Monday, May 30, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.10: A Tiger Moving Like A Sincere Observer of Tradition

vyaaghraH klama-vyaayata-khela-gaamii
laaNguula-cakreNa kRt'-aapasavyaH
babhau gireH prasravaNaM pipaasur
ditsan pitRbhyo' mbha iv' aavatiirNaH

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

10.10
A tiger, moving in an unhurried, expansive manner,

Its tail curled over its right shoulder,

As it went to drink at a mountain spring,

Looked like a man who, having arrived at water,
was offering it to his ancestors.


COMMENT:
EHJ notes, with acknowledgement to the Sanskrit scholar E. Hultzsch (1857-1927), that this verse refers to the sacred thread being worn over the right shoulder at the time of libation to the ancestors -- as prescribed in the gRhya-suutra (a ritual work containing directions for domestic rites and ceremonies).

Normally, when a tiger appears in a metaphor used to describe movement, the metaphor is along the lines of he sprang like a tiger or she prowled like a tiger or they sat poised like tigers.

So this verse in which Ashvaghosha describes a tiger moving like a man seems designed to make the reader stop and think.

Moving in an unhurried, expansive manner does not come naturally to me. Much of my life I have been in a hurry to get somewhere, and not minding if I stiffen my neck in the process -- which is the surest way of not arriving here and now.

Reflecting thus this morning as I cycled 70-odd miles through northern France (including a lengthy detour around William the Conqueror's hometown of Falaise, where I unwisely chose to follow my own sense of direction instead of relying on signposts), it occured to me that Ashvaghosha was not necessarily talking in the fourth line about brahmins going down to and offering water as prescribed in the gRhya-suutra.

Ashvaghosha's idea might rather be that those who have arrived at the reality of water, i.e. the buddha-ancestors, are examples to all beings, including lesser men and tigers, of moving and not moving in an unhurried, expansive manner. And that is why, not always being in a desperate hurry to park their backsides on a round cushion and get on with the one great matter, buddha-ancestors offer flowers, or incense, or water, to their buddha-ancestors. And when they do so, as a rule, they first put on a kesa, wearing it with the right shoulder bare, so that the kesa hangs from over the left shoulder and passes under the right armpit, curling as it were around the right shoulder.

Understood like this today's verse seems to me to convey Ashvaghosha's sense of humour. Usually we think that tigers are paragons of excellent coordination. But Ashvaghosha's suggestion, as I hear it, is that when we are without fish to fry in the matter of serving offerings to buddhas, in the traditional manner, then tigers should learn from us.

So this verse, as I read it, is about how to serve offerings to buddhas -- not necessarily like a tiger, but in such a way as to teach a tiger. Unlike the striver who bends others' ears with his strident preaching of propriety, Ashvaghosha gets his point across so indirectly that if one blinks one misses it.


EH Johnston:
A tiger, moving with stealthy gait as if stretched with fatigue and curling his tail widdershins, appeared as he went to drink at a mountain stream like a man going down to offer water to the Pitris (with the sacred thread on his right shoulder).

Linda Covill:
A tiger proceeding in stately languid stretches to a mountain stream, his tail curled over his right shoulder as he prepared to drink, seemed like a man going down to offer water to his ancestors.


VOCABULARY:
vyaaghraH (nom. sg.): m. a tiger
klama-vyaayata-khela-gaamii (nom. sg. m.): proceeding with languid expansive movements
klama: m. fatigue , exhaustion , languor , weariness
vyaayata: mfn. drawn asunder , separated ; opened , expanded
khela: mfn. moving , shaking , trembling
gaamin: ifc. going or moving on or in or towards or in any peculiar manner

laaNguula-cakreNa (inst. sg.): with the curling of its tail
laaNguula: n. a tail , hairy tail
cakra: n. a wheel, circle
kRt'-aapasavyaH (nom. sg. m.): done on the right
kRta: mfn. made, done
apasavya: mfn. not on the left side , right; (with auguries) from the right to the left , moving to the left

babhau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect bhaa: to shine forth , appear , show one's self; to appear as , seem , look like
gireH (gen. sg.): m. mountain
prasravaNam (acc. sg.): n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing , effusion , discharge ; a well or spring
pipaasuH (nom. sg.): m. (fr. Desid. √paa, to drink) wishing to drink , thirsty

ditsan = nom. sg. m. desid. pres. part. daa: to give, offer to
pitRbhyaH (dat. pl.): m. the fathers , forefathers , ancestors , (esp.) the pitRis or deceased ancestors
ambha = acc. sg. ambhas: n. water
iva: like
avatiirNaH = nom. sg. m. past part. ava- √ tRR: to descend into (loc. or acc.); to betake one's self to (acc.) , arrive at ; to be in the right place , to fit

SAUNDARANANDA 10.9: A Lion's Mane as Miracle of Natural Selection

manaHshilaa-dhaatushil"-aashrayeNa
piitaa-kRt'-aaMso viraraaja siMhaH
saMtapta-caamiikara-bhakti-citraM
ruupy-aaNgadaM shiirNam iv' aambikasya

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

10.9
A lion with shoulders made orange

From contact with orange-red arsenic ore

Looked like Ambika's crumpled armband

Of wrought silver streaked with refined gold.


COMMENT:
manaH-shilaa, lit. "mind-rock," means realgar, the orange-red arsenic ore shown here, courtesy again of Wikipedia.








Who Ambika was is not known, though he can be assumed to be another mythical figure, possibly a very big god with giant biceps, since his armlet looked like a lion; or maybe more likely a god whose crumpled armband resembled a lion's mane -- because when we observe a real lion not much about him resembles a crumpled armband except (especially when we observe him front-on) his shaggy mane.

EHJ notes: "A proper name being required, I have conjectured the existence of Aambika as equivalent to Aambikeya or Ganesha whose hue is yellow."

Especially in the absence of accurate knowledge about who Ambika was supposed to be, I have struggled to see what the overall gist of today's verse might be. But the first point to take from today's verse might be that even in heaven a lion's shoulder acquires an orange colouration not out of nowhere but from contact with a real substance like realgar, that is to say, an orange-red ore of arsenic.

The gaining of this foothold seems to invite further consideration of cause and effect.

And thinking about yesterday's verse and today's verse on the basis of cause and effect, it occurs to me that a peacock's tail feathers and a lion's mane are two quite spectacular examples of results of evolution in the real world by the means of natural selection.

Perhaps Ashvaghosha's thinking is that heaven should be a place of amazing, fantastic and miraculous phenomena; and so he imagined in heaven things like a peacock's feathers and a lion's mane -- amazing and fantastic things which have evolved, amazingly and miraculously, down here on earth by means of natural selection, in full accordance with the law of cause and effect.

Perhaps Ashvagosha's intention is to present a vision of heaven in which iconography from religious myths is used subordinately in the description of real miracles. This turns around what tends to happen in religious descriptions of so-called miracles, in which there is nothing to stop angels, gods and the like from visibly flouting cause and effect, or from silently intervening to change the course of cause and effect.

In Ashvaghosha's vision of heaven, then, the decorative armlets of gods are relegated to a subordinate role in helping to describe fantastic objects like a peacock's feathers and a lion's mane that have evolved by means of natural selection in accordance with the law of cause and effect.

Thus, in his portrayal of heaven I think Ashvaghosha is demonstrating to us how the mind of a buddha-ancestor works -- not subjugating anything on earth to "as it is in heaven" (for who knows how it is in heaven?), but on the contrary imagining cause and effect to be absolute in heaven as it is on earth.

Yes, I am sure that the gold I am digging for now is absolute affirmation -- even in heaven, as it is on earth -- of cause and effect.

Either that or cause and effect is endeavouring to dig it out of stupid me, whose every bad action, since times without beginning, has stemmed from greed and from anger but especially from stupidity in regard to cause and effect.


EH Johnston:
A lion stood out, with his shoulder turned the colour of safflower from contact with the red arsenic and other ores, like a shattered silver brooch of ... inlaid with threads of refined gold.

Linda Covill:
And a lion with his shoulder yellowed from reclining on a rock of red arsenic looked like Ambika's broken silver armlet variously etched with refined gold.


VOCABULARY:
manaHshilaa-dhaatushil"-aashrayeNa: because of resting on rock of red arsenic
manaH-shilaa: f. realgar , red arsenic
manas: n. mind
shilaa: f. a stone , rock , crag
dhaatu-shilaa: mineral rock, ore
dhaatu: m. element; primary element of the earth i.e. metal , mineral , are (esp. a mineral of a red colour)
shilaa: f. a stone , rock , crag
ashraya: m. seat , resting-place ; depending on ; joining , union ; dependance , contiguity , vicinity

piitaa-kRt'-aaMsaH: its shoulder yellowed
piitaa: mfn. (possibly fr. √pi or √pyai , the colour of butter and oil being yellowish) yellow ; m. a yellow pigment prepared from the urine of kine ; m. a kind of yellow pigment ; n. a yellow substance ; n. gold
kRta: mfn. made
aMsa: m. the shoulder
viraraaja = 3rd pers. sg. perfect vi- √ raaj: to reign , rule , govern; to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth, glitter; to appear as (nom.)
siMhaH (nom. sg.): m. m. ( prob. fr. √ sah, to vanquish) " the powerful one " , a lion

saMtapta-caamiikara-bhakti-citram (nom. sg. n.): brightly speckled with streaks of refined gold
saMtapta: mfn. greatly heated ; red-hot , molten , melted
caamiikara: n. gold
bhakti: f. distribution , partition , separation; division by streaks or lines ; a streak , line , variegated decoration; a row , series , succession , order ; (ifc.) the being a part of, belonging to
citra: mfn. bright , clear , bright-coloured; variegated , spotted , speckled (with instr. or in comp.); n. anything bright or coloured which strikes the eyes; n. a brilliant ornament , ornament

ruupy-aaNgadam (nom. sg.): n. a wrought armlet
ruupya: mfn. well-shaped , beautiful ; stamped , impressed ; n. wrought silver or gold , stamped coin , rupee
aNgada: n. a bracelet worn on the upper arm
shiirNam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. (fr. √ shRR) broken or rent asunder , shivered , crushed , shattered ; fallen away or out
√ shRR: to crush , rend , break ; to fall out or off
iva: like
ambikasya (gen. sg.): m. N. of a man

Sunday, May 29, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.8: A Mythical Metaphor to Describe a Peacock on a Fantasy Mountain

bahv-aayate tatra site hi shRNge
saMkShipta-barhaH shayito mayuuraH
bhuje balasy' aayata-piina-baahor
vaiDuurya-keyuura iv' aababhaase

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

10.8
For there on a great long horn of white rock

Lay a peacock with its tail feathers arrayed

So as to resemble, on the arm of Bala
-- he of the long and full arms --

An armlet of cat's-eye gems.

COMMENT:
This image of Balarama, taken from the Wikipedia entry on him, shows two salient features which are relevant to today's verse: he is white, and he is wearing armlets on his upper arms.


In the sub-section titled Iconography, the Wiki entry helpfully expands:
Balarama is almost always depicted as being fair skinned, especially in comparison to his brother, Krishna, who is shown as dark blue or black. His āyudhas (weapons) are the hala (plough) and the gadā (mace). Traditionally Balarama wears blue garments and a garland of forest flowers. His hair is tied in a topknot and he has earrings, bracelets and armlets.


All very well. But I don't believe that there ever was such a being as Balarama -- any more than I believe there was a peacock sitting half way up a big white crag in a Himalayan heaven.

What is the point, then, of this verse in which, through the use of metaphor, a figment of somebody's imagination is compared to the figment of somebody's imagination?

Many verses in Saundara-nanda use metaphor by which real things are used to clarify things as real as sitting in lotus, or as real as seeking the truth -- as for example when Asvhaghosha describes the sitting Buddha as like the king of mountains, or as when Ashvaghosha represents the quest for truth in terms of mining and refining gold.

The present series of verses, however, is something akin to a hall of mirrors in a dream. In today's verse, the image of Balarama, a mythical being, is used as a metaphor to clarify the vision of a non-existent peacock half way up a non-existent rock.

I feel there is something wrong with this. It makes me feel somehow all at sea. So where might the wrongness lie?

In general, sea-sickness is a function not of the motion of the ocean but rather of vestibular faults in those who get sea-sick -- because not everybody, even on the choppiest ferry crossing, gets sea-sick.

As someone who is prone to get sea-sick, I have long preferred documentaries to dramas, and factual books to fiction. I seem to take for granted that the material skin, flesh, bones and marrow of life are original reality, whereas metaphors, stories, dreams, legends, and suchlike are not so real. Is this view true? Or is it just a view? Is there some sense in which Ashvaghosha in this part is suggesting that art and life are only as real as each other -- that both stand together, form being emptiness and emptiness being form? Or is the suggestion rather that both stand, form being form, emptiness being emptiness?

A Chinese Zen master named (in Japanese pronunciation) Unmon said words to the effect that when a person is enlightened, mountains once again become mountains.

I wouldn't know about that. But if I revered Unmon above Ashvaghosha, it is Unmon's gold that I would be endeavouring to dig.

In fact, far above Unmon's statement, I prefer Ashvaghosha's description of the sitting Buddha in 3.7 as "like the king of mountains" (adrir raaja-vat).

So in the end, what is the point of today's verse? To cause the reader to ask existential questions about reality and metaphor, fact and fiction, life and art? I somehow doubt it.

What I can say from experience is that this ongoing process of mining Ashvaghosha's gold has made me more open than I was before to recognizing the real, practical value of metaphor, art, fiction, drama et cetera.

What I do know from experience, having slept and reflected on it, is that three years ago with a constantly aching stomach I was sorely in need of some good medicine. And when I looked for that medicine, and found it, what I found was a narrative, what I found was a metaphor.

So even though I tend to be biased in favour of, say, sport vs drama, fact vs fiction, life vs art, Ashvaghosha's way of teaching causes me to consider whether such a biased view might be a biased view.


EH Johnston:
For a peacock lying there with outspread tail on the white far-extending peak seemed like a bracelet of beryl on the arm of Bala of the long stout arms.

Linda Covill:
For there on a pale far-stretching pinnacle lay a peacock with its tail feathers narrowed, resembling a bracelet of cat's-eye gems on the long-reaching muscular arm of Bala.


VOCABULARY:
bahv-aayate (loc. sg. n.): far-extending
bahu: mfn. great in quantity
aayata: mfn. stretched , lengthened; stretching , extending , extended , spread over
tatra: ind. there
site (loc. sg. n.): white , pale , bright , light (said of a day in the light half of a month and of the waxing moon)
hi: for
shRNge (loc. sg.): n. the horn of an animal; the top or summit of a mountain , a peak , crag

saMkShipta-barhaH (nom. sg. m. ): with tail feathers heaped together
saMkShipta: mfn. thrown or dashed or heaped together &c; abbreviated , contracted , condensed ; narrow , short , small
saM- √ kShip: to throw or heap together , pile up ;
barha: m. a tail-feather , the tail of a bird (esp. of a peacock)
shayitaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. reposed , lying , sleeping , asleep
mayuuraH (nom. sg.): m. a peacock

bhuje (loc. sg.): m. the arm
balasya = gen. sg. bala: n. strength; m. name of an elder brother of kRShNa (also called bala-deva , balabhadra , bala-raama &c )
aayata-piina-baahoH (gen. sg. m.): he of the lengthened and full arms
aayata: mfn. stretched , lengthened
piina: mfn. swelling , swollen , full , round , thick , large , fat , fleshy , corpulen, muscular
baahoH (gen. sg.): m. the arm , (esp.) the fore-arm , the arm between the elbow and the wrist

vaiDuurya-keyuuraH (nom. sg. m.): a bracelet of cat's-eye gems
vaiDuurya: n. a cat's-eye gem (ifc. " a jewel " , = " anything excellent of its kind ") ; beryl
keyuura: m. a bracelet worn on the upper arm
iva: like
aababhaase = 3rd pers. sg. perf. aa- √ bhaas: to appear , look like

Saturday, May 28, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.7: Being There & Roving Around

shaant'-endriye tatra munau sthite tu
sa-vismayaM dikShu dadarsha nandaH
dariish ca kuNjaaMsh ca vanaukasash ca
vibhuuShaNaM rakShaNam eva c' aadreH

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

10.7
While the Sage, sense-power stilled,
remained there standing,

Nanda looked all around in amazement

At the caverns and bowers and forest-dwellers

That were the mountain's jewels and its guardians.


COMMENT:
For the next six verses, while the Buddha remains in the state of being there (tatra), Nanda's eye is caught by a miscellancy of forest-dwelling beings -- peacock, lion, tiger, yak, bronzed mountain-men, and surpassingly lovely kimnaris -- before finally his eye alights on a troop of monkeys. This troop happens to contain the one-eyed female monkey who is so essential to the plot of Handsome Nanda.

So is this part akin to a shaggy dog story, or do this verse and the next six verses have anything to do in their own right with the one great matter, which is sitting?

In comparing the state in sitting-meditation to the sea, buddha-ancestors have pointed to the sea as a unity of two worlds. On the surface there is invariably disturbance in the form of small ripples or big waves. But, so they say, the deeper you go the stiller it gets.

In that light, line 1 of today's verse might be the key to understanding the deeper meaning of not only this verse but also the next six verses. tatra, as discussed in relation to the final verse of Canto 3, suggests being there, in the moment. And sthite means abiding in any state or condition -- remaining standing, for example, on the base formed by the heels and balls of one's feet; or, for another example, on the base formed by one's sitting bones and knees.

In the joyful first stage of sitting-meditation, as described by Ashvaghosha in Canto 17, something is thus remaining there standing and something is roving. And the joyful first stage of sitting-meditation has to be like this. If it is not allowed to be like this, if the two are not allowed to be, then there is no joyful first stage of sitting-meditation, but only grim striving to be Buddha.

Maybe because it is an individual matter, Ashvaghosha doesn't mention how many minutes, weeks, or years Nanda spends enjoying the first stage of sitting-meditation, before he finds fault with it and decides not to sit like that any more.


Incidentally, the European Cup Final is on TV tonight -- Manchester United vs Barcelona. Looking forward to that. I wonder if Ryan Giggs will be starting...



EH Johnston:
While the Sage stood there with unstirred senses, Nanda looked round him in amaze at the rifts and glades and forest-dwellers, the ornaments and protectors respectively of the mountain.

Linda Covill:
But, while the sage stood there with his senses quiet, Nanda's gaze flitted every which way in astonishment at the caves and bowers that embellished the mountain, and at the hermits who guarded it.


VOCABULARY:
shaant'-endriye (loc. sg. [abs.]): with the power of his senses rendered ineffective
shaanta: mfn. (fr. √sham) appeased , pacified , tranquil , calm , free from passions , undisturbed ; abated , subsided , ceased , stopped , extinguished; rendered ineffective , innoxious , harmless (said of weapons)
√sham: to toil ; to become tired , finish , stop , come to an end , rest , be quiet or calm or satisfied or contented
indriya: power of the senses
tatra: ind. there
munau (loc. sg. [abs.]): m. the sage
sthite (loc. sg. [abs.]): mfn. standing ; being or remaining or keeping in any state or condition

sa-vismayam: ind. having astonishment , surprised , perplexed , doubtful
dikShu (loc. pl.): f. quarter , region , direction , place , part
dadarsha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect dRsh: to see, behold
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

dariiH (acc. pl.): f. a hole in the ground , cave
dRR: to burst , break asunder , split open
ca: and
kuNjaan (acc. pl.): m. a place overrun with plants or overgrown with creepers , bower , arbour
kuNc: to make crooked ; to bend or curve , move crookedly; Caus. to curl , crisp , frounce
ca: and
vanaukasaH (acc. pl.): m. a forest-dweller ; m. a forest-animal , (esp.) a wild boar ; m. an ape
ca: and

vibhuuShaNam (acc. sg.): n. the act of adorning, decorating ; decoration , ornament; n. splendour , beauty
vi- √ bhuuSh: to adorn, decorate
rakShaNam (acc. sg.): n. the act of guarding , watching , protecting
eva: (emphatic)
ca: and
aadreH (gen. sg.): m. a stone , a rock , a mountain

Friday, May 27, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.6: As If in Zero Gravity, the Two Stand

tasmin girau caaraNa-siddha-juShTe
shive havir-dhuuma-kRt'-ottariiye
agamya-paarasya nir-aashrayasya
tau tasthatur dviipa iv' aambarasya

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

10.6
On that auspicious mountain --
which was frequented by celestial singers and saints

And blanketed in smoke from burnt offerings --

As if on an island in an unsupported sky,
where no far shore is reached,

The two stood.


COMMENT:
If this verse is really about what I think it is about, which ultimately is non-negation of dualism in sitting, it is by no means easy to understand

EHJ's original Sanskrit text has aagamya paarasya in line 3; LC has agamya-paarasya, as does the transliteration provided by the Digital Sanskrit Buddhist Canon Project of Nagarjuna Institute, Nepal. I have gone with the latter version; hence "where no far shore is reached," which seems to me to be an expression of the non-end-gaining aspect of practice that I discussed at undue length in connection with line 3 of yesterday's verse.

Today as yesterday, then, a progression through four phases can be observed in four lines, in expressions of (1) the spiritual presence of celestial beings; (2) the material presence of smoke from fires; (3) negation of end-gaining and affirmation of individual autonomy in action; (4) remaining upright in empty space, in what feels like a condition of zero gravity, wherein even the negation of dualism is negated.

So in this verse as I read it Ashvaghosha as in the previous verse is intending to say something with the word tau about duality. And whatever the intention is, it might be more profound than simplistic Zen negation of dualism.

In line 4 of today's verse, as in line 1 of yesterday's verse, tau ostensibly means the two men, Gautama and Nanda. But it can also be understood as indicating the two factors alluded to in the first two lines of both verses, that is to say, the spiritual and the material, or the mental and the physical.

The Heart Sutra famously says that form is emptiness, emptiness is form. As every holistic hairdresser knows, form and emptiness, the material and the immaterial, body and mind, are one. But Dogen in his commentary on the Heart Sutra expresses his sense that form is just form, emptiness is just emptiness; the material is the material, the immaterial is the immaterial. For Dogen, it seems, the two stood.

Dogen said that there is sitting with body which is not the same as sitting with mind, and sitting with mind which is not the same as sitting with body. These words are by no means easy to understand. Just sitting, so they say, is body and mind dropping off. At the same time, as Dogen saw it, body was body, and mind was mind. The two stood.


EH Johnston:
Arriving there they stood, as on an island of the unsupported sky, on that holy mountain of the dwellingless end of the world, which was frequented by Caranas and Siddhas and was clad with the smoke of oblations.

Linda Covill:
They found themselves standing on a pure mountain, as though on an island in the shoreless and unsupported sky. It was inhabited by celestial singers and perfected beings, and was blanketed in smoke from their sacrificial offerings.


VOCABULARY:
tasmin (loc. sg. m.): that
girau (loc. sg.): m. mountain
caaraNa-siddha-juShTe
caaraNa: m. a wandering actor or singer; m. a celestial singer
siddha: m. a siddha or semidivine being of great purity and perfection and said to possess the eight supernatural faculties (accord. to some , the siddhas inhabit , together with the munis &c , the bhuvar-loka or atmosphere between the earth and heaven ; accord. to VP. eighty-eight thousand of them occupy the regions of the sky north of the sun and south of the seven RiShis ; they are regarded as immortal , but only as living to the end of a kalpa ; in the later mythology the are some times confused with the saadhyas [q.v.] or take their place) ; m. any inspired sage or prophet or seer (e.g. vyaasa , kapila &c ) ; m. any holy personage or great saint (esp. one who has attained to one of the states of beatitude); m. any great adept in magic or one who has acquired supernatural powers
juShTa: mfn. frequented , visited , inhabited

shive (loc. sg. m.): mfn. auspicious , propitious , gracious , favourable , benign , kind , benevolent , friendly , dear
havir-dhuuma-kRt'-ottariiye
havis: n. an oblation or burnt offering , anything offered as an oblation with fire (as clarified butter)
dhuuma: m. smoke
kRta: mfn. done, prepared
uttariiya: n. an upper or outer garment ; a blanket

aagamya = abs. aa- √ gam: to come , make one's appearance ; arrive at , attain , reach
paarashya (gen. sg. n.): n. (rarely m.) the further bank or shore or boundary , any bank or shore , the opposite side , the end or limit of anything , the utmost reach or fullest extent
agamya-paarasya (gen. sg. n.): with its unattainable far shore
agamya: mfn. unfit to be walked in , or to be approached ; inaccessible ; unattainable
nir-aashrayasya (gen. sg. n.): mfn. supportless , having or offering no prop or stay , destitute , alone

tau (nom. dual. m.): those two
tasthatuH = 3rd pers. dual sthaa: to stand , stand firmly , station one's self , stand upon , get upon , take up a position on ; to stay, remain ; to remain occupied or engaged in , be intent upon , make a practice of , keep on , persevere in any act
dviipe (loc. sg.): m. an island , peninsula , sandbank
iva: like, as if
ambarasya (gen. sg.): n. circumference , compass , neighbourhood; sky , atmosphere , ether

Thursday, May 26, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.5: Gold in Them There Hills?

tau devadaar-uuttama-gandha-vantaM
nadii-saraH-prasravaN'-augha-vantaM
aajagmatuH kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantaM
deva-rShi-mantaM hima-vantam aashu

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

10.5
Filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar,

Full of rivers, lakes, springs and gulches,

And filled with gold ore

Was the Himalayan mountain full of divine seers
at which the two arrived, immediately.


COMMENT:
A table is full of design and full of purpose; at the same time, it is full of wood. As a table is, evidently, so is heaven as envisioned by a buddha-ancestor -- a unity of the material and the immaterial (or "form and emptiness" if you prefer).

With this in mind, my first attempt at translating today's verse, involving a slight re-arrangement in the order of elements, ran like this:

At a snow-capped mountain
filled with the heady fragrance of the divine deodar,

Full of rivers, lakes, springs and gulches,

Filled with gold ore, and full of divine seers

The two of them arrived, immediately.




The main gist of today's verse, translated like this, is that two arrived immediately (tau aajagmatuH aashuu), at a place, much like planet earth, which was not only full of entities with spiritual meaning like divine deodar trees and divine seers, but also full of flowing water and other mineral elements.


The dialectic that runs through Shobogenzo has this dual aspect of the immaterial/spiritual vs the material, idealistic thesis vs materialistic anti-thesis. Dogen's dialectic also has, as has been well documented by my old teacher Gudo Nishijima, a threefold structure like a pyramid in which sitting on top of thesis and anti-thesis is practical synthesis. And going beyond philosophy into the area Gudo called "the fourth phase" -- into the area of practice itself -- there is no philosophical pyramid but only the pyramidal shape of some bloke, who frankly speaking might be me, with relatively big legs and a relatively small head, sitting in full lotus.

On this basis, I think today's verse can be read as having four elements listed in a fourfold progression -- (1) something spiritual, (2) something material, (3) a material like gold which people imbue with great value and spiritual meaning, and (4) a Himalayan mountain where great yogis have traditionally sat in full lotus. To preserve that progression in four lines, I have translated the verse as above. This is how I learned to translate four-line verses under Gudo Nishijima. (Fat lot of bloody good it did me!)

Whether we think of Ashvaghosha's description of stuff in heaven as being a union of two factors, or as being the expression of fourfold dialectic, heaven is clearly being described in today's verse as filled with stuff, and this characteristic of heaven as containing stuff seems to be emphasized by no less than five occurrences of the possessive suffixes -vantam and -mantam.

Reading this verse from the perspective of our particular interest in this blog, which is to dig for gold, we cannot fail to be struck in particular by the phrase kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore."

There are some descriptive passages in this Canto, and some passages which refer back to ancient legends, which, at time of writing, I am not looking forward to slogging through. But perhaps kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore," is a kind of reminder of the vital necessity of slogging.

If I say that I spent 13 years in Japan devoted to learning the Zen teaching of Zen Master Dogen, my words are liable to conjure in the minds of self and others images of sitting retreats at a Zen temple, and asking a Zen master questions on Shobogenzo, and so on. But sitting and studying rarely took up more than half of the hours in a day. I spent a lot of time on crowded subway trains; earning a living by teaching English, copy-editing, doing business translation work; bumping up against everyday Japanese cultural arrogance; looking for food on special offer at the local Marushyo supermarket; watching videos and listening to the radio; going to the bath-house; and then sleeping -- or lying awake with a busy mind hoping to get back to sleep. In my early years in Japan I did a lot of karate training and drinking beer. In the middle years I was often lonely and feeling sorry for myself. In the latter years, I was married with a young family. And even when I was devoting a lot of hours to sitting and studying, not all those hours were golden. Much of it seemed like hard slog, especially in the lonely middle years. I remember often stumbling out of bed in the morning with the words of the Madness song playing in my head as I went to wash my face: "In the morning I awake. My arms, my legs, my body aches. The sky outside is wet and gray. So begins another weary day..."

So what? So here Nanda is, having arrived already, immediately, together with the Buddha, at the place where plentiful gold is. And yet that gold might not be immediately accessible. Much digging might remain for Nanda to do, and not every shovel-full is guaranteed to have traces of gold in it.

Is the implicit point of the phrase kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam, "containing gold ore," to hint to us that rather than being greedy for gold, it is up to each one of us to cultivate in himself or herself -- albeit in a small way -- a desire to keep on digging?

Insofar as 24-carat gold is the aim, arrival is not assured. But insofar as boring old digging is the one great matter, it seems to me, it is never unfeasible for subject and object to arrive (aa-√gam), immediately (aashu).


EH Johnston:
Quickly they came to Mount Himavat, supremely fragrant with deodars, possessing many rivers, lakes and torrents, full of gold ore and of divine seers.

Linda Covill:
In an instant they traveled to the golden-ored Himalayan mountains, imbued with the lovely scent of deodar trees, abounding in rivers, lakes and rushing streams, home to divine seers.


VOCABULARY:
tau (nom. dual m.): those two
devadaar'-uuttama-gandhavantam (acc. sg. m.): endowed with the sublime fragrance of deodar trees
deva-daaru: mn. Pinus devadAru or Deodar (also Avaria Longifolia and Erythrosylon Sideroxyloides)
deva: m. god
daaru: m. wood
uttama: mfn. uppermost, best, excellent; most elevated
gandha: m. fragrance
vat: (possessive suffix)

nadii-saraH-prasravaN'-augha-vantam (acc. sg. m.): containing rivers, lakes, springs, and fast-flowing streams
nadii: f. river
saras: n. lake
pra-sravaNa: n. streaming or gushing forth , trickling , oozing; a well or spring ; cascade
ogha: m. ( √vah) flood , stream , rapid flow of water
vat: (possessive suffix)

aajagmatuH = 3rd pers. dual. perf. aa -√gam: to come , make one's appearance ; to arrive at , attain , reach
to come , make one's appearance
kaaNcana-dhaatu-mantam (acc. sg. m.): having gold ore, having gold and minerals
kaaNcana: n. gold
dhaatu: m. constituent part , ingredient; element , primitive matter ; primary element of the earth i.e. metal , mineral , are (esp. a mineral of a red colour)
mat: (possessive suffix)

deva-rShimantam (acc. sg. m.): populated by divine seers
devarShi: m. (deva + RiShi) a RShi , a saint of the celestial class
deva: m. god, deity
RShi: m. a singer of sacred hymns , an inspired poet or sage ; the authors or rather seers of the Vedic hymns
mat: (possessive suffix)
himavantam = acc. sg. hima-vat: mfn. having frost or snow , snowy , frosty , icy , snow-clad ; m. a snowy mountain ; m. the himaalaya
aashu: ind. quickly , quick , immediately , directly

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.4: Shining Dullness, Widening Wingspans

kaaShaaya-vastrau kanak'-aavadaatau
virejatus tau nabhasi prasanne
anyonya-saMshliShTa-vikiirNa-pakShau
saraH-prakiirNaav iva cakravaakau

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

10.4
A shining gold they shone

With their ochre robes, in the clear sky,

Like a pair of ruddy sheldrakes rising up from a lake,

Embracing one another with outstretched wings.



COMMENT:
Some of my happiest moments have been spent sitting in my gardening clothes, big flask of tea or coffee by my side, looking out over freshly dug soil that is casting shadows on itself in the spring sunshine. Nobody digs soil for the sake of appearance. The intention is generally more practical -- for example, to plant spuds to eat later in the year. But, as an indirect result of digging, even something as simple, practical and down-to-earth as a bed of soil can look strikingly beautiful, when the conditions are right. (Chief among those conditions, Gudo Nishijima would say, in a rather reductionist manner, is balance of the autonomic nervous system.)

The traditional robe called kesa in Japanese, from the Sanskrit word that opens today's verse, kaaShaaya, is something as simple, practical and down-to-earth as soil. Dyed in dull earthen hues, it is not designed to be glittering or flashy. In no way is it sexy. A single rectangular sheet, it is no kind of fashion statement. And yet when the conditions are right, this verse seems to say, in the sunshine of a clear day, even a shapeless dull yellow-red robe can look strikingly beautiful.

So this verse, as I read it, again suggests what the Buddha's teaching is not: for example, it is not dour ascetic pessimism.

Speaking for myself, I think I tend naturally to be enthusiastic and optimistic -- "a dream hero" as I was once described. Optimism tends to be followed by pessimism, however, as sure as night follows day. So as a result of unfounded optimism, not to say perfectionism, I have continued to be very liable through my life to be disappointed, especially with human beings, both others and self. Out of the four sessions I sit every day, at least three are liable to begin with some sense of disappointment, mainly with myself.

So a verse like today's verse I can read as a reminder that the joy of the first stage of sitting-meditation includes a distancing of oneself from miscellaneous desires, and from tainted view-stained things like expectations and disappointments, romantic optimism and ascetic pessimism.

The Buddha's teaching is to know contentment through small desire. And that might involve finding beauty not so much in high fashion and fine art but in everyday stuff...

Shimmering gold
in the dappled shade of an apple tree
is one among several concrete objects
-- an old paving slab.







The other point in this verse that might be worthy of comment is the double use of words from the root √kRR, which means to spread out. So the intention may be to convey a sense of expansiveness, and especially the sense of a widening direction that complements the sense of going up.



EH Johnston:
They shone in the clear sky with the sheen of gold and earth-coloured robes like a pair of sheldrakes rising out of a lake with wings oustretched in mutual embrace.

Linda Covill:
With their ochre garments they shone like refined gold in the clear sky, like a pair of chakra-vaka birds rising from a lake, their wings outstretched to clasp one another.


VOCABULARY:
kaaShaaya-vastrau (nom. dual): with their ochre robes
kaaShaaya: mfn. (fr. kaShaaya, ) , brown-red , dyed of a reddish colour
kaShaaya: mfn. red , dull red , yellowish red (as the garment of a Buddhist bhikSu)
vastra: n. cloth , clothes , garment , raiment , dress , cover ; n. a brown-red cloth or garment
kanak'-aavadaatau (nom. dual): gold-cleansed, with golden whiteness
kanaka: mfn. of gold , golden
ava-daata: mfn. ( √ das, to become exhausted) cleansed , clean , clear ; blameless , excellent ; of white splendour , dazzling white; m. white colour

virejatuH = 3rd pers. dual perfect vi- √ raaj: to be illustrious or eminent , shine forth
tau (nom. dual.): those two
nabhasi = loc. sg. nabhas: n. mist , clouds , vapour (esp. of the soma) the sky or atmosphere
prasanne (loc. sg. n.): mfn. clear , bright , pure (lit. and fig.)

anyonya-saMshliShTa-vikiirNa-pakShau (nom. dual.): wings outstretched in mutual embrace
anyonya: mfn. one another , mutual
saMshliShTa: mfn. clasped or pressed together
vikiirNa: mfn. outspread
vi- √kRR: to scatter , throw or toss about , disperse
√kRR: to pour out , scatter , throw , cast , disperse
pakSha: m. wing, side

saraH-prakiirNau (nom. dual): taking off from a lake
saras: n. " anything flowing or fluid " , a lake , large sheet of water , pond , pool
prakiirNa: mfn. scattered , thrown about , dispersed; expanded , opened
pra- √kRR: to scatter forth , strew , throw about ; to issue forth, spring up
iva: like
cakravaakau (nom. dual): m. the cakra bird (Anas Casarca ; the couples are supposed to be separated and to mourn during night); the ruddy sheldrake

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.3: Wishing to Take Him Up (II) -- With Open Hand

nandam viditvaa sugatas tatas taM
bhaary"-aabhidhaane tamasi bhramantaM
paaNau gRhiitvaa viyad utpapaata
maNiM jale saadhur iv'-ojjihiirShuH

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

10.3
And so the One Gone Well, seeing Nanda

Wandering in the darkness called "wife,"

Took his hand and flew up into the sky

Wishing to take him up --
like an honest man in the water bearing up a pearl.


COMMENT:
The Monier-Williams dictionary gives "jeweller" as a possible meaning of the word saadhu, which appears in line 4 of today's verse, but according to a footnote to EHJ's translation this reading seems impossible as Ashvaghosha predates the earliest occurrence of this usage. Uncertainty over the word saadhu apparently causes EHJ to consider the possibility of reading madguH (cormorant) instead of saadhuH, and miinam (fish) instead of maNim (pearl).

EHJ concludes, "As a stop-gap but with no deep belief in its correctness, I translate miinaM jale madgur as all the words in the sentence fit the comparison." Hence: like a cormorant which has caught a fish in the water and, wishing to bring it up, comes to the surface.

Along with LC, I have eschewed EHJ's stop-gap and stuck with his original text, which describes an honest man in water whose intention is to bear up a pearl.

The sense I take from the metaphor, based largely on my experience in Alexander work, is that the Buddha's hand was open -- not concealing any agenda like that of a dishonest man who wishes to keep a valuable pearl all to himself. With open heart and open hands, the Buddha simply wished to take Nanda up.

"Take him up," the Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald used to say to trainee teachers. "Take the bugger up!"

A large part of training to be an Alexander teacher is learning how, with open hands, to take a person up. After 17 years in the work, however, the whole thing remains something of a mystery to me. Even when I seem to succeed in it, I don't know how.

The difficulty some of us have in trying to understand how it works relates to the fact that when teacher succeeds in taking pupil up, there is nothing partial about it. That said, the teacher's ability to keep the wrists free and the hands open, is part of it.

And one thing that can be known is that it is impossible for any teacher to make his hands truly open simply by extending his fingers. In order for the hands to be truly open, the person who is using those hands has to be free from any end-gaining agenda -- including, trickily, the agenda of being a good Alexander teacher.

This talk of Alexander may seem to be beside the point for Buddhists who are not necessarily interested in what a non-Buddhist named FM Alexander discovered. But judging from verses like 10.1 and 10.3 I don't think that what Alexander discovered about open-handedness and taking people up would have been news to Ashvaghosha. And what Ashvaghosha wrote about it would not have been news to FM Alexander.

On the other hand, there might be a lot of Buddhist scholars, like EHJ for example, and there might be a lot of Buddhist teachers, for whom the wish to take others up -- with open heart and with open hands -- would indeed be news.


EH Johnston:
Then the Blessed One, seeing Nanda to be wandering in the darkness which is called 'wife', grasped his hand and flew up into the sky to rescue him, like a cormorant which has caught a fish in the water and, wishing to bring it up, comes to the surface.

Linda Covill:
Aware that Nanda was lost in the darkness of ignorance known as "wife," the Sugata planned to extricate him and taking him by the hand flew up into the sky, like a good man lifts up a jewel in the water.


VOCABULARY:
nandam (acc. sg.): m. Nanda
viditvaa = abs. vid: , to know , understand , perceive , learn , become or be acquainted with , be conscious of , have a correct notion
su-gataH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. going well ; one who has fared well ; well-bestowed
tataH: ind. thence, from that, then
tam (acc. sg. m.): him

bhaary"-aabhidhaane (loc. sg. n.): called "wife"
bhaaryaa: f. wife
abhidhaana: n. telling, naming; a name , title , appellation , expression , word
tamasi (loc. sg.): n. darkness
bhramantam = acc. sg. m. pres. part. bhram: to wander or roam about , rove , ramble ; to waver , be perplexed , doubt , err

paaNau (loc. sg.): m. the hand
gRhiitvaa = abs. grah: to grasp, take, take (by the hand, paaNau)
viyat (acc. sg.): n. the sky , heaven , air , atmosphere (prob. as " that which parts asunder or forms the intermediate region between heaven and earth ")
vi-yat: mfn. (pr. p. of vi- √ i) going apart or asunder
utpapaata = 3rd pers. sg. perfect ut- √ pat: to fly or jump up , fly upwards ; to ascend, rise

maNim (acc. sg.): m. a jewel , gem , pearl (also fig.) , any ornament or amulet , globule , crystal
miinam (acc. sg.): m. a fish
jale (loc. sg.): n. water
saadhuH (nom. sg.): m. a good or virtuous or honest man; m. a holy man , saint , sage , seer ; m. a jeweller ; m. a merchant , money-lender , usurer
madguH (nom. sg.): m. a diver-bird (a kind of aquatic bird or cormorant)
iva: like
ujjihiirShuH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. of ud + √hR) wishing to extricate or rescue
ud: upwards
hR: to bear, bring, carry

Monday, May 23, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.2: Juxtaposition of Opposites

taM praaptam apraapta-vimokSha-maargaM
papraccha citta-skhalitaM su-cittaH
sa hriimate hrii-vinato jagaada
svaM nishcayaM nishcaya-kovidaaya

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

10.2
When Nanda, not yet arrived at liberation's path, arrived,

He of the beautiful mind questioned him,
whose mind was faltering.

Bowed down by humiliation,
Nanda confessed to one full of humility;

He told his intention to a master intention-knower.


COMMENT:
The style of Asvhaghosha's expression in this verse, i.e. his juxtaposition of opposites, causes us to think exactly what was juxtaposed with what, and thus helps to bring alive the interaction between Nanda and the Buddha at a particular stage in Nanda's progress:

Nanda arrived before the Buddha, but his feet had not yet arrived on solid ground; Nanda's mind was hesitant, whereas the Buddha's mind was good and sound, as clear as a human mind can be; Nanda's humility was a negative emotion that pulled him down, whereas the Buddha's humility was the absence of that which pulls a man down; and Nanda informed the Buddha of his intention, except that he did not inform the Buddha of anything, because the Buddha already knew where Nanda was coming from.

In this way Ashvaghosha paints a vivid picture for us of a scene that he imagined. But what he imagined he did not conjure out of nowhere: Ashvaghosha's description is based on a historical relationship, an interaction that really took place, between a Shakya prince named Nanda and his older brother.

Even if we try to conjure an imagined scene out of nowhere, it seems that we cannot. If we imagine beings in other worlds, for example, we tend to envisage aliens with small heads and large eyes arriving in spacecraft and speaking English, or, on the contrary, we picture glowing bleeping blobs without heads and eyes. Even our wildest imagining, it seems, has to be based on the exaggerated presence or the absence of something we already know.

Ultimate happiness for a buddha, so they say, is to find some secluded place on this earth in which to enjoy peace and quiet, knowing contentment through the practice of small desire. The opposite of this might be to live among throngs of gorgeous beings in heaven experiencing the constant slaking of massive sexual greed.

But is it possible to imagine what such a heaven might really be like?

Surely there is no harm in conducting such a thought experiment -- and some insight might even come of it, as when Albert Einstein dared to picture himself travelling at the speed of light.

Prepare for lift off.


EH Johnston:
Nanda arrived there, stumbling in mind and having failed to take the path of Salvation, and on the Noble-minded One's questioning him, he bent with shame and told his resolution to Him Who was full of self-respect and skilled in resolution.

Linda Covill:
Nanda arrived with faltering mind after failing to arrive at liberation's path, and was questioned by the noble-minded one. Bowed down with shame, he spoke of his decision to that decision-knowing modest man.


VOCABULARY:
tam (acc. sg. m.): him
praaptam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. arrived
apraapta-vimokSha-maargam (acc. sg. m.): not having arrived at the path of release
apraapta: mfn. unobtained ; unarrived
vimokSha: m. the being loosened or undone ; release
maarga: m. the track of a wild animal , any track , road , path , way

papraccha = 3rd pers. sg. perfect prach: to ask , question , interrogate (acc.) ; to ask after, inquire about (acc.)
citta-skhalitam (acc. sg. m.): his mind faltering
citta: n. thought, thinking mind
skhalita: mfn. stumbling , tripping , unsteady (as a gait) ; stammering , faltering (speech)
su-cittaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. well-minded

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
hriimate = dat. sg. m. hrii-mat: mfn. bashful , modest , ashamed , embarrassed
hrii-vinataH (nom. sg. m.): bowed down with shame
hrii: f. shame , modesty , shyness , timidity
vinata: mfn. bent , curved , bent down , bowed , stooping , inclined , sunk down , depressed , deepened; humble , modest ; dejected , dispirited
jagaada = 3rd pers. sg. perfect gad: to speak articulately , speak , say , relate , tell anything to anyone

svam (acc. sg. m.): his own
nishcayam (acc. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment ; resolution, resolve fixed intention , design , purpose , aim
nishcaya-kovidaaya (dat. sg. m.): to him who understood intentions
nishcaya: m. resolution , resolve, fixed intention , design , purpose , aim
kovida: mfn. ( √vid) experienced , skilled , learned in

Sunday, May 22, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.1: The Buddha's Wish to Take the Beggar Up

shrutvaa tataH sad-vratam utsisRkShuM
bhaaryaaM didRkShaM bhavanaM vivikShuM
nandaM nir-aanandam apeta-dhairyam
abhyujjihiirShur munir aajuhaava

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

10.1
Thus he heard about Nanda
intending to give up on sincere practice,

Desiring to see his wife, wanting to go home;

And so the Sage summoned him
in his joyless weak-willed state,

Wishing to take him up out of it.


COMMENT:
This verse is full of desiderative forms: it is all about desire. Nanda's weakness is manifested in his three desires -- his intention to give up, his will to go home, and his desire to see Sundari -- the Buddha's strength in his one wish to take Nanda up.

"Take him up," the Alexander teacher Patrick Macdonald famously used to tell his student teachers. "Take the bugger up!"

How does one person cause another person who is down to go up?

I do not know how.

But I think even the Buddha could not do it directly. So he used an indirect approach, a skillfull means.

What that skillful means was will become apparent in the course of this Canto, whose title is svarga-nidarshanaH, "A Heavenly Vision" or "A Vision of Heaven." Suffice to say for the present that, as today's verse hints, the means has to do with the transformation of desires.

By the end of the Canto, Nanda's various desires will have been consolidated into one big desire, and painful sitting practice will be the means by which Nanda, in his stupidity, will endeavor to consummate that desire.


EH Johnston:
When the Sage heard that Nanda had lost his constancy in his unhappiness and was proposing to break his holy vow and to go to his palace to see his wife, He summoned him in His desire to rescue him.

Linda Covill:
When the sage heard that he was lacking fortitude and intended to give up his excellent observances and return home to see his wife, he summoned the unhappy Nanda in order to offer uplift.


VOCABULARY:
shrutvaa = abs. shru: to hear
tataH: ind. thence, then
sad-vratam (acc. sg. n.): = sad-vRtta: n. the behaviour of good men , good conduct
sat: mfn. real , actual , as any one or anything ought to be , true , good , right (tan na sat , " that is not right ") , beautiful , wise , venerable , honest
vrata: n. sphere of action , function , mode or , manner of life (e.g. shuchi-vr° , " pure manner of life " ), conduct , manner , usage , custom ; a religious vow or practice , any pious observance , meritorious act of devotion or austerity , solemn vow , rule , holy practice (as fasting , continence &c ; vrataM- √char , " to observe a vow " , esp. " to practise chastity ")
utsisRkShum (acc. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. ut- √ sRj) being about or intending to leave off or give up
ut- √ sRj: to let loose , let off or go ; to quit, give up

bhaaryaam (acc. sg.): f. wife
didRkShum (acc. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. dRsh) wishing to see
bhavanam (acc. sg.): n. a place of abode , mansion , home , house , palace
vivikShum (acc. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid viSh) wishing or intending to enter

nandam (acc. sg.): m. Nanda
nir-aanandam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. joyless , sorrowful , sad , melancholy
apeta-dhairyam (acc. sg. m.): courage gone ; fortitude forgotten
apeta: mfn. escaped , departed , gone , having retired from , free from (abl. or in comp.)
apa-√i: to go away , withdraw , retire , run away , escape ; to vanish , disappear
dhairya: n. firmness , constancy , calmness , patience , gravity , fortitude , courage

abhyujjihiirShuH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. (fr. Desid. of abhi + ud + √hR) wishing to extricate or rescue
abhi: ind. (a prefix to verbs and nouns , expressing) to , towards , into , over , upon. (As a prefix to verbs of motion) it expresses the notion or going towards , approaching , &c
ud: ind. upwards
√hR: to carry, convey
muniH (nom. sg.): m. the Sage
aajuhaava = 3rd pers. sg. perfect aa- √ huu: to call near , invoke, invite , summon

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Canto 9: Negation of Vanity

It is impossible for us to understand what just sitting is. What I have been endeavoring to clarify, not least by the excellent means of the FM Alexander Technique, is what is negated by the "just" of just sitting. Since time immemorial ascetic strivers have negated vanity, egotism, and the enjoyment of sensual pleasure. Hence the title of this canto, "Negation of Vanity." But Ashvaghosha's real intention in this canto, as I read it, has been to negate ascetic striving.

More particularly the intention has been to negate what is behind ascetic striving -- which is a kind of vanity, but not what ascetic strivers understand as vanity. Because behind ascetic striving is the vain and conceited tendency to try to be right.

Quad Erat Demonstrandum.



9.1
Though the beggar reproached him thus,

Nanda in no way attained tranquillity
towards his beloved;

He still thought of her so much that he did not hear,

As if he were unconscious, a word the other said.

9.2
For just as a sick man who wants to die

Does not accept the kind advice
of a doctor who intends to do him good;

So Nanda, bubbling with strength, looks and youth,

Did not accept that salutary advice of the striver.

9.3
It is no wonder, in such a case,
if wrongness born of a tainted desire

Overtakes a mind shrouded in darkness;

For a man's wrongness ceases

Only when darkness peaks and becomes smaller.

9.4
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.

9.5
"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.

9.6
For this body which is a domicile for disease,
standing helpless before senility,

Teetering like a tree with its roots on a riverbank,

You do not know to be as fragile as froth on water,

Wherefore you feel there to be abiding strength in you.

9.7
When, through failure to eat and drink,
or sit down, or move about,

And also through over-indulgence in those acts,

The body manifestly goes to ruin,

What reason is there for you
to have the conceit of physical strength?

9.8
Cold, heat, disease, old age, hunger:

While the living are being reduced by such adversities

Like water in the hot season by the sun's rays,

What are you thinking,
taker of pride in strength!
as you wander towards your end?

9.9
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'?

9.10
Like a man aspiring to cross the stormy ocean

In an unbaked earthen pot,

Is he who would assume the sapless accretion
of his body to be strong

As he carries it around, striving after an object.

9.11
But even more fragile than an unbaked earthen pot,

In my opinion, is this body;

For a pot that is kept properly might last a long time

Whereas this accretion crumbles
even if maintained well.

9.12
When the elements of water, earth, wind and fire

Are in constant opposition, like antagonistic snakes,

When they meet in a body only to make for calamity,

How can you, in your propensity to sickness,
be convinced of your strength?

9.13
Snakes are lulled by charms,

But the elements are not apt to be charmed.

Snakes bite some people some of the time;

The elements strike all people all of the time.

9.14
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.

9.15
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?

9.16
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.

9.17
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.

9.18
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.

9.19
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.

9.20
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?

9.21
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.

9.22
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.

9.23
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.

9.24
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?

9.25
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.

9.26
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?

9.27
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.

9.28
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.

9.29
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.

9.30
After nights and daybreaks drinking
the most intoxicating liquor,

One finally comes around,

But drunk on strength, looks and youth,

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

9.31
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.

9.32
Just as a saw worked by two men

Cuts a tall tree into many pieces,

So old age, pushed and pulled by day and night,

Fells people here and now who are high and mighty.

9.33
Robber of memory; destroyer of looks;

Ender of pleasure; seizer of speech, hearing and sight;

Birthplace of fatigue;
slayer of strength and manly vigour:

For those with a body, there is no enemy to rival aging.

9.34
Knowing this great terror of the world named 'aging'

To be a pointer on the way to death,

Do not rise to the ignoble conceit

That I am beautiful, or young, or strong.

9.35
With your mind tainted by 'I' and 'mine,'

You are latching onto the strife called a body.

Let go of that, if peace is to come about,

For 'I' and 'mine' usher in danger.

9.36
When no-one has dominion over a body

That is ravaged by manifold misfortunes,

How can it be right to recognize as 'I' or as 'mine'

This house of calamities called a body?

9.37
One who would delight in a flimsy snake-infested hovel

That was always unclean and constantly needing repair:

He is the wrong-sighted man who would delight in a body

With its corrupted elements and unclean, unstable state.

9.38
Just as a bad king takes forcibly from his subjects

His full toll of taxes, and yet does not protect;

So the body takes its full toll of provisions

Such as clothes and the like, and yet does not obey.

9.39
Just as in soil grass shoots up readily

But rice is grown through sustained effort,

So too does sorrow arise readily

Whereas happiness is produced with effort, if at all.

9.40
For him who drags around a hurting, perishable body,

There is no such thing,
in the supreme sense, as happiness;

For what he determines to be happiness,
by taking counter-measures against suffering,

Is a condition where suffering remains minimal.

9.41
Just as, when even a slight discomfort intrudes,

One disregards the greatest longed-for pleasure,

Similarly, in no way does any man experience happiness

By disregarding suffering that is upon him.

9.42
You do not see the body as it is
-- full of suffering and inconstant --

Because of fondness for its effects:

Let the mind that chases after effects,
like a cow after corn,

Be restrained by the reins of steadfastness.

9.43
For sensual enjoyments,
like offerings fed into a blazing fire,

Do not make for satisfaction;

The more one indulges in sensual pleasures,

The more the desire for sensual objects grows.

9.44
Again, just as a man suffering from the blight of leprosy

Does not through application of heat obtain a cure,

One who goes among sense objects
with his senses unconquered

Does not tend through sensual enjoyments
towards peace.

9.45
For just as desire for pleasure from one's medicine

Might cause one to accept one's infirmity
instead of taking proper measures against it,

So, because of desire for one's object,
might one ignorantly rejoice,

In that receptacle of much suffering, a body.

9.46
One who wishes adversity on a man

Is said, because of that action, to be his enemy.

Should not sense objects, as the sole root of adversity,

Be shunned as dangerous enemies?

9.47
Those who were his deadly enemies in this world

Can in time become a man's friend;

But not benign for anybody, in this or other worlds,

Are desires which are the causes of suffering.

9.48
Just as eating a tasty, colourful
and fragrant kimpaka fruit

Leads to death not nourishment,

So an imbalanced person's devotion to objects

Makes for misfortune, not well-being.

9.49
As an innocent, then, heed this good advice

Pertaining to liberation, dharma, and so forth;

Affirm my opinion, with which the righteous concur.

Or else speak up and state your agenda."

9.50
Though reproached at length in this salutary fashion

By a striver so great in hearing what is heard,

Nanda neither found firmness nor took comfort:

He was like a tusker in full rut, mind blinded by lust.

9.51
Then, having assured himself
that Nanda's being was not in the dharma

But was turned unsteadily
towards the comforts of home,

That beggar reported back to the investigator
of living creatures' dispositions, tendencies
and ways of being,

To the Buddha, knower of reality.



The 9th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "Negation of Vanity."

Friday, May 20, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.51: Striving vs Knowing Reality

nandasya bhaavam avagamya tataH sa bhikShuH
paariplavaM gRha-sukh'-aabhimukhaM na dharme
sattv'-aashay'-aanushaya-bhaava-pariikShakaaya
buddhaaya tattva-viduShe kathayaaM cakaara

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

saundaranande mahaa-kaavye
mad"-aapavaado naama navamaH sargaH

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

9.51
Then, having assured himself
that Nanda's being was not in the dharma

But was turned unsteadily
towards the comforts of home,

That beggar reported back to the investigator
of living creatures' dispositions, tendencies
and ways of being,

To the Buddha, knower of reality.


The 9th canto in the epic poem Handsome Nanda,
titled "Negation of Vanity."


COMMENT:
By ava-√gam, did Ashvaghosha mean that the striver noticed a fact, or did he mean that the striver, because of his ascetic agenda, was liable to a perception that the comforts of home and the practice of dharma are inevitably mutually exclusive? I don't know, but I tend to think the latter. Because even though the solitude of the forest is unquestionably better suited than family life to the practice of the dharma of a buddha, which is just to sit, the difference is not absolute but relative. If Ashvaghosha in this verse is pointing to a mutual exclusivity, I don't think it is between family life and practice of dharma.

Ashvaghosha's description of the Buddha as tattva-vidvas, "knower of reality," as I mentioned yesterday, might best be understood in contrast with the striver, whose relative strengths resided in the hearing and talking departments.

Striving is hoping for the best, emphasizing what one already knows, in spite of the fact that it has not worked so far. Because striving is emphasizing what one already knows, a striver is liable to come across, as Ashvaghosha's striver does, as a bit of a know-it-all. And yet, here at the end of the two cantos that are devoted to him, the striver doesn't know what to do. His preaching of propriety has got him precisely nowhere. So he wants to put the blame on Nanda and to pass the buck to the Buddha.

Whatever Ashvagosha meant by describing the Buddha as tattva-vidhvas, "knowing reality," I don't think he meant the kind of knowing that the striver has striven to demonstrate -- not the knowing of a know-it-all.

At the level of sitting-zen, on a good day I know what ascetic striving is, see what is behind it (a desire to be right, the idea of gaining some end, a personal agenda), see it as tainted, and refuse to go down that route. On a good day I thus approach the level of enjoying the first stage of sitting-meditation. So, as far as I am concerned, never mind about knowing reality; if I can at least spot my habitual tendency to strive, that might be a good start.

Apropos of knowing reality FM Alexander said, "People that haven't any fish to fry, they see it all right."

Ashvaghosha's striver as I hear him is a Buddhist monk with just a bit of a fish to fry, just a hint of an ascetic agenda. The asceticism of this bhikShu, this beggar, this Buddhist monk, is nowhere near as extreme as the asceticism described at the very beginning of Saundara-nanda:

A sage named Kapila Gautama, eminent among upholders of dharma, / Was as consumed in ascetic practice as was Kakshivat Gautama.// He beat down ceaselessly, like Kashyapa the sun, on blazing asceticism; / And in the promotion thereof he pushed himself on, like Kashyapa the sage, to extreme achievement. //

Thus, the point of the striver might be to demonstrate that even the slightest hint of an ascetic agenda, or for that matter just a little bit of any agenda, disqualifies the bearer of that particular fish from truly being tattva-vidhvas, "a knower of reality."


EH Johnston:
Then the mendicant, convinced that Nanda was irresolute in feeling and set on the pleasures of his home, not on the Law, reported the matter to the Buddha, the Knower of the Truth, Who was skilled in examining the dispositions, tendencies and feelings of all beings.

Linda Covill:
Then the monk understood that Nanda's feelings were wavering and that he was focusing on domestic pleasures, not on the dharma. So he related it all to the Buddha, the truth-knower, the examiner of the mental dispositions, latent tendencies and emotions of all beings.


VOCABULARY:
nandasya (gen. sg.): Nanda's
bhaavam (acc. sg.): m. being ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention
avagamya = abs. ava-√gam: to hit upon , think of , conceive , learn , know , understand , anticipate , assure one's self , be convinced ; to recognize , consider , believe any one (acc.) to be (acc.)
tataH: ind. then, therefrom
sa (nom. sg. m.): he
bhikShuH (nom. sg.): m. the begger, the mendicant

paariplavam (acc. sg. m.): mfn. swimming; moving to and fro , agitated , unsteady , tremulous; wavering, irresolute
gRha-sukh'-aabhimukham
gRha-sukha: the comforts of home ; domestic pleasures
abhimukha: mfn. (ifc.) disposed to , intending to , ready for; (ifc.) disposed to , intending to , ready for
na: not
dharme (loc. sg.): towards dharma

sattv'-aashay'-aanushaya-bhaava-pariikShakaaya (dat. sg. m.): the investigator into the dispositions, tendencies and ways of being of living beings
sat-tva: n. being , existence , entity , reality ; m. n. a living or sentient being , creature , animal
aa-shaya: m. resting-place , bed; seat , place ; the seat of feelings and thoughts , the mind , heart , soul; thought , meaning , intention ; disposition of mind , mode of thinking
aa- √ shii : to lie or rest on or round
anushaya: m. close connection as with a consequence , close attachment to any object
anu- √ shii: to sleep with , lie along or close , adhere closely to
bhaava: m . ( √ bhuu) becoming , being ; state , condition , rank ; true condition or state , truth , reality ; manner of being , nature , temperament , character ; manner of acting , conduct , behaviour ; any state of mind or body , way of thinking or feeling , sentiment , opinion , disposition , intention
pariikShaka: mfn. trying , examining ; m. a prover , examiner , judge
pari- √iikSh: to look round , inspect carefully , try , examine , find out , observe , perceive

buddhaaya (dat. sg.): m. the Buddha
tattva-viduShe (dat. sg. m.): knower of the truth
tat-tva: n. true or real state , truth , reality ; the being that
vidvas: mfn. one who knows , knowing , understanding , learned , intelligent , wise , mindful of , familiar with , skilled in
kathayaaM cakaara = 3rd pers. sg. periphrastic perfect kath: to converse with any one; to tell , relate , narrate , report , inform , speak about , declare , explain , describe ([fr. katham , " to tell the how "])


saundara-nande mahaa-kaavye (loc.): in the epic poem Handsome Nanda
mad'-aapavaadaH (nom. sg. m.):
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant): f. , pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
apavaada: m. evil speaking , reviling , blaming , speaking ill of; denial , refutation , contradiction
naama: ind. by name
navamaH sargaH (nom. sg. m.): 9th canto

Thursday, May 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.50: Nanda Not Convinced

iti hitam api bahv ap' iidam uktaH
shruta-mahataa shramaneNa tena nandaH
na dhRtim upayayau na sharma lebhe
dvirada iv' aatimado mad"-aandha-cetaaH

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

9.50
Though reproached at length in this salutary fashion

By a striver so great in hearing what is heard,

Nanda neither found firmness nor took comfort:

He was like a tusker in full rut, mind blinded by lust.


COMMENT:
Part of the joy of reading Ashvaghosha is his use of irony, whereby much of the meaning of every verse seems to be buried below the surface.

To best understand the irony intended in this verse, it may be necessary to read the description of the striver as shruta-mahat (great at listening; mighty in sacred knowledge) in conjunction with the following verse, 9.51, in which Ashvaghosha describes the Buddha as intuitive knower of reality, investigator of living beings' dispositions, tendencies and ways of being.

How might one realize oneself as a person like that?

Not by listening to the Buddha's words and trying, in one's striving and in one's preaching, to sound like Buddha. That's for damn sure.

No, the only way is to make the teaching one's own, by one's own power of investigation, by working the whole bloody thing out for oneself, starting where the Buddha himself started -- from scratch.

This is what makes the Buddha's teaching totally different, in my book, from religion. It is more akin to science -- minus the peer-reviewed publication of papers, double-blind clinical trials and all the rest of that difficult stuff favoured by the professional scientific priesthood.

Even though the dharma of a buddha is just to sit, this buddha-dharma is transmitted in lineages that go back to Shakyamuni Buddha, almost as if there were such a thing as Buddhism, a patriarchal religion. But in my book there is no such patriarchal religion as Buddhism.

For this reason, like Nanda who is not convinced by the striver, I was ultimately not convinced by my own Zen teacher. My teacher at the end of his life, because he saw that I was not an empty cup for his opinions, called me a non-Buddhist -- without, I am afraid, any sense of irony. Having gone out of his way for many years to preach that the Buddha's teaching is not religion but philosophy, my teacher in his Japanese dispositions, tendencies and way of behaving seemed to show at the end of his life that he himself had never shed the idea of belonging to and championing a patriarchal religion.

A vital task for me, as I see it, is not to be like that. Or possibly to be not like that.

My advice to others, for what it is worth, on the basis of quite a bit of bitter experience, is not to be convinced by any uniform. Whether the uniform is the uniform of a propriety-preaching Buddhist monk, or whether the uniform is the uniform of a Buddhist patriarch who says he wants to save all living beings in the world, the thing to do is to investigate the dispositions, tendencies and ways of being of the person who is wearing the uniform. Therein, at least, lies the possibility of finding something out about oneself, and also about the human condition -- in which striving is ever liable to play a starring role.


EH Johnston:
Though the disciple, learned in the holy tradition, spoke much to him in this way for his weal, yet Nanda did not come to himself or obtain relief ; for his feelings were blinded by intoxication like an elephant in full rut by ichor.

Linda Covill:
Though addressed at length in this salutary fashion by the learned ascetic, Nanda did not become steadfast, he did not find peace, like an excessively ruttish elephant, his mind was blinded by lust.


VOCABULARY:
iti: thus, so
hitam (acc. sg.): n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
api: though
bahu: ind. much , very , abundantly , greatly , in a high degree
api: though, even
idam (acc. sg.): n. this, this here
uktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. addressed, spoken to
vac: to speak , say , tell , utter , announce , declare , mention , proclaim , recite , describe ; to reproach , revile

shruta-mahataa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. mighty in sacred knowledge ; great at hearing ; having heard a lot
shruta: n. anything heard , that which has been heard (esp. from the beginning) , knowledge as heard by holy men and transmitted from generation to generation , oral tradition or revelation , sacred knowledge ; n. the act of hearing
mahat: mfn. great (in space , time , quantity or degree)
shramaneNa (inst. sg.): m. striver
tena (inst. sg. m.): by him, by that [striver]
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

na: not
dhRtim (acc. sg.): f. firmness , constancy
upayayau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect upa- √ yaa: to come up ; to arrive at , reach , obtain , to get into any state or condition
na: not
sharma (acc. sg.): n. shelter , protection , refuge , safety ; Joy , bliss , comfort , delight , happiness
lebhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect labh: to take ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get

dviradaH (nom. sg.): m. "two-tusked," an elephant
iva: like
ati-madaH (nom. sg. m.): excessively ruttish
ati: (as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives , expresses) beyond , over, over the top, excessively, too
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant); f. pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
mad"-aandha-cetaaH (nom. sg. m.): with mind blinded by lust/conceit/intoxication
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant); f. pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
andha: mfn. blind
cetas: n. mind

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.49: Religious Vanity

tad etad aajNaaya vipaapman" aatmanaa
vimokSha-dharma'-aady upasaMhitaM hitaM
juShasva me saj-jana-saMmataM mataM
pracakShva vaa nishcayam udgiran giraM

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

9.49
As an innocent, then, heed this good advice

Pertaining to liberation, dharma, and so forth;

Affirm my opinion, with which the righteous concur.

Or else speak up and state your agenda."


COMMENT:
With his concluding words to Nanda the striver confirms his credentials as a typical religious hypocrite. Having made his case that vanity or conceit should be negated, the striver boastfully proclaims his own preaching of propriety to be good advice.

"Affirm my opinion," the striver says.

Not "work out the Buddha's teaching for yourself, as an individual, as I have worked it out for myself."

No. Be a good little lamb, and follow the opinion of a good shepherd. Be an empty cup, and receive the opinion of a religious authority, namely, me.

Don't run the risk of thinking it out for yourself. Rather, in all innocence, affirm my opinion, which is the opinion held by others who are as righteous as me. Get on side. Sign up. Join the righteous. Be one of the good guys, the true Christians/Muslims/Moonies/Buddhists.

Or else run the risk of showing yourself to be one of those others who shall be blamed: a black sheep, an apostate, a non-believer, or even -- God forbid -- a non-Buddhist.

What the striver seems to me to be saying, from the beginning to the end of his monologue is, "Affirm my opinion, and join me in trying to be right."

The striver negates vanity, but all the time he is trying to be right, which might be the essence of religious vanity.



In the ultimate chapter of Dogen's Shobogenzo, titled HACHI-DAI-NIN-GAKU, "Eight Truths of a Great Human Being," an ancient author whom I presume from the beauty of his words and the aptness of his metaphors to be Ashvaghosha paints a picture of a person who lives alone in a secluded place, wanting little, knowing contentment, enjoying peace and quiet and cultivating wisdom. This picture has long served me as an antidote to religious teaching, including that of my own Zen teacher. The point is that the wisdom of a great human being is not a mass market commodity. On the contrary, when the righteous get together en masse in a religious group and concur with each other's opinion, or with their leader's opinion, it might be the wisdom of buddha neither to belong to that religious group nor to try to reform that religious group. It might be the wisdom of buddha to steer clear, in general, of all such religious groups.

Would-be religious teachers, like Ashvaghosha's striver, ask us to affirm their opinion. But to practise a buddha's wisdom might be to distrust all opinions.

Some financial experts opine that the present price of gold is indicative of the end of a bubble; other experts opine that the bubble has only just begun; still others argue that there has been no bubble, but rather that the price of gold has risen not due to speculation but due to economic fundamentals.

Twenty-five years ago exactly I decided to give up my job as a copy-writer in a small Japanese company, run from a small office in which I felt very confined, to give up karate training under Morio Higaonna too, and rather to shave my head and devote myself totally to sitting in lotus. A few weeks into this practice, as my money started to look in danger of running out, I received a phone call from an independent economics research company in Tokyo who wanted somebody to edit their English reports. Fortunately I fitted the bill and so for 25 years I have worked in a small way for that company, which has allowed me a tremendous degree of individual freedom. I have also found it a privilege to work for the independent Japanese economist who founded that company -- independent being the operative word. He told me once that his rule number one is "human beings make mistakes."

So on the basis of 25 years sitting with a shaved head, and at the same time 25 years being involved in a small way with following movements of financial markets, my opinion on the price of gold is this: everybody's opinion is unreliable.

Similarly, my opinion is that a would-be teacher like Ashvaghosha's striver who has a strong opinion on the Buddha's teaching is not necessarily wise, and religious people who think themselves righteous in concurring with such a teacher's opinion are certainly not wise.


EH Johnston:
Therefore with sinless soul recognise this advice to be salutary as bound up with the beginning of the Law of Salvation and follow my opinion which is approved by the wise. Or else speak out and tell me your intention.'

Linda Covill:
So with your better nature recognize that my advice, pertaining to liberation, dharma, and the like, is good. Let my opinions, shared by wise people, find favor with you. Now speak out and tell me your decision."


VOCABULARY:
tad: ind. so, then, therefore
etat (acc. sg. n.): this , this here , here (especially as pointing to what is nearest to the speaker)
aajNaaya = abs. aa- √ jNaa: to mind , perceive , notice , understand
vi-paapmanaa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. faultless, sinless ; free from suffering
paapman: m. evil , unhappiness , misfortune , calamity , crime , sin , wickedness; mfn. hurtful , injurious , evil
aatmanaa (inst. sg.): m. the individual soul , self , abstract individual ; essence , nature , character ; the person or whole body considered as one and opposed to the separate members of the body

vimokSha-dharma'-aadi (acc. sg. n.): liberation, dharma, and so forth
upasaMhitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. placing before one's self , aiming at , with regard to ; directing towards
upa-saM- √dhaa: to put to, add, annexe; to place before one's self , aim at , take into consideration
hitam (acc. sg.): n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c; mfn. put , placed , set , laid , laid upon , imposed ;

juShasva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative juSh: to be pleased or satisfied or favourable ; to like , be fond of delight in (acc. or gen.) , enjoy ; to devote one's self to (acc.) , practise , undergo , suffer ; to delight in , approve of(acc.) , choose
me (gen. sg.): my
saj-jana-saMmatam (acc. sg. n.): esteemed/approved by the wise
saj-jana: mfn. well-born , respectable , virtuous ; m. a good or virtuous or wise man
sammata: mfn. thinking together , being of the same opinion , agreed , consented or assented to , concurred in , approved by (gen. or comp.); (ifc.) agreeing with ; thought highly of , esteemed , renowned , celebrated , highly honoured by ; authorized
matam (acc. sg.): n. a thought , idea , opinion , sentiment , view , belief. doctrine

pracakShva = 2nd pers. sg. imperative pra- √ cakSh: to tell , relate , declare
vaa: or, or else
nishcayam (acc. sg.): m. inquiry , ascertainment , fixed opinion , conviction , certainty , positiveness ; resolution , resolve, fixed intention , design , purpose , aim
udgiran = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ud- √ gRR: to eject (from the mouth) , spit out , vomit out or up , belch out ; to pour out , discharge , spout ; to force out (a sound) , utter ; to breathe out
√ gRR: to call , call out to , invoke; to mention with praise , praise , extol
giram (acc. sg.): f. invocation , addressing with praise , praise , verse , song ; f. speech , speaking , language , voice , words

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.48: Nice Theory, Shame about the Trying to Be Right

yath" opayuktaM rasa-varNa-gandhavad
vadhaaya kiMpaaka-phalaM na puShTaye
niShevyamaaNaa viShayaash cal'-aatmano
bhavanty an-arthaaya tathaa na bhuutaye

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9.48
Just as eating a tasty, colourful
and fragrant kimpaka fruit

Leads to death not nourishment,

So an imbalanced person's devotion to objects

Makes for misfortune, not well-being.


COMMENT:
As someone trained and supposedly qualified to transmit the teaching of FM Alexander, I hear these words of the striver as an eloquent summary of the problem that Alexander called end-gaining.

That is to say, when a person with excellent coordination, centred on healthy functioning of the vestibular system, goes directly for his object (e.g. "just put the ball in the back of the f-ing net"), a successful outcome is likely to ensue -- as also when a healthy dog chases after a stick in order to retrieve it, or a healthy donkey walks forward in pursuit of a carrot.

But when a poorly co-ordinated human product of an unenlightened education system in a civilized society goes directly for some object, the likely eventual outcome is back pain, depression, and other psycho-physical misfortunes.

So the striver's words in this verse, as I read them, are perhaps the wisest words he has expressed so far, at least in theory.

In practice, however, the view expressed by the striver in this verse is falsified by the content of the following Canto and the rest of Saundara-nanda.

Where the striver preaches propriety the Buddha in Canto 10 does the very opposite. The Buddha encourages Nanda, in his imbalanced state, to go totally wrong by devoting himself totally to end-gaining -- the end Nanda has in view being sexual enjoyment of incredibly gorgeous nymphs. And although this end-gaining causes once handsome Nanda to become ugly, it is ultimately all for his well-being. Why? Because having gone so spectacularly wrong, Nanda understands for himself how he has gone wrong. And as FM Alexander truly said, "To know when we are wrong is all that we shall ever know in this world."

This is a massive teaching point in Saundara-nanda, and to know it in theory is not necessarily to have got it practice. But as a writer who can cause us to see the point, having already got the point in his own practice, as 12th in a line of transmission from the Buddha, Ashvaghosha seems to me, as far as I know, to be unsurpassed by any other writer in any other language of the past or present.

EH Johnston:
Just as eating a kimpaka fruit leads to death not to nourishment, though its taste, colour and fragrance be good, so application to the objects of the senses leads the man of unbalanced mind to disaster, not to prosperity.

Linda Covill:
It tastes good, it looks good, it smells good, but eating a kimpaka fruit brings death and not nourishment; likewise a giddy man's preoccupation with the sense realm brings misery and not well-being.


VOCABULARY:
yathaa: ind. just as
upayuktam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. enjoyed , eaten , consumed
rasa-varNa-gandhavat (acc. sg. n.): endowed with taste, colour and fragrance
rasa: m. taste, flavour
varNa: m colour
gandha: m. fragrance
rasavat: mfn. tasty
varNavat: mfn. having colour
gandhavat: mfn. endowed with fragrance

vadhaaya (dat. sg.): m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction
kiMpaaka-phalam (acc. sg. n.): kimpaka fruit
kimpaka: mfn. not mature , childish , ignorant , stupid; m. a Cucurbitaceous plant (of a very bad taste , Trichosanthes palmata)
phala: n. fruit
na: not
puShTaye (dat. sg.): mfn. nourished , cherished , well-fed , thriving , strong , fat; n. growth , increase

niShevyamaaNaaH = nom. pl. m. pres. passive part. ni - √sev: (with acc.) to frequent , inhabit , visit , serve , attend , honour , worship , follow , approach , enjoy (also sexually) , incur , pursue , practise , perform , cultivate , use , employ
viShayaaH (nom. pl. m.): sense objects, worldly objects
cal'-aatmanaH (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fickle-minded; imbalanced
cala: mfn. moving , trembling; unsteady, confused
aatman: m. essence , nature , character , peculiarity (often ifc. e.g. karm'-aatman, acting, active &c )

bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhuu: to be, become
an-arthaaya (dat. sg.): m. disappointing occurrence , reverse , evil
tathaa: ind. so, likewise
na: not
bhuutaye (dat. sg.): n. well-being , welfare , prosperity