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

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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

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