restless ; changeable , transient , inconstant , fickle ; desirous , greedy , lustful
ShaD-indriyaaNi (acc. pl.): n. the six senses
ye (nom. pl. m.): [those men] who

Thursday, April 21, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.22: Exhortation Just to Do

balaM mahad vaa yadi vaa na manyase
kuruShva yuddhaM saha taavad indriyaiH
jayash ca te' tr' aasti mahac ca te balaM
paraajayash ced vitathaM ca te balaM

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

Whether or not you think your strength great,

Just do battle against the senses!

If you are victorious in this, your strength is great;

If you are defeated, your strength is nothing.

Containing the power of the senses is just the Buddha's teaching. Similarly, FM Alexander taught a means-whereby to bypass what he called "faulty sensory appreciation." Investigation of the latter teaching, I am sure, has helped me understand what the former teaching is, or at least what it is not: It is not striving after something. It is not acting in accordance with the lowly evolved end-gaining principle.

Lacking mastery of any skillful means which is subtle, conscious and indirect, the striving end-gainer (or end-gaining striver) goes for his end crudely, unconsciously, and directly.

In today's verse, as I read it, those elements of crudeness, unconsciousness and directness are all present.

Those elements are there in the black-and-white rhetoric of strength that is either great or nothing. When conscious consideration is given to the grey area of actual practice, There is less to fear from an enemy, or from fire, or from a snake, or from lightning, / Than there is from one's own senses; for through them one is forever being smitten. // [13.31]. This being so, contrary to the striver's opinion, there might be a kind of strength in persisting with practice here and now, notwithstanding the fact that one has just been defeated again by the power of the senses.

Above all, what the striver manifests here, like end-gainers everywhere, is a directness of approach. Hence, "Just do battle against the senses!"

Compare the more considered words that Ashvaghosha puts into the mouth of the Buddha in Canto 13:

And yet the power of the senses, though operative, need not become glued to an object, / So long as in the mind, with regard to that object, no fixing goes on.//

Through effort of the highest order, therefore, contain the power of the senses; / For unguarded senses make for suffering and for becoming
. [13.54]

The Buddha says kaaryaH saMvaraH, lit. "restraining/containing is to be done." The striver says kuruShva yuddham, lit. "Do battle!" or "Make war!"

In conclusion, then, though this verse sounds similar to the Buddha's teaching, when one bites into it, the similarity is the similarity between a cake of chalk and a cake of cheese. It is no similarity at all. It is the difference between doing and non-doing. Between striving to do the right thing and allowing the right thing to do itself.

For several years I strove to clarify this difference for others in a somewhat crude and unduly direct way, without much success. But since retreating into this translation work, I find unexpectedly that Ashvaghosha has already said everything that I have wanted and struggled to say about striving vs not striving, end-gaining vs means-whereby, doing vs non-doing. And the real-life character of the striver, who speaks just as strivers everywhere speak -- crudely, directly, seeing everything in black and white -- is instrumental in Ashvaghosha's clarification, which is very subtle, very indirect, very skillful.

EH Johnston:
Whether you think your physical strength great or the reverse, it is against your senses that you should wage war. If you conquer them, your strength is truly great: if you are defeated, your strength is no strength.

Linda Covill:
Whether or not you think your physical prowess great, make war against your senses. Your victory in that arena would be a great strength, but if defeated, your physical strength is futile;

balam (acc. sg.): n. strength
mahat (acc. sg. n.): mfn. great
vaa... yadi... vaa... na: whether or not
manyase = 2nd pers. sg. man: to think ; to regard or consider any one or anything (acc.) as (acc.)

kuruShva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative kR: to do make
yuddham (acc. sg.): n. battle , fight , war
yudh: to fight , wage war , oppose or (rarely) overcome in battle
saha: with
taavat: ind. at once , now , just , first (very often connected with an imperative)
indriyaiH (inst. pl.): n. senses

jayaH (nom. sg.): m. ( √ ji) conquest , victory , triumph , winning , being victorious (indriyaaNaaM jaya, victory over or restraint of the senses)
ca: and
te (gen. sg.): of you, your
atra: ind. in this matter , in this respect
asti = 3rd pers. sg. as: to be
mahat (nom. sg.): n. great
ca: and
te: your
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength

paraajayaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. being conquered
paraa: ind. away , off , aside , along , on , (occurs only in -taram and -vat , and as a prefix to nouns and verbs )
paraa- √ ji : to be deprived of , suffer the loss of (acc.) , be conquered , succumb
ced: if
vitatham (nom. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. vi + tathaa , not so) untrue , false , incorrect , unreal , vain , futile
ca: and
te (gen. sg.): your
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.21: Power Trip?

ato viditvaa bala-viirya-maaninaaM
bal'-aanvitaanaam avamarditaM balaM
jagaj jaraa-mRtyu-vashaM vicaarayan
bale' bhimaanaM na vidhaatum arhasi

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

Know, therefore, that the strength of powerful men,

Who fancy themselves imbued with strength and drive,
is ground down;

And do not,
as you survey a world in the sway of aging and death,

Take pride in strength.

Just to be sure I haven't missed something, yesterday I reviewed every verse pertaining to Nanda in the previous eight cantos and could not find any verse that gives any indication that taking pride in strength was one of Nanda's failings. On the contrary, the verse that makes a mockery of the striver's chastizing, to quote it again, is the one in Canto 7 where Nanda bemoans his own weakness:

Hordes of gods, kings, and seers such as these have fallen by dint of desire into the thrall of women. / Being weak in understanding and inner strength, all the more discouraged, when I do not see my beloved, am I. // 7.46

In today's verse the striver uses the word balam (strength or power) no less than four times. Is the suggestion that the striver is on some kind of power trip?

When we look in real life at preachers of propriety, such as the striver is, those preachers very often are on some kind of power trip -- as opposed to making the nectar of deathlessness one's own.

As opposed to learning the backward step of turning and shining one's own light.

EH Johnston:
Therefore, knowing that the strength of those mighty ones who boasted of their heroism and strength was brought low, and seeing the world to be a prey to old age and death, do not fancy yourself strong.

Linda Covill:
Therefore recognize that physical capacity is ground down even in mighty men proud of their strength and valor. Reflect on the world under the sway of old age and death, and take no pride in strength!

ataH: ind. from this, hence
viditvaa = abs. vid: to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion
bala: n. strength
viirya: n. manliness , valour , strength , power , energy; manly vigour , virility
maanin: mfn. haughty; (ifc.) thinking (esp. one's self) to be or have , appearing as or passing for

bal'-aanvitaanaam (gen. pl. m.): mfn. possessed of power , powerful , strong
avamarditam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. crushed , destroyed
ava- √ mRd: " to grind down " , crush , tread down
balam (acc. sg.): n. strength

jagat (acc. sg.): n. the world
jaraa-mRtyu-vasham: (acc. sg. n.): in the sway of aging and death
jaraa: f. the act of becoming old , old age
mRtyu: m. death, dying
vasha: m. authority , power , control , dominion
vicaarayan = nom. sg. m. pres. part. causative vi- √ car: to move hither and thither (in the mind) , ponder , reflect , consider ; to examine , investigate , ascertain

bale (loc. sg.): n. strength
abhimaanam (acc. sg.): m. high opinion of one's self , self-conceit , pride , haughtiness; conception (especially an erroneous one regarding one's self)
na: not
vidhaatum = infinitive vi- √ dhaa: to perform , effect , produce , cause , occasion , make , do Mn. MBh. &c (like √ kR to be translated variously in connection with various nouns)
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: ought

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.20: Another Tale of Power

balaM kuruuNaaM kva ca tat tad" aabhavad
yudhi jvalitvaa taras" aujasaa ca ye
samit-samiddhaa jvalanaa iv' aadhvare
hat'-aasavo bhasmani paryavasthitaaH

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

And where is the power once possessed by the Kurus

Who blazed in combat with speed and stamina

And then,
like sacrificial fires whose firewood has burned,

Lay in ashes, their life-breath snuffed out?

The setting of the Bhagavad Gita is a battlefield at the onset of an Indian civil war. The battle is between two factions of the royal family of the Kurus (the Kauravas and the Pandavas). According to the Wikipedia entry on the Kurus, they brought into this war almost all the rulers of ancient India. The colossal destruction of life and wealth in this war led ancient India into a socio-economic depression (otherwise known as the Kali Yuga or the Dark Age) that lasted for a long period.

Talking of strength or power (balam), the whole of Saundara-nanda might be a tale of power -- the power of the Buddha's wisdom, prajNaa; the power of the confidence, shraddhaa, that Nanda finds in a better way; the power of strongly directing one's energy, viirya, (but do not call it striving); and ultimately the power of true yoga, with its twofold division into mindfulness, smRti, and balance, samaadhi.

The striver, however, seems to be unduly concerned with a different sort of power. This might be a fault in the striver. Failing to see it as such, however, the striver is grimly projecting it onto poor old innocent Nanda who at present is not at all interested in power or strength, but only in his absent lover.

So the striver, it seems to me, in his repeated negation of Nanda's non-existent tendency to take pride in strength or power, is somehow missing the essential point of the Buddha's teaching. For some unconscious reason, he is pursing another agenda. In this the character of the striver rings true to real life and is an excellent mirror for us who, despite the most heroic of intentions, go wrong in our effort to follow the Buddha's way. The striver is doing what many of us do in fact do: in our effort to be like a dragon finding water, we manifest ourselves as fake elephants. When we strive to follow a better way, our striving just ties us to our old way.

In this situation, it might be desirable to come back to the fundamental teaching of the four noble truths, as outlined in Canto 16, and stop striving.

EH Johnston:
And where has the strength of the Kurus gone? They blazed in the fight with energy and fury, yet they lost their lives and were turned to ashes, like fires heaped up with fuel in a sacrifice.

Linda Covill:
Where is the strength of the Kurus at war, blazing with energy and vigor? Like sacrificial fires stoked with fuel, they turned to ashes, their life-breath ended

balam (nom. sg.): n. strength
kuruuNaam (gen. pl.): the Kurus ; N. of a people of India and of their country (it was probably a country beyond the most northern range of the himaalaya , often described as a country of everlasting happiness, and considered by some to be the ancient home of the Aryan race).
kva: where? (with √bhuu , √as) how is it with? what has become of?
ca: and
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
tadaa: ind. at that time
abhavat = 3rd pers. sg. imperfect bhuu: to be, exist, be found, occur

yudhi (loc. sg.): f. war , fight , combat , struggle
jvalitvaa = abs. jval: to burn brightly , blaze , glow , shine
tarasaa (inst. sg.): n. rapid progress , velocity , strength , energy , efficacy
ojasaa (inst. sg.): n. bodily strength , vigour , energy , ability , power
ca: and
ye (nom. pl. m.): who

samit-samiddhaaH (nom. pl. m.): with their firewood set on fire
samit = in comp. for samidh: f. firewood , fuel , a log of wood , faggot , grass &c employed as fuel
samiddha: mfn. set alight or on fire , lighted , kindled , ignited , inflamed
jvalanaaH (nom. pl.): m. fire
iva: like
adhvare (loc. sg.): m. a sacrifice (especially the soma sacrifice)

hat'-aasavaH (nom. pl. m.): deprived of their life-breath
hata: mfn. struck , beaten (also said of a drum) , smitten , killed , slain , destroyed , ended , gone , lost (often ibc. = " destitute of " , " bereft of " , " -less ")
asu: m. ( √as, to be) breath , life
bhasmani (loc. sg.): n. "what is pulverized a or calcined by fire " , ashes
paryavasthitaaH (nom. pl. m.): mfn. standing , stationed ; (with loc.) contained in
pary-ava- √ sthaa: to become firm or steady ; to fill or pervade

Monday, April 18, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.19: Frailty Before Mighty Indra

diteH sutasy' aamara-roSha-kaariNash
camuu-rucer vaa namuceH kva tad balaM
yam aahave kruddham iv' aantakaM sthitaM
jaghaana phen'-aavayavena vaasavaH

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

Where is the strength of Namuci son of Diti,

Light of an army and provoker of the gods?

He stood his ground in battle, furious as death,

But Indra slew him with a spattering of foam.

Namuci, according to the Wikipedia entry on rakshasas (demons), is another name for our old friend Mara, king of demons.

"With waters' foam you tore off, Indra, the head of Namuci, subduing all contending hosts." [RV.VIII 14.13]

This reference in the Rg Veda to how Indra slew Namuci with foam on water, according to another Wikipedia entry, is the origin of a popular myth about the Hindu deity Narashima.

What is Ashvaghosha's purpose in causing not only Nanda but also the striver to refer at such length to these ancient Indian myths?

What difference might Ashvaghosha be intending to highlight here between the Brahmanic tradition and the Buddha's teaching?

Both Nanda and the striver look to the ancient Indian classics for evidence of human frailty, not to mention frailty of gods, royal seers, demons, and so on. Without such frailty, the narrative of the classics might be a lot less entertaining.

It is not only classic literature, and modern soap opera, that revolve around human frailty. In religions also, in general, God or gods up there are mighty and we human beings down here are frail. In today's verse, Namuci is weak, but Indra is mighty -- as in my favourite hymn, Guide Me O Thy Great Redeemer:

"I am weak, but Thou art mighty.
Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

In my susceptibility to that kind of sentiment, cultivated while watching Wales play rugby in Cardiff during the 1970s, I am indeed weak.

But what is the Buddha's teaching as regards human frailty? Is it the same as this religious feeling of weakness, of impotence before the Almighty? Or is the Buddha's teaching different?

If there is a similarity, it might be in the inability of a human subject to do an undoing -- hence "Thy will be done." That said, I think the Buddha's teaching is singularly different from religious teaching as regards human frailty before God or gods.

Standing in awe before almighty God or the mighty gods, religions generally encourage in us an attitude of belief or faith. But what Nanda finds under the Buddha's skillful guidance is not so much belief or faith as confidence -- confidence in a means-whereby that really works, a better way. Confidence in the operationally verifiable principle that when one stops doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself. Finding this kind of confidence is in Saundara-nanda the beginning of Nanda's discovery of real strength -- RYU NO MIZU O URU GA GOTOKU, like a dragon finding water.

Thus, Ashvaghosha's subversion of cherished religious conceptions is not at all overt. Ashvaghosha's intention might rather be that each individual reader should dig below the surface and -- resisting the pull of the religious herd -- decide for himself or herself, "No, the Buddha's teaching is not that."

EH Johnston:
Where is the strength of Namuci, the son of Diti, who caused the immortals to rage as he shone in the battle array? Him Vasava slew in single combat with a piece of foam, though he opposed him furious as death.

Linda Covill:
Where is the strength of Namuchi son of Diti, light of the army and provoker of the gods? Furious as death he stood his ground in battle, but Vasava killed him with a morsel of foam.

diteH (gen. sg.): m. Diti
sutasya (gen. sg.): m. son
amara-roSha-kaariNaH (gen. sg. m.): producer of anger in the gods
a-mara: mfn. undying , immortal ; m. a god
roSha: m. anger , rage , wrath , passion , fury
kaarin: mfn. doing , making , effecting , producing (mostly ifc.)

camuu-ruceH (gen. sg. m.): light of an army
camuu: f. an army or division of an army (129 elephants , as many cars , 2187 horse , and 3645 foot)
ruci: f. light , lustre , splendour , beauty
vaa: or
namuceH = gen. sg. namuci: m. N. of a demon slain by indra and the ashvins
kva: ind. where?
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength

yam (acc. sg. m.): whom
aahave (loc. sg.): m. challenge , provoking ; war, battle
kruddham (acc. sg. m.): mfn. irritated , provoked , angry with
iva: like
antakam (acc. sg.): m. death ; m. yama , king or lord of death ; mfn. making an end, causing death
sthitam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. standing ; standing firm (yuddhe , " in battle ")

jaghaana = 3rd pers. sg. perfect han: to smite , slay
phen'-aavayavena (inst. sg.): with a bit of foam
phena: m. foam , froth , scum
avayava: m. a limb , member , part , portion
vaasavaH (nom. sg.): mfn. (fr. vasu) relating or belonging to the vasus , derived or descended from them; m. N. of indra (as chief of the vasus)
vasu: mfn. good, excellent ; N. of the gods (as the "good or bright ones"); N. of a partic. class of gods (whose number is usually eight , and whose chief is indra)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.18: More Vedic Corroboration, of a False Premise

kva tad balaM kaMsa-vikarShiNo hares
turaMga-raajasya puT-aavabhedinaH
yam eka-baaNena nijaghnivaan jaraaH
kram'-aagata ruupam iv' ottamaM jaraa

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

Where is the strength
of Hari 'Kamsa-tormentor' Krishna,

Who broke the Horse-King's jaw?

With one arrow from Jaras he was brought down,

Like utmost beauty brought down,
in due order, by old age.

In line 3, jaraaH in the masculine is the name of a hunter who wounded Krishna. In line 4 the same word in the feminine means old age. I meddled a bit with the grammar of the second half in order to preserve the word order, so that old age comes, in due order, at the end.

EHJ notes that the story of how Krishna broke the jaw of the horse Keshin is recorded in the Bhagavata Purana.

In this verse, again, the striver looks to the vedas for corroboration of his view that strength (balam) is nothing to be proud of.

These are the words of an eloquent Buddhist monk who went forth at the time of the Buddha. What power do they have to inform us who are seeking to understand what the Buddha really intended? I think they do not have any such power. And that is precisely Ashvaghosha's point. The basis of the striver's words is his own faulty view, corroborated by revered texts.

If the striver had, with more integrity, looked not to the vedas but instead to the teaching of the Buddha whom he purports to follow, he might have found cause to doubt his view in the teaching of the five noble powers, namely: (1) shraddhaa: confidence; (2) viirya: directed energy; (3) smRti: mindfulness; (4) samaadhi: balance; (5) prajNaa: intuitive wisdom.

In Canto 17 Ashvaghosha describes these powers as a-pratima, unequalled, incomparable, without a match:

With the five incomparable noble powers (aaryair balaiH paNcabhir a-pratimaiH), he broke five uncultivated areas of mental ground [17.26].

Confidence, directed energy, mindfulness, balance, intuitive wisdom:

Because the great matter is only one, Dogen said, ZA-DAN SUBESHI. Cut them by sitting. Sit them away.

But never mind what Dogen said. The striver is here, as I hear him, to remind us by his false example that we are here primarily to make the nectar of deathlessness our own. Seeking corroboration of our views in texts -- be they religious, scientific, or Buddhist -- is not it.

EH Johnston:
Where is the strength of Krishna who slew Kamsa and broke the jaw of the lord of horses? Jaras struck him down with a single arrow, just as old age strikes down in due course beauty however great.

Linda Covill:
Where is the strength of Hari who tore apart Kansa and split the jaw of the Horse-King? Jaras struck him down with a single arrow, just as old age eventually strikes down even the rarest beauty.

kva: ind. where
tat (nom. sg. n.): that
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength
kaMsa-vikarShiNaH (gen. sg. m.): causer of violent pain in the limbs to Kansa
kaMsa: m. N. of a king of mathuraa (son of ugra-sena and cousin of the devakii who was mother of kRShNa [ugra-sena being brother of devaka , who was father of devakii] ; he is usually called the uncle , but was really a cousin of kRShNa , and became his implacable enemy because it had been prophesied to kaMsa that he would be killed by a child of devakii ; as the foe of the deity he is identified with the asura kaalanemi ; and , as he was ultimately slain by kRShNa , the latter receives epithets like kaMsa-jit , conqueror of kaMsa , &c )
vikarShin: mfn. causing violent and acute pain in the limbs
hareH = gen. sg. hari: m. (esp.) N. of viShNu-kRShNa (in this sense thought by some to be derived from √ hR , " to take away or remove evil or sin ")

turaMga-raajasya (gen. sg.): the king of horses
turaM-ga: m. " going quickly " , a horse
raajan: m. a king , sovereign , prince , chief
puT-aavabhedinaH (gen. sg.): who split the hollow space [= jaw?]
puTa: mn. a fold , pocket , hollow space , slit
avabhedin: mfn. splitting , dividing
ava- √ bhid: to split , pierce
puTa-bhid: mfn. burst or cleft asunder
puTa-bheda: " parting of the eye-lids " , opening

yam (acc. sg. m.): whom
eka-baaNena (inst. sg.): with a single arrow
eka: one, a single
baaNa: m. a reed-shaft , shaft made of a reed , an arrow
ni-jaghnivaan = nom. sg. m. perfect active participle ni- √ han: to strike or hew down
jaraaH = nom. sg. m. jaras: N. of a hunter who wounded kRShNa

kram'-aagataa (nom. sg. f.): mfn. descended or inherited lineally , (anything) coming from one's ancestors in regular succession; successive , in due order
krama: m. step, course ; uninterrupted or regular progress , order , series , regular arrangement , succession
aagata: mfn. come, arrived, happened; n. anything that has taken place
krama-gata : mfn. descended or inherited lineally , (anything) coming from one's ancestors in regular succession ; successive , in due order
ruupam (acc. sg.): n. handsome form , loveliness , grace , beauty
iva: like
uttamam (acc. sg.): mfn. uppermost, best
jaraa = nom. sg. f. jaras: the becoming old , decay , old age

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.17: Seeking Corroboration in the Vedas

kva kaarta-viiryasya bal'-aabhimaaninaH
sahasra-baahor balam arjunasya tat
cakarta baahuun yudhi yasya bhaargavo
mahaanti shRNgaaNy ashanir girer iva

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

Where is the power of the son of Krta-virya,
thousand-armed Arjuna,

Who fancied himself to be so strong?

'Scion of the Bhrgus' Bhargava
severed his arms in battle

Like a thunderbolt
lopping off the lofty horns of a mountain.

The striver here is doing what Nanda did in Canto 7 (see verses 7.24 to 7.46), i.e., seeking corroboration for his thesis in ancient Indian myths.

In this he is somewhat like a modern-day member of the academic priesthood who is versed in the methodology of citing the papers of other academics, regardless of whether the research of the other academic has got any real merit.

The thesis for which Nanda seeks corroboration in the vedas is that he is too weak to resist Sundari's pull: Hordes of gods, kings, and seers such as these have fallen by dint of desire into the thrall of women. / Being weak in understanding and inner strength, all the more discouraged, when I do not see my beloved, am I. [7.46]

Subsequent events recorded in Canto 17 show that Nanda's pessimistic thesis, though it seemed to find corroboration in the vedas, was not in fact true. It was a false conception.

The striver's thesis is that Nanda is wrong to take pride in his strength, and he finds support for this thesis in the myth that the mighty warrior Arjuna was defeated in battle by the brahmin Rama -- whose history is said to typify the class war between kshatriya warriors and brahmins. And the fundamental weakness in this thesis of the striver, as I see it and have stated several times already, is that Nanda shows no evidence of taking pride in his strength. Nanda's problem is that he feels he is too weak.

The striver might be likened to one of those research scientists commissioned by the tobacco industry to investigate the health effects of smoking. Their thesis was that the case against tobacco was not proven, and they would cite various academic papers, apparently ticking all the boxes of a bona fide scientist, to support a thesis that plainly flew in the face of the facts.

The striver sounds like a Buddhist and an educated Buddhist to boot. With his knowledge of the vedas, he sounds as if he knows what he is talking about. But if one stops and considers what the striver is actually saying, it does not add up at all. His whole analysis is based on a false assumption.

In the field of Buddhist studies, again, there are academics in whose opinion Ashvaghosha sought to portray the Buddha's teaching as the culmination of the Brahmanical tradition. But the actual fact, to anyone who has his own eyes, is totally contrary to this academic opinion. Ashvaghosha describes Nanda and the striver turning to the vedas for corroboration of ideas that are patently false.

Ashvaghosha is not a moralizer, at least not directly, but if we want to seek morals implicit in this part they might be: (1) don't rely on the vedas, and (2) don't judge a person by his uniform, even if it is a Buddhist uniform.

The lifeblood of the buddha-ancestors has to do with sitting. It has to do with an attitude in sitting. Or rather it has not to do with bringing any attitude to sitting. What it is nobody can say. But we can be clear what it is not. And so Ashvaghosha gives us the character of the striver, who harks back to snobbish, caste-ridden Brahmanist conceptions and tells Nanda who feels himself to be too weak that he must not take pride in strength. Whatever the lifeblood is, it is not that.

EH Johnston:
Where is the strength of the son of Krtavirya, the thousand-armed Arjuna, who boasted of his strength? The Bhargava seer lopped of his arms in battle, as the leyin brand lops the huge peaks of a mountain.

Linda Covill:
Where is the might of thousand-armed Arjuna Karta-virya, so proud of his power? Bhargava cut off his arms in battle as a thunderbolt cuts off a mountain's giant peaks.

kva: ind. where
kaarta-viiryasya (gen. sg.): m. " son of kRta-viirya " , Kaarta-viirya, N. of arjuna (a prince of the haihayas , killed by parashu-raama)
bal'-aabhimaaninaH (gen. sg. m.): imagining himself to be powerful
bala: n. strength, power
abhimaanin: mfn. thinking of one's self , proud , self-conceited; (ifc.) imagining one's self to be or to possess , laying claim to , arrogating to one's self

sahasra-baahoH (gen. sg. m.): thousand-armed
sahasra: a thousand
baahu: m. the arm
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength, power
arjunasya (gen. sg.): m. Arjuna ; name of the third of the paaNDava princes
tat (nom. sg. n.): that

cakarta = 3rd pers. sg. kRt: to cut, cut off
baahuun (acc. pl.): m. arms
yudhi = loc. sg. yudh: f. war , fight , combat , struggle , contest
yasya (gen. sg.): of whom
bhaargavaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. relating to or coming from bhRgu; N. of parashu-raama: m. " rama with the axe " , N. of one of the three raamas (son of jamad-agni and sixth avataara of viShNu , he was a typical Brahman and his history typifies the contests between the brahmans and kShatriyas)

mahaanti (acc. pl. n.): mfn. great, large
shRNgaaNi (acc. pl.): n. the horn of an animal ; the top or summit of a mountain , a peak , crag
ashaniH (nom. sg.): f. the thunderbolt , a flash of lightning ; the tip of a missile
gireH (gen. sg.): m. a mountain
iva: like

Friday, April 15, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.16: Nearly Sounding Like Buddha

tad evam aajNaaya shariiram aaturaM
balaanvito' sm' iiti na mantum arhasi
asaaram asvantam anishcitaM jagaj
jagaty anitye balam avyavasthitaM

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

So see a body as ailing

And do not think "I am possessed of strength."

The world is insubstantial, inauspicious, uncertain,

And in an impermanent world power is undependable.

The striver was doing so well in this verse in his effort to parrot the Buddha's teaching... until he got to the penultimate word. Then he wrote balam. I think he would have more truly written jagat:

jagaty anitye jagad avyavasthitaM

"In an impermanent world the world is undependable."

That's for damn sure. The value of your investments can go down as well as up.

With fear rather than greed currently in the ascendancy among workers of the developed world, inflationary pressure from wages is low, enabling central banks to keep printing money without fear of fuelling inflation. In that situation, financial bubbles are liable to inflate and burst, in which circumstances some people will make a lot of money and some people will lose a lot.

In this situation, here is some investment advice direct from the Buddha's mouth: "Don't be greedy."

I heard a good joke apparently told by investment guru Warren Buffet (who, speaking of making money from bubbles, wisely bought a whole lot of silver when the price of silver was much lower than it is now). A successful gold prospector arrives at the gates of heaven only to be told by St. Peter that the quota of gold miners is full. The prospector calls out to a group of miners who have already got beyond the gate, "Gold has just been found in hell!" The miners all rush out, bound for hell. "OK," says St. Peter, "there is room now for you to come in." "No, thanks," says the old prospector, "I think I'll go and check out those hell rumours."

In an undependable world what, besides our human fear and greed, and besides the unreliability of the world itself, might be dependable?

The answer to this question, which Ashvaghosha as I hear him is nudging us towards, is strength itself, real power. The kind of strength or power that the striver is negating is muscular strength or worldly power. But what is really strong and dependable might be power of a different order.

That is to say, what is strong and dependable might be (1) the power of reasoning, the power of 2 + 2, which always equals 4, the power of "you cannot do an undoing"; (2) the power of balance, including balance of the autonomic nervous system ; (3) the strength to carry on, the power of working to a means-whereby principle and staying with a process; (4) the power of the sitting practice one who is awake, in other words, the power of the dharma of a buddha.

As Eric Clapton memorably sang on 461 Ocean Boulevard, sounding (unlike the striver) like he really meant it:

Dear Lord
Give me strength
To carry on...

Yes, please give me the strength of spirit to carry on with the practice of true yoga.

(And at the same time, please give me the power of reason by which to know, in an impermanent world, how many beans make five; along with the power of balance by which to ward off the faults of fear and greed.)

EH Johnston:
Therefore recognise the body to be diseased and do not consider yourself to be possessed of strength. The world is without substance or certainty and goes to an evil end ; since this world is transitory, strength is not durable.

Linda Covill:
So, observing that your body is diseased, do not imagine that you are replete with bodily well-being. The world is without substance, uncertain, and bodes ill; and since it is impermanent, the physical realm is unreliable.

tad: ind. so, therefore
evam: ind. thus (sometimes evam is merely an expletive)
aajNaaya = abs. aa- √ jNaa: to mind , perceive , notice , understand
shariiram (acc. sg.): n. the body
aaturam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. suffering , sick (in body or mind) ; diseased

bal'-aanvitaH: mfn. possessed of power , powerful , strong
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as: to be
iti: "...," thus
na: not
mantum = infinitive man: to think
arhasi = 2nd pers. sg. arh: ought

asaaram (nom. sg. n.): mfn. sapless , without strength or value , without vigour , spoiled , unfit , unprofitable
asvantam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. ending ill , having an unfavourable issue
svanta: mfn. having a good end , terminating well ; auspicious , fortunate
anishcitam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. unascertained , not certain
nishcita: mfn. ascertained , determined , settled , decided
jagat (nom. sg.): n. that which moves or is alive , men and animals; n. the world

jagati (loc. sg.): n. the world
anitye (loc. sg. n.): mfn. impermanent
balam (nom. sg.): n. strength
avyavasthitam (nom. sg. n.): unsettled, uncertain
vy-avasthita: mfn. placed in order ; settled , established , fixed ; constant, unchanging

Thursday, April 14, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.15: Questioning Strength

yadaa him'-aarto jvalanaM niShevate
himaM nidaagh'-abhihato' bhikaaNkShati
kShudh"-aanvito 'nnaM salilaM tRSh"-aanvito
balaM kutaH kiM ca kathaM ca kasya ca

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

Pained by cold, one turns to fire;

Oppressed by heat, one longs for cold;

When hungry, one longs for food;
when thirsty, for water.

Where then is strength?
What is it? How is it? Whose is it?

In Canto 15 the Buddha says to Nanda: "That "I am young," or "I am strong," should not occur to you: / Death kills in all situations without regard for sprightliness. // [15.54]

The Buddha's primary intention in 15.54 might be to negate not so much "young and strong" as "I am." Nevertheless, taking the Buddha's negation and running with it, taking it a step too far, the striver seems with his rhetorical questions to be championing the view that for a mortal man there is no such thing as strength.

But that view might be absurd. So instead of accepting the striver's questions as rhetorical, I shall treat them as sincere questions and endeavour to answer them one by one.

Where is it?

In Canto 16 the Buddha instructs Nanda: Having given due consideration to the time and place as well as to the extent and method of one's practice, / One should, reflecting on one's own strength and weakness (bal'-aabale), persist in an effort that is not inconsistent with them.// [16.52]

So where is it? It might be right there in the midst of one's weakness. As a Chinese Zen master said, "The blue lotus opens in fire." Going further, strength might be there -- faults and weaknesses notwithstanding -- in persisting with an effort.

What is it?

In a past life, when floppy discs really were floppy, back in the days of daisy-wheel printers, I sat in the small office of my old Zen teacher printing out an early draft of a Shobogenzo chapter while the daisy-wheel printer in front of me created an infernal racket. I remember feeling more than usually hot and flushed; I could not hear myself think. Gudo Nishijima meanwhile carried on editing the proofs of his Japanese lecture, which a secretary had taken down in shorthand and typed up. "Doesn't this noise bother you?" I asked. Gudo looked up from his proofs, said, "I am strong to noise!"; he laughed loudly, and happily continued with his work.

So what is it? Gudo never tired of saying that it is balance of the autonomic nervous system -- in which crudely reductionist view, ironically, there might be, along with irrepressible resilience and enormous strength, a kind of weakness.

How is it?

How is it? might be the 64-thousand dollar question. The vital question is, in other words, what is the how of it? And the answer might be that it is a how -- which might be the point of the following verse from Canto 13: And so now seeing that, by boosting Nanda, he had made a receptacle, / The best of speakers, the knower of processes, spoke of better ways as a process. // [13.9]

The best teacher I ever met of how to be strong, by working to a principle and sticking with a process, was a frail old lady named Marjory Barlow. The principle is the means-whereby principle of Marjory's uncle, FM Alexander, and the whole process hinges on a decision to totally give up the idea of gaining an end, or seeking the resolution to a problem, in order eventually to be free to gain that very end, or to resolve that very problem.

Whose is it?

In Shobogenzo chap. 8, Raihai-tokuzui, Dogen says that it doesn't matter whether one's guiding teacher is a man or a woman but he or she should be a big strong bloke.

As just such a bloke is how Nanda manifests himself in Canto 18, wherein the Buddha addresses him "O you who stand firm in the Dharma!" (dharme sthita; [18.22]) and "conqueror of yourself" (jit'-aatman [18.23]).

"Ah! What firmness in you who is not a slave to objects," the Buddha continues, "in that you have set your mind on the means of liberation." [18.26]

"Having conquered Mara, who is so hard to stop in battle, today you are a hero among men, a hero who leads the fight from the front; / For even a hero is not recognized as a hero who is beaten by the foe-like faults." // [18.28]

So whose is it? Ashvaghosha's agenda might be that each one of us, observing the example of Nanda who used to be sensual and weak, should secretly come to our own conclusion, that conclusion being totally different from the striver's view.

I am not a fan of the striver, any more than I am a fan of Mme Picquard's cockerels. By causing me to question what the hell I am here for, both do me a service. So maybe I should feel grateful to them. But, being weak to noise, I don't.

EH Johnston:
Since the man who feels cold goes to a fire, the man who is afflicted with heat seeks the cool, the hungry man food, the thirsty man water, where does strength come in? What is it? How is it? Whose is it?

Linda Covill:
When you suffer from cold, you seek out warmth; when you are tormented by heat, you wish for the cold; you long for food when you are hungry, and for water when you are thirsty. Where is physical robustness, what is it, how is it, whose is it?

yadaa: ind. when
him'-aartaH (nom. sg. m.): afflicted by cold
hima: m. cold
arta: mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained
jvalanam (acc. sg.): m. fire
niShevate = 3rd pers. sg. (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend, use, employ

himam (acc. sg.): m. cold
nidaagh'-abhihataH (nom. sg. m.): oppressed by heat
ni-daagha: m. heat , warmth , the hot season (May and June) , summer ; sweat
abhihata: mfn. struck , smitten; afflicted, visited with
abhikaaNkShati = 3rd pers. sg. abhi- √ kaaNkSh: to long for , desire ; strive

kShudh"-aanvitaH (nom. sg. m.): feeling hunger
kShudhaa: f. hunger
anvita: mfn. joined to, accompanied by, having
annam (acc. sg.): n. food or victuals , especially boiled rice
salilam (acc. sg.): n. water
tRSh"-aanvitaH (nom. sg. m.): feeling thirst
tRShaa: f. thirst
anvita: mfn. joined to, accompanied by, having

balam (nom. sg.): n. strength
kutaH: from whom? from where? wherefore? why?
kim: what?
ca: and
katham: how?
ca: and
kasya: whose?
ca: and

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.14: A Step Too Far

idaM hi shayy"-aasana-paana-bhojanair
guNaiH shariiraM ciram apy avekShitaM
na marShayaty ekam api vyatikramaM
yato mah"-aashii-viSha-vat prakupyati

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

For this body, though long tended with good habits

Of sleeping, sitting, drinking and eating,

Does not forgive a single step too far --

At which it rears up in anger,
like a great venomous snake.

This verse again sounds similar to the Buddha's admonition in Canto 15 that Nanda should not harbour wrong ideas about that field of misfortunes, like a basket full of warring snakes, which is a human body.

Today's verse also sounds reminiscent of Nanda's own investigations into the nature of the body recorded in Canto 17, viz:

Desiring to experience its total material and immaterial substance, he examined the body, / And as impure, as suffering, as impermanent, as without an owner, and again as devoid of self, he perceived the body. // [17.16]

The similarity might be like the teaching of good posture as preached and as practiced, on the one hand, by a parade ground sergeant major who has a crude and false notion of good posture, and on the other hand, by a good Alexander teacher who -- while never knowing what good posture is -- is reasonably clear about what lies behind habits of bad posture.

This kind of similarity is in fact no similarity at all. It is the similarity of chalk and cheese.

Thus, whereas the Buddha compares the body to a basket containing snakes, the striver compares the body not to a receptacle but to a snake. And whereas Nanda investigates the body for himself as devoid of self, the striver as I hear him hasn't yet worked anything out for himself.

The irony intended in this vese, then, might be that the striver speaks of going a step too far when, in describing the human body as if it were retaliatory, he himself goes a step too far.

In the end, when it is sitting on a round black cushion, how is this human body?

Speaking for myself this morning, a field of misfortunes, like a basket full of warring snakes, is a fair description of how it feels. Incessant crowing of my French neighbour's many cockerels seems to stimulate to rear up in me... something -- as opposed to a bit of nothing. "The many-tentacled monster of misuse" is one way of describing it. It is not that my body rears up like an angry monster, but something deep within the brain and nervous system, tied up with faults in the auditory-vestibular system, is triggered into agitation. I wish to scream, like an autistic child, and kill Mme Piquard's cockerels.

In this situation, the strivers' words are as much use to me as are the words of the shallow person I heard chirping on the radio yesterday about "positive psychology," rooted in ancient Greek and 17th century philosophy, providing a way forward for human civilization -- about as much use to me as a cake of chalk is to a hungry man.

In the Buddha's teaching, there is recognition of the real (not only psychological) faults that are housed in a body, but there is no view that a body is malevolent. The Buddha's teaching begins and ends with not doing of wrong. In the Buddha's teaching, for me here and now, to kill the cockerels would be a step too far. But fear of physical retaliation is not a good enough reason for me not to take that step.

A better way might begin not with fear but on the contrary with confidence in the existence of a better way.

EH Johnston:
For this body, though cherished for a long time with actions such as lying, sitting, drinking and eating, will not forgive a single trespass ; it becomes diseased therefrom as a venomous snake grows angry when stepped on.

Linda Covill:
Though the body be long and carefully tended with good sleeping, resting, drinking and eating habits, it does not excuse even one false move and so becomes irritated like a great poisonous snake.

idam (nom. sg. n.): this
hi: for
shayy"-aasana-paana-bhojanaiH (inst. pl. m.):
shayyaa: f. a bed ; lying , reposing , sleeping
aasana: n. sitting , sitting down ; halting , stopping
paana: n. drinking
bhojana: n. the act of eating

guNaiH (inst. pl.): m. good quality, merit, virtue
shariiram (nom. sg.): n. the body
ciram: ind. for a long time
api: though
avekShitam (nom. sg. n.): tended, taken into consideration
ava-√iikSh: to look towards , look at , behold ; to have in view , have regard to , take into consideration

na: not
marShayati = 3rd pers. sg. causative mRSh: to cause to forget ; to bear , suffer , overlook , pardon , excuse
ekam (acc. sg.): one
api: even
vyatikramam (acc. sg.): m. going or passing by; overstepping , transgressing , neglect , violation , non-performance

yataH: ind. whence, in consequence whereof
mah"-aashii-viSha-vat (nom. sg. n.): like a great poisonous snake
mahat: mfn. great
aashii-viSha: m. a kind of venomous snake
aashii: f. a serpent's fang
viSha: n. poison, venom
-vat: (suffix expressing resemblance)
prakupyati = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ kup: to be moved or agitated ; to become enraged , fly into a passion
√ kup: to be moved or excited or agitated; to swell , heave or boil with rage or emotion , be angry