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

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