Sunday, May 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.39: The Essence of a Striver's Pessimism

yathaa prarohanti tRNaany a-yatnataH
kShitau prayatnaat tu bhavanti shaalayaH
tath" aiva duHkhaani bhavanty a-yatnataH
sukhaani yatnena bhavanti vaa na vaa

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

With this verse Ashvaghosha as I hear him is challenging the reader really to think critically for himself or herself what the Buddha's truth of suffering is, and what the four noble truths are.

For example: is the fundamental teaching of the Buddha, as strivers tend to opine, pessimistic? On the contrary, is it optimistic? Or does it leave both pessimism and optimism far behind and go flask in hand to some solitary place where the singing of birds sounds as though human views have never touched it?

Again, in Canto 5 the Buddha tells Nanda: There is no fetter like love, no torrent that carries one away like thirst, / And likewise no fire like the fire of passion. If not for these three, happiness would be yours. // [5.28]

This happiness of which the Buddha speaks: is it produced, as the striver pessimistically opines, only through sustained effort, like rice? On the contrary, does it arise readily, like grass? Or is it the soil?

Scientists in America, as part of their research into happiness, get Tibetan Buddhist monks to lie flat and take MRI scans of their meditating brains to try to find out what is happening when happiness is produced. But the happiness of which the Buddha speaks, as I understand it, is sitting upright in full lotus and nothing happening.

EH Johnston:
Just as grass grows on the earth without labour on the part of the cultivator but rice only with labour, so too sorrows arrive without effort on our part but pleasures can only be obtained by effort and not always then.

Linda Covill:
and just as grass grows easily in the soil but rice only with labor, so unhappiness appears readily but happiness only with effort, if at all.

yathaa: ind. just as
prarohanti = 3rd pers. pl. pra- √ ruh: to grow up , shoot forth , shoot up ; to grow
tRNaani (nom. pl. n.): n. grass , herb , any gramineous plant , blade of grass , straw (often symbol of minuteness and worthlessness)
a-yatnataH: ind. without effort or exertion
yatna: m. activity of will , volition , aspiring after; work; effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour after

kShitau (loc. sg.): f. the earth , soil of the earth
pra-yatnaat (abl. sg.): m. persevering effort , continued exertion or endeavour
tu: but
bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhuu: to become, be; to arise , come into being , exist , be found , live , stay , abide , happen , occur; to thrive
shaalayaH (nom. pl.): m. rice

tathaa: ind. so, likewise
duHkhaani (nom. pl.): n. uneasiness , pain , sorrow , trouble , difficulty
bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhuu: to be, come into being
a-yatnataH: ind. without effort or exertion

sukhaani (nom. pl.): n. ease , easiness , comfort , prosperity , pleasure , happiness
yatnena (inst. sg.): m. effort , exertion , energy , zeal , trouble , pains , care , endeavour
bhavanti = 3rd pers. pl. bhuu: to be, come into being
vaa na vaa: or else not


Ian Cross said...

Every morning I feel like shit but you're inspiring me to sit. Keep right on!

Mike Cross said...

Know the feeling. Some scientist should take a scan of my brain. I can see the headline now. "Latest Research Indicates 30 Years Sitting in Lotus May Be Totally Ineffective."