Thursday, May 19, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 9.50: Nanda Not Convinced

iti hitam api bahv ap' iidam uktaH
shruta-mahataa shramaneNa tena nandaH
na dhRtim upayayau na sharma lebhe
dvirada iv' aatimado mad"-aandha-cetaaH

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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.

Part of the joy of reading Ashvaghosha is his use of irony, whereby much of the meaning of every verse seems to be buried below the surface.

To best understand the irony intended in this verse, it may be necessary to read the description of the striver as shruta-mahat (great at listening; mighty in sacred knowledge) in conjunction with the following verse, 9.51, in which Ashvaghosha describes the Buddha as intuitive knower of reality, investigator of living beings' dispositions, tendencies and ways of being.

How might one realize oneself as a person like that?

Not by listening to the Buddha's words and trying, in one's striving and in one's preaching, to sound like Buddha. That's for damn sure.

No, the only way is to make the teaching one's own, by one's own power of investigation, by working the whole bloody thing out for oneself, starting where the Buddha himself started -- from scratch.

This is what makes the Buddha's teaching totally different, in my book, from religion. It is more akin to science -- minus the peer-reviewed publication of papers, double-blind clinical trials and all the rest of that difficult stuff favoured by the professional scientific priesthood.

Even though the dharma of a buddha is just to sit, this buddha-dharma is transmitted in lineages that go back to Shakyamuni Buddha, almost as if there were such a thing as Buddhism, a patriarchal religion. But in my book there is no such patriarchal religion as Buddhism.

For this reason, like Nanda who is not convinced by the striver, I was ultimately not convinced by my own Zen teacher. My teacher at the end of his life, because he saw that I was not an empty cup for his opinions, called me a non-Buddhist -- without, I am afraid, any sense of irony. Having gone out of his way for many years to preach that the Buddha's teaching is not religion but philosophy, my teacher in his Japanese dispositions, tendencies and way of behaving seemed to show at the end of his life that he himself had never shed the idea of belonging to and championing a patriarchal religion.

A vital task for me, as I see it, is not to be like that. Or possibly to be not like that.

My advice to others, for what it is worth, on the basis of quite a bit of bitter experience, is not to be convinced by any uniform. Whether the uniform is the uniform of a propriety-preaching Buddhist monk, or whether the uniform is the uniform of a Buddhist patriarch who says he wants to save all living beings in the world, the thing to do is to investigate the dispositions, tendencies and ways of being of the person who is wearing the uniform. Therein, at least, lies the possibility of finding something out about oneself, and also about the human condition -- in which striving is ever liable to play a starring role.

EH Johnston:
Though the disciple, learned in the holy tradition, spoke much to him in this way for his weal, yet Nanda did not come to himself or obtain relief ; for his feelings were blinded by intoxication like an elephant in full rut by ichor.

Linda Covill:
Though addressed at length in this salutary fashion by the learned ascetic, Nanda did not become steadfast, he did not find peace, like an excessively ruttish elephant, his mind was blinded by lust.

iti: thus, so
hitam (acc. sg.): n. (sg. or pl.) anything useful or salutary or suitable or proper , benefit , advantage , profit , service , good , welfare , good advice &c
api: though
bahu: ind. much , very , abundantly , greatly , in a high degree
api: though, even
idam (acc. sg.): n. this, this here
uktaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. addressed, spoken to
vac: to speak , say , tell , utter , announce , declare , mention , proclaim , recite , describe ; to reproach , revile

shruta-mahataa (inst. sg. m.): mfn. mighty in sacred knowledge ; great at hearing ; having heard a lot
shruta: n. anything heard , that which has been heard (esp. from the beginning) , knowledge as heard by holy men and transmitted from generation to generation , oral tradition or revelation , sacred knowledge ; n. the act of hearing
mahat: mfn. great (in space , time , quantity or degree)
shramaneNa (inst. sg.): m. striver
tena (inst. sg. m.): by him, by that [striver]
nandaH (nom. sg.): m. Nanda

na: not
dhRtim (acc. sg.): f. firmness , constancy
upayayau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect upa- √ yaa: to come up ; to arrive at , reach , obtain , to get into any state or condition
na: not
sharma (acc. sg.): n. shelter , protection , refuge , safety ; Joy , bliss , comfort , delight , happiness
lebhe = 3rd pers. sg. perfect labh: to take ; catch sight of , meet with , find ; to gain possession of , obtain , receive , conceive , get

dviradaH (nom. sg.): m. "two-tusked," an elephant
iva: like
ati-madaH (nom. sg. m.): excessively ruttish
ati: (as a prefix to verbs and their derivatives , expresses) beyond , over, over the top, excessively, too
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant); f. pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
mad"-aandha-cetaaH (nom. sg. m.): with mind blinded by lust/conceit/intoxication
mada: m. hilarity , rapture , excitement , inspiration , intoxication
madaa: f. sexual desire or enjoyment , wantonness , lust , ruttishness , rut (esp. of an elephant); f. pride , arrogance , presumption , conceit
andha: mfn. blind
cetas: n. mind

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