Tuesday, May 10, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.41: Suffering vs. Happiness

yath" aan-apekShy' aagryam ap' iipsitaM sukhaM
prabaadhate duHkham upetam aNv api
tath" an-apekShy' aatmani duHkham aagataM
na vidyate kiM cana kasya cit sukhaM

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

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.

Today's verse is a difficult one.

The threefold task, again, is firstly to understand the gist of what the striver is trying to say; secondly to understand how this gist might be different from the Buddha's teaching; and thirdly to highlight the irony of the striver's wrong gist being expressed in words that are true.

The task is becoming more difficult as the faults in the striver's thinking are becoming less obvious -- at least when compared, for example, with the misogynistic prejudice he expressed in Canto 8.

The striver's intention is to persuade Nanda to do the right thing as he sees it, i.e. to make the religious choice -- to choose Happiness in the highest sense of the word, not the mundane happiness of the hard-working worker who is satisfied with his humble plate of egg and chips, not the mundane happiness of desiring little and being satisfied, but rather religious happiness, Happiness with a capital H.

And the striver's logic seems to be, following on from yesterday's verse, that mundane happiness here and now is inevitably marred by suffering but somewhere over the rainbow there might be true, perfect Happiness -- paradise without mosquitoes.

Happiness in the highest sense of the word, then, is Happiness that is totally unsullied by suffering. Granted, it is impossible to find such Happiness here and now on the surface of this mundane earth, but somewhere, over the rainbow, bluebirds fly...

So the striver as I hear him is today trying to make a case for a mutually exclusive relation between happiness and suffering. This might be the gist of every religious striver's argument. Religious teachers generally encourage us to look forward to some variation on the theme of Happiness with a big H, like Heaven, or Holy Nirvana.

In the Buddha's teaching, being greedy for Happiness with a big H is no kind of happiness. In the Buddha's teaching, real happiness is just to sit, without any grand ambitions, without greed or fear. In this matter, at least, I speak from a bit of recent experience. And since my younger son turned 18 yesterday, prospects don't look bad for enjoying a bit more such experience, providing sickness or death don't intervene prematurely.

The Buddha's teaching is different from the teaching of religious strivers in that the Buddha's teaching does not encourage belief in putative happiness. It begins by engendering confidence in a better way of dealing with suffering, and ends with real happiness -- the happiness of not being greedy but being satisfied with not much. Not much, for example, might mean the translation in one day of only one verse of Sanskrit.

The Buddha's teaching, starting from the template of the striver's words, might be expressed more accurately, if not very pithily, like this:

For the greedily ambitious, even a little bit of suffering

Is apt to spoil a greatly anticipated happy event.

In a totally different non-perfectionist way,
in the very thick of suffering,

Buddhas experience happiness
by following the way of cessation of suffering.

Or, more pithily:

Where mosquitos buzz does not quite qualify as Paradise;
But blue lotuses truly do open in fire.

The final irony to note is that, because blue lotuses open in fire, because buddhas experience happiness not by disregarding suffering but rather by following a way of stopping it, the striver's words might be truer than he knows: just as the striver says, in no way do buddhas experience happiness by disregarding suffering that is upon them.

In a world that is full of suffering, buddhas experience happiness not by disregarding suffering; buddhas experience real happiness by not being greedy for anything, including suffering-free big-H Happiness; buddhas experience happiness by being satisfied with living a simple life in which, yes, there is suffering, but there is also ample space and time to enjoy sitting.

EH Johnston:
Just as the advent of the smallest suffering tortures a man so that he takes no account of the longed for pleasure, however choice, so too on the other hand a man never so experiences any pleasure as to disregard suffering that has come on him.

Linda Covill:
Just as the advent of even a tiny annoyance detracts from a great, longed-for pleasure, so no man experiences any happiness oblivious to the suffering that has befallen him.

yathaa: ind. just as
an-apekShya (abs.): disregarding , irrespective of
apa-√iikSh: to have regard to
agryam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. foremost , topmost , principal , best
api: even
iipsitam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. wished , desired
iips: (Desid. of √aap) to wish to obtain
sukham (acc. sg.): n. pleasure, happiness

prabaadhate = 3rd pers. sg. pra- √ baadh: to press forward ; to torment , vex , hurt , injure , annoy
duHkham (nom. sg. n.): n. pain, discomfort, trouble, suffering
upetam (nom. sg. n.): mfn. come near, arrived
upa- √i: to come near, undergo
aNu (nom. sg. n.): mfn. fine , minute , atomic
api: even

tathaa: ind. so, likewise
an-apekShya (abs.) disregarding , irrespective of
aatmani (loc. sg.): m. himself
aagatam (acc. sg. n.): mfn. come, arrived

na: not
vidyate = 3rd pers. sg. passive vid: to be found , exist , be ; (esp. in later language) vidyate , " there is , there exists " , often with na , " there is not";
kiM cana: (with a negation) in no way , not at all
kasya cit (gen. sg.): of anybody
sukham (nom. sg.): n. pleasure, happiness

No comments: