Monday, May 9, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.40: Somewhere Over the Rainbow...

shariiram aartaM parikarShatash calaM
na c' aasti kiM cit param'-aarthataH sukhaM
sukhaM hi duHkha-pratikaara-sevayaa
sthite ca duHkhe tanuni vyavasyati

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

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 now as I sat, the happiness of which the striver speaks, happiness of supreme meaning, was beyond me. Maybe it exists somewhere over the rainbow, where bluebirds fly, in a land that eludes me, lost in a lullaby. But happiness like the soil, like the ground, like the earth, I can come back to. As a matter of fact I am already sitting on it. And in a matter of years this perishable body of mine will return to it totally. But for the present I can come back to it, in sitting, primarily by giving up end-gaining ideas -- end-gaining ideas like becoming supremely happy.

Suffering and happiness are themes that recur throughout Saundara-nanda, so many verses might be compared and contrasted with today's verse.

Today's verse sounds somehow similar, for example to words spoken by the Buddha in Canto 12: 'I would not suffer; I would be happy:' People labour under this illusion; / And respite from incessant suffering they sense not as such, but as happiness. // [12.23]

The question that then arises is whether the striver is speaking from the same standpoint as the Buddha, or whether the striver is one of those who the Buddha describes as labouring under the illusion of happiness.

Is the striver a typical religious believer? Is he implicitly expressing his belief in some kind of special, supreme happiness (like Buddhist Enlightenment) that might be produced (like difficult-to-grow rice) only with sustained effort? Or is the striver a buddha? Is he speaking of happiness out of his own experience, as an individual who has made the deathless nectar his own?

Speaking in Canto 17 as one such individual, Nanda expresses his happiness like this: Through the instruction of the compassionate teacher who extracted a dart of passion that was lodged in my heart, / Now such abundant ease is mine -- Oh! how happy I am in the loss of everything! // [17.65]

Happiness as Nanda expresses it, and as the Buddha points to it, is not a Supreme Something but rather a bit of nothing -- a condition wherein the faults which cause suffering are not triggered into action by end-gaining desires.

That being so, the striver's sardonic description of mundane happiness -- as a condition where, through the adoption of counter-measures against suffering, suffering remains minimal -- is not a bad description of happiness as the Buddha describes it. The irony is that the striver himself, as I hear him, does not understand the truth of his own words.

The striver's view, it seems to me, is a pessimistic philosophy of present suffering balanced out by a totally optimistic belief in a future Supreme Happiness. It is a view that tends to be held by religious strivers of various ilks.

I think Ashvaghosha's intention is that each reader should examine the striver's view for himself or herself, comparing it and contrasting it with the Buddha's teaching, and seeing the fault in it.

In the Buddha's teaching as he expounds it to Nanda in Canto 15, happiness is not to be found somewhere:

Again, from the turning of the circle of the seasons, and from hunger, thirst and fatigue, / Everywhere suffering is the rule. Not somewhere is happiness found. [

Not somewhere is happiness found. For a man who drags around a hurting, perishable body, looking somewhere for happiness makes as much sense as looking somewhere for soil, ground, or earth.

In the end, who is the man who drags around a hurting, perishable body? Two and a half thousand years ago, it might have been Gautama Buddha. But Gautama's body has long since perished, turned to dust, and returned to the soil. That being so, it might be up to you and me, being down to earth and eschewing the happiness of supreme meaning, to take practical counter-measures against suffering,

EH Johnston:
And there is no pleasure in the highest sense of the word for man, who has to drag about an unstable and afflicted body. For he determines pleasure to arise, when he follows remedies for suffering and when only slight suffering is present.

Linda Covill:
There is no real happiness for man, dragging around his painful changeable body; but he assumes he will be happy if he can minimize unhappiness by adopting countermeasures against sorrow.

shariiram (acc. sg.): n. body
aartam (acc. sg. n.): fallen into (misfortune) , struck by calamity , afflicted , pained , disturbed; injured; oppressed , suffering , sick , unhappy
parikarShataH = gen. sg. m. pres. part. pari-√kRSh: to drag about
calam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. moving, trembling ; unsteady ; frail ; confused

na: not
ca: and
asti = 3rd pers. sg. as: to be
kiM cit: any
param'-aarthataH: ind. in reality , really , in the true sense of the word
param'-aartha: m. the highest or whole truth; the best sense
-taH: (ablative/adverbial suffix)
sukham (nom. sg.): n. ease, comfort, pleasure, happiness

sukham (nom. sg.): n. ease, comfort, pleasure, happiness
hi: for
duHkha-pratikaara-sevayaa (inst. sg.): by employing counter-measures against suffering
duHkha: n. discomfort, pain, trouble, suffering
pratikaara: m. opposition , counteraction , prevention , remedy
prati- √ kR: to make an opposition, counteract
sevaa: f. going or resorting to , visiting , frequenting ; devotion to, addiction to , indulgence in , practice or employment or frequent enjoyment of (comp.)

sthite (loc. sg. n.): standing, being, remaining
ca: and
duHkhe (loc. sg.): n. discomfort, pain, trouble, suffering
tanuni (loc. sg. n.): thin , slender , attenuated , emaciated , small , little
vyavasyati = 3rd pers. sg. vy-ava- √ so: to settle , ascertain , be convinced or persuaded of take for (acc.)


Andrew said...

Hi Mike,

"Happiness as Nanda expresses it, and as the Buddha points to it, is not a Supreme Something but rather a bit of nothing..."

Do you think this happiness which Nnda expresses and to which the Buddha points, includes a knowledge or recognition of itself? Does it require an understanding of the state to have fully realised the state that the Buddha points to?

Many thanks

Mike Cross said...

Hi Andrew,

Part of me feels sorry for you who asks this question. At the same time, it can't be anything other than your own damn fault.

The teacher I deserved to get was Gudo Nishijima, who encouraged his students to understand happiness as balance of the autonomic nervous system.

Ashvagosha uses the word a-haryam, which I have translated as irreducible.

An end-gaining desire to understand is sometimes the seed of much unhappiness -- at least until such time as a person is able to work out the fundamental meaning of the four noble truths for himself, and make the teaching his own.

All the best,


Andrew said...

Thanks a lot for your answer, Mike; I am reflecting on it.

As for your final sentence, I have to admit that I do hope to work it all out. I don't think I know how to not want that, so I guess I might be stuck for the time being.

Thanks again

Mike Cross said...

You're welcome Andrew.

I don't see any negation in the Buddha's teaching of the desire to understand the teaching (Though your head and clothes be on fire, direct your mind so as to be awake to the truths; 16.43).

But if you think of happiness as an end to be gained, and try to understand happiness on that basis, then Ashvaghosha's striver might have something to teach you -- unbeknowns to himself -- by holding up a mirror.

It is end-gaining that causes yoga to be tainted -- whether it is the gross end-gaining of the ascetic whose supposed reward is union with heavenly nymphs, or whether it is the subtler end-gaining of the Buddhist scientist with his MRI scanner, or the Zen master with his physiology text book, trying to get his head around happiness.