Tuesday, July 5, 2011

SAUNDARANANDA 10.45: In Praise of Big Stimuli

mahac ca ruupaM svaNu hanti ruupaM
shabdo mahaan hanti ca shabdam alpaM
gurvii rujaa hanti rujaaM ca mRdviiM
sarvo mahaan hetur aNor vadhaaya

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

Great beauty blots out lesser beauty,

A loud noise drowns out a small noise,

And a severe pain kills a mild pain --

Every big stimulus tends to extinguish a minor one.

Line 3 could equally have been translated And a severe illness drives out a mild illness. But beauty, noise, and pain are all sensory stimuli, whereas illness is less obviously so. And whereas it may be true that severe illness drives out a mild illness, it is more self-evidently true that a severe pain kills a mild pain. For anybody experienced in sitting, there is no doubt that the most effective painkiller for any pain is a more severe pain somewhere else. One's legs being on fire, for example, is a cure for many niggles, from heart-aches to frozen shoulders.

A phrase I used to hear in the Britain of the 60s and 70s, as grumps who had endured WWII reached a certain age, was "what this country needs is a good war." There must have been a certain truth, born of real experience, behind this ostensibly crazy observation. I suppose it was an observation born of frustration with petty crime and other kinds of pettiness, and the lack of a sense of everybody pulling together. "All pulling together" might be one way of translating samaadhi.

I don't know why I get so worked up about little things like crowing roosters or light aircraft droning overhead, but I do. Maybe a few nights of heavy artillery bombardment would do me good. No, who am I kidding? I would be a jibbering wreck, suffering from shell shock, within minutes.

A great big challenging stimulus might be just the thing for a person who can find the strength to deal with it, but not for a person who lacks the requisite strength to meet a big challenge in a particular sensory arena.

In the Buddha's judgement, the next verse tells us, Nanda's eye was strong enough for him, with the Buddha's help, to stand the sight of the immense beauty of the apsarases -- a massive stimulus through the visual channel, which caused Nanda to stop worrying about Sundari.

EH Johnston:
Great beauty eclipses minute beauty, a great noise drowns a little noise, severe pain destroys a faint pain. Every great cause leads to the destruction of a (similar) small one.

Linda Covill:
Great beauty destroys small beauty, a great noise destroys a little noise, and a severe sickness destroys a mild sickness; every great cause brings the destruction of a lesser one.

mahat (nom. sg. n.): mfn. great
ca: and
ruupam (nom. sg.): n. beauty
svaNu (acc. sg. n.): very small
su (ind.): very
aNu: mfn. fine , minute , atomic
hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to smite, slay, destroy
ruupam (acc. sg.): n. beauty

shabdaH (nom. sg.): m. sound, noise
mahaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. great
hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to smite, slay, destroy
ca: and
shabdam (acc. sg.): m. sound, noise
alpam (acc. sg. n.): small

gurvii = nom. sg. f. guru: mfn. heavy, weighty; great, large ; high in degree , vehement , violent , excessive , difficult , hard ; grievous
rujaa (nom. sg.): f. breaking , fracture ; pain , sickness , disease
hanti = 3rd pers. sg. han: to smite, slay, destroy
rujaa (acc. sg.): f. breaking , fracture ; pain , sickness , disease
ca: and
mRdviim = acc. sg. f. mRdu: mfn. soft , delicate , tender , pliant , mild , gentle ; slight, moderate

sarvaH (nom. sg. m.): mfn. every
mahaan (nom. sg. m.): mfn. great
hetuH (nom. sg.): m. " impulse " , motive , cause
aNoH (gen. sg. m.): mfn. fine , minute , atomic
vadhaaya = dat. sg. vadha: m. the act of striking or killing , slaughter , murder , death , destruction


Jordan said...

Artillery and or mortar bombardment, even when it is outgoing, will excite anyone's startle reflexes. But living under Harrier landing spot 7 on the Essex has made the Cicada's summer cries seem pleasant even as I twist my legs up into a pretzel shape and fail to think non thinking.

Mike Cross said...

Thanks Jordan, I bow to your experience of the noise of war machinery. But a distinction a lot of people don't really understand (I don't know if you are one of them?) is between a mature startle reflex of the kind you seem to refer to and infantile fear responses. A person in whom a Moro reflex (or infantile panic reflex) is well integrated will tend to exhibit the mature startle pattern when startled by a loud noise. A person like me with deeper faults in his nervous system will tend to be caught in the grip of two opposing and very primitive responses to fear -- the white of fear paralysis and the red of Moro panic. I should think a warship would be a good place to observe this happening, if not in yourself then in other individuals. It relates to the quote you quoted a while back about knowing individual strengths and weaknesses. I'm writing too much because I'm getting tired... anyway, as always, thanks for listening and thanks for being a friend in failure...