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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
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?
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?
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'?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Where is the power of the son of Krta-virya,
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.
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.
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.
And where is the power once possessed by the Kurus
Who blazed in combat with speed and stamina
like sacrificial fires whose firewood has burned,
Lay in ashes, their life-breath snuffed out?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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."
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.
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."