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

No comments: