Wednesday, June 8, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.18: Alternative Approach, Unconventional Means

tato munis tasya nishamya vaakyaM
hetv-antaraM kiM cid avekShamaaNaH
aalambya nandaM prayayau tath" aiva
kriiDaa-vanaM vajra-dharasya raajNaH

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

Then the Sage, hearing his protestation,

And having in mind a slightly unconventional means,

Took hold of Nanda as before

And proceeded to the pleasure-grove
of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt.

"The pleasure-grove of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt" means Indra's paradise, soon to be portrayed in vivid detail.

A key word in line 2 of this verse, a word on which the whole of Saundara-nanda may be said to turn, is hetv-antaram, which means an alternative approach, or an unconventional means.

The word by which hetv-antaram is modified, kim cit ("slightly, somewhat, a bit"), which is mirrored from the previous verse, is also important.

In general, human society works on the same principle that animals work on, which is the lowly-evolved end-gaining principle. A hunting dog sees its master's prey and becomes dead set. A religious person gets an idea in his head and becomes dead fixed. The difference is that hunting dogs tend to pursue their ends with near-perfect coordination, whereas religious people very rarely do.

In this sense the Buddha's teaching of four noble truths is not a somewhat alternative approach, it is a totally alternative approach. It is an approach which is totally opposed to conventional human approaches in fields such as medicine, education, politics, religion, and bad science. It is an approach which is totally opposed to our evolutionary inheritance as human beings.

Because the Buddha's approach is a not somewhat alternative but totally alternative, it is difficult to describe it as kiM cit, "a bit alternative," -- unless irony is intended -- and so I have opted to translate hetv-antaraM kiM cit as "a somewhat unconventional means."

For the past 16 years since returning to England I have been working professionally -- though admittedly not very hard -- in the middle way between medicine and education, basically using a combination of developmental movements (e.g. crawling on hands and knees) and Alexander work to help people improve their use of themselves. Working in this way, for my sins, has taught me more about the human condition, I hope, than I understood before -- especially in regard to end-gaining and faulty sensory appreciation as fundamental factors in human wrong-doing.

There is no drug, nor any surgical operation, nor anything that teachers teach in British classrooms, that can help a person improve his or her use of himself. Any approach based on the end-gaining principle will only make the problem worse. So an alternative approach is necessary.

And the cornerstone of the alternative approach is the tendency for the right thing to do itself, so long as the wrong thing is stopped first. Therefore, whether we are talking the Buddha's teaching, or Alexander's teaching, or primitive reflex inhibition, the cornerstone is first "to stop doing the wrong thing" -- or as this truth was expressed in Chinese 諸悪莫作 SHO-AKU-MAKU-SA.

This teaching, it should be noted, is totally alternative to the preaching of propriety, in which the primary thing is trying to be right.

A few weeks ago I read a leader in the Economist on the subject of "Alternative Medicine." If I was going to cancel my subscription to the Economist anyway, this leader clinched it. Suffice to say that the ancient truth that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts was not at the forefront of the limited mind which was responsible for the smug piece of invective. If Ashvaghosha's striver had gone into medicine or journalism, I think he might very well have ended up as the kind of ignorant know-it-all who wrote that leader for the Economist.

To recap, I think that the whole of Saundara-nanda can be seen as the elucidation of a truly alternative approach -- that is to say, an approach which is totally alternative to end-gaining. Therefore kim cit ("somewhat"), as I read it, indicates that what the Buddha has in mind in today's verse is something more specific, namely, a means of teaching Nanda that is unconventional, but not too unconventional.


Not to do wrong is the traditional teaching of all the buddhas. This teaching is traditional, conventional, safe, not controversial. And yet in seeking a means to cause Nanda really to understand what the teaching is, to make the teaching his own, the Buddha was not afraid to adopt a means that was unconventional -- but only moderately unconventional.

EH Johnston:
Then the Sage, hearing his reply, looked for some other incentive and, supporting Nanda as before, went to the pleasure grove of the royal bearer of the thunderbolt.

Linda Covill:
Then the sage heard his answer, and with a further motivating illustration in mind he took hold of Nanda just as before and departed for the pleasure garden of the thunderbolt-wielding king.

tataH: ind. from this, thence, then
muniH (nom. sg.): m. the sage
tasya (gen. sg. m.): his
nishamya = abs. ) ni- √ sham: to observe , perceive , hear , learn
vaakyam (acc. sg.): n. speech , saying , assertion , statement , command , words ; an express declaration or statement (opp. to liNga , " a hint " or indication)

hetv-antara (acc. sg. n.): n. a different means
hetu: m. " impulse " , motive , cause , reason ; a logical reason or deduction or argument ; (with Buddhists) primary cause (as opp. to pratyaya); a means, manner
antara: n. (ifc.) , different , other , another
kiM cid: ind. somewhat, a little
avekShamaaNaH = nom. sg. m. pres. part. ava - √iikSh: to look towards; to have in view , have regard to , take into consideration

aalambya= abs. aa- √ lamb: to lay hold of , seize , cling to ; to support , hold
nandam (acc. sg. ): m. Nanda
prayayau = 3rd pers. sg. perfect pra- √ yaa: to go forth , set out , progress , advance towards or against , go or repair to
tathaa: ind. thus, in such a manner, similarly
eva: (emphatic)

kriiDaa-vanam (acc. sg.): n. a pleasure-grove , park
kriiDaa: f. sport , play , pastime , amusement , amorous sport
vana: n. a forest , wood , grove
vajra-dharasya (gen. sg. m.): mfn. holding a thunderbolt; m. N. of indra
vajra: mn. " the hard or mighty one " , a thunderbolt (esp. that of indra);
dhara: mfn. ifc. holding , bearing , carrying , wearing , possessing; a diamond (thought to be as hard as the thunderbolt or of the same substance with it);
raajNaH = gen. sg. raajan: m. king

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