Friday, April 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.9: An Interventionist View of a Body

tvag-asthi-maaMsa-kShataj-aatmakaM yadaa
shariiram aahaara-vashena tiShThati
ajasram aartaM satata-pratikriyaM
bal'-aanvito' sm' iiti kathaM vihanyase

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When a body made of skin, bone, flesh, and blood

Owes its existence to the taking of food,

When it is always ailing,
needing continuous intervention,

How can you labour under an illusion
like 'I am inherently strong'?

Again these words of the striver sound Buddhist. And again I think Ashvaghosha's intention is that the reader or the listener, as one individual non-Buddhist, should consider for himself what might be at fault in the striver's thinking.

And again the most glaring fault is that the striver, in carrying on with his rebuke, remains oblivious to the individual peculiarities of his target audience, namely, Nanda, who is not labouring under an illusion that he is inherently strong. If anything, Nanda is labouring under the illusion that he is inherently weak -- whereas, from where the Buddha sits, even in the apparently unpromising raw material of a sensuous little brother who likes best to frolic with his bejewelled and scented woman in the bedroom, there is the makings of a great war elephant.

One could argue further that what the striver is expressing in the first half of today's verse is a materialist or reductionist view of a human body -- a view which overlooks the fact that the body is not only a food-processing energetic system but also an information system. A body can go on for weeks and months without food, but try shutting off the flow of information to and from the brainstem for a few minutes and see what happens.

More controversially, I perceive in the 3rd line of today's verse a faulty view which is subtler than out-and-out asceticism, but nonetheless pernicious for that. It is a view widely encountered among Zen Buddhists, especially in Japan, who regard sitting as the Buddha taught it as an effort to constantly adjust one's posture. When this approach is examined in detail, from the inside, it turns out to be just another variation on the ascetic theme of striving to be right.

Expressing the principle which smashes to pieces this interventionist view, Dogen wrote:
"Body and mind drop off spontaneously/naturally,
and the original features emerge."

FM Alexander, in similar vein, used to say:
"Stop doing the wrong thing, and the right thing does itself."

EH Johnston:
Why do you entertain such imaginations about your strength, when your body is merely a compound of skin, bone, flesh and blood, is subject to the need of food, ever ailing and continually in want of remedies?

Linda Covill:
The body is made of skin, bones, flesh and blood; it subsists only through dependence on food. It is perpetually afflicted and in need of continuous remedial action, so why do you frustrate yourself with your assumption of physical well-being?

tvag-asthi-maaMsa-kShataj-aatmakam: consisting of skin, bone, flesh, and blood
tvac: f. skin
asthi: n. a bone
maaMsa: n. flesh
kShata-ja: n. "born of injury" blood
aatmaka: mfn. having or consisting of the nature or character of (in comp.)
yadaa: ind. when

shariiram (nom. sg.): n. the body
aahaara-vashena (inst. sg.): by dint of taking food
aahaara: m. taking food, food
tiShThati = 3rd pers. sg. sthaa: to stand; to stay , remain, subsist

ajasram: ind. perpetually , for ever
aarta (nom. sg. n.): mfn. fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed; injured ; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
aa- √R: to insert , place in ; to excite ; to bring near , fetch ; to come ; to reach , obtain , fall into (misfortune) ; to inflict
satata-pratikriyam (nom. sg. n.): constantly in treatment
satata: (in comp.) constantly , always , ever
pratikriyam: ind. for each action
prati- √ kR: to do or make an opposition ; to return , repay , requite (good or evil ; to counteract , resist ; to treat , attend to , cure (a disease) ; to repair, mend

bal'aanvitaH (nom. sg. m.): inherently endowed with strength
bala: n. strength
anvita: mfn. gone along with ; joined , attended , accompanied by , connected with , linked to ; having as an essential or inherent part , endowed with , possessed of , possessing
asmi = 1st pers. sg. as; to be
iti: "...," thus
katham: how?
vihanyase = 2nd pers. sg. passive vi- √ han: to be frustrated or disappointed , exert one's self in vain

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