Friday, May 6, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.37: Pessimistic Interventionism Revisited

sa-pannage yaH ku-gRhe sad" aashucau
rameta nityaM prati-saMskRte '-bale
sa duShta-dhaataav ashucau cal-aacale
rameta kaaye vipariita-darshanaH

- = - = = - - = - = - =
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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.

I remember standing as a 17-year-old schoolboy in the queue of a cinema in Birmingham city centre one Sunday night in 1977 and feeling a great rush of gratitude to the universe. I had been suffering all day from a bad hangover and could suddenly feel myself -- in spite of my stupid over-indulgence the previous night -- returning to normal.

That is one of the great and marvellous things about a human body: if one stops abusing it, while staying away from interfering medics and bad Buddhist teachers, along with twopenny half-penny psychodabblers, psychobabblers and the like, the body tends naturally to heal itself.

Having discovered for himself towards the end of the 19th century in Australia that "If one stops doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself," FM Alexander came to England in 1904 and began to evolve a means-whereby to teach this principle to others, at which time he was not saying anything new. He was echoing the fundamental teaching of Zen Master Dogen in the 13th century, of Asvhaghosha a thousand or so years before Dogen, and of Gautama Buddha five hundred or so years before Ashvaghosha.

The antithesis of this fundamental teaching, and a view which is widely held, is the interventionist view of the striver. The view is repeated here, having first been expressed in 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'? // [9.9]

Some people teach that the practice of sitting-dhyana is a matter of continuous self-adjustment of one's sitting posture. It is teaching that leads to fixity without stillness, whereas more enlightened pursuit might tend in the direction of stillness without fixity.

These four characters, thought to be written by the Japanese Zen Master Dogen in his original instructions for sitting-zen, express the essence of a teaching which my teacher called optimistic, but which I would prefer to call the negation of a striver's pessimism. The principle is the principle that if one stops doing the wrong thing, the right thing tends to do itself; in other words, if one stops trying to repair and adjust it, the body tends to heal itself.

The literal meaning of the four characters is "naturally/spontaneously become one piece."

EH Johnston:
The man who would be so wrong-headed as to delight in the impure, transitory body, composed as it is of warring elements, is like a man who would delight in an ever unclean, dilapidated hovel, infested with snakes and always in need of repair.

Linda Covill:
Only a man who is pleased with a flimsy snake-filled hovel, always dirty and constantly needing repairs, would be perverse enough to enjoy this unclean fluctuating body with its hostile elements.

sa-pannage (loc. sg. m.): mfn. having serpents, snake-infested
sa-: possessive suffix
panna-ga: m. " creeping low " , a serpent or serpent-demon
yaH (nom. sg. m.): [he] who
ku-gRhe (loc. sg.): mn. hovel
ku-: prefix implying deterioration , depreciation , deficiency , want , littleness
gRha: n. house, home
sadaa: ind. always , ever , every time , continually , perpetually
ashucau (loc. sg. m.): mfn. impure, foul

rameta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc.)
nityam: ind. always , constantly , regularly , by all means
pratisaMskRte = loc. sg. past. part. prati-saM-√skR: to repair , restore
abale (loc. sg. m.) mfn. weak , feeble

sa (nom. sg. m.): he
duShta-dhaatau (loc. sg. m.): with its corrupted elements
duShta: mfn. spoilt , corrupted ; defective , faulty ; wrong , false ; bad , wicked ; malignant , offensive , inimical
dhaatu: m. a constituent element or essential ingredient of the body (conceived either as 3 humours [called also doSha] phlegm , wind and bile ; or as the 5 organs of sense)
ashucau (loc. sg. m.): mfn. impure, foul
cal-aacale (loc. sg. m.): mfn. movable and immovable , locomotive and stationary; ever-moving (the wheel of saMsaara); moving to and fro , movable , tremulous , unfixed , loose ; unsteady , changeable

rameta = 3rd pers. sg. optative ram: to be glad or pleased , rejoice at , delight in , be fond of (loc.)
kaaye (loc. sg.): m. the body
vipariita-darshanaH (nom. sg. m.): one who is wrong in his view ; a man of perverse perception
vi-pariita: mfn. turned round , reversed , inverted; being the reverse of anything , acting in a contrary manner , opposite , contrary ; perverse ; false, untrue
darshana: n. seeing , observing ; eye-sight; view


Jordan said...

I am always amazed that I don't see people oohing and awing over what you write here. I guess it even bothers me a bit. But at the same time, If I was oohing and awing over each one of your posts I supposed that might be a bit over the top, so mostly I keep it to myself.

As always thank you for your tremendous contributions to the Buddha Dharma Mike.

I will try and spare you too much praise though, as I know it would make me pretty uncomfortable too.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks as always Jordan.

If it's not too pretentious, I'd like to think that this blog is a kind of gold-mining operation, and that's why it attracts two or three blokes like yourself -- who are not necessarily in the market for bling...